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The Problem With Gender Quotas

Nearly every day, an article pops up on Twitter stating, “We need more women to become [fill in the blank].” From engineers [1] to CEOs [2], writers [3] to philosophers [4], women are told there is such-and-such a position they must fill in order to bring balance to the galaxy. To further this goal, Germany has created a new plan [5]:

According to a new agreement between the parties negotiating to form Germany’s next governing coalition, supervisory boards for companies registered on the German stock exchange will need to be at least 30 percent female starting in 2016 … From the U.S., where women held only 16.1 percent of board seats by last count, it’s an intriguing experiment to watch for several reasons. Government-directed quotas are potentially unconstitutional, and even private companies seeking to set quotas have been told affirmative action plans need to meet pretty strict requirements to survive an equal protection or Civil Rights Act-based challenge. But many of the folks following women’s lack of progress on Wall Street would like to see the U.S. be, well, a little more Teutonic.

It’s an interesting proposition, and seems to promote a sort of necessary balance. But there are some problems with this idea of “egalitarianism” that Micah Mattix identified well in a Tuesday TAC post [6]:

On the one hand, it is asserted that there are no differences between men and women; therefore, every vocation, every position type, should reflect the country’s gender ratio. If the ratio is not reflected, it is the result of some injustice, again because there is no reason other than discrimination for fewer women in this or that vocation. On the other hand, is asserted that having more women in a certain profession or vocation would make it better because it would add something that was missing. But if there is no difference between men and women, what could possibly be missing?

To put it simply: these articles argue that there are no differences between men and women as such. They believe men and women only differentiate on an individual basis. But if this is true, one shouldn’t need gender quotas to help promote a “missing” element.

Now, if women are truly being discriminated against, then this is a problem. If women were failing the bar exam because of a discriminatory system, or if a company refused to hire women CEO’s simply because of their gender, it would be a serious problem. But this seems better remedied on a case-by-case basis than through a statewide quota.

Germany is a democratic country. If women aren’t vying for certain company positions, might it be because some don’t actually want those positions? According to Katrin Bennhold, that’s the problem: in a 2011 New York Times story [7], she said gender stereotypes (specifically, “the mother myth”) perpetuated throughout Germany’s history have deceived the female populace. She quotes Angelika Dammann, the “first and only female board member at software giant SAP”: “We are still very far from a situation where it’s as normal for women as for men to want both a career and family—even among young women. When you have children, you’re expected to stay home for a significant period; otherwise you are considered a bad mother.”

Perhaps this is a backward question; but must all women want both a career and family? If women deserve the right to pursue whatever vocation they want, then shouldn’t they be allowed to choose family over career? Should the girl who dreams of becoming a “homemaker” be forced onto the supervisory board of a company simply to fulfill some gender quota? No one seems to suggest such a thing. Yet the mothers who choose family over career are treated with a sort of disdain, as if they’ve been brainwashed by an ancient “mother myth.”

It seems only fair that women should be able to choose any vocation, whether engineering or motherhood—not in order to fulfill some gender quota or to appease the feminists of their age, but purely out of love for the vocation they pursue.

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#1 Comment By Rachel On November 30, 2013 @ 10:00 am

Germany is a democratic country. If women aren’t vying for certain company positions, might it be because some don’t actually want those positions?

This is a deeply American reaction to a non-American culture. Americans tend to be pretty individualist; most other cultures around the globe value conformity more than we do. Anecdotally, German female scientists I’ve met (I’m an American scientist) have been amazed by how receptive American culture is working mothers. They say that this is definitely not the case in Germany, where the expectation is that you choose between motherhood and career.

When you assume that German women’s choices reflect their desires, versus their perceived social obligations, you’re projecting the American idea of the supremacy of individual choice onto them.

#2 Comment By Paul On November 30, 2013 @ 10:33 am

“When you [as a woman] have children, you’re expected to stay home [caring for them personally] for a significant period [if you have the ability do so]; otherwise you are considered a bad mother.”

