Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Gender ( 4th ed. ). JACQUELYN W.WHITE ( ED .). New York : McGraw Hill , 2008 . 416 pp., $32.50 (paperback) ISBN: 9780073515298 .
This reader on issues related to gender aims to stimulate students’ critical thinking. It is intended for use in conjunction with textbooks on the Psychology of Gender or Women. The editor identifies six topics that are subdivided into 20 issues. Each issue (with a short introduction and a postscript by the editor) is presented with a closed-ended question that is addressed by articles with opposing viewpoints. This format results in a total of 40 short, previously published articles, many of which were authored by well-known scholars. The contributors come from a wide variety of fields, including anthropology, biology, communications, gender studies, law, political science, psychology, religion, social work, and sociology. Given this organizational backdrop, it should come as no surprise that the 40 selections are uneven in quality of scholarship, readability, and required background knowledge.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to such an eclectic selection of articles. An obvious advantage is the sheer breadth of disciplines covered and the multitudes of approaches that are represented. On the down side, the range of disciplines means that some selections are likely difficult for psychology undergraduates (e.g., Campbell's article on “X and Y: It's a Jungle Out There” or Mandel and Semyonov's article on state interventions regarding women's employment). It is not as simple as claiming that some articles were too technical. Instead, to critically evaluate the quality of a study (or article), one needs to have some background knowledge of the field. To foster students’ understanding and analysis of each selection, instructors should provide students with an appropriate backdrop, which may be challenging for some selections, especially those from outside psychology (e.g., the anthropological articles on genital mutilation).
The six broad topics covered in the book are clearly relevant and timely (e.g., whether women and men are more similar than different and whether the underrepresentation of women in the sciences is biologically based). Most selections are grounded in accepted scientific methods. Unfortunately, a few selections used poor methodology and had not originally been published in the peer-reviewed literature (e.g., the pro and con articles regarding whether pornography reduces the incidence of rape). A few selections were quite polemic (e.g., some selections dealing with gay/lesbian issues). However, a good instructor could help students deconstruct these articles and their authors’ underlying value systems. Sometimes the pro/con organization is somewhat forced (e.g., the article on polyamorous women, which does not really argue that women are free from traditional gender constraints).
I found it disconcerting that many selections were presented without references. To evaluate a statement's accuracy and trustworthiness (e.g., that abstinence-only sex education reduces sexual behavior in teens), one needs to know who conducted the study and where it was published. It is a shortcoming when a reader that is intended to sharpen students’ critical thinking skills does not employ such a standard practice in science. Finally, this book was marred by typographical errors and fragmented sentences (probably the result of editing selections for brevity). Poor proofreading also resulted in statements such as “women utter 200,000 words to men's 7,000 per day” (p. 96), which, if taken at face value by students, could result in misunderstanding gender differences in verbal abilities and communication. Despite these shortcomings, this reader is likely to widen students’ grasp of issues related to gender beyond the psychological perspective and thus can be a useful supplement to the typical psychology textbook on gender.