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Mismeasure of Woman: Why Women Are Not the Better Sex, the Inferior Sex, or the Opposite Sex

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When "man is the measure of all things," woman is forever trying to measure up. In this enlightening book, Carol Tavris unmasks the widespread but invisible custom -- pervasive in the social sciences, medicine, law, and history -- of treating men as the normal standard, women as abnormal. Tavris expands our vision of normalcy by illuminating the similarities between women and men and showing that the real differences lie not in gender, but in power, resources, and life experiences.
Winner of the American Association for Applied and Preventive Psychology's Distinguished Media Contribution Award

400 pages, Paperback

First published March 27, 1992

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About the author

Carol Tavris

57 books175 followers
Carol Tavris earned her Ph.D. in the interdisciplinary program in social psychology at the University of Michigan, and ever since has sought to bring research from the many fields of psychology to the public. She is author of The Mismeasure of Woman, which won the Distinguished Media Contribution Award from the American Association from Applied and Preventive Psychology, and the Heritage Publications Award from Division 35 of the APA. Dr. Tavris is also the author of Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion and coauthor with Carole Wade of Invitation to Psychology; Psychology in Perspective; Critical and Creative Thinking: The case of love and war; and The Longest War: Sex Differences in Perspective. She has written on psychological topics for many different magazines, journals, edited books, and newspapers, notably the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. She has given keynote addresses and workshops on, among other topics, critical thinking, pseudoscience in psychology, anger, gender, and psychology and the media. She has taught in the psychology department at UCLA and at the Human Relations Center of the New School for Social Research in New York. Dr. Tavris is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and a charter Fellow of the American Psychological Society; and, for fun, a Fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. When she isn't writing or lecturing, she can be found walking the trails of the Santa Monica mountains with her border collie, Sophie.

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5 stars
162 (38%)
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156 (37%)
3 stars
76 (18%)
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15 (3%)
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11 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews
Profile Image for Lindsay.
106 reviews30 followers
October 5, 2008
This book is a critique of two popular fallacies about men and women: gender essentialism (the idea that all men and all women resemble their own sex and differ from the other sex in the same ways) and universalizing maleness (using the average man as a stand-in for the average person). She mostly tackles essentialism in popular culture and psychology, particularly by looking critically at the studies cited as proof of gender stereotypes (say, that women are more empathic) and identifying factors those studies neglected to consider, and comparing them to studies that did factor those things in; usually, the gender gap narrows to insignificance in the more rigorous studies. Universalizing of maleness, on the other hand, is more often seen in medicine (where doctors learn anatomy and surgery from male bodies, and test medications and study disease primarily in men, with female physiology considered as an afterthought, if at all) and law (where one's actions often have to pass a "reasonable-man" test, which obscures the fact that a reasonable woman will often not make the same choices that would be reasonable for a man, especially when it comes to self-defense). Also noteworthy is her take on PMS, which she largely does not believe exists.

Very informative, and a great resource for gender-difference myths and facts. (Tavris does *NOT* believe men and women are the same; she merely believes that what differences do exist are small and fairly specialized, and that the variation within each sex is many times wider than that between the sexes).

The only caveat I have about it is that it was written in 1992, so there is probably a lot of gender-related research (both legitimate and in need of debunking) from recent years that will not be addressed here. Which is too bad, since I would love to see what Tavris thinks of Simon Baron-Cohen's hypothesis that autism is an extreme version of the normal, "male" brain.
Profile Image for Emily.
514 reviews14 followers
September 22, 2012
This book is the wiser and more knowledgeable sister of The Beauty Myth. Some material is, thankfully, out of date, thanks to 20 years of progress in queer advocacy. But Tavris's discussion of legal equality vs. legal sameness, and of the medicalization of women's hormonal cycle (and the failure to medicalize the far more hazardous mood swings of men!) is still on point.