What might the source of this consideration, and its concomitant expectation, be?

Several different answers to this question have been offered by modernity. What can we learn from the implementation of the practices they imply?

#3 Comment By peter On November 30, 2013 @ 11:03 am

The notion that human life should be organized by quotas is so contrary to logic and human nature that it could only have been conceived by utopian leftist politicians. People need to do things that are productive and fulfilling for them, and that transcends all other considerations in a sane society.

#4 Comment By Mont D. Law On November 30, 2013 @ 11:51 am

This is silly.

(But if there is no difference between men and women, what could possibly be missing?)

The argument is, that all things being equal, any given person can do any given job. The problem is that things are far from equal. The input to achieve that equality is what women bring to the table. Like paying a stripper to ride naked around campus yearly might be a problem for female engineering students. Or that standing on a landing in the E school holding up rating cards and catcalling female engineering students might be a little discouraging. Or that rape chants at freshmen orientation might be a bad thing. Or that onsite day care might be worth the expense. Or that paid maternity leave is necessary. Or that campus family housing should be open to single parents. The list is endless.

(but must all women want both a career and family? If women deserve the right to pursue whatever vocation they want, then shouldn’t they be allowed to choose family over career?)

I don’t know, it’s been a pretty standard assumption for men forever. Society is organized on that premise. It’s like the bridge sleeping poor/man rich man deal. The rich guy’s choice is real, the poor guy’s not so much. Plus, I’m not sure how gender quotas stop any given person from making any given choice.

#5 Comment By Johnny F. Ive On November 30, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

It looks like this is about a conflict between our liberal capitalist economy and the family. For example, a family farm shouldn’t have this problem because they really are an economic unit. The wife works, the husband works, and the kids probably help too.

#6 Comment By philadelphialawyer On November 30, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

“(but must all women want both a career and family? If women deserve the right to pursue whatever vocation they want, then shouldn’t they be allowed to choose family over career?)”

Mont D. Law:

“I don’t know, it’s been a pretty standard assumption for men forever. Society is organized on that premise. It’s like the bridge sleeping poor/man rich man deal. The rich guy’s choice is real, the poor guy’s not so much.”

Huh? I think the “standard” is just the opposite, as is the organizational basis of society. MEN have been, all along, denied any real “choice.” Men have to work, for money (unless they inherit a fortune, and, even then, they are supposed to do something “productive”), period. Women, at least middle class and up women, have “choices.” They can be full time, stay at home wives and then mothers. Or work part time and still be the primary child care givers. Or work full time and still be the primary child care givers. Or work full time and, with their husband, hire a nanny. Or work full time and not have kids at all. Choices, choices, choices. Indeed, women often complain about having too many choices.

Men, on the other hand, not only have to work (as few to no women want a stay at home husband or father, and society ridicules the idea), but they have to marry to have kids at all. Men, except in the rarest of circumstances, never have the choice of being the primary child care parent.

Women, again, have another choice. They can be single moms. It is almost impossible, short of widowhood, for a man to be a single dad. A man who has a child out of wedlock is lucky if he can maintain any kind of connection to the child. Totally opposite for the woman. And, of course, while both men and women have the choices of abstinence and birth control, women have more and better birth control options, PLUS have the options of abortion, putting the child up for adoption (often against the wishes of the single dad), and even “legal abandonment.” The father, on the other hand, is on the hook for twenty years of child support, even if he never wanted to be a father. Women get all the choices men get, plus extra choices. Some of the inequality, perhaps, like abortion, is dictated by biology, or a combination of biology and law, but others, like child support, are dictated solely by law.

Rich man/poor man and the bridges? Yeah, but you’ve got the roles reversed! Yes, men can have a “family,” if they can find a woman willing to have children with them AND marry them, but women can have a family simply by having sex with a single man. And men have almost no shot at being the primary parent, ever. Men are not give a choice of “family” (if that means being the primary parent) or job. Or any choice in terms of “balancing” family and job. They are told to get a job, if they want to get a wife, who might have children with them, or which she will be the primary care giver, and who might not divorce them and pretty much take the kids away.

