Another Take on the Gender Wars

I feel that "man-hating" is an honorable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them.

— Robin Morgan, Going Too Far: The Personal Chronicle of a Feminist, p 178.

I am watching, as I write, four separate work crews directly across the street engaged in leveling 237,883 square feet of city block in preparation for extending the local mall, already hugely impressive and soon to become gargantuan. Two great pieces of Caterpillar construction equipment are clawing up acres of earth. Several tractors are scurrying about ploughing and scooping up debris and depositing it in corrugated dumpsters, which are then hauled away on 18-wheel flatbed rigs. A fleet of loaded F150s is delivering materials to every corner of the site. A 120 foot mobile crane is lifting long modular trailers onto the roof of the mall. Two Samvik 1500 tread-mounted Rockline Drivers are drilling through the surface parking lot to house pillars and girders. Water trucks are laying the sand clouds and hosing down the giant Caterpillars. Refueling tankers come and go at regular intervals. Lengths of wide-girth polymer concrete pipe are being lowered into freshly dug trenches.

A troop of men with picks and shovels, filing between the Porta Potties, are busy with the finer details, clearing up rubble and smoothing out the smaller protuberances of gravel and tussock. Others are perched precariously on ladders refurbishing the exposed facades with lattices of grillwork. Still others are dredging pools of liquid silt, hoisting and dragging thick plastic tubing and steel rods and unrolling bolts of rubber sheeting and bales of insulation. The foreman, wearing a mud-bespattered white helmet and carrying a clipboard scored with intricate notations like a page of music, is in earnest conversation with two well-tailored gentlemen, whom I later discover represent the architectural firm that won the tender for the project. This, I can’t help but reflect, is real work -- as are the elaborate drafts and recondite computations which make it possible, demanding true intelligence and the most stringent of educational procedures. No room for fooling around here, especially when one considers that the mall will link to the city’s $2.1 billion light-rail line and will incorporate renovations to existing pedestrian bridges.

Amidst the noise, dust, machinery and general commotion, I detect not a single woman on the site. When I consult the foreman on the ostensible travesty that our academic and professional feminists deplore as manifest gender exclusion, he merely smiles. “Too dangerous,” he says, “and not enough muscle.” But women will be hired, he adds, to do some of the electrical work, where their physical and dextrous capacities fit the job, as well as to quell the indignation of the feminist sorority and the dictates of political correctness. “It’s the culture,” he comments wryly, “but we still have to put up a building.” Unfortunately, not that many women opt to become electricians, although the trade is open to them. Indeed, there are far more academic feminists teaching in the universities, where they earn prodigious salaries for doing comparatively little and are guaranteed tenure for the privilege of sounding off, than there are female electricians.

The foreman’s remarks bring to mind a recent lecture given at the University of Toronto by Miles Groth, a men’s rights advocate, editor of New Male Studies and professor at New York’s Wagner College. As Bruce Bawer reports, in an article titled "Voices of Reason about the Gender Wars," Groth asked: “is there a tribute to the positive contributions average men -- the blokes -- have made and are making? The building we are sitting in, the roads that got us here, the metal fabricated from mined ores that hold up the buildings and span rivers -- these were and are provided almost entirely by the effort and design of men. Who hauled nearly every bit of food from farm to market to the dining halls here at the University of Toronto? And who will lift and empty the overfull trash receptacles? A casual glance outside in the early morning hours and late at night will reveal that it was almost always a man, often a young man.” “A simple point,” Bawer observes, “but a strangely moving one -- and one that is, moreover, rarely acknowledged on campuses awash in feminist rhetoric about female victimhood and male patriarchal power.”

Can one honestly imagine a construction crew, working on a mammoth heavy-duty project like this one, that would consist of, say, female Indian chiefs and politicians, members of the “community” that the University of Toronto, with admirable thoroughness, designates as LGBTTIQQ2SA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer/Questioning, 2 Spirited, Allies), and the usual covey of  academic feminists? Every member of the current crew is of the male persuasion, not because women and certain minorities have been deliberately excluded by the patriarchy, but because the task at hand requires both a degree of conspicuous brawn and the mathematical and engineering expertise for which, on the whole, the male mind appears to be better suited. A plethora of reports, such as Statistics Canada, show that the proportion of female to male students enrolled in university math, engineering and architecture programs is far lower relative to the ratio of women to men in the humanities and some of the professions, such as health sciences and law, where women tend to outnumber their male counterparts, often by a hefty margin.

Larry Summers, former president of Harvard University, got himself into considerable hot water and effectively lost his job for suggesting that the paucity of women in some of the scientific disciplines could be accounted for by innate differences in mathematical ability between the sexes. Common experience and statistical distributions suggest that Summers was on to something, as a 2009 study by University of Wisconsin psychologist Janet Hyde strongly indicates. Men and women are obviously capable of performing many of the same tasks and are equally capable at innumerable trade, craft and professional enterprises, clustering around the mean and populating, at the very least, the first standard deviation of any bell curve chart measuring learning aptitudes.

But at the fringes of the second standard deviation and beyond, statistical distinctions come into play, women excelling in certain categories and men selected for in others -- including those sectors of endeavor (apart from brute strength) that call for proficiency at manipulating abstractions, where men exceed women. While average scholastic performance and measures of achievement tend to be more or less identical between women and men, the variability of scores measuring specific competences in the sciences and highly abstract disciplines are male-overrepresented in the top percentiles, as Hyde’s study demonstrates. (Some findings seem to imply that Asian American women do as well or better in the sciences than their male peers, but Hyde prudently avoids plunging into the murky and socially problematic debate over differences between the Asian and Caucasian brain.)

