It is an
implicit assumption that the area of psychology which concerns itself
with personality has the onerous but necessary task of describing the
limits of human possibility. Thus when we are about to consider the
liberation of women, we naturally look to psychology to tell us what
true liberation would mean: what would give women the freedom
to fulfill their own intrinsic natures. Psychologists have set about
describing the true natures of women with a certainty and a sense of
their own infallibility rarely found in the secular world. Bruno Bettelheim,
of the University of Chicago, tells us (1965) that we must start
with the realization that, as much as women want to be good scientists
or engineers, they want first and foremost to be womanly companions
of men and to be mothers. Erik Erikson of Harvard University (1964),
upon noting that young women often ask whether they can have an
identity before they know whom they will marry, and for whom they will
make a home, explains somewhat elegiacally that much of
a young womans identity is already defined in her kind of attractiveness
and in the selectivity of her search for the man (or men) by whom she
wishes to be sought... Mature womanly fulfillment, for Erikson,
rests on the fact that a womans somatic design harbors an
inner space destined to bear the offspring of chosen men,
and with it, a biological, psychological and ethical commitment to take
care of human infancy. Some psychiatrists even see the acceptance
of womans role by women as a solution to societal problems. Woman
is nurturance..., writes Joseph Rheingold (1964), a psychiatrist
at Harvard Medical School, anatomy decrees the life of a woman...
when women grow up without dread of their biological functions and without
subversion by feminist doctrine, and therefore enter upon motherhood
with a sense of fulfillment and altruistic sentiment, we shall attain
the goal of a good life and a secure world in which to live it.
from men who are assumed to be experts reflect, in a surprisingly transparent
way, the cultural consensus. They not only assert that a woman is defined
by her ability to attract men, they see no alternative definitions.
They think that the definition of a woman in terms of a man is the
way it should be; and they back it up with psychosexual incantation
and biological ritual curses. A woman has an identity if she is attractive
enough to obtain a man, and thus, a home; for this will allow her to
set about her lifes task of joyful altruism and nurturance.
certainly does not disagree. If views such as Bettelheims and
Eriksons do indeed have something to do with real liberation for
women, then seldom in human history has so much money and effort been
spent on helping a group of people realize their true potential. Clothing,
cosmetics, home furnishings, are multi-million dollar businesses: if
you dont like investing in firms that make weaponry and flaming
gasoline, then theres a lot of cash in inner space.
Sheet and pillowcase manufacturers are concerned to fill this inner
Mother, for a while this morning, I thought I wasnt cut out
for married life. Hank was late for work and forgot is apricot juice
and waked out without kissing me, and when I was all alone I started
crying. But then the postman came with the sheets and towels you
sent, that look like big bandana handkerchiefs, and you know what
I thought? That those big red and blue handkerchiefs are for girls
like me to dry their tears on so they can get busy and do what a
housewife has to do. Throw pen the windows and start getting the
house ready, and the dinner, maybe clan the silver and put new geraniums
in the box. Everything to be ready for him when he walks through
that door. (Fieldcrest, 1966; emphasis added.)
it is not only the sheet and pillowcase manufacturers, the cosmetics
industry, the home furnishings salesmen who profit from and make
use of the cultural definitions of man and woman. The example above
is blatantly and overtly pitched to a particular kind of sexist stereotype:
the child nymph. But almost all aspects of the media are normative,
that is, they have to do with the ways in which beautiful people,
or just folks, or ordinary Americans, or extraordinary Americans
should live their lives. They define the possible; and the possibilities
are usually in terms of what is male and what is female. Men and
women alike are waiting for Hank, the Silva Thins man, to walk back
through that door.
It is an
interesting but limited exercise to show that psychologists and psychiatrists
embrace these sexist norms of our culture, that they do not see beyond
the most superficial and stultifying media conceptions of female
nature, and that their ideas of female nature serve industry and
commerce so well. Just because its good for business doesnt mean its
wrong. What I will show is that it is wrong: that there isnt the
tiniest shred of evidence that these fantasies of servitude and childish
dependence have anything to do with womens true potential; that
the idea of the nature of human possibility which rests on the accidents
of individual development or genitalia, on what is possible today because
of what happened yesterday, on the fundamentalist myth of sex organ
causality, has strangled and deflected psychology so that it is relatively
useless in describing, explaining, or predicting humans and their behavior.
