Bookmarks, Rethinking the Imperatives of Gender: Has Society Become Toxic to Both Genders?

By Handler, Richard | Psychotherapy Networker, July/August 2008 | Go to article overview

Bookmarks, Rethinking the Imperatives of Gender: Has Society Become Toxic to Both Genders?


Handler, Richard, Psychotherapy Networker


Bookmarks

Rethinking the Imperatives of Gender Has society become toxic to both genders? By Richard Handler

The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women and the Real Gender Gap Susan Pinker Scribner's. 340 pp. ISBN: 0-743-28470-7

Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men Leonard Sax Basic Books. 267 pp. ISBN: 0-465-07209-7 and 0-465-07209-5

Susan Pinker, author of The Sexual Paradox, is a developmental psychologist, therapist, and newspaper columnist. Growing up in the '60s and '70s, she read and was influenced by the founding authors of modern-day feminism--Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, and Germaine Greer--and was emboldened by their central argument: biology isn't destiny. As a teenager, she never imagined she couldn't do anything she wanted to.

But over the years, she became aware of a basic, unquestioned assumption em­bedded in the feminist literature--an assumption that many women were finding increasingly problematic. "Men had it made," she writes. "They were the standards, the ones to be emulated. Only when women dumped their female personae and took men's roles, would they be truly equal."

In The Sexual Paradox, Pinker ex­plores the fact that, despite increasing opportunities, many women have decided that they want different things from what men want. According to her, only about 25 to 30 percent of women are as driven and competitive as men. She cites research that indicates that women care more about social connection than men and want their jobs and careers to be more meaningful.

At the heart of her book are stories of capable women leaving stressful top jobs for careers that allow more time for family and human contact. She makes clear that women don't choose to opt out of killer careers because they lack the talent and brains to take them to the top, detailing many research studies demonstrating that. "In twenty-six of the thirty OECD countries, any overall male advantage in math and science has become so slim as to be insignificant," is one example.

Although women clearly have the ability to do what men do, Pinker cites more studies and stories dem­on­strating that a good percentage of them don't want the prize, even if they can get it. We meet Elaine, author of the op-ed piece "My Class Ceiling Is Self-Imposed." She was short-listed to become a CEO, but decided that she wouldn't cart her family around for the company, as men often do. Like many other women, she didn't want a career defined by overwork and disrupted family time.

Of course, the argument that women are genetically different from men has been used for generations to justify a system that's kept women down by denying them an education, a vote, access to capital, and career advancement. For many women, the social playing field still hasn't been leveled. Working women often can't find adequate child care. National standards for maternity leave or guarantees of job security don't exist. Women are expected to follow and support their husbands' professions, but not the other way around. So an ambitious woman reading that women are "creating their own glass ceilings" may find such a statement hard to take.

Despite her investigation of the roots of "difference feminism" and the dilemmas of women today, Pinker claims that The Sexual Paradox was inspired not so much by the question of why so many women opt out of their superstar careers, but by why so many boys she was seeing in her therapy practice were so troubled.

Most of her young clients were aggressive, driven, often tormented boys. Many of them had either dyslexia or some form of autism. Pinker cites statistics showing that boys are 10 times likelier than girls to have Asperger's Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, often found among those in specialized technical and computer fields. Boys comprise two-thirds of high school dropouts. According to Pinker, men are the more fragile sex: testosterone engenders not only more competitiveness, but more biological frailty, more inclination to stress, more chronic disease. …

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