On the Relative Intelligence of Women A Review of Two Essays





During times in which there is increased social concern over the relative equality of men and women in various areas of study, there is a common desire to determine whether there is an appreciable difference in intelligence in relation to gender. Two essays which document various aspects of the relative intelligence of men and women are “Women and the Mismeasure of Thought” by Judith Genova, and “The Variability Hypothesis” by Stephanie Shields. Genova seeks to criticize measuring the difference in intelligence between men and women. Genova was unsuccessful with this article in that the questions she raised were not satisfactorily answered, and there was an overall lack of citation. “The Variability Hypothesis” is an essay detailing the history and arguments against the purported greater variance in male intelligence. Though the argument of Shields’ paper is to some extent banal, her criticism of the variability hypothesis is extensive and satisfactory.
The introduction of Genova’s essay is a criticism of historically accepted measurements of intelligence. In the past using brain size as a measure of intelligence was not altogether unacceptable. When this practice was discredited by the obvious lack of intellectual superiority of whales and elephants, a new physical measure of intelligence was sought. Other body dimensions were given brief consideration as measures of intelligence until the example of Negroes, Australians, and Eskimos denied that theory. Genova argues that prejudice over which groups are socially allowed to be intelligent leads to bad science in determining measures of intelligence. I agree that the highly stereotypical practice of craniometry has no relevance to modern studies of male and female intelligence, though Genova fails to adequately prove the existence of such stereotypes in modern science.
Genova cites the example of hemispheric specialization studies as an area of science affected by this same kind of social prejudice. Though traditionally men are seen as analytical (left-brained) while women hold a more holistic mindset (right-brain), studies have indicated that the exact opposite is true. Genova passes off the results of these studies as due to social influences where she has no right. According to Genova, this disparity in traditional views and modern studies can only be explained by intense prejudice on the part of the writers of such studies. On the assumption that this is true, Genova then seeks to hypothesize about such the computer as a trivial tool threatening to belittle the classically analytical intelligence of men, and explains that the newfound holistic intelligence of men is an attempt to avoid that belittlement. Genova explains the newfound analytical characteristic of women as an “attack” based on “keeping them out of the world of science and trivializing their achievements in any field as routine and studied” (Genova 103). I would argue, however, that the modern stereotype of female intelligence would still place them as the more creative and holistic of the two sexes. Genova’s comment on computers has no relevance whatsoever to male intelligence. If computers were a threat to male intelligence and a complement to female intelligence, it would make sense that men would be resistant toward the proliferation of computers, yet this is not at all the case. Conversely, computer science is a field dominated by men. Only 7.8% of computer science and computer engineering faculties are women, and a miserable 2.7% of tenured professors are female (Frenkel 38). Genova invalidates her own argument by professing that modern stereotypes about the role of women have led to views of decreased female intelligence. She is applying a stereotype of her own by implying without evidence that modern studies advocating a difference in male and female intellects are conducted and analyzed by men with overpowering prejudices. Genova’s next argument addresses the comparison of brain lateralization to general intelligence.
Brain lateralization is the term for the amount of specialization in the two hemispheres of the brain. A more lateral individual will have more specialization within each hemisphere (for instance, the left brain will control verbal skills more exclusively), while a less lateral or “bilateral” individual will have no specific location of certain skills. Genova proposes that in general there is an accepted concept of greater laterality in male brains leading to greater intelligence. Genova’s only support for this claim is a citation