It then goes without saying that present psychology is less than worthless
in contributing to a vision which could truly liberate--men as well
argument of my article, then, is this. Psychology has nothing to
say about what women are really like, what they need and what they
want, especially because psychology does not know. I want to stress
that this failure is not limited to women; rather, the kind of psychology
which has addressed itself to how people act and who they are has
failed to understand, in the first place, why people act the way
they do, and certainly failed to understand what might make them
of psychology which has addressed itself to these questions divides
itself into two professional areas: academic personality research,
and clinical psychology and psychiatry. The basic reason for failure
is the same in both these areas: the central assumption for most
psychologists of human personality has been that human behavior rests
on an individual and inner dynamic, perhaps fixed in infancy, perhaps
fixed by genitalia, perhaps simply arranged in a rather immovable
cognitive network. But this assumption is rapidly losing ground as
personality psychologists fail again and again to get consistency
in the assumed personalities of their subjects (Block, 1968). Meanwhile,
the evidence is collecting that what a person does, and who he believes
himself to be, will in general be a function of what people around
him expect him to be, and what the overall situation in which he
is acting implies that he is. Compared to the influence of the social
context within which a person lives, his or her history and traits, as well as biological
makeup, may simply be random variations, noise superimposed
on the true signal which can predict behavior.
personality psychologists are at least looking at the counter evidence
and questioning their theories; no such corrective is occurring in
clinical psychology and psychiatry. Freudians and neo-Freudians,
Adlerians and neo-Adlerians, classicists and swingers, clinicians
and psychiatrists, simply refuse to look at the evidence against
their theory and practice. And they support their theory and practice
with stuff so transparently biased as to have absolutely no standing
as empirical evidence.
the first reason for psychologys failure to understand what people
are and how they act is that psychology has looked for inner traits
when it should have been looking for social context; the second reason
for psychologys failure is that the theoreticians of personality
have generally been clinicians and psychiatrists, and they have never
considered it necessary to have evidence in support of their theories.
THEORY WITHOUT EVIDENCE
Let us turn
to this latter cause of failure first: the acceptance by psychiatrists
and clinical psychologists of theory without evidence. If we inspect
the literature of personality, it is immediately obvious that the
bulk of it is written by clinicians and psychiatrists, and that the
major support for their theories is years of intensive clinical experience.
This is a tradition started by Freud. Hisinsightsoccurred
during the course of his work with his patients. Now there is nothing
wrong with such an approach to theory formulation; a person is free
to make up[ theories with any inspiration which works; divine revelation,
intensive clinical practice, a random numbers table. But he is not
free to claim any validity for his theory until it has been tested
and confirmed. But theories re treated in no such tentative way in
ordinary clinical practice. Consider Freud. What he thought constituted
evidence violated the most minimal conditions of scientific rigor.
In The Sexual Enlightenment
of Children (1963), the classic document which is supposed to
demonstrate empirically the existence of a castration complex and
its connection to a phobia, Freud based his analysis not on the little
boy who had the phobia, but on the reports of the father of the little
boy, himself in therapy, and a devotee of Freudian theory. I really
to comment further on the contamination in this kind of evidence. It
is remarkable that only recently has Freuds classic theory on
the sexuality of women--the notion of the double orgasm--been actually
tested physiologically and found just plain wrong. Now those who claim
that fifty years of psychoanalytic experience constitute evidence enough
of the essential truths of Freuds theory should ponder the
robust health of the double orgasm. Did women, until Masters and
Johnson (1966), believe they were having two different kinds of orgasm?
Did their psychiatrists intimidate them into reporting something
that was not true? If so, were there other things they reported that
were also not true? Did psychiatrists ever learn anything different
than their theories had led them to believe? If clinical experience
means anything at al, surely we should have been done with the double
orgasm myth long before the Masters and Johnson studies.
you may object, years of intensive clinical experience is
the only reliable measure in a discipline which rests for its findings
on insight, sensitivity and intuition. The problem with insight,
sensitivity and intuition is that they can confirm for all time the
biases that one started out with. People used to be absolutely convinced
of their ability to tell which of their number were engaging in witchcraft.
