Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Gender Diversity in Economic Sphere

I first saw this article at Feminist Law Professors. The (provocative?) thesis of the article is, in a nutshell, men and women are different. Specifically, men are risky. As a result of their inherent riskiness and their domination of the financial sector, they are the ones who got us into our current economic downturn:

"...[A]s the financial debacle unfolds, I can't help noticing that all the perpetrators of the greatest economic mess in eight decades are, well, men. Specifically, they are rich, white, middle-aged guys, same as the ones who brought us Watergate in the 1970s, the Teapot Dome scandal in the 1920s and, presumably, the fall of Rome."

What I always find entertaining about such arguments is that I envision anti-feminists cringing at their own ideology of "innate sex differences" being used against their own women-belong-in-the-home interests. Many of those opposed to equal rights for women believe that men and women are very different and, therefore, that they require different roles in society. In their view, it is inherent in women to stay at home and do feminine, womany things and inherent in men to work outside the home and do masculine, man-ny things. As I discussed last week, the idea that men and women have big innate (and sometimes complementary) sex differences, it is argued, are also why marriage and parenting "require" man/woman pairs and not same-sex pairs.

Some feminists, or those who at least would not be categorized as "anti-feminist," also argue that men and women are inherently different. For instance, while the author of the above article also argues that men and women are different, she shifts the arguments a bit. Instead of using these differences to argue against opportunities for women in the public sphere, she uses them to advocate for greater opportunities for women. She notes that while men are more inclined to be "risky," women are more inclined to "blow the whistle." Too much male "testosterone" in the public sphere, she argues, has created cultures of irresponsible anti-social risk. Therefore:

"We need women in leadership positions not only because they can manage as well as men but because they manage differently than men; because they tend -- over time and in the aggregate -- to make different kinds of decisions and to accept and avoid different kinds of risk."

I've said before that I believe that there are more questions surrounding gender and sex than there are absolute answers. Assuming for the sake of argument that these sex differences are real and have partly caused this financial crisis, I wonder if these differences may not be as innate as some people assume. It's quite possible that parents, teachers, and other influential-to-children members of society have taught boys and girls to be different in this way and that these differences were reinforced over the years.

Regardless, I do wonder what those who believe in innate sex differences and who also believe in "traditional gender roles" have to say about the article. Specifically, if marriage and parenthood absolutely require the gender differences and/or complementarity of one man and one woman, then why do other social institutions- religious institutions and businesses for instance- not? Why do you so value so-called "gender integration" when it comes to the home and family, but discourage it in the public sphere that affects all of us? Are men so important that they are needed in both the home and public, and women so unimportant that they are needed only at home?

Are men just special and lucky like that?

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