“The Feminist Mystique&rdquo
To the Editor:
I read with interest Michael Levin’s article, “The Feminist Mystique” [December 1980]. Mr. Levin has carefully described the illogic within feminist thought, and the abuses that result when that thought is taken up by a greedy, meddlesome government. However, Mr. Levin also seems to say that if the feminist mystique is penetrated, the feminist phenomenon will disappear. I cannot agree with that. . . .
Although Mr. Levin hopes that some day “freedom and rationality will return to the occupational marketplace,” his wish is impossible: freedom and rationality never were a part of the occupational marketplace, as women (among others) were deliberately excluded from many jobs they were perfectly capable of performing. Flight into a past that never was begs the two most important questions raised by the feminist phenomenon: first, what are the legitimate grievances of women; second, how can we satisfy those grievances without abusing the freedom of others?
Feminism was called into being by abuse of and discrimination against women beyond any justification by biological differences. Quotas are irrational, but so is discrimination. I am convinced that the best way to fight the former is to eliminate the latter.
To the Editor:
It is ironic that one of the leading intellectual journals of our age would run a series of articles demeaning to those of us who believe strongly in individual rights. First, Midge Decter [“The Boys on the Beach,” September 1980] lumps all homosexuals into one nasty package bound by whips and chains, and now Michael Levin divides the boys from the girls, on the basis of their different genetic and hormonal structure. What comes next? Not too long ago, arguments about the differences inherent in individuals because of the ethnic or national group into which they were born were quite common. Will an article on the physical inferiority of the Jew be next in your magazine, or will you do something enlightened like publishing a study comparing the skull size of the average black and the average cranium of a magazine editor?
Undeniably, there are important biologically-based differences between the sexes. Men are built like men while women have a totally different physical structure. Unfortunately for Mr. Levin’s arguments, the rest of contemporary feminism does not fall apart because of this small difference in appearance.
A person who cries that the amount of available evidence linking women’s traditional personality and role with the culture of a society has a responsibility when arguing to provide a reader with solid evidence to back up his ideas. Mr. Levin’s paltry attempt to prove his theory has less solid information behind it than do many of the works which he condemns.
According to Mr. Levin, the supreme example of man’s inherent superiority (and the reader must assume that Mr. Levin so divides the sexes because of his descriptions of females—the “giddy, chatty” members of the human species) is his ability to sit in a tank and watch his buddies get blown to pieces. All women are capable of is a bit of clawing around during a faculty meeting. Perhaps one element of civilization is a desire to end war and its horrific destruction of humanity; perhaps if women are truly not as eager to participate in wanton destruction, they are the more civilized element in the group. . . .
If Mr. Levin’s theory that women do not do the work of men were correct, then there should be few if any women sitting around a faculty meeting at Mr. Levin’s university. Until the feminist movement pushed for equal opportunities for women, many highly qualified female applicants did not get into graduate school, let alone through the doctoral program. People like Mr. Levin could certainly decide once again that women do not belong in such places and again deny them the opportunity to attempt to finish a Ph.D. program.
Along the same lines, few women had the necessary credentials to go into business management, because schools refused to let them in. Harvard did not have a woman in its business school until very recently. How can anyone truly document that women cannot perform as well as men when, for so many years, only the exceptional woman had a chance even to pick up the skills necessary to compete?
Taking this genetic thing one step further, Mr. Levin could argue that physical differences not only between sexes but also between ethnic groups are genetically controlled, and that these differences signal the inherent inferiority of one group and superiority of another. After all, how many tall blondes come out of the Jewish people? Perhaps Harvard correctly placed a quota on the number of Jews entering its outstanding institute in 1922—we must not let Harvard begin to resemble City University, was the argument. Perhaps the efforts of the Nazis to weed out the genetically infirm should be applauded. . . .
Perhaps the worst aspect of Mr. Levin’s article is its obvious anti-woman bias. He does not believe in educational equality: he thinks it absurd that girls be taught things like changing a fuse or playing baseball, things that will help them to be self-reliant and help them work together with others, and he thinks it absurd that boys learn cooking and baby care, skills that will make them better partners in a relationship.
Feminists want to open the doors of society for everyone with the ability to pass through. They want each individual to have the opportunity to fulfill his/her potential. That means that if a woman is capable of being a scientist or a professor, the barriers of society should not be strung so tightly around her goal that she has little or no chance of success. It means that a man who is compassionate and tuned into the feelings of others should not be criticized because he turns his thoughts into poetry or into dance. The human entity is capable of greatness; feminists want to give everyone a shot at achieving his/her own goals.
Goals can include being a home-maker—solely that. Feminists recognize the abilities of some men in that area might be far superior to those of their wives and so those men should be given an opportunity to fulfill their potential. Many feminists have families; the difference seems to be in the relationship not only between the mother and the children, but also between the father and the children. Feminists prefer close families, with everyone participating in the daily life of the unit.
Would the article by Mr. Levin have been published if the word Jew was substituted for the word feminist? Is it easier for this magazine to target the female of the species for removal from the job market—now that conservatism is in? One needs only to look at Germany during the 20′s and again during the 30′s to realize that one very successful result of the genetic theory was the isolation and the eventual removal of one group from the economic market—resulting in an improvement in the German economy.
Again, it is tempting to think that hatred of women in its latest version will collide with human nature once too often and then just go away. Perhaps one day, collectively, men will cry, enough, and we’ll be free—all men and women.