All it required was some sensitivity to the workings of the devil.
intensive clinical experience is not the same thing as empirical
evidence. The first thing an experimenter learns in any kind of experiment
which involves humans is the concept of the double blind. The
term is taken from medical experiments, where one group is given a drug
which is presumably supposed to change behavior in a certain way, and
a control group is given a placebo. If the observers or the subjects
know which group took which drug, the result invariably comes out on
the positive side for the new drug. Only when it is not known which
subject took which pill, is validity remotely approximated. In addition,
with judgments of human behavior, it is so difficult to precisely tie
down just what behavior is going on, let alone what behavior should
be expected, that one must test and test again the reliability of judgments.
How many judges, blind, will agree in their observations? Can they replicate
their own judgments at some later time? When, in actual practice, these
judgment criteria are tested for clinical judgments, then we find that
the judges cannot judge reliably, nor can they judge consistently: they
do no better than chance in identifying which of a certain set of stories
were written by men and which by women; which of a whole battery of
clinical test results are the products of homosexuals and which are
the products of heterosexuals (Hooker, 1957); and which of a battery
of clinical test results and interviews (where questions are asked such
as do you have delusions (Little and Schneidman, 1959) are
products of psychotics, neurotics, psychosomatics or normals. Lest this
summary escape your notice, let me stress the implications of these
findings. The ability of judges, chosen for their clinical expertise,
to distinguish male heterosexuals from male homosexuals on the basis
of three widely used clinical projective tests--the Rorshach, the TAT,
and the MAP--was no better than chance. The reason this is such devastating
news, of course, is that sexuality is supposed to be of fundamental
importance in the deep dynamic of personality; if what is considered
gross sexual deviance cannot be caught, then what are psychologists
talking about when they, for example, claim that at the basis of paranoid
psychosis is latent homosexual panic? They cant even
identify what homosexual anything is, let alone latent homosexual
panic.1 More frightening, expert clinicians cannot be consistent
on what diagnostic category to assign to a person, again on the basis
of both tests and interviews; a number of normals in the Little and
Schneidman study were described as psychotic, in such categories as
schizophrenic with homosexual tendencies or schizoid
character with depressive trends. But most disheartening, when
the judges were asked to rejudge the test protocols some weeks later,
their diagnoses of the same subjects on the basis of the same protocol
differed markedly from their initial judgments. It is obvious that
even simple descriptive conventions in clinical psychology cannot
be consistently applied; that these descriptive conventions have
any explanatory significance is therefore, of course, out of the
As a graduate
student at Harvard some years ago, I was a member of a seminar which
was asked to identify which of two piles of a clinical test, the
TAT, had been written by males and which by females. Only four students
out of twenty identified the piles correctly, and this was after
one and one half months of intensively studying the differences between
men and women. Since this result is below chance--that is, this result
would occur by chance about four out of a thousand times--we may
conclude that there is finally a consistency here: students are judging
knowledgeably within the context of psychological teaching about
the differences between men and women; the teachings themselves are
argue that the theory may be scientifically unsound but
at least it cures people. There is no evidence that it does. n 1952,
Eysenck reported the results of what is called an outcome of therapy
study of neurotics which showed that, of the patients who received psychoanalysis
the improvement rate was 44 percent; of the patients who received psychotherapy
the improvement rate was 64 percent; and of the patients who received
no treatment at all the improvement rate was 72 percent. These findings
have never been refuted; subsequently, later studies have confirmed
the negative results of the Eysenck study (Barron and Leary, 1955; Bergin,
1963; Cartwright and Vogel, 1960; Truax, 1963; Powers and Witmer, 1951.)
