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How Different Are Men and Women?

Think Tank Transcripts:Differences Between Men and Women

ANNOUNCER: 'Think Tank' has been made possible by Amgen, arecipient of the Presidential National Medal of Technology. Amgen,bringing better, healthier lives to people worldwide throughbiotechnology.

Additional funding is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation, theRandolph Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

MR. WATTENBERG: Hello, I'm Ben Wattenberg. As you may havenoticed, men look different from women. But do men and women thinkdifferently? If so, could these differences be hardwired in our genesand in our brains? What would that mean for women? What would thatmean for men?

Joining us to sort through the conflict and the consensus are:Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University andauthor of 'You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation,'and 'Talking from 9 to 5'; Robert Wright of 'The New Republic'magazine and author of 'The Moral Animal -- Why We Are the Way WeAre: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology'; Lawrence Hedges,professor of social science and education at the University ofChicago and co-author of a major new study on gender differences; andChristina Sommers, professor of philosophy at Clark University andauthor of 'Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women.'

The topic before this house is: How different are men and women?This week on 'Think Tank.'

'Boys are made of frogs and snails and puppy dog tails. And girls-- 'girls are made of sugar and spice and all that's nice.' You know,for more than a quarter of a century, the women's movement has beenchipping away at stereotypes like those. In America now, theeconomic, political and professional imbalances between men and womenare closing fast, but the evidence behind some of those stereotypesis mounting.

Recent studies reveal that men and women use different parts oftheir brains for language. Girls are nearly twice as good as boys onmany word choice tests, and girls are far more likely to be topscorers on writing tests. Boys are seven times more likely than girlsto score in the top 5 percent on science tests and twice as likely toscore higher on math tests.

What about the mating game? According to a survey of 37 cultures,men tend to value physical attractiveness and youth when choosing apartner, while women are more concerned about status, ambition andresources.

What happens when social barriers to women fall? Since 1960, theshare of women receiving medical degrees has increased seven-fold,while the number receiving law degrees has jumped 17-fold. Today themajority of college students are women, who on the average receivebetter grades than their male counterparts.

A few months ago, Speaker Newt Gingrich declared that men arebiologically driven to hunt and kill giraffes, and that women werebiologically unsuited to fighting in the trenches.

Let's just go around the room once, starting with you, DeborahTannen. How different are men and women?

MS. TANNEN: The differences that I'm interested in are differencesin ways of speaking, ways of using language in everyday life. Thereseems to be a tendency -- and all of these are just tendencies;they're never absolute differences -- tendency for women to focusmore on the connection versus distance dimension, men to be somewhatmore attuned to whether a way of speaking is going to put them in aone-down position. And many other differences we can talk about --ways of valuing the role of conversation in a relationship, ways ofusing language to accomplish your goals in everyday interaction.

MR. WATTENBERG: Larry Hedges, you just authored -- co-authored anew study on this matter.

MR. HEDGES: Yes, and the differences that we looked at weredifferences in intellectual functioning. And there the short summaryis that, on the average, men and women are not that different intheir intellectual functioning, with a few very stereotypedexceptions. But in spite of the fact that they aren't that differenton the average, men tend to outnumber women substantially at both thetop end of the distribution, that is, among very talentedindividuals, and also at the bottom end, among the anti-talentedindividuals, if you like.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Bob Wright.

MR. WRIGHT: Well, from the standpoint of evolutionary psychology,I guess the sex difference that most certainly has a genetic basis isin the realm of sex or romance. For example, men are lessdiscriminating about sex partners, in some sense more polygamous, onaverage at least, than women.

But the same logic that leads to that conclusion does extend tothe question of aggressiveness, although I don't buy Newt Gingrich'sexplanation of exactly why that is in evolutionary terms.

MR. WATTENBERG: You are permitted by your magazine to agree withNewt Gingrich periodically, right?

MR. WRIGHT: This was the one -- this fulfills my yearly quota.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay, all right, great. All right.

MR. WRIGHT: And this issue of aggression may in turn extend intorealms beyond physical combat, so that men -- for example, Deborah'swork suggests that they're more combative in conversation.


MR. WRIGHT: Exactly.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay, Christina Sommers.

MS. SOMMERS: Yes. I think the differences can be exaggerated. I donot think that women think differently from men. I completelydisagree with my colleagues in feminist philosophy, who believe thereis a special epistemology, a female logic. This seems to me to benonsense.

