Right On: Scrabble, Wikipedia and feminist myths

Stock image, St. George News

OPINION — What do Scrabble, Wikipedia and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority have in common? Each in its own way serves to debunk some popular feminist myths.

I’m not talking about gender discrimination. Does it exist? Absolutely. Is there progress to be made? You bet.

I’m not talking about intelligence: Women are well represented among the highest IQs ever measured.

But are men and women identical in their aptitude for – and interest in – all job categories? Certainly not. Is that something that society should try to remedy? No way.

Competitive Scrabble offers a chance to test the feminist dogma that females and males have identical aptitudes and interests. The game comes with no cultural expectations and its manufacturer reports that 83 percent of recreational Scrabble players are female.

The game is usually learned at home: My mother, a voracious reader, taught me to play. There are no gender stereotypes discouraging females from participation, at home or in competitive Scrabble.

Nonetheless, in 40 years of the North American Scrabble Championship, only one woman has won. The World Scrabble Championship has never been won by a woman in its 27 years. All eight finalists in this year’s French World Scrabble Championship were male.

Championship Scrabble rewards characteristics found more commonly in males: strategy, math, a passion for competition, and a drive to memorize facts. For example, the winner of this year’s French Scrabble championship is an Englishman who doesn’t speak French. He memorized large portions of the French dictionary.

Nothing prevents females from memorizing dictionaries. No selection process keeps them from entering Scrabble competitions. But few have been motivated to devote themselves to abstract, competitive activities.

Like Scrabble, Wikipedia has no inherent gender bias or bars to entry. Anyone can compose or edit an entry and participation is largely anonymous. No one would know a priori the gender of those who contribute.

Yet the Wikimedia Foundation reports that only 13 percent of Wikipedia editors are female. Entries for typically “female” subjects are skimpy compared with typically “male” ones. The implication is unavoidable: Females haven’t been as obsessively driven as males to nail down facts, correct errors and dominate a field.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority provides a completely gender-neutral look at how men and women make job choices. Unionized bus and train operators have identical tasks, identical hourly wages and promotions are based strictly on tenure.

Nonetheless, female MBTA employees earn only 89 percent of their male counterparts. The weekly earnings difference can be explained entirely by choices women and men make.

Women value time and flexibility more than men. Women take more unpaid Family Medical Leave Act time off than men. They also choose to work fewer overtime hours despite initially planning to work the same number of hours as men. Whenever possible, most women choose to avoid working weekends, holidays and split shifts, leaving them to men.

The MBTA’s completely gender-neutral working environment is rare. But the lesson to be learned is surely repeated in a wide variety of jobs and industries. When you read broad statements that women make less than men on average, keep MBTA bus and train operators in mind.

These three examples and many others like them haven’t deterred government and other institutions from claiming gender bias wherever there aren’t equal numbers of women earning equal wages.

Providing indisputable evidence that females have equal opportunity isn’t enough. If results aren’t equal, gender bias must have been present.

The National Academy of Sciences issued a 312-page report claiming “gender harassment” results in lower female representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Unable to find much traditional sexual harassment, the report blamed “verbal and nonverbal behaviors that convey hostility, objectification, exclusion, or second-class status about members of one gender.”

You won’t be surprised at the proposed solution: new federal and state laws, adding sex-discrimination bureaucracy to both public and private workplaces, female-friendly evaluation structures and “explicit steps” (translation: unconstitutional affirmative action) to increase female hiring.

Unsurprisingly, the NAS report met with rave reviews by all the usual suspects: politicians, college administrators and the mainstream media.

The National Geographic Society sponsors an annual national Geography Bee for young people, analogous to a spelling bee. Since 1989, boys have won 27 times, girls have won twice. Nothing prevents girls from spending hours studying a world atlas, nothing that is but their preferences for human interaction, communication and relationships over obsessive attention to detail.

Feminist demands for equal results, echoed by the politically correct crowd, find a natural ally in the law profession. The National Geographic Society has been sued based on nothing more than the gender ratio of its contest winners.

Women tend to be superior to men in fields that require subtle, sensitive communication and interaction. They tend to seek a broader set of human experiences than do men. As a result, they dominate some job categories where those skills are paramount.

Outright gender discrimination is morally wrong and a waste of human talent. Eradicating it is best done at the immediate supervisory level; federal and state laws are effective primarily at the institutional level and frequently tend to invite individual lawsuits with flimsy grounds for action.

As the French say, vive la différence. Men and women are different and we should expect different outcomes. Nonetheless, expect Wikipedia and the MBTA to be sued.

Howard Sierer is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.


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