You can choose compassion

(MINOR UPDATES) Nicole Sullivan, with ostensible reluctance, contributes yet another mishmash of contradictory opinions about the supposed underrepresentation of “woman in technology” (sic).

  • Equal yet different? First of all, it can’t be simultaneously true that women and men are equally suited to “technology” jobs and also that women have specific immutable characteristics that need to be catered to. These, however, are among the suggestions in Sullivan’s piece.

  • “Merit” is a misnomer. Hence “women[’s] being unable to compete on merit” means nothing. But the airy dismissal of merit as a real issue incurs collateral damage. There isn’t any dispute that typical female brains differ from typical male brains, though the extent of the differences is disputed. Susan Pinker, in The Sexual Paradox, characterizes the differences as significant, while Lise Eliot, in Pink Brain, Blue Brain, argues that within-sex differences dwarf between-sex differences.

    But Pinker and Eliot agree that there is more variability in male brains as a whole, an effect that can be inelegantly summed up by saying there are more idiots and more savants among men. Some of those savants have exactly the qualities needed to program computers – actually caring about programming computers, for one, and a willingness to expend virtually unlimited time on the abstractions implicit in computer programming. That’s an immutable physical characteristic unevenly distributed among men and women.

    Hence there is no neurological basis to assume men as a whole and women as a whole are equally suited to programming computers, to isolate one task in the broader “technology” field. More men will have the job’s exceptional requirements. (Pinker explores these and related issues; read her book and Eliot’s.)

  • Child-rearing isn’t discussed. A large coterie of employed women drop out of the workforce at roughly equivalent points in their lives to have children. It’s a biological imperative and a choice. “Primary responsibility for children” is a euphemism; most women with children choose to have them.

    Of course all sorts of flextime and other workplace adaptations can reduce the effect of these career gaps, but career gaps they are. A not-atypical woman who takes several years off to raise a child will always be at a disadvantage in an industry overrepresented by male savants who not only have no interest in fatherhood but barely any discernible interest in other human beings. (They’re happy to work nonstop, aren’t they?)

  • Hostile work environments are real and, evidence shows, are nearly impossible to alter to the satisfaction of critics. I am one of those critics: I have repeatedly inveighed, for example, against the hostile “design” choices of quasi-Aspergerian nerds. The effects of those choices continue to be seen every day even after umpteen investigations into the plight of women in technology. (That means two more blog posts will do nothing.)

  • “Underrepresentation” is an insulting concept. Who exactly gets to decide how many women should hold down jobs in a certain field? Who then gets to decide when too few women hold down those jobs? In short, who says women are underrepresented in technology? Who sets the quota?

    I don’t exactly hear complaints that men are underrepresented in kindergarten teaching and nursing. (Actually, there are men in nursing, but many of them are gay. So are lots of male teachers. Perhaps that explains why this is a topic women’s advocates do not want to discuss.)

  • In a free society, there are exactly as many people who choose an occupation as there should be (QED). These choices can later be frustrated by poverty, recession, lack of open jobs, and of course on-the-job discrimination or unequal treatment.

    Any claim that women are “underrepresented” in a job is actually an order issued to women to make a career choice other than their own. It is an order, to paraphrase Sullivan, to become not a veterinarian’s aide but a vet, not a dental assistant but a dentist, not a medical assistant but a doctor. It’s also an order to fire men to make room for women, since no job category has unlimited growth (and to achieve a desired 50/50 split would require hiring nothing but women for years or decades). That’s what you’re really saying when you make the claim that women are “underrepresented”: That women haven’t made the right choices and that men need to be displaced.

    As Pinker explains in detail, the actual goal isn’t 50% female participation in every job. Nobody at all is asking that 50% of the worst or most dangerous jobs go to women. (Some on Pinker’s list, adapted from another source on p. 229: fisherman, logger, metalworker, construction worker, roofer.) What people are really doing, Pinker argues, is spotting the most desirable jobs held by men and demanding that women get half of them.

“How to pretend
like you are caring and sensitive”

I doubt the sincerity and intellectual honesty of men who claim to be upset over this issue. I think they’re just trying to look caring and sensitive. And I think every proponent of this cause is engaged in hypocrisy.

  • I’ve explained this already: Women aren’t more important than other groups who face barriers to employment (to use the employment sphere as our area of interest). I want more people with disabilities in employment, and I won’t presume to dictate where they should work. If they want to work in technology, then I want those people with disabilities working in technology.

    Now tell me why I shouldn’t want that, or why I should want what you want instead. Tell me why women are more important than disabled people. Because you think they are? If so, you’ve just admitted an intent to discriminate against people with disabilities.

  • How about gay males in technology? It’s not going to happen, because of the typical gay male’s bridge brain, with its combination of female and male characteristics. About as many of us are interested in, and actually capable of focussing on, abstract, inhuman technical concepts as women are. That’s my conclusion based on a lifetime of observation and from reading between the lines in published research.

    Even if you discount my theory of causation, evidence on outcomes backs me up. All the research papers I am reading (for my upcoming bibliography on lesbian and gay economics) that evaluate job sector show gay males “underrepresented” in technical fields compared to straight males. That is exactly what you observe in your day-to-day life, at least if you have any gaydar at all, and exactly what I would expect.

    Now tell me something else: Tell me why somebody, even if it isn’t me, should not want more gay males in technology. Because you want more women in technology? Your wish trumps everyone else’s?

In cases like this, the aphorism I first heard from Irshad Manji comes to mind. Push these competing interests too far and your ship runs aground on the shoals of “my ideology is better than your ideology.”

  • Proponents of women in technology insistently maintain their cause is just, implying no other cause is.

  • I dispute that “more” women “need” to be in technology and state that more people with disabilities should be.

  • Others may hold that more gay males should work in technology.

We can’t all be representing the most disadvantaged group. Eventually, my ideology starts to look better than your ideology or vice-versa. At that point, rational discussion has ceased.

In a free society, I have no objection to the pursuit of one’s preferred career interest – and you shouldn’t either. Insisting on a numerical outcome is beside the point. Yet we hear about it over and over again. These complaints, articulated for the umpteenth time, will produce the same result they always have: None.

The computer does not know you’re a girl

Everything else is up for discussion. We are not having a discussion because self-styled advocates for women in technology don’t want one. They think there’s nothing to discuss: Women deserve half the jobs, end of story. I believe it is just barely possible to take issue with that precept. Your fundamentalism isn’t better than my fundamentalism.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2010.07.28 13:27. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
http://blog.fawny.org/2010/07/28/stubbornella/

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