Taste discrimination or not?

The grand question about discrimination is whether the discrimination being practiced is taste discrimination (\”don\’t like them, never have\”) or rational discrimination (\”no, sorry, but we really don\’t employ vampires in the holy water  bottling plant\”).

Louise Mensch, an author and MP for Corby, said “did not have any ambition” to be a Cabinet minister because of the “level of life commitment” the job requires.

The comments will further shine a spotlight on how few senior women there are in the Government. There are currently five women members of the Cabinet.

Mrs Mensch said the need to look after her children meant she would not devote herself entirely to a Cabinet job. She said: “I don’t have any ambitions to be a senior politician at all, to be in the Cabinet, whatsoever.

\”I don’t think it is for me ever, principally because I have small children and it requires a certain level of life commitment that I don’t think I could give to the job.”

Women at the top in politics, business, anything else in fact. Is the lack of them taste discrimination by those doing the hiring or taste discrimination by those applying for the jobs? Rational discrimination by both sides?

My own, tentative, answer is that while there most certainly was taste discrimination by the hirers (and the law further back) we\’re pretty much at the end of that. There are those in the twilight of their careers now who were held back before, yes, but I think it would be very difficult to argue that the young people of today face any significant gender discrimination.

Which leaves really that motherhood thing. And changing that is going to require a wholesale change in who looks after the babbies, not something that can really be legislated.

I\’m aware that there are more men willing to do this, there are more house husbands. But I\’m deeply unconvinced that mammalian nature is really as malleable as all that, that we\’ll reach some future state where it\’s a 50/50 break as to who gets the poo and the vomit and who makes it to the boardroom.

The best we can hope for is that everyone gets to make their own choice. You know, that lovely liberal nirvana of maximal liberty. Thing is, I don\’t think we\’ll ever get a 50/50 split along gender lines of the choices being made. So we\’ll never end up with what some regard as \”equality\”, equality of outcomes, as long as people use their equality of opportunity to make different decisions about what makes up the good life.

 

47 comments on “Taste discrimination or not?

  1. Isn’t there lots of evidence that young women now tend to outstrip young men in careers such as medicine, law and accountancy until they reach the point where they start having children?

  2. I agree with what you say. One area that could be legislated for is making “Maternity Leave” something that can apply to either partner, so that couples have greater flexibility in choosing who stays at home in the initial period.

  3. She said: “I don’t have any ambitions to be a senior politician at all, to be in the Cabinet, whatsoever.

    Ironically, that probably makes her the most qualified person for the job.

  4. Alastair

    That might help in some cases, but I think you would still find a lot of women choose children over career. It’s an emotional response, not a logical one. I was the main earner when my children were small, but going back to work after my son was born was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Had I had any choice in the matter, I would have stayed at home with my kids.

  5. Frances: Mum staying at home is fine, if it is the couple’s choice that mum stay home rather than dad. The way maternity is currently set up, the State makes that choice for parents.

  6. @Frances

    As @Philip says, that is fair enough. Financially, it would make much more sense for my wife to be the main bread winner, but she chooses to work part-time whilst our children are young and I work full time.

  7. My wife is a neonatal nurse and midwife. She had countless stories of strong minded career women focussing on when they could return to work – any more than two weeks off was met with complete horror.

    Once they had the baby though, most took the full year and appreciated the time with the child (valued it more than progressing their careers).

    Completely anecdotal, I know, but still…

  8. I agree as far as you go, Tim. But isn’t there an externality here?
    Let’s say employers statistically discriminate, and are, at the margin, loath to hire women for fear they’ll take maternity breaks. How can a woman who genuinely doesn’t want kids signal that she is as hireable as a man? She can, I fear, only do so by adopting characteristics which signal that she is eccentric and so won’t fit in (“lesbian!”, “mad cat woman”), and so reduces her employability in other ways.
    It is these women who might suffer, not those who trade career for family. It’s their experiences, which’ll provide evidence on this, we should hear about.

