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Gender And Status
Caplan offers an elegant alternative, one that he believes actually describes the meat of what twenty-first century Western feminism is all about: “the view that society generally treats men more fairly than women.” It’s a good definition in the sense that it identifies a point of disagreement between (at least some) feminists and (at least some) non-feminists. …
It turns out that assessing the “fairness” of how “society” treats one half of the population compared with the other is difficult to judge, since there are so many different metrics one might use. Which, of course, is Caplan’s point. … According to this definition, I am not a feminist.
Perry then offers an “eccentric” alternative definition, though she admits
when most people describe themselves as “feminists” they’re thinking of something closer to Caplan’s “fairness” definition. …
Women are less likely to be found in positions of power. [and so] the interests of women, particularly mothers, are less likely to be given voice in the corridors of power. Feminism … is, I posit, the political movement that exists in order to counteract this problem.
Perry posits that this problem arises because women tend to have lower status than men, due to “their association with children.” Even though women have many advantages in our world,
the status insult still stings, particularly for women of particularly high intelligence, or with particularly masculine temperaments, who highly resent the more-or-less implicit suggestion that they are intellectually childlike. This, I propose, is the true motivating force behind the feminist agitating that Caplan criticizes so strongly. … despite all of the legal gains of the feminist movement over the last century and more, the status gap persists. All else being equal, a woman will never have as much social status as a man.
So, what to do? … I oppose the kind of feminism that seeks to erase the differences between men and women in the hope of erasing the status gap. I reject the kind of feminism that insists on 50/50 representation in boardrooms while forgetting about 50/50 representation in waste disposal …
My proposal, instead, is that feminists should play a different status game entirely by pugnaciously asserting the status of motherhood … My guess is that Bryan Caplan would be quite happy to “sign on the dotted line”
So what do I think?
It seems pretty plausible that many high status women are primarily bothered by their personally facing gender-based obstacles to gaining even higher status. Though I agree with Perry that Caplan’s definition seems closer to what bothers most people.
It seems less plausible to me that the primary motive here is to cut feature differences between typical people and those in power. After all, people in power are also much more likely to be older, taller, healthier, sociopathic, and lawyers, yet I see far less energy devoted to reducing such differences.
I agree that men are over-represented in the high tail of status, but this seems to me less due to women being associated with children, and more to men just having higher variance, which seems a consistent pattern. Men also seem to be over-represented at the low tail of status, a fact that will matter more to low status people, but less to the high status folks who dominate these discussions.
I’m happy to join Perry in trying to raise the status of mothers, in part because that could help promote higher fertility. But I’m not sure how much we can really control this. If status is a shared judgment on individual virtue, and if men actually do have higher variance in virtuous features, with the two genders typically having similar medians, then top men really do deserve their overall top status. Just as bottom men deserve their overall bottom status.
If so, trying to raise the status of top women up to the level of top men would be trying to distort our status judging processes to make them less accurate. Even counting motherhood for a lot more doesn’t seem to me by itself sufficient to bump top women up to top men status levels. So are there other status dimensions to which we could give more weight, where women have higher levels or variance?