[Note: This post was made to the Objectivist Club Leaders (OCL) e-mail list on
August 7, 1999.]
Pardon a very, very long post. But the subject is of central importance to the growth
of Objectivist clubs, which is what you're here to discuss. (Besides, I've been a silent
bystander for months!)
Those lamenting the lack of women attending club events apparently are just beginning
to recognize an issue that has plagued the growth of the Objectivist community from its
beginnings. For decades, the Objectivist movement has remained largely a boy's club.
That's because we've unnecessarily been putting obstacles in the path of participation of
half the potential audience for our ideas.
I believe the roots of the problem lie in our failing to appreciate
- differing cognitive styles that are typically (though not exclusively) preferred by the
two sexes, respectively;
- the constellations of values that are typically associated with these differing ways of
processing information; and
- the fact that Objectivists overwhelmingly embody, and communicate by means of, a
cognitive style alien to that preferred by most women.
In saying this, I'm well aware that my words will be chewed up and spit out by those
who believe that there is, or should be, only one "rational" style of thought
and communication of ideas -- and by those exceptional women who don't fit the
demographic profile I describe below. As for the former, they are welcome to remain wedded
to their notions, and thus to groups which fail to attract women. As for the latter, the
fact that they are so exceptional proves the rule.
Books could (and should) be written in support of my claims below, providing the
"social proof," with citations to all the relevant psychological and
sociological literature. But this is an email message, and a ponderously long enough one
at that; so let me just summarize where my own reading and observations have brought me:
- As Rand pointed out, there are profound psycho-epistemological differences between
thinking and non-thinking people. But there also tend to be great differences among
thinking people in their respective cognitive styles -- i. e., in how they
process information. The differences among thinking people tend to relate to relative
preferences for one of two cognitive methods: a largely
deductive/analytical/"thinking in principles"/sometimes even
"rationalistic" cognitive style -- versus a more
inductive/synthetic/exploratory/"creative"/or "empirical" style of
information processing and learning. (For support of this division, see for example the
works of British psychologist Liam Hudson, such as Contrary Imaginations and Frames
- The "analytical" or deductive mindset likes to process information in terms of
conceptual hierarchies, and to break down a "big picture" logically, into its
components. The "synthetic" mindset prefers by contrast to look at scattered
perceptual elements, and from these concretes attempt "holistically" to
construct or find a "big picture."
- For that reason, analysts tend to think and learn in terms of abstract, hierarchical
systems (including concepts and theoretical principles), while synthesists prefer to
think and learn in terms of stories (including analogies and metaphors).
- These cognitive preferences tend to dovetail with certain distinct constellations of
values. Analysis allows one to differentiate himself from the world, and things from each
other, in order to achieve mental control over the world. Synthesis, by contrast,
allows one to experience his personal relationship to the world. This implies
that people whose highest value-priority is mental order and control tend to go
the analytical route, while those who seek enriching or novel experiences tend to
go the "synthetic" route.
- Men and women tend typically (though again, not exclusively) to differ measurably and
markedly in their preferred cognitive styles -- which conclusion is supported by medical
studies of the two sexes' respective left-brain/right-brain functioning. There is thus a biological,
not just cultural, basis for cognitive differences. Men tend to be much more analytical
and "detached," women far more "synthetic," "intuitive," and
"experiential" in their cognitive methods.
- Not surprisingly, then, men and women tend to have very different constellations of
values. The tendency toward biologically-rooted differences in cognitive methods leads to
biologically-rooted biases toward certain values. In short, the "Mars-Venus"
differences are very real, and very important. Some examples:
- Men tend to be more focused in single directions, women more exploratory. Men, for
example, tend to be more aggressively career-focused and -driven, with relationships
taking a back seat; women, the reverse. Men tend to be less altruistic, more aggressive,
more interested in financial success, more fascinated by technology, less interested in
spirituality, than are women. (See below.)
- Bright men tend to be disproportionately attracted to such fields as math, the
"hard sciences," law, engineering, and other professions in which basic
principles and concepts are applied deductively to concrete situations. Bright women tend
to be attracted disproportionately to the arts (including the performing arts), social
sciences, to jobs stressing interaction with people rather than with concepts or things,
and generally to situations in which their involvement allows an enriching participatory
or social experience. (See Hudson.)
- Men tend to communicate "one thing at a time," and tend to approach
discussions of problems linearly, with the idea of zeroing in on "one right
answer." Women tend to express themselves less hierarchically, seeking more to
explore their feelings about a range of issues and options, and to seek interpersonal
understanding and emotional catharsis, rather than to find "one right answer."