  9. I would say that it’s harder to pursue a career when children are at school than when they are very small. Childminders don’t look after children over 8, but primary schools finish by 3.30 and expect children to be collected. Not all schools have after-school clubs or breakfast clubs. Au pairs can be a solution for people who have space, but your average 3-bed semi doesn’t accommodate them. When I worked in banking, I was constantly trying to make sure that my kids were picked up and looked after. They were being shunted around from house to house, friends, relatives, anyone who could pick them up and look after them for a few hours. The final killer was when I got on a plane on 9/11, knowing what had happened, because I had to pick the kids up at 6 o’clock. It was just too tenuous, but my (now ex-)husband was much happier than I was to have the kids left to their own devices. Something had to give, and it was my career.

  10. Philip Walker

    There is, I agree, a presupposition that the burden of childcare will fall on women – not least among employers, who can make life very difficult for men who want to spend time with their families. My husband, who earned considerably less than I did and worked locally (whereas I worked in London), was refused permission to leave work early enough to pick up our son from his nursery. His FEMALE boss said “your wife should do it”. Nor is this a “bloated capitalist” attitude. He worked for the Civil Service. I have to say that the attitude of the banks I worked for was rather better.

  11. The alternative is to get an expat job on family status and get some swarthy local to look after the kids, hopefully not shaking them to death in the process. Then the mother can sit about doing fuck all, the father can go to work, and everything works out fine.

  12. Tim Newman

    Or, alternatively, the mother can go out to work and the father can sit about doing fuck all. Which is what this debate is about, isn’t it?

  13. Curmudgeon

    Biology, fine. But if the choice of parents is that dad looks after the babies and mum goes out to work, the State should respect that choice, not make it difficult or impossible.

  14. Or, alternatively, the mother can go out to work and the father can sit about doing fuck all. Which is what this debate is about, isn’t it?

    I’ve seen it in the O&G industry. Usually the house-husbands are sporty Australians who spend most of the day on mountain bikes. But it is the hired help that makes it all possible, which is what my point was.

  15. “And changing that is going to require a wholesale change in who looks after the babbies…”

    I thought we’d reached the conclusion yesterday that it was Peppa Pig..?

  16. “Ironically, that probably makes her the most qualified person for the job.”

    Which would be true in the case of any individual other than her. She seems to be the exception to the rule, given her relentless drive to demonstrate that she’s intellectually bereft.

  17. Curmudgeon (#1) said “young women now tend to outstrip young men”

    I’m told they do in Newcastle, anyway.

  18. “the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst”

    So the only people eligible for cabinet office should be mothers with children at school.

  19. “the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst”

    It’s been said that the most effective device to promote motoring safety would be a sharp spike, affixed in the centre of the steering wheel, pointing at the driver’s heart.
    An equivalent for politicians is urgently needed.

  20. I read a US law enforcement official somewhere describing the best policy for who should be on the SWAT team. You put a notice up on the board calling for volunteers. You note the names of all who have signed up and ensure that under no circumstances are they ever, ever allowed to be on the SWAT team. The same applies, mutatis mutandis for anyone who aspires to high political office. A much more salutary outcome would be to pick our rulers by lottery, like jurors, although it would be a right pain in the ringpiece if you were one of the chosen (unless the perks were even more sybaritic than at present.)

    As for Peppa Pig, I’m surprised in Islamosensitive Britain there hasn’t been a fatwa pronounced yet.

  21. In Guernsey, the parishes are run by a small number of elected officials, and it is compulsory to take on the office if one if nominated and elected. The law provides for fines for anyone who is elected but doesn’t carry out the duties.

  22. Tim – Whenever I hear the term ‘gender’, I want to reach for a revolver. If you mean ‘sex’, say so: ‘gender’ is term borrowed from grammar by those feminists who believe that, apart from genital configuration, sex is “a social construct”. *yawn*

    Frances @ 4: minor point, but ‘logical’ is not a synonym for ‘rational’. Logic tells you nothing about the world: it is the science of the formal relations between propositions.

  23. I am sure that equality , diversity and all that are very much thre vogue.
    But is good for the country?
    As the USA embraces the righteous state it seems to be losing its command in the world.
    Whereas countries with agressive male population seem to have done rather well in the past unless confronted by other more agressive male groups.

