Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Is Lawrence H. Summers really out of line?

(Alienating the rest of my readers?)

I'm sure we've all heard the President of Harvard, Lawrence H. Summers' remarks about genetic predisposition in women. He made the conjecture that there may be a genetic reason that women are less likely to hold high level positions in science and engineering as well as receiving top scores on science and math tests in high school. He wasn't sure it was due to genetics, but could it be discounted?


Isn't that just a bit too volatile of a feminist reaction for a debate question? Men and women have proven genetic differences. How many men do you know that can give birth? Did you know that males can give milk when they take estrogen pills? Did you know that the chemical reactions that occur in the brain at the first sight of your own child are completely different chemicals in completely different centers in the brain? These are things are true, so why is the thought of other phychological predispositions so sacrilegious? Couldn't it be at least partially true?

I'm not going to set myself out on that limb that says it's all genetic because that's not what I think. I'm sure any psychologist could cite half a dozen studies that have shown boys and girls are treated differently as babies and that upbringing has a lot to do with your rolls in adult life. I would agree that your social environment has much to do with how you turn out but it is not the only thing. Genetics may play a major part in the life roles amongst the sexes as well.

Take for example Queen Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth was one tough cookie. She had what it took to be a CEO, college president, ruler of the free world or whatever she wanted. In order to receive her status she gave something up. She gave up her maternal rights to have children. Her corporate powerbroker genes went to waste. She gave no lineage to it. Her family tree became truncated. It was a loss of potential future generations of powerful women.

She is definitely not the only example of this genetic loss. There are several other corporate mothers that have gone past their prime child bearing years without passing on their genetic material. Sylvia Ann Hewlett made a controversial book; Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children and states:
At mid-life, between a third and half of all high-achieving women in America do not have children.

That is a lot of missing genetic material. Could it be possible that this loss has effected the feminine genetic material? I believe it could, but it's not absolute. It hasn't been proven and probably never will be. It's a taboo topic in this equality driven society. A case in point would be Mr. Summers being chastised.

Just in case I haven't alienated everyone in the blogosphere, let me take this to another couple of taboo topics in genetics.

During the ignorant days of slavery, as if any day of slavery isn't ignorant, blacks were bred like cattle to be the biggest, strongest, most submissive and stupid creatures they could be bred to be. I use the word creature here because they were not treated as humans. No human should be treated the way they were treated. The fact remains that they were bred and their genetic material was altered through breeding.

Chris Rock has covered topic rather well in one of his comedy routines:
"Black people dominate sports in the United States. 20% of the population and 90% of the final four. We own this stuff. Basketball, baseball, football, golf, tennis, and as soon as they make a heated hockey rink we'll take that too."
(Expletives deleted to maintain my "G" rating.)

Yes, it's the "white man" that created this athletic dominance. The black man was bred that way for many years. To follow the path of thought put forth, the black man as a whole is a less intelligent and more submissive through breeding as well. Wouldn't this make sense because of the under representation of the black community at both universities and high level business positions?

It definitely helps the pro affirmative action idiom. A psychological disadvantage would definitely deem preferential treatment in order to get ahead, wouldn't it? It might even help the quote system used in many businesses hire more blacks in the name of equal opportunity.

For some reason, many of the theories put forth no longer hold true or are quickly fleeting. Every year more and more women and blacks become CEOs and corporate executives with no help from anyone but themselves. We have had both a black man and now a black woman as Secretary of State. Talk abounds that Clarence Thomas, the only black in the Supreme Court, will become the next chief justice. Many other examples, too numerous to mention, spring forth almost daily. Women and blacks are breaking free from this paradigm of followers in the workplace to equality in leadership.

Yes, times are changing and the genetics follow as well. Here's a statistic directly from an article by Carol Hymowitz, a staff reporter from the Wall Street Journal:
A survey of 187 attendees at Fortune Magazine's Most Powerful Women in Business summit in March found that 71% were mothers with an average of 2.2 kids each.
This is a far cry from the barren wasteland that was the corporate woman. Something critical has changed.

Here's another quote from the same article of some of the most powerful women CEOs:
I don't buy Ms. Hewlett's thesis. For one thing, most high-profile female executives are also wives and mothers. They include Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox; Meg Whitman, president and CEO of eBay; Andrea Jung, chairwoman and CEO of Avon Products; Betsey Holden, co-CEO of Kraft Foods; Shelly Lazarus, chairwoman and CEO of Ogilvy & Mather; Geraldine Laybourne, chairwoman and CEO of Oxygen Media; and Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo president and CFO, to name a few.
We have truly turned a corner in the history of equality. The United States and the rest of the world are making rapid progress towards complete equality at all levels of power in intellect. The paradigms of old are quickly fading away.

Was it genetic? Does the human genetic makeup have the ability to bounce back this quickly in the psychological sense? Is this just an example of change in our environment for the better? Is it some combination of each? How much of each?

I do not have the answers to any of these questions, let alone all of them. I have not seen a study showing irrefutable evidence one way or the other. Everything I've seen comes up inconclusive. Isn't it possible that Professor Summers' provoking discussion isn't as ridiculous as some people believe? Maybe he's wrong but he at least has an arguable theory that can not be immediately disproven.

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