What would you rather have measured: your IQ or your testicles?

Where maternity is concerned, studies are quick to generalise. But when paternity comes in, research hardly ever gets further than the testicles.

The 21st century has been relatively kind to women in the workplace: homemaker is no longer seen as the pinnacle of female ambition; law, medicine and engineering have all seen impressive numbers of female students (with ‘warnings’ from the Royal College of Physicians suggesting that by 2017, most doctors will be women); all-women political shortlists have seen encouraging results in the Labour party. The time is gone when men retired from the dinner table to ‘talk politics’ while their womenfolk expressed a love of kittens to one another in a constant feedback loop. And it all happened fairly quickly: there is certainly a generation alive today who sat at that dinner table.

What has survived all of this progression is the idea that no matter what sort of a career a woman pursues – whether publishing, lecturing, nursing, computer game designing, or engaging in armed combat – her maternal instinct will win out. Discussions about whether women can ‘have it all’ imply that ‘all’ for women necessarily includes children. And yet procreation is going out of fashion: the average British family has 1.7 children, statistically miles away from the oft-quoted 2.4 of years gone by.

Perhaps it’s because we’re educating women too much that they’re refusing to breed. That certainly seems to be the view of (male) researcher Satoshi Kanazawa, an analyst at the London School of Economics who ‘found’ that the maternal urge of women decreases with every 15 IQ points. Setting aside the fact that measuring intelligence is a highly sketchy art at best, and measuring ‘maternal instinct’ presumably even sketchier, the media has been quick to label Kanazawa’s findings ‘innovations’. “If any value is truly unnatural, if there is one thing that humans (and all other species in nature) are decisively not designed for, it is voluntary childlessness,” Kanazawa then writes in his book The Intelligence Paradox, brazenly throwing around the terms “unnatural” and “designed for” like so many toys out of a rare baby’s pram.

When it comes to maternity, intelligence is first in the firing line. But when it comes to paternity, we clearly have other concerns. Emory University in the US has found a definitive link between the parenting involvement of a man and the size of his testicles, according to BBC News. In a nutshell (no pun intended), the results were: small testicles, better daddy. Researcher Dr James Rilling commented: "It tells us some men are more naturally inclined to care-giving than others, but I don't think that excuses other men.” Quite.

When maternity is investigated, it is all too often extrapolated into evolutionary theory, the downfall of the species, and the potential collapse of western society. Where paternity is concerned, testicles are about as far as you get. The most telling part of Emory’s study is the disclaimer that “cultural and societal expectations on the role of the father are... not accounted for in the study.” Meanwhile, Kanazawa’s “paradox” is found in the idea that smarter women might not be doing as much as what they were “designed for”. Perhaps it’s another one of those pesky social factors. Like not wanting to.

Either way, I think I’d rather have my (huge, metaphorical) testicles measured than be told that my intelligence quotient is a problem for my ovaries.

A mother and father feed their son a burger in Brooklyn. Image: Getty
Holly Baxter is a freelance journalist who writes regularly for The Guardian and The New Statesman. She is also one half of The Vagenda and releases a book on the media in May 2014.
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France is changing: an army stalks the streets and Boris Johnson wanders the Tuileries

Will Self on the militarisation of France, and Boris Johnson at the Foreign Office.

At the corner of the rue D’Hauteville and the rue de Paradis in the tenth arrondissement of Paris is a retro-video-games-themed bar, Le Fantôme, which is frequented by some not-so-jeunes gens – the kind of thirtysomethings nostalgic for an era when you had to go to an actual place if you wanted to enter virtual space. They sit placidly behind the plate-glass windows zapping Pac-Men and Space Invaders, while outside another – and rather more lethal – sort of phantom stalks the sunlit streets.

I often go to Paris for work, and so have been able to register the incremental militarisation of its streets since President Hollande first declared a state of emergency after last November’s terrorist attacks. In general the French seem more comfortable about this prêt-à-porter khaki than we’d probably be; the army-nation concept is, after all, encrypted deep in their collective psyche. The army was constituted as a revolutionary instrument. France was the first modern nation to introduce universal male conscription – and it continued in one form or another right up until the mid-1990s.