  24. Two points
    (i) it is quite possible for fathers to change nappies but not to breast-feed and there is ample evidence that breast-feeding is, in general and on average, better for the baby.
    (ii) There are still a few jobs that require significant physical strength and/or cannot be entrusted to someone suffering PMT. That includes President of the USA or Russia or China, who have fingers on a nuclear button, so female candidates need to be over 50.
    Now I am willing to admit that my wife has found me a reference to a woman who led a gang of navvies “building” (excavating) canals but in general if you want a navvy or a 24/7 bodyguard, then 99% of the time you want a big tough man (not a weed, any more than a bimbo).
    There is also a lot of evidence that women are, generally, better at some jobs and rational discrimination will result in a majority of women in personnel management.
    But, basically, what you can say from that quote is that Louise Mensch is not Margaret Thatcher or Benazir Bhutto, just as you and I are not Jesse Owens or Seb Coe (or Sevvy Ballesteros or Tiger Woods). Mrs Thatcher had talent, Ms Bhutto (aka Mrs Zardari) was willing to combine being PM with having small children.

  25. Paul ilc

    I meant logical, actually. There is nothing irrational in allowing emotion to affect decision-making.

  26. John 77

    Extraordinary. How is it inappropriate for a woman with an excess of progesterone in her bloodstream to be responsible for weapons of mass destruction, but apparently fine for a man with an excess of testosterone?

  27. Frances Coppola – “How is it inappropriate for a woman with an excess of progesterone in her bloodstream to be responsible for weapons of mass destruction, but apparently fine for a man with an excess of testosterone?”

    Because we want to win.

  28. “I meant logical, actually. There is nothing irrational in allowing emotion to affect decision-making.”

    Indeed not. So I would have re-phrased what you wrote @ 4: “a lot of women choose children over career. It’s an emotional response, but still a rational one”.

    My point being that strictly speaking there is no such thing as a ‘logical’ response or choice, only (irr)rational ones. Logical inferences may be part of the practical reasoning leading up to the response or choice, but that’s another point entirely.

  29. “How is it inappropriate for a woman with an excess of progesterone in her bloodstream to be responsible for weapons of mass destruction, but apparently fine for a man with an excess of testosterone?”

    You could argue that it’s because female hormones fluctuate significantly even wildly over a monthly cycle, while testosterone levels remain more stable. It’s not the presence of the hormones that counts so much as the fluctuations.

    Frankly, having a pre-menstrual woman in charge of WMD or flying an aircraft doesn’t bother me at all. Intelligent women learn to understand their own hormonal patterns and allow for them in decision-making. However, I’d feel distinctly anxious about being operated on by a pre-menstrual brain surgeon because a tiny hand tremor could have serious consequences…

  30. On a related point, there’s new evidence coming out that when Norway mandated an increase in the number of women on corporate boards, firm performance went down. This is consistent with the view that, on average, women don’t invest as much time as men in developing expertise.

    I’m not sure why anyone would find that choice problematic, or the result.

    It seems to me that it could be viewed as discriminatory practice on the part of women towards certain life investments.

  31. @ Frances Coppola 28

    Maybe you might like to ask me a relevant question next time. One that related to something I said not something that you want to pretend that I said.

  32. John 77

    This is what you said:

    “There are still a few jobs that require significant physical strength and/or cannot be entrusted to someone suffering PMT. That includes President of the USA or Russia or China, who have fingers on a nuclear button, so female candidates need to be over 50.”

    My question addressed that point directly. Why should a woman’s normal hormonal fluctuations make her unsuitable to be responsible for weapons of mass destruction, when a man’s testosterone-fuelled aggressive urges don’t? I could equally argue that the aggression that testosterone causes makes men completely unsuitable to manage weapons of any kind.

    You don’t give any reason for your assertions, so I am tempted to conclude they are sexist claptrap.

    Paul ilc

    “Testosterone levels remain more stable”. Not when men are presented with pictures of nubile young women, they don’t. Nor when they are in very competitive environments where there are few women. I’d say the variation in testosterone is much less predictable and driven much more by external factors than a woman’s monthly cycle.

