Virginia Valian uses concepts and data from psychology, sociology, economics, and biology to explain the disparity in the professional advancement of men and women.
Social psychologist Valian thinks that the Western world has gotten gender all wrong. "As social beings we tend to perceive the genders as alternatives to each other, as occupying opposite and contrasting ends of a continuum," she writes, "even though the sexes are not opposite but are much more alike than they are different." Indeed, despite nearly three decades of feminism, "gender schema"the assumption that masculine and feminine characteristics determine personality and abilitycontinue to influence the expectations and thinking of most Americans. Just about everyone, Valian writes, assumes that men are independent, task-oriented and assertive, while women are tagged as expressive and nurturing. As such, women lag behind in many professions and continue to do the lion's share of housework and child-rearing. Girls remain less attentive in math and science, while even women who attend medical school tend to steer themselves into "gender appropriate" slots such as family practice or pediatrics. Valian bases her findings on research conducted by social scientists in fields as disparate as psychology, education, sociology and economics, and the result is a work that is both scholarly and anecdotally rich. But it also posits concrete suggestions for changing the way we view the sexes, from stepped-up affirmative action programs, to timetables for rectifying gender-based valuations. Accessible and lively, Why So Slow? is a breakthrough in the discourse on gender and has great potential to move the women's movement to a new, more productive phase. (Jan.)