Do Women Need Equal Treatment or Special Treatment?

Midway through the Vice Presidential debate, it was already obvious how the media was going to spin it. The narrative was predetermined: all Mike Pence had to do was challenge Kamala Harris (a guarantee considering the nature of the event, a debate), and they could accuse him of sexist bullying, or – to use a word that has no place in any self-respecting woman’s vocabulary – “mansplaining.” Harris was able to deploy her obviously rehearsed response to Pence’s comparable mild interruption: “I’m speaking.” She delivered this brave assertion of feminist self-confidence with the joyless snark of everyone’s least favorite substitute teacher, garnering instant praise and adulation.

Actor Mark Ruffalo obliged with one of the first narrative-supporting tweets:

So now a white man debating a woman “of color” is both misogynist and white supremacist. This despite the fact that Harris actually got the same amount of time as Pence by most accounts.

Other tweets, like this one from Brittany Johnstone focused on the evening’s racial dynamic:

White women in 2020 are like the kulaks of 1930 – just the right blend of “privileged” and “oppressed” to be an easy object of scorn. A similar sentiment was recently expressed in a viral article by Leigh Stein entitled “The End of the Girlboss Is Here.” The article tells the story of Sophia Amoruso, CEO of fashion site Nasty Gal, who released a memoir by that name. Amoruso did not seem to think that women needed special treatment, nor that it was necessarily remarkable to see them in positions of power. She asked, “Is 2014 a new era of feminism where we don’t have to talk about it? I don’t know, but I want to pretend that it is.”

Some might have praised Amoruso’s honesty and her refusal to see her success in a political light. But for Stein, the brief era of Girlboss couldn’t end quickly enough:

The white girlboss, and so many of them were white, sat at the unique intersection of oppression and privilege. She saw gender inequality everywhere she looked; this gave her something to wage war against. Racial inequality was never really on her radar. That was someone else’s problem to solve.

Welcome to intersectional feminism, where simply being a woman is no longer enough. In the woke moral universe, one’s moral standing is inversely correlated to one’s privilege, increasing only to the extent that one is percieved as victimized. Ironically, this system tends to hurt women, who seem to rank pretty low compared to other oppressed groups.

Almost any time there is a conflict between women and another group said to be oppressed – say, Muslims or trans people – the rights and safety of women are quickly disregarded. In the U.K., authorities ignored evidence of Pakistani rape gangs preying on lower-income white girls, all because the perpetrators were of Asian origin. To investigate accusations of rape against these men would have meant opening themselves up to accusations of racism and Islamophobia. And so, for years, they did nothing. At least fourteen hundred girls suffered for their cowardice.

The conflict between women’s rights and the trans agenda has recently come to light, best illustrated in the attempted cancellation of beloved author J.K. Rowling. I say the trans agenda and not trans individuals because most of the people raising a fuss over issues like letting trans women into women’s spaces are not trans themselves. Are biological women entitled to their own dressing rooms, prisons, and sports leagues? According to the woke, no. All it takes to be a woman is simply the feeling that one is a woman. For anyone to deny that trans women are women is to invite accusations of transphobia. All this from the party of science.

Even lesbians are not let off the hook; their refusal to consider trans women as potential romantic partners makes them transphobic in the eyes of some (“Some women have penises. If you won’t sleep with them you’re transphobic.”)

But let us put aside, for the moment, issues of race, trans/cis, and sexual orientation to return to the original question: do women need equal treatment or special treatment?

When I play basketball with my kids, I go easy on them. With my oldest son, I can now play at about 80% and still have a good game. Why? Because my skills in this area are superior to his. Because I am an adult and he is a child. He will inevitably be stronger than me one day, and at this point I will no longer have to hold back. This will be a milestone moment, a sign of respect. Anyone who has ever been on a team so bad that the other side instituted something like a “five pass rule” before a shot knows that it doesn’t feel good. If you are a full-grown adult and we are competing in something, I do not want you to hold back. To do so would be insulting to my abilities and my intelligence.

