How to make men socially acceptable

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The Independent Online
I feel it my fingertips, I feel it in my bones, that the headlines of the past few days are not quite right somehow. "Genes say boys will be boys and girls will be sensitive." "The X-factor: (Or why men are hopeless at parties and the girls aren't)" and even from this revered organ, "Revealed at last: Why boys will be boys and girls will be girls". To read that men are genetically programmed to be socially inept comes as no great surprise to me, having encountered a few of these beings outside laboratory conditions.

Perhaps I only feel these things because I am genetically blessed with a gene "that explains feminine intuition". Forget my upbringing, my experience or even the fact that I may have read a few books, let us all bow down to the new faith of genetics as the explanation for all behaviour. This position crudely summarised by the press, not, I hasten to add, by the geneticists themselves, is this: "I can't help it, guv'nor, it's in my genes."

The finding comes from a study of 80 girls with Turner's Syndrome, a rare condition in which girls demonstrated serious social adjustment problems. The work, by Professor David Skuse and his colleagues at the Institute of Child Health, has identified a gene that, once "switched on", may explain why women are better at social skills than men because of the lack of an X chromosome. Turner's Syndrome produces girls with normal intelligence who struggle socially because they are not very good at interpreting the emotions of others or at recognising non-verbal communication. Are these poor girls then actually boys? Or are they just like boys because they are useless in the old interpersonal relations department?

I must admit I am not a scientist - too irrational and intuitive by far for such a socially insensitive occupation. Nor am I a warrior, oblivious to the risks of battle because I am so chromosomally charged up. But I am a great television viewer and the last few nights' viewing have taught me an enormous amount about masculine behaviour that has very little to do with genes.

A programme about Dr Benjamin Spock revealed that the man who told a generation of American parents to show affection to their sons couldn't actually show affection to his own progeny. Then I watched Peter Snow brimming with testosterone challenging Professor (Ex) Skuse about his findings while Steve Jones , a man so cool and sensible that it was almost possible to forget that he is himself a geneticist said that one couldn't really talk in this way about genes. Is Jones so chromosomally challenged and lovely that he is in fact a woman, I wondered.

Then, to put myself out of my misery I watched a programme called The Trouble with Boys in which a horrible 12 year old called Paul was tamed by his loving family and a scary American therapist. By now I was having a bit of a hot flush, which I put down to my extremely disturbed hormones until I remembered that hormones are really so very Eighties. There was a time when everything from mood swings to shoplifting to actual murder could be put down to hormones or the lack of them. What on earth did people do before they knew about hormones and genes? How did they explain their peculiar behaviour to each other?

Well, once upon a time there were things called instincts and men got the rape and pillaging instinct, the war instinct, the have-as-much-sex- as-possible instinct and the Gazza instinct. The only instinct women were really allowed to call their own was the maternal instinct. My, how things have changed.

Scientists themselves are quite careful types. They will tell you that genes can only show predisposition towards certain types of behaviour. They cannot by themselves prophesy it. They will insist on the importance of environmental factors. They have proclaimed this week that the good news is that men can learn to be more like women. Yet the seriousness with which this latest finding has been taken in itself worrying. As the world becomes more recognisably "unnatural" the more we cling onto what appear to be natural explanations.

Clearly genetic information is important but why is it so suddenly elevated. Some basic observation of the way the world runs would have revealed as much about male and female behaviour as studying their innards. What is the missing link between nature and nurture? I think its called society.

If you are looking for signs of "feminine intuition" you will probably find them. No one in their right mind studies "male intuition". If you accept that a lot of what makes up this rather vague sixth sense is an ability to decode and decipher non-verbal signals, then there are a million anecdotes you could tell. Men have a striking inability to notice what is really going on. This gives them the ability to sit with their feet up while women frantically rush around tidying up after them. Their lack of the H chromosome (that which confers the ability to recognise housework) means that they simply cannot interpret the non-verbal signals the women send up to them such as "Get out of the way, you lazy git".

Another way of looking at this is that those without power are always better at interpreting body language and non-verbal communication than those with it. In evolutionary terms we depend upon it for our very survival. The more important the person, the less personal information he or she discloses. If you are late you make many excuses and use body language to your boss which reveals much about you. If the boss is late he or she doesn't have to say or do a thing.

This also explains the annoying habit that women have of always apologising, whereas men tend to make statements. Incidentally it explains the massive sales of books which translate male and female modes to each other as though they were separate species.

Addressing the question of power also answers the question that scientists are now asking. How could it possibly be of evolutionary advantage to be socially insensitive? Because quite simply it is a sign of social dominance. Some things change, evolve even. It may now be the case that it is more socially advantageous for men to acquire some of the skills that have previously been defined as "feminine". You don't need to be a geneticist to know which way the wind blows, you simply have to look at the employment market.

Boys apparently need a more structured social education than girls. They also need to learn their behaviour from girls rather than from other boys. Bang goes all that mentor/male role model/fatherhood stuff then. Or does it? Don't ask me, mate, my interpretation of the social clues leads me to suspect that between biology, psychology and destiny there is still hope for men. A cross between hormone replacement therapy, a little tinkering with their genes and a great deal of social evolution will make them socially acceptable. Not to women, obviously, but to other men, mice and the odd research scientist at least.

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