Are women good, and men bad? How many times have you heard that women are wiser, kinder, more efficient, and just all around superior human beings? A never ending succession of books and news stories suggests they are. AEI scholar Christina Hoff Sommers looks at the evidence.
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It used to be fashionable to celebrate men’s alleged superiority over women—Aristotle referred to women as defective men. Philosophers like Immanuel Kant and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Friedrich Nietzsche deemed women intellectually inferior to men. Fortunately, those male chauvinistic days are mostly gone. But today a new kind of reverse, female chauvinism prevails. It is so common, social scientists have given it a name: the WOMEN are WONDERFUL phenomenon—WAW for short. Here is a sample of recent WAW headlines. Let’s consider some common claims of female superiority: Multi-tasking: It is a truth universally recognized that women are better at multi-tasking; Here is the British writer Sir Ken Robinson in one of the most watched TED talks of all time: “I think this is probably why women are better at multitasking. Because you are, aren’t you? There’s a raft of research, but I know it from my personal life.” Sir Robinson refers to a “raft of research” Well, where is it? What we have is a handful of small, inconclusive, inconsistent studies. Some show women are better—while others find that it’s men who excel. Thomas Buser a researcher at University of Amsterdam, took a careful look at the data and concluded that, “As far as gender differences are concerned, we do not find any evidence for them in the effects of multitasking.” It turns out that neither sex is particularly good at focusing on more than one thing at once. Niceness: What about the claim that women are just a lot nicer than men? According to film critic Roger Ebert: “Women are nicer than men… in terms of their lifelong natures, women are kinder, more empathetic, more generous. And the sooner more of them take positions of power, the better our chances as a species.” Is he right? Well, when it comes to generosity, kindness, and altruism, once again you find lots of dueling studies. But one of the most thorough and careful surveys was carried out by Tom Smith and his team at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Unlike many other studies of altruism, this one was not limited to a small, unrepresentative sample of college students. Also, Smith and his team asked questions that included both male and female styles of altruism. Women tend to adopt nurturing and caring roles toward people they know—while men excel at good deeds and acts of kindness involving strangers. In Smith’s survey, women proved to be more empathetic than men: they were more likely to feel pity for others and to describe themselves as softhearted. But when it came to the empirically critical measure of generosity—how much do you actually do for others—the results were different. When Smith and his colleagues tallied up the results, they found that the score was even. “Gender,” Smith concluded, “is not notably related to altruistic behaviors.” Advantage: Neither sex. Both sexes have their graces and their own styles of being virtuous. Neither has a monopoly on good or evil. How did we lose sight of this obvious truth? Because we’re in the age of WAW. The rules of the Women are Wonderful game make it impossible for men to win: If women do something better than men, that is evidence of their superiority. If men outperform women, that’s proof of discrimination—retrograde patriarchy and toxic masculinity. To violate the spirit of WAW is to invite havoc. Suggest, as the former president of Harvard Larry Summers did, that men may have some innate advantages in math and spatial reasoning, and prepare to change your job. Write a book or article titled “Are Men Necessary?,” “The End of Men,” Man Down, or Women are From Venus, Men are from Hell,” and the gods of the zeitgeist smile.