How different are men and women? — with Christina Hoff Sommers (1995) | THINK TANK

How different are men and women? — with Christina Hoff Sommers (1995) | THINK TANK

December 9, 2019 17 By Ronny Jaskolski


Ben Wattenberg: Hello, I’m Ben Wattenberg. As you may have noticed, men look different
from women. But do men and women think differently? If so, could these differences be hardwired
in our genes and in our brains? What would that mean for women? What would that mean for men? Joining us to sort through the conflict and
the consensus are Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and
author of “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation” and “Talking
from 9 to 5”; Robert Wright of The New Republic magazine and author of “The Moral Animal:
Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology”; Lawrence Hedges,
professor of social science and education at the University of Chicago and coauthor
of a major new study on gender differences; and Christina Sommers, professor of philosophy
at Clark University and author of “Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women.” The topic before this house is: How different
are men and women? This week on “Think Tank.” “Boys are made of frogs and snails and puppy
dog tails.” And girls — “girls are made of sugar and
spice and all that’s nice.” You know, for more than a quarter of a century,
the women’s movement has been chipping away at stereotypes like those. In America now, the economic, political and
professional imbalances between men and women are closing fast, but the evidence behind
some of those stereotypes is mounting. Recent studies reveal that men and women use
different parts of their brains for language. Girls are nearly twice as good as boys on
many word choice tests, and girls are far more likely to be top scorers on writing tests. Boys are seven times more likely than girls
to score in the top 5 percent on science tests and twice as likely to score higher on math
tests. What about the mating game? According to a survey of 37 cultures, men
tend to value physical attractiveness and youth when choosing a partner, while women
are more concerned about status, ambition, and resources. What happens when social barriers to women
fall? Since 1960, the share of women receiving medical
degrees has increased sevenfold, while the number receiving law degrees has jumped 17-fold. Today the majority of college students are
women, who on the average receive better grades than their male counterparts. A few months ago, Speaker Newt Gingrich declared
that men are biologically driven to hunt and kill giraffes and that women were biologically
unsuited to fighting in the trenches. Let’s just go around the room once, starting
with you, Deborah Tannen. How different are men and women? Deborah Tannen: The differences that I’m
interested in are differences in ways of speaking, ways of using language in everyday life. There seems to be a tendency — and all of
these are just tendencies; they’re never absolute differences — tendency for women
to focus more on the connection versus distance dimension, men to be somewhat more attuned
to whether a way of speaking is going to put them in a one-down position. And many other differences we can talk about
— ways of valuing the role of conversation in a relationship, ways of using language
to accomplish your goals in everyday interaction. Ben Wattenberg: Larry Hedges, you just authored
— coauthored a new study on this matter. Lawrence Hedges: Yes, and the differences
that we looked at were differences in intellectual functioning. And there the short summary is that, on the
average, men and women are not that different in their intellectual functioning, with a
few very stereotyped exceptions. But in spite of the fact that they aren’t
that different on the average, men tend to outnumber women substantially at both the
top end of the distribution — that is, among very talented individuals — and also at
the bottom end, among the anti-talented individuals, if you like. Ben Wattenberg: Okay. Bob Wright. Robert Wright: Well, from the standpoint of
evolutionary psychology, I guess the sex difference that most certainly has a genetic basis is
in the realm of sex or romance. For example, men are less discriminating about
sex partners, in some sense more polygamous, on average at least, than women. But the same logic that leads to that conclusion
does extend to the question of aggressiveness, although I don’t buy Newt Gingrich’s explanation
of exactly why that is in evolutionary terms. Ben Wattenberg: You are permitted by your
magazine to agree with Newt Gingrich periodically, right? Robert Wright: This was the one — this fulfills
my yearly quota. Ben Wattenberg: Okay, all right, great. All right. Robert Wright: And this issue of aggression
may in turn extend into realms beyond physical combat, so that men — for example, Deborah’s
work suggests that they’re more combative in conversation. Ben Wattenberg: Who, us? Robert Wright: Exactly. Ben Wattenberg: Okay, Christina Sommers. Christina Sommers: Yes. I think the differences can be exaggerated. I do not think that women think differently
from men. I completely disagree with my colleagues in
