Features, Feminism, Politics

Why It’s Time To Stop Worrying About First World ‘Gender Gaps’

Each year, 265 million in public funding goes toward The Canada Research Chairs Program, a program that funds top researchers at Canadian universities. Now, Science Minister Kirsty Duncan is threatening to defund its chairs for not meeting “diversity targets”.

The decision came after Minister Duncan took offense at the unequal number of chairs held by women. “There were two times more men nominated (for research chair positions) than women” Duncan exclaimed during in an interview with the Associated Press.

Government funding will be withheld until universities nominate an equal number of women. But aren’t universities progressive strongholds, bereft of bias and bastions of equality? Of all places, it seems unlikely that university faculties are actively holding women back.

As of December 2016, only 30 per cent of the funded chair positions were held by women. However, between 2000 and 2015, 31 per cent of applicants for the jobs were from women. Based on these numbers it would be impossible to argue that sexist hiring practices are the cause of the gender imbalance in research chairs. Fewer women hold research chair positions because fewer women apply; it’s that simple.

So why is Duncan so upset? Minister Kirsty Duncan subscribes to a gender theory that has pervaded the intelligentsia, bureaucrats, and politicians. This theory asserts that there are no differences between women and men, and that existing differences in gender representation (uneven gender ratios in research chairs, company boards, Cabinet Ministers, etc.) are the result of a patriarchal societal system.

This “gender sameness theory” is not interested in equal opportunity for women; it is focused on equal outcomes. To its adherents, gaps between the sexes are clear indicators of sexism and must therefore be avoided at all costs.

Kirsty Duncan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau both subscribe to this theory. They see equal representation as a requirement for an egalitarian society; even if it means assiduously ignoring differences between the sexes to achieve it. However, regardless of the popularization of gender sameness theory, the truth remains: men and women are different, and as a result, they make different vocational choices.

Using Canadian Research Chairs as an example, fewer women apply to research chair positions because fewer women choose to work in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. Out of all Canadians who work in STEM, only 22 per cent are women.

Furthermore, despite attempts to encourage women to work in STEM, these numbers are barely changing. Even as more women join the workforce, few choose to work in STEM fields. Between 1991 and 2011, women accounted for 75 per cent of the growth in the number of workers in university-level non-scientific occupations, but only 27 per cent of the growth in the number of workers in university-level scientific occupations.

Some may argue that patriarchal social factors encourage women into stereotypically feminine fields (childcare, nursing etc.), and discourage them from pursuing STEM related careers. However, if one were to make the case that societal factors determine choices made by men and women, you would expect that in more egalitarian countries, the sexes would make similar career choices, and thus, gender gaps would recede. However, studying sex differences across 55 different cultures, Schmitt, Realo, Voracek, & Allik, came to the opposite conclusion (emphasis added):

With improved national wealth and equality of the sexes, it seems differences between men and women in personality traits do not diminish. On the contrary, the differences become conspicuously larger.

They also made this statement remarking on their own extensive research (emphasis added):

In this study, a collection of eight different gender equality indicators provided a comprehensive set of measures that assess disparity between male and female roles in society. In every case, significant findings suggest that greater nation-level gender equality leads to psychological dissimilarity in men’s and women’s personality traits.

Gender gaps do not decrease in egalitarian countries. Rather, they increase. According to the authors, this is because as society becomes more prosperous and more egalitarian, innate dispositional differences between men and women have more space to develop and the gap that exists between men and women in their personality traits becomes wider” (emphasis added).

In other words, in prosperous and egalitarian countries, people are free to pursue their respective career interests. Since men and women are innately different, they pursue different vocations based on dissimilar interests. Therefore, equal representation is an inaccurate measure of gender egalitarianism, simply because in egalitarian countries, gender gaps are the most robust.

Using equal representation to measure equality between the sexes leads to false conclusions. For example, a 2015 World Economic Forum (WEF) report ranked Rwanda as being the 6th most progressive country in the world with respect to gender. Canada ranked an abysmal 30th place, and the United States ranked 28th place.

The reason Rwanda ranked so high is because the WEF only measures gaps between the sexes (e.g. Wealth, life expectancy, workforce participation rates etc.). On these metrics, Rwanda performed well because of similar workforce participation rates between women and men. However, as The Guardian reported in 2014, a staggering 44.9% of the nation’s people live in poverty. Furthermore, “in rural areas the poorest citizens tend to be women, often genocide survivors.”

In poor countries like Rwanda, women are not participating in the workforce because they are following their vocational passions or climbing the corporate ladder; they are working for survival.

