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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 to CEOs, writers to philosophers, 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:

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:

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, 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.

about the author

Gracy Olmstead is a writer and journalist located outside Washington, D.C. In addition to The American Conservative, she has written for The Washington Times, the Idaho Press Tribune, The Federalist, and Acculturated. Follow Gracy on Twitter @GracyOlmstead.

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