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The Mismeasure of Woman

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Why can’t a woman be more like a man? asks that ultimate misogynist, Professor Henry Higgins, in My Fair Lady. Carol Tavris doesn’t answer his question, she demolishes it. Doing to the scientific establishment what Susan Faludi’s Backlash did to the news media, Tavris begins with the premise that power, not gender, is what divides the sexes. Little of the research on brain size, right- versus left-handedness, hormones, or the mating habits of primates escapes her scrutiny. The notion that men are right-brained and better at math and art, for instance, derives from a study of the brains of rats. From such a shaky science are headlines about gender difference made.

Tavris also takes on the healing professions — psychiatrists, psychologists, 12-step gurus, and others who use man as the measure by which woman is judged. Where they find female masochism, depression, love addiction, codependency, and premenstrual syndrome, Tavris sees only women’s lack of power. Women aren’t sick, Tavris argues, they’re misused. After describing how PMS was concocted from nonexistent medical evidence, she explains the enormous stake doctors and drug companies have in the diagnosis: PMS is a big business. Menopause will be too, she predicts, as baby boomers age. Expect a new female syndrome (estrogen-deficiency disorder?) soon. And expect The Mismeasure of Woman to generate some heat in the hard and soft sciences. A