Rethinking the Imperatives of Gender: Has society become toxic to both genders?

By Richard Handler

July/August 2008

Susan Pinker, author of The Sexual Paradox, is a developmental psychologist, therapist, and newspaper columnist. Growing up in the '60s and '70s, she read and was influenced by the founding authors of modern-day feminism—Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, and Germaine Greer—and was emboldened by their central argument: biology isn't destiny. As a teenager, she never imagined she couldn't do anything she wanted to.

But over the years, she became aware of a basic, unquestioned assumption em­bedded in the feminist literature—an assumption that many women were finding increasingly problematic. "Men had it made," she writes. "They were the standards, the ones to be emulated. Only when women dumped their female personae and took men's roles, would they be truly equal."

In The Sexual Paradox, Pinker ex­plores the fact that, despite increasing opportunities, many women have decided that they want different things from what men want. According to her, only about 25 to 30 percent of women are as driven and competitive as men. She cites research that indicates that women care more about social connection than men and want their jobs and careers to be more meaningful.

At the heart of her book are stories of capable women leaving stressful top jobs for careers that allow more time for family and human contact. She makes clear that women don't choose to opt out of killer careers because they lack the talent and brains to take them to the top,…

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