feminist philosophy, who believe there is a special epistemology, a female logic. This seems to me to be nonsense. However, I do think there are rather strong
differences in preferences between men and women, romantically speaking, and even in
the areas — in employment, women gravitate towards jobs that seem to engage them more
emotionally. You’re going to always have probably more
women as kindergarten teachers than helicopter repair, you know, servicemen. Deborah Tannen: I often wonder why we are
so obsessed with picking apart exactly how much is social and exactly how much is genetic. Ben Wattenberg: Well, because — Deborah Tannen: It must be some combination
of both. Ben Wattenberg: Yeah, right, but to answer
your question as to why we are so obsessed about it, because starting in the 1960s, a
very prominent group of women said there really were no differences, these were all socially
imposed upon women, and they were harming women. So I mean, I think that’s the answer why
we’re in this argument. Deborah Tannen: Well, and that in itself is
kind of interesting. I frequently am asked after I speak, “Are
these differences you described biological or cultural?” And I often find that the people who ask me
think they know. They either are convinced it’s all biological
or they’re convinced it’s all cultural, and they tend to pattern by gender. It’s usually the women who feel it’s all
cultural and the men who ask me and who have already decided that they think it’s all
biological. That in itself, to me, is an interesting cultural
phenomenon. I suspect that the women are thinking, if
we can say that there are really no differences, it’s all cultural, then we can change everything
we don’t like about the world tomorrow. And on the other side, the feeling may be,
if it’s all biological, then if you women are in a subordinate position in the world,
it’s your own fault. We can’t do anything about it, and don’t
blame me. And I think, in fact, neither of those is
true. Cultural training is very hard to change,
and biological training is very possible to change. I mean, what’s more human than to go against
our biological givens? Ben Wattenberg: Bob Wright, where does the
evolutionary psychologist come out on this? Robert Wright: Well, certainly not with the
view that genes are destiny. But on the other hand, with the view that
there are some inclinations which are fairly stubborn and that they will never be entirely
defeated. And, you know, you asked, why does it matter
to what extent this is deeply biological? You know, one example is, I think for a while,
20 years ago or so, there was the idea that you could have a sexual morality that was
premised on the idea that men and women are identical in the way they think about sex,
in the way they react to sex. And that had a lot of effects. I actually think one of the effects it had
was to alleviate, to free males from a kind of moral responsibility they had previously
been told they had, a kind of considerateness they had to extend to someone, for example,
in realizing that sex might mean less to the male than to the female and they should keep
that in mind. And, you know, so I think on the one hand,
if males are aware of this, they can certainly — you know, we can all control ourselves. On the other hand, there are some basic features
of human nature that exist in cultures everywhere and are reflected in the moral systems that
evolve culturally. And I think, you know, a robust moral system
has to take into account basic differences that are going to be there to some extent
or another. Christina Sommers: Don’t you think that
may be a mistake that some feminists made if there are these differences between men
and women? And I think a bedrock difference is that men
are stronger than women. Men can harm women. And there may have been a reason why we evolved
certain customs and codes of civility and — Ben Wattenberg: Men don’t bear children. I mean, to begin with, I mean as a — Christina Sommers: And men don’t bear children. But codes of gallantry, showing gestures of
respect towards women, those may have been very, very important to protect women, not
to demean women, though there were demeaning aspects, for sure. But I think as feminists, perhaps we were
too hasty to disparage these customs and mores that served a very important purpose of protecting
women from men. Ben Wattenberg: Larry. Lawrence Hedges: And yet I would be worried
if we jumped too hastily to the conclusion that the differences that we observe between
men and women are necessarily biologically based and immutable. That would freeze into place certain differences
in the opportunity structure for men and women in society that we might not want to freeze
into place. Ben Wattenberg: Well, but I mean now you’re
talking like a politician. You’re supposed to be a social scientist,
which is — we do not regard that as an oxymoron now. So you shouldn’t say what should be, but
what is. Now, what does your study show? I mean, are there immutable differences? I mean, men do not bear children — that
is a major difference in a human being’s life — and don’t usually play a premier
role in rearing them and nurturing them. That is another premier difference in the
lives of men and women. I mean, can you then just say sort of politically,