“The problem is that things are far from equal. The input to achieve that equality is what women bring to the table. Like paying a stripper to ride naked around campus yearly might be a problem for female engineering students. Or that standing on a landing in the E school holding up rating cards and catcalling female engineering students might be a little discouraging. Or that rape chants at freshmen orientation might be a bad thing.”

Are these things normal or typical? Or aberrational and controversial? Women choose not to pursue certain long, hard career paths, not because other opportunities, like being a SAHM, are open to them, but because of a catcall or a chant or a naked girl? I think not. In the underlying Mattix column, there is a discussion of real gender discrimination in university philosophy departments, not quotas, and not more or less meaningless and rare examples of frat boys misbehaving on campus. If discrimination is real, then the answer is to end the discrimination, not set up quotas.

“Or that onsite day care might be worth the expense. Or that paid maternity leave is necessary. Or that campus family housing should be open to single parents. The list is endless.”

All of that is great. Now, how about paid paternity leave? How about a stipend to relieve male students of child support payments? Why are only new laws or programs that benefit women on your list?

“Plus, I’m not sure how gender quotas stop any given person from making any given choice.”

How about because the more qualified person who happens to be of the non quota preferred gender can’t make the choice of going to engineering school, or being on the Board of Directors and so forth. How about in college athletics, where Title IX mandates that schools give an equal number of sports scholarships to men and women, but women, for whatever reason, are simply not as interested in sports, particularly being on the second team and riding the bench? And so colleges actually advertise, on campus, for women to go out for crew or some other sport, and get a scholarship, just so they can fill out the team and meet the quota, while men’s sports, like, say wrestling, are canceled, again, because of quota concerns, even though there are numerous male students who not only want to wrestle but would do so even without a scholarship?

Meanwhile, areas where women dominate are not seen as problematic. Women get more music, dance, theater etc scholarships than men, but that is OK. No one thinks to look for discrimination or some other nefarious cause of the gender imbalance. Woman now make up two thirds of college students. Why is that not a “problem?” Why no quota for men?

#7 Comment By Annek On November 30, 2013 @ 7:04 pm

Mont D. Law:

“Like paying a stripper to ride naked around campus yearly might be a problem for female engineering students. Or that standing on a landing in the E school holding up rating cards and catcalling female engineering students might be a little discouraging. Or that rape chants at freshmen orientation might be a bad thing.”

You’ve lost me. What is the point you’re making, and why did you have to include such lurid examples to make your point?

#8 Comment By Clint On December 1, 2013 @ 7:43 am

Justice Clarence Thomas,
“I don’t believe in quotas. America was founded on a philosophy of individual rights, not group rights.”

#9 Comment By Katie On December 1, 2013 @ 8:44 am

This really misses the point. The difficulties that are in place that keep women (and minorities) from many of the best jobs are both more minor and more widespread – and hence more insidious – than companies refusing to hire women because of their gender (or minorities because of their race). Some of those things are specific to women and minorities – the subtle, undermining comments and cultures that assume everyone there is a white male.

The real problem with hiring quotas is that they do nothing to address (and, I suspect, may exacerbate) certain problems that may affect women and/or minorities disproportionately but that can realistically affect anyone. The most obvious example is people who have small children who need care – this burden falls disproportionately on women, but there may be really well-qualified men who take active or primary roles in their children’s care but who are overlooked, due to the fact that gender quotas address nothing of the underlying problem, and they only have enough positions for men who aren’t burdened by childcare. Another example is that of hiring through the “old boys” network. Women and minorities tend to be excluded from these networks, but again, quotas may exacerbate the problem by giving priority to those who can most easily gain access to those networks, regardless of merit.

#10 Comment By Egypt Steve On December 1, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

It’s a nice rhetorical trick you pull here, but it’s only rhetoric. Assume this: there’s no appreciable biological differences between working-class Catholic males and upper-class Episcopalian males of Western European heritage.

