Undead Sexist Clichés: Larry Summers proved there is no discrimination against women

If Larry Summers goes down in history, it won’t be for his tenure as Obama’s Treasury Secretary but for a speech he made while President of Harvard.
As the president of one of our best-known colleges, Summers made a presentation at a 2005 conference on diversity in science which, by his own statements, he intended to be “provocative.” He succeeded.
The gist: The lack of women in academic science and mathematical positions has nothing to do with discrimination. It’s entirely due to native ability and the fact women make different life choices, care for babies, etc., etc. Not a terribly novel viewpoint.
In this case, however, expressing the view to a roomful of women (some of whom undoubtedly knew better) led to a firestorm that resulted in Summers bidding Harvard goodbye. And secured him a piece of conservative immortality.
Right-wingers such as John Leo and Walter Williams immediately held up Summers as a heroic truth teller who’d been crushed by the might of feminazidom. And besides, he’d only tentatively suggested that just maybe possibly there might be some reasons other than discrimination that women made lousy scientists (Summers is actually definite that discrimination is not an issue. Read the speech here). Plus his speech conclusively showed that discrimination has nothing to do with it and it’s simply the meritocracy at work, so there!
This story has become so entrenched that a Harvard Law student who stated in an email that blacks were inherently dumber than whites (but assured readers she really, really, really hated that this had been so conclusively proved) and ended with “Don’t go Larry Summers on me.” Because darn it, isn’t it an American right to say stuff like that and not have anyone criticize you for it?
What Leo and Williams conveniently ignore is that even “there are practical, non-discriminatory reasons why women don’t enter certain professions” does not disprove the statement “women who do enter those professions face a shitstorm of discrimination.”
And they do. In accounts of women going into a “man’s job,” the usual response is not “wow, you’ve overcome your innate biological limitations” but “What is that bitch doing taking a man’s job?”
A lot of men, unfortunately, define masculinity by default: They prove they’re men by doing stuff men do. And women do not do. If women start doing it, some men can deal; others feel they’ve been castrated.
Other guys just like hanging around with men. It’s a different atmosphere from a mixed-gender setting, and if that means a no-women-need-apply hiring policy, so be it (Roy Thomas said in an interview that many of Marvel’s employees would have preferred an all-male bullpen, though Stan Lee hired women anyway).
For one example, look at Dr. Frances Conley’s memoir, Walking Out on the Boys, about the sexism she dealt with as a neurosurgeon at Stanford. It’s all the more persuasive because Conley comes off so poorly in it——someone who spends most of the book thinking “If I click my heels together three times, maybe things will improve around here.”
As for Summers’ firing, a manager who announces that he doesn’t think women are qualified for jobs in one of his departments pretty much has himself to blame.
Quite aside from the fact he was wrong.


Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

5 responses to “Undead Sexist Clichés: Larry Summers proved there is no discrimination against women

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