Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Here's a review of a book by Susan Pinker that advances a thesis I have been mulling over for some time: maybe women are less "successful" than men because they have better priorities:
Pinker does more than dryly discuss the biology; she provides example after example of women who have succeeded in this “man’s world” and found it wanting. As Pinker explains, let’s move on past the idea that a woman can’t do the same work as a man, and discuss why she may not want to. Any woman who has wondered if her preferences run counter to the feminist cause should pay close attention here; believing that a woman should have every right to pursue the same goals as men is different from believing that every woman should want to. Time and again, Pinker points out how women have sought those goals, attained them, and then shifted their eyes to a different prize. These “opt out” women can be found, as Pinker states, “in every major university, law, engineering, and accounting firm in North America and Europe” (p. 64). Women are 2.8 times more likely than men to leave science and engineering careers for other occupations and 13 times more likely to exit the labor force entirely. This is not because they are overwhelmed with childcare, either. They leave their careers at every age and every stage of life, whether or not they have families. Pinker concludes with what seems to be an obvious yet ignored truth, that women are autonomous beings who know their own desires. As one woman put it, “…work is not the only thing I do. I have a life” (p. 90).
Personally, I think "success" is a great goal for people who can't think of anything better to do with their lives, but something the rest of us might be better off to avoid. If you can be "successful" on your terms, doing something you like to do, great, but if making more money and climbing the career ladder means sacrificing the things you really love, perhaps you should rethink.


kathy said...

Opportunity to choose is great.

Lets take up the conversation about what women (and men) want, when we all have the economic and cultural opportunity to freely exercise our choice.

John said...

Completely free choice for everyone is utopian. And I am not sure that it would really make us happier, on average. I suspect that in America today our freedom to make our own lives is already so great that the difficulty of choosing is as great a burden to us as the burden of limits on our choices.

Thomas said...

A slightly analogous case:

Every once and a while, I'll see someone argue that the fact that so many spelling bee champions are home schooled proves that home schooling is superior.

It seems to me that the real problem is that home-schooling will be more likely to allow a child to narrowly focus lots of time on a relatively useless skill, spelling.

That said, you are essentially ignoring the barriers that women see in their workplaces. A woman might not pursue the corner office because she has other priorities, true, but she might also be less inclined to pursue that office because of the obstacles in her way that aren't there for men, thus making those other priorities seem more appealing.

Yes, free choice is utopian, but we can work towards a society where women have the same choices as men, with the same risks and rewards.

John said...

Why on earth would any sane person want a corner office?