Men and women are different. I probably won’t lose my job for saying that, but Google engineer James Damore did. The Google fracas is not just about free speech; it is about the ability of the militant few to impose upon Americans an idiotic altered reality.
There is perhaps no greater fable that has been perpetuated over the past several decades than the notion that men and women are exactly the same, and that their often divergent paths through life are solely the result of society’s biases. At my Wellesley graduation many years ago, Kate Millett, author of Sexual Politics, told us idealistic young women that our degree would serve as a “letter of introduction into a massive and insidious system of discrimination.”
Feminists in those days argued that the culture was built on the mistaken notion that the sexes were different; in fact, some preached, the differences between genders were entirely the result of how we raise our children. They claimed that giving boys dolls and trucks to girls would result in strong, assertive girls and passive boys.
Many of us bought that… until we had our own kids. It turned out that children were not the same at all. Little boys were obsessed with watching bulldozers at work, while girls would create elaborate fantasies about and people, places and things. Little girls read books while their brothers tumbled over each other playing superheroes.
While increasingly skeptical about the sameness of men and women, we never doubted the equality of the sexes. We knew we were just as smart and capable as our male counterparts. Most of us were confident that we could follow whatever path seemed most challenging or fulfilling. We were lucky to have had those who came before, like Kate Millett, open doors to us; many of us, like myself, advanced in fields like finance that had historically not been welcoming to women.
Those gains continue to be made, supported by a United States law requires women be paid the same as men for the same work, and rightly so.
But activists continue to push for closing the “pay gap”, a notion discredited by the feminist group AAUW in 2012, and again by the Department of Labor, which concluded, based on more than 50 peer-reviewed papers, that the difference between pay for men and women is almost totally the result of choices made by men and women. Group also are pushing for more women in C-suites, on boards, and in high-paying tech jobs. They dismiss research done on the topic from the economist Joshua Rosenbloom who wrote in 2008 that men and women differ systematically in their interests and that these differences can account for an economically and statistically large fraction of the occupational gender gap.
No matter the literature, activists continue to argue that men and women are the same and blame any difference in achievement on discrimination. Challenging that assertion is what got James Damore into trouble. In his much-discussed memo, he suggests that various female traits might account for the lopsided presence of men in engineering. He further says that various practices used by Google to correct for the unequal representation of women are discriminatory and unfair.
Damore talks about women being more concerned with feelings and aesthetics, more prone to anxiety and more cooperative. While listing some of these differences, he proposes ways that Google might offset them, such as making “software engineering more people-oriented with pair programming and more collaboration.” He more than once claims that he is not opposed to diversity or inclusion.
The outrage over Damore’s comments is absurd, given that virtually those same arguments are made by Sheryl Sandberg in her famous book telling women to “Lean In.” In that popular volume, Sandberg advises women to be more aggressive in asking for raises and advocating for themselves. She writes, “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.”
Why does Sandberg think that women need to be pushier? Because “men are more aggressive in their offices than women. We know that.” Apparently, it’s ok for Sandberg to suggest that there are differences between men and women, but not ok for Damore? This is the issue. Damore, or course, is not alone in having raised such questions.
In 2005 Larry Summers, then head of Harvard University, famously proposed that the under-representation of female scientists at top universities could reflect “issues of intrinsic aptitude.” Summers, said, "there is reasonably strong evidence of taste differences between little girls and little boys that are not easy to attribute to socialization.”
Summers, like Damore, was trying to solve a puzzle: why aren’t more women successful in fields such as math and science?
More than anything, arguing that men and women are identical seems just plain silly. Women do like meet in groups and share ideas and experiences. A man can play golf for four hours with a stranger and emerge completely ignorant of basic info, like whether he’s married.
A smart society would take advantage of the Mars and Venus reality. Studies show women to be more cautious and more risk-averse, but also better at investing, for instance. Having female participation on investment committees should be a no-brainer. Iceland’s struggles during the financial crisis provide a great case study.
As The Guardian reported, “Iceland’s spectacular meltdown was caused by a business and banking culture that was buccaneering, reckless – and overwhelmingly male.” After the crisis, in which Iceland was driven nearly to bankruptcy by the cowboys in charge of finance and government, a bunch of middle-aged women took over. They took over the government, the banks, and the direction of the country. Men got Iceland into dire financial trouble; it took women, working with collaborative leadership to steady the nation’s fiscal situation, to put the country on a steady course again.
Google should redirect their diversity quest. They should put women in positions where their natural talents are most needed or team them with risk-oriented men who need grounding. But then, they would first have to acknowledge the obvious -- that men and women are different.