Chair, National Women’s Political Caucus
To the Editor:
Michael Levin’s article on problems associated with feminism contains no criticism of the Equal Pay Act which requires covered employers to pay men and women equally for the same work. I assume from this that Mr. Levin does not object to the principle of equal pay for equal work. If this is the case, he should look again at the proposal to require equal pay for comparable work.
Despite the Equal Pay Act, women’s earnings are only about three-fifths of men’s earnings. To some extent this may be a holdover from the day when pay differentials were justified on the ground that men had families to support but women didn’t. Today’s enormous divorce rate has made this argument inapplicable, particularly since only about 4 percent of eligible women receive alimony and 25 percent, child support. Moreover, pay is compensation for work, not welfare. Therefore, pay differentials for the same work are unfair.
One reason the Equal Pay Act has not achieved equal earnings is that men and women do not on the whole do the same work, and women’s traditional occupations are not as well paid as men’s. Is this because the work differs, or because of discrimination based on sex? Why are nurses often paid less than house painters? Why do states pay librarians, generally women, less than liquor-store clerks, generally men? (I do not think any of the existing discrepancies exist because liquor clerks are more likely to be victims of armed robbery.)
The problem of evaluating different types of work is a difficult one. We need to consider the pros and cons of making the effort. But I do believe the problem is a real one, entitled to more serious attention than it was given in the article.
Edith U. Fierst
Chevy Chase, Maryland
To the Editor:
There isn’t much I can add to Michael Levin’s excellent and comprehensive article except an anecdote which substantiates a few of his points.
About a year ago I had the opportunity to preview some elementary- and junior-high-school material being put through a final editing by the publisher; these were mostly work-study books on mathematics, science, history, and reading comprehension, scheduled for distribution to public-school systems throughout the country. The effects of affirmative action and the anti-gender brigade were not only all too apparent in this material, but ludicrous and distracting. Far more work went into making certain that all races, ethnic groups, and both sexes were represented in the problems than went into the problems themselves. Here are samples of the editorial instructions to the publisher’s free-lance text writers and illustrators:
- “Avoid sentences that necessitate the pronouns he and his; in other instances, use his/her, he/she, her/his, or she/he.”
- “This problem should portray seven adolescent persons playing on a sidewalk outside a tenement; two should be sitting on the steps, two playing catch with a baseball glove and ball, two playing hockey on rollerskates, and one sitting on a bicycle; other sports implements, such as bats, tennis racquets, and basketballs should be in evidence. Three of the persons should be female, playing either catch or hockey, and one should be distinctively black; two of the males should be black or have Hispanic features. All should be dressed similarly with no distinctive male/female attire.” (This particular problem concerned whether or not the “persons” should demonstrate for the construction of a new recreational park.) . . .
More interesting to me was a conversation I subsequently had with an editor of the elementary-school work books. After having said that I was appalled by the low level of the material being presented, . . . I also made the strenuous remark that the material was propaganda. To my amazement, the editor (a woman) did not deny it. In fact, she launched into a speech about the necessity of making teachers and students “rethink” their concepts of human beings. She was particularly pleased by the fact that in most of the problems whites were represented not only in the minority, but were often portrayed in a “supporting-cast” role. She was, of course, also delighted that females were usurping males in the “traditional” roles; she didn’t care if such role-switching was plausible . . . or not; “adults will have to get used to the idea,” she said, “and children must be taught correctly from the beginning.” . . .
Forest Hills, New York
To the Editor:
I commend Michael Levin for his excellent analysis of the so-called feminist movement. Although it is occasionally possible to find criticisms of the prevailing crusade against “sex stereotypes” and “sex roles,” few of these criticisms have brought to light the true totalitarian potential of this movement. Mr. Levin’s analysis is thus long overdue. . . .
A point which has been completely overlooked by most authors on the subject, whether pro- or anti-feminist, is the need for human beings to cultivate differences between the sexes—both biological and symbolic or romantic—which serve an important part in the process of attraction between the sexes. That most people are heterosexual necessarily means that most people are attracted to the opposite sex because of its differences from their own. . . .
Actually, many of the often-degraded “sex stereotypes” and “roles,” even if their biological basis is not readily apparent, are nevertheless deeply ingrained not in society as much as in human nature. The stereotype that men are stronger than women is universal, perhaps not so much because it is generally true (though it is) as because of the fact that for the most part men simply look stronger than women, a biological difference which in itself is one of the main facilitators of women’s attraction to men. Similarly, men are attracted to women in part because of the fact that women look more delicate. This difference in the appearance of men and women, in turn, leads to the role, despised by the feminists, of the man as the protector of the woman (which, of course, was and perhaps still is biologically necessary for the survival of the species). Another stereotype resulting from this perceived difference is that of the male as more aggressive (also confirmed by hormonal studies).
These stereotypes are thus inevitable. Those who believe they are not must also believe that it is possible to change the way in which people receive different feelings from different perceptions. Does anybody believe that a massive educational crusade will, for example, make people stop feeling more reluctant to step on flowers than to step on grass? Or that people can be trained to see a wart hog as beautiful and a bird of paradise as grotesque? . . .
The danger comes when the feelings people receive from their perceptions of the opposite sex are consistently betrayed. “Role reversal” will not stop the tendency of people to associate certain concepts with one sex more than with the other. Encouraging women to box and lift weights will not cause men to stop regarding strength as a masculine attribute. Nor will encouraging women to become more aggressive cause men or women to see aggression as symbolically sex-neutral. This is one aspect of the current debate over drafting women and/or placing them into combat which has been largely overlooked. The military, and combat especially, is symbolically the most male of all socially acceptable institutions in our culture. It cannot be made symbolically sex-neutral, because there is no way that it can be dissociated from the masculine concepts of strength, aggression, and protection. Even if the social planners were successful in forcing the military to be 50 percent female by the use of quotas, those concepts on which the military depends would still be symbolically male.
