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Leonard Sax, Girl Whisperer (Or: Why This Blog is Both Pink & Smart)

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Vampire-Love.gif
I'm beginning to think that Leonard Sax was one of those boys I lapped on the track in junior high who never got over it.

Sax's most recent whinefest (HT: Peg Tyre at Why Boys Fail) accuses the feminist movement of ignoring gender differences and ultimately contributing to a "growing gender divide." His evidence? A popular teen novel that features a love triangle involving Bella, "a pretty teenage girl, the gentlemanly young vampire who adores her and the lanky werewolf who is her best friend." That the female protagonist is often saved by boys, and that teenage girls like the books, is evidence that "children may know human nature better than grown-ups do." And the kicker: did you know that feminism is the reason why young men look at porn?:
For more than three decades, political correctness has required that educators and parents pretend that gender doesn't really matter. The results of that policy are upon us: a growing cohort of young men who spend many hours each week playing video games and looking at pornography online, while their sisters and friends dream of gentle werewolves who are content to cuddle with them and dazzling vampires who will protect them from danger. In other words, ignoring gender differences is contributing to a growing gender divide.
Dr. Sax, here's the 411 on a generation of girls and young women - the daughters of women who forged the feminist movement - you obviously don't understand: we can wear pink, be hot, make our suitors swoon, and still come out on top in the classroom and the athletic field. The women I went to high school, college, and graduate school with pull together strands from old and new school feminisms, negotiate gender roles in their relationships in varied ways, and even *enjoy* having the occasional vampire rescue them because we've got everything else on lock.

And if the exceptional increases in educational attainment for women over the last 40 years are any indication, this has worked out pretty well for girls like Bella (and women like me). So if girls want to cuddle with male werewolves, or watch Grey's Anatomy's Meredith act like a straight fool changing her mind about McDreamy for the umpteenth time - I'm all for it. They have enough other places to look now to know that women can be college presidents, scientists, and CEOs, and still score a little vampire love at the same time.

PS - Must be a full moon this week. Can someone please tell the inconsolable Lord Voldemort, aka Roy Den Hollander, about Adult FriendFinder? He has now filed what he calls "the trilogy of antifeminist lawsuits" - against Ladies Night, the Violence Against Women Act, and now the Columbia's Women's Studies program. According to his webpage, "Now is the time for all good men to fight for their rights before they have no rights left."
20 Comments

For more than three decades, political correctness has required that educators and parents pretend that gender doesn't really matter.

The thesis is sound.

The results of that policy are upon us:

Using pop culture is support of his argument is simply flaky.

In other words, ignoring gender differences is contributing to a growing gender divide.

Conclusion not supported by evidence. What's the counter-factual here - addressing gender differences reduces the gender divide?

Dr. Sax, here's the 411 on a generation of girls and young women - the daughters of women who forged the feminist movement - you obviously don't understand: we can wear pink, be hot, make our suitors swoon, and still come out on top in the classroom and the athletic field.

On the contrary, he does understand. Recall his thesis that PC requires that we educate children as though gender is immaterial. If gender is immaterial then why do so many successful women seek successful men to an extent that is far greater than that of successful men seeking successful women. If gender roles don't matter in life then we should see women's mate choices changing as a result of their different upbringing. We don't.

If gender is immaterial then why do women require sports leagues dedicated to them, why don't they compete in the same leagues as men?

If gender doesn't matter then why implement sexual harassment laws, why don't women simply act as men do on the issue of sexual quests?

If education is designed on the premise that gender doesn't matter but society, and female advocates, act on the premise that gender does matter, then we need to reconcile the broad equation.

Gender not mattering (at least not a lot) is where many of us are trying to get to.

Gender mattering (though less than it used to) is where we are.

Can we get there from here on a path where gender doesn't matter? Perhaps (asymptotically slowly?) but it may not be the most efficient path.

Cosmic Variance has a nice post on a related topic: http://tinyurl.com/5emzgb

Gender not mattering (at least not a lot) is where many of us are trying to get to.

Why do you hate diversity?

Hi TangoMan, "Why do you hate diversity" isn't likely to start a productive discussion. I'm fine with the question - i.e. on what grounds should it be our social goal to eliminate gender difference, what kinds of gender difference do we want to eliminate, and which differences might we recognize - but I hope all of us here can frame questions so we can actually talk about them.

I'm fine with recognizing gender difference, but Sax's argument for single sex classrooms and schools doesn't follow from this recognition, and consistently that's what he's been advocating for. On the dimensions that matter for K-12 education, the differences in learning styles/modes of cognitive functioning are much greater within groups than between groups.