well, we should ignore that? Lawrence Hedges: I’m not suggesting we should
ignore that, but what I am suggesting is that when we observe differences that are as large
as the ones we found in our study, differences of two to one or seven to one in some cases,
those kinds of differences could be used to suggest that it’s all right if in science
men outnumber women seven to one and it’s not a difference that we should really worry
about. We shouldn’t ask ourselves the question:
Could this be because there are more opportunities for men and more encouragement to go into
science for men than women? Deborah Tannen: There is a danger that obvious
differences — for example, women can give birth. Some women can give birth to babies, and no
men can — obviously, not all women do — Christina Sommers: Arnold Schwarzenegger — Ben Wattenberg: Arnold Schwarzenegger did
in that movie, right. [Laughter.] Deborah Tannen: — can be misinterpreted. For example, one of the early arguments against
women receiving higher education was that all that blood supply that was going to be
going to their brains when they did all this difficult intellectual work would be taken
from the womb and would affect their childbearing capacities. So the question is still open: What are the
impacts of these various differences? And you know, I think they can be over-interpreted. Christina Sommers: But I think the important
thing is that we must believe in equality of opportunity. If a little girl is a math prodigy, then classes
should be available to her, and she should be able to pursue her talent. Unfortunately, what’s happening right now
is many women’s groups, in particular, the American Association of University Women and
a group called Fair Test, have said, “Aha, girls are not scoring the same as boys on
the SAT and on the NAEPs. We have to change the test.” Ben Wattenberg: The NAEPs is the — Christina Sommers: The National Assessment
of Educational Progress. Ben Wattenberg: Right. Christina Sommers: And girls are behind in
math and science; therefore, it is sexism at work. And they’re actually changing SAT tests
now in ways which — to favor girls, and there’s a suggestion that they should take
away time limits or they shouldn’t reward boys for guessing. Now, this is ridiculous. It’s part of intelligence to make educated
guesses and to be quick-witted. I mean, it just seems to me to be all wrong. We’re going — it’s the dumbing down. Lawrence Hedges: It seems to me that it’s
a very dangerous phenomenon because it leads to the idea of redefining the criteria, and
not just for men and women, but for any groups that happen to be important in the society. And I think that’s a serious mistake of
shooting the messenger rather than trying to find out what we can learn from the message. Robert Wright: You know, I wanted to say that
— you wanted to be kind of agnostic on the basis of cognitive differences between men
and women. And it’s actually true that from the point
of view of evolutionary psychology; there aren’t really clear reasons to predict very
specific cognitive differences. That’s not to say they don’t have an evolutionary
basis. But what is fairly likely is that in the realm
of what you might call ambition, there is some difference between the average man and
the average woman. And that’s the kind of thing that could
account — Ben Wattenberg: Well, what is the difference? Who is more ambitious? Robert Wright: Oh, men. And in Deborah’s work, you — I mean, men
are bigger show-offs, and there’s a fairly clear-cut evolutionary reason for this. And another related thing from an evolutionary
standpoint is there’s some reason to believe that parents may have an innate inclination
to push boys harder because during evolution, the social status of a son paid off in reproductive
terms more than the social status of a daughter. Now, that doesn’t mean that parents are
condemned to do this for eternity. In fact, in my own experience — I have two
daughters — being aware of this tendency, if anything, makes me actually want to combat
it, I mean, you know, give the daughter a fair shake. And to the extent that parents do that, then
any difference in your findings, for example, that’s due to parents pushing the male will
disappear. Ben Wattenberg: Is it possible that men and
women are equally ambitious, but for different goals? That a man may want to be — Robert Wright: Well, in different realms. Ben Wattenberg: — the football star or the
CEO, and a woman maybe extremely ambitious — I mean, to go back an era or so — may
be extremely ambitious to raise three children really well and have a home and a family and
do things that, you know, are, in my judgment, more important than about 99 percent of the
other kind of jobs. But that’s — Robert Wright: Well, and do things that are
even less obviously related to kind of being a mother. But certainly, yes, my guess would be, based
on evolutionary psychology, that in the realm of kind of being — you know, being out there
and seeking respect — another difference you find is that men want respect and women
want women to — want people to like them, at least on average. Deborah Tannen: In terms of percentages and
degree. Robert Wright: Exactly. I mean, all of these are statistical differences. But in that realm, you would expect a difference