    “Hand tremor”, good grief. You don’t know very much about PMT, do you? Personally, I have reservations about being operated on by a man who is determined to prove he can do bigger, better and more complicated operations than his (male) competitors.

  33. @ Frances Coppola
    “a man’s testosterone-fuelled aggressive urges ”
    sounds sexist claptrap to me
    If you had raised questions about the effects of alcohol on certain male leaders then I should have accepted that that is a worry, but as Margaret Thatcher was the most pacifist female PM in the world up to that date I hardly think that your sexist and inaccurate gender stereotyping constitutes a valid argument.

  34. if you whelp your pups betwixt 20 ’til 30 by the time they are not a problem you are a clever 40 yr old,rather than a clever 50 yr old.

  35. “I don’t think it is for me ever, principally because I have small children”

    Ever?

    She seems unaware that she won’t have small children for ever.

  36. John77

    Oh, so it is OK for you to make unsupported and unwarranted assertions about women’s unsuitability for particular roles because of the effects of female hormones, but sexist of me to question men’s suitability for those roles because of the effects of male hormones? What a remarkable exhibition of double standards.

  37. @ Frances Coppola
    I am talking about observed effects, my assertion is warranted – you are responding with smears.
    Or to phrase it your way – is it OK to for feminists to claim PMT as an excuse for female behaviour one day and then deny it exists the next day when you are having a different argument?
    Taking an average per leader of each gender, female leaders have had more wars than male ones (and I am not including any that historians claim were engineered behind the scenes by females) , so *your* assertion that “an excess of testosterone” creates dangerous aggression among potential presidents is unwarranted.
    “Double standards” is not a charge usually applied to me – I am normally criticised for *not* applying double standards. You seem to find it unacceptable that I should condemn your sexist claptrap because you are either unaware of your own double standards or you assume that you are permitted them.

  38. John77

    The relationship of testosterone and male aggression is well documented – certainly as well as your “observed effects” regarding PMT.

    You have still not provided any evidence whatsoever in support of your assertion that pre-menopausal women are unsuitable as leaders of nuclear powers because of PMT . Which, of the many symptoms listed as possibly due to PMT (though many could also have other causes) would you regard as making a woman incapable of rationally deciding whether or not to press the nuclear button? Also, why do you assume that a female leader necessarily even suffers from PMT seriously enough for it to compromise her judgement? PMT is not experienced by all women and only a small minority (3-5%) experience symptoms severe enough to interfere with normal life. You choose to ignore these inconvenient facts and smear all women with your unjustified assertions.

    I have never defended feminists’ inconsistent use of PMT to justify or excuse female behaviour. I do not excuse bad behaviour by women on any grounds. You made that up.

    Comparing the behaviour of the tiny minority of female leaders worldwide with a far greater number of male leaders proves nothing. So they had more wars. How many were started by them, and how many were defending attacks from males who thought a female leader was an easy target? Even if they actually started those wars, the fact that there are so few female leaders, and that those few act more aggressively than male leaders, could just as easily be taken as proof that women can only succeed in a male-dominated environment if they behave even worse than their male rivals.

    The only person issuing “smears” and applying double standards here is you.

