The best feminist textbook and it’s still completely bogus

I’ve noted previously how bad some social science research is.

Well, top (or should that be bottom?) of the pile has always been Women’s studies. That’s not just my opinion either – in one unguarded moment during the 90s I was witness to a conversation where some liberal students admitted freely that were academics to actually have to produce something useful, Women’s Studies would be the first to go.

Well, let’s talk about one of their most popular textbooks.

A few months ago, a post with a shocking claim about misogyny in America began to circulate on Tumblr, the social media site popular with older teens and young adults.  It featured a scanned book page section stating that, according to “recent survey data,” when junior high school students in the Midwest were asked what they would do if they woke up “transformed into the opposite sex,” the girls showed mixed emotions but the boys’ reaction was straightforward: “‘Kill myself’ was the most common answer when they contemplated the possibility of life as a girl.”  The original poster–whose comment was, “Wow”–identified the source as her “Sex & Gender college textbook,” The Gendered Society by Michael Kimmel.

Frankly, that’s absurd. Most men would be pretty happy to wake up as a lesbian I’d say!

But feminists are not known for their logical and rational thought.

The post quickly caught on with Tumblr’s radical feminist contingent: in less than three months, it was reblogged or “liked” by over 33,000 users. Some appended their own comments, such as, “Yeah, tell me again how misogyny ‘isn’t real‘ and men and boys and actually ‘like,‘ ‘love’ and ‘respect the female sex‘?  This is how deep misogynistic propaganda runs… As Germaine Greer said, ‘Women have no idea how much men hate them.’

It says a lot about the feminist movement that they make it a policy to foster that level of hatred.

I was sufficiently intrigued to check out Kimmel’s reference: a 1984 book called The Longest War: Sex Differences in Perspective by psychologists Carol Tavris and Carole Wade.  The publication date was the first tipoff that the study’s description in the excerpt was not entirely accurate: the “recent” data had to be about thirty years old.  Still, did American teenage boys in the early 1980s really hold such a dismal view of being female?

When I obtained a copy of The Longest War, I was shocked to discover that the claim was not even out of context: it seemed to haveno basisat all, other than one comment among examples of negative reactions from younger boys (the survey included third- through twelfth-grade students, not just those in junior high). Published in 1983 by the Institute for Equality in Education, the study had some real fodder for feminist arguments: girls generally felt they would be better off as males while boys generally saw the switch as a disadvantage, envisioning more social restrictions and fewer career options (many responses seemed based on stereotypes–e.g., husband-hunting as a girl’s main training for adulthood–than 1980s reality).  But that’s not nearly as dramatic as “I’d rather kill myself than be a girl.”

It’s almost like women’s studies has a practice of taking something small and blowing it out of all proportion. Once you do this several times, a chance comment becomes “proof” of a widespread attitude.

That’s concerning. But not half as concerning as the fact no one stops to think “hey, does this correspond with the reality I see around me”?

The author then goes on to critique the rest of the text.

What, then, about the larger value of The Gendered Society, described on its back cover as “one of the most balanced gender studies texts available”?  Unlike some conservative critics of feminism, I am sympathetic to Kimmel’s professed goal of a society in which women and men are individuals first regardless of gender, and to his argument that the sexes have far more in common than Mars-Venus rhetoric suggests.  Unfortunately, these principles coexist with a steady drumbeat of female victimhood and male wrongdoing–often backed by tendentious or downright distorted evidence.

Thus, The Gendered Society‘s discussion of gender in the workplace briefly acknowledges that women’s earnings are driven down by family-related work interruptions–but still treats gender gaps in pay and advancement almost entirely as the wages of discrimination, summarily dismissing the factor of sex differences in worker motivation. (Amusingly, Kimmel also asserts that mostly female jobs pay less due to sexism but doesn’t notice that in his own tables of the most single-sex-dominated occupations, the two highest-paid jobs–dental hygienist and speech-language pathologist–are nearly all-female.)  The narrative is often contradictory.  Thus, after citing staggering statistics of how many women are sexually harassed at work, Kimmel claims that the motive for harassment is almost invariably hostile–“to put women back in their place.” A paragraph later, he notes that the truth in sexual harassment cases is often elusive because the man may see “an innocent indication of sexual interest or harmless joking” where the woman sees sexual pressure.

The chapter on “The Gendered Classroom” uncritically repeats tales of girls’ woes–for instance, that girls’ self-esteem “plummets” in junior high school–without mentioning that they have been strongly disputed, not just by critics of feminism but by mainstream psychologists.  The assertion that “girls’ IQs fall by about thirteen points,” compared to three for boys, is drawn from a 1935 book. (Ironically, Kimmel is then left scrambling to explain how “the systematic demolition of girls’ self-esteem, the denigration of their abilities, and the demotion of their status” results in a situation in which girls outperform boys academically at every level.)

Being uncritical of evidence that agrees with you isn’t uncommon. I’ve commented on this with regards to Christianity. Most movements do this to some extent. But women’s studies seems to take that flaw and make it a central tenant of  the “discipline”.

I recommending reading the whole thing, but the conclusion is worth pondering.

No scholarly text is ever error-free. But in the case of Kimmel’s book, there is a consistent pattern of using selective evidence and even pseudo-facts to stress women’s victimization and paint males (particularly American males) in the worst light. The  fictitious claim that most boys would choose death over girlhood–which will undoubtedly live on the Internet after it’s gone from future editions of the book–fits seamlessly into the big picture.

Internet myths aside, The Gendered Society is widely used in college courses.  And if it is indeed the most balanced gender studies textbook available–which may well be true–that says a lot about the rest.

I’d say it’s worthless. But that implies passivity.

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