The Gender Wars and Harvard University

President of Harvard University, Lawrence H. Summers, has gotten himself into a catfight because of comments he made recently at a session on the progress of women in academia organized by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass. Although there is no transcript of his remarks, he reportedly claimed “that the shortage of elite female scientists may stem in part from ‘innate’ differences between men and women.”[1]

He shared an anecdote about his daughter to illustrate the point. He once gave his daughter two trucks in an effort at “gender-neutral parenting.” His daughter soon began referring to one of the trucks as “daddy truck” and the other as “baby truck.”[2] The event led him to ponder whether there was any truth to the notion that certain proclivities are connected to gender. For his daughter, at least, despite his best effort it seemed clear that something inside her compelled her to play what little girls are often wont to play. His is the kind of observation that many parents make when they actually deal with reality and not with ideology. Boys and girls are different.

Not surprisingly, Summers’ concurrent analysis of the shortage of women in math and sciences was not received well by the dogmaticians of political correctness that inhabit the halls of academia. Indeed, at least one listener received his words as a personal vote of no confidence with respect to the role of women in the academy. Nancy Hopkins, a biology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, actually got up from her seat in the middle of the speech and walked out. She said, “I felt I was going to be sick . . . My heart was pounding and my breath was shallow . . . I was extremely upset.”[3]

A faculty committee of Harvard University has responded to Summers’ remarks with a reprimand, saying that his words “did not serve our institution well. Indeed, they serve to reinforce an institutional culture at Harvard that erects numerous barriers to improving the representation of women on the faculty, and to impede our current efforts to recruit top women scholars. They also send at best mixed signals to our high-achieving women students in Harvard College and in the graduate and professional schools.”[4]

Dr. Summer’s remarks were hardly an assault on women or modern feminism. He has subsequently said that he did not mean to imply that women were mentally inferior or somehow less apt for scholarship in math and sciences than men are. His words were merely an observation concerning the differences between men and women. Yet the storm of controversy that has erupted reveals the extent to which feminist dogma has gripped the popular consciousness. One cannot even make the suggestion anymore that there are innate differences between boys and girls without causing an uproar.

It never ceases to amaze me how anti-feminine the feminist movement has become. At least in some of its more radical wings, the movement encourages females to pretend that there are no differences between men and women beyond the biological accidents of their anatomies. The practical effect of this ideology has not really been a thoroughgoing egalitarianism, but a suspicion of everything male. Ironically, women are encouraged to act less and less like women, and more and more like men. Who would have thought 100 years ago that the feminist movement would result in a suppression of traditional femininity? Yet this seems to be what has happened.

The controversy surrounding the Harvard President’s remarks reveals that there is still a pitched battle going on over the meaning of gender in our culture. Ultimately, this conflict can only be resolved by a willingness to listen to what the Creator of gender has to say about who we are and what he intends for us. As long as the feminists keep up their effort to shut Him out of the conversation, however, the fight will have to continue.
_________________________
[1]Washington Post, Wednesday, January 19, 2005; Page A02, accessed on-line: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19181-2005Jan18.html.
[2]Washington Post, Wednesday, January 19, 2005; Page A02, accessed on-line: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19181-2005Jan18.html.
[3]Ibid.
[4]New York Times, Wednesday, January 19, 2005, accessed on-line: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/19/education/19harvard.html.

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