Saturday, May 12, 2012

Are Men and Women of Equal Intelligence?

In 2005 Lawrence Summers resigned from his position as the president of Harvard due to sexist remarks that he had made during a speech the previous year about the intelligence of women in comparison to men. According to Summers, the reason that there is an unequal percentage of men and women as phD candidates and as professors was the fact that men have a higher IQ than women on average, and that men are more adept at working jobs with a higher level of intelligence. Although Summers articulated this point more subtly, it was clear that he believed women to be less intelligent then men on average, and attributed the difference in the pay gap, and in skilled professions, to this difference in intelligence.

As shocking as this may seem, there are others who strongly agree with this notion. Professor Richard Lynn, a British psychologist, wrote an extremely controversial article in 2010 supporting Summers claim whole heartedly that women are less intelligent than men, and that the unequal distribution of women in the field of science and math is justified by this difference.

In the article, Lynn attributes the difference between men and women to the age old Hunter-Gatherer dynamic. When men hunted to gather food they had the difficult task of strategizing before the kill, giving them a series of complex thoughts and ideas to wrestle with daily. Because of the dynamic between Hunters and Gatherers, who were predominantly female, Lynn argues that men, "must have possessed far sharper minds than those of women engaged in the relatively simple tasks of gathering berries and raising children." This early difference in intelligence, according to Lynn, has carried on into the present day, as men on average have bigger brains than women (even after adjusting for difference in size). 

When I first read the article I was disgusted at  Lynns theory of intelligence and his "100 percent" approval of the idea, but I was unable to figure out a way to dispute his claims. In terms of the data that he has collected on the subject, almost all of it is true - the statistics that he provides are not made up by him but collected throughout the years in studies and experiments (I promise I don't agree with Lynn's claims, merely that the numbers he worked with are hard to refute). I felt as though I couldn't defend the intelligence of women in the face of blatant sexism- had science really justified gender oppression?
On the verge of accepting defeat, I realized that Lynn's assertions themselves were based on an inherent sexism that skewed his ability to understand the data, and the rationalizations that he had recorded.

For starters, "women engaged in the relatively simple task of gathering and raising children", suggests that raising children is a task that requires almost no cognitive ability, and does not require the use of complex ideas. This notion is grounded in Lynn's sexist understanding of child rearing, and his belief that it is an unintelligent practice. Child rearing, while different than hunting, is more complicated than Lynn suggests- understanding children and their growth is a complex and difficult job- gathering as well requires more effort than mindlessly picking berries and herbs. Knowledge about what is acceptable to eat and where to find it was necessary for survival, and required a higher level of cognitive ability than Lynn ascribes to women of the time. Lynn's perception on women stems from his belief that care taking requires minimal effort, and that it does not constitute a legitimate job or positions. His theory of intelligence cannot be ascribed to the prehistoric dynamic of men and women because it inaccurately describes the difficulty required to perform both tasks.

Additionally, I don't believe that the IQ test is a fair assessment of intelligence between men and women. Firstly, a numerical definition of intelligence cannot possibly account for the subjective nature of intelligence, and how we perceive intelligence in society. What is the difference between 1 IQ point? and how can that be measured in the real world? The numbers that Lynn uses represents a rather esoteric understanding of intelligence. A man may on average outscore women by 5 points? but what exactly does that look like? Should that really result in women representing only 9.7% of professors? Although I do not fully understand the nature of intelligence tests, I highly doubt that this stark contrast in employment can be ascribed purely to the difference in IQ.
Secondly, the IQ test was developed by, and mostly for, men. Each IQ test in existence to date was created by men, and during the early stages of use, was used exclusively on male populations. In 1905, when the IQ test was first developed, the student population at the time was primarily comprised of boys. While this may seem farfetched, the IQ test, because of its relationship to men, may give certain advantages to men over women because it was created with an inherent bias towards men. If men were targeted for the test, than the questions involved relate to and test the male experience, and exclude the aspects of intelligence that we may ascribe to women. This would create a bias that would disadvantage women when taking IQ tests, and could explain the lower scores that women receive. 

Although I strongly disagree with Lynn, there is room for discussion: Is it sexist to suggest women are less intelligent than men if there is "evidence"? Should we consider Lynn sexist? 
To what extent does this matter- should we give up on women's rights because they "may" be "less intelligent"?