On hysterectomy for a 'precancerous' diagnosis: "Although prostate cancer is far more common than uterine cancer, no one recommends preventative surgery on the prostate. The very idea would make most men premurderous."
Profile Image for Sally.
1,477 reviews51 followers
July 7, 2008
Examines critically basic assumptions and "conventional wisdom" underlying the stories modern culture tells about women, and that women tell about themselves, whether dealing with their relation to men, health and psychological issues, social roles, sex, body image, etc. It points out that presenting women as opposite to men, better or worse than men, or the same as men, all involve evaluating women against the cultural norm of the universal male instead of taking women as they are in themselves. A social psychologist, the author promotes social and cultural change as a means to solve women's problems, instead of seeing such problems as stemming from inadequacies or pathologies of individual women.
Profile Image for Belenen.
7 reviews5 followers
June 24, 2013
Written by a psychologist, The Mismeasure of Woman explores studies on 'gender', focusing on the psychological and social aspects, with a basic section on the brain studies. It took me a while to work through because it's a dense read -- there are so many studies and articles mentioned that the bibliography is 42 pages long. It's quite the emotional rollercoaster! It's infuriating and depressing to realize how much science and society have lied about and mistreated women (and men, though not in the same way); it's exciting and empowering to realize that there is so much human potential that has been ignored or repressed; and it's laugh-out-loud funny in parts thanks to the dry, sometimes sarcastic tone of the author. Despite the fact-dump, it's interesting and entertaining. Also, the author speaks in a genuinely equalist tone; ze doesn't drift into ridiculous "men are the REAL victims here" bullshit but neither does ze ignore the fact that these stereotypes are damaging to men also. Ze challenges both sexes not only to step out of their own roles but to challenge their own ideals and help others step out of those roles.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
16 reviews2 followers
March 16, 2008
I am not an extreme feminist or anything... but I recommend this book for every woman! I took a psyc. of women class and this book summed it all up. It really makes you think about the issues of being a woman in todays society.
Profile Image for Naomi.
95 reviews1 follower
November 11, 2011
This was a good read - it brought to light a lot of biased ways of thinking about differences between the sexes (and lack thereof) that I may not have noticed previously without being strictly pro-women/anti-man. I thought it was very balanced and also well-written in general.
Profile Image for Lawrence Bish.
22 reviews4 followers
March 23, 2013
This book was one of many that have opened my eyes to hidden flaws in my own and the general perceptions of our world, our behaviors, our beliefs and our social practices. A significant and wonderful contribution towards correcting some of the more ignorant problems of western society.
5 reviews
February 26, 2010
Absolutely fantastic. The best, most complete, and most helpful book on gender I've ever read. Tavris' ideas deal mostly with the cage our culture imposes by evaluating women to male standards and demanding they adhere to female standards simultaneously. What she does that so many other feminist authors fail to do, though, is offer coherent solutions.

Tavris is a psychologist, and does a very good job of backing up her claims with research. Much of it is dated, though, so as always I suggest looking further into things for yourself. I found most of her assertions held up very well to more up-to-date findings, and those that were incorrect were simply due to inadequate research available at the time (her denial of the g-spot and female ejaculation has since been proven wrong). She is also very fair to men, and maintains that both genders suffer from their culturally-imposed roles.

Most importantly, she points out the error in much feminist (and other) thought about gender: the tendency to polarize things such as nature vs. nurture, equality vs. separate spheres, good vs. bad characteristics of masculine vs. feminine behavior. Her main idea is that we should focus on achieving equality in our results, not just our laws and policies. Treating men and women equally is the ideal, but it ignores the cultural barriers placed on women's achievement and personal growth - and in most cases, women are blamed for this because they fail to act like men and assert themselves in the workplace, demand equal share of housework and childrearing, etc.

Not only that, but there are some things that simply do not have a proper male/female analogy: how do we treat maternity leave in a way that is "fair" when there is no comparable male experience? Is it fair to think of pregnancy as a disability? Tavris deals with these and other problems with such awareness and intelligence that her ideas continue to prove true almost twenty years after the book was written.
Profile Image for Missy.
196 reviews
May 17, 2019
Tavris does an excellent job exploring how everything from PMS to Victimization continues to let men off of the hook and allows us, as a society, to avoid having the tough conversations about what would actually help women have the same standing as men. The scariest thing: this book was written in 1991 and dang if not much has changed!! In her discussion about Victimization she even mentions "me too." Of course, this was WELL before the current meaning of that phrase...and yet nothing has changed. Required reading for those who label themselves as feminists. Also required reading for those who want to understand more about feminism. Tavris's approach is well-argued, rational, and with supporting evidence.
1,211 reviews19 followers
May 27, 2009
Stephen Jay Gould noted with delight that the title of this book was borrowed from his own The Mismeasure of Man. The main issue here (as I read it), is that the 'average human' is not a '60 kilogram man', and medical studies that assume so are bound to be misleading--often fatally so. As John Glenn objects to being an 'n of 1' in his research project comparing the effects of aging with the effects of weightlessness, one main goal of this book is to have more studies done on women, or (better yet) on both men and women, of varying sizes, shapes, etc. The median is not (and must not be) the message.
Profile Image for Anne.
9 reviews
March 5, 2009
A dense read, but many fascinating hypothoses. Her basic premise of is that men and women are more alike than different, which current theory in science, (biological, sociologcical, sexually, in communication) has men and women on polar opposites in most areas. And she posits that this hypothesis holds true in most of the animal kingdom below humans. Sort of a plea to us to not judge the opposite sex so stringently.
Profile Image for Darnell.
1,070 reviews
August 9, 2013
This is an excellent overview of the subject despite the dated studies, as all but a few are still valid and relevant. The critique of common methodologies and several key experiments gives grounds to ignore 90% of gender-related headlines out of hand, which in my opinion is worth the cover price alone.
Profile Image for Cat..
1,779 reviews
November 28, 2013
Giving up. Too deep (hah), and I feel like I'm living my early thirties all over again. Which is not a good thing in my case. Don't like the cover either.

