Saturday, February 15, 2014

Are women less rational than men?

Yes, it's happened again.  I got in an awful facebook debate and you all get to be the beneficiaries.  Here's where I get to really lay out my argument without being ignored, interrupted, or called a "simpleminded woman."

Yeah, okay, it really stung and that's why I'm writing this post.  Sigh.  I could have posted my SAT score and college GPA, but that seemed stupid and I had wasted enough of my life on the ridiculous person I was arguing with, who said that all modern problems are caused by men allowing women (who by nature are foolish, weak, and inclined to sin) to have rights.

And anyway, someone actually asked me once to elaborate my "radical" views on this topic, and I never did, so here you go. 

Reasons to believe women are less rational than men:

1.  St. Thomas Aquinas said so.

2.  Women have been known to do stupid things, like get bikini waxes to impress men or stay with that guy that we all know is a jerk.

3.  Women have written fewer immortal works of literature, won fewer Nobel Prizes, painted fewer well-known paintings, etc.

4.  Women are more emotional.

5.  Women's hormones make them irrational.

Answers to above reasons:

1.  St. Thomas Aquinas spent most of his life in monasteries with only men.  For all his theological genius, he was no expert on women.

2.  Men have been known to do stupid things, like get chest waxes to impress women or stay with that girl that we all know is a gold-digger.

3.  Considering that women have been considered the inferior sex throughout most of history, denied education, and kept at home, it is amazing that any women have achieved any of these things.  But even despite these handicaps -- and the lack of respect given to the achievements of women -- there are famous female authors, scientists, theologians, painters, even from periods in history where women had almost none of the advantages men had.  Yes, it's an exception.  It takes exceptional talent and courage to overcome the pressures of the culture you are born into.

4.  Men can be emotional, too.  They often make bad decisions based on their emotions.  But since they don't cry or admit that they are emotional, we tend not to notice.  Still, a man who runs away from battle (and many do) does it because of the emotion of fear.  A man who beats his wife does it because of the emotion of anger.  Men make stupid emotional decisions all the time.  In contrast, not all emotion is the enemy of reason.  Sometimes, the emotion of love for one's family or distrust of a suspicious person helps us to make good decisions.  Men and women can both be emotional, and in either case it can be either good or bad.

5.  Some female hormones cause irrationality.  Others -- I'm thinking particularly of prolactin -- make one calm and patient.  (If that stuff could be bottled, somebody could make a fortune.)  Testosterone is known to cause aggression and impaired decision-making.  So I think we all have a good argument for thinking with our brains and not our hormones.

Reasons women are equally rational:

1.  Men's and women's IQ averages out about the same, within a couple of points.  (There's a great deal of ink spilled about those couple of points, depending on who is in the lead in the group we're looking at, but it's safe to say there is no massive difference here.)

2.  Girls do better in school.  Yes, this is because they try harder.  But isn't that a rational choice to make?  This holds true as well in college, where more of the instructors are male.  It held true in my college, where almost all of the professors were male and many of them believed women were inferior to men.  They couldn't ignore that the bunch of summa cum laudes every year was mostly female -- in my class, I believe it was 90% female.

3.  Women succeed today in pretty much every field where they were previously told they never would.  There are female professors, scientists, Nobel Prize winners, presidents, doctors, mathematicians, and astronauts.  Now you can admit an unqualified woman into a physics program just out of affirmative action.  But you can't make them discover radium, perform successful brain surgery, or operate a space shuttle.  Women did that themselves.

4.  If you admit we shouldn't just be talking about the outliers -- since most of us are neither an Albert Einstein nor a Marie Curie -- why not just think of the people you know?  Well, there's a problem here, and that's that most women think the men they know are dumb (at least about some things) and most men think the women they know are dumb (at least about some things).  Men can be oblivious to emotional cues (whether by nature or nurture is a debate for another day) and women sometimes aren't good at reading maps.  (I am.  I think it's because I knit.)  If you're going to argue from these details to say that one gender is smarter than the other, that assumes two things: first, that it is nature and not nurture causing the difference; and second, that some kinds of intelligence are more important than others.  Each would have to be proven to make any kind of claim.

5.  That one person knows a lot about something, while another doesn't, proves nothing.  John is rather ignorant about biochemistry, because he never took it.  I don't know much about Austrian economics (besides what he told me) because I never read any.  For us, this is something to admire about each other, not disdain or envy.

6.  Men often appear more confident and dominant in intellectual conversations.  However, this seems to boil down to men's culture vs. women's culture.  When men hang out together, they try to outdo each other, interrupt, talk over each other, and appear to be experts on a topic.  When women hang out together, it's often understood that we will wait our turn and not show off how much we know.  Naturally if you get men and women together, and both stick with their familiar way of talking, the men will dominate the conversation.  (This drives me nuts, but I understand it.)