In their book, The Psychology of Sex Differences, Eleanor Maccoby and Carol Jacklin, who admit to a “feminist” bias, nevertheless state that men are more aggressive than women in every culture for which evidence is available. Other researchers have agreed. Note that they are not merely saying that there has never been a known culture in which women were more aggressive than men; they are also saying that there has never been a culture in which women were as aggressive as men. What does this imply about the future of a culture which encourages, even forces, its women into the most aggressive of all socially acceptable activities? . . .
Again, I commend Mr. Levin for courageously saying many things that long needed to be said, and I commend COMMENTARY for having the courage to publish his article.
To the Editor:
The spending habits of the 60′s required supplemented incomes in the 70′s, and it was this economic necessity, coupled with generally liberalized attitudes as well as a push from some early feminists, that created job and career opportunities for women.
This would be praiseworthy if institutionalized feminism had not taken total credit and become a chic, glamorous, and narcissistic movement totally out of touch with the vast majority of America’s working population. The doctrinaire feminists ignore the fact that most men as well as most women hold tedious and menial jobs. Only elitists who would not perform either task would consider soldering and riveting more rewarding than typing and answering phones.
Similarly, although the grandiose International Women’s Conference held in Copenhagen last year disintegrated into a pro-terrorist and anti-Western travesty, the self-congratulatory delegates insisted that it was a success. . . .
Thank you, Michael Levin, for liberating me from some lingering-doubts about feminism.
Ruth S. King
New York City
To the Editor:
As a psychologist, I would like to make some additional comments on Michael Levin’s article. What follows is all supported by published research. . . .
Sex hormones pervade every cell of the body and determine the proclivities on which the environment acts. Watch two completely unsocialized baby monkeys: the male runs and jumps, the female sits and watches. His early movements in space, reaching out, measuring distance, are basic to the well-known male superiority in spatial relations. If the male has this naturally, women can to some extent make up this deficit, and others, through training.
Though not strikingly different from young females in grade-school arithmetic, males excel when it comes to higher mathematics. This has been apparent for a long time in the Scholastic Aptitude Test, where both sexes do equally well in the verbal area (in an earlier decade, girls excelled), but girls do less well in the quantitative or mathematical area. . . .
There are many women competent in math, as in all other fields, but their relative number is small. Math, physics, chemistry, and engineering account for only a small fraction of all female Ph.D.’s. That the feminist movement alone has been responsible for the impressive advance of women into medicine, law, and psychology cannot be proved. . . . That they do not move into supervisory positions in proportion to their number is due to the fact that many of them work only part-time in order to fulfill home commitments. . . .
Surveys show that for most women, equality with men in jobs and incomes contributes little to contentment, but does increase stress ailments.
A woman at home with children, doing all the housewifely tasks plus acting as child psychologist, . . . engaged in her free hours in worthy community enterprises, and cultivating her talents might indeed have the better of the bargain. An old pattern, but still an attractive one. Compared with the work of most men, even the overglamorized professional, it is still a good job. . . .
The latest demographic figures show a marked rise in the death rate of adolescents up to age twenty-four. Drugs, alcohol, suicide, and vehicular accidents account for the toll. This age group fits neatly the era of easy divorce, single parenting, substitute caretakers, and casual sex now endemic in our society. There has also been an alarming increase in violence in the last several years. Insecure and inadequate men, and their number is legion, are threatened increasingly by growing female power and preemption of work areas. . . .
Los Angeles, California
To the Editor:
It is unfortunate that in order to show the poverty of liberal feminist thought, Michael Levin chose to open with a quote from an article written seventeen years ago by sociologist Alice Rossi. Unfortunate because had Mr. Levin examined Professor Rossi’s current work, he would have found substantial agreement with his own position, as well as an abundance of additional evidence to support his thesis. Anyone familiar with the recent work of Professor Rossi is aware of significant departures from the position she took in her 1964 article. She has, in fact, become a leading critic of the extreme cultural determinist outlook and has argued eloquently that social scientists have ignored for too long the biological basis of sex differences.
For example, had Mr. Levin read a more current issue of Daedalus, he would have found a 1977 article by Professor Rossi, “A Biosocial Perspective on Parenting,” which rankled many feminists. In that article, Professor Rossi argues that women have a child-rearing instinct, rooted in our primate heritage, that is absent in men. Professor Rossi places a great deal of importance on the mother-child bond and suggests that many of the programs advocated by feminists go against the forces of nature and can thus be implemented only with great difficulty. . . .
Professor Rossi then reflects on her 1964 article and notes that her current position has been
. . . arrived at only after a long period of personal and intellectual concern that involved confronting my own previous analysis of sexual equality in the pages of Daedalus and finding it wanting. But is is imperative to return periodically to the most basic facts of a family system and to one’s own political ideology, and to examine both against the grain of our usual presuppositions.
The evidence Mr. Levin brings forth to support his thesis bears striking similarity to the evidence Professor Rossi uses to support her views. Mr. Levin, in 1980, discusses the role of a baby’s cry in eliciting oxytocin secretion in the mother. Three years earlier Professor Rossi used that same finding to argue for the uniqueness of the mother-child bond. Mr. Levin cites the importance of research by John Money on the hormonal causes of sex differences. So too did Professor Rossi in 1977, and in a 1979 Signs article she comments:
The important point is that we need to know far more than we do about many body processes, and research in areas like neuroendocrinology and brain neurochemistry may come up with evidence in the coming decade that feminists will have to absorb, some of which I predict will show additional evidence of fundamental differences in brain structure laid down during early fetal development which may carry consequences for sex differentiation during childhood and adolescent development.
