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I Hope My Daughter Lives with a Feminism of Liberty, Not a Feminism of Coercion

My daughter turned three this last Sunday. Like most parents, I already have a high—probably too high—an opinion of her talents, and want a world where they will take her as far as she can go. And that is why I am sympathetic of a feminism of liberty rather than a feminism of coercion.

In a feminism of liberty, all professions are open to women and they are encouraged by teachers and family to choose wisely, taking account of their preferences and endowments. Of course, their preferences may factor in raising a family and agreeing with one’s husband on the best way to split duties at home and between home and work. Equality under the law makes sense, but equality within a family ignores the differences in endowments and varied preferences that partners bring to a marriage.

Sadly, however, I fear that my daughter may face a feminism of coercion where government regulation distorts free choice. California, often a trend setter, has recently set quotas for seats on corporate boards. Many Democratic candidates are touting comparable worth laws, where bureaucrats would set salaries based on their view of the worth of male- and female-dominated jobs.

These laws would have bad social effects. Markets are better than the government in matching people with jobs and in determining how salaries reflect contributions to production. Bureaucratic allocation here would lead to high administrative costs, inefficient job placement, and lower economic growth.

But such regulation will be bad for my daughter on a personal level as well. It will distort the signals that the market gives to help her choose the right profession. Assume for instance, as any parent hopes, that my daughter has an absolute advantage over most people, including most boys, in both scientific and humanistic disciplines. But assume also she has a comparative advantage in talent and indeed interest in humanism. My fear is that the world may be structured to give her all kinds of incentives to ignore this fact and go into STEM subjects to advance the social goal of equalizing the number of men and women in this sector.

More generally, a feminism of liberty, unlike a feminism of coercion, is more likely to provide her with one of life’s greatest satisfactions, the sense that she has been the principal agent of constructing her own career. The sculpture of one’s past brings greater contentment the more one has done the carving.

Now, I recognize that some may worry that the feminism of liberty is an illusion because of the structural impediments to women. I very much doubt this. At least so far, I can say that everyone has treated my daughter with equal consideration to boys around her and with the same concern to develop her talents. And that such equal treatment is the norm in all the business workplaces with which I have ever been associated—a norm that free market competition encourages because of the costs of discrimination to the bottom line. And the educational institutions have provided at least equal treatment for women, sometimes openly preferring to hire women rather than men at the margin.

Thus, the social conditions are also conducive to a feminism of liberty. Of course, that does not necessarily mean that men and women will be equally represented in every job category or undertake “equal” parenting responsibilities. Insistence on such equality is inconsistent with freedom unless men and women have the same average abilities and preferences across all areas of life. No serious person can think that assumption is true. And proclaiming it to be true will ultimately be necessary to a feminism of coercion. But this would be the worst of all, because my daughter would then grow up in a world built on lies.

Reader Discussion

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on October 23, 2018 at 11:14:43 am

"And proclaiming it to be true will ultimately be necessary to a feminism of coercion." - Well said!

It would appear that the louder and more vociferous the "proclaiming", the more convinced they become of their own rectitude.

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gabe
on October 23, 2018 at 11:25:40 am

The obvious, which this text brilliantly states, tends to be the most difficult thing to see.

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José Meireles Graça
on October 23, 2018 at 12:35:23 pm

I am sympathetic of a feminism of liberty rather than a feminism of coercion.

In a feminism of liberty, all professions are open to women….

McGinnis opposes the right of the Roman Catholic Church to restrict the priesthood to men? Hm….

….taking account of their preferences and endowments. Of course, their preferences may factor in raising a family and agreeing with one’s husband on the best way to split duties at home and between home and work.

Or agreeing with her wife. Recall that whole California-based feminism that coerced government officials into recognizing same-sex marriage and all….

[E]quality within a family ignores the differences in endowments and varied preferences that partners bring to a marriage.

Well … coerced equality within a family does that. But if equality is one of those preferences that both partners bring to the marriage, I don’t see the harm. Sure, they may struggle to achieve an idealized level of equality--but that’s the general nature of ideals, not a peculiar nature of equality.

Markets are better than the government in matching people with jobs and in determining how salaries reflect contributions to production.
* * *
[E]qual treatment is the norm in all the business workplaces with which I have ever been associated—a norm that free market competition encourages because of the costs of discrimination to the bottom line.

