By David French
Wednesday, August 09, 2017
If there is one good thing that can perhaps come from Google’s abrupt firing of Jeffrey Damore, the employee who wrote a memo urging the company to increase its ideological diversity and try different, non-discriminatory methods for increasing female participation in tech fields, it’s this: The entire incident helps expose the intellectual rot at the heart of identity politics.
Consider: According to identity politics’ adherents, phrases like “melting pot” are offensive in large part because they ostensibly require distinct subcultures to “melt” into the dominant social structure. By contrast, identity politics celebrates distinct cultures and distinct experiences. Intersectionality teaches that only members of of a given culture truly understand and “own” their own experience. Indeed, modern social-justice warriors revere these distinctions so much that they’ve concocted terms such as “cultural appropriation” to draw and police sharp cultural lines. Black culture and its trappings belong only to black people. Asian culture to Asians. Don’t you dare veer from your own cultural zone.
At the same time, however, that they reject the melting pot, deride assimilation, and despise cultural uniformity, these identity-politics proponents actively argue that these allegedly “distinct” cultures should and do make critical career decisions in lockstep with their precise percentage of the population. Women, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians have vibrant, different experiences that white men can’t understand, but when it comes to careers, they’d make the same choices that educated whites do — if they could. (I added the qualifier “educated” because, as my colleague Michael Brendan Dougherty noted yesterday, few feminists are lining up to protest disproportionate male representation in gritty, dangerous blue-collar fields.)
Evidence of disproportionately low representation is evidence of oppression and discrimination. Period.
Let’s consider the issue of the day — women in the tech industry. Late last year, the consulting company Accenture and a group called Girls Who Code released a fascinating study indicating that fully 82 percent of computer-science majors were male. In fact, the share of women choosing computer-science majors had decreased since the early 1980s in spite of significant increases in the share of women in college overall and startling gains in economic opportunity in the tech field more broadly.
Why the disparity? Were college computer-science departments systematically and massively discriminating against women? Hardly. One of the prime reasons for the disparity was that women were quite simply choosing to do something else, and their sharp turn away from coding (according to the study) could be traced all the way back to the end of junior high.
The report found that girls’ interest in tech peaked in middle school, then by high school they found not only that they didn’t enjoy the field but that their friends felt the same. Not all girls, certainly, but many, and they didn’t start to recover their interest until college. This means that Google can cry “oppression” all it wants, but if it wants to redress gender imbalances, it’s going to have to do something about the interests and inclinations of 14-year-old girls. Good luck.
To address this alleged problem, the study’s authors suggested measures that appealed specifically to women. For example, girls allegedly responded better to female teachers, while boys were indifferent to the gender of their instructor. And then there’s this, per U.S. News & World Report’s write-up of the study:
It is critical to intentionally target girls in order to keep them interested, says Julie Sweet, Accenture’s group chief executive for North America. The content of coding projects is typically less engaging for girls, who often prefer health and real-world problem solving challenges, she says.
Wait, did Ms. Sweet engage in gender stereotyping there? Did the authors of this study suggest that boys and girls might respond differently to different kinds of teachers and different kinds of projects? Doesn’t that get you fired? But I suppose it’s not bad because they’re explaining how to get more women in tech rather than explaining why more women don’t choose computer science. Or something. It’s all so confusing.
Confusing, that is, until you understand a core goal of the social-justice Left. It’s not gender or racial equity across professions. It’s not everyone succeeding in the same ratios in every field. It’s that the white male must lose. That’s why you don’t see many gender-studies professors lamenting the decline in white-male academic achievement compared to women. That’s why social-justice warriors never care about those fields where white males are underrepresented. The principle that ultimately emerges is this: When cultural distinctiveness works favorably for a so-called marginalized group, that’s celebrated. (Unless you’re Asian, and as a group you’re too good at academics.) When some of the same distinctiveness yields unfavorable results, its existence is denied and oppression is to blame. You’re a bigot if you believe otherwise.
No one denies that actual gender discrimination still exists, but stamp out all possible discrimination and men and women will still make different choices. To the extent that different ethnicities maintain different cultures, they’ll make different choices as well. Not every member of every subculture, of course, but it’s simply foolish to assume that disproportionate representation is by itself evidence of systematic discrimination. But for the social-justice warrior, one can’t help but think that these disparities are a feature, not a bug. Disparities yield grievances, grievances yield power, and power is the point.