Workplace Inequality: When One Side Has an Escape Hatch


No woman should be authorised to stay at home to bring up her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.
—Simone de Beauvoir (In “A Dialogue with Simone de Beauvoir” [1])

The other day as I was walking in the sunshine, pedestrians suffered the inconvenience of having to step off the footpath and onto the road because a team of sweaty, singlet-clad workmen with dirt and dust sticking to their skin were digging a trench. Shovelling spades of dirt alongside the trench with the precision of surgeons wielding scalpels, the workers hardly raised any dust into the path of pedestrians. They were all men, of course, and I could fairly confidently conclude that they weren’t digging the trench for the joy of it. Between the trench and the road, a number of well-dressed women holding designer handbags in their manicured hands were waiting at the bus stop, scowling at having to contend with the little bit of wind-blown dust that our spade-wielding surgeons could not avoid. Oh, the inconvenience.
I wish I had had a camera. There could be no more compelling example of the dynamic between slave and entitled. No doubt some of the women were off to work at jobs that they would not be in were it not for affirmative action policies, to account for all those millennia of oppression of women by men. So what was the likelihood that any of the women standing at the bus stop would trade places with any of the men digging the trench?
A Natural Law of the Universe
Simone de Beauvoir understood the nature of the problem. Her above-referenced comment to Betty Friedan, while coming from a woman’s perspective, was ultimately an expression of a fundamental law for all life throughout the universe. Namely, every living organism is inclined to choose the path of least resistance, least pain, greatest reward. All organisms are pain-averse and reward-seeking; if they weren’t, they would die and life itself would not be possible. Neither ecosystems nor free markets can exist without this principle. Yes, even free markets: between two items identical in every way but bearing different pricetags, a sane person will always choose the cheaper.
Likewise, consider choosing between a life committed to a STEM trajectory that typically promises high stress, long hours and working in a demanding environment versus staying in a comfortable home and being provided for by someone who is committed to said high-stress, high-performance treadmill. To someone for whom both options are culturally sanctioned, the preferred choice should be obvious. The options become even more pronounced when said provider is a miner or construction worker. No woman needs to be oppressed by any patriarchy, nor anyone else for that matter, in order to choose the most comfortable option. The great law of the universe cuts across all living organisms, all persons across all cultures, all lifestyles and both sexes. Women instinctively realize where the better deal lies. No women’s studies major is required to understand this, though if they must … Simone de Beauvoir.
Now, it is true that it is often difficult to see how the other side experiences their world. While we might expect that some women will perceive the grass to be greener on the provider side, a free market based on equal opportunity will test a woman’s resolve and the question will, with a bit of serious introspection, be laid to rest. It must also be said that the questions are not always unreasonable—old-boy networks have their own history of privilege and entitlement, and challenging these is to the benefit of both men and women. But these kinds of questions have little part to play in the contemporary feminist agenda.
An Escape Hatch Changes Perceived Risk and Motivation
So how do we resolve the issue of gender inequality in the workplace? The only way to approximate true gender equality in the workplace is to remove the stay-at-home option that is available to women. Exactly as de Beauvoir suggests. The question is: How do we accomplish this in any meaningful way?
De Beauvoir understood that women are raised in this world with an escape hatch. This ever-present soft option wires women’s brains (relates to the topic of neural plasticity [2]). For example, Haier et al. (2005) [3] found that men’s and women’s brains differ in the distribution of white (glial) and gray (neural) matter, with intelligence tests showing that on average, men used 6.5 times as much gray matter as women did, but that women used 9 times as much white matter as men did. Soft and hard options wire brains differently.
Women have permission to leave if the going gets too tough, or even not to consider going there if it looks too much like hard work. The reason that so few women do STEM courses is that they don’t have to. It’s the reason why so few women work in mines or construction sites, or sweep roads or dig trenches—they don’t have to. This has nothing to do with The Patriarchy oppressing women. What woman would choose to work in demanding, stressful situations or dirty, life-threatening situations if they didn’t have to? Does one really need a women’s studies degree to answer this question?
And once we realize that stay-at-home women don’t work because they don’t have to, a whole slew of other don’t-have-tos falls neatly into place. For example:

  • Women don’t rob banks because … they don’t have to.
  • Women don’t get into violent confrontations because … they don’t have to.
  • Women don’t pursue stressful career paths because … they don’t have to.
  • Women don’t pursue dangerous career paths because … they don’t have to.
  • Women don’t pay for their share of the expenses on a date because … they don’t have to.
  • Women are less likely than men to be homeless because … they don’t have to (provide for themselves).
  • Women are less likely to be imprisoned because … they don’t have to (take the same risks as men).
  • Women don’t fight in wars because … you guessed it, they don’t have to.

These are all different ways of saying pussy-pass. Of course “because they don’t have to” comes with subtexts; for example, “because they have men doing it for them” or “because they can.”