However, I do think there are rather strong differences inpreferences between men and women, romantically speaking, and even inthe areas -- in employment, women gravitate towards jobs that seem toengage them more emotionally. You're going to always have probablymore women as kindergarten teachers than helicopter repair, you know,servicemen.

MS. TANNEN: I often wonder why we are so obsessed with pickingapart exactly how much is social and exactly how much is genetic.

MR. WATTENBERG: Well, because --

MS. TANNEN: It must be some combination of both.

MR. WATTENBERG: Yeah, right, but to answer your question as to whywe are so obsessed about it, because starting in the 1960s, a veryprominent group of women said there really were no differences, thesewere all socially imposed upon women, and they were harming women. SoI mean, I think that's the answer why we're in this argument.

MS. TANNEN: Well, and that in itself is kind of interesting. Ifrequently am asked after I speak, are these differences youdescribed biological or cultural? And I often find that the peoplewho ask me think they know. They either are convinced it's allbiological or they're convinced it's all cultural, and they tend topattern by gender. It's usually the women who feel it's all culturaland the men who ask me and who have already decided that they thinkit's all biological.

That in itself, to me, is an interesting cultural phenomenon. Isuspect that the women are thinking, if we can say that there arereally no differences, it's all cultural, then we can changeeverything we don't like about the world tomorrow. And on the otherside, the feeling may be, if it's all biological, then if you womenare in a subordinate position in the world, it's your own fault, wecan't do anything about it and don't blame me.

And I think, in fact, neither of those is true. Cultural trainingis very hard to change, and biological training is very possible tochange. I mean, what's more human than to go against our biologicalgivens? MR. WATTENBERG: Bob Wright, where does the evolutionarypsychologist come out on this -- MR. WRIGHT: Well, certainly not withthe view that genes are destiny. But on the other hand, with the viewthat there are some inclinations which are fairly stubborn and thatthey will never be entirely defeated.

And, you know, you asked, why does it matter to what extent thisis deeply biological? You know, one example is, I think for awhile,20 years ago or so, there was the idea that you could have a sexualmorality that was premised on the idea that men and women areidentical in the way they think about sex, in the way they react tosex. And that had a lot of effects. I actually think one of theeffects it had was to alleviate, to free males from a kind of moralresponsibility they had previously been told they had, a kind ofconsiderateness they had to extend to someone, for example, inrealizing that sex might mean less to the male than to the female andthey should keep that in mind.

And, you know, so I think on the one hand, if males are aware ofthis, they can certainly -- you know, we can all control ourselves.On the other hand, there are some basic features of human nature thatexist in cultures everywhere and are reflected in the moral systemsthat evolve culturally. And I think, you know, a robust moral systemhas to take into account basic differences that are going to be thereto some extent or another.

MS. SOMMERS: Don't you think that may be a mistake that somefeminists made if there are these differences between men and women?And I think a bedrock difference is that men are stronger than women.Men can harm women. And there may have been a reason why we evolvedcertain customs and codes of civility and --

MR. WATTENBERG: Men don't bear children, I mean to begin with, Imean as a --

MS. SOMMERS: And men don't bear children. But codes of gallantry,showing gestures of respect towards women, those may have been very,very important to protect women, not to demean women, though therewere demeaning aspects, for sure. But I think as feminists, perhapswe were too hasty to disparage these customs and mores that served avery important purpose of protecting women from men.


MR. HEDGES: And yet I would be worried if we jumped too hastily tothe conclusion that the differences that we observe between men andwomen are necessarily biologically based and immutable. That wouldfreeze into place certain differences in the opportunity structurefor men and women in society that we might not want to freeze intoplace.

MR. WATTENBERG: Well, but I mean now you're talking like apolitician. You're supposed to be a social scientist, which is -- wedo not regard that as an oxymoron now, so you shouldn't say whatshould be, but what is. Now, what does your study show? I mean, arethere immutable differences? I mean, men do not bear children -- thatis a major difference in a human being's life -- and don't usuallyplay a premier role in rearing them and nurturing them. That isanother premier difference in the lives of men and women. I mean, canyou then just say sort of politically, well, we should ignore that?