This didn’t stop journalists from praising Rwanda for its progressiveness. Patricia Kozicka reported for the Global News that “Rwanda…performs better than Canada (and many other more developed nations) when it comes to women’s participation in the workforce and wage equality.”

Unfortunately, it’s easy to draw faulty conclusions from gender gaps. Whether it’s Canada’s Research Chairs or Silicon Valley CEOs, simply identify a statistic showing unequal representation, and make supercilious accusations about sexism, misogyny, and backwardness.

It’s time to stop worrying about gender gaps. There will never be perfect 50:50 gender parity in every field. Women will be overrepresented in some, and underrepresented in others. Finding a field where women (or men) are underrepresented is not sufficient evidence to infer systemic sexism. In fact, robust differences in vocational choices are a sign of prosperous and egalitarian societies. Societies where, according to Schmitt et al., the “innate dispositional differences between men and women have more space to develop.”

Recognising “innate dispositional differences” is controversial in the current zeitgeist. The consensus among the intellectual and political class is that there are no real differences between the sexes, and that any difference in outcome is a manifestation of sexist hiring practices or a patriarchal understanding of gender roles. To them, any country with unequal representation of women in politics, STEM graduates, or the general workforce, is a country that must shed its ancient notion of gender roles and opt for a progressive utopia of gender sameness.

Like all utopian visions, this quest for gender sameness lies on faulty assumptions and infringes upon individual liberty. Because of innate differences, the sexes make dissimilar vocational choices. Government mandated hiring practices are antithetical to individual choice. Recognising and respecting differences is exactly what a good, tolerant society does. As Margaret Thatcher eloquently said in her 1975 speech to Conservative Party Conference, “We are all unequal. No one, thank heavens, is like anyone else . . . We believe that everyone has the right to be unequal but to us every human being is equally important.”


  1. Parson James says

    Your oppressive use of patriarchal concepts like facts and logic is telling.

  2. Rwanda had a genocide, which, like most genocides, was more or less an androcide – it was mainly men that was being killed. World Economic Forum then present Rwanda as a high performer on gender equality … Their feminism is really showing. Statistical differences in chosen professions, that somehow impact women, is a huge societal problem, but if men are being hacked to death with machetes, that is not a gender issue to them.

    • @bittergubben Exactly. So many of the men (and boys, for that matter) died that women became nearly half the workforce by necessity. And because so many of the men had died, women were forced by necessity to take jobs that men (and not women) would normally have chosen, which closes that pesky wage gap.

      Perhaps Sally Miller Gearhart and Mary Daly had it right–a just and gender equal world will necessarily be a world where men are only 10% of the population? (I kid, but I honestly think this is where some second wave lesbian separatists would go if they had known about this “paradox of the Rwandan gender equality utopia”.)

      Of course, one solution for western countries that would NOT involve killing off 80% of the men might be to remove every artificial financial support from women (no more welfare, food stamps, subsidized daycare, (tax free) alimony or child support, etc), and defund university programs that don’t provide a good individual return on investment (gender studies, Native studies, etc etc) so that women simply don’t have the option to take them, or if they do choose to take them, they have to earn lots of money some other way so as not to get into massive debt that they’ll need 20 years to pay off while working as a barista.

      It is clearly only necessity that will motivate women to pull up their socks and perform as well as men do, after all (at least in the specific metrics feminists seem to care about). We need only look at Rwanda to see this.

      @the author Aaron Neil, have you read anything about the Kibbutz gender equality experiments of the last century? The adults organized everything in a gender neutral way, set a gender neutral example and promoted gender neutral lessons and play activities, even having their children share bathroom and shower facilities. Oddly enough, around the age when children in ALL cultures tend to self-segregate by gender, the girls in particular began to object to the shared bathrooms/showers. The children raised in the gender neutral Kibbutz also took on the very gender roles their parents had eschewed, quite stubbornly and in some ways to a greater extreme than in the broader culture, despite every effort on the part of said parents to discourage it.

      I believe Steven Pinker uses this as an example of the difficulty in shifting heritable predispositions. In order to do so, pressure has to be applied. You essentially have to push people to do things they don’t want to do, and to not do things they do want to do, which to my mind is much more of an injustice than the fact that I earn less than my boyfriend does. Incidentally, he works in STEM, and if I had to do his job I would want to stab myself in the face with a toasting fork on a daily basis. Instead, I write, read and speak about gender issues for a living–something that is a passion as well as a job–and bring in about 65% of the amount of money he does. We’re both pleased with our choices, and as long as we are, I find it impossible to figure out what injustice has been done to me.

