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Sunday, March 23, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Condescending tone weighs down irritating treatise on the gender gap

Special to The Seattle Times

"Mismatch: The Growing Gulf Between Women and Men"

by Andrew Hacker
Scribner, $25

Generally I'm not one to re-write famous aphorisms; but reading professor Andrew Hacker's latest book, "Mismatch: The Growing Gulf Between Men and Women," a statistical analysis of gender in America, made me realize that there are three kinds of boring: boring, really boring, and statistics. Lies would've been welcome in these pages.

Ten years ago, Hacker published "Two Nations," a statistical analysis of blacks and whites in America; five years ago it was "Money," a statistical analysis of the rich and poor in America. What's left after race and class? Exactly. There's money in that there gender gap.

Hacker's basic argument is that with the success of feminism, the traditional rationale for marriage has broken down.

It's not just that women no longer need a man's paycheck. In 2000, 57.2 percent of bachelor's degrees were awarded to women. Increasingly, men and women disagree on fundamental issues, from gun control to — let's be current — war. And, unlike men, women are rarely interested in less-educated mates. Which means they're having a harder time finding suitable mates, which means many are getting married later or not at all, or opting for single parenthood or divorce. Almost 40 percent of our children are living without their biological fathers.

Some of these stats are intriguing, but Hacker's subsequent analysis is couched in a gentlemanly feminism that reeks of condescension.

He searches for any way around a statistic that doesn't portray women in the best light, and makes sure that it does. And his discussion of double standards is woefully outdated and unimaginative — and includes his own double standards: e.g., women stave off aging to "forestall depreciation," while men do it out of vanity or "to attract a trophy second mate."

His naivete is monumental. Because standardized tests reward guessing and risk-taking, which suit men better, Hacker suggests allowing high-school students to take SATs home over the weekend. "We'll assume," he adds, "they will abide by an honor code, and not seek outside assistance. (Are we so cynical as to feel that this wouldn't work?)"

All together now: Yes!

How about this sentence? "In the past, husbands left their wives for chorus girls and manicurists, at least in the Hollywood depictions." At least in the Hollywood depictions? Are we basing history on old Hollywood movies now?

There's also a paragraph in the chapter "The Black Experience" that is one of the more racist things I've read in a recent publication. (Caveat: I've never read "The Bell Curve.")

Hacker ponders the popularity of basketball and concludes that white men are fascinated because they see "images of their primal selves: the men they once were or might have been, had not Caucasian evolution taken another track ... the players represent an aboriginal manhood not repressed by the constraints of modern life."

"Mismatch" is poorly constructed and repetitive, and the droning prose recalls the dullest lecture you ever attended. This is exemplified by Hacker's overuse of such phrases as "Needless to say ... " and "As hardly needs saying. ... " What follows is generally something so obvious that, yes, it really didn't need saying.

"F," professor. Don't resubmit.

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