Susan Pinker, psychologist and award-winning columnist, has written a groundbreaking and controversial book that reveals why learning and behavioral gaps between boys and girls in the classroom are reversed in the workplace.
Pinker examines how fundamental sex differences play out over the life span. By comparing fragile boys who succeed later with high-achieving women who opt out or plateau in their careers, Pinker turns several assumptions upside down: that women and men are biologically equivalent, that intelligence is all it takes to succeed, and that women are just versions of men, with identical interests and goals. In lively prose, Pinker guides readers through the latest findings in neuroscience and economics while addressing these questions: Are males the more fragile sex? What do men with Asperger syndrome or dyslexia tell us about more average men? Which sex is the happiest at work? Why do some male college dropouts earn more than the bright girls who sat beside them in third grade? After three decades of women's educational coups, why do men outnumber women in corporate law, engineering, physical science, and politics? The answers to these questions are the opposite of what we expect.
A provocative examination of how and why learning and behavioral gaps in the nursery are reversed in the boardroom, this illuminating book reveals how sex differences influence career choices and ambition. Through the stories of real men and women, science, and examples from popular culture, Susan Pinker takes a new look at the differences between women and men.
FROM PUBLISHER WEEKLY:
Why, according to 2003 figures, do women constitute 49% of law school graduates but only 27% of practicing lawyers? Defying taboos, Pinker, a psychologist and columnist for the Globe & Mail, presents a compelling case for a biological explanation of why men and women make different career choices. Drawing on comprehensive scientific and social evidence and case studies, she proposes that hormones are a determining factor. The hormones predominant in men lead to action, focus and, often, to competitive and rigidly hierarchical professions such as law. Women's hormones lead them to focus on empathy and social interaction, and careers as teachers or social workers. Thus, despite their early advantages-girls have better language skills and discipline, while boys are more prone to dyslexia, autism and Asperger syndrome and other difficulties-women tend not to seek out "the highest status or the most lucrative careers": They're reluctant to take jobs whose demands won't allow them the choice to focus on other aspects of their lives. Pinker says she isn't calling for a return to the 1950s housewife model. She emphasizes individual differences among men and women, but hopes that wider recognition of gender differences can lead to greater workplace flexibility and room for women's professional advancement on their own terms. She may draw a great deal of fire for this book, but her strong evidence could also open a better-informed discussion of the issues. B&w illus. (Mar.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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March 10, 2008
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Excerpt from The Sexual Paradox by Susan Pinker
Female Puppets and Eunuchs
Why can't a woman be more like a man?
The question seemed innocent enough in 1964. As sung by Henry Higgins, the lovesick Victorian professor in My Fair Lady, social class was changeable -- just a matter of tweaking accent and costume -- but the gender divide was completely inscrutable. Four decades later the question is still being asked, but with a different twist. Now it usually means "Shouldn't a woman be more like a man?" The frustration is still there, now torqued with unfulfilled expectations.
Like Higgins, most of us don't realize that we think of male as the standard, and of female as a version of this base model -- with just a few optional features added on. We have come to expect that there should be no real differences between the sexes. But the science that's emerging upends the notion that male and female are interchangeable, symmetrical, or the same. To put this book's question plainly, with what we know about the psychology, neuroscience, and economics of people's choices and behavior -- fields that have exploded with amazing findings in the last ten years alone -- how reasonable is it to expect that a woman be more like a man? And how likely is it for a man to be like a woman? This time, it's more about describing what is, than why can't, or shouldn't, because the expectation that male is the starting point seems to have led us astray.
The assumption that female is just a slightly different shade of male was perfectly captured by the predicament the Sesame Street team found itself in when trying to invent a cast of characters for its popular preschool television show. In 2006 The New York Times reported how Sesame Street's producers had long been stymied in creating a female lead puppet out of the anxiety that any girl-like features would play into stereotypes. "If Cookie Monster was a female character, she'd be accused of being anorexic or bulimic," said the show's executive producer. Others on the team agreed that if Elmo were female she'd be seen as ditzy. Especially after the indignant reaction to the Muppet Show's Miss Piggy, it just seemed safest to reflect the common assumption that male was the default setting for both sexes. Male puppets -- whether flightless birds, hairy monsters, or earnest little boys -- were not really male, but generically human. But any female puppets would be viewed as deviant, or as having girl-specific traits. As a result, it took thirty-seven years after Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and Elmo were created for the show's producers to come up with Abby Cadabby, a high-spirited puppet with magical powers and a feminine aesthetic. Her distinctly female persona was a sign that people were beginning to relax about gender, but it still made the news.
I had little idea of how touchy it was when I proposed to combine two areas of personal and professional interest -- extreme or distinctive male traits and women's occupational choices -- in a book about men, women, and work. The plan was to profile several unusual men at least twenty years after they'd had problems as children to see what had become of them. Their stories would contrast with those of gifted women with every chance of success. The human stories were compelling, but then so was the science underlying their experiences. Trying to make sense of their stories was how I entered the politically charged world of sex differences, where, as it turned out, almost everyone I would encounter had already taken sides. Along the way, I discovered that sex differences not only colored my work, but had likely affected my own choices. As in Higgins' song, I started to wonder about myself, my female colleagues and other women I knew, "Why do they do everything their mothers do? Why don't they grow up like their fathers instead?"
I'd had every opportunity. In 1973, at the age of sixteen, I worked for my father. In those years he was a garment manufacturer's agent and for two summer months we companionably drove around rural Qu�bec in his wood-paneled station wagon, the back loaded with a dozen navy sample bags filled with women's uniforms and sleepwear, each bag the size of a fridge and weighing about seventy-five pounds. With new respect I discovered the labor that financed our suburban, middle-class life. His years on the road eventually put three kids through college, my mother through graduate school, and would underwrite his own transition