Wednesday, 5 December 2012

What if...?

What if the main reason there are so few women at the top of business and politics is not because of discrimination or the lack of family-friendly policies, but because women choose not to pursue those avenues?

Kay Hymowitz (a woman, by the way) argues:
...women are less inclined than men to think that power and status are worth the sacrifice of a close relationship with their children. Academics and policymakers in what’s called the ‘work/family’ field believe that things don’t have to be this way. But nothing in the array of work/family policy prescriptions – family leave, child care, antidiscrimination lawsuits, flextime, and getting men to cut their work hours – will lead women to infiltrate the occupational 1 percent. They simply don’t want to.
I need hardly add that Hymowitz’s article is thought-provoking. In any case, if you feel like responding (angrily or otherwise), please read the whole of her article first.

Having lit the blue touch-paper, I will now retire...

13 comments:

  1. What if women make those "choices" because their entire socialisation imprints on them that it's not really a choice?

    "a woman, by the way"

    What, because women aren't capable of thoughtless misogyny too? Oh what a sheltered life you lead.

    Spend a couple of hours reading some feminist blogs and you might perhaps grasp why my response to this post sounds so weary. Handily you'll probably also find answers to any questions this comment might raise. Because it's all been typed before, thousands of times. Sorry if you were hoping for an explosion; frankly, it's not my job to educate you, and I can't be arsed.

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    1. However, given that this article popped up in my feed literally right next to yours, I might as well drop you the link: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/12/the-ambition-myth-debunking-a-common-excuse-for-the-gender-wage-gap/265744/

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  2. @Jennie - In my post, I did not express a point of view and do not need "educating" (a rather Maoist concept).

    What I do believe is that no cause, no matter how worthy, and not even feminism, should expect its arguments to be taken as read or, worse, treated as sacrosanct.

    I'm sorry if a reference to an article you find uncongenial makes you "weary", but anyone engaged in any political cause must continually refresh and articulate their case. One of the reasons the pro-European cause is doing badly in the UK is because proponents assumed that the 1975 referendum had settled the argument for good. Feminism should not make the same mistake and resort to yelling "unbeliever!" at any critical views.

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    1. Sorry I was using the word "educating" in a very specific sense. You seem to think that because the arguments haven't happened IN FRONT OF YOU they haven't happened thousands of times before, on a daily basis, across blogs you don't read. I simply meant it's not my job to show you those blogs when I have already publicised them plenty. It's not my fault you weren't paying attention, and at some point the effort I make on behalf of the feminist movement has to be enough, ESPECIALLY if this is all just a game to you. There are enough people who actually believe this crap for me to waste effort on trying to convince someone who is already convinced.

      I wasn't made weary by one article. I was made weary by many many articles, of which this is just the topmost one of a very large pile. Once you've refuted ill-informed MRA rubbish once, twice, three times, ten times... it becomes a bit of a chore. I don't find someone giving me extra chores to do to be fun. Clearly your mileage varies.

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    2. Simon, possibly your posts should express a point of view, rather than simply performing the digital equivalent of poking someone with a stick and then claiming that a big girl told you to.

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  3. Wow, do you normally find being patronising gets people rushing to explain their policy viewpoints to you?

    You "do not need educating" but we "must continually refresh and articulate" our case?

    What makes you think we aren't? Perhaps you could take Jennie's words at face value - perhaps she's not weary because of one article she "finds uncongenial" but "because it's all been typed before, thousands of times." and some of it by her.

    I work in IT, my main hobbies are science fiction and politics, and I am raising two young children. My daily life brings me more than enough "opportunities" to make the case for treating people as individuals not gender stereotypes. You seem to think this is an interesting intellectual exercise; to me it is a near-daily frustration and my main reaction to this post was "oh no, not here too".

    I will do you the courtesy of assuming you do actually support the idea of treating men and women equally; if you feel that the arguments for this idea need to be refreshed and articulated, I suggest you try doing so yourself. Playing devil's advocate and expecting others to jump through hoops for you is the lazy option.

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    1. "You seem to think this is an interesting intellectual exercise; to me it is a near-daily frustration and my main reaction to this post was "oh no, not here too"."

      Yes, exactly. Which is what I was trying to get across with my comment. Thank you for elucidating it.

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  4. Believe me, this not just "an interesting intellectual exercise", I'm not playing games and I'm not asking anyone to "jump through hoops".

    I think men and women should be treated equally. But I don't agree that debate on this or any other topic should be shut down with responses along the lines of, "we've heard this a thousand times before, so end of discussion."

    You cannot assume that most readers of this blog are as familiar (or as weary) with the arguments as you. More importantly, all political issues are dynamic and require fresh thinking. This topic is no exception. If you have an alternative to stale thinking, I'd be interested to hear it. All I've heard so far is an assertion that it is impertinent even to raise the question.

