Society and Culture

Charles Murray: No, I don’t think women are genetically inferior

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Image Credit: Shutterstock

A few weeks ago, I asked people who accuse me of thinking blacks are genetically inferior to give me a direct quote of anything I have written, and I would be happy to respond in detail.

There have been no takers. But the Huffington Post has given a direct quote of something I have written to prove that Charles Murray thinks women are genetically inferior:

“No woman has been a significant original thinker in any of the world’s great philosophical traditions,” he wrote. “Women have produced a smaller number of important visual artists, and none that is clearly in the first rank. No female composer is even close to the first rank. Social restrictions undoubtedly damped down women’s contributions in all of the arts, but the pattern of accomplishment that did break through is strikingly consistent with what we know about the respective strengths of male and female cognitive repertoires.”

Maybe this is a teachable moment. I could give you the link to the full article from which the quote is taken, and leave it at that, but few people are going to plow all the way through that lengthy essay (7,527 words plus 7,716 words in the endnotes). So please bear with me while I give you an example of the nonsense I have to put up with.

Suppose the Huffington Post writer, Laura Bassett, had simply added the very next sentence in my article, which reads:

Women have their own cognitive advantages over men, many of them involving verbal fluency and interpersonal skills. If this were a comprehensive survey, detailing those advantages would take up as much space as I have devoted to a particular male advantage.

That doesn’t really sound male-supremacist, does it?

But let’s not stop there. Here’s what comes next:

But, sticking with my restricted topic, I will move to another aspect of male-female differences that bears on accomplishment at the highest levels of the arts and sciences: motherhood.

Regarding women, men, and babies, the technical literature is as unambiguous as everyday experience would lead one to suppose. As a rule, the experience of parenthood is more profoundly life-altering for women than for men. Nor is there anything unique about humans in this regard. Mammalian reproduction generally involves much higher levels of maternal than paternal investment in the raising of children. Among humans, extensive empirical study has demonstrated that women are more attracted to children than are men, respond to them more intensely on an emotional level, and get more and different kinds of satisfactions from nurturing them. Many of these behavioral differences have been linked with biochemical differences between men and women.

Thus, for reasons embedded in the biochemistry and neurophysiology of being female, many women with the cognitive skills for achievement at the highest level also have something else they want to do in life: have a baby. In the arts and sciences, forty is the mean age at which peak accomplishment occurs, preceded by years of intense effort mastering the discipline in question. These are precisely the years during which most women must bear children if they are to bear them at all.

Among women who have become mothers, the possibilities for high-level accomplishment in the arts and sciences shrink because, for innate reasons, the distractions of parenthood are greater. To put it in a way that most readers with children will recognize, a father can go to work and forget about his children for the whole day. Hardly any mother can do this, no matter how good her day-care arrangement or full-time nanny may be. My point is not that women must choose between a career and children, but that accomplishment at the extremes commonly comes from a single-minded focus that leaves no room for anything but the task at hand. We should not be surprised or dismayed to find that motherhood reduces the proportion of highly talented young women who are willing to make that tradeoff.

I submit that no fair-minded person can read that passage (which had several long endnotes documenting my assertions) and think I’m hell-bent on proving women are inferior to men. Did Laura Bassett just stop reading where her quotation of me ends? Is she saying to herself now, “Damn, I should have kept reading; I’ve really been unfair to that guy”?

I doubt it. And because a lot of people read the Huffington Post, I’m probably going to have to put up with “Why do you think women are inferior?” in the Q&A for every lecture I give in the next few months. It’s irritating.

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52 thoughts on “Charles Murray: No, I don’t think women are genetically inferior

  1. So if womens’ achievement pale into comparison to mens’ achievement then how does this make women genetic equal considering they’re failing at every metric?

    • First, I see an analysis of precisely two metrics: major original philosophical thought, with ‘thought’ as in the accumulated writings of a thinker, the academic usage, and production of art and music. Both of these metrics can be argued on the merits. Absence of achievement is not the same as “failing.”

      Second, any mention of “genetic” inferiority is erroneously inferred from the discussion of male/female differences vis a vis procreation and child-rearing. Females who have competent cognitive skills are, in fact, assumed in the first sentence of the fourth paragraph of the second excerpt. Thinking is not related to “genetics” in his writing: motivation is related to gender function. So it is offensive, but only insofar as one evaluates the strawman, or false conclusion.