How can clinicians and psychiatrists, then, in all good conscience,
continue to practice? Largely by ignoring these results and being careful
not to do outcome-of-therapy studies. The attitude is nicely summarized
by Rotter (1960) (quoted in Astin, 1961): Research studies in
psychotherapy tend to be concerned with psychotherapeutic procedure
and less with outcome... to some extent, it reflects an interest in
the psychotherapy situation as a kind of personality laboratory. Some
THE SOCIAL CONTEXT
clinical experience and tools can be shown to be worse than useless
when tested for consistency, efficacy, agreement and reliability,
we can safely conclude that theories of a clinical nature advanced
about women are also worse than useless. I want to turn now to the
second major point in my article, which is that, even when psychological
theory is constructed so that it may be tested, and rigorous standards
of evidence are used, it has become increasingly clear that in order
to understand why people do what they do, and certainly in order
to change what people do, psychologists must turn away from the theory
of the causal nature of the inner dynamic and look to the social
context within which individuals live.
the relevance of this approach for the question of women, let me
first sketch the groundwork for this assertion.
In the first
place, it is clear (Block, 1968) that personality tests never yield
consistent predictions; a rigid authoritarian on one measure will
be an unauthoritarian on the next. But the reason for this inconsistency
is only now becoming clear, and it seems overwhelmingly to have much
more to do with the social situation in which the subject finds himself
than with the subject himself.
In a series
of brilliant experiments, Rosenthal and his co-workers (Rosenthal
and Jacobson, 1968; Rosenthal, 1966) have shown that if one group
of experimenters has one hypothesis about what it expects to find,
and another group of experimenters has the opposite hypothesis, both
groups will obtain results in accord with their hypotheses. The results
obtained are not due to mishandling of data by biased experimenters;
rather, somehow, the bias of the experimenter creates a changed environment
in which subjects actually act differently. For instance, in one
experiment, subjects were to assign numbers to pictures of mens faces, with
high numbers representing the subjects judgment that the man in
the picture was a successful person, and low numbers representing the
subjects judgment that the man in the picture was an unsuccessful
person. One group of experimenters was told that the subjects tended
to rate the faces high; another group of experimenters was told that
the subjects tended to rate the faces low. Each group of experimenters
was instructed to follow precisely the same procedure: they were
required to read to read to subjects a set of instructions, and to
say nothing else. For the 375 subjects run, the results showed clearly
that those subjects who performed the task with experimenters who
expected high ratings gave high ratings, and those subjects who performed
the task with experimenters who expected low ratings gave low ratings.
How did this happen? The experimenters all used the same words; it
was something in their conduct which made one group of subjects do
one thing, and another group of subjects do another thing.2
of the changed conditions produced by expectation is a fact, a reality;
even with animal subjects, in two separate studies (Rosenthal and
Fode, 1960; Rosenthal and Lawson, 1961), those experimenters who
were told that rats learning mazes had been specially bred for brightness
obtained better learning from their rats than did experimenters believing
their rats to have been bred for dullness. In a very recent study,
Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) extended their analysis to the natural
classroom situation. Here, they tested a group of students and reported
to the teachers that some among the students tested showed great promise.
Actually, the students so named had been selected on a random basis.
Some time later, the experimenters retested the same group of students;
those students whose teachers had been told they were promising
showed real and dramatic increments in the IQs as compared to the rest
of the students. Something in the conduct of the teachers towards those
whom the teachers believed to be bright students made
those students brighter.
in carefully controlled experiments, and with no outward or conscious
difference in behavior, the hypotheses we start with will influence
enormously the behavior of another organism. These studies are extremely
important when assessing the validity of psychological studies of
women. Since it is beyond doubt that most of us start with notions
as to the nature of men and women, the validity of a number of observations
of sex differences is questionable, even when these observations
have been made under carefully controlled conditions. Second, and
more important, the Rosenthal experiments point quite clearly to
the influence of social expectation. In some extremely important
ways, people are what you expect them to be or at least they behave
as you expect them to behave. Thus if women, according to Bettelheim,
want first and foremost to be good wives and mothers, it is extremely
likely that this is what Bruno Bettelheim, and the rest of society,
want them to be.
another series of brilliant social psychological experiments which
point to the overwhelming effect of social context. These are the
obedience experiments of Stanley Milgram (1965a) in which subjects
are asked to obey the orders of unknown experimenters, orders which
carry with them the distinct possibility that the subject is killing
experiments, a subject is told that he is administering a learning experiment,
and that he is to deal out shocks each time the other subject
(in reality, a confederate of the experimenter) answers incorrectly.