MR. HEDGES: I'm not suggesting we should ignore that, but what Iam suggesting is that when we observe differences that are as largeas the ones we found in our study, differences of two to one or sevento one in some cases, those kinds of differences could be used tosuggest that it's all right if in science men outnumber women sevento one and it's not a difference that we should really worry about;we shouldn't ask ourselves the question, could this be because thereare more opportunities for men and more encouragement to go intoscience for men than women.

MS. TANNEN: There is a danger that obvious differences -- forexample, women can give birth -- some women can give birth to babiesand no men can -- obviously, not all women do --

MS. SOMMERS: Arnold Schwarzenegger --

MR. WATTENBERG: Arnold Schwarzenegger did in that movie, right.(Laughter.)

MS. TANNEN: -- can be misinterpreted. For example, one of theearly arguments against women receiving higher education was that allthat blood supply that was going to be going to their brains whenthey did all this difficult intellectual work would be taken from thewomb and would affect their childbearing capacities.

So the question is still open, what are the impacts of thesevarious differences, and you know, I think they can beover-interpreted.

MS. SOMMERS: But I think the important thing is that we mustbelieve in equality of opportunity. If a little girl is a mathprodigy, then classes should be available to her and she should beable to pursue her talent. Unfortunately, what's happening right nowis many women's groups, in particular, the American Association ofUniversity Women and a group called Fair Test, have said, Aha, girlsare not scoring the same as boys on the SAT and on the NAEPs. We haveto change the test.

MR. WATTENBERG: The NAEPs is the --

MS. SOMMERS: The National Assessment of Educational Progress.


MS. SOMMERS: And girls are behind in math and science, thereforeit is sexism at work. And they're actually changing SAT tests now inways which -- to favor girls, and there's a suggestion that theyshould take away time limits or they shouldn't reward boys forguessing. Now, this is ridiculous. It's part of intelligence to makeeducated guesses and to be quick-witted. I mean, it just seems to meto be all wrong. We're going -- it's the dumbing down.

MR. HEDGES: It seems to me that it's a very dangerous phenomenonbecause it leads to the idea of redefining the criteria, and not justfor men and women, but for any groups that happen to be important inthe society, and I think that's a serious mistake of shooting themessenger rather than trying to find out what we can learn from themessage.

MR. WRIGHT: You know, I wanted to say that -- you wanted to bekind of agnostic on the basis of cognitive differences between menand women, and it's actually true that from the point of view ofevolutionary psychology, there aren't really clear reasons to predictvery specific cognitive differences. That's not to say they don'thave an evolutionary basis.

But what is fairly likely is that in the realm of what you mightcall ambition, there is some difference between the average man andthe average woman. And that's the kind of thing that could account --MR. WATTENBERG: Well, what is the difference? Who is more ambitious?

MR. WRIGHT: Oh, men. And in Deborah's work, you -- I mean, men arebigger showoffs, and there's a fairly clear-cut evolutionary reasonfor this. And another related thing from an evolutionary standpointis there's some reason to believe that parents may have an innateinclination to push boys harder because during evolution, the socialstatus of a son paid off in reproductive terms more than the socialstatus of a daughter.

Now, that doesn't mean that parents are condemned to do this foreternity. In fact, in my own experience -- I have two daughters --being aware of this tendency, if anything, makes me actually want tocombat it, I mean, you know, give the daughter a fair shake.

And to the extent that parents do that, then any difference inyour findings, for example, that's due to parents pushing the malewill disappear.

MR. WATTENBERG: Is it possible that men and women are equallyambitious, but for different goals, that a man may want to be --

MR. WRIGHT: Well, in different realms.

MR. WATTENBERG: -- the football star or the CEO, and a woman maybe extremely ambitious -- I mean, to go back an era or so -- may beextremely ambitious to raise three children really well and have ahome and a family and do things that, you know, are, in my judgment,more important than about 99 percent of the other kind of jobs. Butthat's --

MR. WRIGHT: Well, and do things that are even less obviouslyrelated to kind of being a mother. But certainly, yes, my guess wouldbe, based on evolutionary psychology, that in the realm of kind ofbeing -- you know, being out there and seeking respect -- anotherdifference you find is that men want respect and women want women to-- want people to like them, at least on average.

MS. TANNEN: In terms of percentages and degree.

MR. WRIGHT: Exactly. I mean, all of these are statisticaldifferences. But in that realm, you would expect a difference in thatdirection.