This is certainly controversial, and I hope that people understand that I do not agree with Lynn at all. I am merely exposing an uncomfortable topic so as to create healthy dialogue around issues of gender and sex.


  1. I had never heard of this difference in intelligence before, but it is fascinating to me. If women are actually not equal to men in that sense, then why are we fighting for equality? We may not even deserve it!

    All joking aside, I believe men and women should be treated equally, but that doesn't mean they are the SAME. Form the beginning of time, the genders had specialized tasks in society, and so it makes sense for each gender to have evolved to be better at certain things than the the other. I believe in different kinds of intelligence between those of different genders. This applies to what I believe about the treatment of men and women. We may strive for equality, but at the same time we must acknowledge that there ARE fundamental differences between the sexes, and perhaps because of these differences, each gender may be better at something on a whole than the other. This is not to say one gender is BETTER than the other, just that they are different.

    Overall, I believe that Lynn was being sexist, not for citing facts, but in his interpretation of those facts. Women are not less intelligent, but maybe they are less suited to study math and science on a whole.

  2. Lynn's interpretation of the data that he collected is propelled by a bias. A bias that is not only his, but one that is shared with the patriarchal world that we inhabit. In history, the ones in power get their voices heard the clearest. It's not sure that a study showing that women are smarter that men would ever be published. If it was, how could men's oppression of women be justified? It just simply wouldn't feel right to the oppressor, if the oppressor is thinking correctly.

    I believe that gender has nothing to do with intelligence at all. Correlation does not necessarily lead to causation, and someone who is doing statistics should know that. I'm not saying that Lynn is stupid at all. He used the data that he gathered to make a conclusion. The problem is that he used the little data that he gathered to make a very generalizing statement about and to half of the world's population- you women just aren't as smart as us me are. That kind of far-reaching conclusion deserves to be met with heavy scrutiny.

    And EVEN IF Lynn is correct, should it matter? Definitely not. Women and men deserve to be treated equally even if one gender is smarter that the other. We should not be looking for justifications to gender oppression, we should be looking to end it.

  3. I'm so glad you brought up that child bearing is not a simple task, because I thought of this right away while reading about Lynn's assumptions. It definitely takes a large level of intelligence and intuition to know what your child needs or wants. Also, I feel that although still relative, IQ tests are arbitrary when it comes to testing real world experience and intelligence. And for that matter, I think measuring intelligence at all is next to impossible. I think we can all agree that Albert Einstein was a genius, but test him on painting something, or heck check if he even graduated high school and one could argue from basic evidence that his intelligence level would be low. I don't think that IQ tests justify that women are less intelligent than men. There's also something to be said about the fact that on average young girls mature faster than young boys. Does that mean that on average men are less mature than women? Maybe. But that's certainly not a reason to blatantly discriminate against all men. It's going to take a more solidified argument from Mr. Lynn before I'm convinced.. And a touch less blatant sexism too.

  4. To further add to Mr. Lynn's false rationality, genetic selection does not entirely account for intelligence; and to the extent that it does, it is inherited by offspring REGARDLESS OF GENDER. Subsequently, these supposedly more intelligent hunters would have had children who inherited this superior intelligence, and this offspring could have been a daughter. Now, intelligence also has contingency factors and many humans often don't realize the full potential of their intelligence. To this end, an IQ test might be irrelevant — for someone with a lower natural IQ but with situational factors within their lives conducive to intellectual development could very well grow to be much more intellectual than someone born with a higher natural IQ and exposed to far less intellectual development. Perhaps, also this very phenomenon could account for the results of Mr. Lynn's analysis. It could be possible that within our societal framework, greater emphasis is placed on the intellectual development of males as opposed to females. This could be evidenced by the types of jobs men are typically trained for in contrast to women, the athletic and physical roles males are ascribed to versus those of women, the nature in which each gender tends to be treated, or countless other differences in intellectual stimulus between boys and girls which could be inherent within our culture. I think Mr. Lynn was far too quick to make conclusions based off personal beliefs. And I definitely think that a study such as his should bear no influence on the perceptions women hold of themselves nor on the magnitude or nature of their ambitions. I think that many women probably read this article and quietly acquiesced at its possible viability, and these very women are placing constraints on themselves with regards to their ambitions and hierarchical placement within our society.


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