by Susan Pinker
Atlantic Books £12.99
This book matters, not least because its author, a well-known Canadian child psychologist, has moved from a hard-line feminist position in which she believed the sexes were interchangeable, to recognition that there are profound differences between them. Members of FTM and readers of its newsletter will regard such a statement as obvious. Nonetheless, for several decades our voice has been stifled by a strident and powerful left-wing and feminist lobby. Thus it is good to have the belated support of influential women like this author.
She opens her book with Professor Henry Higgins’ lament in My Fair Lady: “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”, then spends the rest of it demonstrating that it is rhetorical nonsense. Using many individual case histories of successful career women, both with and without families, Pinker shows convincingly that the difference between the sexes is inherent and not simply created by “unjust work practices.” Comparing boys who are academic drop-outs and girls with bright school careers, she ponders why it is that the problem boys often succeed later on in life, while the clever girls often turn their back on career success, saying in effect, “I don’t want to be on the fast track.”
She discovers that “equal opportunity doesn’t necessarily lead to equal results”; in other words, women often reject goals that have been defined by men. Their priorities are more wide-ranging and people-based; they are less likely to choose computer programming, timber logging, engineering or politics as careers and they want work to be meaningful in the real world. This is more important than status or a high salary. “Work is not the only thing I do. I have a life”, says a woman GP who chose not to be a surgeon.
In contrast, the author finds that boys are “biologically programmed to mature later, to compete more fiercely”. More boys have ADD; Asperger’s is 10 times more common among boys than girls; there are nine male killers for every female. There are more men at the extreme ends of the normal distribution: more criminals and more Nobel prize winners.
Pinker admits that “a female edge in verbal fluency appears so early in life and is so consistent over time and across cultures that the science of sex differences must be involved.” She describes her own attitude to her career before she had children and after, and discovers that simply slotting back into her clinical work militated against her newly wakened maternal instincts that longed to be with her baby.
If a little repetitious, this book has been well-researched and offers sensible conclusions. Men can wear the overalls and wield the spanners; women have different gifts and aspirations.