In yesterday’s post about thought reform at Harvard Business School I suggested that this feminist effort was prejudicial to both men and women.
Everyone knows that these programs assault men. How many people see their stealth misogyny?
A graduate of the University of Chicago business school, Megan McArdle offers a first-person perspective on the issue. Her observations affirm my view that the administrators at HBS are trying to repeal human nature.
I’m aware that women prioritize dating (and relationships in general) over career much more than men do. And the choices that they make about pursuing those things are made in the context of a culture, and maybe even an evolutionary background, that values female attractiveness and agreeableness more highly than female academic achievement or career success. That’s less true than it used to be, of course -- a successful professional wants to marry another professional, not a secretary or nurse who’s good with kids. But generally, a woman does not attract a man by demonstrating that she’s smarter and funnier than he is -- and women tailored their activities accordingly when I was in school, just as they do today.
Then, as now, women were less likely to go into finance, and much more likely to go into marketing. Judging by my reunion, ones who went into finance mostly did not stay there, especially if they had kids. That was also true of a lot of women who went into consulting. A pretty substantial percentage of the women I went to school with were home with kids or working on small home businesses. And seemingly pretty happy with the choice. I mean, perhaps they won’t be in 10 years, when the kids are well settled in school and they want to get back into work, but I have no particular reason to think they’ll regret their choices any more than the rest of us regret having to make trade-offs with the limited span of years and opportunities we’re allocated.
Obviously, Harvard Business School has now, as a matter of policy, declared that women who make these choices are doing something wrong:
Running through Kantor’s article is the implication that these are bad choices, ones that the women who made them will regret -- or at the very least, ones that will make it harder for other women to break into male bastions like finance. Because those who share that view are powerless to make men want to date women who are assertive and focused on schoolwork, instead they end up fighting the choices. At one point, Harvard forbid its students from wearing Halloween costumes to class, because it didn't want the women to dress up as sexy pirates. On the one hand, I understand that it's trying to send a message that business school should be about school, not finding a spouse.
On the other hand, this is both quixotic and ludicrous. If you put a bunch of people in their late 20s together in a small space for two years, they’re going to spend a lot of their time looking for a spouse, because that’s the age at which they’re supposed to be finding one. And treating them like kindergarteners who can’t be trusted to choose their own clothes just sends the message that fighting sexism is about being a humorless nanny. Judging from the comments from the male students, that is, in fact, exactly the message they picked up.
We understand that the judgmental undercurrent is not coming from Kantor, but is the amoral basis for the HBS policy. As McArdle points out, the thrust of the policy is to deprive women of the freedom to choose their own way in life:
So what do you do about women who freely make choices that perpetuate structural inequalities? Do you stop them from making the choices? Neither Harvard, nor Kantor, seems to have a good answer. But that is the core dilemma. Maybe women drop out because they have a deeper biological connection to their kids. Maybe they do so because they’re raised to be nurturers, or maybe because they don’t feel the same personal anguish that a man does when he gives up on the dream of a top-flight career. Maybe if men felt they had the option to stay home, more would. And maybe women find the role of breadwinner more stressful than men do -- all the women I know who are the primary earners are neurotic about it in a way that the men I know don’t seem to be. I’m not talking about the fear that your partner will resent your success; these are women married to admirably feminist men. I’m just talking about a near-constant fear that you will not be able to provide, and your family will end up horribly destitute. I’m not saying that men don’t experience that worry, but they don’t seem tormented by it the way the women I talk to are.
From talking to her friends McArdle arrives at a reasonable explanation, one that respects women:
Or maybe it’s that women just don’t want it badly enough. In my experience, one of the reasons that women drop out of finance, and 80-hour-a-week fields more generally, is that they just don’t want it as badly as the men. In their 20s, they’re happy to work those kinds of hours, even at tasks they find boring. They do well at them, too. But a lot of these jobs aren’t actually that rewarding as work: The investment banking associates I observed seemed to spend most of their time on basically clerical tasks, tabulating data and proofreading PowerPoints. And eventually most of the women seem to say “You know, I just care more about relationships than I do about success.” There are always exceptions on both sides: women who will sacrifice anything for the career they feel called to and men who would rather be home. But on average, the women I talk to just aren’t nearly as willing to sacrifice close friendships, and family relationships, for the sake of their jobs.
Feminism talks a good game about freedom to choose, but woe betide any woman who makes choices that displease feminism.