Wednesday, January 19, 2005

It's Not about Biology

We moms and women have been getting it from all directions lately, and the hit we're taking is biology. Suddenly, all over the media, it's the return of biology as the arbiter of women's and mothers' destinies.

Last Thursday it was Maureen Dowd's column Men Just Want Mommy that inexplicitly let stand a statement that powerful men marry less powerful women because of an evolutionary demand. Instead of dealing with complex issues, biology comes to the rescue. She shoud come visit my neighborhood, where every married woman I knew is married to a similarly smart man. Also, women live with each other. Men live with each other. That seems more evolutionary to me, in the best sense.

Score: D on explanation, D on sociology.

Then Saturday it was David Brooks' column, Empty Nests, and Hearts. Women should marry and have babies in their twenties when our bodies are most up for it, and think about our careers later. Now, the government can help by offering tax credits and tuition credits for mothers who have done this, and now are ready to go to graduate school and start a profession. Excellent marks for making the link beween motherhood and public policy. This doesn't happen often enough. However, poor grade on telling us that we should have babies to help the nation.

Score: A on public policy link, D on sociology.

Then there's the Lawrence Sumners debate at Harvard. The reason that women haven't succeeded in careers in math, science and engineering is due to innate sex differences. Biology again. It's not about sexism, it's not about men in those fields keeping women out. It's biology. Gender bias has nothing to do with it. And then there's those 80 hour work weeks. I interviewed a woman for my book who quit her engineering job when they refused to let her pump, after her first baby. She wanted to work, they wouldn't accommodate, she was the only woman in the firm. So much for biology, sounds like old-fashioned sexism to me.

Score: D, all round.

Miriam's non-biological answer: It's as if folks are tired of dealing with all the real social issues involved, all the patterns, all the inequities. So they just resort to biology as a quick and dirty explanation of why we can't make life better for all of us.


Mother in Chief said...

I cannot believe that most of the backlash on Summers' comments have been on the biology. But maybe people actually buy into the whole 80-hour work week thing. I blogged my outrage here. I guess only slackers work less than 80 hours a week.

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