29th October 2011
Take the question of equal pay for equal work. If you see it as a gender issue, aren’t you leaving out a few dimensions that are also important? I saw an interview the other day with the woman who is the lead plaintiff for the class action suit against WalMart. Her complaint is that WalMart discriminated against her for being a woman. The thing that fascinated me is that somehow she managed to discern that the discrimination she experienced was because of her gender and not the fact that she’s also obese, unattractive, and African-American. Based on the interview, she also seems to have a sketchy command of grammar. I couldn’t judge her height or personality, but those are two more factors that have a big impact on career advancement.
Far too often nobody mentions that the correct answer to the charge, ‘You’re discriminating against me because I’m X!’ is ‘No, I’m discriminating against you because you’re a jerk.’ But that’s not legally actionable, so nobody phrases it that way.
I make this observation as a short, hair-challenged, nearsighted, unattractive, over-the-hill individual who was pushed out of two different careers (banking and the phone company) explicitly for being male and white. In my case, my bosses explained it to me directly, as in “You’re our most qualified candidate for promotion, but we can’t promote a white male in the foreseeable future.” This happened in the context of finishing my MBA at night so I could overcome discrimination against me based on the reputation of my school. I’m not complaining. It’s just context. We live in a world with so many triggers for bias that it seems simplistic to divide things along gender lines.
It is unfortunate that there are many permissible grounds for disfavoring one class of people with respect to another, and they rarely match up with what would be rational.