Are Some Kinds of Feminism that Blind? — or: Many ‘Female’ Troubles Are Human Problems (Men can have them too)

One of the nice things of the Internet, especially blogs, is that you can “get to go into the private world of real creeps without having to smell them.” (to quote Penn Jillett). Recently, I read a blog entry by a hardcore feminist. She had written a very good entry on “50 Shades of Grey” (not that I would have read the book, but she gave me a few more good reasons to avoid it). But her other entries … holla.

I got the impression that her whole idea of feminism was very … backwards-oriented. A little like affirmative action for Blacks in “The West Wing”:

“So, why a racial preference and not an economical one?”
“Because affirmative action’s about a legacy of racial oppression.”
“It’s about compromising admission standards.”
“That’s bull… excuse me. It’s about leveling the playing field after 300 years of…”
“See, this is where the liberal argument goes off the rails: you get stuck in the past. Now, you want to come back with: Grading is based on past performance, but admission should be based on potential, on how a candidate may thrive with this sort of opportunity. And studies show that affirmative action admits have a higher predisposition to contribute to society.”
Mulready and Charlie in “The West Wing”

She wrote that in most places, women were second class for millennia, so women are disadvantaged as they lack historical figures to look up. She went so far as to include famous writers you could look up when you grow up. Men have Hemingway, Dickens, Shakespeare — whom do women have?

Aehm, Rowling? 😉

But seriously, if you are fixated on the gender of the authors — yes, more famous men than women made it, ignoring that:

  1. it was (and is) high-risk work that takes a lot of guts
  2. it is extremely hard work that demanded a lot of persistence and dealing with failures, and
  3. also a lot of men failed to make it and ended up in desolate circumstances (sometimes even if they made it).

But is the lack of female authors to look up to still the case? Rowling (or, e.g., Lindgren before her) wrote beautiful books — are these exceptions or do times change? I mean, there are female authors and today, women can even become famous with crap, as James showed with “50 shades” (if you are willing to misrepresent an entire community/lifestyle, but this is another topic).

I get the impression that for some people, gender is all they see and they see it everywhere. And I wonder whether they listen to anyone but themselves — hmm, how was it in “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress”:

[discussing the plan to achieve solidarity among the farmers to use a blockade as leverage for better working conditions]
“… suppose you managed it. Solidarity. So solid not a tonne of grain is delivered to catapult head. … What happens?”
“Why, they have to negotiate a fair price, that’s what!”
“My dear, you and your comrades listen to each other too much. Authority would call it rebellion and warship would orbit with bombs … .”
“The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” by Robert A. Heinlein

But perhaps (likely) there is an influence of gender. It’s like the fundamental attribution error — the situation is usually neglected because it is so pervasive. But is it really this strong?

Hmmm, and I wonder how often it is used as an excuse. Like the person who claims to be gifted, but neither does something great nor gets tested, because s/he claims ‘I also have ADHS and this prevents me from realizing my potential.” Convenient. Or to quote another movie, “Addams Family Values” captured it beautifully:

[The children in a summer camp are just starting their life-saver swim course]
“I’ll be the victim.”
“All your life.”
Amanda and Wednesday in “Addams Family Values” (1993)

I think the playing field changes and I am concerned that with this kind of attitude the changes are neither noticed nor used. In many cases, the question is not a question of male or female (BTW, what’s with homosexuals and transgendered people?), it’s a question of having a level playing field independent of gender.

Take for example the question of family — or to put it differently, who raises the kids? There are men who are willing to stay at home — can they profit from services aimed to support women? I think that it is very hard to do a career if you also spend time raising your family. It’s hard to beat the competition, and skills and performance should count. Using subtracting years for children is a way to deal with it — the person who stays home gets the deduction, independent of the gender. And there should be positions for people who do not want to get to the top but combine having a family and having a good job (BTW, single dads anyone?). Still, the price for a career is usually that your children don’t know you that well. It’s just a matter of priorities and effort needed.

I think the worst proposed ‘solution’ for more equality/diversity so far is a quota for women. Seriously, is this the sick joke of an ‘old boy’s club’?

  1. It does not solve the question of skilled employees who are qualified for the position and want it. Might not be a problem in some disciplines (e.g., psychology, pedagogy), but is in others (e.g., computer science, physics).
  2. If it works it leads to discord, because past injustice is used to justify injustice in the present/future.
  3. It does not address the problem of a parent-friendly workplace when a child arrives.
  4. And worst of all, it puts a question mark on the skills of every woman who made it fairly.

Seriously, if I wanted to turn the clock back, introducing a quota is the way I would do it. Muddles up the playing field and puts every woman in question.

I think the second worst ‘solution’ is offering courses specifically for women. If it would really change something I would be concerned — it would make the playing field uneven. But does it address the real problems? For example, that most women decide to stay at home (at least for a while) when they have children. Or that (too) many organizations — despite claiming to be child-friendly — are in reality opposed to their employees having children (beyond having the necessary poster child to claim they are family friendly). Or that it’s easy to drop out of work, if telecommuting is not supported and people deciding on ‘family friendly’ solutions have not reared children themselves (there are examples of uncomplicated and well though-out solutions for employees who are parents, but I’m not talking about them here).