  • Women work in air-conditioned offices instead of dusty, dangerous mines because … they can.
  • Women stay at home because … they can.
  • Women (prostitutes) accept payment for selling their bodies because … they can.
  • Women rely on men to take the initiative because … they can.
  • Women rely on men to do the heavy lifting because … they can.
  • Women cry because … they can.
  • Women play the helpless victim because … they can.
  • Women have a rationalization hamster because … they can.

Nobody is being oppressed. Women do these things because they can.
The subtexts that women enjoy as entitlements become the subtexts that men actualize as obligations.

  • Men work because … they must (they have no choice).
  • Men work in dusty, dangerous mines instead of air-conditioned offices because … they must (nobody is going to provide for them).
  • Men pursue stressful career paths because … they must (they know what has to be done to secure their place in the hierarchy).
  • Men pursue dangerous career paths because … they must (they know that a provider raising a family has responsibilities).
  • Men get into violent confrontations because … they must (sometimes their survival depends on it, and sometimes wars require it).
  • Men pay the expenses on a date because … they must (it’s just what providers do, and women will look elsewhere if said date does not deliver on his obligations).
  • Men pay for sex because … they desire (men are never desired for anything other than what they can provide).
  • Men take the initiative because … they must (they would finish up with nothing if they did not).
  • Men do the heavy lifting because … they must (they would receive no reward if they did not).
  • Men don’t play the helpless victim because … they must not (they receive no reward for it other than a cardboard box and homelessness).
  • Men don’t have a rationalization hamster [4] because … they don’t have that luxury (their assumptions are constantly being tested and revised in accordance with the penalties exacted for wrong choices).

Let us take a closer look at this rationalization hamster phenomenon because it kind of wraps up our point about the relationship between experience and character and how this relates directly to how brains are wired. [5] Women’s solipsism and impulsiveness rely on the fact that they don’t need to have their perspective of the world tested. Their rationalization hamster is at liberty to scamper hither and thither, rarely having to contend with consequences or having to take responsibility for bad choices. Again, it is their ever-present soft option—the option to stay at home—that colors their risks and becomes habituated and wires their brains.
This is all another way of expressing the point that Alison Tieman makes in her video [6] describing gender roles in the context of actor and acted upon. When we talk about equality in the workplace, we are talking about changing the relationship between actor and acted upon … and we are ultimately talking about changing biology.
De Beauvoir’s observation makes perfect sense. But where her reasoning falls down is in the assumption that you can somehow manipulate women’s motivations through propaganda and the force of law. Nothing could be further from the truth because the mere availability of the soft option, whether or not it is taken, colors all choices and the risks associated with it. The same option, to a woman or a man, is the difference between suck-it-and-see and do-or-die. A woman can entertain the idea of being a fireperson as a dare, maybe for a joke or for a laugh, and affirmative action will enable her to actualize her whimsical flight of fancy. She is at liberty to suck-it-and-see and then have a laugh if it does not work out. A fireman, by contrast, is unlikely to perceive his role in quite the same way. For him, it’s a career choice, an identity, a way of life, a statement of something that he stands for.
The Solution
The only solution that might bring us in any meaningful way closer to true equality in the workplace is to close the escape hatch; bolt it down, lock it up and throw away the key. More specifically, permanently sterilize all females before they reach reproductive age. Only this step can stand any realistic chance of removing the stay-at-home option from women’s choices. Only this step might make redundant the primary nurturer role that justifies the stay-at-home option for women. Only this step can stand any chance of rewiring the brains of men and women so as to make women more competitive with men in the workplace. Why? Because it is the only way, ideally, that both women and men will see every option with the same shade of do-or-die or suck-it-and-see.
So are we prepared to accomplish de Beauvoir’s vision by removing women’s soft option? Will we make these sorts of changes in the interests of equal opportunity in the workplace? If not, then we are stuck in a division of labour based on gender roles. This division of labour has nothing to do with patriarchal oppression and everything to do with biology. If we want to establish true equality in the workplace, then the only way to do it is to change biology, thereby changing the cultural options that depend on it. And we do this by making the sterilization of girls a compulsory rite of passage always performed before they are able to reproduce. Like their mothers before them and their grandmothers before them.
True, there are some minor glitches in this strategy that need to be ironed out, but at least it is more realistic than the current trashing of men’s rights in the interests of an “equality” that never was—an “equality” that relies on denying men their rights and disregarding the complex web of risks, demands and complexities that color men’s options.
[1] Friedan, Betty. It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women’s Movement. New York: Random House, 1976.
[2] Cherry, Kendra. What Is Brain Plasticity? – Psychology. (accessed June 9, 2014).
[3] Haier, R.J., R.E. Jung, R.A. Yeo, K. Head, and M.T. Alkired. The neuroanatomy of general intelligence: Sex matters. NeuroImage 25 (2005): 320-327.
[4] Urban Dictionary – rationalization hamster. June 5, 2012. (accessed June 8, 2014).
[5] Wikipedia – neuroplasticity. May 2, 2014. (accessed June 9, 2014).
[6] Tieman, Alison. Men’s Rights versus Feminism explained using magnets. A Voice for Men. Jan. 13, 2014: (accessed June 8, 2014).

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