Is McGinnis saying that there are no labor market distortions related to discrimination based on suspect categories? Or merely that government should not attempt any remedies? I’d be curious to know what his buddies on the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation think of that. (You know, that international body McGinnis serves on, created to ensure high labor standards—including the elimination of employment discrimination on the basis of race, religion, age, sex, or other grounds as determined by each country's domestic laws—in Canada, the US, and Mexico. But maybe that organization has been scrapped along with NAFTA.)

In any event, when McGinnis makes arguments about the nature of discrimination by generalizing from HIS OWN experiences—you know, he’s just a regular guy from Phillips Exeter, Harvard, Oxford, the DOJ, Sullivan & Cromwell, the DC Circuit, and Northwestern—what could possibly go wrong? Let them eat cake!

Now, in fairness, I expect that his daughter will share a substantial number of his privileges, so perhaps his generalization are warranted as applied to her. But that only illustrates the irrelevance of his message for the rest of us.

Assume for instance, as any parent hopes, that my daughter has an absolute advantage over most people, including most boys, in both scientific and humanistic disciplines. But assume also she has a comparative advantage in talent and indeed interest in humanism. My fear is that the world may be structured to give her all kinds of incentives to ignore this fact and go into STEM subjects to advance the social goal of equalizing the number of men and women in this sector.

Too late!

With responses ranging from “squirming in discomfort” to “completely discouraged from studying science and engineering,” a nationwide poll group of high school-age girls revealed Tuesday that the nation’s young women are being utterly creeped out by scientists twice their age constantly attempting to lure them into the study of science, technology, engineering, and math. “They’re always hanging around our classrooms and sending us targeted messages online—they sometimes even offer us money if we’re into their sort of thing. It’s so desperate,” said 13-year-old Tessa Levin, recounting the several times she and her friends had been approached by the type of much older chemical engineers or web developers who frequent science fairs with the hopes of involving girls in non-profit mentorship programs or computer programming sleepaway camps. “They always try to treat us like we’re special, but the truth is, they’ll go after pretty much any girl under 18 who can draw a simple parallel circuit diagram. They’re clearly trying to groom girls for their weird lifestyle from a young age. At first it was kind of funny, but the more we learn, the more it just seems gross.”

The poll also revealed that some scientists also seem to have a thing for young black and latino boys.

[O]ne of life’s greatest satisfactions, the sense that she has been the principal agent of constructing her own career. The sculpture of one’s past brings greater contentment the more one has done the carving.

Ooo—nice. That might even make it into the quote file.

Bottom line: I concur with McGinnis’s main thesis that on a societal level, quotas pose challenges as a form of remedy for discrimination. Whether the harm of the remedy exceeds the benefit is a larger question.

I also concur with McGinnis’s ancillary thesis that we should not necessary expect men and women to behave identically. McGinnis seems to emphasize the idea the men differ from women. I’ll emphasize the idea that every individual differs from every other individual—including McGinnis’s future stay-at-home son-in-law. Or daughter-in-law.

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nobody.really
on October 23, 2018 at 14:23:50 pm

In any event, when McGinnis makes arguments about the nature of discrimination by generalizing from HIS OWN experiences—you know, he’s just a regular guy from Phillips Exeter, Harvard, Oxford, the DOJ, Sullivan & Cromwell, the DC Circuit, and Northwestern—what could possibly go wrong? Let them eat cake.

No one can competently generalize from any other person's experiences. And if you believe that the compression and reduction of other people's experiences into statistical form somehow transmutes those experiences into something called "data" from which you can properly generalize, well, then you'll probably believe anything.

And your suggestion that McGinnis' own personal history somehow renders his observations and thoughts irrelevant (perhaps you would say "unrepresentative") to other people is curious. For instance, I didn't notice anyone making such a suggestion during the Blasey Ford travesty, that her "privileged" upbringing somehow made HER OWN experience irrelevant to others. On the contrary, Ford in her moment in the spotlight was All Women Everywhere And At All Times. Although, you do see black feminists routinely carping about white feminists. So I suppose one's authenticity or representativeness or relevance, as perceived by another, is, ultimately, a matter of expediency, of the moment?

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QET
on October 23, 2018 at 14:29:51 pm

Oh, the humanity of it all, nobody. The world is such a horrid place (if one is to subscribe to your never ending litany of folly, bias, etc) that it is only fitting and proper to disparage the expressed hope of a parent for the future well being of his child.

One can only imagine just how disparaging would be your treatment of McGinnis had you not found yourself in concurrence with McGinnis's main and ancillary theses.

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gabe

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.