January 13 2014
Carrie Lukas already offered a pitch-perfect response to Sharon Presley’s critique of Christina Hoff Sommer’s newest book Freedom Feminism; but I wanted to chime in.
One of Presley’s complaints is that Sommers doesn’t provide the evidence to support her claim of gender differences:
Nor does she back up her claims about the "differences" between women and men. In fact, the consensus among most serious scientists who do gender research—neuroscientist Lise Eliot, psychologist Janet Hyde, neuropsychologist Melissa Hines, and biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling, for example—is that the behavioral and cognitive differences between women and men are not nearly as great as the average person (or Sommers) imagines. There is almost certainly a small genetic component, but it is less overall than the contributions of multitudes of cultural, family, and individual environmental influences. Anthropological research on gender bears this out; scholars such as Peggy Reeves Sanday have shown there is more variation in gender roles than Sommers apparently assumes. From a feminist point of view—and from an individualist one—Sommers' stereotyping is unacceptable. We should be looking at the merits and choices of each person as an individual, not as a member of a particular biological group.
It’s worth noting that in 2010 Sommers edited the book The Science on Women in Science, which I reviewed for The Weekly Standard. One of the strengths of the book is that it opened up the debate and brought new evidence to bear on the long-standing issue of gender and the sciences. Contrary to Presley’s accusation, Sommers brought together scholars from a range of academic backgrounds – clinical psychology, evolutionary biology, and pediatric neurology, among other fields – to provide a comprehensive investigation into why women are underrepresented in certain fields of math and science. Far from a definitive text, it revealed that there are indeed many shades of gray between those who claim societal constraints versus biology in explaining women’s role in the sciences.
And that gray was further uncovered at an event the IWF recently co-sponsored on gender differences and single-sex education, with Christina and Lise Eliot. Both women had fascinating arguments, and while they differed in their ultimate opinions, neither was without rigorous research to support their claims.
Too often libertarians have lost any and all appreciation for human nature.