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Oh. Him.

Feb
10
2005

There are plenty of things in the world more worthy of attention than Harvard President Larry Summer’s wondering if some “innate” difference between men and women is responsible for the paucity of women at the upper reaches of the hard sciences.
I was going to let the whole thing pass as yet another tedious example of evolutionary psychology and its misappropriation by another bonehead White Guy but then I got two phone calls. One, asking me if I knew of any women who might serve as “new voices” on a panel discussing on-line politics to break up a conversation among a group of white guys. The second was a call about implicit sexism involved in political organizing and the possibility of organizing a panel discussion on that topic. Then Carly Fiorina got fired. Rather unceremoniously. And I noticed that the list of her potential replacements is mostly white men.


So I am back eyeing President Summers, a well-off, well-educated white man, wondering aloud what’s wrong with women that they can’t – having been giving all the advantages — be more successful. From this distance, he sounds a little bit like Henry Higgins doesn’t he? “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”
What’s wrong with them? Don’t they try? Don’t they want to be rich and successful? Is it that baby thing? Now, that’s not what Summers meant to say. But there is no text of his remarks and reports of what he said – and its tone – vary. What he might have been trying to do was articulate frustration about the lack of progress women have made in the hard sciences. Which is a legitimate concern. A legitimate concern that’s not that hard to explain. Any woman would have been – if she wasn’t worried about losing her job, had plenty of time to spare for a tutorial in the facts of life, wasn’t worried about insulting the president of the nation’s preeminent university and oh, yeah, if he asked – happy to explain.
There is an innate difference between men and women in this world, President Summers. Here is it: women like me spend our lives working for men like you.
And men like you, sir, help other men. Men just like you. You help them in the ways that you were helped, subtly and quietly. You lend a hand in the way that one was lent to you by men who took you in, spotted your talent and brought you up to think, act and – it seems – speak just like them. Men who probably given your age, class and circumstance probably never really thought twice about what they were doing and how they were doing it. You guys do it unconsciously.Take a look at your own resume, President Summers. The nephew of two Nobel-prize winning economists, your career has been nurtured by guys like you – well-off, well-connected maybe even well-meaning – who wanted you to succeed and made it their business to make sure that happened. That’s why you’re running Harvard University. And the women who you went undergrad with at M.I.T. aren’t. That’s why men run M.I.T., Yale, Stanford and Columbia, Cornell and Dartmouth.
Princeton, of course, is run by a woman. And, um, she’s a molecular biologist. Brown and UPenn are run by women, too. But they ain’t Harvard. Ask any Havard man.
Now, I’d love to say Summer’s comments are the exception. They’re not. Or that his fuzzy-headed thinking was atypical. Sad to say, no. A few months ago a little debate broke out among political “bloggers.”“Why are there no women?” the Liberal boys asked, wringing their hands. Is it because women don’t like technology?
No. It’s not because women don’t like or understand technology. It’s because men often don’t listen to them when they talk or write. The annoying trend toward hiring female commentators for their looks — hard and sexy on the right (Coulter, Ingram) and soft and kittenish on the left (Dowd, Cox) send another equally dismaying but very clear message. Non-babes need not apply.
Besides, the Liberal pundit class in this country has been nurtured in only a few places: The Washington Monthly. The Atlantic. The New Republic. All places known for their small staffs and crummy pay scales. Cast your eyes down those mastheads and count the women. It’ll be quick work (particularly if you skip the art department). Look, this month’s Atlantic has no feature by-lines by women. Surprised? Me neither. But hey, I’m not a man.
Particularly vapid? “The Truth About Harvard” in which some nice young man complains — in a rehash of Walter Kirn’s smart, more telling and more honestly moving piece of a month earlier — that he wasn’t given the education of his forefathers. Imagine that story written by a woman undergrad. You can’t. When you can, Larry Summers will stop fretting. Of course, he’ll be out of a job, too.
This state of affairs — a few women writing seriously — is judged an improvement. And you know what’s sad? It actually is. For years, Charlie Peters, the Monthly’s founder, didn’t hire women although none of the boy bloggers (who, by the way have half the female readership of this site) brought up that telling fact. If you wanted to write about politics as a woman there weren’t too many places to start out.
That’s not to say there haven’t been some, er, good faith efforts. A few years ago, some smart person did a search of the New Yorker’s writers. Not a lot of women. So David Remnick said he’d remedy the situation. What did he do? He hired Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo, one of the few women to be hired by the Monthly. And then Caitlin Flanagan signed on, moving over from The Atlantic. Flanagan is particularly good on the servant problem in America today but her reports from the home front – literally – aren’t exactly breaking new territory for women writers and commentators. As I said, kittenish.
So yeah. There are innate differences, President Summers. You guys run the world. And it’s taking a very, very long time to compensate for the oh, 2,000-year advantage that superior physical strength gave you at the dawn of time. Because a lot of girls are just fine with you guys running things. Particularly since you have mastered a whole set of social, economic, physical, emotion and political tricks — Oh why can’t a woman be more like a man! — to maintain the status quo. Every one of us has paid, President Summers. Just ask. And then, sir, listen to the responses.
It has been less than 100 years since women in this country got the right to vote. It’s only been 30 years since Harvard and the rest of the Ivy League accepted women students on the same terms as men. And to really even things out, it took an act of Congress. We’re now only just getting used to the idea of women in high political or corporate office and the prices these women pay to keep their jobs are high, high, high.
So the guy who runs Harvard – one who started with a head start in a class of folks with head starts – looks around at the head of the table and wants to know why women haven’t come further faster? Man. Oh. Men!

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