The Google guy behind the infamous gender memo, James Damore, is a troglodyte. An embarrassing, knuckle-dragging, flat-earther who is under the silly illusion that men and women have inherent differences. Google properly fired him for just being stupid. At least that’s the fashionable story.
But the truth is that it was Damore who got it right. (And his main concern was how to get more women working at Google, after all.)
Most of us know exactly why gender parity doesn’t exist in Silicon Valley. It’s not because they are consciously (or unconsciously) denying employment to women who are seeking jobs there. Actually, quite the opposite. It’s the fact that while women outpace men in college attendance today, those interested in STEM programs lag significantly behind. Other professions tend to interest them more. In fact, the annual U.S. News/Raytheon STEM Index reported last year that enrollment among women in such programs declined from 2015 to 2016.
U.S. News reports that “Women may lag behind men in areas like engineering, for example, but they far outstrip men in earning biology degrees.” For instance, women make up 80 percent of the students enrolled in the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Wendy Williams, a professor in Cornell’s Department of Human Development, explains that “Women are choosing to do different things. Everyone doesn’t want to be an electrical engineer or to do computer science, and that’s not a failure or flaw.” Allowing women to choose what they want to do, without external and ideological pressure, is empowerment.
We know that men and women are hard-wired differently—not better, not worse—in part because of the breakthroughs in two very interesting fields of scientific inquiry: one is the hard science of neurobiology and the other is the softer science of cultural anthropology and evolutionary psychology. Let’s first examine the findings of neurobiology from the last two decades or so.
The Case from Neurobiology
Two of the earliest experts to write on this issue are the British team of geneticist Anne Moir and science journalist David Jessel in their groundbreaking book Brain Sex. Based on their own work and that of others, Moir and Jessel explain with equal parts boldness, clarity, and sureness:
… The truth is that virtually every professional scientist and researcher into the subject has concluded that the brains of men and women are different. … [T]he nature and cause of brain differences are now known beyond speculation, beyond prejudice, and beyond reasonable doubt.
Moir and Jessel anticipated the Google meltdown in this observation: “There has seldom been a greater divide between what intelligent, enlightened opinion presumes—that men and women have the same brain—and what sciences knows—that they do not.” Thus, “It is time to cease the vain contention that men and women are created the same. They were not and no amount of idealism or Utopian fantasy can alter that fact.”
This does not necessarily bode ill for women. Northwestern’s Alice Eagly is a feminist scholar emeritus and major contributor to the field of the social psychology of gender difference. She explains in an important journal article entitled “The Science and Politics of Comparing Women and Men,” that in dealing in male and female stereotypes in the popular and professional literature, “the stereotypes of women [are] more positive overall than the stereotype of men, at least in contemporary samples of U.S. and Canadian college students.” She adds that when examined, the literature on gender difference indeed “do not tell a simple tale of female inferiority.” It is not a small point to note that she is writing here in the early to mid-90s, examining earlier records in a time when we were less mindful of avoiding gender stereotypes in academic work.
Additionally, like Moir and Jessel, writing in the journal Feminism and Psychology, Eagly also distinguishes between elite assumption and scientific findings.
… [T]he majority of [studies] have conformed in a general way to people’s ideas about the sexes… this evidence suggests that lay people, once maligned in much feminist writing as misguided holders of gender stereotypes, may be fairly sophisticated observers of female and male behaviour.
She is saying grandma knew what she was talking about. Of course, the nature of male and female brain differences has wide-ranging differences for the whole person. Leading neuropsychiatrist Louanne Brizendine, working from the University of California San Francisco, explains in The Female Brain, that while male and female are certainly more similar than they are different, our seemingly small neurological and genetic differences create substantial and significant differences in the two sexes:
More than 99 percent of male and female genetic coding is exactly the same. Out of the thirty thousand genes in the human genome, the less than one percent variation between the sexes is small. But that percentage difference influences every single cell in our bodies—from the nerves that register pleasure and pain to neurons that transmit perception, thoughts, feelings and emotions.
Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, outlines a great many important and primary contrasts between the female and male mind in his deeply researched book “The Essential Difference.” From the first lines of his book, Baron-Cohen is frank with his reader:
The subject of essential sex differences in the mind is clearly very delicate. I could tiptoe around it, but my guess is that you would like the theory of the book stated plainly. So here it is: The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.
These leading and distinguished professors would all be fired from Google.
The Anthropological and Evolutionary Record
Do male and female demonstrate different personalities in how they live, structure their lives, and interact with others? If so, how distinct are these differences? And how reliable is the research?