- These differences also relate strongly to the "three cultures" phenomenon. A
major survey of American subcultures, reported in the Feb. 1997 American Demographics,
found the following:
- Among Enlightenment types (referred to as "Moderns" in the survey), men
outnumbered women 54 to 46 percent. Among anti-Enlightenment types (referred to,
interestingly, as "Cultural Creatives"), men were outnumbered by women 40 to 60
percent. This is a remarkable statistical difference in overall value preferences between
men and women. Or, as the article puts it: "In Cultural Creative circles, it's common
to meet women asking, 'Where are all the good men?' The answer is most men are
- The male-dominant Moderns ranked highest in orthodox religions and beliefs, while the
female-dominant Creatives ranked lowest -- by a 23% difference. However, as for "New
Age" beliefs, the Creatives were far and away more interested than the Moderns in
"spiritual psychology" (40 to 24%), agreed that "religious mysteries
exist" (53-25%), and "liked the foreign and the exotic (85-63%). (In short, the
statement by an OCL member that women seemed more attracted to "New Age" and
occult stuff is absolutely true. That's why the "Psychic Friends Hotline" ads on
TV feature only women, and why women are overwhelmingly the consumers of grocery-store
- 36% of the mostly-male Moderns said "success is a high priority," while only
12% of mostly-female Creatives did. On the flip side, 39% of Moderns said success was
unimportant, while a huge 70% of Creatives regarded it as unimportant.
- A whopping 76% of Creatives said that "relationships are important," while
only 49% of Moderns did.
- Moderns were most interested in material things (82%), while Creatives were least
interested (51%). Compared with Moderns, Creatives were more likely to uphold
"altruism" (58% -32%), to believe in "ecological sustainability"
(83-56%), general "green" values (83-59%), and "voluntary simplicity"
in their lifestyles (79-53%).
- None of this can be reduced to the simplistic notion that "women
are more emotional, and less rational, than men." That would be true only if reason
is equated solely with a purely conscious, largely deductive process, detached from one's
subconscious integrative mechanism. The chief difference of the sexes, cognitively
speaking, is that men tend to stress conscious logical analysis, sometimes to the point of
neglecting the invaluable input and integrations of the subconscious; while women tend to
stress their subconscious integrations ("intuitions"), sometimes to the point of
neglecting logical structure and consistency. This dichotomization of the mind is
the unfortunate source, in my opinion, of the tendencies toward rationalism and
empiricism. Similarly, there's no necessary dichotomy between seeking cognitive order and
control, and seeking enriching or novel emotional experience. What we need to grasp is
that just as the sexes complement each other in so many other ways, so too can their
characteristic mental methodologies.
- The bottom line is that sexually-based (or -influenced) differences in cognitive and
communications styles, and core personal values, have profound implications for those of
you who wish to run Objectivist clubs and events. Communicating Objectivist ideas and
values in a typical "male" fashion -- i.e., via "logical structure"
discussions, and abstract, largely deductive analysis seeking the "one right
answer" to a given question -- is a sure-fire way to guarantee that most women will
never return to your club meetings. (It even intimidates many men!)
If you decide that you want more women in attendance, then it is vitally important to
add to your program mix the kinds of values (social and experiential) and communication
methods (e. g., stories, personal participatory elements) that are part of the cultural
"comfort zone" of most women. That means adding films, arts excursions, fiction
discussions, poetry readings, self-help speakers, parties, dances, etc., to what you do.
If you don't want to do any of that, if you wish to remain in your own comfort
zone -- then resign yourselves to forever remaining a boy's club.
Remember: the best salesperson of the Objectivist philosophy was Ayn Rand; and her most
successful vehicles for conveying her message "holistically," to women as well
as men, were her stories -- not her non-fiction.
If you decide not to believe any of this, I offer two final pieces of concrete
While many of you are lamenting the fact that your events seem to deter female
participation, the IOS Summer Seminar (SS) continues steadily to increase the proportion
of women (and families) in attendance. It's no accident, in my opinion, that this upsurge
has occurred while we've been constantly adding to the SS more social events,
entertainment, an "arts track," self-help workshops, and the like.
Last, I've just gotten the participant tally for our week-long, IOS-sponsored trip to
Switzerland next month. This event, advertised as an overwhelmingly social activity where
members of the Objectivist community can simply have fun together in the Alps, has
attracted 25 participants. Thirteen of those participants, just over half, are women --
and about a half of those women are single and unaccompanied.
These events have been successful in doing what many groups haven't. Take the hint.
P. S. I do highly recommend you read John Gray's books on "Mars and Venus" --
though with a large dose of salt.