Feminists almost uniformly support affirmative action, arguing that women benefit from preferential treatment. In the campaigns to require states to treat their citizens “without regard” to race or sex (Prop. 209 in California and the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative being prime examples), they have argued vociferously (I’m tempted to say “shrilly,” which is both accurate and politically incorrect) that official gender blindness would work to the detriment of women. I have discussed this too many times to cite, but here is a good example from the MCRI campaign, quoting a statement issued by eleven Michigan women’s organizations:
“Oftentimes, affirmative action is viewed as a tool that solely benefits people of color. However, it is important to remember that affirmative action benefits women as well — regardless of race or color,” concluded Anita Bowden of the Michigan Council of the YWCA. “In fact, women are the most frequent beneficiaries of and will lose most if affirmative action is lost.”
“We stand in opposition to Ward Connerly’s deceptively titled “Michigan Civil Rights Initiative,” said Diane Neth Covel, Director of Public Policy, Michigan AAUW. “We will continue to support policies that increase the diversity of Michigan’s educational institutions and workplaces.”
Fern Ettinger of the National Council of Jewish Women emphasized the importance of diversity, stating, “The case for diversity in higher education is indeed compelling. Our country cannot afford to ignore equal opportunity and access for women in education. Our future leaders must be educated in a classroom as diverse as the challenges we face.”
And here, I wondered:
would these groups continue to support affirmative action so fervently if men were the primary beneficiaries, as indeed they seem to be in college admissions according to this report in USA Today.
Since feminist groups base a good deal of their support for affirmative action on their belief that it benefits women, it should not be surprising that enthusiasm for preferential treatment for men, based on their same thin “diversity” rationale, has been, er, considerably mild (to the point of inaudibility).
There is one more vexing question about sex-based affirmative action that I’ve never understood. Feminists are generally quick to insist that the proper term to use in discussing women and men is “gender,” not “sex,” because, they also insist, the distinctions and differences are “socially constructed.”
What is the difference between sex and gender?
Sex = male and female
Gender = masculine and feminine
So in essence:
Sex refers to biological differences; chromosomes, hormonal profiles, internal and external sex organs.
Gender describes the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine.
But insofar as that distinction is to be honored, shouldn’t affirmative action preferences for mannish women be eliminated, but extended to what Gov. Schwarzenegger famously called “girlie men”?
Moreover, as I have argued a number of times, there is something quite odd about modern feminists reverting to the “difference feminism” that they had long rejected. In Rumblings On An Old Fault Line In The Struggle For Women’s Rights, for example, I noted that
[o]ne of the oldest, and most interesting, conflicts among supporters of civil rights is the struggle between feminists who sought “protective legislation” for women (limiting hours, working conditions, etc., for women) and feminists who sought gender-blind equality. A nice, succinct summary of this conflict can be found here, ironically, at a library at the University of Michigan:
When the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution was proposed in 1923, it created a rift among suffragists. Women who had fought for protective labor legislation feared that the ERA would undo their efforts to protect women in the workplace, while feminists believed the amendment was necessary to bring about equality for women in American society. The opposition to the amendment by women who otherwise supported women’s rights persisted through mid-century, as is illustrated in the records of organizations such as the National Consumers League. In the 1960s and 1970s the women’s liberation movement began to produce new views of the ERA and renewed support for the amendment.
Alas, this paragraph is now dated. The equal rights feminists of NOW, etc., who by this and virtually all other accounts had won this debate and banished the “protective legislation” feminists to a quaint footnote in histories of feminism, have now (or NOW) abandoned their victory, backtracked, picked up the tattered principles of their vanquished former foes, and are now giving full-throated, often shrill, voice to the notion that women, poor little shrinking violets, must have special privileges to protect them from competition on equal terms with men.
Oh well. Feminists aside, the problem [of a growing gender imbalance in colleges] has already grown so severe that three out of every four private colleges (an informal estimate from admissions directors) quietly practice affirmative action for boys, favoring them over girls in admissions to get near balance.
