Sunday, May 7, 2023

The Shamelessness of Feminist Affirmative Action - Janice Fiamengo

As feminists were transforming universities into centers of higher indoctrination, feminist activists were also changing the workforce by mandating affirmative action. Upending the merit principle entirely, feminists made it law that women be hired because they are women. More than 50 years later, they’re still at it. 

In the year 2020, the Irish government announced that it would use taxpayer money to create 20 women-only professor positions to close the alleged academic gender gap. Designed to raise the percentage of female profs at Irish postsecondary institutions, the move was hailed as a “game-changing moment,” with the Minister of State for higher education Mary Mitchell O’Connor stating that she was “incredibly proud that this intervention will ensure a swifter gender re-balance.”

It's not at all clear what there is to be proud of in admitting that women aren’t good enough to advance on merit and that therefore Big Daddy government must ride to their rescue. But honesty about affirmative action is perennially in short supply. In this case, the minister stressed with patent dishonesty that “Appointments to these posts will be subject to the highest standards and rigorous assessment processes as currently adopted by the institutions for prestigious posts at these levels.” 

It doesn’t take a PhD to recognize that choosing applicants on the basis of sex—and thus excluding those who might well have superior qualifications—obviously dilutes the intellectual standards allegedly being upheld. But nobody in the article, or in the Irish government, it seems, was allowed to state such an obvious truth. 

This is just one example in one profession in one country of a practice that has been widely pursued for many decades, in which men’s taxpayer money pays for unfair professional advantages for women who then, as often as not, make a career out of claiming to be oppressed (for a handy outline of cases in Canada, see the archives of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship). That is the off-the-charts hypocrisy of affirmative action.

Sometimes referred to as employment equity, preferential hiring, or diversity hiring, affirmative action has a long, complicated and contentious history, and has taken various forms since the 1960s. These range from steps to prevent discrimination to protocols to guarantee discrimination. While almost no one disagrees with preventing discrimination, the mandating of gender and racial preference—whatever the lofty rationale offered—should strike any unbiased observer as illogical and morally bankrupt.

Affirmative action usually takes the form of either an explicit or a flexible quota system for members of stipulated identity groups, usually racial minorities, people with disabilities, and women. Practiced everywhere from private companies to large corporations to all levels of government work, affirmative action represents a profound repudiation of meritocratic and market-driven common sense. 

Second only to the feminist transformation of academia, affirmative action has demonstrated feminist power to profoundly alter North American and other western societies, creating a hierarchy of preferred identity groups with able-bodied heterosexual white men at the bottom. Such men are implicitly or explicitly excluded from many employment and educational opportunities while still being castigated and shamed as privileged. 

And although the enforcement of this hierarchy is widespread, it is also widely denied. Anyone who mentions it is mocked and condemned. Often affirmative action is presented as a temporary measure, and always it is cloaked in the language of justice. Many people, unaware of its extensive history, simply accept it as a frustrating but relatively short-lived and isolated occurrence. But it isn’t. It is a permanent feature of authoritarian regimes designed to increase the reach of the state while disempowering and demoralizing those who wish to live as self-governing individuals. 

Affirmative action was rampant when I was on the job market in 1999, nearly 24 years ago. At that time, I was one amongst two all-female shortlists of four candidates each at the University of Ottawa and the University of Saskatchewan, the latter where I took up my first position. At the time, everyone knew that female candidates had an unfair advantage over male candidates. I had attended graduate school with some outstandingly talented men who were excluded from many opportunities to work in their chosen field simply because they were white and male. 

During the time I taught at the University of Saskatchewan from 1999-2003, the English department conducted four job searches using an equity framework. I was told this meant simply that where two or more candidates were equally qualified, the candidate whose hiring fulfilled the university’s equity goals would be selected. In reality, candidates are rarely “equally qualified,” and qualifications soon cease to matter once the goal has been set to hire a woman or a racial minority. Equity by its nature involves gross discrimination at all stages of the hiring process.

White male candidates who applied for positions at the University of Saskatchewan were not, of course, told that they were wasting their time—but they were. Their applications were simply put into a pile that never received serious consideration. Members of the hiring committee were not explicitly instructed, and certainly never admitted, that even outstanding white men should be overlooked—but they were. We were explicitly told that we should not discuss the person hired as a special equity hire; on the contrary, we were to insist that she was chosen for her academic qualifications. In this way, the overt rejection of merit is continually hidden from general view. 

The injustice goes back decades, and the process by which women became the favored affirmative action recipients is an instructive example of feminist “Me first!” ideology in action. Historically, the feminist method has consistently been to infiltrate and eventually colonize social reform movements first established by men, turning them into vehicles for female grievance and assertions of supremacy: this is how the movement for the abolition of slavery spawned the women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls; and how agitation for the prohibition of alcohol became a vehicle for feminist evangelism.  

In the case of affirmative action, feminists who became involved in the Civil Rights and related movements of the 1960s became annoyed that the movements did not center them. They complained about the sexism they allegedly experienced, with radical feminist Robin Morgan objecting that such movement were “hip and radical for the men, but filled with the same old chores, harassment, and bottling-up of inner rage for the women, as usual” (qtd. In Daniels, The Fourth Revolution, p. 126). 

Energized by their sense of themselves as slighted, feminists began to insist that women required the same concern and action on their behalf as were being proposed for black Americans.  Although the history of women is quite different from the history of African Americans, feminists were made uneasy by the attention that was not being directed at them. 

In 1964, the United States Congress had enacted the Civil Rights Act to prohibit racial and sexual discrimination in hiring or promotions. The clear target of the legislation was black Americans, since no other group in the United States had so clearly suffered the effects of discriminatory and exclusionary policies. As originally proposed, the bill actually outlawed only racial discrimination, though it was amended at the last moment to outlaw sex discrimination also, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to investigate complaints of discrimination, was set up.