      • Aaron Neil says

        Hi Karen, thanks for taking the time to read my piece; I enjoy your work.

        I have not heard of those experiments but the results do not surprise me. Ideological visions have real life consequences. I’ve had conversations with several women who feel pressured into fields that don’t fulfill them. Moreover, it’s disgraceful that children are finding themselves subjected to social engineering by activist parents attempting “gender neutral” parenting techniques.

        You’re exactly right Karen. When these visions don’t pan out, people must be forced to comply. This is the definition of injustice. I’m glad you didn’t enter STEM and chose instead to write, just as you were meant to. We miss the rich rewards of individuality when everyone is pushed into conformity.

        Thanks again for your thoughtful comment. Feel free to reach out any time.

      • Mukul says

        What a treasure trove of information, all in one message, Karen. Thanks for that!

  3. https://www.american.edu/spa/wpi/upload/2012-men-rule-report-web.pdf

    This is a feminist study — with respect to the percentage of women in political office — that concluded:

    “Study after study finds that, when women run for office, they perform just as well as their male counterparts. No differences emerge in women and men’s fundraising receipts, vote totals, or electoral success. Yet women remain severely under-represented in U.S. political institutions. We argue that the fundamental reason for women’s under-representation is that they do not run for office.”

    I wish that any “percentage of women in xxxx” statistics were reported as you have done in your article, properly and in context, according to the percentage that actually applied. And if equal then NO NARRATIVE about sexism or under-representation should be allowed.

    • Aaron Neil says

      Thanks for the comment @joejoeseph.

      Isn’t it funny that it took an academic study to come to a common sense conclusion that regular people know to be true?

      I wish that were the case too. Articles about gender gaps are almost never helpful. Turns out men and women are different. What a novel idea…

  4. Pingback: Morning Ed: Gender {2017.07.17.M} | Ordinary Times

  5. You cannot reason with women. No amount of evidence or reason works. They will keep pushing for their utopian fantasies until society reaches total collapse.

      • Nothing can be done, except taking their rights away like in the Middle East, which is never gonna happen. Just enjoy the collapse. Interestingly, this type of “fempocalypse” happened in the Arab world in 10th century as well. Baghdad was like “feminist central.”

  6. nicky says

    Gravediggers, garbage collectors, firemen, soldiers, etc., etc.
    I suggest that Kirsty Duncan undertake some action to get more female gravediggers….

  7. Lup says

    A tidy piece of class war propaganda! Well done.

    The victims of sexism are not really victims at all. Nature and meritocracy decide everything justly. It just so happens, women are inferior—innately, genetically—at certain things, things that have to do with making more money and wielding more power in society today. Since this is a matter of innate disposition, we don’t need to think about sexism because gender gaps are unavoidable anyway. Sorry ladies, only hard truths here. You are genetically predisposed to suck at and avoid jobs that would materially improve your lives. But, you are very good at cleaning things and the arts. So go do that.

    This entire argument is just class war hiding in identity politics. As such, we should ask, whom does this argument serve? Not women, that’s for sure. And certainly not poor women, who’d most benefit materially from the sorts of well-paying STEM jobs they are, coincidentally, not genetically predisposed to doing.

    Yep, nothing to see here folks!

    • Sparx 832 says

      Logic > Sarcasm
      Facts > Ideology
      Reality > Fantasy

      Sorry, Lup… three strikes, you’re out.

    • LFP2016 says

      Biology is a harsh mistress, indeed. “Fairness” is not a concept in Nature, alas.

      Also, there are many, many, many high-paying jobs outside of STEM.

  8. Richard says

    Of course this doesn’t apply to politicians in Canada

  9. Equality cannot be forced in this manner. Rather, a level playing field for entry into STEM for all genders will suffice, and the resulting gender ratios will fall artlessly into place (as Schmitt et al. suggests).

    Having graduated from a STEM degree (physics specifically – a conspicuously male-dominated field), I asked a few of my female colleagues whether they felt isolated or even intimidated while entering and eventually working in the field. Not only did they not describe the alleged pressure to pursue to a more archetypal feminine field, but one told me of an occasion where a leader of the female physics club instructed her to aggressively pursue a prospective female student who initially was admitted to physics, but later decided that business better suited her interests.

    This is the antithesis of STEM philosophy. The field attracts curious minds who aggressively pursue explanations of reality, the advancement of society and technology, and knowledge for knowledge’s sake – not a distorted, ideological utopia of forced equality.