So, if working-class Catholics are systematically excluded from some occupation, what could possibly be “missing”? Possibly one could make the following argument: Particularly in the case of occupations in which human relations and experience were essential to the “product” being delivered — education, politics, and leadership positions in any field — it could be that the social and psychological *experience* of being a working-class Catholic might bring a something of value to the table, even though there is no difference between western European Catholics and Episcopalians in any physical, biological sense.

Possibly one could even make similar arguments about the exclusion of political conservatives from academia, about which one reads from time to time. If there’s no biological difference between liberals and conservatives, what could possibly be “missing” if conservatives are under-represented in English departments?

#11 Comment By spite On December 1, 2013 @ 5:18 pm

Mont D. Law
None of your victim examples actually state what women specifically bring to the table. In fact some prove the opposite what you are trying to get at, that they are not equal, unless of course you sincerely believe that there are as many women as men that enjoy strip shows or that men require maternity leave.

As for trying to argue that gender quotas are not stopping any given person from making any given choice, this is simply mind boggling. Being forced to hire somebody you don’t want to hire, you cannot see how that takes away ones choice ?

#12 Comment By RKJ On December 2, 2013 @ 9:36 am

Women that choose to be a homemaker and mother have the hardest jobs in the entire world. This position should be revered. When motherhood and homemaking is revered and held in highest esteem in a society, there is a good chance that society is going to be doing very well. When it’s the other way around, the family begins to crumble. And we are witnessing the results of this crumbling in the West.

#13 Comment By Clint On December 2, 2013 @ 10:35 am

Are White Males Getting Shortchanged?

[9]

#14 Comment By philadelphilalawyer On December 2, 2013 @ 11:18 am

RKJ:

“Women that choose to be a homemaker and mother have the hardest jobs in the entire world.”

Um, no they don’t. With labor saving devices, and relaxed standards of cleanliness, and pre school and such, being a stay at home mother is actually a fairly easy job. Which is why so many women choose it in the first place, and why so many women for whom that choice is not realistic (mostly because of money) wish they could choose it.

For a hoot, google Bill Burr and “the most difficult job on the planet!”

Men do the hardest jobs. Whether you define hardest in terms of physical labor, or mental labor, or stress, or years of effort and training to become proficient. And being a primary child care, non wage earning, parent is not even close.

“This position should be revered. When motherhood and homemaking is revered and held in highest esteem in a society, there is a good chance that society is going to be doing very well.”

I don’t know about “revered,” but it is an important and necessary job, and when neither parent does it someone else, someone without as great a stake in the outcome, like a nanny, has to do it.

#15 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On December 2, 2013 @ 11:40 am

It’s highly amusing to read about cultural liberals wringing their hands over why there aren’t more women in leadership positions. Gracy Olmstead is right of course: the truth is that women generally don’t *want* to be in leadership positions as much as men, and tend not to be as well suited for them. For basic, biological reasons. Men are more competitive, aggressive, risk-taking, and interested in social dominance than women. This has very little to do with culture and social conditioning, and a lot to do with biology. You can fight against that if you want, but if you do, you’re fighting against our basic natures.

Re: It’s like the bridge sleeping poor/man rich man deal. The rich guy’s choice is real, the poor guy’s not so much.

Economics *actually* makes it impossible for us to choose a lot of things. Gender, not so much. (And there are essential biological differences between men and women: there aren’t between rich men and poor men). You apparently don’t like the outcomes of women choosing according to their basic natures, so you want to suggest that women who choose to have subordinate positions (in the economy, in their relationships/marriages, etc.) are somehow victims of false consciousness. Very liberal of you.

#16 Comment By SusanKG On December 2, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

From a societal standpoint, it makes sense for women to work. It is a huge cost to an economy to have half of its population stay at home. The European economies where women are most integrated into the workforce (the Nordics) are doing much better than Spain, Portugal, and Italy. Their birthrates are higher, too.

