Letters

Readers weigh in on the differences between men and women. Plus: Liberal bias and the future of journalism.


Salon Staff
March 3, 2005 2:00PM (UTC)

[Read "Just Like a Woman," by Lorraine Dusky.]

I have a problem with articles like this one because I am both a professional scientist and a woman. I certainly agree that we shouldn't dismiss that "there are innate differences between males and females" -- but bear in mind that the variation within each sex is much greater than the difference between the sexes.

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Sadly, Dusky herself is very dismissive of people like me, or like my daughter, who scored well over 700 on the math SAT and is off to engineering school in the fall. There seems to be no place for people like us in Dusky's portrait of the female brain. Growing up in Scotland in the '50s and '60s, I had to contend with my share of old stereotypes -- a lot of girls did feel that "nurse or secretary" was the limit of their career options. Reading Dusky's article, I get the feeling not only that she's bringing that idea back (which saddens me) but that she is doing it in the name of feminism (which simply baffles me).

-- Mary Thomson

Ms. Dusky points out that "males tend to have more concentrated activity on the left side of the brain" and then proceeds to imply that we should cut Harvard president Lawrence Summers some slack for saying men have greater mathematical aptitude than women. She rationalizes, "Where is the seat of mathematical ability? you might wonder. Ahem, it's in the left side of the brain." Ms. Dusky goes on to point out that women score higher on IQ tests when it comes to verbal and reading skills. And where is language capicity located? Ahem, it's also in the left side of the brain.

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There's no doubt that men and women think differently, but reducing research to sweeping generalizations or faulty logic in order to support any exclusionary comment or policy ultimately serves neither men nor women.

-- Dianna Miller

While I agreed with much that was in this article, and I'm completely willing to entertain the concept that gender differences between men and women exhibit themselves in areas such as whistle-blowing or mathematical genius, I do have a couple of issues I want to raise.

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First of all, the article cites the lack of female geniuses such as Einstein and Michelangelo as empirical evidence of women naturally falling below the levels of extreme genius. However, it completely discounts the fact that the vast majority of potential female geniuses were not afforded the opportunity to act upon that genius in a manner that would have been noteworthy. Even Madame Curie, whom the article cites as the one exception, was denied entry into the French Academy of Sciences despite her genius. Where are the female geniuses of that time? Well, they were probably at home with the kids. Most probably weren't even allowed to learn how to read.

This brings me to my second point. Is it possible that women are naturally less capable mathematicians? Sure. However, there is also ample evidence of gender bias such as a study cited in the New York Times (shortly after Summers speech) where articles submitted for peer review were scored higher when submitted under a male name rather than a female one. There is also the evidence that nurture can overcome nature -- Ms. Dusky notes that girls' spatial ability increases by leaps and bounds when they learn how to throw a ball.

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When the president of Harvard University chooses to focus on unproven potential aptitude differences rather than the strongly evidenced biases against women and success stories of women, one has to wonder whether he is interested in making sure every woman who has ability is given a chance or whether he is instead interested in giving those who are biased a back-door excuse out of having to change.

In my opinion the uproar is less about the fact that these differences can exist than the fact that the president of Harvard chose to focus on those potential differences over everything else. That aptitude differences may exist doesn't change the fact that prejudices do exist. I think women everywhere would have felt better if the focus of his attention was on eliminating those prejudices and letting nature take care of itself.

-- Yasmin Sohrawardy

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[Read "Tearing Down the Press," by Eric Boehlert.]

What this all boils down to -- and I have yet to see it put quite this way anywhere in the media -- is that truth itself has what some would call a "liberal bias." Plain facts, reported clearly and without spin (as the BBC typically does in its international reportage), tend to present a liberal point of view without the writers or presenters even trying.

This is the root cause of the right's contempt for journalism. They cannot compete on the basis of the bare facts. This was what Suskind was referring to in his N.Y. Times article about the White House creating "its own reality." When arguing the facts as they exist -- which many liberals and moderates do -- conservatives almost always respond with ideologically driven answers, rather than facts or data that will hold up under independent analysis.

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But in my opinion it isn't "liberal bias" that's the problem with the American media, but rather commercialism and emotionalism. News outlets must compete for market share in order to win lucrative advertising dollars. To fill all those hours in a 24-hour programming schedule, media outlets (on television, at least) opt to produce "spin segments" and "analysis roundtables" wherein voices from all sides are given airtime during which they do little more than further distort or confuse public perception. The news broadcaster, who in earlier times was entrusted with the solemn obligation to tell the truth, is now ceding his or her responsibility to pundits and radical talking heads from both sides of any argument, who proceed to scream at one another for 20 minutes. It is emotional controversy as entertainment. But when rogue outlets like Fox are willing to flaunt tradition and the truth to do it -- and in effect win market share -- what's a CNN or MSNBC to do but more of the same?

-- Michael Borum

The "Pravda-izing" of journalism in the U.S. would be more disturbing had it not been paralleled by the rise of the blog. Thankfully, the "dumbing down" of professional reporting has occurred at a time when the Internet provides a way for alternative voices to do independent research and disseminate opposing ideas. If bloggers come up with more scoops along the lines of Jeff Gannon's secret past, perhaps full-time reporters will regain a lust for actually researching and reporting facts rather than relaying government pronouncements.

-- Dennis Lewis

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