The equipment appears to provide graduated shocks ranging upwards from
15 volts through 450 volts; for each of four consecutive voltages there
are verbal descriptions such as mild shock, danger,
severe shock and, finally, for the 435 and 450 volt switches
a red XXX marked over the switches. Each time the stooge answers
incorrectly the subject is supposed to increase the voltage. As the
voltage increases, the stooge begins to cry in pain; he demands that
he experiment stop; finally, he refuses to answer at all. When he
stops responding, the experimenter instructs the subject to continue
increasing the voltage; for each shock administered the stooge screams
in agony. Under these conditions, about 62.5 percent of the subjects
administered shocks that they believed to be possibly lethal.
individual differences between subjects predicted how many would
continue to obey, and which would break off the experiment. When
40 psychiatrists predicted how many of a group of 100 subjects would
go on to give the lethal shock, their predictions were orders of
magnitude below the actual percentages; most expected only one-tenth
of 1 percent of the subjects to obey to the end.
though psychiatrists have no idea how people will behave in this
situation, and even though individual differences do not predict
which subjects will obey and which will not, it is easy to predict
when subjects will be obedient and when they will be defiant. All
the experimenter has to do is change the social situation. In a variant
of the experiment, Milgram (1965b) had two stooges present in addition
to the victim;
these worked along with the subject in administering electric shocks.
When these two stooges refused to go on with the experiment, only
10 percent of the subjects continued to the maximum voltage. This
is critical for personality theory. It says that behavior is predicted
from the social situation, not from the individual history.
an ingenious experiment by Schachter and Singer (1962) showed that
subjects injected with adrenaline, which produces a state of physiological
arousal in all but minor respects identical to that which occurs
when subjects are extremely afraid, became euphoric when they were
in a room with a stooge who was acting euphoric, and became extremely
angry when they were placed in a room with a stooge who was acting
If subjects under quite innocuous and non-coercive social conditions
can be made to kill other subjects and other other types of social
conditions will positively refuse to do so; if subjects can react
to a state of physiological fear by becoming euphoric because there
is somebody else round who is euphoric or angry because there is
somebody else round who is angry; if students become intelligent
because teachers expect them to be intelligent, and rats run mazes
better because experimenters are told the rats are bright, then it
is obvious that a study of human behavior requires, first and foremost,
a study of the social contexts within which people move, the expectations
as to how they will behave, and the authority which tells them who
they are and what they are supposed to do.
also have at times assumed they could describe the limits of human
potential from their observations of animal rather than human behavior.
Here, as in psychology, there has been no end of theorizing about
the sexes, again with a sense of absolute certainty. These theories
fall into two major categories.
theory of differences in nature argues that since females and males
differ in their sex hormones, and sex hormones enter the brain (Hamburg
and Lunde in Maccoby, 1966), there must be innate behavioral differences.
But the only thing this argument tells us is that there are differences
in physiological state. The problem is whether these differences
are at all relevant to behavior.
for example, differences in testosterone levels. A man who calls
himself Tiger has recently argued (1970) that the greater quantities
of testosterone found in human males as compared with human females
(of a certain age group) determines innate differences in aggressiveness,
competitiveness, dominance, ability to hunt, ability to hold public
office, and so forth. But Tiger demonstrates in this argument the
same manly and courageous refusal to be intimidated by evidence which
we have already seen in our consideration of the clinical and psychiatric
tradition. The evidence does not support his argument, and in some
cases, directly contradicts it. Testosterone level co-varies neither
with hunting ability, nor with dominance, nor with aggression, nor
with competitiveness. As Storch has pointed out (1970), all normal
male mammals in the reproductive age group produce much greater quantities
of testosterone than females; yet many of these males are neither
hunters nor are they aggressive. Among some hunting mammals, such
as the large cats, it turns out that more hunting is done by the
female than the male. And there exist primate species where the female
is clearly more aggressive, competitive and dominant than the male
(Mitchell, 1969; and see later). Thus, for some species, being female,
and therefore, having less testosterone than the male of that species,
means hunting more, or being more aggressive, or more dominant. Nor
does having more testosterone preclude behavior commonly thought
of as female: there exist primate species
where females do not touch infants except to feed them; the males
care for the infants (Mitchell, 1969; see fuller discussion later).
