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Tag Archives: feminism

In the past few months, there have been lots of discussions about the necessity for political representatives to reflect their constituencies not only in terms of the ideas they defend, but also in terms of social categories in the broadest sense. Since that one has been floated around recently – and because it is worryingly popular – I’ll take as example the case of  feminine representation. Be aware that I consider however that my arguments hold in discussions about representing any social category.

A prime example of this concern was the nomination of the President of the European Council and of the High Representative for foreign affairs. During the build-up to the actual nominations, it was frequently stated that a major goal during the nominations was to ensure correct gender representation. And this, in turn, greatly impacted the choice of the person for the latter role. The consequence of this is that the nominated person might be representative of her constituency, but is just not fit for job – she doesn’t have the credentials to do it right. Aiming for “representativeness of representatives” can only lead to mediocre representatives.

This is lunacy raised to an art form. Here’s why.

The goal of representation in the political arena

It seems lost on many people that the goal of representation in the political arena is to represent the will of We the People. Put in other words, the aim is to represents people’s ideas, not who or what they are. This is not some sort of marketing oriented statistical population selection. Politics is not about reflecting what people look like, how they live or what they do. It’s about what they believe is good for society.

People are people

Couldn’t resist the urge to quote a Depeche Mode song. Anyway, people, however you may wish to categorize them for whatever dark purpose, are individuals. They have their own life, make their own choices, hold their own ideas.

Thinking that a specific characterization – gender, race, hair colour or shoe size – will adequately capture a set of common ideas is basically denying that people are complex entities, for sure influenced by a certain amount of determinations, but essentially defined by their own free will.

Some will feel the need to argue for social determinations, or even genetics, and try to convince us that free will is an illusion. Well, apart from my total rejection of such metaphysics, you can’t escape the single obvious fact, observable in everyday life, that there is no single social category that can adequately provide for the prediction of a person’s beliefs. Case in point: the single person with which I hold the most common beliefs is my dearly beloved. And apart from the obvious fact she is a woman and I’m not, we have enormous differences in our social backgrounds.

So at the very least, even if someone were to hold on to the dangerously mistaken notion that free will is an illusion and our beliefs are determined, they would have to admit this determination is chaotic and thus, unpredictable.

Social categories are represented anyway

By the way, in the political arena at least, social categories are represented. In case somebody didn’t notice, voting rights in our societies are not limited to any specific social category (except children and sometimes convicts). So, to take the example of women, holding that our representatives should comprise more women “to express the voice of women” is clearly absurd. The voice of women has already been expressed – in ballots.

And for those who have decidedly not been paying attention, there have been high-profile women in politics for decades, both across the world (Thatcher, Gandhi, Clinton or Meir to name but a few) and closer to home (just look at party presidents in Belgium).

Do you really want to represent all social groups?

Just for fun, let’s imagine the idea that our representatives should exactly reflect the social categories of their constituencies is correct. What would that mean, and where would we stop?

How about ensuring hair colours are adequately represented? Sexual orientations (with obvious implications as to full disclosure of all sexual practices)? Shoe sizes? Illnesses and ailments? Criminal records (criminals are entitled to be represented too after all)? Homeless politicians? Politicians in a coma?

Of course, there could be no such thing as professional politicians, because all professional categories would need to be represented.

And then, of course, most of our representatives would need to be morons, because, let’s face it, most people just aren’t that smart.

Actually, that last one might be achieved already.

The root cause of this idea

At the end of day, people who fuss about how representatives do not match the general population usually have a hidden (often to themselves as well) agenda. And that is trying to get more representation by people they (wrongly) believe will share their ideas. Just can’t accept that their ideas aren’t the dominant ones.

Actually, I can’t either, but I don’t kid myself about it, nor do I try to mess with the system under false pretences.

Final side-note

Of course, if representation were done at a much lower level, this kind of argument would basically disappear. With representation at a very low level and direct democracy as much as possible, there would be little room left to complain about not being heard – you would be heard loud and clear.

Because, guess what? The person that can best represent me is myself.

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I’ve always been opposed to anything resembling positive
discrimination. Positive or negative, it remains discrimination on
inappropriate criteria and should hence be opposed on moral grounds
and on legal ones (it breaks equality before the law). What’s more, it
is totally ineffective and has negative side-effects. The biggest of
these is that positive discrimination undermines the credibility of
the ones favored by it. Typically, if the law establishes a quota of
20% of black students in university, people will logically come to
believe that blacks with a university diploma owe it only to the law
and hence don’t deserve it. This might be true of some: these are the
ones “advantaged” by the law, but the advantage is neutralized by the
prejudice I just described. So on their side of things, nothing has
changed: they have a university diploma, but nobody takes it
seriously, which is the same as having none at all. But the other
ones, those who got through university out of sheer hard work and
talent, those who didn’t need the law in the first place, will suffer
from the prejudice that they succeeded only thanks to the law. Their
situation is hence worse off than before the law.

The second, more obvious, side-effect is that, if the resource given
out (here, university diplomas/grants) is rare, the people evicted to
the “advantage” of the “favored” minority are purely and simply
discriminated against. They have been barred from university only to
favor other people. Excuse-me?

People and European politicians don’t seem to grasp that yet, since we
periodically hear of using positive discrimination in European
society, even though the US have been testing it for 30 years,
noticing it doesn’t work because of the negative side-effects I have
described, and moving away from it.

But it does seem that the reasoning is starting to catch on a bit in
the field of another useless positive discrimination: the one that
forces political parties to present only electoral lists with 50% of
women on it. While for years everyone was ecstatic about this stupid
idea, this article at last starts to state the obvious: this only has
negative effects.