In the following year, Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11246, which required all government contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action to expand job opportunities for racial minorities.   

At first, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission focused its enforcement efforts entirely on racial discrimination, a seeming slap in the face to the women’s cause. In response, feminists formed the National Organization for Women, spearheaded by Betty Friedan, who had claimed in her book The Feminine Mystique that the woman’s suburban home in the early 1960s was “in reality a comfortable concentration camp” where she “suffered a slow death of mind and spirit” (p. 369).
Betty Friedan
The National Organization for Women, or NOW, was set up in 1966, with Friedan as president, pledging to “take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American Society.” To that end, NOW filed suit against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to force it to comply with its own government rules. It also sued the country’s 1300 largest corporations for alleged sex discrimination.

Such action receives a sympathetic description in Robert Daniels’ book The Fourth Revolution: Transformations in American Society from the Sixties to the Present, which not surprisingly takes a celebratory view of feminist bellicosity. Daniels affirms feminists’ own resentful certainty that “The women’s movement was the Cinderella of the Great Society” (Daniels, p. 125), referring to President Johnson’s domestic agenda to eliminate social injustice. Feminists chaffed under their angry sense that Johnson was more concerned, as Daniels notes, with “blacks and the poor” (p. 125) than with women, and they were galvanized by evidence that other groups were receiving favored treatment denied to them. At their second national convention in 1967 NOW adopted a “Bill of Rights for Women” and lobbied President Johnson to put more teeth into legislation to aid women.

In the fall of 1967, Johnson duly amended Executive Order 11246 to include affirmative action for women—and for the next five and a half decades, it became impossible to speak about equity legislation without emphasizing women. As a result of the new legislation, federal contractors were required to take action to expand employment opportunities for women as well as racial minorities. Something similar happened a few years later, when President Richard Nixon issued Order No. 4 authorizing flexible goals and timetables to correct what was called “underutilization” of black Americans by federal contractors; in the following year, again under pressure from feminists, he revised the order to include women. 

Every time the American government tried to do something for black Americans, feminist groups made sure that the measure was extended to women; ultimately the promotion of women in the workforce came to overshadow and even sideline black men, whose employment status has consistently lagged behind both white and black women.

Canada had a quite different historical relationship to slavery and to its black population, many of whom were recent immigrants. Still, it followed the lead of the United States closely, enacting similar legislation and championing the cause of women. In 1967, the Public Service Employment Act outlawed sex discrimination in the federal civil service, and in the same year, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women was established, which issued a report three years later recommending measures to promote women’s advancement in government employment. 

In 1971, Canada established the Office of Equal Opportunity, while in 1983 the Treasury Board introduced an Affirmative Action Policy to guarantee “equitable representation and distribution” of women, Aboriginal people, and the disabled, amended in 1986 to include visible minorities. Over the past 40 years, this legislation has been continually renewed and further entrenched.  

Rosalie Abella

Feminist equity proponents envision such legislation extending well into the future, repeatedly referring to the “systemic” or “historic” group exclusions that allegedly cause it to be needed. Canada’s Judge Rosalie Abella, who authored the 1984 Report of the Commission on Equality in Employment, rationalized the overt discrimination required by affirmative action in the following rather garbled manner. She wrote:

“The reason in human rights that we do not treat all individuals the same way is that not all individuals have suffered historic generic exclusion because of group membership. Where assumptive barriers have impeded the fairness of competition for some individuals, they should be removed even if this means treating some people differently. Otherwise, we can never correct disadvantage, chained as we would be to the civil libertarian pedestal of equal treatment of every individual. There is nothing to apologize for in giving the arbitrarily disadvantaged a prior claim in remedial responses.” (Abella, qtd by Martin Loney, The Pursuit of Division, p. 9).

Abella’s statement is riddled with logical fallacies that in a sane era would not be acceptable even in a first-year undergraduate essay. They are even more appalling when written by an activist feminist judge, eventually a member of the Supreme Court, and widely accepted as progressivist wisdom. Abella speaks of individuals who “suffered historic generic exclusion because of group membership.” By definition, individuals today have not experienced historic exclusion. Why should it matter to a recent immigrant from Hong Kong or India that some racial minorities suffered exclusionary treatment many generations ago? Why should it matter to a woman born in 1984 that a woman born in 1884 had to wait a few years for the right to vote?

The next sentence is even more logically tangled. “Where […[ barriers have impeded the fairness of competition for some individuals, they should be removed …” That’s right—let’s remove all barriers that impede fairness of competition. But the sentence ends “even if this means treating some people differently.” Why is it not sufficient simply to remove barriers? Why set up new barriers? Such is not explained in the following sentence, which claims melodramatically, “Otherwise, we can never correct disadvantage …” Nonsense. Removing barriers does correct disadvantage to the extent that the law can correct disadvantage.

Abella implies that groups treated unfairly 75 years ago, for example, are still experiencing disadvantage today; but this is not proved and is not true. Abella doesn’t even try to justify why individuals today must be compensated for discrimination allegedly experienced by previous generations; and she certainly never explains why able-bodied white men should pay a penalty for historical injustice, where it existed, that they themselves never practiced and never benefited from. Her simplistic racism and sexism are, in her own words, unapologetic. This is a recently retired Canadian Supreme Court Justice.

It’s difficult not to conclude that the dumbing down of everything—of the school system, politics, journalism, the judiciary, academia, scientific research—that mass dumbing down owes much to affirmative action, with its determined evisceration of merit and fairness in the name of social justice. A society cannot ignore excellence without eventually experiencing the corrosive impact of its own bad decisions. Alas, the affirmative action social experiment that began in the 1960s is far from over.

                                                            Janice Fiamengo

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