So it is not clear what testosterone or any other sex-hormonal difference
means for differences in nature of sex-role behavior.
words, one can observe identical sex-role behavior (e,g, mothering)
in males and females despite known differences in physiological state,
i.e. sex hormones. What about the converse to this? That is, can
one obtain differences in behavior given a single physiological state?
The answer is overwhelmingly yes, not only as regards no-sex specific
hormones (as in the Schachter and Singer 1962 experiment cited above)
but also as regards gender itself. Studies of hermaphrodites with
the same diagnosis (the genetic, gonadal, hormonal sex, the internal
reproductive organs, and the ambiguous appearances of the external
genitalia were identical) have shown that one will consider oneself
male or female depending simply on whether one was defined and raised
as male or female (Money, 1970; Hampton and Hampton, 1961):
no more convincing evidence of the power of social interaction on
gender-identity differentiation than in the case of congenital hermaphrodites
who are of the same diagnosis and similar degree of hermaphroditism
but are differently assigned and with a different postnatal medical
and life history. (Money, 1970: 432)
example, if out of two individuals diagnosed as having the adrenogenital
syndrome of female hermaphroditism, one is raised as a girl and one
as a boy, each will act and identify her/himself accordingly. The
one raised as a girl will consider herself a girl; the one raised
as a boy will consider himself a boy; and each will conduct her/himself
successfully in accord with that self-definition.
behavior occurs given different physiological states; and different
behavior occurs given an identical physiological starting point.
So it is not clear that differences in sex hormones are at all relevant
a second category of theory based on biology, a reductionist theory.
It goes like this. Sex-role behavior in some primate species is described,
and it is concluded that this is the natural behavior for
humans. Putting aside the not insignificant problem of observer bias
(for instance, Harlow, 1962, of the university of Wisconsin, after observing
differences between male and female rhesus monkeys, quotes Lawrence
Sterne to the effect that women are silly and trivial, and concludes
that men and women have differed in the past and they will differ
in the future), there are a number of problems with this approach.
general and serious problem is that there are no grounds to assume
that anything primates do is necessary, natural or desirable in humans,
for the simple reason that humans are not non-humans. Fir instance,
it is found that male chimpanzees placed alone with infants will
not mother them.
Jumping from hard data to ideological speculation researchers conclude
from this information that human females are necessary for the safe
growth of human infants. It would be as reasonable to conclude, following
this logic, that it is quite useless to teach human infants to speak,
since it has been tried with chimpanzees and it does not work.
that has been used is to extrapolate from primate behavior to innate human
preference by noticing certain trends in primate behavior as one
moves phylogenetically closer to humans. But there are great difficulties
with this approach. When behaviors of lower primates are directly
opposite to those of higher primates, or to those one expects of
humans, they can be dismissed on evolutionary grounds--higher primates
and/or humans grew out of that kid stuff. On the other hand, if the
behavior of higher primates is counter to the behavior considered
natural for humans, while the behavior of some lower primate is considered
the natural one for humans, the higher primate behavior can be dismissed
also, on the grounds that it has diverged from an older, prototypical
pattern. So either way, one can select those behaviors one wants
to prove as innate for humans. In addition, one does not know whether
the sex-role behavior exhibited is dependent on the phylogenetic
rank, or on the environmental conditions (both physical and social)
under which different species live.
then any value at all in primate observations as they relate to human
females and males? There is a value but it is limited: its function
can be no more than to show some extant examples of diverse sex-role
behavior. It must be stressed, however, that this is an extremely
limited function. The extant behavior does not begin to suggest all
the possibilities, either for non-human primates or for humans. Bearing
these caveats in mind, it is nonetheless interesting that if one
inspects the limited set of existing non-human primate sex-role behaviors,
one finds, in fact, a much larger range of sex-role behavior than
is commonly believed to exist. Biology appears to limit
very little; the fact that a female gives birth does not man, even
in non-humans, that she necessarily cares for the infant (in marmosets,
for instance, the male carries the infant at all times except when
the infant is feeding [Mitchell, 1969]); natural female
and male behavior carries all the way from females who are much
more aggressive and competitive than males (e.g. Tamarins, see Mitchell,
1969) and male mothers (e.g.