      Third, he is not setting out to prove genetic equivalence, not that there is any such idea that could ever be shown and doesn’t exist between any two individuals, even twins, let alone genders. You set up a red herring based on the criticism, not the thesis. It’s like asking how one can’t show blue is equal to green. Equality can only apply to discrete sets.

      Fourth, it’s “women’s” and “men’s,” and taking a little more time with subject-verb agreement would allow the reader to glean your meaning on a first read.

      We aren’t equal. Who has ever shown that beyond mere assertion?

      • So what you’re saying is that women are there to complement not compete with men? They’re there to help with the continuation of the species while men to society to newer and better heights?

        • Why would genders compete? Why should they not just pursue that which iinterests and fulfills them? Do we win something as a species by shoe-horning people into gender roles and making them feel like underperformers if they don’t avidly grab all opportunities in life?

          You are assuming philosophical thought and art is what elevates man. The distinguishing characteristic of the human species, in my opinion, is the ability to identify and pursue moral positions in defiance of self-interest. Animals don’t do that. What genders do is less interesting than what mankind does. The point is to allow equal opportunity, not demand or expect equal outputs.

          There just are two genders, with differing predilections…there just are. If there are not nurtured progeny to experience art and create anew both life and art, society is not elevated. Species earlier than man had two genders and those roles are not questioned. Is there something wrong with the physiology or biochemistry of women that she must somehow ‘overcome’ her desires or comforts?

        • Gil


          As is usual with you, you don’t understand what you’re reading if is written at anything above a 6th grade reading comprehension level.

        • “So what you’re saying is”

          In my experience, these words are nearly always followed by a dishonest representation of what the person is actually saying.

    • if womens’ [sic] achievement pale into comparison to mens’ [sic] achievement

      It’s cute when lefties try to be clever. Thank you for demonstrating exactly what dishonesty looks like. To claim that the statement “Men are more accomplished than women in areas and women are more accomplished than men in other areas” is equivalent to your above statement is pretty much the definition of dishonesty.

  2. No one of us is like any other in our interests, aptitudes or abilities – thus our achievements are as varied as our personalities. Men and women are not interchangeable objects, but unique individuals with differing calls for their time, attention and caring. Women are traditionally and emotionally more suited to nurturing others which is why their achievements are frequently seen in the children they raise to be responsible, caring adults. Many women give of their many gifts not only to their own families but to others within their greater community and if that were the measure of accomplishment, there would be no one higher in regard than the woman who lovingly volunteers.

  3. We’re talking about facts, empirical evidence. Facts don’t require political correctness. If no woman has ever been a major composer of music and hundreds of men have, then any rational person must conclude their there is more at work than conscious discrimination against women.

    The basic position of Liberals on any issue is “How does this fact make you FEEL?”. And the Liberal argument then proceeds along the line of “What SHOULD BE true?”.

    Endless experiments in Social Engineering through establishing quotas for What Should Be True and then filling the reserved positions with people who would not otherwise qualify does nothing good for either the society or the individuals, excepting those individuals who enjoy a pay raise while knowing they aren’t as good at the job as their non-quota counterparts.

    • That’s a very pithy insight. Everyone can have feelings about what “should be” even (maybe especially) if they’re utterly ignorant about the facts. Thus appeals to emotions will always elicit more widespread response than appeals to facts.

    • Yes, there is ‘more at work than conscious discrimination against women.’ What is that, exactly? Do you know?

      Does the evidence speak for itself, make the facts clear and obvious to ‘any rational person’?

      If I disagree, if I say that the answer is not obvious, does that mean that I am merely saying that I don’t like the ‘obvious’ answer?

      It is wise to be wary of one’s own certainty, especially when surrounded by assenting voices. We often see the simple wisdom in this advice, but too often think that it only applies to other people.

  4. I would rather be the mother and the nurturer of a great man, than be that heralded person. What is more sublime and Christlike than an educated and selfless woman. Who are we trying to impress in the eternal view? God made us who we all are, men and women, for a wise and glorious purpose, and no sophistry of ours will change it.

  5. There is no such thing as a woman genius. Never will be (until our species more seriously mutates). It’s just not in their make-up. That is so obvious.

    But genius, like Murray effectively states, is not an expression of superiority as such but merely the effect of specialisation in focus, and less usual neurological traits (Humans are a different collection of strengths and weaknesses – and we should celebrate this).

    An uncommon ability, with uncommon effects, is not necessarily a “superior” ability to other abilities. The interpretation of certain attributes as ‘genius’ is in part just a social phenomenon. Sadly many people will never get this.