When women compete with men – say, in the context of a debate – we should only ask to be judged by an equal (not a special) standard.

Now, it’s important to remember that not everything in life is a competition. Throughout our history, men and women have also had to cooperate. If anything, men compete more against other men for resources and status, while women compete against other women for superior mates. This pattern applies to many other species as well, as Matt Ridley describes in The Red Queen. Simply making this observation should not be taken as sexist, though it often is.

One problem in today’s society is that women have been trained to compete with men so much that we have forgotten how to cooperate. This dynamic is based on two fundamental truths: 1. Men and women are biologically and (to a smaller degree) psychologically different. 2. These differences are complementary, meaning society needs both. In the context of the family, children certainly do.

How remarkable – how beautiful – that the same sex differences that can cause so much conflict (see: every Jane Austen novel or Shakespearean play) also provide the key to our collective success when properly channeled. How sad that we can no longer appreciate it.

I would argue that if such a thing as “male privilege” exists, then so too does female privilege. Certain things are easier, and others harder, depending on your sex. For women, the biggest sex-imbalanced challenge is safety. Considering the fact that women have on average only half the lower body strength and thirty percent of the upper body strength of men (and that men commit the vast majority of all rapes) and it is clear that women will always need to take certain safety precautions. There are also certain stereotypes that women have to confront, which is only to say that they must take the time to prove them untrue, not that they are insurmountable.

But being a woman carries certain privileges as well. In certain situations, strangers are nicer to you. You are not immediately assessed as threatening. You can talk to someone of the opposite sex in a social setting and even make the first move without coming across as “creepy.” You can express a fuller range of emotion without having your sexuality or virtue called into question.

While men could theoretically set up a Handmaid’s Tale-style dystopia in which they controlled everything – they are, after all, physically stronger – they don’t usually do so, especially not here in the West. Instead we have classically liberal notions of equality along with the vestiges of chivalry, a code of ethics whereby men channel their superior physical strength and risk-taking nature towards the service of women and children.

I’ll never forget how a male colleague volunteered to give me his classroom when I was pregnant with my youngest son. He rolled his materials from class to class on a cart for an entire year for my sake, despite the fact that we were on opposite sides of the political spectrum. I will always appreciate this act of sacrifice and generosity.

When I got a flat tire in the faculty parking lot, a male teacher helped me get my car to the autobody class where another male teacher enlisted his male students to replace it, free of charge. There are countless other stories like this… you get the idea. Men need women and women need men. This is not a bad thing, but rather a beautiful one.

In his book The Madness of Crowds, Douglas Murray points out that women have historically had one lopsided power over men: the ability to drive them crazy with desire. Women in general just aren’t as susceptible to male charms that we will risk life and limb to obtain their company. There’s a reason that turkey hunters call in male gobblers by pretending to be females in heat. There’s a reason males of many species devote precious bodily resources to seemingly pointless ornamentation (bright feathers, large antlers, etc.): they would rather die trying to attract a mate than fail to reproduce. Students of history can find ample evidence of powerful men taking crazy risks to obtain the female companion of their choice; just consider how Henry VIII broke his kingdom away from the Catholic Church, all so he could marry Anne Boleyn.

Perhaps Kamala Harris too exercised this power when she used her relationship with corrupt San Francisco mayor Willie Brown to jumpstart her political career. Either way, it makes no sense for her to cry sexism or racism now, when both aspects of her identity have been a boon to her career and not a hindrance to it, as I have previously argued.

To conclude, we cannot ignore sex differences between men and women, or how they have shaped our interactions over the thousands of years of our evolutionary history. In almost every culture prior to about a hundred years ago, men have been the ones in positions of political authority. Notable exceptions like Catherine the Great and Chinese empress Cixi only prove the rule by their relative rarity. Going back to the ancient Greeks and likely further, governance was considered part of the male domain. This is not to say that women did not have a role in political society: as the ones primarily raising and educating children, they had the important power to shape future citizens.

