Last week I pulled my attention away from the North Korea crisis -- more on that later -- to consider the memo that got software engineer James Damore fired from Google.
Damore was trying to account for the lack of gender diversity at Google, whose tech employees are 80 percent male. He admits the existence of broad cultural biases, but he got in trouble for attributing some of the gender imbalance to essential genetic differences between males and females.
While Damore concedes many exceptions and much overlap, he contends that men and women “biologically differ in many ways,” and he attributes the differences to “clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone.”
Thus women are more open to “feelings and aesthetics,” rather than ideas. They have more interest in people than things. Women are more gregarious than men, but at the cost of assertiveness, which makes them more agreeable but less able to ask for raises, speak up in meetings and exercise leadership.
Women are subject to higher anxiety and have less stress tolerance, while men’s greater desire for status drives them to better cope with the long hours and the stressful conditions of leadership in Silicon Valley. Women, on the other hand, are more interested than men in a reasonable work-life balance.
Damore and others point to data that support some of these claims, but most of his propositions sound like old-fashioned bunk, the sort of discriminatory stereotyping that we traditionally use to rationalize an inequitable status quo, the kind of thinking that says Hispanics are constitutionally lazy and blacks can’t swim or play quarterback.
But for the sake of argument, let’s temporarily accept all of Damore’s claims about inherent genetic differences between men and women. If they’re accurate, we’re failing to realize fully the human race as the sum of all of its many and varied attributes, powers and qualities, simply because they’re divided -- so Damore thinks -- between the genders.
Instead we’ve created a culture that rewards the capacities and attributes of one gender over the other. No wonder Google is dominated by males. It’s as if we were to privilege swimming above all other sports, then ostracize non-swimming blacks -- so racists say -- while we ban them from public swimming pools. In fact, that’s what we used to do; I wonder if there’s a connection.
As long as we’re being fanciful, what if the Founding Fathers had possessed the wisdom to think of the human race in terms of its total, aggregate capacities? What if they had given women the right to vote from the beginning? Or determined that half of the House and Senate must be female and that every other president must be a woman? Assuming that Damore’s conception of women is accurate, how different would our country look?
Would it have taken so long to free the slaves? Would we have been so hard on the Indians? Would we have progressed well into the 21st Century before we began to take seriously the importance of health care for everyone? Indeed, it’s intriguing to consider what our nation might have looked like if women had wielded half the power from the start.
Which brings us back to North Korea. We can think of strong women leaders -- Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Angela Merkel -- but it’s hard to imagine a woman uttering the blustering, testosterone-laden sentiments uttered by Donald Trump last week.
The only non-catastrophic solution to the North Korea dilemma is likely a negotiated settlement that involves China, South Korea and, in fact, North Korea. A number of experts say that such an outcome is still possible.
But Trump’s threat to rain down on North Korea “fire and fury like the world has never seen” makes a negotiated resolution more and more remote.
Women’s supposed inclination toward talk, empathy and the well-being of others would serve us much better than Trump’s ham-handed bullying. But maybe there’s hope. Winston Churchill said “Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war.” And, come to think of it, he was a man.
By John M. Crisp
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. -- Ed.
(Tribune Content Agency)