Rather than continuing along these lines, let me suggest that instead of refuting a paper written nearly two decades ago, Mr. Levin might find it stimulating to read Alice Rossi’s current work. For future articles he may find her a useful reference in support of his position.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
To the Editor:
. . . Having accused feminists of basing their argument on an unproven assumption—the “social causation of sex differences”—Michael Levin proceeds to play the same game. His assumptions may not be on so grand a scale, but they are nonetheless offered as assertions without proof. For example, he offers the “common-sense observation that women are more ‘sensitive’ than men, and more prone to stress.” Mr. Levin, a professional philosopher, does not deign to tell us what he means exactly by “sensitive” or how he measures proneness to stress. Of course, the clever use of the catchall “common sense” allows him to avoid the responsiblity of explaining what he has said. Another case in point: he blandly asserts that “in certain cases the government forbids an employer to hire a man over a woman even if the employer believes that a man is better for the task at hand. American courts routinely overturn ostensibly reasonable employment requirements of size and weight because of their ‘discriminatory impact.’ . . .” Once again, no proof is given for the assertion, no evidence is offered to support the glib “in certain cases” and “routinely overturn.” Has Mr. Levin read the court decisions? Has he examined the so-called “beliefs” of the employers in question? Without supporting evidence these statements are little better than slogans. . . .
These failings in Mr. Levin’s method of argument are overshadowed by his most serious offense: intellectual dishonesty, perhaps as much a lack of candor with himself as with his readers. I accuse him of this on two counts. First, whether he wishes to admit it or not, Mr. Levin’s prose reveals a shocking bias against women. Let me give just two of the many examples of what I mean. In arguing that “sex-role differentiation” is a constant in human society, he asks the following rhetorical question: “Why do not at least 50 percent of human societies have tough, aggressive women and giggly, chatty men?” Is this what his cursory citation of scientific studies of brain structure and his talk about innate female sensitivity to people was leading up to, the hidden yet obvious assertion that women in every society are . “giggly and chatty”? In another context, wishing that feminism would “just go away,” he looks to the day when “girls will no longer be made to feel foolish about wanting children, men will no longer have to worry about ‘offending’ their dates.” Note the juxtaposition of “girls” and “men.” Does Mr. Levin hope for the day when it will be all right for men to treat their dates like children?
Second: Mr. Levin has a hidden agenda. Ostensibly an attack on feminist doctrine, his article is actually an assault upon all the advances women have made in the last few decades in asserting their rights as full members of our society. At the very start Mr. Levin writes that “if the factual assumption of feminism is wrong, the rest is irrational.” Does he mean by this that if the feminist argument lacks coherence, there is then no justification for removing the barriers and prejudices that have deprived women of education, jobs, and equal treatment under the law? Although he never deals openly with this question, Mr. Levin’s entire argument indicates a predisposition to see any tampering with social institutions as tantamount to inviting a disastrous collision with nature. Even if the basic differences between men and women are not socially determined, are there not also distinctions which society has erected that cannot be justified on the basis of natural differences? Does Mr. Levin actually believe that women have not been systematically discriminated against in modern Western society? Does he believe that to struggle against such discrimination is irrational? If he does believe these things, I wish he would have been honest enough to admit it.
Martin J. Newhouse
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
To the Editor:
Is Michael Levin attempting to prove that the biological differences of women make them less equal than men? If not, then why does he conclude his strong defense of the biological uniqueness of women with an attack on the legislation and regulation which have just begun to remedy sex-based educational, employment, and social-benefits inequities?. . .
The underutilization of women in science and engineering is one of the most serious legacies that past discrimination and cultural stereotyping have left the nation. Even in an era of well-publicized affirmative-action and equal-employment initiatives, women comprise fewer than 3 percent of the engineers in industry. The proportion of women engineers with a B.S. degree in engineering did not exceed 1 percent until 1972, in part because women could not gain admittance to many engineering schools. . . .
Within the academic marketplace, women still face formidable barriers to promotion to high rank. . . . The National Academy of Sciences reports that in the humanities in 1979, income disparity in favor of men existed at all levels of experience. The median annual salary for men with one year of experience was $17,400; for women, $13,300. For men with twenty-six to thirty years of experience, the median annual salary was $30,200; for women with the same experience the figure was $24,600. Nearly three-fourths of the men were tenured, compared with fewer than half of the women.
Since Mr. Levin objects to change in the curriculum and through the courts, it is difficult to figure out what he would do about the inequities which are objectively demonstrable. The authors of a recent government report, Science and Engineering Education for the 1980′s and Beyond, advocate development of new teaching materials for junior and senior high schools with special emphasis on the needs of women and minorities. By involving outstanding professionals, including women and minorities, their objective is to change the perception of children that a scientific and engineering world is closed to all but men with advanced academic degrees. Does this approach also qualify as “brainwashing” or “indoctrination,” the labels Mr. Levin flashes in his attack on feminists who have argued for similar corrections to the curriculum?
It took a federal court decision to strike down sex-based mortality tables which were used to pay lower insurance benefits to women. The atmosphere created by affirmative-action legislation has brought more women into management, although their numbers are still small and their salaries are considerably lower than men. Without the courts, the Congress, and the public forum in which these ideas are debated, change would not be possible. . . . It would be tragic if voices like Mr. Levin’s were to prevail and stop the slow progress toward an improvement in the status of women.