  10. Georgina Laidlaw says

    Two questions.

    1. You seem to assume there are only two genders (until your Thatcher quote, anyway), eg “the truth remains: men and women are different”. Even if you want to assign gender (and thereby capability/interest) on the basis of biological gender at birth, what do you believe that means for people who are born with neither biological gender? Do you have any stats on that?

    2. Your article gives no attention to the fact that representation of groups within society influences the way people in those groups perceive their potential and possibilities within that society. Why not?

    • LFP2016 says

      Barring extremely rare birth defects, there are two sexes/genders: male (XY) and female (XX). The belief that gender is “assigned” by a patriarchal system is a post-modern construction. Since intersex people are so rare (a tiny fraction of 1%), I doubt there are any formal studies on them.

  11. Mukul says

    What’s more terrifying than anything else is the fact that a whole country’s political and socioeconomic future rests on the shoulders of highly disingenuous people espousing fundamentally flawed theories.

    What a washout!

  12. LFP2016 says

    Whenever I read Quillette, I practically exclaim out loud: “Finally, somebody gets it!”

    Keep up the great (and important, and, alas, unique) work.

    • Aaron Neil says

      @LFP2016 I’m happy this article did that for you. Thanks for reading!

  13. Dana W. says

    The most disturbing part of all the sexist conclusions that come before facts and analysis is that feminists seem Ok with holding back men to get their results. More scholarships and empowerment classes for “minorities including women” has resulted in fewer men attending college.

    How can society advance technologically if those with desire and aptitude are held back because of an expressed need for equal outcomes?

    Let’s just work on making the playing field level and let people decide whether or not the game is right for them.

  14. I’m a PhD candidate in philosophy and people have blamed the underrepresentation of women in philosophy on bias for years. I recently wrote a detailed blog post in which I argue that, in fact, the evidence doesn’t support that claim at all and even support the opposite claim, namely that women get preferential treatment in hiring. I defend the view that, if women are underrepresented in philosophy, it’s primarily because, for whatever reason, they are less interested in philosophy than men even before they have taken any philosophy class. I show that by using data from The Freshman Survey, which asks hundreds of thousands of incoming college students every year what they intend to major in. I also use the data from that survey to perform a regression analysis which shows that, not just in the case of philosophy but across the board, the proportion of women among incoming college students who declare their intention to major in a field predicts almost perfectly the proportion of women among the recipients of a PhD in that field 10 years later. I argue that, although women are underrepresented in philosophy, we don’t have any more reason to care about it than we have a reason to care about the overrepresentation of women in psychology.

  15. Richard D. says

    The go-to guide for measuring the gender gap, the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap Report is, as the article mentions, flawed. However, I don’t think many people are aware of quite how seriously flawed it is. There is a series of inbuilt distortions, leading to quite absurd results, and also the predetermined conclusion that there is a worldwide gender gap favouring men.

    The biggest distortion is “truncation at the equality benchmark”. That means that if men do better than women, it is defined as a gap, but if women do better than men, it is defined as no gap. They simply define away any advantage women may have over men. And, depending on which year you look at, when they compare countries they distinguish two countries with “no gap” by ranking a country higher if it is least favourable to men, even when the gap favours women.

    The report claims this to be a desirable feature, but it leads to absurd conclusions and renders the name “gender gap” a dishonest label, since it will not be anything like what people expect from it.

    Thus for example in the 2014 report, the number one ranked country – the country with supposedly the least gender gap – for the category of “healthy life expectancy” came out as Syria. How was this arrived at? Due to the civil war, men were dying in their droves, and the life expectancy of men was ten years below that of women. Because the report’s idea of “gender gap” is, as mentioned above, more like “advantage to men”, the country with the biggest advantage to women comes out as having the least “gap”. So now the circle is complete: by a series of manipulations, the country with the biggest gender gap in life expectancy, Syria, was defined as having the smallest gender gap in life expectancy. The “gender gap” is, in this case, the opposite of what most people would understand it to be, and the idea that the earlier that men die prematurely the better a country is doing is somewhat offensive.

    In reality, men will have the advantage over women in some areas and vice-versa in others. The report deals in four categories: Economic participation, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment. In the UK, men do better than women in two of these (Economic participation and Political Empowerment) and women do (far) better than men in Educational Attainment and Health and Survival. Swings and roundabouts, you might think. Surely these might cancel out to some extent and the net gender gap might be small, but only the first two “count” for the report, so the UK gets a bad score for the gender gap.