Rachel - I'm with you that we are a long way from a level playing field in many fields, and that gender continues to matter, particularly in the workplace, in ways that it shouldn't. The tricky thing that a number of my friends are negotiating right now is what it means to restructure workplaces in ways that walk this fine line of gender matters/gender doesn't matter. For academia, there are some obvious structures that have disparate effects on women - i.e. an unforgiving tenure clock ticking in the early 30s, which are likely to be childbearing years, disadvantages women.

For academia, there are some obvious structures that have disparate effects on women - i.e. an unforgiving tenure clock ticking in the early 30s, which are likely to be childbearing years, disadvantages women.

This is wandering far from Sax's topic, but my experience (which is primarily academia) is that structural issues are a bigger impediment to women than actual attitudes about women as professional -- that the problem now is not that department chairs can't imagine women as successful faculty members, but that they can't imagine successful faculty members who don't work 60 hour weeks and keep up a rigorous conference travel schedule -- which is probably also an impediment to men who have somewhat ambitious partners.

The point, I think, that Sax misses is that "does gender matter" is probably not a yes-or-no question.

Both the Twilight books and internet porn could be described as the "mating fantasies" of young adults -- and that is probably the last place I'd be surprised to see gender differences.

But Sax seems to argue that because difference attitudes persist there, somehow educators need to be accentuating the difference between boys and girls in other areas -- and thatjust seems odd.

Rachel: I agree with your first comment above, in which you note that structural issues are the biggest impediment to women's acceptance in the workplace today.

I read an interesting book recently (wish I could remember the title!) that dealt with this issue. The book made a convincing case that American working society is based on the assumption that the wife will be home and able to take care of the kids much of the time.

This is obviously not true for many people. This assumption creates serious problems for both the women themselves (whether they have children or not) and husbands of women in the workforce (or single dads or stay at home dads).

One case in the book discussed a man who was required at the last minute to work the night shift - he refused because he did not have any child care lined up for his children, and his wife was out of town. His employer fired him and he sued.

This was an interesting example of the general workforce expectation that women will not be able to work long hours once they have children, and that men should be able to work long hours, because their wives (or mothers or other female relatives) will be able to step in and care for the children.

This does not only hurt women with children, but also, in my opinon, affects women who do not have children - because employers assume that they will shortly, and therefore believe the women will no longer be able to work long hours, unscheduled overtime, etc. And in many cases they will be correct - but in many they won't.

On the dimensions that matter for K-12 education, the differences in learning styles/modes of cognitive functioning are much greater within groups than between groups.

So what? The difference in female income is greater within group than between women and men, and the difference in income is greater within racial group than between racial group. Are you prepared to advocate that we dismantle the whole regulatory apparatus that is designed to address these problems?

"Why do you hate diversity" isn't likely to start a productive discussion.

That might be true, but it does a dandy job of highlighting the illogical and arbitrary fetishization that is associated with diversity mania. Diversity is portrayed as an unalloyed good, so if it is viewed in that manner then trying to impose uniformity is a strike against diversity. We all know that all good people of conscience LOVE diversity and that anyone opposed to diversity initiatives is a neanderthal.

an unforgiving tenure clock ticking in the early 30s, which are likely to be childbearing years, disadvantages women.

If gender doesn't matter then there should be no need to carve out special rules for women, no?

Secondly, why must the burden of accommodating women fall onto innocent parties? The employer, in this case, simply wants the job performed up to standards. Why do the employer, or the coworkers, have to make accommodation to legislation and bear the expense to make the job more palatable for women?

Thirdly, form follows function. Perhaps women are following a distracting agenda. If biological form imposes a fertility clock on women, then perhaps having children should be a mission earlier in life, even with hardships attached, thus allowing a clearer and less impeded path towards career later in life, a career path similar to that of men. In this fashion, the individual choices made by women are not cost-shifted to innocent parties.

Fourthly, the most appropriate venue for social change to ease the path for women in the workplace is in their marriage rather than the workplace. The onus for change, and the expense of accommodation, should fall on the husband, rather than on the non-involved employer and co-workers. If childrearing is a burden that falls disproportionately on women, then that is not the employer's concern. If the woman wants to compensate for that burden, then she should focus on getting her husband, who is equally involved in family formation, to take up half the burden. The result here is that this social reform will equalize matters in the workplace and mandates don't have to be imposed on, and enforced against, non-involved parties.

TangoMan: I have to disagree with your position on the appropriate party to bear the difficulties associated with women in the workplace.

Problem: Society as a whole needs its women to have children. If women do not have children, the society will die out and cease to exist. Employers will no longer have their next generation of employees, the IRS will not have their next generation of tax payers, and social security will collapse (not like it won't anyway, but that's another story).