  39. @ 42
    “The relationship of testosterone and male aggression is well documented”
    Yes, in male MICE
    In humans, quoting Wikipedia because I don’t have time to dig out all the original research papers, aggression is associated with low levels of testosterone
    “A study conducted in 1996 found no immediate short term effects on mood or behavior from the administration of supraphysiologic doses of testosterone for 10 weeks on 43 healthy men”
    “In fact, aggressive behaviour has been associated with hypogonadism and low testosterone levels”
    We have never elected a mouse as President of the USA, France or Russia.
    A lot of this bullshit is based on observation that bulls locked up in a pen with a ring through their noses and prodded with pitchforks tend to be bad-tempered unlike oxen working and grazing in the fields alongside the cows. However (i) bulls that are allowed to graze the hillsides alongside cows are not equally bad-tempered and (ii) testosterone is not produced in the testes, so oxen typically have as much as bulls. It is *not* down to the testosterone level.
    I did not say that you personally had defended women’s behaviour on ther grounds of PMT. I am sorry and apologise if poor wording could be taken to imply that. [There are , however, some individuals claiming to be feminists who do so]. There are examples quoted in Wikipedia of PMS being used as an excuse for killing people.
    I was looking at observed facts in contrast to your unscientific and inaccurate “a man’s testosterone-fuelled aggressive urges”. Your attempt to talk your way round the observed data ends up with an argument for refusing to allow *any* female of any age to become leader of a major power.
    Of course I cannot answer your question about whether Galtier, for instance, though Mrs Thatcher was an easy target because she was female rather than because several FO civil servants wanted to sell out the islanders: I don’t read minds. It is generally believed that Moshe Dayan talked Golda Meir out of a pre-emptive strike. However I can ask you to look at Bangladesh where Sheikh Hasina and Begum Zia don’t have male opponents.
    “Even if they actually started these wars” – well one of them did.

  40. @ PaulB
    I am not a troll. Frances is wrong because she is repeatedly using an inaccurate smear instead of making a reasoned response.

  41. John77

    Dear, oh dear. One research paper is proof, is it? There have been many studies that HAVE shown correlation between testosterone levels and aggression in men, but you don’t mention these. Once again you ignore inconvenient evidence.

    In this Wiki article on Aggression there is an extensive survey of the research into this subject. Scroll down to find the section on Testosterone under Humans.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aggression
    There are extensive reference documents at the foot of the article, so as Wiki can be unreliable of course I’d suggest you have a look at them. If these aren’t enough I’m happy to provide you with some more links to research papers.

    Nothing I said can in any way be regarded as an argument for preventing women of any age becoming leaders of major powers. You’re making things up again. Could that be because you didn’t want to answer the questions I posed? You still haven’t said which of the “observable effects” of PMT in your view disqualifies women being leaders of nuclear powers.

    Re female leaders starting wars – “one of them did”. Good grief, is that the best evidence you can come up with for aggression in female leaders? You’re scraping the barrel.

  42. “Nothing I said can in any way be regarded as an argument for preventing women of any age becoming leaders of major powers. ”
    Try “the fact that there are so few female leaders, and that those few act more aggressively than male leaders, could just as easily be taken as proof that women can only succeed in a male-dominated environment if they behave even worse than their male rivals. ”
    I *said* that I didn’t have time to dig out the original papers, so I quoted the Wikipedia article. If that is scraping the barrel, then what should I call your misquoting it? It states “testosterone itself is not shown to be the direct cause of aggression in males” – a by-product is correlated with aggression in mice – implying that it is not known whether one is cause and the other effect and, if so, which is cause and which is effect, or whether both are linked to a third item which causes both.
    You seem to take as Gospel your claim that aggression is caused by an excess of testosterone, whereas the only scientific evidence accessible to a five-minute scan gives exactly the opposite answer: that (in a subset) it is caused by a deficit of testosterone.
    There is a multitude of women spouting the same mantra “testosterone causes aggression” so if there is a single *scientific* experiment to support the claim why has none of them updated Wikipedia? Or all the studies you talk about all on the same level as “bulls have more testosterone than cows so the bad temper of the bull I cooped up and prodded with a pitchfork is due to testosterone”?
    “Re female leaders starting wars – “one of them did”. Good grief, is that the best evidence you can come up with for aggression in female leaders? You’re scraping the barrel.” No – that was to deal with your weaselling “Even if” trying to blame all the wars on the opposing male leader, which you cannot do if there is no opposing male leader.
    Your smear is that male leaders are dangerous due to an excess of testosterone (however one defines “excess”). Scientific studies show that an excess of testosterone does not cause aggression. Observed data is that male leaders have less frequently had wars than female leaders with male opponents who have had less wars than female leaders with female opponents.
    There *should* be a debate about the effect of alcohol on the behaviour of leaders but no-one wants to engage in it because they are afraid it would come out with the “wrong” answer.

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