      • Very simply, women are genetically superior ON THE AVERAGE at things related to bearing children, nurturing them, and providing a social network to support them. Men are superior ON THE AVERAGE at everything related to providing for and physically protecting a community, including innovation, athleticism, reaction time, planning, and mechanical abilities. More than 1 million years of evolution have made it that way.

      • So your claim is that the sole metric for superiority and inferiority is IQ? People are superior to everyone they are smarter than and inferior to the ones who are smarter than them? Seriously?

    • I certainly disagree that there never were female “geniuses.” There is no way to verify that. But I also disagree that it is a social construct purely. The appreciation of genius, rather, is the social construct. Man has usually been able to guesstimate who the most intelligent individuals in their groups are, but I take you to mean that it’s no more special than wisdom or perseverance or being musical or an idiot savant: its value is determined by the perceiver.

      • Idiot-savant is a good example. Through our ‘social construct’ we think they are genius, and ultimately because no one else (or very few) can do what they do.

        But, take a direct look at what idiot-savants actually do and you realise that their skills, at least usually, are the exact same skills that a computer can perform – and very well. And in terms of real processing power, computers are extremely dumb compared to humans; and so are, probably, idiot-savants. The idiot-savants developmental focus is just extreme and eccentric. They are not superior by any real measure and are distinctly intellectually retarded.

        The same dynamic, though to a lesser extreme, could be operating in others that we call “genius”. Note that autism is also more common among men.

        • Lots of people are “geniuses” by some measure, though idiot-savants aren’t usually included. But what matters is your actual contribution to knowledge and/or culture.

    • Jane Austen, Flannery O’Connor, Sappho, Hidegard of Bingen, George Eliot, Admiral Grace Hopper, Mme. de Stael, Marie Curie, Emilie Chatelet, Elizabeth I, Clara Schumann, Ada Lovelace, Virginia Woolf… and those are just historical ones that come to mind immediately. Of course there are women geniuses. That is so obvious.

      • The word “genius” doesn’t mean much, but women have some real achievements in literature and to a lesser extent science. No Shakespeares, Tolstoys, Newtons, Einsteins or other very top level people, however. And nothing in music or math.

        • I’m not an expert on the music end, but nothing in math? I gather you have never heard of Emmy Noether, but if so that reflects less on her ability and accomplishments than on your mathematical education.

          There were others with ability but a lot less opportunity too (Sophie Germain and Sofia Kovalevskaya come to mind; I particularly urge you to read about the crap they had to put up with to get anything done at all).

          • I have heard of Emmy Noether and probably should have mentioned her. But she isn’t in the top 20 for sure.

        • Yes, where were all those women geniuses among the ancient greeks and romans, among the great 17th century composers or 18th century philosophers. Oh wait. Women weren’t allowed to participate. If Mozart had been a woman, no one would have heard any of her compositions.

    • Um..Marilyn Vos Savant is so intelligent that they haven’t made an IQ test that can measure her intellect. And, look up Admiral Hooper.

      • Grace Hopper accomplished a lot, but nothing earthshaking, and left no kids, very unfortunately. Marilyn vos Savant is an advice columnist(her IQ is high but not incredibly) who has made several simple math mistakes in her answers, and also has no kids. Great genes gone to waste.

    • To those that are like minded to Andrew “There is no such thing as a woman genius. Never will be (until our species more seriously mutates). It’s just not in their make-up. That is so obvious.”

      For every one male Genius that has struggled to be known, and to immortalized in this word, there have been hundreds of genius women that have never met the light of day. Repressed, feared by early civilization ( ESPECIALLY the early stages of Christianity ) For no woman may at that time be schooled, no woman may be above a man or of higher education. Young girls were sold as young as eleven years old to bear children for the men that we revere as geniuses from this time period. Now this has mostly changed but still, women have only just recently ( 1972 ) been sociably except in the business world.

      I laughed oh so hard at the comment “Where are they now then?” Well if common sense could be used, lets put our thinking caps on shall we gents? Good job, now ponder this with me. There are lots of woman that are geniuses, yes non are in the top twenty of their field. Does that make men superior…. actually no you still can not scientifically peg a yes to that theory. It can and will most likely never be proven. The amount of interference woman in this society still face is staggering, it is overwhelming the gap between educational structures. Woman to this day are still brought up to revere makeup, be as fit as possible, worry about those children you need to have because once your to old you cant go back and change your mind.

