Saturday, 13 May 2017

In Defense of White Men

My constant source of entertainment these days, (re-)published this incredible article a while back about how friendly males can contribute to The Cause. In the midst of their normal and exhaustingly repetitive content, ('toxic masculinity', accusations of 'misogyny', calls for 'intersectionality' and so on  you know the story), I found a pretty interesting challenge I thought to briefly take on.
As number 4 in the list of exceedingly beneficial instructions for their about twelve male followers, they asked to seek out women's perspectives in literature: 
Read articles and books that have nothing to do with feminism, but that are written by women. Look at your bookshelf. Is it full of mostly male authors? Think of why that might be.  Then, commit to exclusively reading work by women –  from all different countries, with different backgrounds and identities – for a week, a month, a year, or more. Ask the women in your life for recommendations of books that changed their lives, books where they felt deeply heard or seen. Read those books. (my emphasis)
Ok, notwithstanding the anti-intellectual "messenger matters more than message"-rubbish, I love books and thought this would be a cool exercise. So I checked my Glasgow bookshelf, which by no accounts is the full extent of my library, and found the following: 
  • 7 books out of 57 were written by women (12%) 
  • 3 of those (McCloskey's trilogy on the industrial revolution) were written by a woman who was once a man (Not sure if that's worthy of bonus points or penalties in EverydayFeminism's book...)
  • 2 by Ayn Rand, the conservative anti-socialist, anti-leftie novelist pretty much every left-wing person I know hates more than capitalism itself. 
  • and 1 book by Lauren Southern, the Canadia equivalent of Milo, both of whom every single reader of EverydayFeminism and self-respectiving feminist hates more than patriarchy itself. 
  • Oh, and the last one is shit Austrian historian I couldn't care less about. 
By their own metric, I should read these great works simply because they were written by women. Terrible advice if one wants to advance The Cause. So let's comply with the second part of the instruction: Think about why that may be. Two interpretations here  either why I don't have more women authors in my bookshelf and consequently don't read more women, or why people don't read women in general (I'm sorry, what?!). Since the latter isn't even true, I'm just gonna answer the first: women don't make for very good historians. Or economists. 

Before you call down the Wrath of God on me, let me explain this claim by reiterating a discussion I had at Glasgow Economic Forum after a similar comment by one of our speakers. One of the few female speakers we had  ironically the only one explicitly bringing up the gender composition of speakers  was by far the worst session of the entire conference. I'm not arguing that women a priori don't make for good historians or economists, or that there's something innate in femininity or genetics that make women worse scholars, but basing the claim on empirical observations. The really meaningful contributions to history and economics have overwelmingly been done by men, yesterday, today and probably part of tomorrow. If I consequently want to study either of these fields, even the cutting-edge research going on, I will read men, with or without the blessings of the editors of EverydayFeminism. 

Here's an attempt at explaining why speakers of most conferences I've attended have overwelmingly been white men in their upper 50s or so (Even for our own Glasgow Economic Forum, organised by a team with a very high aversion to all kinds of representational inequalities): path-dependence.

Serious and high-quality scholarship takes time and effort. Very few people produce amazing work and become well-known scholars overnight. Which explains why most speakers we would want to listen to at an academic conference are not exactly fresh out of universities. If getting to that point in their career required some four-five decades of intense scholarly work, that means they must have started that journey in the 1960s and the 70s. Say what you will about Second Wave feminism and the progressiveness of the 60s, but most women were much more concerned about the duties of a housewife than Britain's Stop-Go economy or the break-down of the Keynesian framework. Hence, the composition of today's great scholars will reflect that, not our current pool of bright students, or whatever composition we would have liked. 

To our minority-obsessed generation, unequal representation in anything by any category is of course anathema and conclusive evidence that something deeply sinister is going on; the hetero-macho racist patriarchy is alive and well, etc. I'd argue it isn't. It's simply a lagging reflection of what society half-a-century ago expected women to do, something that will be corrected over time – especially if talent indeed is randomly distributed, as most of my generation of indignant Social Justice Warriors implicitly and explicitly assert. 

In all honesty, I don't dispute the fact that different people face different challenges, perhaps even unfair ones. What I'm trying to do here is to give a simple common-sense explanation that does not involve conspiratory race-heteropatriarchal oppression. The pool of talent from which we have drawn great scholars, and consequently speakers at our conferences, has simply not been filled with equal number of men and women (check out: randomness assumption). Of course we should not then expect equal outcome, or expect my bookshelf to contain equal proportion women.

Let's close with one of my favorite quotes these days: 
You shouldn’t give a shit about skin color. You shouldn't give a shit about sexuality. You shouldn’t give a shit about gender, and you should be deeply suspicious of the people who do.
Bottom line: probability confusion and randomness assumption. And my dear friends at EverydayFeminism would greatly benefit from reading some Thomas Sowell (not a woman, unfortunately, but black, so maybe partial credits?). In all honesty, most people would. 

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