Harvard University President Lawrence Summers has been in hot water for a while, after he had the temerity to suggest that innate biological differences between men and women might possibly be one among several factors explaining the underrepresentation of women in science.
Never mind that Harvard's own Graduate School of Education hosts on its own servers detailed discussions of scientific studies that actually did find differences in how men's and women's brains process information:
Gender-Based DifferencesLet's assume for the sake of argument that that study, and numerous others showing some degree of gender-based difference in brain functions, are completely irrelevant to the ability to perform top-notch scientific research. In other words, let's assume that when it comes to academics, men and women are completely equal.
Of particular interest were differences in brain activation patterns in men compared to women. Figure 3 illustrates that activation during phonological processing in men was more lateralized to the left inferior frontal gyrus, known as Broca’s area; in contrast, activation during this same task in women resulted in a more bilateral pattern of activation of this region.
These findings provide the first clear evidence of gender-based differences in the functional organization of the brain for language. They support and extend a long-held hypothesis that language functions are more likely to be highly lateralized in males but are represented in both cerebral hemispheres in females.
...Shaywitz, B., Shaywitz, S., et al. (1995). “Sex differences in the functional organization of the brain for language.” Nature, 373, 607-609.
If such a scenario were the case, as President Summers' enemies vociferously demand it is, then surely any professor promoting false and pernicious notions of gender inequality would have no place at Harvard.
But in fact, at least one such professor did exist very recently at Harvard. And before she moved on to NYU in 2002, she managed to set up an entire, thriving research center to propagate her sexist ideology.
The professor in question is Carol Gilligan, known as the founder of "difference feminism":
Many feminists insisted that there are no differences between males and females. Gilligan asserted that women have differing moral and psychological tendencies than men. According to Gilligan, men think in terms of rules and justice and women are more inclined to think in terms of caring and relationships.If President Summers had said that men think in terms of rules and women think in terms of caring, he would have been run out of town on a rail, if not actually tarred and feathered. But Prof. Gilligan's reception was somewhat warmer. She became Harvard's first professor of Gender Studies in 1997.
Soon after, in 2001, Harvard dedicated a brand-new Gender Studies Center (financed by a $12.5 million gift from Jane Fonda) to the further study and embellishment of her sexist theories. For example, in her 1982 book In a Different Voice, Gilligan argued that young girls suffer a crushing lack of self-esteem in schools centered around a male-dominated oppressor culture, which must be undermined by striving to, as the Wall Street Journal sardonically put it, "rescue boys from their masculinity."
In an interview with Salon.com, former philosophy professor Christina Hoff Sommers, author of Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys, points out that Gilligan's scholarship is irredeemably flawed:
Carol Gilligan's research should not be promoted by Harvard University any more than it already has been. She has failed to produce the data on which her celebrated research for "In a Different Voice" was based. She says it's too sensitive to share with others. That is simply unacceptable in empirical research. You have to show others your original data, and she hasn't done this for the three studies on which she based her claims.Sommers also exposed Gilligan's toxic legacy:
She claims that girls suffer a precipitous loss of self-esteem in adolescence, but no one has been able to corroborate this. She's very good at using anecdotes, but that's the problem -- one of the greatest indicators of pseudoscience is a reliance on anecdotes rather than data. When researchers like Susan Harter at the University of Denver tried to test Gilligan's hypotheses, she was unable to find this dramatic loss of voice and self-confidence and self-esteem in girls.
... It does ring true to some parents. The problem is that when you make generalizations about people, some of them seem to apply. That's how astrology works.
This is the era of the disappearing male on the college campus. Now, overall, colleges are 56 to 57 percent female. There are many schools that are already 60 to 62 percent female -- University of Georgia, Boston University, American University.To recap: Larry Summers makes a casual suggestion that gender differences might play a role in explaining disparities between men and women, and is roundly criticized. Carol Gilligan bases an entire career on a corrosive, sexist worldview backed up by fraudulent research, and she is rewarded with a professorship and a research center.
So college admissions officers are grappling with the problem of how to attract young men. At Oberlin, for example, one of the college admissions officers suggested ways to make its Web site a little more male-friendly. His colleagues said, "Men are part of the oppressor culture. Why should we do that?" That mentality, I think, is very harsh. I believe that Carol Gilligan created this by drawing attention to this faux girl crisis.
At Harvard, it would seem, gender-based distinctions are good for the goose, but not for the gander.
Scrappleface expresses the same idea, only he uses a lot fewer words. And makes it gut-bustingly funny to boot.
Running for the Right points out a recent CNN report on gender-based differences in brain structure and activity:
Scientists say males have more activity in mechanical centers of the brain, whereas females show more activity in verbal and emotional centers.None of the above proves that men or women have an innate advantage in certain academic subjects, or whether such an advantage, if one exists, outweighs other factors like upbringing, personal preference, social pressures, or sexism. But at the very least, it demonstrates that the question is a legitimate topic for further research and debate.
...To find out why these differences exist, scientists have taken voyages deep inside the gray matter using MRI scans.
The scans show that in most women, the corpus callosum area, which handles communication between the brain's two "hemispheres", is larger.
In layman's terms, it means that the two sides of the female brain "talk" better to each other -- which could explain why studies show women tend to multi-task better.
On the other hand, the scans show men tend to move information more easily within each hemisphere.