The Sunday Times, Uncategorized

August 9th, 2009

Women aren’t equal to men – especially not the feminists

It is Harriet Harman’s misfortune that she is the sort of woman who gives feminism a bad name. Her intentions may be of the highest, her motives of the most disinterested, but when she holds forth from her political heights about rape, the superiority of her imaginary Lehman Sisters to Lehman Brothers and the impropriety of a mere man running the country without a woman at his side to restrain him, there are many who mutter to themselves that if this is feminism, it is barking. Harman’s agenda seems at times quite daft: must tiny children really be taught at school about daddies’ nasty way of hitting mummies? As the nation’s newspaper of record itself was prompted to ask, has feminism gone nuts? The simple and depressing answer is that feminism has always tended to go – if not nuts – then wildly astray, from one extreme to another. Feminism has been the most wonderful force for freedom and I (like millions of others of my sex) am hugely grateful to all those women who struggled to liberate us from outrageous injustices of the sort we still see in the rest of the world. I admit, too, that the battle isn’t over, even here: women still often earn less than men for the same work, or don’t get the same work, and are still often patronised, exploited and demoralised by men, although that boot is now often on the feminine foot instead. But somehow along the way feminism has lurched from silly excess to silly excess, so that no matter how much I have wanted to belong to the cause, I have had to dissociate myself from the wilder attitudinising of the sisterhood, from the monstrous regiment of women such as Harman. The bullying, censorious tone of the activists, their bossy, micromanaging intrusion into household, workplace and schoolyard, their attempts to colonise speech, their feminisation of certain industries and their demoralisation of boys and men have all combined to make women today opposed to feminism. This is a great pity. Women still need feminism and perhaps, given the profound differences between women and men, we always will. It will have to be different from the feminism of the past, though. So an important question is why feminism so far, for all its just cause, has gone so wrong. My view is that it’s because there are several important facts that feminists forget, or wilfully ignore, or just don’t know. The first such fact that feminists forget, or won’t accept, is that some things in life cannot be fixed. There is, for example, a tragic opposition between a woman’s desire and need to work and her baby’s desire and need for her, not to mention her love for her child. You can tinker around the edges of this problem – by subsidising nursery care, or giving mothers preferential treatment at work, which merely causes other problems in a free society – but you will not escape the serious problems of babies with attachment disorder; toddlers cognitively damaged by inexperienced carers; children unsocialised by their overworked mothers; schoolboys and girls with little encouragement in reading, writing and even simple conversation at home; and all the rest. Nor can ambitious women escape the problem that serious success can never, of its nature, be a part-time option: she must choose between home and work, just as successful men must do. The idea that a heart surgeon or a cabinet minister or a Lehman Sister could be home regularly for bath and story time and weekend bonding is nonsense. The world isn’t like that: while she is reading Winnie-the-Pooh, her competitors will be working or networking, and if not here, then in Shanghai or Mumbai. This, sadly for women, is something that cannot be fixed. No amount of social engineering, no matter how horribly illiberal, unjust and intrusive, can sort it out. The second, centrally important fact is that biology is destiny. I don’t mean that in the crude sense which women’s liberationists of 40 years ago resented so much. Having babies and suffering all the hormonal upheavals that female flesh is heir to does not in itself disqualify women from anything, except possibly from periods of heavy lifting. I mean biology in a sense that was wholly denied back then, and that is only beginning to be recognised. Men and women really are different. The findings of hard science – in endocrinology, brain structure and function and genetics, for instance – have forced rational feminists to admit that, statistically speaking, men and women have different aptitudes, interests and responses, little though this is yet understood. Such generalisations never apply to an individual, of course, and although – for instance – women are underrepresented at the extremes of intelligence and statistically are less good at higher maths, chess, musical composition and physics, any one woman might be brilliant at any or all of those things. Similarly, while women tend in general to be less aggressive and more conciliatory, there are plenty of ferocious females and Wodehouse aunts, and plenty of men who are shrinking violets – with obvious implications for their working lives. The point here, and it’s another centrally important fact, which feminists either don’t know or refuse to admit, is that you would not therefore necessarily expect men and women to be equally represented in any particular occupation. The fact that just two out of 25 top maths dons or bond traders or gangmasters are men, say, is not self-evidently due to discrimination against women mathematicians, bond traders or gangers (although it may be). And this underlies an obvious killer fact for the politics of equality: equality of opportunity is not the same thing as equality of outcome. It is a dangerous mistake doggedly to pursue equality of outcome and equal numbers of men and women in everything. The entire basis of the gender equality movement, equality by numbers, stems from an unquestioned and wrong assumption, taken as fact in defiance of the actual truth. The tragedy of feminism is that it has been dogged, or perhaps I should say bitched, by a lot of fixed ideas and unquestioned beliefs. Only when it becomes intellectually rigorous will feminism have some claim to intellectual respectability and then perhaps some claim to justice. It is a shame to my sex that the women’s movement has been brought low by muddled and emotional thinking – so often said by misogynists to be characteristic of the female mind and, I believe, a characteristic of Harman’s.