Measuring Intellect: Should Women Have Their Own IQ Test?
Leadership battle in Mensa hinges on issue of whether character qualities should count.
LONDON — Mensa - the society for exceedingly brainy people - needs to accept that women's intelligence should be measured in different ways from men's.
That, anyway, is the view of Julie Baxter, first chairwoman of the British branch of Mensa - until last month when a male-dominated governing board gladly accepted her resignation.
As well as causing a rift in British Mensa, Mrs. Baxter is raising challenging questions about how to gauge brainpower.
As things now stand, to qualify for Mensa membership applicants must have an IQ (intelligence quotient) of 148 or higher, as measured by a series of tests.
Baxter, who tips the Mensa scale at 154, is unhappy with intelligence being measured only by the ability to solve complex puzzles or do difficult sums in your head. In these, she says, men tend to score higher than women.
So after her resignation she announced plans to found a rival organization, to be called Atticus, after the hero of the novel "To Kill a Mockingbird." The group, Baxter says, would take account of "the special qualities of the female intellect," including what is known as "emotional intelligence."
Her belief that there is such a thing as emotional intelligence and that women are likely to have more of it than men have, comes close to heresy for males currently filling high posts in British Mensa.
But Baxter claims leading psychologists, including America's Daniel Goleman, support her belief that "women tend to be stronger than men in the emotional sphere," and this should be taken into account in measuring brainpower.
Mr. Goleman's book "Working with Emotional Intelligence" argues that IQ alone is a poor indicator. He defines emotional intelligence as "the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships."
Baxter has little good to say about British Mensa's current management, claiming it is "run by male control freaks." Within the space of 12 weeks she was first fired by the executive board, then reinstated after a rank-and-file membership vote. Later, the board reaffirmed its lack of confidence in her, at which point Baxter resigned.
In a nod to the equality of the sexes, the directors agreed on a compromise replacement - Judy Hewitt, a building surveyor from Northern Ireland.
Mensa was formed in 1946 by Englishmen Roland Berrill and Lancelot Ware. Their idea was to collect the smartest 2 percent of the population and establish an "aristocracy of the intellect."
Since then Mensa (from the Latin word meaning table) has spread to some 100 countries with more than 100,000 members worldwide.
At one level, the British dispute can perhaps be seen as mainly a clash of personalities, with gender playing a key part. Baxter claims that Mensa's male members found her "too pushy for a woman."
But the uproar seems to be part of a deeper concern within the organization. Inventor Sir Clive Sinclair, another former chairman, shares Baxter's view that Mensa has been too concerned with "puzzles and games."
In the United States, where membership is running at about 40,000, Mensans appear to have a more flexible approach to intelligence. Sally Banko, a delegate from Pennsylvania to a Mensa conference in Britain earlier this year, is a member of the Hell's Mensans.
"It's not a question of being the elite," she says. "It's that you know the person you meet is smart. You don't have to waste time discovering that they can't rub two syllables together."
It seems unlikely that the argument about male versus female intelligence will be speedily resolved. Baxter says that after her "bad experience" with Mensa she will work hard to promote the idea that intelligence is "multifaceted" and that in measuring it "dull misogyny has no place."
She lists initiative, trustworthiness, self-confidence, and adaptability as human qualities that ought to be measured when deciding whether somebody - male or female - is disappointingly dim or outstandingly clever.
THINKING CAPS ON: SAMPLE A MENSA TEST
r Want to test your reasoning skills? The following questions are from a Mensa Workout on the group's international Web site.
1. Sally likes 225 but not 224; she likes 900 but not 800; she likes 144 but not 145. Which does Sally like? 1600, 1700
2. Pear is to apple as potato is to:
banana, radish, strawberry, peach, lettuce
3. Continue the following number series:
1, 10, 3, 9, 5, 8, 7, 7, 9, 6...
4. Which of the following words doesn't belong:
canopy, stun, defend, stupid, damp
The full Workout can be found at: www.mensa.org/
American Mensa's first ever National Testing Day is Nov. 14. For test sites: www.us.mensa.org./
Answers: 1. 1600: Sally likes perfect squares.
2. Radish: Both grow below ground. 3. 11, 5: Alternating numbers go up by two and down by one. 4. Damp. All the other words contain 3 letters in alphabetical order.