Women's intellectual aptitude would blow Aristotle's mind

James Damore was fired from Google for his memo detailing women’s inferior skills. It's a tale as old as time.

James Doban who was fired from Google in mid-August after circulating his views on women in tech.

James Doban who was fired from Google in mid-August after circulating his views on women in tech.

 

In mid-August, James Damore was fired from Google because he circulated a memo arguing that the lack of women in the tech industry is due to their innately inferior technical skills and leadership abilities.

However, this wasn’t sexism: it was science. (Okay, so Damore is not a scientist of cognitive sex differences, but he went to Harvard and is good at chess – so that counts, right?)

The affair fired up the alt-right, to whom Damore gave his first interviews following the dismissal, a move which convincingly cements his assertion that his concerns were scientifically motivated. When a guy wants to talk cognition, who better to engage than neo-Nazis? After all, nobody’s got a better handle on phrenology.

From the right, accusations of censorship and anti-empiricism abounded. Damore was just trying to start a rational conversation! Those mindless lefties don’t want debate, they just cry about their snowflake feelings when you dare to threaten the orthodoxy.

Cordelia Fine and Lise Eliot have expertly accounted for the gap between the facts about cognitive sex differences and public perceptions

When the mindless lefties – many of whom were actual experts in cognitive sex differences – penned nuanced articles on the most up-to-date research in the field, these were never going to get the same traction as chess-man’s memo. A headline like “Men and Women Actually Pretty Similar, Meta-Analysis Finds” won’t bait clicks like “Why Men Cheat and Women Lie: New Study Reveals All!”

Neuroscientists such as Cordelia Fine and Lise Eliot have expertly accounted for the gap between the facts about cognitive sex differences and public perceptions. I won’t rehearse their research and arguments here, just urge you to read them.

Many commentators have noted that if paltry female representation in tech is due to biologically innate factors it would hold across time and across cultures. It does not. Women used to dominate computer programming when it was a less prestigious field; in India, Malaysia and Nigeria, for example, women are much more likely to study computing.

Like Damore, I’m not a cognitive scientist. Unlike him, I haven’t been to Harvard and am a mediocre chess player. But one measure of human intelligence is the ability to recognize patterns. And when this “debate” perennially raises one of its hydra heads – with the latest champion of women’s scientifically demonstrable inferiority brandishing his ideas as some sort of revolutionary torch – it always strikes me I’m listening to the same stuff that men have been saying for millennia. In 100 years, folks will recognise Damore’s professed scientific objectivity for what it is. How do I know? Because history shows a pattern.

Aristotle believed that women’s “deliberative capacity” lacked authority. Thus women should obey while men command. He also considered women to lie more, be more prone to depression, and to lack self-respect. Now, why women might lie, be sad, and fail to value themselves in a culture in which they got married off in their early teens to dudes twice their age and were rarely allowed to leave the house I simply can’t imagine.

The difference between men and women is like that between animals and plants

Aristotle did concede that women had better memories. And maybe this one does, because I can’t help but recall Aristotle’s 2,500-year-old sexism when Damore writes that women are more anxious and neurotic than men. Gosh, in a culture in which their male colleagues deem them biologically unsuited to their professional roles, I wonder why?

In Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, the 18th century thinker opines: The difference between men and women is like that between animals and plants. Men correspond to animals, while women correspond to plants because their development is more placid and the principle that underlies it is the rather vague unity of feeling. When women hold the helm of government, the state is at once in jeopardy, because women regulate their actions not by the demands of universality but by arbitrary inclinations and opinions. Women are educated – who knows how – as it were by breathing in ideas, by living rather than by acquiring knowledge. The status of manhood, on the other hand, is attained only by the stress of thought and much technical exertion.

Men are reason; women are emotion. Manhood is technical exertion, womanhood “a vague unity of feeling”. When Damore authoritatively states that woman are concerned with “feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas”, I hear Hegel.

Darwin believed that women were less evolved than men, in part, he theorised, because natural selection acted more upon daring hunters than placid gatherers. So different did Darwin deem men and women that he was amazed they belonged to the same species at all; woman birthing man was as if “a perfect kangaroo were seen to come out of the womb of a bear”. And in fact some prominent Darwinists did classify the human sexes as separate species.

I love to imagine what Aristotle, Hegel and Darwin would think if we could show them the world that we have created

These ideas are preposterous now and yet they have much to teach us. Darwin looked at gender in Victorian society and explained women’s inferior status in terms of sex differences rather than environmental factors. Damore still explains away inequality like this today.

I love to imagine what Aristotle, Hegel and Darwin would think if we could show them the world that we have created: men and women working alongside each other in medicine, domestic labour, sociology, art, microbiology, politics, child-rearing, law, media, architecture, history, education and almost every other field you can name. Things are still so far from equal, but this clear proof of women’s intellectual aptitude for science and philosophy would blow their rational minds.

I’m sure that each of these thinkers reckoned himself utterly free from prejudice, utterly motivated by love of knowledge, as he penned his theory of female inferiority. I’m sure Damore feels the same today. But his ideas are not new, they’re not different, and – though they come from a very clever man – they’re certainly not scientific.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.