Susan Pinker is a psychologist who has taught at McGill University in Montreal. Her new book, The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women, and the Real Gender Gap, is about what women want, “and whether it makes sense to see males as the base model when we think about women and work.” What she has to say about this will be of interest to men and women alike, particularly the more rigid type of feminist.
This group tends to make “the vanilla gender assumption,” which means, Susan Pinker explains, “that there should be no behavioral or learning differences between the sexes, and that any differences that surface automatically confer benefits on males.” The author found this assumption “far from the reality.”
She also has issues with “the vanilla male model,” by which she means “that women should want what men want and be heartily encouraged to choose it 50 percent of the time.” In what she calls “choice feminism,” women are free to choose whatever jobs appeal to them and still call themselves feminists. This challenged “the idea that any deviation from the male standards would be a retrograde step for women, as many smart and capable women were not making ‘male’ choices.”
Further, “If boys and girls, are on average, biologically and developmentally distinct from the start, wouldn’t these differences affect their choices later?”
One would certainly think so. The author is willing to accept what the science on the subject says, which is not true of all female scientists working in this area. Some declined to be interviewed because “they didn’t want to draw attention to anything that could be seen as politically incorrect, nor did they relish becoming magnets for criticism.”
Expecting women to make male choices led to laws like Title IX, which Susan Pinker sees as “creating absurd situations where allowances for pregnancy or all-male soccer teams suddenly became discriminatory practices.” Gender equity legislation, she explains, “created the expectation that all differences between men and women were created by unjust practices and therefore could be erased by changing same.” However, “when 50-50 didn’t happen in all jobs by the year 2000, there was a vast feeling of letdown.”
This need not be so. All it takes is to recognize that “Equal opportunity doesn’t necessarily lead to equal results. In fact, women’s preferences stand out in higher relief precisely because they do have options.”
The author also wonders, “In Western democracies, what’s the problem? Why aren’t people celebrating?” Good question, Susan. Perhaps because they are still in thrall to discredited feminist dogma, and unwilling to let women make their own choices.
The author devoted a chapter to successful women who choose to opt out of science and engineering careers. Women are 2.8 times more likely than men to leave science and engineering careers for other occupations and 13 times more likely to exit the labor force entirely. This holds true even when marriage and small children are not relevant. And they leave these careers at every age and stage of life, whether or not they have families. When these women decided to step off the treadmill, feminist militants ridiculed them as elitist. The author, however, has no problem with their choices.
“There is new evidence that it is a good idea to trust women’s choices instead of pushing them to study what doesn’t appeal to them. . . The women – both those who chose science and those who didn’t – knew their interests, their capabilities, their appetite for risk, where they would succeed, and exactly what they wanted.”
The ability to make choices, says the author, “is one of the benefits of living in a postfeminist Western democracy. The ability to follow your inclinations instead of doing work that others think you should do is a feature of a free society.”
There is a lot more in The Sexual Paradox, all of it worthy of attention. The author, who spent time on a kibbutz, marshals evidence that men, not women, are the more fragile sex. Premature babies most likely to survive are girls. Males have higher rates of just about every chronic illness, including cancer, diabetes, liver disease, heart disease, and AIDS. Female life expectancy is 83 years, males 78. Severe dyslexia is six times more common in males.
Women simply outlast men, writes Susan Pinker, and, “from a biological perspective, being female simply offers a protective umbrella from cradle to grave.”
The author wants to view sex differences “more dispassionately, and even with optimism.” She succeeds, and has set a high standard for the themes we take up in the Contrarian.