Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Bias Against Women? What The Red Tent Teaches Us

If judged by the attendance at conferences, women dominate the world of writing, but is there a “bias against women in the workplace” and why?

We hear over and over again about a woman who unsuccessfully sued her employer because she was earning 79 cents to the dollar.  There are studies showing that people preferred unseen male bosses over females despite hearing the same description about each.  In addition, transgender individuals have found themselves to be assumed better leaders after becoming men. 

Is the U.S. misogynous?  I have a different, and likely unpopular, view. 

Could it be that this bias is inborn from the historical rolls that men and women played?  If you’ve read The Red Tent, you’ll find that women, too, are assumed to be better than men at some things, things that are, in fact, more important than money to the existence of our species - for example, making childbirth happen. 

Yes, we are assumed to be more intuitive, more empathetic, more persistent through long-lasting pain.  Could a man endure child birth?  In science fiction, maybe.  The uterus is strong and flexible.  In the world of plants, bamboo has that distinction and is revered as a deity by some in Asia.  Are women stronger? 

I think the argument that women are assumed to be poor leaders has its own bias (seemingly relevant to the world we’ve created for ourselves but forgetting the other side of the coin). 

The perspective of some transgendered people comes from a source that has its own slant.  Many women, by their admission, haven’t fit in as women so may not have experienced as much of the up-side of being women and having their power.  The notion that the world is biased against women makes victims out of people who are important through their naturally given powers, and assumes money and power on the job are the most important powers. 

Workplace leadership may be judged to be a good measure of success – now with the breakdown of the family and the trend toward having fewer kids.  We want to be labeled as “equal” in the workplace which is, perhaps, the closest thing in our everyday life to the role of the buffalo hunter of the past. 

I'm dubious of anecdotal observations in some studies that fail to address the confounding issues.  Always a devil's advocate, I studied "studies" and the resulting stats.  It seems the proven inequality results from an assumption, often a preconceived idea of men and women being born with exactly the same natural abilities. 

There will always be women assumed to be so-so managers who are actually the top of the heap, men assumed to be the better bread-winners yet are so empathetic and nurturing that they are the far better parents to stay home with their children and help bring babies into the world.  But the unconscious biases may not be easily explained as a pernicious undercurrent of prejudice.  Might it be nature rather than nurture? 
In some ways women have it better today.  Flippantly I can joke that women have evolved faster to fit in our world.  Females can be nurturing and yet happily attack fields previously dominated by men, even encouraged through programs to bring science and leadership into their worlds.  Boys, however, are not allowed the nature, aren’t just encouraged to play with dolls, they are not allowed rough play and are forced to put their toy guns away, be more feminine when dealing with the world. Women are being allowed to expand, manliness is being stifled and even reviled as barbaric.  I'd rather be a woman in this day and age. 

 I think it’s a disservice to ignore the strength of nature and approach feminism as a fight against victimization.  Why not open the doors to all, acknowledging that the unconscious biases are not malevolent but innate.  Why not put more emphasis on the successes of women that in fact outshine those of men? 

The sensitivity serves women writers well, think Rowling .  And step aside Stephen King, the recent queen of fiction is Stephenie Meyer.  The stay-at-home mother who wrote Twilight accounted for more than 15 percent of all books sold in the U.S. In 2010.  
(These thoughts were inspired by Author Maria Popova who referenced writings by NPR science writer Shankar Vedantam about biases and their effects on our lives.  Popova argued  that those biases hold women back in the workplace.  My reaction to Popova’s take on the issue is clearly contrary to modern day feminism.  I think, however, that some who call themselves feminists may be ignoring the other side, maybe a more powerful side.)