Sunday, August 01, 2004

Sex Differences

In another outstanding post on the internal contradictions of (much) religious conservatism, Roderick Long gives the Vatican's letter "On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World" the rogering it richly deserves. Rod's main point: that the Catholic Church, allegedly a defender of the spiritual over the biological and material, nonetheless resorts to blind biology-worship in defining the role of women.

I only have one small complaint with Rod's analysis. He says:
The Vatican also pays women the old false compliment of a special feminine "sense and ... respect for what is concrete," as "opposed to abstractions which are so often fatal for the existence of individuals and society." That sounds very nice; but propagating such a view of women is hardly likely to enhance their success in intellectual careers. (Admittedly some feminists have made precisely the same mistake, trumpeting hostility to abstraction as some sort of liberating "feminine voice" and "ethics of care," when in fact such stereotypes are more plausibly regarded as artefacts of women’s subjection.)
I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss men's and women's differing capacity or affinity for abstraction as a matter of pure socialization. One doesn't have to engage in biology-worship to admit that there exist real biological differences between men and women, and this may be one of them. Naturally, I'm open to evidence indicating otherwise. Of course, virtually all mental and physical characteristics exist on a spectrum, so it would be wrong to make strong assumptions about the capacity of a specific man or woman to engage in high-level abstraction, even if it is indeed true that men and women as groups differ statistically.

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