Starting around the eighteenth century, women began to demand full political participation and legal equality. The right of women to vote in this country was only gained in 1920, a mere century ago. Since then, women have made impressive inroads into almost all branches and levels of governance, the last remaining hurdle being the presidency.

If a woman and a man meet on the street, chivalry may compel him to hold the door open for her, and good for him if it does. But when a woman throws her hat into the political or corporate arena, she should expect nothing more and nothing less than equal treatment. She should be ready to advocate for herself if she does not get it. Presuming that women need special protection or advocacy against “mansplaining” is nothing short of condescending. Women like Kamala Harris who have built their careers by playing political hardball, only to suddenly cry “sexism” when they find themselves on the receiving end, are guilty of trying to have their cake and eat it too.

Why Bruce Jenner Is Not a Woman

Part of me hates to bandwagon onto this topic, as so much has already been said. It is a bit strange that as our economy sputters, the Middle East burns, and our communities descend into violence, we choose to obsess over the personal decisions of someone who a few years ago would have been considered a D-list celebrity. However I’m going to do it; not because I feel compelled to support or attack Jenner, but because the transgendered movement—and our society’s response to that movement—is illustrative of a broader, more important trend.

There is a shift going on in our culture to deny objective reality and to substitute in its place subjective feelings. While we should respect and value the human rights of each individual, we do not have the “right” to determine our own reality, nor do we have the right to then force everyone else to go along with it. This path leads not to liberation and fulfillment, but to chaos, confusion, and profound dissatisfaction.

Who are we?

There are two ways to approach this question: reason and religion. They both lead to the same conclusion, which is that there are certain aspects of our nature that we cannot change and therefore should accept. Though we have different faiths, we all share a capacity for reason; thus, I will confine most of my analysis to the former.

Reason and science tell us that we are born either male or female (though a small minority of children are born intersex, with biological features of both sexes). At birth, our chromosomes and reproductive organs distinguish us as male or female; otherwise, we are quite similar. Now most parents will tell you that differences in temperament and preferences will crop up even in small children, but this leads to the argument over how much of this is biological and how much is socially constructed, so I’ll leave it alone for now.

Reason and science also tell us that during puberty, our bodies undergo specific changes, depending on whether we are male or female. Girls develop breasts and begin menstruating. Boys develop facial hair and start producing semen. Both the sperm of a man and the egg of a woman are necessary in order for human reproduction to occur. Not the sperm of someone who “identifies” as male, or the egg of someone who “identifies” as female, but the sperm of someone who is male and the egg of someone who is female. Despite all the innovations in fertility science, no man can ever menstruate. No woman can ever produce semen. These are the facts of our biology, undeniable and unalterable.

So why as a society are we acting otherwise?

Are we doing it in a misguided attempt to show compassion to individuals who are obviously troubled and confused? Are we doing it to show how tolerant and open-minded we are? Are we doing it to achieve a sense of moral superiority over those who still cling to “backward” and “outdated” views of human sexuality?

Let’s put your tolerance to the test. For those of you who support and celebrate Jenner’s decision, do you deny objective reality in other areas of your lives? Would you fly on a plane piloted by someone who “identifies” as a pilot, but who has no flight experience? Would you put your life in the hands of someone who “identifies” as a surgeon, but has no medical training? If your child told you she “identified” as an old person, would you take her to a retirement home? If someone “identified” as a different race, would you encourage her to dye her skin? If someone “identified” as a disabled person, would you support his decision to amputate his healthy legs?

Or at some point do you have to say: you are who you are, regardless of what you feel you are. So make peace with your body. Accept yourself. Love yourself as you are. We do, and God does.

How is it compassionate to encourage someone to alter his body in a radical, irreversible way, especially when a large percentage of men who “transition” later regret it? How is it loving to encourage someone down this path, when suicide mortality actually rises post-operation to 20-fold the non-transgender rate?

