Harvard University president Lawrence Summers made a controversial statement during his speech at a conference in January hypothesizing that, though men and women are equally intelligent, innate biological differences are largely to blame for the under-representation of women in harder sciences. Harvard faculty members have since reacted by passing a no-confidence vote, essentially demanding he be fired for his statement.
One has to wonder if such a reaction isn?t a bit extreme. After all, it?s not as though Summers believes women are wholly incapable of scientific reasoning, and it?s not as though his views contradict the evidence. One MIT study on the human genome concluded that men and women differ genetically by one to two percent -- and that?s no small difference (see chart).
Backed by studies like MIT?s, many believe science supports the premise that men and women have innate differences. Still, feminists insist that the sexes are identical except for a few superficial physical traits; the only other differences result from society?s stereotypes of how women should be -- often termed the ?stereotype threat.?
Anyone contradicting this feminist creed, even when backed by scientific evidence, must pay. And pay he has. Summers has issued several formal apologies since January and formed two task forces to address issues facing women. Still, faculty members aren?t appeased. In order to understand the controversy Summers has sparked, it may be necessary to look at the feminist movement itself and then to regard the current circumstances surrounding Summers? statements.
In my mind, feminism is the French Revolution of our time. While the revolution began as a justified reaction against severe oppression, and while it was initially applauded by the great minds of its time, the French Revolution deteriorated into an indiscriminate killing spree against any it could find to ravage. It became the tyranny it had sought to amend.
In the same way, the feminist movement has exhausted its usefulness and is turning on those who do not even question the equality and capabilities of women. It has become tyrannical like the chauvinism it overthrew, and like the pendulum on a clock, the bias has swung too far in the other direction.
It was not always this way, however. The feminist movement arguably had its beginnings in Mona Caird, who was the first to openly challenge Victorian society?s views on the institution of marriage. Caird was a controversial writer, but her goal was to make public the concerns and abuse of women.
Feminism soon began to take on other issues. Susan B. Anthony was one great hero for women in Victorian times, heralding the cause of women?s suffrage. As early as the turn of the 20th century, Marie Curie was winning the Nobel Prize, thereby defeating the overpowering prejudice that faced all women of her time -- a mindset, it should be noted, that is no longer prominent in American academia.
In fact, no such struggles face womankind in today?s culture. That?s not to say that there are no struggles at all, simply that these pioneers of women?s rights have already prevailed in their efforts to bring greater equality among the sexes, and the most difficult struggles are behind us.
Even so, the feminist movement marches on. Though feminism had its roots in the justified causes of women?s equality, it has begun to mutate. There are no more great prejudices to overthrow as in the past, and the movement is stagnating in boredom. With fewer and fewer real chauvinists to mob, feminists are lashing out more and more against those who will not conform to political correctness -- Summers is one of their unlucky victims.
Despite having support for his claims, Summers is paying for their bias -- a bias that willfully ignores evidence to the contrary and sacrifices science to political correctness. To be fair, there is evidence that shows that the ?stereotype threat? may have something to do with the under representation of women in higher levels of science. It?s an inadequate and flawed explanation, however, since strong stereotypes are no longer the norm. This can?t be the only factor keeping women from higher science.
In modern society where the ?stereotype threat? is dwindling and where women are given greater opportunities than ever before, what other explanation do we have for such a significant disproportion? All other explanations have failed, so should we penalize Summers for posing the question that no one else has dared to ask?
I believe there is a more balanced middle ground between radical feminism and extreme chauvinism, and I believe Summers has the right idea -- that the sexes are different yet equal. But until feminists cease to be quick-tempered and instead look to where the evidence points, science can offer no explanation that will satisfy both sides.
(This story was poorly laid out originally; in the PDF version, most of the last paragraph is missing. We've included the last bit here.)