Even so, it was surprising to witness the sang-froid with which Parisians regarded the camouflaged phantoms wandering among them: a patrol numbering eight ­infantrymen and women moved up the roadway, scoping out doorways, nosing into passages – but when one peered into Le Fantôme, his assault rifle levelled, none of the boozing gamers paid the least attention. I witnessed this scene the Saturday after Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel ran amok on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice – it was a little preview of the new state of emergency.

On Monday 18 July the French premier, Manuel Valls, was booed at a memorial service for the victims of the Nice attacks – while Marine Le Pen has been making all the populist running, whipping up anxieties about the enemy within. For many French, the events of the past week – including the failed Turkish coup – are steps along the way limned by Michel Houellebecq in his bestselling novel Submission; a via dolorosa that ends with La Marianne wearing the hijab and France itself annexed by a new caliphate.

Into this febrile drama comes a new player: Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary. What can we expect from this freshly minted statesman when it comes to our relations with our closest neighbour? There is no doubt that Johnson is a Francophile – I’ve run into him and his family at the Tuileries, and he made much of his own francophone status during the referendum campaign. In Paris last winter to launch the French edition of his Churchill biography, Johnson wowed a publication dinner by speaking French for the entire evening. He was sufficiently fluent to bumble, waffle and generally avoid saying anything serious at all.

Last Sunday I attended the Lambeth Country Show, an oxymoronic event for which the diverse inhabitants of my home borough gather in Brockwell Park, south London, for jerked and halal chicken, funfair rides, Quidditch-watching, and “country-style” activities, such as looking at farm animals and buying their products. Wandering among ancient Rastafarians with huge shocks of dreadlocks, British Muslims wearing immaculate white kurtas blazoned with “ASK ME ABOUT ISLAM” and crusty old Brixton punks, I found it quite impossible to rid my mind of the Nice carnage – or stop wondering how they would react if armed soldiers were patrolling, instead of tit-helmeted, emphatically unarmed police.

I stepped into the Royal Horticultural Society marquee, and there they were: the entire cast of our end-of-the-pier-show politics, in vegetable-sculpture form and arrayed for judging. There was Jeremy Corbyn (or “Cornbin”) made out of corncobs – and Boris Johnson in the form of a beetroot, being stabbed in the back by a beetroot Michael Gove. And over there was Johnson again, this time rendered in cabbage. The veggie politicians were the big draw, Brixtonians standing six-deep around them, iPhones aloft.

The animal (as opposed to the vegetable) Johnson has begun his diplomatic rounds this week, his first démarches as tasteless and anodyne as cucumber. No British abandonment of friends after Brexit . . . Coordinated response to terror threat . . . Call for Erdogan to be restrained in response to failed coup . . . Blah-blah, whiff-whaff-waffle . . . Even someone as gaffe-prone as he can manage these simple lines, but I very much doubt he will be able to produce rhetorical flourishes as powerful as his hero’s. In The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, Johnson writes of Winnie overcoming “his stammer and his depression and his ­appalling father to become the greatest living Englishman”. Well, I’ve no idea if Bojo suffers from depression now but he soon will if he cleaves to this role model. His Churchill-worship (like so many others’) hinges on his belief that, without Churchill as war leader, Britain would have been ground beneath the Nazi jackboot. It may well be that, with his contribution to the Brexit campaign, Johnson now feels he, too, has wrested our national destiny from the slavering jaws of contingency.

Of course the differences between the two politicians are far more significant: Johnson’s genius – such as it is – lies in his intuitive understanding that politics, in our intensely mediatised and entirely commoditised era, is best conceived of as a series of spectacles or stunts: nowadays you can fool most of the people, most of the time. This is not a view you can imagine associating with Churchill, who, when his Gallipoli stratagem went disastrously wrong, exiled himself, rifle in hand, to the trenches. No, the French people Johnson both resembles and has an affinity for are the ones caught up in the virtual reality of Le Fantôme – rather than those patrolling the real and increasingly mean streets without. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt