Monday, November 26, 2012

War on Sexism

A recent ridiculous op-ed on the Fox News website has triggered a well-deserved backlash, the best parts of which involve lots of humor. The original talks of a war on men, and it just gets sillier from there. One thing the article discusses is that women have stopped being women and should go back to embracing their femininity. The author isn't very clear about what precisely that means, but apparently it involves not competing with men for jobs and stuff (or at least doing so less).

One sticky issue in debates regarding feminism is what's called essentialism, or the idea that men and women are inherently different. I'd like to throw out there the idea that, even if men and women are inherently different in some way(s), they aren't in any ways that have anything to do with jobs or education or stuff like that. I think men and women are equally good leaders, teachers, thinkers, workers, students, etc. (Radical, I know.) Trying to stifle that and restrict free choices regarding any of those or similar callings in life is pointless and stupid and mean. People need to celebrate and enjoy that freedom for women and men, not bemoan the fact that it upsets previous social arrangements.


  1. This brings up an interesting point. I agree with you that men and women are on average equally capable leaders, workers, thinkers, students etc. However, let's take this assumption and run with it. Excuse me if this is old hat for you--it's taken straight from chapters on comparative advantage from econ textbooks, nothing novel.

    If we subscribe to essentialism for this exercise, let's say women are better than men on average at "home production" which includes child rearing etc. (Note: this doesn't need to hold, men could be better at both and women could be better at both as well). If a man and a women enter a partnership and have 2 objectives--maximize home production and maximize "everything else" (mainly I'm thinking earning and the other things you mentioned). The solution to this problem in most cases would be to have the women specialize in home production and the man specialize in "everything else". There are of course cases when men should specialize in home production; it depends on the relative tradeoffs each gender faces. So even if men and women are the same in the things you've listed, a difference in the behavior of the two genders would arise, even in the face of equal opportunity which is important to keep in mind. I have seen a model generate similar results even when men and women only differ for a short time after a child is born (I will admit this model wasn't the most convincing I've ever seen).

    On a related note, this article:
    uses similar logic to discuss household dynamics. It's also interesting because I think it highlights the problems with feminist rhetoric that will mean men are often turned off by "feminism" (which I have yet to find a good definition for). Here's the quote "Often one person is better at everything. (And let’s be honest, often that person is the woman.)" Imagine if I wrote an article and and replaced woman with man in that sentence...

    1. Jeff, I'm not sure I follow you. If a man and a woman who get married (or live together--but this is a Mormon blog! ;) ) decide to split up their work/homemaking duties so that the woman does more of it, I don't have anything against that (assuming it was a free choice on both their parts). Or vice versa. I'm just against societal and legal pressures that channel women (and men) into those roles. ("Trying to stifle [equality of ability] and restrict free choices regarding any of those or similar callings in life is pointless and stupid and mean.") In other words, let the rational actors decide themselves what is best for them--mine is an argument for small government. In other words, if there end up being more women than men who choose to stay at home of their own free choice, I don't want to force them out so that there are equal numbers of men and women in the workplace. My beef is with the distortions in the marketplace, to use your economic framework.

      If you think that government and/or society should put pressure on men and women to assume certain roles (I'm unclear on whether you do or not, though), why do you think such central planning would work better than letting the men and women decide for themselves? If you don't think that, then I think we agree. Or am I misreading what you mean?

      Maybe I'll blog my musings on definitions of feminism tomorrow or another time; it's certainly a valid question.

  2. Sorry I wasn't very clear. From what I can tell you and I are on the same page. I am all for people making the decision that is best for them (man staying home and woman working, women staying home man working, abstaining from marriage to advance a career for either gender, etc, etc). This is one of my strongest beliefs.

    My point was largely, looking only at outcomes will not tell you much about equality of opportunity. And equality of opportunity should be the goal (not equality of outcomes). So when we evaluate, "Are there equal opportunities?" it becomes very difficult to know because unfortunately outcomes are uninformative (the point of my little model).

    Simply comparing men and women in their labor force participation or their wages (even at the same job) will not actually inform you very much about structural (e.g. legal) differences in society that exist for men and women. My advisor actually documents a specific instance of discrimination against women in one of her papers but it's very hard to do in a convincing way.

    Part of why my post was confusing was that it probably wasn't all that related to your original post (sorry about that). You didn't engage in the type of logic that I was finding fault with. This type of logic often accompanies feminist conversations, but your post definitely did not. This was more me venting than anything else I suppose--sorry.

    I would look forward to your definition of feminism post. I think that word gets thrown around a lot and the lack of a coherent definition often makes it so people who agree with many "feminist" ideals are not included. For instance, is someone who believes ardently in equality of opportunity a feminist? What if they believe in equality of opportunity and essentialism? What if they take offense to a statement like "Often one person is better at everything. (And let’s be honest, often that person is the woman.)"?

    1. OK, yeah that definitely makes sense. I would argue that different outcomes are pretty probative of whether there's still discrimination, but that's because I agree with the idea that men and women aren't really all that different, and so it's a whole different argument, one that's hard to get much good data on and so remains largely the realm of opinions. So we won't get into that here; we can just agree for now that options should be open to everyone equally. Cool!