Of course, the great irony of the transgender movement is its obvious conflict with feminism. Many feminists claim gender is a social construct, and women should be appreciated for more than just their beauty and bodies. The transgender movement claims gender is a biological reality, and that a man can become a woman simply by castrating himself and putting on a dress. How offensive to women. And yet even enlightened liberals like Jon Stewart can’t see the connection between this distorted view of gender and the objectification of women?

I remember wanting to be a boy when I was little. They seemed to have all the fun, and they could pee standing up. At the age of three, I showed up at a friend’s Thanksgiving party with war paint on my face and feathers in my hair, while all the other girls were wearing pilgrim dresses. My tomboy streak continues to this day. But at a certain point—and I don’t even remember when that point was—I made peace with my female body. I realized that I could paint my nails and like boys, and still play football and climb trees. Being a woman doesn’t mean wearing makeup or putting on a sexy swimsuit for the entertainment of men. It means being created with the capacity to nurture a human life. That’s what the breasts and ovaries and uterus are for, not attracting “oohs” and “ahhs,” or selling magazines.

Women can do things our society associates with men and still be women. Men can do things our society typically associates with women and still be men. How can we deny this, and still claim to support equality?

I’ll conclude this post with two stories. The first involves a friend of my dad’s, a self-described Massachusetts liberal. This friend holds all the politically correct positions one would expect from someone of his background in that part of the country. He was recently attending the graduation of one of his children from a well-known liberal arts college when he noticed the restrooms were labeled “Those Who Self-Identify as Men” and “Those Who Self-Identify as Women.” Astonished at the ridiculousness of the situation, he made the mistake of telling his children. They, of course, promptly chastised him for his backwardness. The whole experience left him puzzled and wondering why he had just paid several thousands of dollars for their so-called educations.

The next story involves my own son, though I hesitate to bring him into this for fear of making him part of the controversy. I must have been scrolling around on Facebook when a picture of Bruce Jenner popped up. My son exclaimed: “Oh, I know about him.” My first reaction was to panic and wonder just what my seven-year-old had been exposed to. But intuitively, I trusted him.

“Oh, yeah? What do you know?” I asked.

He replied, “I know he was an athlete and then he got married and had children, but then he had a big problem.”

“What problem?” I asked.

“He felt like he was a woman, but his body was a man’s.”

“Oh,” I said. “That is a problem. What do you think he should do about it?”

Then my son looked at me as though I had just asked the most obvious question in the world. “Pray to God,” he said. I could almost hear the unspoken “Duh!”

When I remarked upon his wisdom, my son added, “There’s no pills or surgery that can fix that. You need God.”

We often forget the innocent wisdom of children, though it is our job to protect and nurture that very innocence. It makes you wonder how the most educated members of our society can be so confused about such simple truths. The emperor truly is wearing no clothes, and—just like in the fairy tale story—it takes a child to point this out.

The ones claiming Jenner is a woman simply because he feels like a woman (whatever that means) are the same people who claim conservatives are in denial about science, and we should all line up behind their expertise on a range of political and social issues.

Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner is not a woman, because being a woman is not a lifestyle choice. It is not something you can buy. It is not about having a pointy chin or big boobs or long hair. You can be a woman and have none of these things. Like being a man, being a woman is a biological reality. We are created as a unified mind, body, and soul; the three are not divisible. This doesn’t mean we can’t show compassion to people who struggle with gender identity. The most loving and compassionate thing we can do is to encourage them to accept their bodies as God (or nature, if you prefer) created them.

Time to Retire the 77 Cents Myth

“Women make just seventy-seven cents for every dollar men earn.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this figure quoted as evidence of workplace discrimination: from my Facebook newsfeed, to my classroom, to the State of the Union Address. I am sure we will hear it many more times in the run-up to the 2016 presidential contest, as the mythic “war on women” has proven such a convenient tactic for avoiding the real issues.