7.  Since both men and women are created in the image and likeness of God, which the philosophers agreed meant God's rationality, it seems we should both possess roughly equal amounts of it.  Certainly there is nowhere in the Bible that says "in his image he created him, male and female he created them, but only the male was in his image."  The Bible is full of women making decisions, good and bad ones just like the men do, and often prophesying or even in leadership positions (think Deborah).  The stories where women appear in the Bible aren't noticeably "un-rational" or based merely on women's looks or even on her virtue.  Women's wisdom is displayed.  Wisdom itself is referred to as "she"!

8.  Considering that most children are raised primarily by women, and many argue that it is God's plan that they should be, it would have been foolish for God to have neglected to give us fully-functional brains.  Teaching the next generation is literally the most important job there is.  How we could possibly do it without intelligence is beyond me.

Seriously, do I have to go on?

Sadly, I did not get this far in my internet debate.  I asked for evidence, he gave me Thomas Aquinas, I said "No, I mean evidence," and he asked if I was even Catholic.  Then he said he wasn't going to argue any more with a simple-minded woman.  And, God love him, he didn't.  Bless his little heart.

What do you think?  I know this blog is mainly read by women.  But if some brave soul, male or female, would like to argue my rationality is hampered by some defect due to sex, I would love to hear it.  My combox is a civilized place, anyway.


Belfry Bat said...

What I'm curious about (as distinct from quite wanting to know...) is how you keep getting landed or stranded in these sorts of arguments.


So, apparantly, Thomas Aquinas wrote opinions as if to refute Mary's Immaculate Conception; and I'm sure there are one or two more examples of established doctrine on which Thomas in life seems to have been mistaken (and furthermore on which a particular saintly woman was correct, but I can't remember who, alas... )

Anyways, I can't help but think that either (a) you must be doing some great and holy work evangelizing these people you keep running against, or (b) there must be some way to avoid having the same argument over again.

Sheila said...

I think (b) is probably the case. John sometimes comes up behind me, reads how the debate is going, and tells me I'm wasting my time because these people will never listen. But sometimes I'm concerned about the people these people know, who are reading along --- many women actually believe these arguments because they think it's the Catholic thing to do, and I hate knowing that someone is living their life feeling inferior when they don't have to.

And in some cases, it just happens. I was having a conversation with a friend about, believe it or not, zoning laws. And this fellow leaped in to say that zoning laws weren't to blame for suburban sprawl, it was women, exclusively -- like all the other problems in society. I was going to just leave because I have wasted enough time lately on kooks, but my friend seemed to want me to answer, so off I went ..... luckily with some male backup as well. But the fellow called *them* names too and eventually the conversation ended badly, as it was bound to do. And I thought, I can probably evangelize, if that's what I'm doing, better on my blog.

It is funny about St. Thomas Aquinas. If people *like* him, great. But you can't pull out a scholastic philosopher to beat your enemies over the head with. If head-beating Catholics into submission is your goal, you at least need something of magisterial weight. Though perhaps we should aim higher with our conversation than just beating people over the head with quotes.

John Janaro said...

Some professors are quite convinced that there is nothing inferior about the intelligence and capacities of women. This is a time in history when your voices need to be heard. Please keep thinking hard and expressing yourself. Don't let anybody put you down. As for the Church, the popes encourage the same thing. The Church is more than a billion people spread through continents and cultures in a manner unprecedented in her history. There is so much more than some people think; there is a reality that must be lived now, in the circumstances of today. Don't let you intelligence and your good heart be constrained or discouraged by any narrowness. God bless you!

Sheila said...

Thanks, Professor! Certainly most of my professors treated me absolutely as an equal. I can't imagine why a college would accept women applicants if it thought they couldn't reason as well!

Part of this is in response to someone who was shocked when I said I thought women were equal to men in rationality. He wanted to know if I was just unteachable, or if Christendom was a bad college. Hardly knew what to tell him! Certainly both points of view were alive and well at Christendom, but I was hardly going to go along with the party that said I was intellectually deficient, when I know I'm not. And I got plenty of encouragement from people like Dr. Keats, Dr. Rice, Dr. Strickland .... on and on and on. So many great people.

Anonymous said...

"all modern problems are caused by men allowing women (who by nature are foolish, weak, and inclined to sin) to have rights."

Those "rights" allowed women to be educated. I hope the person who made the above accusation never has a serious car accident or a heart attack. Half of all EMT's are women. More than half of all medical school graduates are women. Most nurses are women. Most x-ray technicians and phlebotomists are women.

He would have to eat a large slice of humble pie to have his life expertly saved by a bunch of foolish, weak, sinful women.

Sheila said...

Anon, how very true. In fact it's rather hard not to hope that something like this *does* happen to him -- perhaps he would see the error of his ways! Ah well, I hope he learns his lesson one way or another, though I won't hope he has to have his life endangered to find out.

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