"Freedom Feminism": I'm For It
I recently called myself a "personist," meaning that I'm for fair treatment for all people, male and female, but I can buy into what Christina Hoff Sommers is selling here.
Freedom feminism shares with egalitarianism an aversion to prescribed gender roles: Women should be free to defect from the stereotypes of femininity if they so choose. At the same time, however, it respects the choices of free and self-determining women--when they choose to embrace conventional feminine roles. Nowhere do I say women should stay in the home or that women who defy convention are "aberrations." I simply note that, to the consternation of hardline contemporary genderists, many women, when given their full set of Jeffersonian freedoms, continue to give priority to the domestic sphere. Somehow in Presley's mind "giving priority" means a total rejection of the workplace. Not at all. But many women, especially when they have children at home, do appear to have a strong preference for working part-time.
Hoff Sommers is also correct on the biological basis of sex differences:
Presley faults me for accepting the possibility that the sexes are equal--but different. "From a feminist point of view--and from an individualist one--Sommers' stereotyping is unacceptable." She reports that the consensus among "most serious scientists" is that gender differences are small and insignificant. She cites a few of her favorite feminist authors as proof. That won't do. In fact, there is a vast body of serious research indicating a biological basis for sex differences. In 2009, David Geary, a University of Missouri psychologist, published Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences under the auspices of the American Psychological Association. This thorough, fair-minded and comprehensive survey of the literature includes more than 50 pages of footnotes citing studies by neuroscientists, endocrinologists, geneticists, anthropologists, and psychologists showing a strong biological basis for many gender differences. While these particular studies may not be the final word, they cannot be dismissed or ignored. Presley's instinct is to ignore or dismiss research that challenges her worldview.
Presley seems to be captive to a 1970s-style of "free to be you and me" feminism that sought to free human beings from the constraints of gender. But is that truly liberating? In a 2008 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a group of international researchers compared data on gender and personality across 55 nations. Throughout the world, women tend to be more nurturing, risk averse and emotionally expressive, while men are usually more competitive, risk taking, and emotionally flat. But the most fascinating finding is this: Personality differences between men and women are the largest and most robust in the more prosperous, egalitarian, and educated societies. According to the authors, "Higher levels of human development--including long and healthy life, equal access to knowledge and education, and economic wealth--were the main nation-level predictors of larger sex differences in personality." New York Times science columnist (and awesome libertarian) John Tierney summarized the study this way: "It looks as if personality differences between men and women are smaller in traditional cultures like India's or Zimbabwe's than in the Netherlands or the United States. A husband and a stay-at-home wife in a patriarchal Botswanan clan seem to be more alike than a working couple in Denmark or France."
Why should that be? The authors of the study hypothesize that prosperity and equality bring greater opportunities for self-actualization. Wealth, freedom, and education empower men and women to be who they are.