in that direction. Christina Sommers: You know what I find surprising,
though? If you look at Department of Education data,
more girls are going to college than boys. And they ask, “Were you encouraged to go?” They ask counselors, “Were you encouraged
by a teacher, a counselor, a parent?” And far more girls claim to have been encouraged. So there may be something amiss in our society
right now. I’m a mother of two boys, so I’m the boys’
advocate here. But I really feel that we are not encouraging
our boys as much as our girls now, that boys are getting left behind. And there is, I know, a great deal of hype
about the shortchanged, silenced girls. But if you actually look who’s getting the
better grades, it’s the girls, who is in most of the honors clubs and the service clubs
and the school newspaper, it’s girls who are overrepresented. The one area where boys are overrepresented
is sports, and the feminists are going after that with a vengeance. Ben Wattenberg: Who gets in more trouble with
drugs and crime? Christina Sommers: Drugs and alcohol and delinquency,
dropping out — boys are overrepresented in those areas. Lawrence Hedges: But the finding that women
— that girls get better grades than boys is an old finding. It goes way back to a time I think before
the feminist revolution and has persisted to this day in every area. Christina Sommers: Better study habits. Lawrence Hedges: Or greater task persistence. Who knows? Ben Wattenberg: Or an innate difference. Robert Wright: Could be also possible. Deborah Tannen: Well, it doesn’t — I mean,
you poo-poo all the findings of the — why girls fail stuff, and sure, you can — Christina Sommers: Not all of them, not all
of them. Deborah Tannen: — because you can pick out
lots of them that I think have been misinterpreted, but there’s a lot of stuff there, I think,
that’s very real. Ben Wattenberg: For example? Christina Sommers: Like what? Deborah Tannen: Well, for example, the findings
that girls are called on less in class, that they — Christina Sommers: No, no. Look at the latest research, Jerry Brofy at
Michigan State and Jacqueline Eckles. It’s really a myth. Ben Wattenberg: What do — Deborah Tannen: Well, I’ve been convinced
by the research I’ve read — Ben Wattenberg: Hold it. Let’s try — what do they say, and then
you tell me, what is the counterargument on this? Christina Sommers: Jerry Brofy at Michigan
State says that the — he simply — boys are — get more attention because it’s
negative attention. They are disciplined more. And if you’re sitting there observing, you
will see, “Johnny, what do you think is the capital of New York?” It’s a form of classroom management. So boys get — but what’s important, according
to Brofy and others, is the quality of the interaction. And there, boys are not getting more qualitative
interaction. Ben Wattenberg: Deborah Tannen, what do you
think about that? Deborah Tannen: Well, the research findings
of the Satgers, I’m sure you all know them — Christina Sommers: Where did the Satgers publish
that data? Deborah Tannen: They’ve done — in their
— their book called “Failing at Fairness” is full of this — Christina Sommers: No, no, but what research
journal? Where has their data ever been peer-reviewed? It hasn’t. Deborah Tannen: I’ve read their research
and many others, too. Christina Sommers: That’s what everyone
thinks, that there are many others, but they’re not there. Deborah Tannen: Well, I believe they’re
there. I mean, it’s not my immediate field. Ben Wattenberg: Okay, all right. Deborah Tannen: But let me just say, the kind
of thing that they find is that if a boy asks a question, the teacher is more likely to
ask him a challenging question, more likely to follow up with questions that challenge
him. Ben Wattenberg: But let me ask you — Deborah Tannen: And I observe this in my own
classrooms, girls in my — women — young women in my own classrooms. I have classes of women and men. I’ve done my own studies on this, too. I will often have three, four, five young
women in the classroom never speak in class. I very rarely have young men in the class
that never speak in class. Women tell me that if they speak in class
one day, they try to be quiet the next because they don’t want to be seen as dominating. Ben Wattenberg: In the elementary and secondary
school, at least, the vast majority of the teachers are women. So if there is a discriminatory act going
on, it is women on women, right? Deborah Tannen: Well, that’s very interesting
because I think definitely a lot of the expectations that we have, which we foist on others — in
other words, you expect a woman to be a certain way, you expect a man to be a certain way
— it’s equally true of women as it is of men. There’s no reason that it shouldn’t be. Ben Wattenberg: Let me ask you a question
as a social scientist. How much of the social science in America
today is pre-driven, that in other words, somebody is going in there with a liberal
view or a conservative view and saying, “Here’s what I’m looking to prove”? And we all know you can jiggle a lot of these
studies. And how much of it is the equivalent of a
man or a woman in a white coat in a medical lab, you know, checking everything one against
another? Are the social sciences ideologically driven? Lawrence Hedges: To some extent, of course