Given the fact that children are necessary for a society to continue to exist, it is unfair for all employers to continually "pass the buck." Everyone knows that mothers need time off when they give birth/have young babies. In fact, people want mothers to spend as much time with their children as possible, so that they will develop properly and grow up to be good citizens.

Everyone knows that only women can bear children, but this does not mean that women should therefore bear the brunt of the social problems associated with childbearing. Isn't it enough that women go through nine months of pregnancy and childbirth to bring the next generation into the world?

Society could respond to this situation by changing the rules of the workplace to allow for more flexibility, For example, employers could change vesting requirements for pension plans, or allow more flexible schedules so parents can better share child care responsibilities.

There is no reason that women, because they are women, should have to suffer major setbacks in their 30 year careers as doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. just because they need to take off maybe 3 months twice in their careers to produce a child.

Even if a woman wants to take off a year or two after having a child, the career track disproportionately punishing this choice by cutting off a pension (if the vesting requirement is not met) or making someone start at the bottom of the ladder again.

It's ridiculous that our workforce is not better designed to accommodate the obvious situation that most women at some time will have a child - especially since these children are necessary for the continuity of the human race.

Given the fact that children are necessary for a society to continue to exist, it is unfair for all employers to continually "pass the buck."

It's not employers who are passing the buck, it's the husbands and fathers. If their relationship to their wives and children was "reformed" to the same extent that is being directed at non-involved parties, like employers, then these husbands in the workforce would face the identical constraints being carried by working mothers. The upshot here is that the employer gets to treat all employees equally and doesn't have to contend with an unfunded legislative mandate.

If a man has to take time off work to the same extent as a woman, then the career playing fields are leveled.

If a woman's husband doesn't care enough about her career to make the sacrifice then why should the woman's coworkers and employer make the sacrifices on his behalf?

It's ridiculous that our workforce is not better designed to accommodate the obvious situation that most women at some time will have a child - especially since these children are necessary for the continuity of the human race.

That's largely because our social policy is designed on a Marxist platform, rather than a Natalist platform. Regulations follow from ideology.

Employers will no longer have their next generation of employees, the IRS will not have their next generation of tax payers, and social security will collapse

The problem, at its core, is that social policy has the effect, whether designed or not, of socializing the benefits of having children and privatizing most of the costs.

TangoMan: I appreciate your comments in response to my post. However, I still disagree with a basic tenet of your position: That it is the responsibility of the parents (husband and wife) to deal with a woman's problems in the workforce due to children, rather than the responsibility of employers.

If a husband says, "OK, I will cut back on my hours to help out around the house and with the kids," his employer may fire him.

If a husband says, "I will willingly work part time rather than full time," he will probably be denied that choice by his employer.

If a husband says, "I will work nights so that one of us can be home with the baby," the employer may well say, "Too bad, not going to happen."

If a husband says, "I will go into work early and come home early, to be there for the kids when the get home from school," the employer may well say, "No you won't."

If a husband says, "I will swap places with you and stay home on bedrest, as you were ordered by the doctor, so that you can continue at your job for the rest of the pregnancy," obviously that is not a possible solution.

A supportive husband is great, but from my take on the situation, a husband and wife together can only do so much. If businesses were willing to deviate just a bit from their current 9-5, 40 hour week, no breaks in service model, I think families across the country would all benefit.

If a husband says, "OK, I will cut back on my hours to help out around the house and with the kids," his employer may fire him.

a.) How is the outcome different than if it was a woman cutting back on hours?

b.) Who will the employer find to replace the fired worker if all workers with children face the same constraints?

If a husband says, "I will willingly work part time rather than full time," he will probably be denied that choice by his employer.

Again, how is this an outcome that is different from the situation many women find themselves in? Why shouldn't men with families face the same obstacles as women with families? After all, they get the emotional benefits of being a father just like the mother, but they shift the societal cost onto their wives so that they can have an easier time of it in the workforce. That's not a just partnership.

If a husband says, "I will work nights so that one of us can be home with the baby," the employer may well say, "Too bad, not going to happen."

What does a mother do when faced with such an ultimatum? In the overwhelming number of cases she puts the welfare of her child above her career aspirations. Why a different standard for fathers?

What I'm saying is that if the status quo isn't working, then allowing men to keep functioning mostly unaffected and mandating that change be borne by the uninvolved, employers and co-workers, so that the husband doesn't have to face the same career limiting conditions imposed on his wife, is a.) a selfish position, and b.) an unjust position in that costs are being shifted to innocent parties (employers) who don't get the emotional satisfaction and other benefit experienced by the parents.

