Tuesday, 1 May 2007

I was Monty's Double Gender

Definitely my best title to date.

But before I get too carried away with self-congratulation, I need to quote from I was Monty's Double, by E. Clifton-James (Panther, 1958). James was a WWI veteran and actor, serving in the Royal Army Pay Corps during WWII, suddenly called upon to impersonate the Allied Commander during the build-up to D-Day. [It's the current bathroom book of choice.] Speaking of his MI5 'minder', who constantly encouraged him, he writes:

When I remembered this scene later I realized what a clever man I was dealing with. The whole essence of cleverness in handling human problems is knowing the way people are going to act and react. Really, it is a process of getting inside their minds. Whether you are a doctor, or a politician, a barrister, a General or a publicity manager, you will get nowhere unless you have this gift of tapping people's thoughts and feelings. (70)

James also attributes this gift to Monty himself. What struck a chord with me was the emphasis placed on empathizing in this male-dominated military world (and then extended by implication to significant career families). Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen's influential thesis regarding brains and autism categorises this type of thinking as a trait of the 'female' brain (suitably qualified with comments about statistics, 'on average', etc). Is this an example of what Baron-Cohen thinks is a privileging of the female brain at the expense of systemizers (and those with autism) in twentieth century society (The Essential Difference, pp.171, 184-5)? Does it thereby undermine the fears of those who oppose gender essentialists and evolutionary psychologists, claiming among other things that their discourse values 'male' characteristics, while paying lip-service to both sexes? (e.g. Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers, Same Difference, p.185) Or was it only in the 50s that empathizing was valued in these high-powered careers that Barnett and Rivers want women to succeed in? Or was E. Clifton-James the only person to think that?

Before I and my questions get really silly, I'm going to read some more about gender (and maybe another chapter from I was Monty's Double...)