The Corner

The one and only.

Goose Sauce, Meet Gander Sauce


On Sunday’s Washington Post op-ed page, Debora Spar, president of Barnard College, had this to say:

…[A]s the financial debacle unfolds, I can’t help noticing that all the perpetrators of the greatest economic mess in eight decades are, well, men. …

One might argue, of course, that the preponderance of men behaving badly on Wall Street is just a mathematical corollary of the preponderance of men doing anything on Wall Street. But the truth is more complicated. …

Clearly, some greater force is at work here, something more than the traditional clubbiness of Wall Street or the obstacles that still confront women juggling work and family. It may be that women perceive and act on risk in subtly different ways; that they don’t, as a general rule, embrace the kind of massively aggressive behavior that brought us a Dow of 14,000 and then, seemingly overnight, a crash of epic proportions. Whether it be from a protectiveness born of biology or a reticence imposed by social norms, women may be less inclined than men to place the kind of bets that can get them in real trouble. …

We don’t yet know why women respond differently to danger signals — and earlier, it appears — than men. We don’t know why women either shy away, or are effectively banned, from businesses that thrive on risk. One possibility, explored in a fascinating study published last year by John Coates and Joe Herbert of Cambridge University, is that women simply don’t have the testosterone for it; on the trading floor, they deduced, higher profits literally correlate with higher levels of the male hormone. …

Whatever the reason, the experience of the past year suggests that we desperately need to bring more women into leadership positions on Wall Street, in politics, in regulatory bodies and in American life generally.

Four years ago, Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard University, famously suggested that three “broad hypotheses” may account for the dearth of women in leading science and engineering jobs:

One is what I would call the…high-powered job hypothesis,” Summers said. “The second is what I would call different availability of aptitude at the high end, and the third is what I would call different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search.

And in my own view, their importance probably ranks in exactly the order that I just described.

Nancy Hopkins, a professor of biology at MIT, walked out on Summers’s talk, saying later that if she hadn’t left, ‘‘I would’ve either blacked out or thrown up.” Another attendee, Denice D. Denton, chancellor designate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, said that she was “deeply offended.”

These were not isolated reactions among academics. The UC Board of Regents disinvited him from a presentation, after Maureen Stanton, an evolution professor at UC Davis, was “stunned and appalled” when she learned of Summers’s upcoming speech and circulated a petition to have his invitation withdrawn. Ultimately, in part because of these comments, he was fired.

Stanley Fish, like many, argued that Summers was wrong to make these comments because he was not simply a faculty member, but also an administrator.

Beyond academia, the primordial blogosphere of 2005 couldn’t decide whether Summers should be given a show trial or not before execution.

It seems to me that both Spar and Summers have publicly speculated that the lack of women in a highly competitive field is caused by physical differences between the sexes in combination with social factors. If anything, Summers’s remarks are more tentative and restrained than Spar’s. Both are (or were) Presidents of leading institutions of higher learning. Summers made his remarks in a somewhat informal live academic discussion among peers that included direct challenge and back-and-forth. Spar published her remarks on the op-ed page of one of the three or four most influential newspapers in America.

So, presumably all of those who critcized the Summers talk will promulgate at least equally vehement reactions to Spar’s article– right?


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

Subscribe to National Review