Manager, Science Policy Studies
The Futures Group
To the Editor:
People writing about scientific topics ought to make sure they are knowledgeable about and understanding of their subject. Michael Levin attempts to demonstrate that psychological differences between human males and females are due to biological factors. First, he implies that because prenatal testosterone “plays a large role in shaping the central nervous system of fetuses,” we have an explanation of the male superiority in mathematics, spatial ability, and certain other traits. In fact, there is not one shred of evidence that women who were exposed as fetuses to high levels of testosterone surpass other women in these capacities or that men who had abnormally low levels of testosterone as fetuses are inferior to other men. Second, Mr. Levin’s statement that “common-sense” observations show “that women are . . . more prone to stress” than men merely serves to demonstrate that Mr. Levin’s common sense is precisely 180° out of phase with scientifically established fact: stress diseases are much more common in males than in females. Third, Mr. Levin’s assertion that spatial ability is determined by a sex-linked gene reflects his ignorance of the scientific literature. Corley and colleagues, among many others, have shown that family correlation patterns for spatial ability are totally inconsistent with the sex-linkage hypothesis (Behavior Genetics, Vol. 10, pp. 211-215, 1980). Finally, Mr. Levin’s remarkable claim that sex differences in cognitive ability “are induced by the now-familiar differences between the cerebral hemispheres” leaves one stunned. There is no consensus among researchers regarding the nature of sex differences in human-brain lateralization; some researchers even argue that there is no good evidence for the existence of these differences and some question whether, in any case, psychological differences between the sexes can be explained by possible differences in cerebral asymmetry. These questions are discussed by Jeanette McGlone and by commentators on her article in a recent issues of the Behavioral and Brain Sciences (Vol. 3, pp. 215-263, 1980).
My own view is that the scientific evidence is more consistent with the postulate that human neuropsychological sex differences are partially due to biological factors than that they are not, but, in addition to the fact that this is far from proved, we have little understanding of the genetic and hormonal mechanisms by which such differences might be mediated, how these variables might affect the development of the brain, the extent to which environmental factors condition the organization of the cerebral hemispheres, or the relationship between neurological and psychological variations. Mr. Levin would have his readers believe that the answers to these questions are already in and that there is no room for discussion, a claim that is so far from reality as to be plain silly.
It is difficult to keep in mind that Mr. Levin is supposed to be a philosopher with expertise in the foundations of logic, since he contradicts himself with regard to almost every major issue he addresses. Is it a central tenet of contemporary feminism that all psychological differences between males and females are due to sociological factors or do leading contemporary feminists admit innate differences? Mr. Levin asserts both. Does Mr. Levin support a sex-blind social system where equal opportunities would be available to all people regardless of gender or does he support a sex-discriminatory system? He attacks Betty Friedan for demanding equality of opportunity in the face of possible biologically-based differences on the ground that a society offering such opportunities would be “concocted in an empirical vacuum,” but spends almost half his article attacking sex-discriminatory programs on the ground that they are “profoundly illiberal and must inevitably lead to ever greater degrees of coercion.”
I concur with Mr. Levin that providing members of a designated group with selective advantages and imposing on members of other groups selective restrictions is inherently pernicious and highly destructive, but in opposing a social system that allocates opportunities on the basis of group identity, one necessarily supports a society that is group-blind with respect to the opportunities available. Mr. Levin rejects the universal set. Possibly, he might try to escape the logical bind by claiming that it is not sex discrimination per se that he opposes, but only a form from which men suffer and women benefit. Perhaps he would suggest that the ideal society is one in which both sexes suffer disadvantages if they seek sex-atypical educations and occupations and derive advantages if they seek those that are sex-typical. However, the profundity of illiberality is just as great regardless of which groups gain or lose with respect to any sets of social opportunities. If Mr. Levin opposes “profoundly illiberal” social structures that “inevitably lead to ever greater degrees of coercion,” then he is compelled by logic to reject any system, regardless of its characteristics, that offers opportunities in accordance with group identity and is inconsistent in simultaneously rejecting one where group characteristics are irrelevant.
Does Mr. Levin believe that empirical data must be taken into account in devising social programs, or, in contrast, does he believe the data may be ignored? He says that “moral prescriptions and social programs cannot be concocted in an empirical vacuum,” but he also says that “we may dismiss the accounts of exceptional women, for at issue is what is true of men and women on the whole.” Evidently, the “factual question” is to be ignored when facts pertain to differences among women or differences among men. On the one hand, Mr. Levin faults Betty Friedan for disregarding the data and, on the other, avers that empirical evidence with respect to within-sex variations is to be dismissed!
It should be noted, also, that Mr. Levin’s dismissing of the data is a considerably more serious omission than that of Betty Friedan. For those psychological processes for which the sexes have been found to differ, the variations within sexes are of much greater magnitude. Of all the variation among people on such behavioral functions, only 10-15 percent is due to differences between the sexes, the remainder being due to differences among people of the same sex. Further, the current evidence strongly points to a substantial genetic determination of within-sex variations, whereas, in contrast, the evidence is much weaker for a genetic determination of the between-sex difference.
Were reality different, at least some of the contradictions in which Mr. Levin enmeshes himself could be resolved. In particular, if females did not exist at all, we could have a society that was neither sex-blind nor sex-discriminatory since the whole dimension of gender would be null. Given Mr. Levin’s implied characterization of women as “giggly” and “chatty,” it is not an unreasonable inference that this mono-sexual society is precisely his ideal. Were the world composed of “tough” and “aggressive” males, there would be no one around like me to giggle at Mr. Levin’s illogic.
