Monday, October 30, 2017

Should We Ban Men from the Workplace?

Of course, she doesn’t mean it. Ruth Graham is indulging in rhetorical license. Specifically, she is using irony to make a point. One appreciates the effort, because it is difficult to control irony. It is even more difficult to make it say what you want it to say. In the current case, Graham seems to be playing off gender stereotypes, by declaring that our long national experiment of having men in the workplace has failed.

It’s a silly thought, mostly because men have always been in the workplace. And, men have always dominated the workplace. She wants us to reverse the genders. So, let's take the bait and see what happens.

For example, she writes:

The long experiment of having men in the workplace has failed.

But, what if she had written:

The long experiment of having women in the workplace has failed.

We agree that we have been running a massive social experiment by having a lot more women in the workplace. We have also been forcing companies to seek gender equity, to have proportional numbers of women in all jobs at all positions.

Saying that it’s an experiment means that we have been trying it out and want to see whether or not it works. Does Graham want us to think that it has not worked out, that the current wave of sexual harassment incidents shows that the experiment has failed? Or does she want us to see that gender stereotypes are elastic and that the men who accuse women of being too emotional, for example, are really manifesting all of the qualities they find in women. 

Examine the way she develops her argument. She begins by noting that men were welcomed into the workforce after World War II because companies had a patriotic duty. As though it would have been feasible to welcome back a conquering army and set them off to do become homemakers. 

As it happened, after World War II the Greatest Generation rebuilt the nation. By and large they did an excellent job. To pretend that the entry of men into the workforce after WWII was somehow anomalous immediately detracts from the argument… such as it is. Graham also suggests that the women who were working in factories during the war would have been happy to continue doing so… now that their husbands were home and now that they wanted to start families.

In what appears to be an attempt at humor, Graham continues:

Let’s start by asking an important question: Is it even natural for men to be in the workplace in the first place? 

Since the workplace has always been dominated by males—a frequent feminist complaint—the question is ironic, perhaps sardonic. Without even looking at the record of what men, over the course of human history, have accomplished, what they have built, what they have provided, Graham launches a feminist critique of men, filled with contempt.

She notes that men are not as good as women with money. Happily she has a few learned studies showing that women are better with money, but in order to explain why women are not more prominent in the workplace she would have to say that a vast right wing conspiracy is so afraid of their awesomeness that it has kept them down in the kitchen and the home. This is standard feminist thinking, and perhaps Graham is lampooning it too, but in truth, it ignores the possibility that women might prefer to spend more time at home and less time on the job....

Surely, many feminists shower men with contempt and cannot understand why men sometimes return the favor. One ought to distinguish between women who enter the workforce wanting to do their jobs and women who enter the workplace wanting to reform it to make it more female friendly. If a woman believes that the workplace is a patriarchal conspiracy and that she must revolt against it in order to bring about a revolution, she is not going to do very well.

If, as Graham says, some industries are basically affirmative action programs for men, one might say that these greedy capitalists have sacrificed their profits in order to keep women oppressed. Evidently, in a free market, if women are really as good as the studies suggest, the first company to hire more of them will outcompete the rest. As it happens, the most competitive businesses in America, companies in high tech, consistently have problems finding competent women.

Graham continues to suggest that men have been responsible for everything bad that has ever happened in the markets and the economy. Since she does not mention any of the good things that men have done, she is simply trafficking in stereotypes, presumably on purpose:

Yet even after all these advantages, men have not only failed to live up to their potential but have also been responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis, defrauding investors, destroying hardworking people’s retirement funds, and triggering worldwide economic crashes. Instead of learning from their mistakes and misdeeds, they have often rewarded themselves with bonuses and lobbied to remove regulations that prevent them from hurting people again. We must ask ourselves, do men really have judgment and intellectual abilities to be entrusted with our most important resources?

Does she want us to think that men are blaming women for everything that has gone wrong in the economy? Does she want us to think that the grand social experiment has damaged the economy because women are less capable than men and much more of a distraction.

She continues to ask whether men are incompetent or malicious?

Sadly, however, it has now become clear that many men are not just incompetent but also dangerous. One recent poll found that 30 percent of women have endured unwanted advances from men they work with, with the majority of those women saying those advances rose to the level of sexual harassment. … We can hold endless conferences and panel discussions on “Men in the X Industry.” But when will we admit that “the industry” is not the problem?

The answer is, of course, both. Graham then regales us with charges against men. Since men have at times leveled these same charges at women, she apparently thinks it’s amusing to turn them against men. It isn’t. It makes her sound silly and unserious:

Many male workers are also simply too emotional to thrive in the modern workplace. They struggle with anger, jealousy, and pride; they are easily distractible and prone to tantrums. And have I mentioned the "constant sexual harassment" issue yet? Now, it’s important to remember that some male behaviors, like drinking Soylent and playing Nerf basketball in the office, are nothing more than harmless quirks of their sex. But in other cases, a man’s “adorable” childishness—his tendency to tweet angrily at other world leaders, for example—can actually be dangerous. It’s simply not worth the risk to entrust men with real power.

