I also suspect — I say 'suspect' because 'within and between' is a bit vague — I suspect that, although this is a popular argument with feminists, it doesn't always fit happily with other feminist arguments. If there are wide 'differences within', then women aren't very homogenous — there's a wide spread of abilities and dispositions — and some proportion of women will be in the male end of the distribution. That might be for any characteristic, from hormone levels to 3D rotation (being able to imagine rotating objects in space — a notoriously male trick). But how does this mesh with the idea that women who are high achievers in traditionally male pursuits — engineering, mountaineering or whatever — are 'role models' for other women? The idea is that these women are just like the others and it's only male prejudice and self-doubt that's holding the other women back. But maybe these women are the extremes of those 'differences within' that feminists themselves emphasise — and so they're not just like the next woman? But then how can feminists confidently claim that it's only prejudice and self-doubt that's preventing any woman from achieving the same?

Worse, how can anyone confidently point to these women — as anti-Darwinians often do — as evidence against evolved sex differences? And, actually, it does turn out that this confidence is seriously misplaced. Far from undermining an evolutionary analysis, these women are probably exceptions that prove the Darwinian rule. So, for example, with 3D rotation, women exposed in the womb to high levels of androgen perform far better than normal women — indeed, almost as well as men. And with dispositions, too — women in traditionally male professions respond to challenges with a characteristically 'male' high adrenaline charge; and it seems that their job choice follows their disposition rather than — as I wrongly guessed when I first heard this — their disposition being shaped by the job.

A final example. 'Within and between' is used routinely to remind people like me that sex differences are only statistical generalisations and that they don't hold true for all individuals — which is, of course, right. But isn't the glass ceiling 'only' a statistical generalisation? There's an overlap in men's and women's jobs, particularly in middle management; some women are higher up than the average man — and so on. But is that a reason for dismissing the glass ceiling as unimportant? Statistical generalisations are exactly what many feminist issues are all about.

I think that the statistical distribution of male-female differences is a really interesting issue, with important implications for policy. It's one of those areas that's just waiting for the marriage of the evolutionary approach — which deals with universals — and behavior genetics — which deals with individual differences. I'm really keen to see research on this. It seems to me to be something that Darwinism, feminism and policy-makers most definitely need to deal with. Meanwhile, 'within and between' gets us nowhere.


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