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Heather Heying

Heather Heying is an evolutionary biologist and former Professor at Evergreen State College. She applies the tool kit of evolutionary theory to problems large and small, some seemingly intractable, some[…]

HEATHER HEYING: Should we seek identical outcomes for men and women on all tasks because our imagining of what equality looks like is that equality must be same?

Male and female are concepts that are real and far older than us as humans, older than primates, older than mammals, older than vertebrates. Man and woman obviously are the human names for adult forms of male and female and it would be beyond surprising if we were identical in every way except for the obvious ways that we're reproductively not identical. We can, we should recognize our difference and be equal under the law, be equal in our expectations for what we can achieve, be equal in our ability to move into particular careers that we might want to move into while simultaneously recognizing that at the population level males as a population and females as a population are on average different. It's not to say better or worse on average across the board, but that there will be places, there will be things that you can measure, there will be parameters that are actually relevant to being human and to moving around in the world where women are on average better than men and places where men are on average better than women.

With regard to some measures of mathematical intelligence the greater male variability hypothesis, for which there is research evidence, suggests that males and females are basically the same on average, but the standard deviation for men is higher, which means that you expect to see more men at both tails of the distribution, which is to say more male geniuses in this particular regard and more male idiots as well, men who can't do math at all and men who are much better than the vast majority of the population. Not to say that there aren't women in both of those categories as well, but you expect to see more men. To take an example of a character on which women on average are better than men we have measures of linguistic capability such as reading and writing. With regard to reading and writing and other linguistic activities women are on average better.

I would argue then that we should seek equality without seeking sameness: seeking equality means recognizing difference, being honest with ourselves about what differences are and honoring the choices that people make when you're in a system in which all barriers to entry for various careers have been eroded. So allow girls and boys equally to make choices that they would like to make, but instead of, for instance, forcing girls to play with trucks and boys to play with dolls, some of them want to, many of them don't, many girls don't want to play with dolls either, let children choose what they want to choose and don't be appalled and don't assume that society is putting people down when on average there are differences between the sexes.