She continues to suggest that men should stay home where they belong:

And yet, over and over, they have failed: harassing, assaulting, leering, grabbing, menacing, rubbing, “joking,” and on and on. These failures have cost employers tens of millions of dollars in legal fees and settlements, and harmed tens of millions of women. Think of all the financial and emotional damage that could have been avoided if men simply stayed home where they belong.

As it happens, no one, except for Graham, is suggesting that women should stay home where they belong, because their presence in large numbers in the workplace has caused trouble. But, her strange ironies do suggest a very simple cure for the problem: fewer women in the workplace. As you know, many men will no longer have private meetings with women who work with them. Many older men refuse to mentor younger women. And, now, some men are simply saying that it’s not worth the trouble to hire women at all.

One suspects that Graham has picked up on some of this chatter and is presenting it as a counterargument. Of course, her argument turns so neatly against women that you have to wonder what her purpose is. Do the editors of the XX column at Slate really want us to believe that the great feminist social experiment has failed? Would they admit that it was an experiment, to be embraced or rejected depending on the outcomes?

She concludes:

While certain exceptional men are able to control their weak natures and rise to the challenge of behaving appropriately in the workplace, it’s time to do what’s right and end this grand experiment before anyone else gets hurt.

For all I know, Graham might be skewering the patriarchy. But, she might also be underscoring the simple fact that the orgy of accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault might not necessarily be a good thing for women in the workplace. It might and probably will lead some men to conclude that hiring and mentoring more women is not worth the trouble.

In a more literal sense, you can follow Graham and blame it all on men. And yet, would these men be misbehaving, would they be mismanaging their companies if they were not surrounded by so many attractive women?

If the piece was intended as humor, it has failed. It simply is not funny. If it was intended to skewer feminism, it is intriguing.

Somewhere Sheryl Sandberg is weeping.

Somewhere else Christopher Hitchens is smiling.


whitney said...

Why is Christopher Hitchens smiling?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Some time ago Hitchens wrote an article suggesting that women are not funny... ever since that time, women comedians have gone out of their way to show off their ability to be funny.

Jack Fisher said...

Graham's satire is the worst I've ever read.

JP said...

"Graham's satire is the worst I've ever read."

I don't think it's satire.

It's clearly something else.

I'm not sure what it is, though.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I wasn't very sure what it is, either... but I suspect that it's an attempt at humor-- by using or misusing irony. Strangely, a lot of people are taking it literally.

whitney said...

I think it's definitely an attempt at humor. A really bad attempt.
As far as the women aren't funny meme I know that you could not pay me money to watch The Three Stooges. And that used to be true of almost all women. And now women are making "funny" movies where they act like The Three Stooges. But they never understood the humor to begin with so they present whatever it is really poorly and both men and women don't think it's funny. That's what happened to Ghostbusters

Sam L. said...

Stuart, is there a gender breakdown on those taking it literally?

I have the i=feeling that Ms. Graham's rhetorical license should be suspended for 60 days.

Jack Fisher said...

Graham's is an attempt at a Jonathan Swift-style Juvenalian satirical essay.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I was also thinking about Swift's "A Modest Proposal" but she does it very poorly. I am not very familiar with Juvenal.Irony and satire are very difficult to do well... when you miss the mark you find that the arguments boomerang... which seems to be what happened here.

JP said...

"Graham's is an attempt at a Jonathan Swift-style Juvenalian satirical essay."

There needs to be a word for an attempted satirical essay that results in a catastrophic rhetorical failure.

Because whatever that word is, that's precisely what this essay thingy is.

Jack Fisher said...

The literary term is "fail".

JP said...

"The literary term is "fail"."

I want a word that is more fun to say.

Jack Fisher said...

Most rhetorical figures are of classical Greek origin. This one is from the phrase, απορροφά σκληρότερα από yo τη μαμά, that is, "sucks harder than yo mama."

Ares Olympus said...

Yes, looks like a poor attempt at something, although she's right about the emotionalism argument and angry tweets in regard to our current improbable president.

Or we could consider that in the third world, especially in informal economies, often the women are doing most of the work while the men are goofing off. That's party why there was a big push for microloans that apparently do men little good, but for frugal women it can give them the resources to start a small business.

And given young men's love for video games, and young women's willingness to get into large amounts of student loans for higher skills, the third world may be coming to us faster than we think.

Jal Pari said...
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