Salvo 06.07.2022 10 minutes

What Women Want

Side view of new mother comforting her newborn while crying.

Real equality means recognizing that men and women often have different priorities.

Our equity-obsessed regime seeks to silence dissent. Its rhetorical game has raised the stakes of resistance.

Either you demand equity—equality of outcome—in all sectors of American life, or you are a troglodyte who relishes the days of slavery.

Either you unqualifiedly celebrate careerism among women as their highest purpose, or you believe that women should be brood sows for the patriarchy.

The reaction to my speech at the National Conservatism conference was a case in point. Great countries need great families, and great families need responsible men to be husbands and fathers. Developing responsible men demands that we nurture traditionally male-dominated spheres of life rather than shame them for their lack of women. To this end, I noted in my speech that there is no dire need “to recruit women into engineering.”  Engineering programs are largely dominated by men, but so what? Celebrating male-dominated professions would be good for men’s morale.

In voice mail messages to my office at Boise State I was called an “uneducated, ignorant,” “putrid” “idiot.” “I hope you are f**kin’ beaten with sticks…either you get fired or we’re all taking our kids out of this stupid little hick school. What a f**kin’ maggot you are,” said one caller. Allison Quinn at the Daily Beast claimed I want to “keep women out of medicine, engineering, and law.” She charmingly added, “godspeed in the E.R., buddy.” Emails still arrive months later. 

Following the mob came respectable figures from my campus claiming that I don’t believe women should be educated. All administrators signed a statement praising the contributions of women to education and suggesting that some elements around campus don’t believe women belong in academia. Colleges followed suit, as did my own department. 

According to these voices, if you stop making special efforts to recruit women, you want to keep women out of these professions and deny them an education altogether. These are just dishonest, tyrannical attempts to promote right-think and shame dissenters. Women currently comprise the majority of law and medical students, and receive the bulk of undergraduate and graduate degrees. Female undergraduates complete their degrees more quickly than men. The fact that women happen not to express as much interest in electrical engineering as men do should not be taken as a crisis—evidently, they are finding plenty of other subjects to study.

The STEM Stigma

“Equity” demands a 50-50 world: leading feminists have expressly represented themselves as seeking a balance between men and women in all occupations and spheres of life. Here is a representative passage from feminist Susan Moller Okin’s book Justice, Gender and the Family:

A just future would be one without gender. In social structures and practices, one’s sex would have no more relevance than one’s eye color or the length of one’s toes. . . . It would be a future in which men and women participated in more or less equal numbers in every sphere of life, from infant care to different kinds of paid work to high-level politics.

Only 27 percent of graduate students in engineering are women. Other undergraduate STEM fields have similar ratios. Thus, according to feminist logic, STEM is inequitable. Something is wrong with a discipline with so many men. A just future would dismantle and disrupt STEM and install a new regime. Women can be targeted to become part of the New Girl Order in Engineering (and elsewhere). Programs are popping up all over the country in Engineering colleges to recruit young middle school girls and high schoolers. Student recruitment. Special scholarships. Tutors. Mentors.  

Of course, I have never said that women should be kept from STEM or other fields. The point is that disparities are not problems to be solved. They are traceable to enduring sex differences in priorities and natural proclivities: while many women have the ability become engineers or doctors or whatever, their talents and inclinations lead them in different directions.  And men go their own ways too. 

Furthermore, when we treat male-dominated professions as problems or defects, we sap the morale and stigmatize the ambition of the men. Perhaps our failure to celebrate male achievement explains why college campuses around the country are bleeding male students.

The feminist insistence on equity in education thus has downstream effects for our marriage market. For fear of recognizing male privilege, we stigmatize male success. Wives want to respect and admire their husbands—and stigmatizing male success goes part of the way toward explaining why the male-female dance is complicated in our feminist world.  This is a recipe for national disaster. It leads to weak, purposeless men and miserable, medicated women.

Sex Role Realism

Conservatism at present tells us what we should not expect (a 50-50 world). But it cannot exactly say what we should expect. Just letting “Nature” do her work is not enough: nature is always mediated by our politics.

Conservatives face the feminist framing of “the old way” against “the new way.”  But this is a trap. The old way may be gone, but Old Wisdom about the importance of the family and about the differences between the sexes persists. Old Wisdom must adapt to new conditions. Women are going to remain in the workplace. Women are going to receive higher education as long as higher education seems important. 

But which workplaces and educational disciplines and in what quantity? Conservatives see disparities without indignation, tracing them to how men and women are following their distinctive inclinations. Feminists see disparities with maximum indignation, and want to reform the world.

Conservatives must assert with confidence the Old Wisdom that men and women generally want different things.  This sex-role realism means they will take different kinds of jobs, and often work different hours. Conservatives must reject the prima facie ascription of bias or prejudice to the existence of disparity. When feminists blame the patriarchy, conservatives should say “men and women want different things and have different priorities. Period.” This is the beginning of wisdom. Education and jobs, while mostly open to all as a matter of justice, will not be distributed evenly between the sexes even in a situation of perfect freedom.

Several recent studies bear this out. Sex differences in occupational aspirations are “the largest of all sex differences on major psychological dimensions,” according to Gjsbert Stoet and David C. Geary, because they relate to the pronounced things-oriented vs. people-oriented difference between men and women. For every female adolescent interested in blue-collar working with things like engines or housebuilding, Stoet and Geary show, there are at least 4.3 male adolescents. For every male interested in people-oriented jobs like teaching and nursing, there are 3 females. STEM fields are more sensitive to social condition, but not in the way feminists might anticipate: the more advanced and wealthier the country, the fewer young females want to enter STEM.

A recent study from April Bleske-Rechek finds the same sex difference in the allocation of house work. Women prefer more responsibility for childcare tasks, and men prefer women to have child-care responsibility, too. Women like scheduling out the family’s activities and men like it when women do such scheduling. Both men and women like it when men take the lead in physical work like home maintenance, changing the oil, lawn mowing, and fixing the toilet or garbage disposal. Generally speaking, men prefer being the provider while women prefer being the maker of the home. 

Feminists promote a stupid and inhuman idea that there are no real differences between men and women. In light of this, conservatives should go on the offense. The same education system that pushes women into a career-first mindset ignores the legitimate desires many women have to prioritize family. Feminists pretend not to know what everyone in the history of the world has always known and what most still know. Fifty years of accommodating this poisonous ideology is enough.

Finally, conservatives should pursue policies that are designed to promote the interests of women who would be mothers. Conservatives should especially support for part-time work. Feminist education emphasizes careerism or (as some call it) workism. Some women will want that, and no prohibitory laws should get in their way. But most women (about three out of four) feel the pull of motherhood, hoping to lay down work especially when children are young. Those are our people, and conservatives need to serve their interests. If they are not our allies now, they may become allies if we serve their interests.

There is no substitute for seeing the lies of feminism, calling them out, and then behaving as if the ideology does not exist as we appeal to the real interests of most women. It would be a genuine act of statesmanship in the service of civilization.  

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

Suggested reading from the editors

to the newsletter