Why did so many name-brand feminists have a menopausal meltdown over Larry Summers’ remarks about the distribution of math and science intelligence?
This affects–let’s face it–only about one percent of the population.
But from the howls set up by aging feminists in academia and the press, you’d have thought that Summers was about to bring down the whole feminist edifice.
Well, that’s because he was.
Summers had innocently raised a question that does, in fact, threaten the house that feminists have been trying to build over the last four decades. A piece in the splendid new issue of City Journal explains why Summers was so threatening to the feminist establishment:
“The intellectual cornerstone of women’s studies is ’gender,’ the notion that differences between men and women are not rooted in biology, as Summers had hypothesized some might be, but are cultural artifacts, inculcated by an oppressive patriarchal society. Precisely because the gender idea builds a specific (radical) political orientation into the field, [Daphne] Patai and [co-author with Patai of Professing Feminism Noretta] Koertge point out, women’s studies proved intellectually suspect from the start. You can read that radical politics right in the National Women’s Studies Association constitution: ’Women’s Studies…is equipping women to transform the world to one that will be free of all oppression…[and is] a force which furthers the realization of feminist aims.’ True justice for these radical feminists means overcoming gender and establishing an androgynous society. So when Summers asserted that something besides artificial cultural roles–something besides ’gender’–might account for the distinct positions of men and women in society, he was undermining the intellectual and political foundation of the entire women’s studies establishment.”
City Journal suggests, however, that even if we accept–for the sake of argument–that the differences between men and women are, as the feminists do teach, cultural instead of biologically hardwired, it might nevertheless be impossible to break down those differences. “This…view suggests that the very same cultural forces that make feminists desire androgyny may actually prevent us from achieving it. The cultural sources of ‘gender’ difference, properly understood, would then inform us not that our gender identities are infinitely malleable but that they’re effectively impossible to change.”
Nancy Chodorow, a women’s studies pioneer, is one of the main feminist thinkers to deal with the “cultural constructivist” idea of gender. “Nearly every feminist plan for engineering a new, androgynous society–from the ‘egalitarian feminism’ of political theorist Susan Okin to the ’difference feminism’ of developmental psychologist Carol Gilligan–offers a variation on Chodorow’s themes,” notes City Journal. Chodorow theorizes that the role of woman as primary caregiver is at the root of the differences between men and women. “The special, ’feminine’ empathy required for rearing children, she suggests, becomes indelibly associated in our minds with people who just physically happen to be female. Identifying with their daughters, moreover, mothers tend to stay tightly connected with them for years, drawing them into a circle of mutual dependence and empathy that is the essence of femininity. So it’s not television ads or Barbie dolls that turn little girls into caring women, who themselves want to be mothers. It’s the emotional closeness of mothers and daughters that perpetuates the conventional female sexual role for generation after generation.”
In The Republic, Plato offered suggestions for creating a perfect–and in his view androgynous–society. But a more concrete effort is closer to hand: the kibbutz experiment in Israel, which sought to eradicate the differences between men and women:
“Kibbutz parents agreed to see their own children only two hours a day, and for the remaining 22 hours to surrender them to the collective, which would raise them androgynously (trying more to ’masculinize’ women than ’feminize’ men). Boys and girls would henceforth do the same kind of work and wear the same kind of clothes. Girls would learn to be soldiers, just like boys. Signs of ’bourgeois’ femininity–makeup, say–would now be taboo. As if they had stepped out of Plato’s Republic, the children would dress and undress together and even use the same showers.”
As City Journal notes, the kibbutz experiment collapsed within a generation, “and a traditional family and gender system reasserted itself.” The problem had been that mothers in the kibbutz wanted to mold their own children. Feminists say that the experiment simply didn’t have enough time. The kibbutzniks may have been thoroughly committed to producing a society in which men and women were virtually the same, but they were traditional Europeans by upbringing. “Somehow they must have transmitted the old cultural messages about gender to the children.” The children might also have been influenced by the Israeli society outside the kibbutz.
It may be, City Journal argues, that the differences between men and women aren’t biological–but that is not going to make it any easier to break them down unless something very radical can happen:
“Until the link between women and child rearing completely breaks down, neither corporate boardrooms nor Harvard professorships of mathematics will see numerical parity between men and women. In the meantime, in disproportionate numbers, at critical points in their careers, women will continue to choose mothering over professional work.
“From either a biological or cultural point of view, then, the feminist project of androgyny is ultimately doomed. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t do harm in the meantime. In America, many boys are slipping behind in school; their sisters are significantly more likely to go on to college. Yet thanks largely to the influence of academic feminists, legal and educational resources still flow disproportionately to supposedly victimized girls. In the end, gender won’t disappear, whatever the mavens of women’s studies hope, but the careers of some bright young men probably will.”