The national election has finally passed, thankfully without any mandate for 50-50 gender representation of the kind favored by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. At last we can get caught up on an important story.
Readers may recall that, in September, I cited Susan Pinker, author of The Sexual Paradox, on the ability to make choices as “one of the benefits of living in a postfeminist Western democracy.” Does this mean that facts and common sense have finally prevailed against militant feminism, and that we can all celebrate the victory and get on with our lives? If a recent math controversy is any indication, the answer is no.
Last summer, a study of more than seven million students from grades 2-11, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and published in the journal Science, said that boys and girls perform equally well in math. At least, that is how the story was brokered to the public.
In her story on the study, Wendy Hansen of the Los Angeles Times could not resist taking a swing at Larry Summers, who as president of Harvard reportedly said that boys are more likely than girls to be math geniuses. Mr. Summers didn’t exactly say that, though it is true. As Susan Pinker has pointed out, there are more male geniuses, and also more male idiots. Male dominance of the idiot ranks, which can be easily verified in politics, does not appear to bother feminists in the slightest.
On the other coast, Tamar Lewin of the New York Times had Larry Summers questioning women’s intrinsic ability. He didn’t actually question it, however, but only suggested it was something to consider for further study. As for Tamar Lewin’s portrayal of the new study, she had boys and girls in a dead heat in the math competition. As the headline put it, “No Gap for Girls.” The results of the study are a bit more nuanced than that, as Heather MacDonald pointed out so clearly in City Journal.
Boys’ and girls’ average scores are similar, she noted, but boys outnumber girls among students in both the highest and the lowest score ranges. That also squares with Susan Pinker’s observation on genius, but not with Tamar Lewin’s contention that in every category girls did as well as boys. They didn’t.
“This statement is simply wrong,” Heather MacDonald wrote, pointing out that among white 11th-graders, there were twice as many boys as girls above the 99th percentile. Furthermore, among mathematically gifted adolescents, between five and 10 times as many boys as girls have been found to receive near-perfect scores on the math SATs. So why the misleading report?
Since boys and girls perform the same in math, the reasoning goes, any gender imbalance in a math, science, or engineering department, any “underrepresentation,” in other words, can only be due to bias and discrimination. That’s where they are going with the skewed reports. Every workplace, according to the dogma, should break down 50-50 between men and women. If not, it’s all due to stereotypes and prejudice, to be remedied, of course, by government action. We have already noted that the Title IX troops are leading a surge aimed at math and engineering departments.
The study published in Science has some valuable lessons, but not the ones touted by Tamar Lewin. “Far from raising the presumption of gender bias among schools and colleges,” says Heather MacDonald, “the Science study strengthens a competing hypothesis: that the main drivers of success in scientific fields are aptitude and knowledge, in conjunction with personal choices about career and family that feminists refuse to acknowledge.”
With careful scholars such as Louann Brizendine, Susan Pinker, and Christina Hoff Sommers, there is now much more that feminists can refuse to acknowledge. Excuse me if I call this feminaticism: the persistent refusal to acknowledge any science or reality that raises doubts about feminist dogma, and the pursuit of misguided public policies based on those dogmas, even when discredited.
As Heather MacDonald also pointed out, the Wall Street Journal got the story right on the math study, that average scores are similar but that boys predominate at the margins. The author was Keith J. Winstein, so maybe men are also better at journalism about math. Feminaticism, however, seems to have eager advocates in the prestige press, as well as the academy and the legislature. That means, alas, that we can’t relax or take anything for granted, even in a post-feminist Western democracy where women enjoy boundless choices.