Women to men: Neither better or worse

March 29, 1993|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Staff Writer

Over the past decade, social psychologist and writer Carol Tavris has questioned the prescriptions of pop-psych practitioners Shere Hite, Nancy Friday and other best-selling authors whose self-help books have encouraged women to feel like victims.

She has urged women to look to the reality of the roles and obligations that keep them feeling inadequate rather than merely looking inward to blame their faults or backward to blame their pasts.

Ms. Tavris will speak at noon tomorrow at the University of Maryland at Baltimore about her latest book, "The Mismeasure of Women: Why Women are Not the Better Sex, The Inferior Sex or the Opposite Sex." (The free, hourlong lecture will be held in Westminster Hall, 515 W. Fayette St. A book-signing will follow.) It's a study that attacks society's assumptions about the differences between men and women and questions the standards by which both sexes are judged.

To show how society automatically measures women against the stereotype of men, her book suggests a mythical shopping list of books for those men who are struggling to fit into "a woman's world":

* "The Male Manager" shows why the typically male habits of competitiveness and individualism prevent him from advancing in the female-dominated, cooperative corporate world.

* "Erratic Testosterone Syndrome (ETS) -- What It Is and How to Live With It" provides medical and psychological information to help men cope with their hormonal ups and downs. Because men do not have a visible monthly reminder of their hormonal changes, they fail to realize their moodiness and aggressive outbursts are hormonally based.

* "The Father Knot" explores the reasons men feel guilty about the way they are raising their children. Women feel comfortable, the book says, because they bear and nurse their offspring. For anatomical reasons, men are doomed to feel insecure and guilty in their role as fathers because unconsciously they never quite believe the child is theirs.

Ms. Tavris believes judging women superior to men can be just as absurd and damaging as judging them inferior. Her research challenges the widely held convictions that women are "naturally" better at relationships and more nurturing than men. Much of the behavior people exhibit -- as well as the language they use -- is linked to their jobs and their roles, not their gender, she says. It is a mistake to appreciate men for possessing such qualities as assertiveness or to praise women for their capacity for emotional intimacy.

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