Undead sexist cliche: When women accept second-best status, they win!

Martin Luther King once observed (as I’ve quoted more than once) that when the Israelites were peacefully making mud bricks in Egypt, everything was, well, peaceful. It’s after Moses started demanding freedom and bringing down plagues that the trouble started—which, from the Egyptian viewpoint, meant all the trouble was the Israelites’ fault.
King was making a comparison, of course, to the pushback against the civil rights movement, the cries that if black Americans weren’t demanding things so stridently, everything would be fine. The same, as I’ve pointed out recently, applies with women: A lot of the hostility we’re seeing, I believe, is the result of women’s increasing insistence that they have rights and they’re not letting go of them (not an original thought. Susan Faludi in Backlash argues persuasively that women’s rights were a huge fuel for the rise of the right wing in the 1980s).
One particular variation of this is the argument that women suing over stuff like sexual harassment and job discrimination is a terrible mistake. As witness a column by Amity Shlaes (link via LGM) claiming that a woman suing over job discrimination and harassment at the venture-capital firm she works for is making it harder for all women. Because if women sue over that stuff, the sensible response is not to stop sexual harassment and job discrimination but to discriminate more by not hiring women.
Shlaes, as Jonathan Chaint replies, doesn’t actually discuss the merits of the lawsuit, only that it’s a bad idea even if (as the plaintiff allege) her bosses pressured her for sex and shut her out of important meetings. After all, venture-capital firms are “wild” and crazy, they can’t be serious, toe-the-line, watch-what-you-say corporations. That seems to be a version of Katie Roiphe’s argument that fighting sexual harassment just proves feminists aren’t any fun (because, presumably, it’s impossible to be wild or funny without making sexual suggestions to your subordinates).
This isn’t an original line of thought with Roiphe or Shlaes. Libertarian John Stossel wrote a column a few years ago in which he chastised a woman for suing because her employer allegedly fired her for taking maternity leave. Not content with his libertarian position (that there should be no legal restrictions on employers whatsoever), Stossel argued that this is bad for women because if employers think women will sue over the (illusory appearance) of discrimination, they won’t hire women.
Of course this only hurts women if more women lose jobs over fears of lawsuits than lose their jobs because they’re pregnant, or going to get pregnant or might get pregnant (one of the standard rationalizations for not hiring women back in the pre-women’s rights days was that they’d quit as soon as they had a family).
Stossel’s evidence this is the case? None. The most he could do in his column is quote Carrie Lukas, an antifeminist activist with no particular experience in labor law, who agrees with him but can’t offer any evidence either.
As Chait points out, we’ve seen a steady growth in women in business over the past few decades. We’ve also seen a growth in legal protection against discrimination. The evidence would indicate that valid lawsuits and legal protection benefit women, not the other way around.
As Frederick Douglas put it a long time ago, ““If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation…want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters…. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

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Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

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