Titi monkeys, night monkeys, and marmosets, see Mitchell, 1969)4
to submissive and passive females and male antagonists (e.g. rhesus
for the limited function that primate arguments serve, the evidence
has been misused. Invariably, only those primates have been cited
which exhibit exactly the kind of behavior that the proponents of
the biological basis of human female behavior wish were true for
humans. Thus, baboons and rhesus monkeys are generally cited: males
in these groups exhibit some of the most irritable and aggressive
behavior found in primates, and if one wishes to argue that females
are naturally passive and submissive, these groups provide vivid
examples. There are abundant counter examples, such as those mentioned
above (Mitchell, 1969); in fact, in general, a counter-example can
be found for every sex-role behavior cited, including, as mentioned
in the case of marmosets, male mothering.
presence of counter examples has not stopped florid and overarching
theories of the natural or biological basis of male privilege from
proliferating. For instance, there have been a number of theories
dealing with the innate incapacity in human males for monogamy. Here,
as in most of this type of theorizing, baboons are a favorite example,
probably because of their fantasy value: the family unit of the hamadryas
baboon, for instance, consists of a highly constant pattern of one
male and a number of females and their young. And again, the counter
examples, such as the invariably monogamous gibbon, are ignored.
example of this maiming and selective truncation of the evidence
in the service of a plea for the maintenance of male privilege is
a recent book, Men in Groups (1969) by Tiger (see above and
note 3). The central claim of this book is that females are incapable
of honorable collective action because they are incapable of bonding
as in male bonding. What is male bonding? Its
surface definition is simple: a particular relationship between
two or more males such that they react differently to members of their
bonding units as compared to individuals outside of it (pp. 19-20).
If one deletes the word male, the definition, on its face, would seem
to include all organisms that have any kind of social organization.
But this is not what Tiger means. For instance, Tiger asserts that females
are incapable of bonding; and this alleged incapacity indicates to Tiger
that females should be restricted from public life. Why is bonding an
exclusively male behavior? Because, says Tiger, it is seen in male primates.
All male primates? No, very few male primates. Tiger cites two examples
where male bonding is seen: rhesus monkeys and baboons. Surprise, surprise.
But not even all baboons: as mentioned earlier, the hamadryas social
organization consists of one-male units; so does that of the Gelada
baboon (Mitchell, 1969). And the great apes do not go in for male bonding
much either. The male bond is hardly a serious contribution
to scholarship; one reviewer in Science has observed that the book shows
basically more resemblance to a partisan political tract than to a work
of objective social science, with male bonding being some
kind of behavioral phlogiston (Fried, 1969: 884).
