Thursday, October 8, 2009

Gender Inequality 2

I got several responses to a glib offhand comment I made earlier this week* about clothing, and I'd like to post a couple general responses:

I know that there is plenty of inequality in outcomes, that there are still plenty of sexists lurking around, and that there are plenty of places in the world where women are denied legal rights.  My point was that in free Western democracies, the dress code is the only place you will find actual written rules, combined with very powerful and unquestioned social expectations, that put women at a disadvantage.

The evidence of human behavior suggests that men's clothing is superior to women's in terms of comfort, functionality, and practicality.  When women are allowed to do so, they often choose to wear trousers.  I don't think men lose anything by being denied the ability to wear skirts and high heels.  It is true that social comfort is subjective, but the fact that people have been trained to be comfortable in impractical clothing means that that they could easily be trained to be just as comfortable in practical clothing, so they would get the benefits of both.

It is certainly possible that these dress codes were designed and enforced by one type of woman, those who look and feel good in these clothes.  But it still has the effect of making life difficult for other women, who probably form the majority.

*Note to website or RSS readers: My blog is imported into my Facebook page, where people often comment on it.


Anonymous said...

"My point was that in free Western democracies, the dress code is the only place you will find actual written rules, combined with very powerful and unquestioned social expectations, that put women at a disadvantage."

Hmm, the last time I checked the US Armed Forces had plenty of written rules that put women at a disadvantage, and none of them had anything to do with a skirt.

Alleged Wisdom said...

What rules are you talking about? I know the Army culture can be hard for women to deal with, but he only gender-specific Army rules I know about are:

1) Lower physical fitness requirements for women
2) The rule about keeping women away from front-line combat positions.

The first rule clearly benefits women, and the second one theoretically does too, even though it might be bad for your career.

Anonymous said...

Women aren't permitted in infantry positions. The Army and Marines classify snipers as infantry, as well as a host of other technically demanding positions. The Navy bans female submariners. An antiquated implementation of some sort of Odd Man Hypothesis in my opinion. No offense intended, but perhaps you should walk a mile in those uncomfortable heels before making any generalizations of this nature.

Alleged Wisdom said...

Okay, I concede that the armed forces discriminate against otherwise qualified women who want to do certain jobs.

Are there any examples in civilian life I should know about?

Anonymous said...

Examples of codified discrimination? Of course not. The Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act are still Federal Law, and that would be akin to jumping on the ACLU's back and yelling "Sue me!" at the top of your lungs. But, of course, it happens. My own employer has a well-known unwritten rule not to consider men for a number of positions.

Alleged Wisdom said...

Did you mean to write 'men' in that last sentence? If so, what jobs are we being locked out of?

Anonymous said...

Yes, men - the saw cuts both ways after all.

The collective "you" are not considered for any fine assembly work that would require tweezers and magnification, or for any circuit board design-slash-assembly. The reasoning being "you" lack the attention to detail and steadiness required.

Kinda makes you mad to be blocked out of a career based on a sweeping generalization, doesn't it?

Alleged Wisdom said...

I'm not mad at all. Innate differences in physical ability are a perfectly valid reason to use this kind of 'rule of thumb'. Given the expense of administering a test of manual dexterity, it makes sense to use a well-known proxy, even if that proxy isn't completely accurate.

Discrimination in the private sector will eventually be eliminated by market forces. If you exclude qualified people, your costs will rise and you won't be able to compete with people who have intelligent HR departments. Anything that persists probably does so because one group of people actually is more qualified. I'd guess that the average woman employee at your company probably is more qualified at circuit board assembly than the average man.

Of course, discrimination is a much bigger problem in government agencies, who are shielded from market discipline.

Anonymous said...

Of course. Government has politicians, not an invisible hand.