I would recommend it for research. It has some gems of information in there in the Nature v. Nurture argument. But I'm just not up for this right now.
Profile Image for Chris Loves to Read.
717 reviews11 followers
March 31, 2013
'Equality as acceptance means that instead of regarding cultural and reproductive differences as problems to be eliminated, we would aim to eliminate the unequal consequences that follow from them.' AWESOME book and met Carol at TAM8, super nice!
Profile Image for Karen-Leigh.
2,111 reviews16 followers
February 8, 2018
When a man is the measure of all things...women are always trying to measure up. The custom of treating man as the normal standard, woman as abnormal. The real differences lie not in gender , but in power, resources and life experiences.
482 reviews
November 2, 2008
A disapointment. I'd hoped it was going to answer some questions about what women/men simmilarities. Instead it answered questions about the politics of who is labled with what qualities.
25 reviews
May 13, 2009
Common knowledge is usually an oxymoron. Seek the unbiased, documented information.
Profile Image for Lady V..
75 reviews
June 26, 2021
There's nothing more common than an old feminist text and gross amounts of cissexism (among other things). But if we put that aside, this is a great breakdown of the often spurious, unscientific, and quite frankly bizzare theories scientiest and the general population conjure up to explain women's "woes" when better (and arguably more importantly, actually scientifically-backed) theories would make more sense. She goes to great lengths to expose how privileging a particular point of view is harmful, regardless if it centers men or women*. But even when it centers women, patriarchal constructs would transform it to be ultimately harmful to women regardless. My only other real critique is that she is both herself guilty of, and did not advocate strongly enough for hesitance, for slowness that is absolutely *vital* for the scientific method. The way we do science must be tempered by our own ignorance, and that is rarely done, especially when there are other forces at play than a search for answers (and there always are). The author herself is guilty of this, and is part of the reason it reads like a lot of other dated feminist works.
Profile Image for Emily.
648 reviews
March 21, 2023
God, the 90s were a different time. I picked this up because I thought it would be an amusing follow-up to The Mismeasure of Man (they have nothing to do with each other, although Stephen Jay Gould gave it a shout-out in his introduction).

It is chiefly interesting as a historical document; it's an excellent example of the limitations of second-wave feminism. Much of what Tavris argues is correct and, alas, much of it is still all-too-relevant. But it's wild how narrow the scope is. When Tavris talks about women she is talking about cis, straight, white, mostly middle-class American women. There are only a handful of references to race, sexuality, and class.

I enjoyed Tavris' breezy writing style and she made some interesting points, but without any awareness of intersectionality this book isn't ultimately very useful today.
Profile Image for Fraser Sherman.
Author 10 books27 followers
September 13, 2018
Tavris looks at the history and effects of seeing men as the default setting for "normal human" and women as "different." She covers arguments about innate male superiority (constantly shifting reasons always leading to the same conclusion), female superiority, different mating strategies, PMS, psychological and medical studies and handwaving issues of class, power and race.
Tavris doesn't claim the two sexes are identical, but argues persuasively (admittedly I'm biased) it's more about life experiences than anything innate and fixed. For a 1992 book, this dates less than might be expected: sociobiological explanations for gender differences have gone in the dustbin, but evolutionary psychology fills exactly the same slot. A very good job.
14 reviews
December 11, 2019
i'm a MUSLIM , i'd like to give you an example from the HOLY QURAN as to FEMALE & MALE :

لحجرات - الآية 13يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ

(13) O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted .

we believe as of this , female and male are the same .
Profile Image for Maggie.
51 reviews
May 14, 2023
Thought provoking and equally critical of many extreme movements. Analyzed the many ways in which society views men as the standard and women as deviant. Focuses on tendency to polarize the two genders as binary opposites when there is actually more variation within the genders than between in many areas. Also pointed out the legitimate differences of experiences between men and women. Lesson in balancing context and story of situation in order to manage your own situation.
Profile Image for Lisa.
270 reviews15 followers
December 7, 2021
Good read. I particularly liked the 2nd to last chapter - but overall, some great insights regarding communication differences between the sexes. A fascinating table titled Do Men and Women Differ with subheadings:Where the differences are and Where the differences aren't yielded some interesting insights.
Probably a bit out of date - published just under 30 years ago
Profile Image for Daniel Schulte.
309 reviews2 followers
February 19, 2022
This was a really long book for me. Not that the book itself was really long, but the subject matter was just difficult to wade through sometimes. There were some interesting ideas here, such as women being compared to "male" standards in most areas of life, but men are compared to "female" standards in relationships.
Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews

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