Edna Davoudi and Brooke Porter


Pinker, Steven (2002). Gender. In The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (337-371). New York: Viking Penguin.



In this chapter, gender and sex differences, are explored and examined.  Pinker (2002), discusses the many different issues that arise out of feminism and why feminism needs the Blank Slate.  Feminism has two schools of thought that need to be distinguished between, the equity feminism and the gender feminism.  Equity feminism opposes sex discrimination and other forms of unfairness to women.  Gender feminism holds that women “continue to be enslaved by pervasive system of male dominance, the gender system, in which bisexual infants are transformed into male and female gender personalities, the one destined to command, the other to obey” (Pinker, 2002, p.341). 

            Equity feminism, according to Pinker (2002) is a moral doctrine about equal treatment that makes no obligations regarding open empirical issues in psychology and biology. Gender feminism is an empirical doctrine dedicated to three claims about human nature.  The first is that the differences between men and women have nothing to do with biology but are socially constructed in their entirety. The second is that humans possess a single social motive-power-and that social life can be understood only in terms of out it is exercised.  The third, according to Pinker (2002), is that human interactions come about not from the “motives of people dealing with each other as individuals but from the motives of groups dealing with other groups- in this case, the male gender dominating the female gender” (p.341). 

            Pinker (2002) discusses how evolutionary psychology and sociobiology have been called sexist disciplines.  The main point that Pinker discusses is that feminism need not look at sex differences as a bad thing, but to realize that the differences found are rather small and that generally in the larger sense men and women’s brains are so similar that microscopic differences are rather difficult to find. 

            A few of the differences discussed are that men are better at three dimensional spatial tasks, that men are far more likely to compete violently, sometimes lethally, women experience basic emotions more intensely, have more intimate social relationships, are more concerned about them, and feel more empathy toward their friends, maintain more eye contact, are better spellers, and have a better memory for verbal material.

Regardless of all these differences found between the two sexes, the basic point made by Pinker (2002) is that men and women are similar in competencies and equality of human rights.  Pinker (2002) says that men and women have all the same genes except for the Y chromosome, and their brains are so similar that it takes “an eagle-eyed neuroanatomist to find the small differences between them (p. 344).  Men and women both feel the same basic emotions and both enjoy sex, seek intelligent and kind marriage partners, get jealous, make sacrifices for their children, compete for status and mates, and sometimes commit aggression in pursuit of their interests.

On average, men and women are of general intelligence, use language and think about he physical and living world in the same general way (Pinker, 2002).  Thus, although we have differences among us, we are rather similar in many other ways and are generally built the same way.  Therefore, as Pinker argues, it is rather false for gender feminists to claim that men and women are born equal and thus any differences are of causes of socialization.  It should rather be said that men and women are born genetically the same (except for sex), but are sort of engineered to perhaps enjoy or not things that are rather different with hormones.

Pinker discusses studies in which men were given extra shots of Testosterone and found that these individuals were on a “extra high”, one of which said that he was involved in a confrontation that normally he wouldn’t have been.  There was also the famous Money experiment in which a boy’s penis was accidentally severed.  He was given a false vagina and socialized as a girl, but rejected all things associated with being a female.  He rejected dolls, frilly, dresses, and boys, but rather enjoyed playing rough and dressing as a boy.  In his later years he was told the truth and went back to being a boy. 

Other examples were pointed out in which Pinker utilizes to show that men and women are not socialized to be men and women, instead are biologically engineered to be different. One such example is of the children with Turner’s syndrome who are genetically neuter.   A Turner’s girl who gets her X chromosome from her father may have genes that are evolutionarily optimized for girls.  A Turner’s girl who gets her X chromosome from her mother may have genes that are evolutionarily optimized for boys.   Thus, these children differ psychologically depending on which parent gave them their X chromosome.  The ones with an X from their father were better at interpreting body language, reading emotions, recognizing faces, handling words and getting along with other people compare to the ones with a X from their mother (which is fully active only in a boy).

Perhaps the problem feminists face is in the work environment in which they are paid 75 cents to a man’s dollar and are constantly seen as incompetent or less competent than their male counterparts.  Or perhaps it is sexual harassment that really angers women, as if we do not have the right to.  But according to Pinker (2002), these are not going to make a difference even if we keep on claiming the blank slate because of economics and politics.  He says that perhaps the reason women are paid less than men is because most of the jobs that women are attracted to are not in a position where they can pay more.  For example, in companies, women usually work in nonprofit organization, which tend to pay less on average.  Women usually work in schools as teachers and everyone knows that state related positions are not well paid, ever.  Also women do not tend to work with heavy machineries, which also pay more than support service positions in an office. 

            Pinker (2002) also discusses how the most widely noticed feminism is the gender feminists, who are too radical for the normal woman.  Thus, most women are reluctant to fully support feminism and feminism is seen as this evil things because of that.  But, virtually all women agree that women and men should be treated equally and women have always been discriminated against.  Of course, no doubt about that, but does that mean that the world will over night become non-discriminating? 

Pinker (2002) argues three points that are not in dispute.  One is that discouraging women from pursuing their ambitions, and discriminating against them on the basis of their sex, are injustices that should be stopped wherever they are discovered.  Second is that there is no doubts that women faced widespread discrimination in the past and continue to face it in some sectors today. However, Pinker argues that showing that men are paid more than women cannot change this.  And third, he says that there is no question of whether women and qualified to be scientists, CEO’s, leaders of nations, or elite professionals of any other kind.  Some women are and some aren’t, just as some men are and some men aren’t.  But does that mean that the proportions of qualified men and women must be identical?  Basically, according to Pinker (2002), on average everyone is better at something and not others and most positions are hired for what they need for the position.  If the position requires a gentle person, they will hire a gentle person.  If the position requires a big physical body, then they will hire a big, physical bodied person.  Should it happen to be a man and a women (stereotypically), than that is how it will be.  

Pinker (2002) also discusses rape and it’s controversies along with it.    The main argument for rape by feminists is that it is not an act of sex, but rather of violence, power, and control.  When one thinks about the argument, Pinker (2002) says that men often want to have sex with women who do not want to have sex with them. For example, by wooing, seducing, flattering, deceiving, sulking, and paying. Pinker says that some men will use violence to get what they want, whether it is money, robbing a store, kidnapping a child or others. Pinker also argues well of course its violent, how else would the perpetrator get what he wants. The ultimate motives of the rapist are irrelevant.

There is also the argument that men rape to further the interests of their gender.  Well, Pinker (2002) argues that if that’s the case, why would a man rape knowing that he could be killed, injured, and put in jail. “Are rapists really assuming these risks as an altruistic sacrifice to benefit the billions of strangers that make up the make gender?” (Pinker, 2002, p.362).   In addition, rapists usually commit these crimes in private and fight hard to keep it a secret. Also rapists are always treated as scum in the public eye.  Thus, rape is not something that men benefit from. If men were trying to further their interests, than why would they create laws against it to try to stop it?

To discuss and study rape is to try to eliminate it.  This is a rather tough issue because all societies have rape.  It is a part of human nature.  But that does not make it okay or even excused.  It simply should raise awareness that it is out there and it is a part of human nature and not for the arguments raised by feminists. 

Sex differences exist between men and women, whether they are small or big.  Along with these differences are also many similarities among men and women.   In society it is rather difficult to claim that all men and women are born completely equal because of all the examples given for biological differences between men and women.  Although it is better for the feminist thought to say that we are all blank slates, it does not necessarily mean that we will turn out equal either.  This chapter discussed gender and the controversies surrounding it and we can come to the conclusion that there are many factors involved in the inequalities of the world.