March 30, 2008
In search of the visible woman
From The Guardian:
Women are in a bad way. We are still made scapegoats and traduced and our true natures denied. Two female polemicists have published books explaining why, although they have come to very different, arguably opposing, conclusions. One is also very much better than the other. Susan Pinker is a Canadian developmental psychologist and newspaper columnist perplexed that, after decades of feminism, there's still a pay gap and so few women run major corporations. Girls do better at school and, at least in North America, which is where The Sexual Paradox is really concerned with, enter university in greater numbers. The conclusion she reaches, never mind Simone de Beauvoir's liberating message all those years ago, is that biology is destiny. 'People are programmed,' she writes at one point. Women are 'built for comfort, not speed'. Testosterone makes the male of the species more vulnerable, but also more risk-taking. Oxytocin makes women more empathetic. The trouble with this evolutionary Pinker first sets up what is probably a false opposition (public success and empathy are not in fact mutually exclusive) and then wholly fails to account for high-profile women such as Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton or all the women who are running companies and law firms.
Neither, I suspect, could she explain the pioneer-era women profiled in Susan Faludi's The Terror Dream, who bravely and often viciously fought Native Americans after their menfolk had failed them, usually by running away. These women, Faludi argues, have been airbrushed out of the founding-of-America myth, just as a similar airbrushing is now distorting our accounts of 9/11. The attacks on the Twin Towers left America feeling exposed, Faludi says; by the time it was clear exactly what was happening, there was absolutely nothing that could be done. psychobabble is that while it may get us a little way along the road to understanding, it strands us miles from any useful destination. How far was neatly summed up by Louis Menand in a review of a book by Pinker's more famous brother Steven, a leader in the evolutionary psychology field, when he observed that Wagner may well have been trying to impress future mates - we all are - but it's a long way from there to Parsifal.
Posted by Azra Raza at 07:30 AM | Permalink