primate arguments have generally misused the evidence; primate studies
themselves have, in any case, only the very limited function of describing
some possible sex-role behavior; and at present, primate observations
have been sufficiently limited so that even the range of possible
sex-role behavior for non-human primates is not known. This range
is not known since there is only minimal observation of what happens
to behavior if the physical or social environment is changed. In
one study (Itani, 1963), different troops of Japanese macaques were
observed. Here, there appeared to be cultural differences: males
in 3 out of the 18 troops observed differed in their amount of aggressiveness
and infant-caring behavior. There could be no possibility of differential
evolution here; the differences seemed largely transmitted by infant
socialization. Thus, the very limited evidence points to some plasticity
in the sex-role behavior of non-human primates; if we can figure
out experiments which massively change the social organization of
primate groups, it is possible that we might observe great changes
in behavior. At present, however, we must conclude that, since given
a constant physical environment non-human primates do not seem to
change their social conditions very much by themselves, the innateness and fixedness of their behavior
is simply not known. Thus, even if there were some way, which there
isnt, to settle on the behavior of a particular primate species
as being the natural way for humans, we would not know whether
or not this were simply some function of the present social organization
of that species. And finally, once again it must be stressed that even
if non-human primate behavior turned out to be relatively fixed, this
would say little about our behavior. More immediate and relevant evidence,
i.e. the evidence from social psychology, points to the enormous plasticity
in human behavior, not only from one culture to the next, but from one
experimental group to the next. One of the most salient features of
human social organization is its variety there are a umber of
cultures in which there is at least a rough equality between men and
women (Mead, 1949). In summary, primate arguments can tell us very little
about our innate sex-role behavior; if they tell us anything
at all, they tell us that there is no one biologically natural female
or male behavior, and that sex-role behavior in non-human primates
is much more varied than has previously been thought.
In brief, the uselessness of present psychology (and biology) with
regard to women is simply a special case of the general conclusion:
one must understand the social conditions under which women live
if one is going to attempt to explain the behavior of women. And
to understand the social conditions under which women live, one must
be cognizant of the social expectations about women.
How are women characterized in our culture, and in psychology?
They are inconsistent, emotionally unstable, lacking in a strong
conscience or superego, weaker, nurturant rather than productive, intuitive
rather than intelligent, and, if they are at al normal,
suited to the home and the family. In short, the list adds p to a typical
minority group stereotype of inferiority. (Hacker, 1951): if they know
their place, which is in the home, they are really quite lovable, happy,
childlike, loving creatures. In a review of the intellectual differences
between little boys and little girls, Eleanor Maccoby (1966) has shown
that there are no intellectual differences until about high school,
or, if there are, girls are slightly ahead of boys. At high school,
girls begin to do worse on a few intellectual tasks, such as arithmetic
reasoning, and beyond high school, the achievement of women now measured
in terms of productivity and accomplishment drops off even more rapidly.
There are a number of other, non-intellectual tests which show sex differences:
I chose the intellectual differences since it is seen clearly that women
start becoming inferior. It is no use to talk about women being different
but equal: all of the tests I can think of have a good outcome
and a bad outcome. Women usually end up at the bad
outcome. In light of social expectations about women, what is surprising
is not that women end up where society expects they will; what is surprising
is that little girls dont get the message that they are supposed
to be stupid until high school; and what is even more remarkable
is that some women resist this message even after high school, college
and graduate school.
began with remarks on the task of the discovery of the limits of
human potential. Psychologists must realize that it is they who are
limiting discovery of human potential. They refuse to accept evidence,
if they are clinical psychologists, or, if they are rigorous, they
assume that people move in a context-free ether, with only their
innate dispositions and their individual traits determining what
they will do. Until psychologists begin to respect evidence, and
until they begin looking at the social contexts within which people
move, psychology will have nothing of substance to offer in this
task of discovery. I dont know what
immutable differences exist between men and women apart from differences
in their genitals; perhaps there are some other unchangeable differences;
probably there are a number of irrelevant differences. But it is
clear that until social expectations for men and women are equal,
until we provide equal respect for both men and women, our answers
to this question will simply reflect our prejudices.
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1 It should be noted that psychologists have been as quick
to assert absolute truths about the nature of homosexuality as they
have been about the nature of women. The arguments presented in this
article apply equally to the nature of homosexuality; psychologists
know nothing about it; there is no more evidence for the naturalness
of homosexuality than for the naturalness of heterosexuality.
Psychology has functioned as a pseudo-scientific buttress for our cultural
sex-role notions, that is, as a buttress for patriarchal ideology and
patriarchal social organization: womens liberation and gay
liberation fight against a common victimization.
2 I am indebted to Jesse Lemisch for his valuable suggestions
in the interpretation of these studies.
3 Schwarz-Belkin (1914) claims that the name was originally
Mouse, but this may be a reference to an earlier L. Tiger (putative).
4 All these are lower-order primates, which makes their
behavior with reference to humans unnatural, or more natural; take