International Women's Day: a rebuttal

It isn't easy to figure out when something is working or not.

I think we’re doing a good job of creating equality now. How fast do you hope for things to change? Look at what’s changed for women since 1970. Society has altered so fast people can’t even keep up.

However, it’s not obvious this change has been particularly good for women. The case could be made that these changes were good for society, but the birth rate has plummeted. Maybe you don’t care about that because there are too many people on the planet already. The point is, it isn’t easy to figure out when something is working properly.

One thing is for sure, the countries which have extended rights to women most comprehensively are flourishing economically. And there does seem to be a causal relationship.

But women have paid a major price. The lives of those who occupy the middle class or lower have essentially fallen apart because marriage is now restricted to the rich. That’s also something to think about for those who think marriage is an oppressive patriarchal institution. Ok, then why are only the rich people getting married? Are they oppressing themselves? I don’t think so.

Women in the lower socioeconomic strata are suffering badly. They generally have terrible jobs in retail where there isn’t a steady schedule, the pay is terrible, they have kids to take care of and become easy targets for useless predatory males. This is perhaps 40% of the female population. Anyone reading this is probably part of the cognitive and economic elite, so these sorts of things don’t really touch you the same way they touch other people.

National polls also show women are unhappier than they were in the 1960s. I think that’s partly because freedom and happiness are not the same things. They’re not even close. I see young women struggling all the time trying to figure out what to do with their lives. They have no idea how to have a career and a family. And there’s no answer to that – it’s a really difficult problem.

Consider the legal sector. It boasts a lot of extremely high-functioning young women. The message is that these women are being denied access to positions of power as a consequence of prejudice and oppression. This is ridiculous.

Those law firms cannot keep women. Almost all of them leave. Why? Because these brilliant, conscientious, intelligent women were deadly in school, deadly in university, nailed law school, whipped through their articling and made partner by the time they were 30. They were on a rocket to the top position. But what do they find when they get there? Eighty-hour work weeks.

Money and power
That’s something to think about. People think those in power are sitting at home smoking cigars and telling their minions what to do. That’s a caricature. I know lots of people like that and they work all the time. From the second they wake up, to the second they go to sleep. They don’t just casually work in the way you go to the library to study for six hours but really only study for perhaps 30 minutes.

Some of these people are corrupt, sure, but the vast majority are self-made and they’re so efficient and smart you cannot believe it. They work eighty hours a week, and most of them happen to be men. Why is that? Because there is a small number of insane men who will do nothing but work, no matter where you put them. If you helicoptered them into the middle of a forest with an axe, all they would do is run around chopping down trees.

So the issue isn’t why aren’t there more women in positions of power, it’s why are there any men insane enough to occupy those positions at all.

The relationship between money and wellbeing is simple. Once you have enough money to stave off misery (which is lower middle class in our society, maybe a little lower), extra money does not improve your life. The data is very clear on this. So why bother with it?

Well, that’s what the women in law firms think. Most of them by the time they reach 30 are married to men who make as much money or more because women aim for men four to five years older and equal or higher in socioeconomic status. These women conclude they don’t need more money to be happy. So they leave the law firm.

The realities of power
But we get things backward so often in psychology and sociology. You have no idea the amount of responsibility that comes with positions of power. Just imagine trying to run a billion dollar corporation. Those things are complicated. Enemies are trying to destroy you all the time.

Apple and Samsung torture each other in the courts non-stop and these large corporations often handle 200-300 lawsuits at once. And that’s nothing compared to staying on top of new technology, constantly interacting with large customers, travelling all the time to maintain relationships, regulating the politics inside the business, etc. Believe me, it’s no picnic.

If you think, “yeah, but they get a lot of money,” you’re not listening. What makes you think that’s such a good thing? Money frees people from all kinds of constraints, but the data on lottery winners is clear: they’re no happier a year later. If someone dumped a huge amount of money on you, what makes you think you wouldn’t unravel completely?

So these women reach 30 and look around. They have made partner or are at the top of their profession. But they ask, what the hell am I doing this for? Why would anyone in their right mind want to be woken up at three in the morning on Sunday by an irate Japanese client demanding they work for the next five hours non-stop to fix this damn problem right now, or he will find someone else to pay $750 an hour to do the job?

Some will say that’s such a masculine form of value and if law firms adopted a more feminine value structure, the problem would disappear. This is nonsense. The reason you get up at three in the morning on Sunday is because if you don’t, there’s some starving associate who’s unbelievably ambitious in New York who will pick up the pieces in two-tenths of a second. It has nothing to do with masculine value structures.

I’m not complaining about women’s priorities. I’m not saying women are wrong. The more I see unhappy women at 35 or 40 who are neither married nor have children, the more I understand that marriage and family are of primary importance. What are you going to do from the age of 40 until the time you’re 80? Perhaps you’ll go run a company. Well, if you’re one in a thousand, that choice will satisfy. But you better make sure you’re that one in a thousand.

Is it a rigged game?
Of course this is a rigged game! In 1835, the average person lived on $1 a day in today’s money. Those people worked so hard that you can’t even imagine it and all their kids died. Women had a terrible time, but so did men. Life was incredibly hard before we got rich. And we are very rich, even those of you who think you’re poor. If you’re reading this, you’re in the top one-tenth of one percent by historical standards.

You could compare yourself to people richer than you and feel melancholic, but that’s pretty pathetic in my estimation. And it’s certainly historically uninformed.

There are lots of reasons men are paid more than women that have nothing to do with prejudice. Men are much more likely to be killed in dangerous jobs and they do almost all the outside work. They operate oil rigs in northern Alberta at 40 degrees below only to emerge five years later with three fingers missing and all warped up. Do you really want to wrestle pipe in the filthy, freezing tundra with a bunch of constantly hungover men?

So I agree, women have it tough. But women also live eight years longer than men. That’s not trivial. Each sex has its own unfairness to deal with but to think it’s all a consequence of the social structure is just plain wrong. Have you considered it might be nature itself? This seems to be completely invisible to those on the left side of the political spectrum. Of course you’re oppressed and your life is full of suffering! Obviously.

But look where you’re sitting. It’s pretty warm in here. You’re so privileged that you have time to read an article on an expensive machine and not worry about being eaten by tigers. By historical standards, you should be out lifting rocks in a skeletal form standing about 160cm with no teeth.

It seems like there’s no gratitude for what our society is capable of doing and has already done.

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