Is it difficult to discuss the differences between the sexes in an academic or professional setting? This was the question on the table on February 13 at the 3rd West Club in New York during a panel hosted by Independent Women’s Forum (IWF).
The panel (pictured below) included AEI’s Christina Sommers, a resident scholar and philosopher; Debra Soa, a columnist and sexologist; and Lee Jussim, a social psychologist from Rutgers University. The panelists began with a brief opening statement, citing the problem that research regarding biological differences between men and women has become increasingly unwelcome in academia and the modern world. Assuming this is a serious problem — and I believe it can be shown through various examples including the James Demore memo and multiple student protests to shut down lectures (see Christina Sommers and Jordan Peterson) — the question remains: what, if anything, is motivating this inability to discuss differences between the sexes?
Some more fervent conservatives tend to allude to the discrepancy in academia within professorial positions as a reason that certain conversations, including the conversation about these differences, are stifled on campus and eventually in society. Jussim suggested just this when he described the academy as a place where there is system of “scholarship biased in favor of bias” and “ten times as many Marxists as conservatives” on campus.
Research does confirm that conservatives are extremely underrepresented and that this discrepancy grows in intensity depending on academic department and geographical region. However, I have reservations. The most relevant fear of mine is falling into the practice of assuming disparity as clear, unequivocal evidence of discrimination.
This is a dangerous game. Conservatives should understand this perfectly, considering the critique they spew at those who try to use the same line of reasoning to explain the lack of women in STEM fields.
It seems naive to suggest the left-leaning environment that persists on campus is so essentially illiberal as to explain the lack of conversation, and more importantly debate, surrounding the differences between sexes. It may, in part, lead to a sensitivity towards such conversation — especially from those who adhere to strict social constructivist views about sex and gender — but it certainly does not create a ubiquitous fear surrounding a topic.
What, then, is a more plausible explanation? In an interview with Bold TV, Sommers gave her insights into the possible motivation behind avoiding in-depth discussion of sex differences.
“Conversation about sex differences have a very bad history because people manufactured differences and claimed that women had all sorts of weaknesses that prevented them from entering the public sphere,” she said. “So there’s a long history of people casting aspersions and disparaging women, but the answer to bad history and bad science isn’t more bad science. The answer is better science and free and open discussion.”
Sommers’ historical analysis is spot on. Many of the early modern female philosophers, for example, are only just now being discovered due to the manufactured weaknesses and pseudo-scientific claims about the female nature created by many of the male philosophers and literati of the period. This argument from historicity is not only compelling, but deserving of further discussion.
Is it likely that the historical precedent set by the intellectual ideation of the past has created a fear of recognizing differences? Is it possible that there is a general neurosis or paranoia around the discussion of differences out of fear that it entails discrimination? Perhaps.
Fear and paranoia has ostensibly played an important role in the American psyche, at least since Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural aphorism. It enshrined segregation, provided rationalization for McCarthyism, led to the Iraq War and perhaps even explains, at least in part, President Donald Trump’s 2016 win. It seems that the same fear and paranoia is impacting the way in which we approach discussing sex differences.
The problem then becomes finding a solution which allows conversation to move forward respectfully and thereby overcome this fear. Unfortunately there is no obvious back door.
Perhaps it may first lay within a basic observation: differences between the sexes are an existent reality that should affect and shape, if we are any good at our jobs, public policy, educational practices, parenting practices, professional settings, relationships, entertainment and an infinitesimal number of other cultural phenomena. Ignoring sex differences through disallowing ourselves to converse and debate the significance of these differences and where we lie is ontologically fatal.
I hope that through our faculty of reason and our use of the scientific method, we will allow for a freer, good faith-laiden conversation that results in a more coherent understanding of the multi-faceted complexities and truisms that lie within the differences between the sexes.
You can watch the full IWF panel below.
Anthony DiMauro is an undergraduate at New York University and a newsroom intern with Bold TV.