The Other Charlotte and I have been posting furiously on what is so far the Gaffe of the Year: Harvard President Lawrence Summers’remark that men’s and women’s unequal achievements in science might be due to the fact that their brains are different (see our posts here, here, and here, and Summers’s craven apology here. For a pic and bio of Summers’s nemesis, biology Prof. Nancy Hopkins of MIT, click here.)
Today, The Other Charlotte has posted an e-mail (see below) from male InkWell reader “Latrex,” who maintains that it’s always a mistake for a man–in contrast to a woman–to remind people that the sexes are different. He may be right–but that’s what the IWF is here for! We’re not afraid to say it, which is why we support equal opportunity for women but don’t insist that the government–or any private institution–jigger the standards so that the outcomes for both sexes are equal.’Meanwhile, here are some good comments by guys who aren’t afraid of reprisals:
“Doing remarkably little to combat the stereotype that women are emotionally frail and constitutionally incapable of dealing with stress, Professor Nancy Hopkins of MIT told the Boston Globe that she had to leave a lecture delivered by Harvard president Larry Summers because if she didn’t she would have’either blacked out or thrown up.?
“What caused this damsel Hopkins to hie to her fainting couch? Why, the mere suggestion that there might be inherent differences between men and women when it comes to aptitude to the hard sciences…..
“In fact, the scientific consensus is that there are innate cognitive differences between men and women — as groups. Individual men and women can be geniuses or morons (though the data suggest that men tend to produce more of both than women).
“Men tend to perform better at spatial tasks — rotating three-dimensional objects in their mind, for example — as well as some mathematical and navigational tests. Women, on the other hand, are better at word games of various kinds, and they beat men at identifying matching items rapidly and putting the right-shaped pegs in the right holes. This is all fairly uncontroversial stuff — you can find a nice summary on the web in a Scientific American article called ’Sex Differences in the Brain’ from May 13, 2002.
“But don’t show it to Nancy Hopkins. She may lose her lunch.”
And here’s Charles Murray in the New York Times:
“To judge from the subsequent furor, one might conclude that Mr. Summers was advancing a radical idea backed only by personal anecdotes and a fringe of cranks. In truth, it’s the other way around. If you were to query all the scholars who deal professionally with data about the cognitive repertoires of men and women, all but a fringe would accept that the sexes are different, and that genes are clearly implicated.”‘On a different topic–that also happens to be related to claims of male-female equality–female reader H.S. e-mails with reference to our take on the IWF’s panel last week on Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons (see We Were “Charlotte Simmons,” Jan. 19):
“IWF’s guest panelists failed to address the most frightening expose within Wolfe’s novel: how radical feminism has promoted a sexual egalitarianism that is profoundly destructive and amoral. Panelist David Brooks identified this egalitarianism in the Atlantic several years ago. After teaching at Yale for one semester as a member of the adjunct faculty, Brooks revealed that he had gone out drinking with his…female students….
“Late at night in New Haven bars, students pouted to Brooks that since males engage in emotionless sex, feminists have’equal rights’and should therefore behave the same way. David Brooks sniffed around on campus for months, listening voyeuristically as young Ivy college girls described sexual behavior that is aggressively promiscuous and even predatory.
“At IWF’s recent program, Brooks remained indifferent to the moral dimension of aggressive promiscuity. He continues to glow over the’busy career’aspirations of today’s female students. He admiringly repeats his value-free observation that these girls engage in callous hookups because they aspire to have career-climbing schedules and are therefore’too busy’to schedule time to develop monogamous heterosexual intimacy and love….
“Panelist Christina Hoff Sommers is always interesting, but her presentation was unreal. The unreality rests in her claim that Tom Wolfe did not present things exactly as they are. Her own college-age son says he’never hears about’any promiscuous girls on campus! Sorry to say: my current experience with Ivy males and females exactly matches the unhappy observations of Charlotte Simmons. While there is nothing new about Wolfe’s misogynist frat boys and na’ve virgins from religious homes, there is something shockingly new about the Ivy environment of high-SAT coeds openly seeking out not the groovy sixties’sexual’free love’but today’s harsh reality of sex that is’love-free.'”
Your observations are intriguing, H.S. I was at the panel myself, and I did note that David Brooks complained that Wolfe neglected the idealism and the seriousness–to the point of over-programming–of many of today’s college students, while Christina Sommers complained that Wolfe neglected the postmodernist nonsense that many humanities professors try to stuff into students’ heads. (Wolfe in fact did touch on both topics in “Charlotte Simmons,” but only marginally.)
Both Brooks and Sommers made valid and interesting critiques–but as you suggest, H.S., they were narrowly focused critiques. It?s been years since I was in college myself, but I?ve been teaching undergraduates off and on for the past couple of years, and I?ve got friends with recent, vivid reports of slacking and over-sexualization, even at Ivy League institutions. The lack of core curricula and rampant grade inflation at Ivy institutions has made it easy for many high-achieving young people to treat their college years as a kind of vacation before having to buckle down seriously in graduate or professional school. The lack of sexual standards, much less sexual supervision, has indeed bred a predatory sexual culture for many students of both sexes–and the general vacation culture on many campuses encourages them not to take sex or love seriously. It?s my belief that Wolfe got this aspect of campus life exactly right. He also got the scandalous Division I athletic scene exactly right. Not all college students participate in any of this, as Brooks and Sommers observed, but enough of them do to make Wolfe?s novel ring true in my mind.