“Cuddle Hormone” Experiments Challenge Gender Stereotypes
In My Fair Lady, Professor Henry Higgins—after linguistically reprogramming Cockney-speaking flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, to pass as “a great lady”—exasperatingly asks: “Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man”? When he doesn’t get the answer he’s looking for and loses Eliza, he laments: “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”
It’s too late for Prof. Higgins, but the rest of us can learn from a new study in the Journal of Neuroscience, April 7, 2010, 30(14):4999-5007, that his mistake may have been to try to bridge the gender gap from the wrong direction and with the wrong assumptions. A joint British-German research team has found that the naturally produced hormone, oxytocin—when inhaled as a nasal spray—makes men more empathetic and sensitive to “social cues” from other people. A neurotransmitter in the brain, the so-called “cuddle hormone” has long been known for triggering labor pains and mother-baby bonding, and to facilitate breast feeding. It may also be involved in sexual arousal. Recently, it’s been shown to increase facial recognition among experimental subjects. The first polypeptide hormone to be sequenced and synthesized biochemically by Vincent du Vigneaud in 1953, oxytocin may prove beneficial in the treatment of schizophrenia and autism.
Gender differences, once thought to be both “natural” and immutable, appear in quite a different light—the more we learn about the subtle and manipulable keys to “gender chemistry.” For more on this, see Martine Rothblatt’s bestselling book, The Apartheid of Sex, and the extended discussion on the web site at www.endracism.org .