First and foremost, many parties have a tough time fulfilling the
obligation. This entails that they ask each and every woman possible
to be on their lists. The direct consequence of this is that a serious
proportion of these women don’t really care about politics or about
being a politician. Hence they don’t help the campaign. More
importantly, despite what they want, these women might be elected,
even though they don’t care or aren’t competent at all. This is bad
news for the quality of the (in this case local) government. Many of
these uninterested women give up their political mandate as soon as
they can, which is unsurprising.

So what we have right now is many women who are not interested or do
not really think themselves competent on electoral lists. On the other
hand, many men have been asked not to be present on the electoral
lists even though they were deeply motivated and/or competent, because
room had to be made for the uninterested women. So at the end of the
day, the men on the lists are only the most motivated/competent of
men.

If you are a rational person, you can only conclude one thing from all
this: if in doubt, always vote for a man. He is most certainly
motivated if he managed to be on the list, whereas the women most
likely weren’t. Hence, it is highly probable he’ll be a better
politician than the women. In the end, if voters are rational, these
legal rules should prompt them not to vote for women.

The most amusing of all this is that these rules were totally uncalled
for. There have been, in belgian and international politics,
high-profile women for quite a long time, which is proof enough that
there are no significant barriers for them to be successful in
politics. In Belgium, just think of Laurette Onkelinx, Annemie Neyts,
Isabelle Durant, Joelle Milquet, Evelyne Huytebroeck, etc. It is more
likely that the explanation for the weak numbers of women in politics
is something we all notice everyday (and which is proven by the
electoral list fiasco): women are in general less interested in
politics than men. So what?

P.S: I have, for the sake of argument, considered it possible that
politicians be competent and that government be “good”. I doubt both
these assertions. Nevertheless, those who believe in these stupid
rules believe politicians can be competent and that government is a
positive thing and it was thus usefull to work inside of their frame
of reference. For the record, I consider politicians useless and
basically parasites. But I am still enraged by bad rules in how to
pick them, because they can only make things even worse. The fact that
things are bad (we have an extensive government) shouldn’t be an
excuse to let them get even worse (the people who get to govern us are
the worst of the possible options).

A discussion with a colleague made me come back to my views on
feminism and what should be done – or not – for women in today’s
world. Here are my conclusions – nothing really new actually, just a
synthesis of my positions.

Feminism has a funny history, and knowing a bit about it helps to
understand what is a good attitude to help women get the attention
they deserve – but not more.

Initially, feminism started out to restore lost equality between
genders. In a day when a woman was socially a nothing, and men were the
only ones that mattered, the idea was basically to say “hey, we matter
too, there’s no reason we should be left behind”. That was a very
legitimate aim, and one can only approve it.

In time, this aim was reached, albeit slowly. Political and legal
equality ensued. Women are, nowadays, equal to men, in rights. Which
is a good thing ™.

But a second generation of feminism emerged, much more
confontational. Instead of just saying “we deserve to be treated like
men”, it started ranting on about how men were evil and were vile
women oppressors. Instead of wanting equality of rights, it started
aiming at erasing any difference between men and women. The trouble
began.

First, there is the absurdity of the statement “there is no difference
between men and women”. Of course there are, and thank god! On
average, men are stronger than women. So what? On average, women are
prettier than men. So what? There are differences, but there lies no
harm in them. Diversity is actually a good thing.

The main novelty of this modern feminism is it’s
methodology. Basically, it looks at statistics, and if there is a
discrepancy between men and women, it shrieks in horror. The problem
is that although next to nobody adheres to this modern feminism, it’s
methodological habits have entered many contemporary minds, especially
– but not only – women.

But this methodology is deeply flawed. The fact that, for instance, a
company’s list of top executives is mainly composed of men is not in
itself a problem. One should strive to understand why the situation is
such.

There can be several explanations to such a situation. The first is
plain old sexism. In this day and age, I consider it the least
believable one. The second is lifestyle choices. It may well be that
most women of the company were not willing to make the lifestyle
choices it takes to make it to top executive. More about that
later. The last reason is self defeating strategies whereby women
subconsciously refrain from competing for top jobs because they have
interiorised sexist clichés about who should be a top executive – or
about who should raise the kids. These days, I tend to believe that
this factor is more important than plain old sexism.

So, I hear you say, nothing should be done for women? Well, as far as
compulsory measures go, no. Sexism is being shunned these days, and is
on the way out. I believe that one day or another, most people are
going to be sex-blind, as far as professional matters go. Which is
great. And there is nothing compulsory to be done about women who do
not want to be top execs or who defeat themselves.

However, as rule, we as people, and companies as individual deciders,
can take some smart measures.

The first is of course to continue to advocate sex-blindness.

More importantly, I think it is good to remind women that they are
entitled to choose the lifestyle they want. There is no reason why a
woman shouldn’t be a top exec. There is no reason why a man couldn’t
be primary care-taker for children while his wife pursues a high
career. Most men I know are convinced of this. Oddly enough, not all
women are.

Also, it is important to remind them that there is nothing wrong in
choosing another lifestyle – such as primary care-taker for the
children. What people, and women in particular, should have in mind,
is that anyone is entitled to choose how to live his/her life/career,
regardless what people think.

We as people, and companies as individual decision-makers, can do this
job. What shall the results be? Nobody can tell. Individual
preferences will decide. Maybe there will be more women execs. Maybe
not. It doesn’t matter. What only matters is that everybody chooses a
life and career that they really want to pursue, not the statistical
repartition of men and women.

Yes, that’s right. The only thing that matters is freedom.