Department of Behavioral Science
University of Chicago
To the Editor:
Michael Levin has his “whys” confused. The question is not, why are men and women different, or even, why can’t we accept that they are, but rather, why is a woman less valued than a man?
Innate aggression and physical courage lead our “male animals” to value and cultivate these two traits through competition. Has this competitive edge so shaded their perception of the “weaker sex” that men denigrate women’s strengths for their own greater glory or are they simply blind to them as they would be to alien sensitivities?
It is this denigration, this second-class role, that women are finally renouncing. . . .
Nancy Green Sher
To the Editor:
Feminists do not seek to blind children or anyone else to gender differences. Men and women will never be the same, if for no other reason than their unique physiologies. What feminists seek to do is eliminate artificial differences—sex-role stereotypes which limit women’s opportunities because they are smaller or because they bear children, and which deny men the chance to enter traditionally “feminine” roles because of their masculinity. Job quotas and reverse discrimination are and will be necessary evils until such time as opportunities in the work force are equal for everyone, regardless of gender, race, religion, or any number of external variables. There simply is no other way to make up for the lost years. . . .
Size and weight requirements have been used routinely as a means of keeping women, Hispanics, and Orientals out of the work force. In a society as mechanized and automated as ours, there is no reason an average-sized woman with proper training cannot function effectively as a police officer or a fire fighter or a bus driver or a brick mason or a telephone repairman. Since most of the support equipment in the work force was designed for men, some modification has been necessary. . . . In many cases equipment modifications brought about by women entering the work force, such as hand carts to carry heavy tool kits, have resulted in a better work environment and fewer injuries to both sexes. . . .
Regarding Mr. Levin’s discussion of “equal pay for work of equal value,” it should be pointed out that women do not do the work of men because they generally are not hired for “men’s” jobs—not because they are incapable of doing the work. Within the U.S. government, the lowest level jobs (and consequently the lowest paying jobs) are held overwhelmingly by women. . . . These jobs were originally classified into the lower levels not because of their relative value, but because they were held by women, who did not support families and who therefore needed less money. That is why a man who sits behind the wheel of a forklift and moves boxes in a storeroom makes more money than a typist who sits in front of a word-processing machine and produces 120 documents a day. That is why “equal pay for work of equal value” is a valid goal of feminists. “Value” and “brawn” are not necessarily equated.
Regarding education, as long as the world is sexist and racist, it is unacceptable to let children draw their own conclusions, (i.e., it’s OK to be sexist and racist) from what they see. Introducing them to female doctors and male nurses counteracts some of the effects of discrimination they see every day; if we ever hope to eradicate stereotyping based on gender, we must start with our children. This is one reason feminists protest the preponderance of men in history books—it is a result of stereotyping. There have been comparatively few women military, political, and business leaders in the world because women have never had the opportunity to lead. Many of those who did make it have been omitted from history because they were female. . . .
If by wishing “freedom and rationality” to return to the occupational marketplace Mr. Levin means that employers would once again be free to hire more men, promote them fast, pay them more, and give them better training and more responsibility simply because of their gender or their physical strength, he should know that millions of men and women are committed to fighting for the rest of their lives to insure that equal opportunity is a reality for everyone. The world Mr. Levin hopes fervently for and justifies passionately is gone forever, and we are all of us, women and men, better off for it.
To the Editor:
. . . Michael Levin’s tone is cynical and angry and his brief references to scientific studies do not support his arguments, but rather are only an unsuccessful attempt to add credibility to his article. Scientific evidence of genetic differences between men and women does not support Mr. Levin’s arguments and innuendos that such differences preclude women from performing as well as men in a broad range of activities. Nor does it follow, as Mr. Levin implies, that the goal of eliminating discrimination based on sex involves a repressive attack on positive American values. Discrimination based on sex, like discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, and other similar categories, has been recognized as harmful and in many situations made illegal, not because of some altruistic theory, but because (1) people are being harmed by such discrimination; (2) the people harmed are usually in a position of power inferior to those doing the harm; and (3) discrimination does not go away by itself. . . .
At the moment, however, there are so many sexist men and women in America that there exists an uncertain balance between those who believe that sexism is good and those who believe that freedom of choice and equality of opportunity for women are more beneficial values. I believe the trend is in favor of the latter group, but it is a precarious balance. In the past women and their supporters have made great strides toward freedom which were later followed by general repression.
Both sexism and racism seem destined to exist so long as women and blacks occupy inferior positions of economic and political power. Conversely, it is probable that the relatively low level of active anti-Semitism in America derives from the fact that on the average Jews probably occupy positions of economic and political power at least equal to the average anti-Semite.
The continued existence of sexism does not obviate the moral requirement to seek to counteract sexist values. Quite the contrary, if we believe that sexism is harmful we have a responsibility to try to eliminate sex discrimination and limit the extent to which the value of sexism is transmitted and reinforced in American society. . . .
The publication of Mr. Levin’s flimsy apology for sexism in no way advances the literature on the subject. . . . I cannot imagine that a similar article decrying the efforts of, for example, the Anti-Defamation League would have received other than a quick rejection slip from the editors. . . .
Ralph David Samuel
Michael Levin Writes:
There are some recurring catch-phrases today’s feminists proclaim with dreary predictability: “equality of opportunity,” “systematic discrimination against women,” and “equal pay for equal work.” I expected these, and I got them. Yet these shibboleths do not even touch the main issue of my article, which is the question of a coercive movement toward androgyny.
