The problem with gender and sexual essentialisms is not whether or not there are essential differences between men and women, males and females. Certainly there are. The problem is the politics of determining the relative social value of these essential differences between the sexes. The problem is whether or not essential biological differences lead to essential differences between woman-people and man-people that lead to some people being presumed essentially better than others.
If there are essential differences, the erroneous presumption made by gender feminists is that individual woman-people must be better at some things than individual man-people and vice versa. If essential differences between man-people and woman-people do exist then change is impossible for individuals, since the differences between woman-people and man-people are essential, like oxygen is essential to water and chlorine is essential to salt. And for the majority of human history essentialism has, in fact, been used to relegate individual women to a diminished social status. So gender feminists have every reason to be paranoid about essentialisms that may diminish women’s social value. It is better to misrepresent essentialism, to the detriment of innocent boys, than take the risk of being intellectually honest.
The problem of gender feminists’ misrepresentation of essentialism is also one of degree. They wildly exaggerate essential differences. If woman-people are essentially different than man-people, the reality is that these differences are relatively minor and only show up statistically. The entire lunacy of the essentialism debate, as alluded to by Christina Hoff Sommers’ The War Against Boys, hinges on an intentional misrepresentation of individuals as identical with the groups into which individuals are categorized. Certainly the gender categories of “man” and “woman” include many individuals who fit into these categories by definition alone. We need merely think of the difficulty of categorizing transgendered people to see how tenuous the man-people and woman-people categories can become.
According to anthropologist Lionel Tiger, as quoted by Sommers, “Biology is not destiny, but it is a good statistical probability.” As a consequence, the exaggerated essentialisms of Carol Gilligan and Sigmund Freud are more likely influenced by politics of power and gender dominance than scientifically responsible observations and statistics. For Gilligan, women are caring and men are not. For Freud, men’s fear of castration and women’s lack of that fear make men more morally astute. For both Gilligan and Freud the fanciful unobservable superego, as formed through the unique psycho-sexual development of boys and girls, is the essential cause of boys’ or girls’ moral superiority over the other. For Gilligan boys have cooties; for Freud girls do.
The essentialisms of socio-biologist E.O. Wilson and once-Harvard-president Lawrence Summers, on the other hand, are statistical essences discovered by finding small patterns of variation between woman-people and man-people, culled from vast numbers of unique individuals, some of whom likely did not fit neatly into either category. Statistically speaking, testosterone laden individuals pursue advanced engineering degrees more frequently than estrogen laden individuals, and estrogen laden individuals pursue PhDs in literature more often than testosterone laden individuals do. But clearly there are many men and women in both fields. Men never get pregnant. Women do. But many men make great stay at home mothers and many women do not. Statistically however, women mostly mother and men mostly do not.
So, though morphology is not destiny, male morphology certainly does provide an additional, and obvious, modicum of comfort when micturating in the woods. But that miniscule Freudian reality is not really enough to drive the gender-feminist pedagogy of Carol Gilliganians. To protect girls from the imagined horrors of masculinity, according to Sommers, paranoid gender feminists are intentionally mis-educating boys to become girls in all ways possible. Oh well, boys will be girls.