MS. SOMMERS: You know what I find surprising, though? If you lookat Department of Education data, more girls are going to college thanboys, and they ask, 'Were you encouraged to go?' They ask counselors-- 'Were you encouraged by a teacher, a counselor, a parent?' And farmore girls claim to have been encouraged.

So there may be something amiss in our society right now. I'm amother of two boys, so I'm the boys' advocate here. But I really feelthat we are not encouraging our boys as much as our girls now, thatboys are getting left behind. And there is, I know, a great deal ofhype about the shortchanged, silenced girls, but if you actually lookwho's getting the better grades, it's the girls, who is in most ofthe honors clubs and the service clubs and the school newspaper, it'sgirls who are over-represented.

The one area where boys are over-represented is sports, and thefeminists are going after that with a vengeance.

MR. WATTENBERG: Who gets in more trouble with drugs and crime?

MS. SOMMERS: Drugs and alcohol and delinquency, dropping out --boys are over-represented in those areas.

MR. HEDGES: But the finding that women -- that girls get bettergrades than boys is an old finding. It goes way back to a time Ithink before the feminist revolution and has persisted to this day inevery area.

MS. SOMMERS: Better study habits.

MR. HEDGES: Or greater task persistence. Who knows?

MR. WATTENBERG: Or an innate difference.

MR. WRIGHT: Could be also possible.

MS. TANNEN: Well, it doesn't -- I mean, you poo-poo all thefindings of the -- why girls fail stuff, and sure, you can -- MS.SOMMERS: Not all of them, not all of them.

MS. TANNEN: -- because you can pick out lots of them that I thinkhave been misinterpreted, but there's a lot of stuff there, I think,that's very real.

MR. WATTENBERG: For example?

MS. SOMMERS: Like what?

MS. TANNEN: Well, for example, the findings that girls are calledon less in class, that they -- MS. SOMMERS: No, no. Look at thelatest research, Jerry Brofy at Michigan State, and JacquelineEckles. It's really a myth.

MR. WATTENBERG: What do --

MS. TANNEN: Well, I've been convinced by the research I've read --

MR. WATTENBERG: Hold it. Let's try -- what do they say, and thenyou tell me, what is the counter-argument on this?

MS. SOMMERS: Jerry Brofy at Michigan State says that the -- hesimply -- boys are -- get more attention because it's negativeattention. They are disciplined more. And if you're sitting thereobserving, you will see, 'Johnny, what do you think is the capital ofNew York?' It's a form of classroom management. So boys get -- butwhat's important, according to Brofy and others, is the quality ofthe interaction. And there, boys are not getting more qualitativeinteraction.

MR. WATTENBERG: Deborah Tannen, what do you think about that?

MS. TANNEN: Well, the research findings of the Satgers, I'm sureyou all know them --

MS. SOMMERS: Where did the Satgers publish that data?

MS. TANNEN: They've done -- in their -- their book called 'Failingat Fairness' is full of this -- MS. SOMMERS: No, no, but whatresearch journal? Where has their data ever been peer-reviewed? Ithasn't.

MS. TANNEN: I've read their research and many others, too.

MS. SOMMERS: That's what everyone thinks, that there are manyothers, but they're not there.

MS. TANNEN: Well, I believe they're there. I mean, it's not myimmediate field.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay, all right.

MS. TANNEN: But let me just say, the kind of thing that they findis that if a boy asks a question, the teacher is more likely to askhim a challenging question, more likely to follow up with questionsthat challenge him.

MR. WATTENBERG: But let me ask you --

MS. TANNEN: And I observe this in my own classrooms, girls in my-- women -- young women in my own classrooms. I have classes of womenand men. I've done my own studies on this, too. I will often havethree, four, five young women in the classroom never speak in class.I very rarely have young men in the class that never speak in class.

Women tell me that if they speak in class one day, they try to bequiet the next because they don't want to be seen as dominating.

MR. WATTENBERG: In the elementary and secondary school, at least,the vast majority of the teachers are women. So if there is adiscriminatory act going on, it is women on women, right?

MS. TANNEN: Well, that's very interesting because I thinkdefinitely a lot of the expectations that we have, which we foist onothers -- in other words, you expect a woman to be a certain way, youexpect a man to be a certain way -- it's equally true of women as itis of men. There's no reason that it shouldn't be.