they are. And they have to be because, you know, it
is social science. But many of the large data-collection programs
that are multipurpose data-collection programs are so large, involve so many different scientists,
and have to be vetted by so many different interests that in fact I suspect many of those
special interests and special perspectives kind of cancel one another out. Ben Wattenberg: Insofar as what we’ve been
talking about, what should we do about education? Let’s go — starting with you, Bob Wright,
and come around this way. Robert Wright: Well, I mean, the policy prescription
that’s clearest to me and has some relevance to education is that if affirmative action
for the sexes is to be based on the assumption that the sexes are identical in nature, so
that any imbalance in the representation of males and females in a given workforce or
at a given level is assumed to be due to discrimination, that is surely a faulty assumption. I really think, from the point of evolutionary
psychology, you can say that. On the other hand, evolutionary psychology
provides you reasons why an enlightened boss might, in some cases, in a sense systematically
favor women over men. It suggests that men are more likely to be
egotistical in their pursuit of career advancement and even sacrifice the interests of the organization
they’re working for to their own personal interests than women are. This is not a hundred percent certain finding,
but there’s very good reason to believe it. So I think, you know, in policy terms, this
can in some senses cut against women, in some senses favor them. Ben Wattenberg: Larry, Bob Wright has expanded
the topic from education to education and affirmative action. Now, where would you — what should we be
doing that we’re not doing? Lawrence Hedges: Given that we don’t know
that the differences are entirely biological, I think we should try to do more to equalize
opportunity structures for men and women in education, first of all, in the long run. Ben Wattenberg: And that would mean, for example,
working harder with boys to become better writers. Lawrence Hedges: As one of the prime examples. Ben Wattenberg: Right, as well as girls to
become better mathematicians. Lawrence Hedges: Exactly. But in the — I would like to add that in
the short run, the imbalance of very talented individuals — that is, the fact that there
are more very talented men than women in areas like mathematics and science — has real
implications for trying to achieve closer to a balance of representation of the genders
in the sciences. It means that we either have to accept lower
goals or recruit harder to get more women into the sciences. Ben Wattenberg: Deborah Tannen. Deborah Tannen: I agree with what Bob Wright
said earlier, that if there are differences, it’s in everybody’s interest to understand
what they are and move on from there. I think that for work situations as well as
classroom situations and home relationships, if we can see patterns and identify them,
we can equalize opportunity by taking them into account. An example that has come up is very good evidence
that men are more likely than women to be aggressive and to use open argumentation,
and this could also be cultural because it may not be true of Japanese and other cultures. But in the Western society, the open exchange
of argument as a way of learning things is much more congenial to the men than the women. And this could be one reason that many women
back off in a classroom that is taught that way. And there’s a fair amount of evidence that
women often drop out of science classes because they don’t like that argumentative classroom
atmosphere and they’re uncomfortable with it. Well, that’s a way you could start out,
not lowering the requirements for how much a scientist has to know to get this job, by
no means, but creating an environment that women might be more comfortable getting the
scientific training and might not drop out. Ben Wattenberg: Christina. Christina Sommers: I think one thing that’s
very important is that a lot of the research on gender in the last 10 or 15 years has been
done by feminist advocates who are committed to a sort of victim feminism, and the research
cannot be trusted. They exaggerate women’s vulnerability; they
exaggerate women’s oppression. And I hope that politicians and journalists
will be careful to get to the more balanced scholars because I think in education we’re
not getting a good, accurate picture. I think when it comes to gender bias in the
workplace, we’re not getting an accurate picture. We have to get to the — as I said, to the
more solid research. Ben Wattenberg: Okay. Thank you, Christina Sommers, Lawrence Hedges,
Robert Wright, and Deborah Tannen. Thank you. Please send your comments and questions to
New River Media, 1150 17th Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20036.We can also be reached
via email at [email protected] Or on the World Wide Web at www.pbs.org. No matter what you choose to contact us, please don’t forget to tell us where you are calling from. For “Think Tank,” the father of three daughters and one son, I am Ben Wattenberg. Announcer: This has been a production of BJW
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