Monday, March 10, 2008

Sex, Lies, and the Gender Gap?

In case you missed it, Emily Bazelton offers a reality check in "Hormones, Genes and the Corner Office," her NYTimes review of Susan Pinker's new book, The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women, and the Real Gender Gap. Bazelton begins with the question: "Why do girls on average lead boys for all their years in the classroom, only to fall behind in the workplace? Do girls grow up and lose their edge, while boys mature and gain theirs?" She goes on to critique Pinker's answer--which, basically, sounds like a version of biological difference feminism. Some snippets from Bazelton's review:
Because of their biological makeup, [Pinker] argues, most women want to limit the amount of time they spend at work and to find “inherent meaning” there, as opposed to domination. “Both conflict with making lots of money and rising through the ranks,” she points out. Pinker is surely right to contest what she calls the “vanilla male model” of success — “that women should want what men want and be heartily encouraged to choose it 50 percent of the time.” Or that when employers say jump, employees should always say how high. Even as they work fewer hours for less status and less money, on average, more women report that they are satisfied with their careers. Maybe men might well think the same if more of them felt they could cut back. But Pinker’s difference feminism doesn’t really allow for that possibility. She is a believer: “The puzzle is why the idea of sex differences continues to be so controversial,” she writes.
Bazelton concludes that "In her zeal, Pinker veers to the onesided." To wit:
She doesn’t acknowledge that some of the research cited in her footnotes is either highly questionable as social science (Louise Story’s 2005 article in The New York Times, for instance, about her survey of Ivy League women’s aspirations)....Pinker omits the work of scientists who have shown that sex-based brain differences pale in comparison to similarities. We shouldn’t wish the role of sex differences away because they’re at odds with feminist dogma. But that doesn’t mean we should settle for the reductionist version of the relevant science, even if the complexity doesn’t make for as neat a package between hard covers.
Ah yes, that old bugaboo called EVIDENCE. Of course, since I'm a junkie for pop writing on sex and feminism, and since Pinker uses the word "Extreme Men" and I'm dying to know what she means by the term, I'll find my way to this book and will let you know if I agree with Bazelton's take, or if there's more there of interest from which we can learn. But on many levels, it sounds like one those looking for fact-based analysis might veer elsewhere.

An endorsement from Christina Hoff Sommers kind of confirms it for me. Sommers lauds the book thusly:

"Susan Pinker's The Sexual Paradox is meticulously researched, brilliantly argued and thoroughly persuasive. It moves the debate over sex differences to a new level of sophistication." -- Christina Hoff Sommers, author of Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys

Oh boy.

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