The German birthrate is a disaster. Much like Japan, it is an economy set up for women to work and be childless, or to have children and not work. The Germans may want to try adding quotas, in part, to jump start the birthrate of working women. There obviously is a push to make it “normal” for German women to both have children and work. It may help somewhat with the birthrate problem; it certainly is better than the Nazis handing out the Cross of Honour of the German Mother.

#17 Comment By Egypt Steve On December 2, 2013 @ 9:27 pm

Hector, is it your view that women’s choices in the areas you discuss are *entirely* free and in accordance with their biological natures? Do you maintain that there is no *absolutely no* discrimination operating to prevent women who wish to assume leadership positions, and who may be suitable for them, to take them up? Do you further maintain that there has *never been* any such thing as social gender discrimination — that differences in social gender roles have *always,* *perfectly* represented the aggregate natures of men and women?

#18 Comment By RKJ On December 3, 2013 @ 9:32 am

@philadelphilalawyer

Um, yes they do. Unless they choose to pawn off the children to others to raise them for most of the day. Then I see your point. You obviously do not have many children or a wife that is at home raising a child. Shaping, nurturing and developing a human being is very hard work. “Fairly easy?” If you have a wife that stays at home, I’m very sorry you think this about her work.

#19 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On December 3, 2013 @ 3:10 pm

Re: The Germans may want to try adding quotas, in part, to jump start the birthrate of working women.

I doubt that the sorts of women who want to be leaders of large enterprises are that interested in having large families.

Egypt Steve,

I’ve no doubt there was social pressure in the past against nonconformist women, but in America and Europe, the balance has flipped and we have gone to the opposite extreme. Currently, it is the radical feminists who want to pressure women into making only the choices they approve of (Delayed marriage, egalitarian relationships, equal incomes and status to men, professional advancement over childrearing, small families, leadership positions, etc.).

#20 Comment By philadelphialawyer On December 4, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

RKJ:

First of all, I made a point of saying that actually raising the children was the job at hand, NOT pawning them off on others. The job is important, but that doesn’t make it necessarily difficult.

Secondly, an argument from incredulity is simply not an effective one. Raising children might be “hard” in the sense that raising a perfect or even good child is not guaranteed, but the actual work involved, physical, mental and even emotional, is not all that difficult. Nor does one have a “boss” or “customers” to critique one’s work, so performance standards are self generated.

And look at just some of the added benefits of being a stay at home parent…one can dress how one likes, in comfortable clothes and shoes, one can work at one’s own pace, one can take coffee, meal, snack and bathroom breaks as one needs and desires them, one gets to listen to radio, television, or other music or media as one works, and media of one’s own choosing at that, little or no “commuting,” the child care work is rewarding, ever changing, and not rote, some of the other stuff, like cooking and decorating, can be fun, and even the worst stuff, cleaning, laundry, etc, as I mentioned before, is now much easier than it used to be thanks to labor saving devices and relaxed standards of cleanliness, one can talk on the phone or “chat” on the computer during “work,” and so on.

Again, why do you think so many women WANT to be SAHMS, including women who have real careers, and not just jobs? Why do you think that so many women who can’t afford to be SAHMs want to be? Because they are all martyrs, who somehow crave to sacrifice themselves doing the “hardest job in the world?”

Here’s what one SAHM says:

“I dance and sing and play the guitar and listen to NPR. I write letters to my family, my congressional representatives, and to newspaper editors. My kids and I play tag and catch, we paint, we explore, we climb trees and plant gardens together. We bike instead of using the car. We read, we talk, we laugh. Life is good. I never dust.”

Does that sound so hard? Well, doing that job is the “choice” that so many women make and so many more wish they could make. Again, it is an important job, but there are literally dozens of harder jobs. Sorry but that is a fact.

Thirdly, personalizing an argument, such as speculating about my private life, my marriage and parental status and so forth, adds nothing to the conversation and is logically fallacious. My arguments, just like yours, stand and fall on their own merits, not on these issues.