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July 6, 2011

Vol. 111, No. 15

Changing social-bonding preferences

In response to: Limits, still

Published on July 6, 2011

PAW invited readers to offer their views on essays in the May 11 issue by historian ­Christine Stansell ’71 and Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux ’11, a co-winner of the Pyne Prize. The essays responded to a University report that analyzed why undergraduate women at Princeton are underrepresented in high-profile leadership positions and as recipients of major academic prizes. Following is a sampling of reader responses; expanded versions and additional comments can be found at PAW Online (paw.princeton.edu).

The anthropological research shows that most men in most circumstances prefer a social bond with another male over a social bond with a female. An accumulation of these decisions means that, for males, the male power structure provides many more advantages than can be obtained by a bond with a female (principally reproduction, and also assistance with life’s chores).  

Where the atmosphere improves for relations between men and women, and therefore for women’s status as a whole, is where there is significant group coherence, such that males feel that they are bonding with an entire social group or family composed of males and females. Translation for today: More cooperation and less competition will improve women’s chances for high status. By contrast, the more exaggerated the highs, the more males will assist other males in scaling them and leaving women behind.

The other important feature to cultivate is giving women during their adolescent years a place of their own. I arrived at Princeton in the fall of 1969 as a junior participant in the last Critical Languages group and was able to verify what many studies have shown — that, by and large, women who had come from a women’s high school or college had developed a stronger sense of social leadership. I agree that only when it is normal for males to consider the kind of career interruptions and redirections for family reasons that women already do will there be true equality between men and women.

Linda Carroll ’71
New Orleans, La.

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