I found this review by Paul Seabright of Melvin Konner’s new book, Women After All (Norton), which proposes that women “overall” are the superior sex. I quote from Konner’s book (full disclosure—I haven’t read the book, only the review):
“In the normal condition, the two look the same, but in this disorder one is shrunken beyond recognition. The result is shortened life span, higher mortality at all ages, an inability to reproduce, premature hair loss, hyperactivity, conduct disorder, hypersexuality, and an enormous excess of both outward and self-directed aggression. The main physiological mechanism is androgen poisoning though there may be others. I call it the X-chromosome deficit syndrome, and a stunning 49 percent of the human species is affected. It is also called maleness.”
Seabright takes aim at the book’s premise, stating, “We can agree that some positive behavioral traits are more common among men than women and that others are more common among women than men—the word “positive” here means either that they are beneficial to their bearers or that they contribute to the good of society. Konner wants to go further than this and claim that the overall balance of positivity clearly favors women; women are superior “overall”. This is reminiscent of arguments that men have on average superior intelligence to women.”
Seabright goes on to say: “Any study that claims to have found conclusive evidence that men are more intelligent than women overall (and there have been quite a few) can only have done so by imposing an essentially arbitrary inclusion criterion or weighting scheme. And the same would be true of any study that claimed to have found evidence for the greater average intelligence of women than men (there have been fewer of these). Note that this would no longer be true if one gender outperformed the other on all of the component tests of competence that might reasonably be included since then the aggregate would favor that gender regardless of the weighting scheme used. But superior performance in all dimensions is definitely not characteristic of either gender, and it is decades since anyone has seriously claimed it was.”
Seabright points out, “the case of violence shows just how hard it is to make judgments about whether men or women are the superior sex. There is no doubt that men are more violent than women, but not in all contexts: suicide bombing, for instance, is a technique in which women terrorists (beginning with the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka) have played and continue to play a leading role. Further, many men engage in violence in order to win the admiration of women, and only the naïve would believe that women do nothing to encourage or reward them for this. In short, violence emerges from the interplay between men and women—it may be a predominately male trait but it flourishes in contexts that are profoundly influenced by the presence and actions of women. Managing violence therefore requires influencing the behavior of both men and women—in ways that are far more subtle than just replacing men with women in positions of power.”
Hmm. I don’t know how true Seabright’s assertion is that “women play a leading role in suicide bombing.” I suppose the news reports that such a bomber killed X number of people don’t specify the gender of the bomber. At least, I’ve never or seldom heard such an identification made, have you?
Seabright concludes, “Let’s agree that there are many ways in which the behavior of men and women differs, on average. I don’t know what is the origin of the impulse to add ‘but which of the two is really the best?’ I’m prepared to bet, if scientists ever study that question rigorously that we shall find that the insistence on asking such a question is a predominantly masculine trait.”
Take that, Melvin Konner, Seabright seems to be saying.
So there you have it, my friends. Yes, men have many vices. So do women. But I understand Konner’s intentions of righting an imbalance that has had economic and social consequences for women for decades, if not centuries. Any argument that calls attention to that imbalance and seeks to right it in the present and going on into the future is worthy of our consideration.
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