The Magazine

Fear and Intimidation at Harvard

From the March 7, 2005 issue: What do academic women want?

Mar 7, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 23 • By HARVEY MANSFIELD
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Thus the issue of Summers's supposedly intimidating style of governance is really the issue of the political correctness by which Summers has been intimidated. Political correctness is the leading form of intimidation in all of American education today, and this incident at Harvard is a pure case of it. The phrase has been around since the 1980s, and the media have become bored with it. But the fact of political correctness is before us in the refusal of feminist women professors even to consider the possibility that women might be at any natural disadvantage in mathematics as compared with men. No, more than that: They refuse to allow that possibility to be entertained even in a private meeting. And still more: They are not ashamed to be seen as suppressing any inquiry into such a possibility. For the demand that Summers be more "responsible" in what he says applies to any inquiry that he or anyone else might cite.

Of course, if you make a study of differences between the sexes with a view to the possibility that some of them might be innate, no violence will come to you. You will not be lynched. But you will be disliked, and you will have a hard time getting appointed at a major (or a minor) university. Feminists do not like to argue, and they consider you a case if you do not immediately agree with them. "Raising consciousness" is their way of getting you to fall in with their plans, and "tsk, tsk" is the only signal you should need and will get. Anyone who requires evidence and argument is already an enemy because he is considering a possibility hurtful to women.

Feminist women rest their cause on "social construction" as opposed to nature. The patriarchal society that has been made by humans can be unmade and remade by humans. But how do we know that the reconstruction will be favorable to women and not a new version of patriarchy? To avoid a resurgent patriarchy or other injustice, society, it would seem, needs to be guided by a principle beyond human making, the natural equality of men and women.

Accepting that principle would require, however, thinking about how far it goes and what natural inequalities in the sexes might exist. This might in fact be a benefit if it induced women to think more about what they want and like, and about what is fair to men and good for children. We do need feminism, because women are now in a new situation. But we need a new feminism conceived by women more favorable to liberty and the common good than the "feminists" of today.

Harvey Mansfield is the William R. Kenan Jr. professor of government at Harvard University.