As the brilliant social scientist Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, once mentioned in a 2005 Commentary magazine article:

The concepts of “inferiority” and “superiority” are inappropriate to group comparisons.

There is nothing inherent in being a woman that precludes high math ability. But there remains a distributional difference in male and female characteristics that leads to a larger number of men with high visuospatial skills, meaning that there are proportionally more men than women at both ends of the bell curve. The difference has an evolutionary rationale, a physiological basis, and a direct correlation with math scores.

* * * * * * * *

In a large sample of mathematically gifted youths, for example, seven times as many males as females scored in the top percentile of the SAT mathematics test. We do not have good test data on the male-female ratio at the top one-hundredth or top one-thousandth of a percentile, where first-rate mathematicians are most likely to be found, but collateral evidence suggests that the male advantage there continues to increase, perhaps exponentially.

Murray is not enunciating a patriarchal dogma. “Women,” he points out, “have their own cognitive advantages over men, many of them involving verbal fluency and interpersonal skills.” However, as mentioned above, men generally tend to excel in the more abstract categories and domains, for example in philosophy where, as Murray points out, “no woman has been a significant thinker in any of the world’s great philosophical traditions.”

As for the sciences, “the most abstract field is mathematics, where the number of great women mathematicians is approximately two (Emmy Noether definitely, Sonya Kovalevskaya maybe). In the other hard sciences, the contributions of great women scientists have usually been empirical rather than theoretical, with leading cases in point being Henrietta Leavitt, Dorothy Hodgkin, Lise Meitner, Irene Joliot-Curie, and Marie Curie herself.”

Lest I be misunderstood, I should reiterate that this does not mean that men are smarter than women, but that the genders, for the most part, display differing aptitudes and competencies. There have been and are, as we’ve noted, great women scientists, astronomers, medical researchers and the like, yet their numbers do not remotely compare with those of their male counterparts. The reason for the disparity has nothing to do with -- certainly not in the modern world -- any kind of numerus clausus. Nor does the disparity imply that all men are capable of mathematical and scientific feats -- I suspect that very few are, including this writer -- but that such competencies mainly reside on the male side of the distribution spectrum, having more to do with brain-structure and proficiency traits than with social and cultural discrimination.

In the same way, there are comparatively few major painters, writers and composers on the distaff side of the divide. Men clearly predominate, possibly because the aesthetically creative dimension substitutes for the male inability to procreate. Again, to spotlight the existence of great or significant female writers -- Jane Austen, George Eliot, Emily Dickinson, the Brontë sisters, Virginia Woolf, A.S. Byatt, Alice Munro, (the fragmentary Sappho is often showcased by aggrieved feminists) -- does not disguise the fact that they remain and, I scruple to suggest, will remain a gender minority. There are, of course, first-rate women literary critics, historians, curators and musical performers in far greater numbers than writers, painters and composers, a fact which indicates that women are no different from men in the meta-disciplines, and perhaps in many instances even better. Nevertheless, it is no accident, once again as Murray notes:

Even in the 20th century, women got only 2 percent of the Nobel Prizes in the sciences -- a proportion constant for both halves of the century -- and 10 percent of the prizes in literature. The Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics, has been given to 44 people since it originated in 1936. All have been men.

The tendency among feminists, naturally, is to accuse the “patriarchy” of preferential bias or outright sexism; the fact that no concrete evidence exists to support this claim will not deter them.

While social and cultural factors plainly have a role to play in the dialectic of over-and under-representation in certain fields, whether construction or mathematics (Groth’s “effort and design”), the issue likely has more to do with gene chemistry, physical attributes and brain structure endemic to the sexes, which cannot be dismissed as irrelevant except in the doctrinaire tenets and imaginings of ideological fantasists. It is here that falsely egalitarian principles run wild, based on a politically and culturally resistant alloy of ignorance, assumption and desire. Obviously, scientists are both made and born, but those born with the specific faculties in question would, I suspect, be male-preponderant.

As Murray writes, “creating double standards” in the realm of affirmative action or “for physically demanding jobs so that women can qualify ensures that men in those jobs will never see women as their equals” -- or, I would add, assures that the job will not be done well. The worksite I am observing represents in all its multiple facets -- physical, mathematical, architectural -- the real world of material accomplishment. The politically correct rhetoric of the feminists and “social justice” mongers represents the unreal world of risible speculation -- which, regrettably, inflicts its destructive ramifications on the real world, skewing the judiciary, corrupting the academy, infecting the political process with artificial quotas, emasculating the language (the farce has gone so far that the Royal Canadian Navy has rebadged a UAV, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, as an Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle), and favoring cultural cliché and progressivist orthodoxy over common sense and the historical and statistical data on achievement in the arts and sciences.

A work force of  Blue Fairies, Novas and Belles living in their Enchanted Forest, accompanied by a crew of effeminate dwarves all named Dreamy, are constitutionally averse to the grit and grime of a hard and demanding world, which they labor to subvert. The dust they move through is pixie dust, for they are cocooned in a uniform illusion that will protect them only for a time, until the structure they are building will topple around them. The society that is being constructed on the cultural site of untenable principles, flawed blueprints and flimsy intellectual materials is one that cannot last and that must inevitably disintegrate of its own accord.

I give the last word to Murray. “Science is demonstrating that men and women are really and truly different, a fact so obvious that only intellectuals could ever have thought otherwise.”

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage created using multiple images.)