      Now in male defense, a lot of average males have all these same peer pressures, however look at the few amazing female geniuses we have….the amount of struggle they had to endure, and the fact that most of them are childless ( maybe this is another attribution from society, males are taught at a young age that woman as a general rule should depend on them, not be the smarter partner, thus leading to self esteem issues and ultimately leaving the woman feeling as tho creature comforts such as have a family are not deserved ) It comes down to more interference, generally this society turns away woman looking to excel in these arts think about how many woman there may be that never voice their opinion ( maybe the next big genius of our society? ) because the fact is a life as singular as that… is daunting, even for a lot of males. If anything it just proves there are more males willing to sacrifice the comforts of a certain way of living, then there are females.

      In the end what does it really matter. Genetically woman live longer on average, are healthier on average and if you want to through around studies and statistics then bite on this. Genetically the popular though ( among both genders in the scientific field ) is that woman are genetically superior any way. They have the ability to pick and choose which X chromosome they which to use for certain cellular usage. On top of this women’s eggs can be genetically altered into sperm… now if anything happened and the male populace was drastically lowered woman could reproduce themselves without us. Now this is a whole new can of worms, the whole thing would be sketchy as it would significantly lower the gene pool in which the offspring can mutate, but you know what, life goes on.

      The TL DR of this is. There is no way for us to ever see which sex genetically is more apt to genius, social engineering from birth has hindered that, you cant conclude on this topic, neither side can win a race that has been tampered with since the beginning.

  6. I’m new to Charles Murray’s work, having read Coming Apart in November, which I thought was a brilliant book. I have not read The Bell Curve. If Charles Murray is following these comments, I’d like to ask him this question: What did he mean by the word “dysgenic” in the following quote from The Bell Curve? “The professional consensus is that the United States has experienced dysgenic pressures throughout either most of the century (the optimists) or all of the century (the pessimists). Women of all races and ethnic groups follow this pattern in similar fashion. There is some evidence that blacks and Latinos are experiencing even more severe dysgenic pressures than whites, which could lead to further divergence between whites and other groups in future generations.” This quote is posted on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s entry about Charles Murray, which labels him a “white nationalist.” I would like to know if Murray meant “dysgenic” as referring literally to biological defects/changes, or whether he meant it in its other (and primary) usage, as referring to individuals less well-adapted to handle the challenges and vicissitudes of life, which suggests social rather than biological factors.

    • Only guessing, but since the trend, according to ‘professional concensus’ is about century-long, it must be a social breakdown. Species with our lifespans do not experience maladaptive mutation in this timeframe, most certainly not refined by race or gender! Behavior in man trumps biology en masse. For example, man is not adapted to the cold, but by living cooperatively, early man was able to spread to Europe and Asia. Even over thousands of year, it has been culture rather than biology that gave or lost the avantage. Within that frame, gender roles were one innate way of dividing the work. The very opposite of central planning. :)

    • I first got my copy less than two years ago.

      In general terms, “dysgenics” refers to the fact that a myriad of factors (such as college attendance leading to smarter individuals having kids later than sooner) is tilting the relative birthrates of people with differing cognitive abilities in a way that decreases the national average score.

      As for the specific comment in the quote about blacks and latinos, it doesn’t seem to differ much from what many on the left agree is disadvantageous circumstances for those ethnic groups. Murray just happens to be intellectually honest enough to recognize how bad the consequences could be for those people. Herrnstein and Murray make some pretty good suggestions on how to make life easier for *everyone* regardless of cognitive ability in the final chapter.

      Regarding the SPLC, you might want to look into how controversial their status as a “watchdog” group is.

      If you have any other questions, let me know. Murray’s work is the kind of stuff that triggers all-nighters for me; it’s that fascinating.

  7. Shoot, I really need to make a list of the most popular quote-mines people make against you. There’s a wiki I’m starting soon with the help of some other fans of your work where such a list would be pretty helpful to have.

    When future intellectual historians look back on who helped end the dark age that currently defines the humanities, I suspect your name will be at the top.

  8. Interesting. The original idea but the defense is interesting. And I believe you. It seems to me much to do with publishing, ambition and a certain narcissism as well as opportunity, limited by motherhood etc. I will watch the average decent news program and be very uneasy at the unoriginal thought(s) forcefully articulated as universal truths, the Bergdahl discussion was stunning in this regard. The experts beam in the spotlight, lauded as leaders in the field, thunder from cliche to cliche. There might be many original thinkers among us who weren’t driven to publish or compete. In itself an original thought. If a tree falls….so maybe not.

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