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Rethinking the Imperatives of Gender

Has society become toxic to both genders?

By Richard Handler

Following these maladjusted, confused boys into adulthood, Pinker found an unexpected twist: many who might have been expected to fail went on to triumph if given a chance to find their niche. Take Andrew, a severely dyslexic kid, for whom school was torture; he found his place as a top chef in the kitchen of a leading restaurant, working insane hours and tossing pots and pans around with testosterone-infused abandon. Other former clients became inventive businessmen or science-oriented entrepreneurs. Such "extreme men" are the ones who drive businesses (and perhaps their colleagues) crazy. Unlike women, they don't worry about balancing their lives: they appear to be perfectly happy to be obsessed workaholics.

An extensive literature on gender differences exists. Pinker focuses on research that argues that males, overall, exhibit extreme variability more than women do, writing, "So there are more very stupid men and more very smart ones, more extremely lazy ones and more willing to kill themselves with work." She quotes the maverick feminist and social critic Camille Paglia, who snappily sums it up: "There is no female Mozart because there is no female Jack the Ripper."

In short, the real subject of The Sexual Paradox is two "extreme groups": fragile boys, who later succeed, and gifted, hard-working girls, who also succeed, but opt out of becoming the superstars they have the capacity to become. Another feminist writer might challenge our expectations more, but that isn't Pinker's task. By her admission, her subjects are a slim sample: brilliant, talented girls who decide not to be CEOs or academic hotshots and unhappy males in therapy. She doesn't bother dealing with other fragile boys and men, those who disproportionately commit acts of violence and wind up in prison or on the streets.

Unlike Pinker's narrowly focused examination of gender differences, Leonard Sax's Boys Adrift is more a manifesto, a cry to all of us to notice what's happening to our sons. Troubled, rebellious boys are an old story in our society, but the boys who fill the pages of Sax's book don't seem particularly rebellious, nor do they suffer from angst—they just sit in their parents' homes and play computer games. Most of them come from the middle and upper-middle classes. Well into their twenties and even thirties, they inhabit their boyhood bedrooms and live in a state of perpetual adolescence. They now have a trendy name, after the successful 2006 movie starring Matthew McConaughey: the "failure to launch generation."

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Last modified on Monday, 30 July 2012 10:21

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