Thanks for the Roy Den Hollander link. Now I finally know what to do with that tax rebate.

TangoMan: I understand what you are saying - why should an employer have to lose productivity because some of his employees have children? I agree with that in theory. For instance, if a woman wants to work part time rather than full time, I don't think she should be paid her full time salary, just because the reason she cut back on her hours is for the kids.

That said, there are many things an employer (or the government, or society in general) can do to make the position of women and parents in the workforce less difficult. Suggestions (some of these I've read in books, so they're not all my own ideas):

1. Allow part-time workers to have health benefits. At most companies, once an employee drops below 35 hours a week, they are no longer eligible for any health benefit. There is no logical reason why 35 (or 40) hours a week is the magical number below which employees should no longer have health care. Why not make it 20 hours a week, and raise premiums slightly for part time workers if necessary?

This no-insurance-for-part-time-workers is a strategy that companies like WalMart have used to cut back on their bottom lines, pushing the cost for these employees' health care onto the taxpayers. The business benefits from denying health insurance, but society as a whole (and taxpayers) do not.

2. Allow more flexible hours. Why is it important for all employees to arrive at 9am and leave at 5pm? It's just a custom in American workplaces. In Europe, businesses close in the middle of the day, and then stay open later. There's no magical reason that some employees can't work 8-4 or 10-6. This would make childcare a lot easier for many families.

3. Allow more telecommuting/ or allow employees to work at home a few days a week. Obviously, this won't work in some jobs (if you're a clerk at a grocery store). But employers can allow it more liberally in the many jobs where it is possible?

4. Job sharing. Like part-time work, job-sharing is frowned upon in America. But there's no reason it can't work in many situations. From what I've read, it's often very beneficial for parents who only want to work half a day, and also for employers, who need the position covered all day long.

If Roy Den Hollander manages to shut down or curtail the influence of Women's Studies he will have done a great service to academia by winnowing what's widely acknowledged as an academic ghetto.

As for the Ladies Nights lawsuit, the guy doesn't seem to be able to see the forest for the trees - an event that draws women out, gets them drunk, and lowers their inhibitions is a godsend for single men.

There is no logical reason why 35 (or 40) hours a week is the magical number below which employees should no longer have health care. Why not make it 20 hours a week, and raise premiums slightly for part time workers if necessary?

It's usually the case that employer-provided health care is not solely financed by employee premiums. So, if an employee works 1/2 time or 3/4 time, it's not simply a matter of raising her premium just a bit. For instance, if the total compensation to the employee consists of 80% wages, 20% benefits and the employee reduces her hours by half, but the benefits remain unchanged, then instead of benefits representing 25% of total compensation they will represent 50% of total compensation. Alternatively, for benefits to remain unchanged the woman would have to take a wage cut in addition to her hours worked reduction.

This no-insurance-for-part-time-workers is a strategy that companies like WalMart have used to cut back on their bottom lines, pushing the cost for these employees' health care onto the taxpayers.

The problem here is not that Wal-Mart is greedy, rather then problem is that the army of employees isn't productive enough to warrant being employed with a full health care benefits package. No rational employer hires a worker for $10 per hour if the worker can only produce $9 per hour of value to the employer. Wal-Mart does a service to the taxpayer by taking marginally productive people and getting them to do something. Paying someone to greet people at the door produces value for Wal-Mart when they pay their current wages, but that position would likely be eliminated if Wal-Mart was forced to double the person's compensation. Then, the former greeter, now out of work, can't find a job because they have a very low skill set.

Allow more flexible hours. Why is it important for all employees to arrive at 9am and leave at 5pm?

Network effects. Productivity and profits are increased when people can get things done without having to wait for needed inputs to arrive due to mismatched scheduling.

As for the remainder of your suggestions, my response is that necessity is the mother of innovation. Smart employers will increase the caliber of their personnel by being innovative and accommodating. They will prosper. Rigid and unresponsive employers will lose people who require non-typical arrangements. Forcing unfunded mandates onto employers is a job killing mechanism for the rational employer will always seek a substitute to a costly policy.

As I said, the place for reform is in the marriage. I know that women would prefer to force innocent parties to make accommodations on their behalf rather than engage in a battle of wills with their husbands, but why should I have to bend in the workplace so that a woman and her husband can have a less stressful home life?

TangoMan: Looks like you and I will have to agree to disagree on this one. Can't devote more time to this debate today. I'll catch up with again down the road on another topic.

Comments are now closed for this post.

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  • MS: Thanks for the Roy Den Hollander link. Now I finally read more

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