The answers to these questions, in order, are “absolutely,” “considerable,” and “quite.” This has become well documented in a growing body of multi-cultural anthropological investigations.
The Google memo smartly made reference to what social psychologists call the “Big Five Personality Traits,” and it was right to do so. Evolutionary biologists have examined these across more than 50 distinct cultures throughout the globe and determined gender-distinct qualities and characteristics are largely universal from culture to culture.
One group of scholars, describing their findings as “robust and surprising,” explain: “gender differences are modest in magnitude” but “consistent with gender stereotypes, and replicable across cultures.” Some examples are:
- Universally, men rank substantially higher in assertiveness and women much higher in nurturance.
- Women are more communicative and relational while men are more action oriented and mechanical.
- Women are more likely to exhibit fearful emotions and anxious concern as well as desires to improve family situations and conditions.
- Men are typically more adventurous, excited, and willing to take risks and move out into new areas. They are also more overtly influential in terms of leadership.
- Women are consistently more affectionate and sentimental.
- Women are most interested and concerned about life events and situations in closer proximity to them.
- Men are more likely to be interested and concerned with events and situations beyond the village.
- Where women see danger and concern, men see challenges.
Specific to our interest here, there are strong and consistent findings pertaining to vocational interests, as Cambridge’s Baron-Cohen noted: men are more likely engaged in investigative, explorative, and building interests, while women rank higher in a variety of artistic, care-giving, and relational interests. Men tend to like to build things. Women tend to like to make things. The seemingly subtle differences between these are easily understood by most men and women. While the customer populations at Home Depot and Hobby Lobby are certainly not gender-segregated, no one is surprised by or troubled that they certainly are heavily gender-weighted by the mere interests of the shoppers.
Consider children and toys. From very early ages, boys and girls develop their play differently, naturally gravitating toward and away from certain toys and no amount of idealistic parental re-engineering has had much success at changing this. The people at Lego wanted to find out why 90 percent of their customers were boys. Like Google, they thought it was merely a factor of advertising and availability. They found girls had little interest in playing with their product. So they created something else: Lego Friends. Not only are they advertised as being relational—“Friends”—but they have lots of domesticity, bright shades of pink, hair salons, supermarkets, kitties and flowers. They have been extremely successful. Girls love them even though many adults are bent out of shape that girls would react to them so positively. They were equally peeved when the Lego Friends “Research Institute” science lab for girls was discontinued. No kidding.
Yale’s Alan Feingold is one of the early scholars to survey and summarize the growing body of research on gender-distinct personality differences across diverse cultures. He explains that these consistent gender differences have remained largely consistent both through generations and across nations, indicating “a strong biological basis” rather than mere social construction.
Another study in evolutionary psychology took an interesting turn. In collecting data throughout 50 cultures on six continents, the main researchers wanted to examine how the male and female data collectors themselves differed in their work.
Even though there was an objectiveness and form to the data being collected, the female data-collectors were less critical of their subjects and more likely to describe them in positive ways. The women focused and reported more on positive personality qualities like gregariousness, warmth, trustworthiness, and altruism. These, according to theory, reflect a greater relational interest among women. The men were more focused on the facts of things—the task at hand—with very little intuitive and descriptive perception about the people being interviewed.
Following is a quick run-down of many curious, more esoteric, lesser known male/female differences documented across cultures in this research literature. The important and ground-breaking study reporting these results was cited in the Google memo.
- Women tend to smile more often than men.
- Both men and women prefer to look at female bodies rather than male bodies.
- Women focus more on their appearance than men.
- Women tend to be more positive in their assessments of other people than are men.
- Females make up more than 90 percent of all anorexia and bulimia sufferers.
- Men have greater self-confidence about their appearance regardless of what others think of the way they look.
- Women tend to overestimate males’ preference for slender females; men’s ideal female body shape is heavier than what women assume it is.
- Females attempt suicide more often than males.
- Males succeed at suicide far more often than females.
- Male suicides are far more violent than females’.
- Being a parent reduces suicide attempts by women more than it does men.
- Men are more likely to commit suicide at the loss of a job or serious financial problems.
- Boys tend to have higher athletic confidence and self-esteem than girls.
- Generally, girls tend to perform better academically and receive better grades than boys, but their academic self-esteem is similar.
- Men are generally more assertive, more inclined to take chances, and more open to ideas.
- Women are more tender-minded, agreeable, warm, and open to feelings.
- Women tend to be more self-critical of their abilities, but more generally conscientious.
