I suppose I ought to be popping a champagne cork, or smugly murmuring "thought as much".
No doubt in hairdressers, tea-shops and bingo halls across the land women will be doing high-fives before slipping back into their stilletos and returning to their jobs as captains of industry and Napoleons on the economic front line. Because according to James Flynn, one of the world's IQ experts, women's intelligence has increased to a level equal, and in many cases higher, than men's.
Flynn is a moral philosopher whose real interest lies in the areas of free will and determinism. Some years ago he was drawn into analysing intelligence testing. By making the discovery that the IQ of western populations increases by three points every decade, he became the guru of this vexing subject. As a result, anything he says is news, hence recent excitement and headlines such as: "Women really are cleverer."
Such a conclusion is based on work in Argentina, New Zealand, Estonia and Australia. Apparently in the past century the IQ scores of both sexes have risen, but women's have risen faster. "One possible explanation," says Flynn, "is that women's lives have become more demanding as they multi-task between raising a family and doing a job. Another is that women have a slightly higher potential intelligence than men and are only now realising it."
You don't need to be exceptionally intelligent – ie a woman – to question this. Nor to see the potential such information has for threatening the wellbeing of millions. Personally, I've never been unduly scared of tests. From primary school age, I sailed into exams with varying degrees of success and downfall, equally cheerful on every occasion, as if the results were in the hands of fate, and no amount of application could possibly affect the outcome. Maybe I had cast-iron self-confidence. More likely, I recognised at some primitive level that these procedures were arbitrary, and often unfair, and there was no point worrying.
And I was right. By their very nature, tests are innately, irrefutably flawed. Some people respond well to formal assessment and others – the more original or anxious or literal-minded – do not. Added to which, the kind of intelligence Flynn seems to be discussing is mechanical, the result of synapses sparking more swiftly thanks to our quicksilver world, but not necessarily indicating profounder levels of thought.
Yet even if somebody proved to me that these results were scientifically accurate, I'd still be sceptical. For generations schoolboys did better in IQ tests and exams than girls, largely because the education system was geared to their way of seeing the world. We were thus led to believe they were the brighter sex. Now, perhaps, the pendulum has swung the opposite way. And while in theory it's good that women have made up lost ground and shown they are not innately more stupid, is it not possible these new female-friendly results are every bit as biased as those from the days before we got the vote?
It seems to me impossible to measure intelligence or ability accurately through a series of questions, be they written or verbal. Even if emotional intelligence is assessed as well as intellectual, tests are artificial devices that reduce the enormous capabilities and quixotic strengths of a human being into something stolid and one-dimensional that can be read by a computer. It's as if the mind and spirit were no more complicated than a grocery list or a bank statement.
Of course the deeper question is, why do we need to assess IQ? Even if the results could be trusted, does it matter if women are proven to be more or less smart than men? More disturbingly, what would we do if it was suddenly discovered that one sex had a vastly higher intelligence?
After all, look at the trouble the world has suffered during those millennia when it was presumed men were superior, as decreed by God, who kindly allowed a spare rib to become a man's subservient gofer. Today it's surely more civilised to presume equality, and organise society around that belief, rather than chip away at the capabilities of one gender or the other, like removing bricks from a wall. I certainly wouldn't want to be there when it crumbled.
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