Identity politics has gone over the top, and the flood of intolerance is drenching everyone. What began as a campaign to re-right injustice has created injustice. What was meant to change attitudes toward intolerance has become intolerance enthroned.
When politicians, notably Bernie Sanders, say that “all lives matter,” the “Black Lives Matter” bullied them into silence. Tyranny took charge. When a Yale professor suggested open-mindedness toward politically incorrect Halloween costumes, she was forced out of her position as a house master, a title changed to “head” because master suggested “slave owner,” despite the long and honorable lineage of “master” on every university campus.
These examples run in a direct line to the furor over a memorandum at Google, written by a man who dared suggest that maybe, just maybe, one reason more men than women work at Google is that biological and psychological predispositions lead both men and women to pursue different choices and goals. Such thinking outside the box at a company built on thinking outside the box quickly got the author, James Damore, sacked.
Nevertheless, no one, not even the frightened men in the executive suite at Google can explain beyond reasonable argument why women make up only 18 percent of the computer science majors in colleges and universities, or why the female technical force is only 10 percent that of men at Twitter, 15 percent at Facebook and 20 percent at Apple, as calculated by Atlantic magazine for an investigation into the failure to recruit more women in Silicon Valley. Many voices blame sexism and male bias, but few executives are brave enough to openly discuss why. Finding scapegoats is easier and there’s no risk.
James Damore insists he values diversity and inclusion, and opposes stereotyping, but the disparity between the sexes at Google may not be just because of bias. He picked an unfortunate time to write his memorandum because it was circulated through the executive suites as Google is trying to explain its wage scales to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Such disputes are not new. In 1973 the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission waged a famous discrimination case against Sears and Roebuck, then the largest retailer in the nation and the second-largest employer of women in the United States, arguing that Sears tolerated dramatic statistical pay and position disparities between men and women. After a 10-month courtroom struggle the judges determined that personal choice, not willful discrimination, was why men were usually paid more than women. Among more than 13,000 employees, the court observed that women often didn’t want to work weekends or deal with specialized equipment, which meant longer hours and less comfortable working conditions, despite the higher pay that came with it. Pay policy was not discriminatory, though the statistical data was initially interpreted as if it were.
If math can be misleading, reactions to its ambiguous data can be merciless. Although Mr. Damore’s 10 — page memo was largely ignored at Google when he first distributed it to diversity groups and scattered Google employees, once it was leaked and went viral on the internet, the company and the wider tech world went on the offensive, and diversity dogma nearly always trumps complexity. “Those most zealously committed to the diversity creed — that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same — could not let this public offense go unpunished,” Mr. Damore wrote in The Wall Street Journal. “They wrote angry emails to Google’s human-resources department and everyone up my management chain, demanding censorship, retaliation and atonement.” At that point, his firing became inevitable, and Google fed him to the mob.
No one can doubt that women in the high-tech world are sometimes treated badly by men with lingering macho sensibilities, but there’s no similar examination of the way certain female bosses sometimes exert authority with dictatorial power, confident they are protected by their “gender” with injustice camouflaged by feminist rhetoric of “leaning in.” Language confers protective coloring.
Some apps measure what women are likely to respond to positively, and what’s likely to repel them, which sounds to me as condescending as anything James Damore suggested in his memo about male-female differences. Kieran Snyder, co-founder of Textio, which uses data to scan job postings and flags phrases that discourage women, says terms like “hard-driving” and “crush it” exhibit subtle masculine bias. She suggests “gender-neutral” alternatives. Words like “nurture” and “collaborative” work better with women; if men were required to tailor their language maybe such words would work for them, too.
James Damore suggests that if society allows men to become more “feminine,” the gender gap will shrink as men leave demanding high-tech jobs for more feminine roles. And then what?
• Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.