Saturday, January 22, 2005

Column on L. Summers' Heresy

Confusions from Feminists

Tibor R. Machan

Not very long ago an essay appeared in Professor James P. Sterba?s book,
Morality and Social Justice: Point/Counterpoint (Lanham, MD: Rowman and
Littlefield, 1995), pp. 115-46, by feminist philosopher Alison M. Jaggar,
titled "Toward a Feminist Conception of Moral Reasoning." This piece
argued with great zeal that there are serious differences between the way
women and men think?have to think??about morality. Women stress
cooperation, nurturing, and conciliatory measures in human relations,
whereas men promote competition, aggressiveness, scoring points and so

This piece was just one of numerous writings in which the differences
between men and women were laid out with firm conviction by certain
feminists scholars. Deborah Tanner, for example, had written numerous
popular and scholarly books?for example, Gender and Discourse, Framing
Discourse, Talking Voices, The Power of Talk?in which she had argued that
there are clear differences between how men and women think and talk.

When a few days ago Harvard President Lawrence Summers made reference to
?innate differences? between men and women that could account for why
women aren?t as well represented in some of the sciences as are men, all
hell broke loose. The National Association of Women called for him to
resign his presidency, while others slammed him and denounced the fact
that a man with such prejudices could be leading a top educational
institution in America.

All of this brings to mind for me how when Bill Clinton cavorted with
Monica Lewinsky, hardly a peep was heard from feminists, including NOW,
about the matter, despite the fact that his conduct represented the
starkest example of some men using their power over not just women but
young, inexperienced women in positions of subservience. The Commander in
Chief of the United States of America hitting on an office intern! It
couldn?t get worse. Yet feminists were mostly silent during the entire

They were also silent about the anti-egalitarian theories of Jaggar,
Tanner, and many others who insisted that women are, in fact, different
from men in how they think and talk and conduct themselves. But now that
Lawrence Summers repeats this kind of view, he is being singled out for
condemnation. Why so?

This appears to be an token of the type of thinking that would have it
that only Jews are allowed to make jokes about Jews, only blacks may talk
kid about blacks, and so forth and so on. If a man states that women
differ from women in this or that respect, that?s heresy. If a bunch of
women says so, it must be the result of science and analysis.

Bunk. Common sense, in its admittedly rough and ready form, has always
revealed that men and women are different in certain crucial enough
respects. The question is, ?In just what respects and why so?? It is no
good saying, ?Society made them different,? because then that needs to be
explained. And answering that ?Men have managed to conspire to keep women
different?say, in steering them away from the sciences, politics, business
and so forth??doesn?t work either because that, too, begs the question:
?How did men manage such a feat unless there is something inherently
different between the sexes, even if that is that men are meaner, women
are kinder??

When questions surrounding male and female attributes are politicized, of
course, nothing much good comes of it all. Not only do some of the most
vociferous civil libertarians forget their principles?as the feminists
forgot their because Bill Clinton was a politicians they liked?but
rational investigation of interesting issues suffers.

Summers?whose exact words on this topic are nearly impossible to find via
Google, by the way, because, presumably, he had spoken out of the
limelight?made a suggestions, not much different from what Jaggar and
Tanner and many other women and even some feminist men had made. For some
Summers? suggestion merely served as an opportunity to beat up on a
prominent male in our culture. Too bad. It will probably retard research
for some time to come.

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