Even worse is the world view of some of the courses. I recently saw an ad (made by a woman) for courses for women, to help them learn how to compete in the workplace. The ad described the problem that ‘women are not recognized as women in the workplace’ and gave examples like men stealing women’s ideas in discussions and presenting them as their own. It gave some tips, but the stated conclusion at the end of the ad was to ‘act like a man’ to be able to compete in a ‘masculine domain’.

Really?

I think that “idea stealing” has a long history in the workplace and is not specifically related to the gender, but more to attributes like introversion and lacking a ready wit. A workplace where these behaviors go without punishment, because the boss is the greatest thief or disinterested, doesn’t help either. I (dimly) remember a book on presentation techniques that argued that especially engineers were often too scared (or too timid) to present their ideas, which prevented them from becoming associated with and thus rewarded for their ideas. Instead, the more extroverted guy from another department or the supervisor did the presentation — and got all the credit. And the same thing happens in discussions. It’s not a problem that all men steal ideas from all women, it’s a problem that some people steal from other people, independent of gender.

The sad thing is that the solutions — standing up for oneself, training to have a ready wit (which you can learn) — would work. But seeing gender as the underlying problem biases the view. And it does not help. In reality, …

  1. minorities (which — depending on the group/organization — can include any gender, but also ethnicity and other salient attributes) are noticed more extremely — their failures and their successes seem larger,
  2. many men have the same problem (cf. the engineers in the example above, which at the time were mostly male), and
  3. the overlap between genders is larger than the differences in most cases.

I mean, this view would not only provide good sparring partners, but would also be a strong message that it’s not gender (which you cannot change … that easily) that holds you back. It’s behavior — and you can change behavior (easier than gender, anyway).

But this requires putting down the self-righteousness of being a victim, of getting something for past injustice, and claiming responsibility for ones behavior — and I fear that not everyone wants to do it. It’s simply easier to bemoan something you cannot change, demand your share based on your gender, and be angry at the world. And fighting general ‘injustice’ is such a turn-on.

Especially if you can easily imagine winning by it. After all, if you are a minority and you get a quota protecting your minority, why shouldn’t you win? Perhaps because while you are a minority (at the moment), you are not the only person who qualifies. You have the same situation the current majority has: You have to fight for your own career against other minority members, only with the disadvantage that no matter how well you advance compared to your minority competition, other non-minority members will attribute at least part of your position to your minority status. It might get people into a position, but it is a Pyrrhic victory. It does not change anything in the long term.

I think taking action regarding your career independent of quotas gets you farther. I like Roseanne Barr’s quote in this regard (although likely out of context):

“The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power.
You just take it.”
Roseanne Barr

Feminism will not give women power, only themselves can give it to them. Or to use two nice quotes:

Take your life in your own hands, and what happens? A terrible thing: no one to blame.
Erica Jong

and

Up to a point a man’s life is shaped by environment, heredity, and movements and changes in the world about him. Then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes to be. Only the weak blame parents, their race, their times, lack of good fortune, or the quirks of fate. Everyone has it within his power to say, “This I am today; that I will be tomorrow.”
Louis L’Amour

I guess that a few feminist readers (of a particular brand of feminism), who made it up to this point, will probably be angry. I do not claim that sexism does not exist. It does, both ways. Yes, there are some male supervisors who never employ or promote women, while others only have women on their team. And there are some (female) HR managers who prefer women, because they claim women work more conscientiously, others prefer men (for other reasons). And there are countless other cases and ways of sexism. But I hope that these people are dying out. Hopefully it’s a little bit like what Max Planck said about scientific progress:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.
Max Planck

And we shouldn’t miss it or destroy it with half-baked ‘solutions’. I think that most problems — at least when it comes to gender at work (excepting work linked to sex, e.g., prostitution, sperm/egg donors, and the like), are not female problems, they are human problems.

And these human problems should be solved, because regardless of moral or ethics or justice or whatever ‘noble’ reason, it’s simply stupid to waste resources. We’ve long past the time of individual or even one-gender efforts. When we look at our world and our problems … stupid, stupid, stupid to waste resources due to antiquated ideology and stupid to tolerate unjust behavior, e.g., idea stealing, no matter who does it.

We should use everyone’s talents to the fullest and create a playing field where support is available for those who need it and performance matters. It think that most people — men and women — would agree to this (radical feminists would be the exception here, but who cares about them anyway).

So, why not work together, instead of creating an artificial distance (out of fear?), now that the actual group differences seem to vanish? I don’t see why it cannot be a win-win-solution instead of an “I want something at your costs”.

And when it comes to competition at work — let’s ensure a Rawls like equal playing field and please, let’s make training/support of employees a priority — and then let the best ones win.

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