[Paleopsych] Steve Sailer: Boys Will Be Boys
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Mon Jan 2 20:56:10 UTC 2006
Steve Sailer: Boys Will Be Boys
A review of Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about
Science of Sex Differences, by Leonard Sax
By Steve Sailer
Posted November 30, 2005
Until last winter, I had assumed that fundamentalist feminism had peaked in
the early 1990s with the Anita Hill brouhaha, and that Bill Clinton's
political survival in 1998, which hinged on his near-unanimous support from
hypocritical feminists, ended the era in which anyone took feminism seriously.
The Larry Summers fiasco, however, showed that while feminism may have entered
its Brezhnev Era intellectually, it still commands the institutional
equivalent of Brezhnev's thousands of tanks and nuclear missiles. After just a
few days, Harvard President Lawrence Summers caved in to critics of his
off-hand comment that nature, not invidious discriminations alone, might be to
blame for the lower percentage of women who study math and science. In short
order, he propitiated the feminists by promising, in effect, to spend $50
million taking teaching and research opportunities at Harvard away from male
jobseekers and giving them to less talented women.
Perhaps in a saner society, then, we would have less need for Leonard Sax's
engaging combination of popular science exposition and advice guidebook, Why
Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging
Science of Sex Differences. But parents as well as professors could benefit
from it now.
Sax speaks of "gender" when he means "sex"--male or female. I fear, though,
that this usage battle is lost because the English language really does need
two different words to distinguish between the fact, and the act, of sex.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg claims her secretary Millicent
invented the use of "gender" to mean "sex" in the early 1970s while typing the
crusading feminist's briefs against sex discrimination. Millicent pointed out
to her boss that judges, like all men, have dirty minds when it comes to the
word "sex," so she should use the boring term "gender" to keep those animals
thinking only about the law.
Unfortunately, "gender" now comes with a vast superstructure of 99% fact-free
feminist theorizing about how sex differences are all just socially
constructed. According to this orthodoxy, it's insensitive to doubt a burly
transvestite truck driver demanding a government-subsidized sex change when he
says he feels like a little girl inside. Yet it's also insensitive to assume
that the average little girl feels like a little girl inside.
Fortunately, Sax, a family physician and child psychologist, subscribes to
none of the usual cant. Indeed, I thought I was a connoisseur of sex
differences until I read Why Gender Matters, where I learned in the first
chapter, for instance, that girls on average hear better than boys, especially
higher-pitched sounds, such as the typical schoolteacher's voice, which is one
little-known reason girls on average pay more attention in class.
Males and females also tend to have different kinds of eyeballs, with boys
better at tracking movement and girls better at distinguishing subtle shades
of colors. Presumably, these separate skills evolved when men were hunters
trying to spear fleeing game and women were gatherers searching out the ripest
fruit. So, today, boys want to catch fly balls and girls want to discuss
whether to buy the azure or periwinkle skirt. Cognitive differences are
profound and pervasive. Don't force boys to explain their feelings in great
detail, Sax advises. Their brains aren't wired to make that as enjoyable a
pastime as it is for girls.
* * *
As founder of the national association for Single-Sex Public Education, Sax's
favorite and perhaps most valuable theory is that co-educational schooling is
frequently a mistake. He makes a strong case, especially concerning the years
immediately following puberty. He cites the experience of two psychologists
studying self-esteem in girls. They went to Belfast, where children can be
assigned fairly randomly to coed or single-sex schools:
They found that at coed schools, you don't need to ask a dozen questions to
predict the girl's self-esteem. You have to ask only one question: "Do you
think you're pretty?"
Similarly, the Coleman Report found, four decades ago, that boys put more
emphasis on sports and social success in coed schools, and less on
intellectual development. Sax argues:
Here's the paradox: coed schools tend to reinforce gender stereotypes. There
is now very strong evidence that girls are more likely to take courses such as
computer science and physics in girls-only schools. Boys in single-sex schools
are more than twice as likely to study art, music, foreign languages, and
literature as boys of equal ability attending comparable coed schools.
Noting that the Department of Education projects that by 2011 there will be
140 women college graduates for every 100 men, he asks, "I'm all in favor of
women's colleges, butwhy are nominally coed schools looking more and more like
all-women's colleges?" So far, the decline of male academic achievement in the
U.S. is mostly among blacks and Hispanics, but the catastrophic downturn into
"laddism" of young white males in England in recent years, and their
consequent decline in test scores, shows that no race is permanently immune to
the prejudice that school is for girls.
Of course, American schools have long been taught largely by women, and boys
and schoolmarms have not always seen eye-to-eye. But the rise of feminism has
encouraged female teachers to view their male students as overprivileged
potential oppressors. Further, feminism justifies teachers' self-absorption
with female feelings. Thus, a remarkable fraction of the novels my older son
has been assigned to read in high school are about girls getting raped. I hope
it hasn't permanently soured him on fiction.
We've now achieved the worst of both worlds: the educational authorities are
committed to anti-male social constructionist ideology, but the pop culture
market delivers the crudest, most sexualized imagery. The irony is that when
the adult world imposes gender egalitarianism on young people in the name of
progressive ideologies, it just makes the young people even more cognizant of
their primordial differences.
* * *
Sax's book often resembles a nonfiction version of Tom Wolfe's impressive
novel I am Charlotte Simmons. What's most striking about Wolfe's merely
semi-satirical portrait of Duke University is how, after 35 years of
institutionalized feminism, student sexuality hasn't evolved into an
egalitarian utopia. Instead, it has regressed to something that a caveman
would understand--a sexual marketplace where muscles are the measure of the
Not all of Sax's arguments are so dependable. For instance, he is far more
confident that homosexuality is substantially genetic in origin than is the
leading researcher he cites in support of his assertion, J. Michael Bailey of
Northwestern University. Bailey has publicly noted how challenging he has
found it to assemble a reliably representative sample of identical and
fraternal twins for his homosexuality studies. Further, Bailey is troubled by
the fundamental objection that natural selection would, presumably, cause
genes for homosexuality to die out. Sax, though, races past these prudent
Still, this is a better than average advice book for mothers and fathers. Most
parenting books are unrealistic because they overemphasize how much parents
can mold their children's personalities. Raising a second child, with his
normally quite different personality, typically undermines parents' belief in
their omnipotence, but most child-rearing books hush this up because their
market is gullible first-timers. Fortunately, by emphasizing how much you need
to fine-tune your treatment to fit your child's sex, Why Gender Matters
injects some needed realism into the genre.
But Sax's bulletproof confidence in his own advice gives me pause. Sixteen
years of fatherhood have left me less confident that I know what I'm doing
than when I started, but he doesn't suffer from any such self-skepticism.
Steve Sailer is the film critic for The American Conservative and a columnist
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