I like much of what Steven Pinker writes, but I thought his book, The Blank Slate, was terrible for its black-and-white version of the nature/nurture argument. As a developmental biologist, I’m probably about as far to the plastic, environmentally-influenced side of the argument as you can get, and I don’t believe the human mind is a “blank slate”. I don’t know anyone who does (I’m sure they exist, spinning out endless wordy fables in humanities departments…but they’re not operationally significant at all in the biology departments).
Now Pinker gets cited by a British loon who wants to use his arguments as veiled racism, and of course he’s also anti-feminist. So he cheerfully cites Pinker in support, and unfortunately, this is Pinker setting up a false dichotomy…but it’s also Pinker writing wonderfully clearly and economically.
Equity feminism is a moral doctrine about equal treatment that makes no commitments regarding open empirical issues in psychology or biology. Gender feminism is an empirical doctrine committed to three claims about human nature. The first is that the differences between men and women have nothing to do with biology but are socially constructed in their entirety. The second is that humans possess a single social motive – power – and that social life can be understood only in terms of how it is exercised. The third is that human interactions arise not from the motives of people dealing with each other as individuals but from the motives of groups dealing with other groups – in this case, the male gender dominating the female gender.
Oh, man, where to begin…
First, that’s straight from Christina Hoff Sommers, the one ‘feminist’ (she’s more of an anti-feminist) writer the misogynists love to quote. I have heard so many raving nutcases throw around the terms “gender” and “equity feminism” as authoritative put-downs of any attempt to promote feminist issues, when what they really are are silencing tools to misrepresent people’s views.
Equity feminism, as presented in that quote, is nonsense. It’s like those people who claim they “don’t see color”, and therefore they aren’t racist and are treating all non-white people equally. You can’t pretend to be color-blind or sex-blind in a culture that privileges white maleness! Yes, we want to promote equal opportunity for all, but you won’t achieve that by pretending that the historical and social consequences of sex and race don’t exist. Respect human beings as male, female, or trans; as black, brown, or white. Recognize the realities of culture and biology, neither of which are as discrete and binary as postulated there.
It’s like we’re all running a hundred meter dash, and some people get a 95 meter head start, while others begin 100 meters behind the starting line…and we’re all going to agree to turn a blind eye to those inequities because we’ve sworn to pretend that everyone gets a fair start. So no, I’m not an “equity feminist”.
But now look at that definition of gender feminists. I’m sure such creatures exist — in a country with a Tea Party, we all know by now that caricatures do come to life — but look at the details there. Pinker lists 3 defining characteristics, and I don’t agree with a single one of them. 1) Men and women have different biological predispositions (which cannot be reduced to trite cliches, like women are good at housecleaning and men like football), 2) social interactions are complex and cannot be distilled down to a single factor, and 3) there are multiple levels of interaction — individual, race, sex, class — that affect motives and outcomes. Gosh, I differ because I think human interactions are actually complicated!
So I read that nice clear statement by Pinker, and I have to conclude that I must not be any kind of feminist at all.
Either that, or Christina Hoff Sommers is full of shit.