MR. WATTENBERG: Let me ask you a question as a social scientist.How much of the social science in America today is pre-driven, thatin other words, somebody is going in there with a liberal view or aconservative view and saying, Here's what I'm looking to prove -- andwe all know you can jiggle a lot of these studies; and how much of itis the equivalent of a man or a woman in a white coat in a medicallab, you know, checking everything one against another? Are thesocial sciences ideologically driven?

MR. HEDGES: To some extent, of course they are and they have to bebecause, you know, it is social science. But many of the large datacollection programs that are multipurpose data collection programsare so large, involve so many different scientists and have to bevetted by so many different interests that in fact I suspect many ofthose special interests and special perspectives kind of cancel oneanother out.

MR. WATTENBERG: Insofar as what we've been talking about, whatshould we do about education? Let's go -- starting with you, BobWright, and come around this way.

MR. WRIGHT: Well, I mean the policy prescription that's clearestto me and has some relevance to education is that if affirmativeaction for the sexes is to be based on the assumption that the sexesare identical in nature, so that any imbalance in the representationof males and females in a given work force or at a given level isassumed to be due to discrimination, that is surely a faultyassumption. I really think, from the point of evolutionarypsychology, you can say that.

On the other hand, evolutionary psychology provides you reasonswhy an enlightened boss might, in some cases, in a sensesystematically favor women over men. It suggests that men are morelikely to be egotistical in their pursuit of career advancement andeven sacrifice the interests of the organization they're working forto their own personal interests than women are. This is not a hundredpercent certain finding, but there's very good reason to believe it.

So I think, you know, in policy terms, this can, in some sensescut against women, in some senses favor them.

MR. WATTENBERG: Larry, Bob Wright has expanded the topic fromeducation to education and affirmative action. Now, where would you-- what should we be doing that we're not doing?

MR. HEDGES: Given that we don't know that the differences areentirely biological, I think we should try to do more to equalizeopportunity structures for men and women in education, first of all,in the long run.

MR. WATTENBERG: And that would mean, for example, working harderwith boys to become better writers.

MR. HEDGES: As one of the prime examples.

MR. WATTENBERG: Right, as well as girls to become bettermathematicians.

MR. HEDGES: Exactly. But in the -- I would like to add that in theshort run, the imbalance of very talented individuals, that is, thefact that there are more very talented men than women in areas likemathematics and science, has real implications for trying to achievecloser to a balance of representation of the genders in the sciences.It means that we either have to accept lower goals or recruit harderto get more women into the sciences.

MR. WATTENBERG: Deborah Tannen.

MS. TANNEN: I agree with what Bob Wright said earlier, that ifthere are differences, it's in everybody's interest to understandwhat they are and move on from there. I think that for worksituations as well as classroom situations and home relationships, ifwe can see patterns and identify them, we can equalize opportunity bytaking them into account.

An example that has come up is very good evidence that men aremore likely than women to be aggressive and to use open argumentation-- and this could also be cultural because it may not be true ofJapanese and other cultures. But in the Western society, the openexchange of argument as a way of learning things is much morecongenial to the men than the women.

And this could be one reason that many women back off in aclassroom that is taught that way. And there's a fair amount ofevidence that women often drop out of science classes because theydon't like that argumentative classroom atmosphere and they'reuncomfortable with it.

Well, that's a way you could start out, not lowering therequirements for how much a scientist has to know to get this job, byno means, but creating an environment that women might be morecomfortable getting the scientific training and might not drop out.

MR. WATTENBERG: Christina.

MS. SOMMERS: I think one thing that's very important is that a lotof the research on gender in the last 10 or 15 years has been done byfeminist advocates who are committed to a sort of victim feminism,and the research cannot be trusted. They exaggerate women'svulnerability, they exaggerate women's oppression. And I hope thatpoliticians and journalists will be careful to get to the morebalanced scholars, because I think in education we're not getting agood, accurate picture. I think when it comes to gender bias in theworkplace, we're not getting an accurate picture. We have to get tothe -- as I said, to the more solid research.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Thank you, Christina Sommers, LawrenceHedges, Robert Wright, and Deborah Tannen.

And thank you. Please send your questions and comments to: NewRiver Media, 1150 17th Street, NW, Suite 1050, Washington, DC, 20036.We can be reached via E-mail at And do check out ournew home page on the World Wide Web at

For 'Think Tank,' I'm Ben Wattenberg.


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'Think Tank' has been made possible by Amgen, bringing better,healthier lives to people worldwide through biotechnology.

Additional funding is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation, theRandolph Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.


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