    There are other distortions. For example, for “healthy life expectancy” the so-called “equality benchmark” is set at 1.06. This is a ruse to hide some of the health advantage that women enjoy. It means that because women are “expected” to live 1.06 times longer, that ratio is counted as the equality point. So in a country where men live to 75 and women live to 77, this actually is counted as a gap in favour of men, because the difference is less than six percent. In effect it assumes that there is a six percent gap that is purely biological, and that nothing should be done to correct it. It does not allow for the possibility that men die earlier due to social reasons and structural bias, for example being deterred from seeking health care, by doing more dangerous jobs, or because male diseases have a lower profile than female ones.

    Notice also, that this is the exact opposite philosophy to the “equality of outcome” idea that applies to other categories, such as “political empowerment”. If there are fewer women MPs than men MPs then effectively this is assumed to be entirely due to bias, since the “equality benchmark” is set at 1. If they followed a similar line to life expectancy, then they might set an “equality benchmark” other than 1 to allow for the fact that women tend not to seek office as much as men.

    The are other issues. For example, education measure seriously underestimates how much girls and women are outperforming boys and men, at least in the UK. It looks at literacy rates and enrolment in primary, secondary and tertiary education. Only the last of these makes any sense in the UK since almost everyone reads and school is compulsory, so the very considerable underachievement of boys at school only shows itself in the “tertiary enrolment” component, but this subcategory has a very small weight, so the educational difference in favour of girls is mostly washed away by the methodology.

    None of this is apparently any deterrent to the world’s media and social media who uncritically lap up the report every year and wring their hands about how poorly we are doing.

    • Aaron Neil says

      @RichardD. Fantastic comment Richard; the WEF study is worse than I thought. At this point the “study” is ammunition for a narrative, not a reliable analysis of gender equality.

  16. Amadeus D. says

    Assuming their base assumption as true, that gender differences are all “nurture” and no “nature”, the system they are aiming for, with no bias and no socialized gender specific behavior, should result in a random distribution of male/female ratios in jobs. There would be no reason to assume any distribution, let alone 50/50, since they are all equally likely. In fact a strict equal distribution in all jobs would be statistically highly improbable.

    As an example, consider you have a barrel containing 500 red and 500 blue marbles. If you randomly draw out ten marbles then there is the same probability of drawing out 1/9 as there is 5/5 as there is 9/1. Now think of the probability of unlikely situation of randomly drawing out 100 piles of ten and getting them all 5/5. (I’ll leave this to the mathematicians)

  17. Mikado says

    @amadeus 5/5 is far more likely than 9/1. In short, there are many combinations of red and blue marbles that result in 5/5 whereas few that result in 9/1 (just 10 combinations, as it happens).

  18. Lasya says

    Hi Aaron,

    I would like to point out some flaws in your argumentation.

    Equal representation of genders in every vocation is not an equal outcome, the outcome is greater financial independence as a way to ensure equality in all spheres, social, cultural, economics and equal pay for the same work done. Equal representation in all vocations, especially the STEM fields which are dubbed to be the higher paying fields of this century, is necessary. So definitely, equality in pay and vocation is the starting point, and not the outcome!

    At this point, I would also like to tackle your comment about women not finding certain vocations fulfilling like STEM in egalitarian societies, I would ask you to look at another statistic, girls in primary and junior high are more interested in STEM, but by the end of high school their interest levels drastically drop. Why do you think that’s the case? An “innate dispositional difference” explanation would be that their nurturing tendencies kick in, and that’s causing them to not pursue STEM fields. Or maybe, their brains develop in such a way that they don’t find the abstract thinking required in math or science compelling enough to pursue a career in them. This definitely sounds absurd doesn’t it? Concepts like fulfillment, are driven by a lot of factors, like work you’re good at, work that helps others, engaging work that lets you enter a state of flow (freedom, variety, clear tasks, feedback), supportive colleagues, no major negatives like long hours or unfair pay, and a job that fits your personal life. Src: https://80000hours.org/articles/job-satisfaction-research/

    Now if you tell me, that only innate dispositional differences cause women not to enter certain fields, that would be majorly incorrect, and only slightly correct. The factors listed above, some of them might be affected by innate differences to varying degrees for different women ( I suspect they are not too significant, again), but there are other contributing factors like supportive colleagues, no major negatives like long hours/ unfair pay, and job that fits your personal life that the problems of ‘sexist work environment’ kicks in. Colleagues making sexist comments, inability to put in long work hours due to responsibilities towards children coupled with unsupportive spouses. These are bigger hurdles than one can imagine for a woman, and only a handful of women in history have been able to pass them.

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