Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Feminism and False Evidence of Discrimination

Written by johnleemk on 2:23:18 am Apr 9, 2007.

I have always found extreme feminism to be a rather odd cause for one to take up. By extreme feminism, of course, I mean the belief that the proportion of men and women in any endeavour should always be precisely equal, or the idea that we can simply ignore the physical and mental differences between men and women.

Race-blindness is a possibility, because race rarely involves any physical characteristics that would preclude one from certain tasks. Sex-blindness, however, is an entirely different matter. There is a one-to-one correlation between whether you have a penis and whether you menstruate. Though the correlation for mental differences is probably less clearcut, it should be clear that some level of correlation exists.

As a result, I have never been able to understand the logic behind extreme feminism. Setting quotas reeks of tokenism, and will never solve anything. Lowering the standards for women only ends up lowering the overall standard. And yet, it seems there are people who would rather have exactly half the Police force and half of the fire brigades composed of women, even if this means costing more lives.

This debate really harks back to the question of whether you want equality of opportunity or equality of results. Extreme feminists assume that if there is no equality of results, there is no equality of opportunity — if the proportion of women in a profession is not exactly half, then women are being discriminated again.

But this can't be true. We can only conclusively say that there is discrimination if we are talking about two groups which are exactly the same. But there are a lot of differences between men and women, as just about anyone can tell you.

For instance, there are clear mental differences between the two sexes. What these differences are is a subject of much debate, but there's a general consensus in psychology that men and women do think differently. Some people argue that these differences result in, say, less female scientists; I think this is a bit of a spurious hypothesis, but it can't be dismissed outright.

Whatever the case, there are real mental differences, so there should be some gender imbalance when it comes to the distribution of men and women in various fields. There are also some physical differences which may be relevant.

The most relevant physical difference is, of course, the fact that women give birth and men don't. As a result, women are forced to take maternity leave, which permanently stunts their career opportunities. You can argue that there is some discrimination against women who take time off to give birth and nurse, but still, you can't say that the proportions of men and women in the professions should be exactly equal.

I'm not denying that there is discrimination — there is, and it's very unfair to women. But many barriers to their participation in the workplace have been falling in recent times, and continue to fall. To claim that there is still massive institutional discrimination on spurious grounds such as the fact that the proportions of men and women in a particular field are not exactly equal is to be simply dishonest. If feminists want to show discrimination — which no doubt still exists in many areas — they should present real proof, not sham evidence.

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