Cathy Young has some concerns with a popular gender studies textbook:
A few months ago, a post with a shocking claim about misogyny in America began to circulate on Tumblr, the social media site popular with older teens and young adults. It featured a scanned book page section stating that, according to “recent survey data,” when junior high school students in the Midwest were asked what they would do if they woke up “transformed into the opposite sex,” the girls showed mixed emotions but the boys’ reaction was straightforward: “‘Kill myself’ was the most common answer when they contemplated the possibility of life as a girl.” The original poster — whose comment was, “Wow” —identified the source as her “Sex & Gender college textbook,” The Gendered Society by Michael Kimmel.
The post quickly caught on with Tumblr’s radical feminist contingent: in less than three months, it was reblogged or “liked” by over 33,000 users. Some appended their own comments, such as, “Yeah, tell me again how misogyny ‘isn’t real‘ and men and boys and actually ‘like,’ ‘love‘ and ‘respect the female sex‘? This is how deep misogynistic propaganda runs… As Germaine Greer said, ‘Women have no idea how much men hate them.’”
Yet, as it turns out, the claim reveals less about men and misogyny than it does about gender studies and academic feminism.
I was sufficiently intrigued to check out Kimmel’s reference: a 1984 book called The Longest War: Sex Differences in Perspective by psychologists Carol Tavris and Carole Wade. The publication date was the first tipoff that the study’s description in the excerpt was not entirely accurate: the “recent” data had to be about thirty years old. Still, did American teenage boys in the early 1980s really hold such a dismal view of being female?
When I obtained a copy of The Longest War, I was shocked to discover that the claim was not even out of context: it seemed to have no basis at all, other than one comment among examples of negative reactions from younger boys (the survey included third- through twelfth-grade students, not just those in junior high). Published in 1983 by the Institute for Equality in Education, the study had some real fodder for feminist arguments: girls generally felt they would be better off as males while boys generally saw the switch as a disadvantage, envisioning more social restrictions and fewer career options (many responses seemed based on stereotypes — e.g., husband-hunting as a girl’s main training for adulthood — than 1980s reality). But that’s not nearly as dramatic as “I’d rather kill myself than be a girl.”