Old people avatars

Grandma Edna, my mom’s mom, was introverted. A shy and quiet farm wife, she was a champion at food growing, gathering, preserving and serving. In contrast, Grandma Aline, dad’s mom, was talkative and bold. Why am I talking about grandmas? Because there are now ample studies showing the evolutionary advantage of mothers having their own mothers around to help them. Grandfathers, not so much — but that’s another column.

While that’s good to know, I am often highly cynical about studies, primarily due to the broadcast minutes and column inches I’ve seen lame-brain misogynist commentators receive over the years. They would use bogus studies (or misinterpret genuine ones) to prove that rape was an evolutionary advantage that helped expand the gene pool. I was never able to make a dent in the use of junk science to justify rape culture, aka male supremacy. If I had the money, I would sponsor a global study on women who defend themselves and the biological advantage that gives them!

I’ll never forget what happened when I was a broadcast journalist in Sacramento. A massive story at the time, from an unpublished study (later debunked), was that single white women over 30 had a better chance of being killed by terrorists than finding a husband. The panic that story caused still reverberates today with “spinster” fear. More infuriating is that credible studies since then have found that child and spouse-free women generally lead happier lives than their married counterparts who have kids. Why is that being suppressed?

Do any of you remember a book from 1994 called “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure In American Life” by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray? Their “findings” regarding race, gender and intelligence caused a colossal brouhaha in academia and popular culture. Unsurprisingly, women and BIPOC folks didn’t fare well, and the pernicious damage done to our society after the media ran with this story is still with us. Today’s conversations about inclusivity are a welcome rebuttal to the flawed studies and methodologies used by the authors.

On the flip side, “Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference” by Cordelia Fine is a must-read. Dr. Fine rips the curtain back on the white male wizards of science who use their various disciplines to make “hard-wire” arguments that allow for bad white male behavior and inherent superiority.

Part of pulling back the curtain has to do with examining which studies get funded in the first place. When our colleges and universities are top-heavy with the interests of cis white men, it stands to reason their studies will receive more attention and money. When higher education admits more people of different backgrounds, the Ph.D. candidates will study those subjects that matter to them. Statistically, there’s apt to be more female scientists who will draw upon their own lived experience. A scientist who has given birth is more inclined to apply for grants quantifying mothering or infant survival.

Once such a study is funded, does it get published? If there are no women in editorial positions, there’s usually no one to advocate for publication or even commentary. An example of this kind of change is the New York Times. After more women and BIPOC staffers were added, more diverse content magically started appearing on the Grey Lady’s pages. Diversity makes a difference across the board.

I have a few conversational doozies that underline the need for diversity in the physical sciences. A mass burial site was found in Manhattan. One of the skeletons had fractures on its ankles. “Hmm. This is odd,” Mr. Clueless Preppy White Man Archaeologist says. “What would cause that?” The Black intern immediately replies, “Shackles.” On another dig, one “digger” found a bone that had 28 slashes on it. He says, “This hunter must have had a good hunting season — this indicates that he bagged 28 deer!” His female colleague says, “Dude, this is a woman’s tally of her menstrual cycle.” Speaking of archaeology, don’t get me started about the DNA tests verifying that warriors previously identified as male turned out to be female.

By now, you’re probably saying, “This is all fascinating, but what does any of it have to do with your grandmothers?!” Now that there are more women studying people traditionally left out of studies, that will be reflected in what gets studied — and, in turn, what makes it into the news. And a definitely newsworthy fact is that humans do better when there’s a grandma around.

I admit to having cousin envy, as my cousins had more grandmother time than I did. My parents moved far away from my grandmas before my birth. We only got to see them during visits once or twice a year. I can glimpse echoes of myself in them; I am shy and also bold. I know that my grandmas were entertained by me, yet they were also relieved when they could leave. I know I’m better for having had them in my life, and I don’t need a study to tell me that.

Ellen Snortland’s columns have been in print since the early ’90s. She also coaches writers. Contact her at ellen@authorbitebybite.com