2008 Karen Selick
An edited version of this article first appeared in the June 7, 2008 issue of the National Post.
If you wish to reproduce this article, click here for copyright info.
Proposed "Commissioner of Gender Equality" Is Taking Equality Too Far
The announcement said, sketchily, that the
would examine “with an equality lens” federal legislation and
policies. She (or he?) would also have
authority to “audit” federal government departments using something
In plain language, this seems to mean that a
team of bureaucrats,
probably highly paid and predominantly if not exclusively female, will
about looking for statistical differences between men and women in
as income, employment and representation in elected office. They will then complain—sorry, that’s
“report”—to parliament and the press that
And just what is that version?
To find out, you have to consult a 2005
report called “Equality for Women: Beyond
the Illusion.” The
thing you will learn here is that there is “a very real danger” that
people might actually subscribe to the “illusion” that
They acknowledge that
That depends, I venture to suggest, on what results you expected. If you expected women en masse to behave exactly like men en masse merely because there were no legal obstacles to their doing so, then of course you would be disappointed. The biological differences between men and women make such an expectation ridiculous. There is ample scientific evidence of differences between male and female brains that accounts for the tendency of men to excel in--and therefore cluster in--certain occupations, while women excel in and cluster in others. And, of course, there’s the fact that only women can give birth to babies and breastfeed them—an event that frequently affects their occupational choices and career paths.
But the authors aren’t satisfied with the
equal treatment of
men and women under the law, because they reject equality of
society’s ultimate goal. The goal they
prefer is equality of outcome—what they call “substantive equality”.
The report makes it clear we haven’t got it
yet. Here are
some of the indicators. In
These are the same feminist complaints we’ve
for decades. There are important
questions that must be answered before any policy decisions are made in
response to them.
First: where is the evidence that women would get more overall satisfaction from their lives if they had an equal number of corporate directorships, seats in the House of Commons, or engineering degrees? There may be a small percentage of women who yearn for these things, but there is a small percentage of women who’ve actually got them. Those two percentages may already be the same. The vast majority of women may not want these things. Money and fame do not necessarily buy happiness.
For instance, people often suggest to me
that I should run
for political office, but I’m not the least bit tempted. I don’t want
disrupt my home life by having to live in two places. But more
couldn’t stomach spending day after day listening to the mindless
passes for political discourse in the House of Commons. Holding office
make me dreadfully unhappy.
If most women feel as I do and choose not to run, then it is not surprising that very few seats are held by women. This is not the result of some cosmic unfairness, but of the choices women themselves make regarding what courses of action will optimize their lives. If women are generally happier not holding political office, why would we wish this curse upon more of them?
The same reasoning applies in every area
where women are
underrepresented. I wouldn’t want to be a senior corporate executive or
no matter what those jobs paid. Most other women I know wouldn’t,
do the authors of the report assume that women’s non-participation in
occupations is involuntary or requires fixing? Unless they can show—and
certainly didn’t even attempt it in their 66-page report—that women are
rejected by corporations or engineering schools disproportionately to
numbers who apply, then where’s the problem?
But what about the infamous wage gap? For decades, studies have shown that when you compare apples to apples, the gap turns out to be a myth. Women earn just as much as men, or sometimes slightly more. The crucial features that must be kept constant when doing the comparison are marital status and parental status. Never-married, childless women earn the same incomes as never-married, childless men.
Income levels diverge when people marry and
Married men, statistically, earn more than unmarried men—possibly
because the responsibility
of having to provide for a family spurs them on to work longer hours
more responsible, more lucrative positions. Married women, on the other
earn statistically less than unmarried women—possibly because the
responsibilities they assume in the home reduce their ability or desire
longer or harder elsewhere.
But the key questions that must be asked of those who campaign for equality of outcome are these. What do you propose to do if men and women stubbornly refuse to change their choices to fall into the numerical pigeonholes you’ve slated them for? What kind of coercion are you prepared to unleash upon them to achieve your goal? And how much worse are you prepared to this make the world for everyone else?
For if we insist that 50 percent of our
engineers be female
when only 20 percent of women are interested, we will either have to
some unwilling women into engineering school, or reduce overall class
until women make up half the class. The
former solution would result in a contingent of engineers who are
in their field and might erect shoddy buildings and bridges. The latter
result in a smaller contingent of engineers which will reduce the
construction that can be done and increase the cost.
The philosophy behind Mr. Dion’s proposed Commissioner of
Gender Equality is flawed. The outcome
of setting up such a body would be harmful. Let’s hope women voters
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October 22, 2008