During times in which there is increased social concern over the relative equality of men and women in various areas of study, there is a common desire to determine whether there is an appreciable difference in intelligence in relation to gender. Two essays which document various aspects of the relative intelligence of men and women are ?Women and the Mismeasure of Thought? by Judith Genova, and ?The Variability Hypothesis? by Stephanie Shields. Genova seeks to criticize measuring the difference in intelligence between men and women. Genova was unsuccessful with this article in that the questions she raised were not satisfactorily answered, and there was an overall lack of citation. ?The Variability Hypothesis? is an essay detailing the history and arguments against the purported greater variance in male intelligence. Though the argument of Shields’ paper is to some extent banal, her criticism of the variability hypothesis is extensive and satisfactory.
The introduction of Genova’s essay is a criticism of historically accepted measurements of intelligence. In the past using brain size as a measure of intelligence was not altogether unacceptable. When this practice was discredited by the obvious lack of intellectual superiority of whales and elephants, a new physical measure of intelligence was sought. Other body dimensions were given brief consideration as measures of intelligence until the example of Negroes, Australians, and Eskimos denied that theory. Genova argues that prejudice over which groups are socially allowed to be intelligent leads to bad science in determining measures of intelligence. I agree that the highly stereotypical practice of craniometry has no relevance to modern studies of male and female intelligence, though Genova fails to adequately prove the existence of such stereotypes in modern science.
Genova cites the example of hemispheric specialization studies as an area of science affected by this same kind of social prejudice. Though traditionally men are seen as analytical (left-brained) while women hold a more holistic mindset (right-brain), studies have indicated that the exact opposite is true. Genova passes off the results of these studies as due to social influences where she has no right. According to Genova, this disparity in traditional views and modern studies can only be explained by intense prejudice on the part of the writers of such studies. On the assumption that this is true, Genova then seeks to hypothesize about such the computer as a trivial tool threatening to belittle the classically analytical intelligence of men, and explains that the newfound holistic intelligence of men is an attempt to avoid that belittlement. Genova explains the newfound analytical characteristic of women as an ?attack? based on ?keeping them out of the world of science and trivializing their achievements in any field as routine and studied? (Genova 103). I would argue, however, that the modern stereotype of female intelligence would still place them as the more creative and holistic of the two sexes. Genova’s comment on computers has no relevance whatsoever to male intelligence. If computers were a threat to male intelligence and a complement to female intelligence, it would make sense that men would be resistant toward the proliferation of computers, yet this is not at all the case. Conversely, computer science is a field dominated by men. Only 7.8% of computer science and computer engineering faculties are women, and a miserable 2.7% of tenured professors are female (Frenkel 38). Genova invalidates her own argument by professing that modern stereotypes about the role of women have led to views of decreased female intelligence. She is applying a stereotype of her own by implying without evidence that modern studies advocating a difference in male and female intellects are conducted and analyzed by men with overpowering prejudices. Genova’s next argument addresses the comparison of brain lateralization to general intelligence.
Brain lateralization is the term for the amount of specialization in the two hemispheres of the brain. A more lateral individual will have more specialization within each hemisphere (for instance, the left brain will control verbal skills more exclusively), while a less lateral or ?bilateral? individual will have no specific location of certain skills. Genova proposes that in general there is an accepted concept of greater laterality in male brains leading to greater intelligence. Genova’s only support for this claim is a citation that is far from a conviction that this concept is true. The quote Genova cites merely suggests that the decreased lateralization may be an explanation for their diminished eminence. Genova has extrapolated that this suggested possibility of one particular author is a fact believed by the mainstream, yet I am not convinced. The latter portion of Genova’s article is broken up into answering three distinct questions: whether or not proposed differences in brain structure are innate, whether these differences actually exist, and what assumptions are made about the nature of thinking in general.
The first question remains altogether unanswered in Genova’s conclusion. She extends a bizarre and altogether obscure metaphor relating the criticism of biological determinism to fire fighting and seems to conclude that due to science being terminally flawed by ?ideological infiltration? there is no validity to the claim that there are differences in brain structure. Again, I am not convinced by Genova’s answer – that science, as a form of discourse, is ineffectual. In relation to the second question, Genova’s claims are once again inconclusive. She picks apart the definition of a difference to mean ?the presence in one group of a trait which is absent in the other? (Genova 110) which is an altogether absurd definition. It is completely impractical to define true difference as two groups being completely independent of each other. Genova inserts at the end of her answer to the second question the equally incredible and unsupported claim that there is no statistical significance in the difference between men and women because of the high degree of overlap between verbal and spatial processing in men and women. Genova’s most relevant claim comes in reply to the third question, and is in need of further exploration. Genova disputes that it is possible that men and women are the same in terms of how they think; yet the environment in which they are raised trains them differently in the collection of information. The analogy implemented by Genova is the inferiority of the computer as thinking machine when compared to man. Though computers can have tremendous analytical flexibility in terms of the processes which can be programmed into them, but the information upon which they act is quite different from that which humans act upon. There is subsequently little difference in thinking, variation stems from differing training and capabilities in the input of information. On the whole I would say that Genova has failed to prove any of her substantial and weighty claims.
On the other hand, Stephanie Shields in her essay ?The Variability Hypothesis? makes less lofty claims and more fully cites those she does make. The article is more of a history than a philosophy paper, in that it documents the history of the variability hypothesis. The premise of the variability hypothesis is that men are more varied than women are in the bell curve of their intellectual prowess. The application of this theory is that since there is more variation among males, there is now explanation for the occurrence of towering geniuses who are male far outnumbering those that are female. Shields systematically proves, however, that the initial premise of the variability hypothesis has never been scientifically proven. Shields cites the example of Darwin in The Descent of Man where he matter-of-factly states that ?’The cause of the greater general variability in the male sex, than in the female, is unknown’? (Shields 190). Shields goes on to prove that the variability hypothesis has been derived solely from a common belief being applied to slightly ambiguous data in order to gain expected results, among a slew of other concerns. The social sensitivity of the issue of male vs. female intelligence was an important motivator for both proponents and critics of the variability hypothesis. The variability hypothesis is generally unaccepted in modern times not only because of the prejudicial nature of its derivation, but because or poor statistical analysis. Initially, results were extrapolated from tests of physical prowess to imply mental ability. Even today, measures of mental ability are something that has never been completely verified as absolute measures. In addition, the assumption was made that the curve for variation in mental ability was a normal curve, completely symmetrical about the mean. By far the most absurd misuse of statistics was the comparison of different indexes of variance between different scientists. All of these factors pointing toward the demise of the variability hypothesis were thoroughly cited by Shields, and though the argument she proposed is an arbitrary one, it is a well defined criticism of the variability hypothesis.
Judith Genova’s article ?Women and the Mismeasure of Thought? is one that I don’t feel has proved any substantial points. A torrent of big ideas combined with a lack of substantial amounts of agreeing references makes it hard to accept Genova’s ideas. Shields’ essay ?The Variability Hypothesis,? however, is successful in that it takes on a more specific subject and provides more extensive and applicable sources to her thesis.
Frenkel, Karen A. “Women and Computing”. Communications of the ACM, November 1990, 34–46. One of two articles comprising CACM’s cover story
on women and computing. Has a good bibliography.