    In my original post, I linked to the article because it raised an important question. Anti-discrimination laws and family-friendly politices have improved things greatly but haven't paid the dividends that were expected. So we have to examine why, instead of falling back on old shibboleths.

    And gender isn't the only game in town. For what it's worth, I've had to endure over 30 years of class snobbery from ex-public schoolboys in our party. Snobbery is still tolerated in the party, when equivalent sexist or racist behaviour would get you expelled. But nobody in the party discusses class issues and no-one seems to care that a steadily increasing proportion of our MPs are privately-educated. For that reason, while I support gender balance, I take the unfashionable view that it is not an advance when a working class man is replaced by a privately-educated woman.

    There's an issue here that transcends gender, ethnicity or class, and that is how we make politics genuinely democratic and involve all sections of society, instead of a closed shop for Oxford PPE students. And to tackle this problem, we have to move beyond 1980s identity politics, which is where most of the debate today still seems to be taking place.

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    1. "You cannot assume that most readers of this blog are as familiar (or as weary) with the arguments as you."

      Well, here's another one who is. And if the argument needs to be made again (and frankly, I don't think it does), then why not either make it from the feminist side rather than the anti-feminist side, or actually make the argument yourself if you agree with the linked post? This post seems like an attempt to be 'controversial' without having to defend the controversial opinion in question -- a tactic more suited to the Daily Mail than to Liberator.

      "Snobbery is still tolerated in the party, when equivalent sexist or racist behaviour would get you expelled. But nobody in the party discusses class issues and no-one seems to care that a steadily increasing proportion of our MPs are privately-educated."

      So discuss that, rather than rehashing stale arguments about how the little ladies just don't *want* respect or money.

      "There's an issue here that transcends gender, ethnicity or class, and that is how we make politics genuinely democratic and involve all sections of society, instead of a closed shop for Oxford PPE students. And to tackle this problem, we have to move beyond 1980s identity politics, which is where most of the debate today still seems to be taking place."

      Frankly, it seems like you're not actually familiar with where "the debate" *is* taking place, because with the exception of something like Julie Bindel's articles in the Guardian, "the debate" moved beyond 1980s identity politics at roughly the same time the 1980s themselves ended.

      In particular, the concept of intersectionality is probably the single most important one in feminist thought at the moment -- the idea that unless one also works to bring about an end to discrimination with regards to race, gender expression, sexuality, disability and, yes, class, feminism is an oppressive rather than a liberating force.

      No-one's trying to shut down debate here. No-one's yelled at you. What the other commenters here have said is, simply, "you actually don't know what you're talking about".

      And looking at the linked article, here's a brief explanation as to why it seems old news to some of the commenters here, and also as to why to some of them it might be an emotive issue.

      What that article says is that women don't have as much success as men because they have children, and women take more time off from their careers than men do in order to do that.

      Which *completely ignores* the fact that men *can't* take much time off to look after their children, while women can. So there's a structural inequality there.

      And Jennie, one of the commenters here, has posted (publicly, so I don't think she'll mind me mentioning this) that this contributed to the break-up of her last relationship -- when they had children, she wanted to go back to work, while her partner wanted to stay off and look after the child, but neither could do what they wanted because she had maternity leave but he didn't have an equivalent amount of paternity leave.

      *Of course* her career took a hit while his didn't -- they were forced by the law to do it that way round.

      So she's done something about it -- the Lib Dem (and now government) policy of having shared family leave was directly down to her.

      When women and men have the same options available to them, *then* maybe we can say that one group is making different choices than the other. Until then, saying women "choose" to stay home to look after their children is just a lie, and the rest of the argument is invalid.

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    2. "All I've heard so far is an assertion that it is impertinent even to raise the question."

      So you didn't even bother following the link I posted then? And yet you wonder why I thought it wasn't worth bothering? This all sounds to me like the flailing of someone who thought he was being really CLEVER and CONTROVERSIAL not getting the response he wanted, which is rather disappointing, really, but not really surprising.

      If we're playing the more oppressed than thou game I can do gender, class, LGBT AND Northern. This is why, as Andrew says, intersectionality is important.

      And if you think the issue is unfamiliar to readers of this blog then you are being DOUBLY disingenuous in posting a discredited view as if you agree with it but really simply to troll. What sort of person feeds a view that they don't agree with, that they know is discredited, and with approving comment, to people who don't know any better? KNOWING that the vast majority of blog readers never read the comments? You just basically admitted purposefully deceiving people, and you expect props for that?

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    3. Simon, a few thoughts in response. No-one has attempted to end the discussion. On the other hand, stating points that have been made and discredited many times before is going to get a rather weary answer. In light of this, I can't help but find it somewhat ironic that you then say that fresh thinking is required. Perhaps some fresh questions might be useful?