- As children, girls play in smaller social groups that are more emotionally intimate.
- Adolescent girls are more expressive in their relationships than boys.
- Adult women report that their friendships involve greater communication and exchange of thoughts and feelings than men report of their friendships.
- Adolescent girls’ relationships are more unstably dynamic, and they show greater retaliation when relationships end than boys do.
- Girls generally have higher behavioral and moral self-esteem than boys.
- Women tend to show higher levels of life-satisfaction compared to men.
- Boys are more likely to express emotional problems externally by actions; girls are more likely to express their emotional problems internally.
- Women tend to be more tender-minded, trusting, gregarious, and disappointed by broken promises than men.
Some of these measures—such as physical appearance and athletics for boys and ethical consideration for girls—were double for one gender than for the other.
When Sexes Are Free to Be
The Google memo correctly referenced some specific research that is counterintuitive to the 21st-century mind. It appears that when they enjoy greater freedom—financially, politically and culturally—men become more stereotypically masculine and women more stereotypically feminine. This is, however, more true for women.
The New York Times summarized the findings of personality tests in more than 60 different countries and cultures: “It looks as if personality differences between men and women are smaller in traditional cultures like India’s or Zimbabwe’s than in the Netherlands or the United States.” The New York Times concludes: “The more Venus and Mars have equal rights and similar jobs, the more their personalities seem to diverge.”
This research was led by David P. Schmitt, director of the International Sexuality Description Project. He observes that as wealthy modern nations remove the old barriers between men and women, it appears that “some ancient internal differences are being revived.” When men and women have the opportunity—provided by greater education, financial resources, and political and cultural freedom—to move beyond traditional gender expectations and roles to become whatever they want to be, they actually become even more distinctly masculine or feminine, if even in some seemingly non-traditional ways. It’s why actual androgyny is not a winning line in fashion today.
As well, the New York Times reported that gender differences in personalities were greater across the more gender-equitable North America and Europe than across the less gender-equitable Asia and Africa. Earlier research in 2001 and as early as 1990 arrived at essentially the same conclusion.
These findings compelled professor Schmitt to conclude: “An accumulating body of evidence, including the current data, provides reason to question social role explanations of gender and personality development.” He is not the only one who questions the orthodoxy of the social construction assumption.
Social Construction and Nature/Biology
It is the popular orthodoxy of the day that if any real differences between male and female exist beyond the bedroom and bathroom, it is because of misguided and antiquated social construction. But it is interesting to note how robustly science raises serious questions about the orthodoxy of social-construction gender theory.
In the mid-1970s, psychology professor Lois Hoffman boldly proclaimed, “Adult sex roles are converging, and therefore sex differences among children and future generations of adults can be expected to diminish.” Contrast her statement with a 2001 finding from a major literature survey on sex-typing (the way that gender difference is understood and exhibited), which found:
Taken overall, a substantial body of research reveals a very clear picture: in spite of widespread expectations and desires, the various aspects of gender differentiation are not disappearing, if anything there is an increase in sex-typing, especially with the pattern most expected to decline, the femininity of females. (emphasis added)
The researchers conclude, “There is no evidence of change toward a more androgynous personality for either sex” especially among women. Women like being women.
The consistency in differences—and the kinds of differences—in males and females as evidenced in cross-cultural studies provides strong support that these “stereotypes” of male and female are more deeply rooted in biology than in culture. As the study just cited found, “the findings of this and other research … are not consistent with the sociocultural explanation of gender difference.”
More recent investigations report the same: “The weight of the empirical evidence, including cross-cultural findings by researchers who have no vested interest in any particular theoretical stance, robustly confirms these evolutionary-based predictions” over social construction. As well, “These findings are difficult to reconcile with the gender similarities hypothesis.”
Damore wasn’t making stuff up to fit his own baseless presuppositions. Just the opposite. The overwhelming weight of science falls to his side, and solidly so. His name-calling detractors are truly the unenlightened ones.
And it really comes down to this. As women’s opportunities open up in society, they are choosing the jobs and educations they desire. This is why women are excelling both in attendance and graduation in higher education over men. They’re rockin’ it. It’s also why they are not choosing careers in the STEM fields at anywhere near the same rates as their male peers.
They are simply choosing the fields that interest them and are making vital contributions to the market and society there. It seemed like this is what female empowerment was supposed to be about, and women certainly don’t need do-gooder authoritarians telling them what kind of careers and education they should be choosing based on some ideological agenda. That’s the opposite of empowerment. Let women be women.