Equality of opportunity is denied women when the law forbids a woman to apply for or hold a position. With a few exceptions—laws against women in combat and in firehouses are sensible and necessary—I am all for striking down such laws, and hence for “equality of opportunity.” Who would not be?
Somehow, though, that phrase has been stretched to mean imposing hiring and admissions requirements on everyone in sight. I not only oppose “equality of opportunity” in this perverted sense, I think it is clear how the perversion came about. If you assume that men and women are the same, you will interpret inequality of outcome as evidence of inequality of opportunity (in something like the standard sense) somewhere along the line. Quotas then seem reasonable, because all they do is insure outcomes that would have transpired naturally had “equality of opportunity” been observed. But, as I stressed in my article, if the assumption is wrong, i.e., if men and women are different, conditions of equal opportunity will not bring about a unisex world.
“Systematic discrimination against women” is a myth. If it means that men and women occupy different roles, devotees of this expression are begging the question. If it means that women have been beaten, lynched, impoverished, and herded into ghettos to keep them in place, it is plain nonsense. But if it means that construction workers have been known to scrawl rude sayings on fences, or that an assistant professor suspects that she was denied tenure because she is a woman—is this “systematic discrimination” worth turning our society upside down for?
I myself think that virtually all the civil-rights legislation of the recent past impermissibly violates freedom of association and contract. But even if you do not agree with me—even if you believe that the good done by laws forbidding discrimination in employment outweighs their harm—you must surely agree that these laws have been abused. The coercive push toward a unisex society is the principal abuse, and has nothing to do with forbidding discrimination.
The slogan “equal pay for equal work” can be depended on to elicit assent—who would deny that a boss ought to pay a man and a woman the same for answering telephones? But consider what can be, and has, slipped by under this slogan: (a) the government enforces the obligation; (b) the government determines when work is equal (there can be slipshod and careful telephone answering, after all); (c) the government determines when different work is of equal value. Consider the totalitarian potential in (c) alone. Is it fair that brawny bricklayers make more than secretaries? In a free market the question answers itself: yes, because work is worth the price it fetches. The only alternative is an authority which enforces its own edicts about wages, and it is this alternative that feminists, in their quest for sameness, prefer.
To Frederick Butzen, whose letter distills these self-same clichés, I say only: the government’s abuses are not the result of greed. Bureaucrats who forbid girlie calendars in factory locker rooms are idealists who believe in what they are doing. That is why they are so dangerous.
To Iris Mitgang: Since chairs are not known to be careful readers, I excuse your saying that I called men superior in my article. I did not; I said they differ from women. Since the difference involves, in part, a greater readiness to use force, I would welcome a government of pacifist women if our friends in Moscow would do so as well. I had hoped I wouldn’t have to hear about the Nazis, and the Jews of Germany, but, alas, it seems this was not to be. Actually, there are studies comparing blacks, Jews, and Orientals on verbal ability, spatial visualizing ability, numerical ability, and IQ which should be more widely known, especially by anyone who takes differential performance as proving discrimination. I’m the one who wants to open doors to “everyone with the ability.” Feminists don’t: they want quotas and reeducation to homogenize the traffic in advance.
To Edith U. Fierst: I suppose house painters earn more than nurses because those who hire house painters value their services more, or because house painters drive harder bargains. If you think this is unfair, you are free to give part of your income to the nurses’ union, paint your house yourself, and remonstrate with those who do hire house painters. Whether to endure these inconveniences is indeed a hard question to answer. Should it be answered by the government?
To Edward Cline: Your letter gives a chillingly realistic sense of the ugly impulses behind prattle about “the risks we have to take.” I have had such conversations as you relate, some of them with philosophers and editors who tell me they prize liberty and pluralism. Perhaps some good may come of the preposterous ukases you describe. Young readers, struck by the discrepancy between what they see around them and the black, female (handicapped?) weightlifters of their workbooks, will come to disdain the authorities who impose this rubbish. Of course, the longer-term consequences of a general contempt for adult authority by the young are not pleasant to contemplate.
To R. K. Becker I can only say “hear, hear.” You are quite right that sex-role differentiation would be important even if it were based only on convention. Without it, our sexual and emotional lives would be impoverished: men and women look for complementarity in each other. I’m glad that someone has had the sense and nerve to say it. While I agree that no amount of “conditioning” (a word that feminists, who do not understand it, should not use) can make people think that ice cream tastes like steak, great damage can be done by drumming the message into their heads that there is no difference between men and women, and making them feel guilty if they continue to find a difference. I am confident that any psychologist brave enough to inquire will find that liberated parents who inflict their liberation on their children do great harm, for a strong sense of self cannot emerge without a strong sense of one’s own gender.
To Ruth S. King: Another note of thanks for reminding us all of who really has a hidden agenda. There is indeed a firm connection between feminism and all sorts of left-wing causes, which always show up at feminist hootenanies. I suspect that many feminists today tend to follow Marx because only Marxists have an “explanation” of the family which does not root it in inexpungible human emotions.
To Grace Rubin-Rabson: I much appreciate professional confirmation of my gleanings from the psychological literature. I appreciate its public statement as well.