Wage equality seems to be one of those topics where facts do not matter. Evidence and logic do not matter. We are not supposed to think too hard about this, or analyze what other factors might explain the slight difference in earnings between men and women who actually perform the same job with the same level of experience. All that matters to the politicians and activists who quote this figure is that we embrace the narrative that our society is so deeply sexist that the only way to ensure equality for women is through the creation of cumbersome new laws and regulations.

Sorry, but I’m just not buying it.

I know women face obstacles in the workforce. I’ve experienced them myself. I know women are more likely to choose lower-paying careers than are men. I have done this myself. I know women still feel slighted or underestimated on occasion because of their gender. I have felt this way myself. But I refuse to believe in a “glass ceiling” of lingering prejudice keeping me from reaching my dreams. I refuse to believe that my worth as a person is best measured by the amount of dollars another person is willing to pay me to do a job. Not only are these ideas false, they are also deeply harmful to the women and girls who might actually internalize them.

The truth is, women in western democracies have experienced remarkable gains in the last century. In countries like the United States, women now have the same legal rights as men, including the right to vote, own property, and make contracts. Women have the same access to education as men, including access to technical and medical careers. Actual, real-life women have taken advantage of these freedoms to achieve incredible success. Oprah Winfrey, Angela Merkel, and Beyoncé are among the wealthiest, most powerful, and most influential people on the planet. If there really is a “glass ceiling,” perhaps someone forgot to tell them.

Women do face tremendous prejudice and abuse, but mostly in the less democratic nations of the developing world. In Yemen, a woman is considered only half a witness and cannot legally leave the house without her husband’s permission. In Saudi Arabia and Morocco, rape victims can be charged with the crime of fornication. In China, millions of women are subjected to forced abortions every year, a fact that likely contributes to their extremely high rate of female suicide. China is the only country (with the exception of the tiny nation of Sao Tome and Principe) where the rate of suicide is higher for women than men, with one report putting it three times as high. Despite having only 19% of the female population worldwide, China accounts for 55% of all female suicides. Millions of rural Chinese women have used pesticides to end their own lives. And let’s not forget the 200 million women killed in the womb by sex-selective abortion worldwide. These are the figures that should outrage us, not the misleading 77 cents statistic.

Like most of the “evidence” used to support the idea that the United States economy is still deeply sexist, the 77 cents figure uses some pretty misleading methodology. It comes from comparing the average earnings of all full-time women against the average earnings of all full-time men, regardless of education, occupation, or experience. When these important factors are taken into account, the actual “gap” shrinks to about 95 cents on the dollar. For further sources debunking the 77 cents myth, see here, here, or here.

Despite all this evidence, President Obama still used the 77 cents line in his State of the Union Address, earning a rating of “dubious” from Fact Checker. Bernie Sanders became the latest politician to deploy this line for political purposes, using the revised 78 cents figure. And I’m sure we can expect Hillary Clinton to make this and other ill-supported claims of rampant discrimination as she campaigns for the White House primarily on the basis of her gender. (Ironically, Clinton and Obama both pay their female staffers less.)

Women do earn less on average than men, but this is largely due to factors other than sexism. For starters, women tend to choose lower-paying majors and careers, like social work and education. Even women who enter higher-paying careers like medicine tend work fewer hours and choose less lucrative specialties than their male counterparts, resulting in lower salaries.

Women also take off more time from work to have and raise children. Motherhood continues to present obstacles to women’s career prospects, much more so than fatherhood. The conflict between having children and a successful career isn’t just socially constructed; it is biological. Women are the ones who have to be pregnant for nine months, go through the physical exertion of having a baby, and then (let’s face it) be the primary caregiver for their infant. Even if men wanted to, they could not become pregnant, give birth, or breastfeed infants. Someone has to do the tough work of continuing the human species, and that task largely falls on women. More time off from work means fewer opportunities for promotion. Even after the pregnancy and infancy stages, women with children are more likely to value jobs offering greater flexibility and shorter hours so they can better meet the needs of their families. These jobs tend to pay less.

