I hope in the next couple of minutes to convince you of two things:
- A common form of modern feminism wants you to believe something ridiculous.
- The kind of feminist that I try to be is the kind that you should try to be as well.
My first argument involves evolution and nature, but not the sad version that most are offering. The caveman version of this narrative says something like:
Evolution made women pretty and weak, and that’s why they’re homemakers and wives and mothers. It’s SCIENCE! (Then he retweets Trump, takes a bite of steak, and slaps a waitress on the butt).
An actual argument for why evolution affects behavior has to do with preferences rather than capabilities, and the reason so few American’s can follow it is because so few Americans understand evolution.
Evolution is about selection. It’s about picking winners, and the argument here is extremely simple: Evolution picked female winners using different criteria than it did for male winners.
Or, to say it another way, the women who survived through hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution were selected for different traits than men who were selected over that same amount of time.
Early on, women were generally selected for being good mates and good mothers, while men were generally selected for being good fighters and good providers. This means that if you were a man or a woman who didn’t have these characteristics, you would not be picked by the opposite sex to have babies, and your legacy would be extinguished.
As society matured this was softened somewhat so that women could be more than just mates and men could be more than just providers. But the selection process remained (and still remains) quite different for men and women.
Even today a woman has far less of a chance of having babies with a highly desired man by acting smart and dominant than by being kind and submissive. And a man has far less of a chance of having babies with a highly desired woman by being kind and submissive than by being smart and dominant.
This is about peoples’ preferences, not value judgements. And that brings us to the core flaw in the current narrative:
Extreme feminism wants us to believe that despite evolution selecting for vastly different traits in women and men—over hundreds of thousands of years—we should still expect them to prefer the exact same professions in the exact same percentages.
To accept this you have to believe that men and women who want a rewarding career should—and indeed must—desire to be carpenters and kindergarten teachers at exactly the same ratio of 50/50. Same for being a nurse, or a military sniper, or a computer chip designer. 50%, down the line.
And—most importantly—you must also believe that if these percentages do not register at precisely half for each gender, in all professions, the cause must be sexism. That’s the molten core of today’s feminism.
Well that all sounds awfully conservative, but I started by saying that I was a feminist. What do I mean by that?
So, I accept that men and women are likely to want different things because they’ve been selected by evolution for precisely those differences, and I understand that those preferences should logically shape their career decisions, but I forcefully reject the notion that we’re anywhere close to the natural preference ratios—with discrimination being the cause.
- The workplace is still full of chauvinists who think women should be at home tending to children.
- There are many men (and women) who think that women can’t do certain jobs, and so they aren’t considered for them.
- Because women tend to be quietly competent instead of loudly overconfident (see traits) we tend to pass up great women for jobs and promotions and give them to less qualified men instead.
- We’re still raising girls like they’re on the ISIS career track of motherhood and breeding, so we fill them with pink, makeup, and smiles and wonder why they don’t want to be scientists.
- Many (men and women) prefer women to be quiet and deferential at work, and react negatively to those who are more outspoken or dominant.
- Society’s expectation of being a good mother is wildly less selfish than that of a father. If a father focuses 80% on his career and 20% on family, he’s a hard worker. If a mother uses those same percentages she’s considered a monster.
It’s a stacked deck against women. Here’s the argument in a loosely deductive form:
- Evolution has selected men and women for different traits, which leads them to have different values and preferences, which often translate into desiring different professions.
- As a result, most women will prefer to work in a subset of professions with mostly women in them, and most men will prefer to work in a subset of professions with mostly men in them.
- But many women will choose to work in the majority male professions, and many men will choose to work in the majority female professions.
- And if a man or woman chooses to work in an opposite-gender majority profession, they should be allowed to without being discriminated against.
- Nobody knows what the actual natural balance of genders would be in any given profession, if there were no discrimination and everyone worked the type of job they wanted.
- But we know for sure that there is significant discrimination in the workplace—especially against women in overwhelmingly male professions.
If you accept these claims, which seem seem independently uncontroversial and follow cleanly from each other, then you have to accept both natural preference differences in various professions and the need to fight discrimination in those same jobs. But the current political climate wants us to pick one of these statements and identify that as the side you’re fighting on.
Stop doing that. Stop falling for the false dichotomy of conflicting ideas.
These ideas conflict with a simple understanding of the world, but they don’t conflict with reality because reality is complex. Many truths that we think are in conflict are often true at the same time, and it seems to me that being a good feminist means first accepting this dual-natured reality and then working to eradicate the discrimination component so that the natural ratios can emerge—whatever those are.
That means having the courage to call out the sexism and chauvinism whenever you see it, but also the common sense to reject the idea that even though women often have different preferences and priorities than men in many other parts of life, they will still want to work in the same exact jobs as men, and in the exact same percentages.
It’s a ridiculous proposition, and bundling it as an obtuse shibboleth for feminism does nothing but reduce the number of people willing to call themselves feminists.
Discrimination against women in the workplace is a real and serious problem, and we need more men and women to actively opposite it. So let’s stop asking them, as an entry fee, to accept something that viscerally offends their common sense. It’s not helping anyone.
Explaining workplace gender differences should not not be a binary choice between either a) gender preferences, or b) workplace discrimination. It’s a false dichotomy because in most places both will be happening at the same time.
And as long as there is any discrimination left in the equation, it’s the responsibility of good men and women to actively oppose it whenever they see it.
That seems like a solid, truth-based foundation for workplace feminism to me.
- I understand the concern that if you accept the evolution-based-differences argument then some conservatives will use that as as explanation for all gender differences in the workplace. But we can’t let the mishandling of facts by the stupid and bigoted convince us to stop telling the truth.
- Here’s a breakdown of the ratios of genders in various professions from 1950 to 2015.