To William Jaaskela: I thank you for informing me of Alice Rossi’s second thoughts, and I welcome her back to the fold. (It is not clear, however, either from your citations or from Professor Rossi’s recent article in the Autumn 1980 Signs, just how much she is willing to retract her original “androgynous ideal.”) I picked the older essay because several sources had recommended it to me as a “feminist classic” written by someone with good academic credentials. More important, the views therein, whether or not Professor Rossi still holds them, do underlie the feminism of the 80′s. Had I culled more up-to-date citations from Jane O’Reilly, Robin Morgan, or Victoria Geng, I would have been criticized for attacking “popular overstatements” of feminism. Feminists are, indeed, rather easy to rankle: the same issue of Signs drums Germaine Greer out of the corps for saying that men are crazier than (hence different from) women.
To Martin J. Newhouse: First, some lexicography: “girl” means “pubescent human female”; “man” means “adult human male.” Actually, the army’s lowering of requirements and a federal court’s elimination of the New York Fire Department’s requirement that a fire fighter (né fireman) be able to carry heavy weights quickly are matters of public record that illustrate my main point. Only limitations of space prevent chapters, verses, and statistics. I agree that my point about different cultures was poorly phrased: it should have run, “Why do not 50 percent of human societies have jokes and proverbs attributing toughness to women . . .?” I should have thought my agenda was quite overt. All the legislation forcing women to be admitted, hired, promoted, paid, and compensated for jobs they have never held should be struck down. If we must have anti-discrimination legislation, it should require firm evidence of intent. I also think the media should stop their barrage of unisex propaganda, although of course I do not demand any laws to this effect. As for “society’s barriers,” this is just a tendentious way of saying that unconstrained human choices have a certain net result.
To Hedvah Shuchman: Like Mr. Newhouse, you never address the conflict between liberty and regulations to “remedy” alleged discrimination. Since last I heard, women have the legal right to be engineers, so what is this matter of “under utilization”? If you are scandalized by the figures, you should remember that women simply do not, in general, have the mathematical aptitude of men. (See, for example, the new research on mathematical ability reported in Science magazine, December 12, 1980.) Once again: it is only permissible to stop the state from forbidding a woman to participate in some activity, or to compensate the subject of a clear wrong from the pocket or hide of the wrongdoer. The myriad regulations now bedeviling us meet none of these criteria.
One must admire your gameness in dodging the issue of coercion. You speak of federal legislation “encouraging” employers to “take positive steps.” That’s right—and a Mack truck bearing down on me at 60 mph encourages me to take positive steps to get off the highway. By the way, those oft-cited statistics about pay fail to reflect such variables as the subjects women tend to teach, and the well-documented demographic phenomenon that professional women, like women generally, tend to marry “up,” hence have to settle for jobs in the artificially competitive urban markets in which their successful academic husbands usually live.
Finally, those new teaching materials that reflect the “needs” of womenandminorities (why not make it one word?) certainly are indoctrination—see Mr. Cline’s letter. Their “advocacy” by the government will almost certainly collide with academic freedom and freedom of expression.
To Jerre Levy: At the heart of your letter is a sentence which does not make sense: “Mr. Levin rejects the universal set.” You go on to call this “a logical bind,” but I have no idea what you are talking about, and I rather doubt that you do. You twice ask for my attitude on equal opportunity, and I say again that there should, of course, be no laws forbidding anyone to hold any position, except those in which “coeducation” would endanger society (such as much of the military). Talk of the “social system” discriminating is, again, pure reification: what the social system “does” is simply the unintended result of millions of independent decisions. The social system doesn’t promote or impede opportunity. A little girl who never wanted to be a doctor has not been kept out of medical school; to think otherwise is to confuse coercion with causation.
This letter does occasion an important epistemological point. The scientific evidence I cited was not intended to prove that men and women differ. I take it as perfectly obvious to anyone not blinded by ideology that they do. The scientific data explain the difference by supplying the underlying mechanisms. Physics cannot convince a skeptic that grass is green; what physics does do is explain why, as everyone knows, grass is green. Indeed, introducing science at all risks making it seem that gender differences are less than self-evident. (The reader will now have to evaluate our competing claims for himself. In addition to the material cited in the letters of Mr. Jaaskela and Miss Rubin-Rabson, I recommend Tranick and Adamson’s Babies as People, and the recent research on mathematical ability I mentioned above. I note also that none of my correspondents takes issue with the material on behavior or motivation.)
I brought science in, somewhat reluctantly, since feminists don’t accept common observation, and they’ve convinced a lot of other people not to. So perhaps “science” will do it. One has to wonder, though, about the evidential rules of a game in which the observations of the whole human race don’t count.
To Nancy Green Sher: I must ask you why you think female virtues have been denigrated. The womanly virtues of kindness, selfless love, and civilizing influence are universally exalted. It is the feminists themselves who are the ones now scrambling to get off the pedestal.
To D.A. Burnette: If this letter did not exist, I would have had to invent it—it assumes that role differences are artificial, it completely muddles notions like opportunity and equality, and it advocates quotas. I find a touch of megalomania, though, in the idea that size and weight requirements are “routinely used” to keep women (and Hispanics!) out of certain jobs. Look, Miss/Mr. Burnette, you have to be big and tough to be a fireman or a soldier. That’s why those requirements are in place. The assumption that people violate their own self-interest in order to spite you is, literally, paranoid.
To Ralph David Samuel: Since you use “sexism” and its cognates seven times, you must know what it means. I don’t. If it is the idea that men and women differ, and people’s uncoerced behavior will reflect this difference, the doctrine is true, and hardly an opprobrious epithet. If it is the idea that women are so morally inferior to men they should be denied the legal right to vote or apply to medical school, the doctrine is extinct in these parts (even if good for a daily two-minute hate session). Perhaps “sexism” is just a substitute for thinking.