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BS in New Zealand

Social science run amok.

Jun 18, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 38 • By HARVEY MANSFIELD
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Our article on benevolent sexism illustrates the comedy of the struggle, as terms chosen to be indisputable turn out to be disputable. Benevolent sexists are “happier,” says the title​—​a common-sense word. But “happy” turns out to be “life satisfaction,” not a term you hear on the street. Life satisfaction is desired by both sexes, our authors say, but under sexism men get status and wealth, women get protection and “resources” (i.e., the wealth of men). More simply, men get access to power, women get security. Both goals are forms of “power”; so power is the universal goal of both sexes, providing life satisfaction and discerned by science. Yet the point of the article is that under BS men are satisfied to be strong, women to be weak. So our authors contrive a scientific “mechanism” or “Differential Process Model,” which shows that men benefit directly from sexism as individuals, while women get life satisfaction from a “system justification” telling them that they benefit as part of the system, despite the “cognitive dissonance” they must suffer as individuals who are weaker. Men don’t need to justify themselves because as the dominant group they get the subordinate group to internalize their “ideology.” (But what is an ideology if not a system justification?)

Research shows​—​“Glick et al. (2000)”​—​that women in 19 unequal nations endorse BS to protect themselves against HS. Then why on earth would women cheat themselves, in an egalitarian society where they can do better, with the belief that their weakness is “fair and equitable”? Is it because women are weak of mind or, on the contrary, because they are sensible? The trouble is that, for our authors, life satisfaction for human beings is defined by what men desire​—​power​—​just as it is for feminists today. Since men always desire power, they are ready with HS (remember, hostile sexism) should BS not do the trick. At the end of the article the authors bare their fangs and assert the “malevolent nature” of BS. Women should beware of the “tempting qualities” of BS that make them willing servants and victims of men. There’s no such thing as Benevolent Sexism. After all, our authors do mean to say that BS in social science is BS as said in the street. Women are wrong to cheat themselves by succumbing to it, and when doing so they are deluded to believe they are happy.

Social science does its best to explain, which means explain away, what common sense would call evil. That is its main purpose, because common sense, its chief enemy, has for its main purpose the task of distinguishing good from evil. But here we see social science cannot quite succeed in value-neutral description, and our authors​—​for all their scientific caution and with some relish​—​conclude by calling a spade a spade.

Our article declares itself to be a part of Ambivalent Sexism Theory, “extending the innovative work of Napier et al. (2010).” To answer the survey on which it is based, 6,100 New Zealanders​—​the real authors of the article​—​gave their time anonymously but with the incentive of a “$500 grocery voucher prize draw.” Just one piddling prize for the whole crowd? For deciding the question of sex differences that the “innovative work” of all the poets and philosophers in human civilization has addressed?

Harvey Mansfield is professor of government at Harvard and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. 

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