      I quite agree with you that privately educated Oxbridge alumni are far too highly represented - and I say this as a privately educated man with a degree from Oxford University. On the other hand, I can't agree that no-one discusses class issues in the party. I can think of one contributor to this thread who has written on the subject and indeed took the opportunity to ask Nick Clegg about this during his Q&A session at conference in Birmingham last year.

      I can't help but get the feeling from your writings that if something hasn't happened in front of you, then as far as you're concerned, it hasn't happened at all.

      Finally, as far as this not being a game to you and being more than an interesting intellectual exercise, ending your original post with "Having lit the blue touch-paper, I shall retire..." does give a different impression.

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    4. Simon, I didn't say it was impertinent to raise this argument, I said it was lazy. As a self-described liberal who doesn't need educating [on the current state of feminist argument was the implication ... ] what I'd expect from you is an article saying "oh bother, the 'women don't ask' trope has come up again, here's all the ways it's wrong".

      If I'm grumpy it's because I expect better from you, that you might decide to be part of the argument rather than apparently trying to wind up the women with your blue touch-paper.

      If you weren't trying to be devil's advocate and you are genuinely unaware of the arguments that Jennie & I are so weary of, here are some links I hope you find useful:

      http://www.womendontask.com/ is the website for a book published in 2003 about factors affecting women's success in the workplace, a major one is that women don't ask. And often this is because they fear a backlash if they do. And often they are right to fear, and so not asking is a rational viewpoint. http://www.npr.org/2011/02/14/133599768/ask-for-a-raise-most-women-hesitate gives a summary based on a review of it in 2011.

      http://www.shakesville.com/2008/08/worst-enemy.html covers "women can be sexist too" You might also find it useful to look through the other articles linked from http://www.shakesville.com/2010/01/feminism-101.html

      Andrew's already covered the concept of intersectionality. I think trying to argue for the relative merits of class over sex is falling into divide-and-conquer as used (accidentally or otherwise) by the posh white men to ensure they stay in power.

      Three blog posts from my friend Matthew (a man, by the way) on the specific topic of sexism in open-source software development. I include them as specific illustrations of how communities allow women to be harassed, by the inaction of many tolerating the appalling actions of a few:

      http://mjg59.dreamwidth.org/6878.html
      http://mjg59.dreamwidth.org/11799.html
      http://mjg59.dreamwidth.org/17174.html


      This starts young: the Two Colours blog on stuff for babies http://twocoloursinmyhead.wordpress.com/ and the Pink Stinks campaign: http://twocoloursinmyhead.wordpress.com/

      And it never stops, see the Everyday Sexism Project: http://www.everydaysexism.com/

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  5. First, I should point out that some commenters have not provided their full names, contrary to this blog’s comments policy. Rather than delete these comments, here are their full names: ‘Jennie’ = Jennie Rigg, ‘rmc28’ = Rachel Coleman Finch, and ‘magister’ is unidentifiable.

    Everybody appears to have had their say, so I will round off this thread with a final response.

    Fundamental to liberalism is the concept of the open society. Amongst other things, this means that all ideas are subject to challenge and nothing is sacred. Indeed, critical thinking is vital to liberal democracy and any worthwhile ideas should emerge strengthened from the process.

    But the hostile comments here suggest a contrary view:
    1) Discussion of this topic should be confined to initiates who ‘know’.
    2) Challenging beliefs is not permissible if it hurts believers’ feelings.
    3) Playing devil’s advocate is not a legitimate form of argumentation.

    The hostility was perilously close to a political technique pioneered by the pro-Israel lobby, which is to make a topic a ‘third rail issue’ – an issue too dangerous to touch.

    Let’s get this in proportion. I originally posted a link to an interesting article for comment (which is a thing people sometimes do on blogs; we’re not obliged to state a personal view, nor does linking to an article necessarily constitute an endorsement). That article was not misogynous since no hatred was involved; the author clearly believes in equality but was questioning why orthodox strategies have not succeeded to the extent expected. For my taste, her conclusion was fatalistic, and if she really thinks the problem is that women are making poor choices, she should have suggested a way out. But to give the author her due, her article was reasoned and not a diatribe, and therefore merits serious debate, even though her conclusion is controversial and may not be to your taste. Or to put it another way, what would have been the point of discussing an article that confirmed your prejudices?

    A reasoned response by commenters would have been to say, “I think this article is wrong because of X, Y and Z, and here’s an alternative view.” Instead, we got shouty and scornful messages, aimed more at me than the original article. This sort of behaviour may gratify true believers but is unlikely to win friends and influence people. Only towards the end of this thread did the debate settle down, where Rachel provided some interesting links that I hope readers will find useful. If only it had started that way.

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