- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

When James Tooley’s “The Miseducation of Women” was published last year in England, the Times of London observed that the book was “designed to create a stir” — and it did. A professor of education policy at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Mr. Tooley sparked debate by asking why schools treat boys and girls identically when they are clearly different, a practice he says is at odds with the real needs and desires of girls and young women.

Mr. Tooley’s book now has been published in America. The following are excerpts of an interview with the author.

Question: You speak of the Bridget Jones syndrome, a general dissatisfaction with the way women’s lives have turned out even though they have lived their feminist ideals. Have leading feminists recognized this syndrome?

Answer: In the book, I’m quite careful to distinguish between different sorts of feminists. There are some feminists who do recognize it, who recognize that there’s a problem with the way women are forced, or led, to behave — and so some, in a sense, are making it their own already. There are obviously women writers who are writing stuff that’s very supportive of the claims I’m making, and I mention a few of them in the book — Carolyn Graglia, Danielle Crittendon, Christina Hoff Summers — and there are others. So, a lot of women are recognizing this as an issue, and there is by no means uniformity among feminist voices. Some feminists would like us to think there is.

Q: You mention the attempt to abolish “occupational stereotyping,” the pressure to place women in traditional occupations — education, humanities, etc. When women are pressured into nontraditional occupations for women, such as mathematics or engineering, do they tend to remain in such positions?

A: What we see in Britain, which is obviously what I know more about, boys and girls are forced to be the same, right until they leave school at 16. There’s really very little choice of subjects, and boys and girls are forced to do the same things.

As soon as they’re allowed to make choices, you get boys and girls going the way traditionally you’d expect them to: the majority of boys into engineering and technical subjects, the majority of girls into traditionally called “softer subjects.” And that’s seen as a big problem by the Equal Opportunities Commission and other feminist lobbies.

To me, it does two things: First of all … it suggests it must be much more than simple social conditioning. The second thing it shows is the unfairness, the injustice, of trying to force men and women into ways in which they don’t want to go. Some of those women and men would be moving in ways they wouldn’t necessarily want to go, even though the majority are responding to stereotypes.

It seems very odd that schools should be used as vehicles of social control, and social engineering, to satisfy some quotas which derive from feminist equality, a feminist agenda of the 1970s, which has been shown so patently to be false.

Q: You write, “It is illegal for a career counselor to suggest, however gently, to a young woman that she may want to choose motherhood or family life.” It seems outrageous to suggest in, for example, a high school situation, that a girl choose motherhood. How do you suggest traditional alternatives to a professional career?

A: You are showing how all-pervasive these attitudes are. Motherhood is a glorious state to be in, a wonderful state. There’s nothing to undermine a person by stating she should be a mother or a housewife. The opposite is there all the time. Someone sits down and says, “Look, you really can be better than a hairdresser, you really can be better than a mother.” Those attitudes are so common. Why is the opposite attitude, why does it appear so sinister or frightening? I think we have all been brainwashed a bit to think that. It’s a fine condition, it’s a fine state to be in. Why wouldn’t we recommend it to girls who clearly want it?

Q: Whom did you write this book for?

A: First of all, the women who’ve written to me who are feeling forced in certain ways and want to hear an alternative argument. The young mothers, or the mothers who want to stay at home and just have [feminist author] Naomi Wolf’s “Misconceptions” to read instead of something else. Then [there are] the older women who feel their daughters are not valuing what they did, to perhaps support them.

Simply put in terms of the men, it’s for my brothers, really. I come from a family of four brothers and one sister, and I’d like all of them to read it. … What I’m trying to say is, go with what they feel, rather than what they think they should feel.

Q: Does a man have any credibility talking about this whatsoever?

A: I think we do. There’s a little section in the book on why a man should write it. We’re worried about the women we see who are behaving in this way and losing out. Yes, we can write about it, and we can talk about it.

Q: How has the backlash been? Have you received support?

A: As I indicated in the American introduction, when this was published in England, I had literally hundreds of letters in support. E-mails, letters, phone calls from all but one, or maybe two, from women. So, considerable support. It made me feel like I wrote exactly the right book. Women seemed to appreciate what I was saying, and supported me, so, yes, there’s been considerable support. [Theres been] universal condemnation from the press and the media. [laughs] The contrast could not be more clear.

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