That was back in 2004, and the problem of preferential treatment based on male “underrepresentation” (if it is a problem) has now grown so severe that according to an article this morning in the Chronicle of Higher Education the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has begun to examine “whether selective colleges are discriminating against women in undergraduate admissions, as the rapidly growing proportion of female applicants threatens gender balance on those campuses.”
The commission’s inquiry, which it calls the “FY 2010 Project on Sex Discrimination in Higher Education Admissions,” expects to determine if selective coeducational institutions, both private and public, are giving undue preference to male applicants to avoid becoming “too female.” For private colleges to do so would be undesirable, according to at least one commissioner, while it would be illegal for public ones.
The project was proposed by Gail Heriot, a commissioner and law professor at the University of San Diego, who has been a vocal critic of racial preferences in admissions….
“Privately at least,” Ms. Heriot wrote in her draft proposal,
some college administrators argue that they must discriminate against women or the gender balance at their institutions will become so off-kilter that many of the women they want won’t be willing to attend. Colleges will then be unable to attract the female students they want most — or so they fear. Interestingly, this may be a bit of a collective action problem. Once a few lower-ranked liberal arts schools starting giving preferential treatment to men, others feel they must follow suit, since the failure to do so will cause any hold-out school to have a gender ratio that is seriously off-kilter.
Ms. Heriot suggests that, perhaps ironically, Title IX may be both a part of the problem and an obstacle to solutions. Thus in her draft report she writes:
I have not heard a lot of talk about sex-neutral ways to increase male enrollment in these private, selective, coed liberal arts schools, but I suspect that some efforts are being made. For example, if such a school were to add certain fields of study, that might attract relatively more men without the need for admissions preferences…. Other academic or extracurricular activities might be useful in attracting male applicants too. This seems to me to be preferable to flat-out discrimination against women, even if one accepts the notion that some action is “necessary” to maintain gender balance in order to ensure a school’s continued attractiveness even to women.
A small but significant part of the problem may lie in the enforcement policies of the Department of Education in connection with Title IX. If a school seeks to make itself more attractive to men by adding more athletic opportunities for men, it must also make more athletic opportunities available to women essentially unless it can affirmatively show that added opportunities for women would not be taken advantage of. This makes it difficult. Since flat-out discrimination is a clear legal alternative, it is possible that what we are witnessing is Title IX “backfire.” A law that was designed to prevent sex discrimination in higher education may be causing sex discrimination on account of the Department of Education’s emphasis on athletics in enforcement.
I hate to make things even more complicated, but there may be a serious discrimination question here even aside from Title IX. And by “question” I really mean question — something on which all critics of race and sex preferences may not agree: does developing and offering new programs (athletics, courses, etc.) for the purpose of attracting more male students amount to sex discrimination, even if doing so does not violate Title IX?
To consider this question, let me direct your attention back to the debates over the “Top 10%” admissions program in Texas, and similar programs in Florida and California. Texas’s program, to remind you, in a transparent and admitted effort to enroll more minorities in Texas flagship campuses that were barred, for a while (by Hopwood v. Texas) from preferential treatment of minorities, offered guaranteed admission to the University of Texas at Austin and several other campuses to all high school graduates in the top 10% of their graduating class, a net which captured many minorities at schools with large numbers of blacks or Hispanics.
A number of anti-preference activists and scholars who are both smarter and know much more about the legal niceties than I (I’m referring to Roger Clegg and Terry Pell, among others) believed, and believe, that since the intent was to attract more minorities that the program was impermissibly discriminatory. Other activists and scholars, also smarter than I who also know more about the legal niceties, disagreed, arguing that such programs do and should pass constitutional muster. At the time I tended to agree with the latter group, arguing that the intent to diversify did not itself disqualify the programs in the absence of either a discriminatory intent or effect. But I was not absolutely convinced then that I was right, and I’m still not sure.
In any event, I don’t see how offering non-discriminatory programs for the purpose of attracting males can be evaluated apart from an evaluation of the Top 10% programs, and thus I encourage you to re-read (!) my earlier discussions of that issue, here, here, here, here, and here.