But it’s not all about babies. Studies show women and men tend to have somewhat different values in terms of employment. According to one survey of 1,000 workers, “male workers regard pay, benefits, authority, status and power noticeably more than do female workers. Women placed their greatest workplace values on relationships, respect, communication, fairness, equity, collaboration, and work-family balance.” My guess is even women without children are likely to have these slightly different career priorities. Anecdotally, most of the workaholics I know are men, but most of the women I know seem to understand the importance of balancing work and life.

Is any of this really such a bad thing? Should we discourage women from choosing lower-paying careers where they feel they are making a difference, or taking jobs with more time off to enjoy recreation, community, and family—all in the name of gender equality? If a woman wants to dedicate her life to climbing the heights of the corporate ladder, by all means—let her do it, and don’t treat her any differently. But most of us also want other things, and those other things should be respected, if not equally compensated with our more work-oriented counterparts.

What should be done to help women’s economic prospects?

First, stop blaming everything on sexism. Don’t turn us into a victim group. This doesn’t help anyone, including women who might be discouraged or embittered. Where there is evidence of actual discrimination or sexual harassment, existing laws are sufficiently strong to protect female employees. The beauty of the free market is that in the long run, prejudice does not pay. If a woman thinks she is being paid less than what she is worth, she should: a) ask persuasively for a raise (something women are four times less likely to do), b) find a company willing to pay her what she is worth, or c) start her own company where she can fully control her own salary.

Second, if we are really interested in fighting sexism, we can start by putting human rights back on the table in our relationship with China, something Obama and Clinton have reversed. We need to do more to stand up for the rights of women around the world, including the unborn.

Third, we must be careful to consider the unintended consequences of any law or policy that overburdens employers in the name of being “family-friendly.” Chile recently passed a law requiring employers to provide working mothers with childcare, and as a result women’s salaries declined between 9% and 20%. Consider the following cautionary tale from Spain, which passed a law giving workers with children under seven the right to work part-time:

Over the next decade, companies were 6 percent less likely to hire women of childbearing age compared with men, 37 percent less likely to promote them and 45 percent more likely to dismiss them, according to a study led by Daniel Fernandez-Kranz, an economist at IE Business School in Madrid. The probability of women of childbearing age not being employed climbed 20 percent. Another result: Women were more likely to be in less stable, short-term contract jobs, which are not required to provide such benefits.

“One of the unintended consequences of the law has been to push women into the lower segment of the labor market with bad-quality, unprotected jobs where their rights cannot be enforced,” he said.

Make it more costly to hire women, and fewer women will be hired; the ones who are will be paid less.

Fourth, there is another reason women earn less than men, and that is that they are disproportionately hurt by out-of-wedlock births and divorce. 40.9 percent of female-headed families with children live in poverty, while the poverty rate of married families with children is just 8.8%. This is just further evidence that the sexual revolution has been a disaster for women and children. Reducing these causes of female poverty would require strengthening a culture of marriage, which unfortunately does not seem likely to happen in the near-future. In the meantime, expecting women to play the roles of both primary caregiver and primary breadwinner dooms many to dead-end jobs, and their families suffer alongside them.

In conclusion, there are several things we can and should do to help women succeed economically. But the seventy-seven cents line exaggerates the severity of the problem and points us in the wrong direction for answers. We should encourage women to consider more lucrative majors and careers, and to start their own businesses, but only if this is what they want. We should teach women to be more assertive, to “lean in” as the expression goes, but only if they are comfortable with the costs of putting career before family and leisure. We should value the non-monetary contributions made by so many women to their communities, especially those made by stay-at-home moms.

We should not sit around waiting for things to be completely fair and equal because they never will be. Studies have also shown that short men tend to earn less than their taller counterparts. Do we need special initiatives to help them succeed? Should employers be required to hire a quota of men under 5’10”? In 2012, men also accounted for 92% of workplace deaths. Is this the product of discrimination, or simply different occupational choices? Here’s a crazy idea: people should be paid according to their responsibilities and contributions– which are most often the results of individual priorities and decisions– even if this leads to statistical discrepancies between groups.