Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Tierney on women's preferences

Any post written by a man titled "What Women Want" is going to be suspect in my book. Bracing myself for a Maureen Dowd-style lesson on gender idiotics, I jumped in, but it wasn't quite as lame as I'd expected. Tierney makes this reasonable-sounding assertion: “You can argue that this difference [men seeking out competition more than women] is due to social influences, although I suspect it's largely innate, a byproduct of evolution and testosterone.” He may not have provided a shred of evidence for his position, and I may not agree with it, but at least he’s leaving the door open for a different view. That door shuts quickly with “Still, for all the executive talents that women have, for all the changes that are happening in the corporate world, there will always be some jobs that women, on average, will not want as badly as men do.” Well, except that if this apparent under-competitiveness of women is due to social influences, then it may not last as long (“always”) as Tierney expects. Nice try, but how many times do we have to hear about the “innate” inferiority of groups of people that have traditionally been subjugated?

Tierney casts it as a sensible lifestyle choice—women don’t go for the top spots because they have their priorities straight. I suppose he’d say the same if a woman ran for president. No sane person would go for that 80-hour a week, intensely stressful, life-shortening job, right? Sorry, Tierney, but your biases are showing.

My take on this guy is that he's aggressively staking out the political middle ground in a time of extreme polarization--admirable, but he's not nearly as adept at it as some (like David Brooks, in my view), and likely will end up getting shouted down by both sides.


your girlfriend said...

I don't understand how trying to discuss the issues of women's "innate" (or non-innate, as the case may be) preferences is equivalent to "staking out the middle ground." One would think that after a certain degree of social progress, certain positions become simply unexceptable--thus the position between them is not representative of any real middle, but rather leaning toward extremism. For instance, were the same thing said about differences between racial groups, I think you'd have a harder time claiming that someone who says something as bogus as this guy is any kind of moderate (though extremists might try). The real question is, why do gender issues such as these keep getting revisited, and what degree of change is going to have to happen before someone like this sounds like a ridiculous bigot?

Yave said...

As far as middle ground in this piece, Tierney does say companies are better off if managed by women. I've gotten the impression from his other pieces that he's angling for the "contrarian moderate" label, like Brooks or Friedman. What he actually is remains to be seen.
Unfortunately, as much as we might like for views like his on "innate" capabilities to be extreme, I'd say they are held by many in the center of the American political spectrum. I was describing the world as it is, not as I'd like it to be. The question of why gender change has happened more slowly than other civil rights struggles is a complicated one (one likely to be addressed in a future post). Over time, the changes have been striking, but more change still needs to happen before Tierney's article would be considered beyond the pale by most people.