It is by no means settled that the feminine soul is possessed of only sugar and spice and all things nice”Mary Harrington, The new female ascendendency
This post was prompted by an article penned by Noah Carl that briefly appeared on the front page of The Critic entitled Did women in academia cause wokeness. Curiously, the article didn’t stay on the front page for long and I suspect it was too hot to handle even for The Critic. In case it disappears completely, you can also find it on Noah Carl’s substack page here.
There are similarities with the themes explored by Freya India Agar in her article in Areo, Social Justice Culture and Toxic Femininity. Freya argues that some aspects of social justice culture could be construed as the extreme end of the feminine personality spectrum. While there is a great deal of overlap between men and women a small difference in the means of some characteristics can have a very big effect on the number of men or women at the extremes of the spectrum. For example, though most men are not violent there are undeniably more men at the extreme end who can be violent (there are also more men who commit extreme acts of bravery to rescue others). On the other hand, there may be more women who commit relationship aggression and believe in suppressing ideas that may be true but hurt the feelings of some people. However, the truth is that toxicity resides in individuals, not in identity groups and the concept of toxic femininity is as unhelpful as toxic masculinity.
Back to the article by Noah Carl. He notes that there has been a strong leftward shift in the political beliefs of academic staff in US universities We know from the work of Eric Kaufman that there is a similar problem in the UK (see here). Several factors may contribute to this imbalance. One is that like minded people tend to cluster together and in turn that may mean that people with different political views, socially conservative, for example, may feel less welcome. Noah Carl suggests that the influx of women (that is of course welcome) may have itself driven some of the leftward shift. In part, this is because women, on average, tend to be slightly tilted to the left of the political spectrum (leaving more at the extremes) and perhaps because people with left-wing views are more concerned with gender equality. However, there is a difference between being simply left leaning (which I consider myself to be) and being a full-on supporter of ‘critical social justice’ and all that goes with it.
The psychologist Cory Clark in an article in Psychology Today (here) notes that female academics tend to be less supportive of free speech. For example, a 2019 study showed that 59% of women believed that protecting free speech was less important than creating an inclusive society. Conversely, 71% of men thought the opposite. Fifty eight percent of College men felt it is never acceptable to shout down a speaker whereas only 41% women felt the same way. A 2021 report form Eric Kaufman showed that female scholars were more likely to support firing a scholar for controversial research. Although this may all originate from authoritarianism it may also reflect the dark side of empathy. Sometimes that quality that makes us human, can lead us down dark paths when we over-identify with supposed victims.
Noah Carl produces data to show that women are over-represented at degree level in ‘Grievance Studies’subjects such as gender studies and critical race theory. See figure below.
You might say that English Literature (the yellow/ochre line) does not belong to grievance studies but the way it has been taught puts it firmly in that category – see post Death of the English Literature Degree. Indeed some view it as ‘patient zero’ in the rise of ‘Critical Theory’ in our universities.
The same predominance of women in ‘grievance studies’ subjects is also found at doctoral level. As of 2015 in the USA, 65% of degrees in Cultural and Ethnic studies were awarded to women. I doubt if the picture would be very different in the UK and the imbalance is likely to have grown since 2015.
There is other evidence of a greater left-wing skew among female academics. One study looking at voter registration among US academics showed that among men the Democrat/Republican ratio was 9:1 among men and 25:1 among women. But being left-wing is not of itself evidence of ‘wokeness’ though ‘wokeness’ is certainly more common in those of a left-leaning persuasion. Another study looking at male and female academics in Sociology and Anthropology helps firm up the connection. Women were less likely than men to agree with the statement “more political conservatives would benefit the discipline” or the statement “advocacy and research should be separate for objectivity“. Among the anthropologists, women were more likely to agree with the statement that “science is just one way of knowing” and that “postmodern theories have made an important contribution.“
Data contained within the Policy Exchange report (here) also showed that female academics were more willing to allow their activism to interfere with their professional duty of impartiality. Female academics were almost two times more likely than their male peers to discriminate against an equivalently qualified job applicant with different political views.
What this all adds up to is that not only are female academics more likely to be left leaning but they are more likely to view activism as part of the job and sometimes give that activism has a higher priority than academic rigour. There may be other confounding variables. For example, female academics, on average, are younger than their male peers and most people shift to the right as they get older. Another factor is that feminism itself maybe the ‘gateway drug’ to illiberal social justice movements.
Fascinating. I think women tend to lean left politically because it favours ‘big government’ which will protect and provide for them whereas men tend to prefer a smaller government which favours risk-taking and self reliance. The attack on freedom of speech may be because women (feminists) have more to lose currently as people would be free to criticise them and question their narrative.
Thanks- that’s a really interesting point and one that I hadn’t thought of.