Thursday, August 25, 2005

Men Cleverer than Women? 

I do not think much of IQ tests. It seems to me that, quite apart from the strange idea that IQ measures intelligence itself and not merely the score that someone has got for answering a number of questions, IQ tests tend to be weighted in favour of certain forms of thinking rather than others. For this reason this research does not surprise me in the slightest. However, the claim that such research proves that men are 'more intelligent' or 'cleverer' than women is simply unwarranted. Psuedo-scientific measurements of things such as 'intelligence' rely a lot on somewhat arbitrary assumptions about what 'intelligence' really is. Furthermore, both our definition of intelligence and our ability to perform well according to such a definition seems to me to be largely a matter of social construction. The disparities in IQ results between people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds should not surprise us. Nor should the differences in results from one generation to another. IQ tests seem to be weighted in favour of certain ways of thinking, rather than others. Within the structures of our societies — our language, our education, our family backgrounds, our technologies — we are trained to think in certain ways. Intelligence takes a radically different shape in oral societies, for example. People within oral societies do not think in the same ways as we do. As Walter Ong observes in Orality and Literacy: "Proponents of intelligence tests need to recognize that our ordinary intelligence test questions are tailored to a special kind of consciousness, one deeply conditioned by literacy and print, 'modern consciousness'" (p.55). "Oral folk assess intelligence not as extrapolated from contrived textbook quizzes but as situated in operational contexts." The oral mind 'totalizes'. It cannot easily detach the quiz question from the entire context in which the question is received. The oral mind is not well equipped for the art of analysis; breaking up thought is dangerous before the advent of the writing system. The oral mind is more inclined to work in terms of such things as riddles and proverbs and more analogical ways of thinking. Gender culture gives rise to different forms of conversation between men and women. The role of oral communication for women often seems to differ from the role that it is given among men. The differences in the way that we learn to communicate give rise to differences in the way that we are trained to think. Men may well be better equipped for the type of thinking that is privileged by IQ tests (and many of the sciences). I am unwilling to attribute the differences in the way in which men and women think wholly to biology. Many of these differences may not originate in our sexual differences, even though they follow from our sexual differences. The source and outworking of these differences can be explored by developmental psychology, sociolinguistics, sociology and other such disciplines. I am reluctant to collapse gender into sex. On the other hand, I do not believe that gender identities are anywhere remotely near as fluid as many feminists believe them to be. In many respects our gender identities follow from, and in other respects originate in, our sexual identities, even though they should not be collapsed together. [As an aside, I find it interesting to observe the differing ways in which essentialism fares in apologetics for homosexuality and in apologetics for feminism.] If we can gain anything positive from such research, it will not be the belief that men are cleverer than women. I do not believe that we should regard our different ways of thinking as commensurable, as advocates of IQ tests might want us to. Rather, such research should be regarded as further proof of deep-rooted differences between men and women, differences that we should celebrate. I do not doubt for a moment that, measured according to different criteria, women would score higher than men. I would not, however, advocate placing more of an emphasis on EQ tests (supposedly measuring emotional intelligence), alongside existing IQ tests. This would merely serve as a repetition of the original error. Much of the problem in this area lies in our assumption that human aptitudes, virtues and abilities can or should be measured according to a single norm. Whether this norm is a supposedly androgynous or, as often is the case, a masculine norm (as in modern feminist thought, where women were told to seek equality with men), such thinking is deeply unhelpful. Men should not be regarded as emotionally deficient because they do not seek or easily practice the sort of intimacy that women seek and practice. Men have different — masculine — ways of approaching intimacy. Nor should women be regarded as somehow less than men because they display different forms of intelligence. Feminine and masculine approaches to such things as intelligence and intimacy should not be regarded as commensurable, but as complementary.

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