Stop Mansplaining the 'Boy Crisis' – Sexism Still Holds Women Back
Who runs the world? Girls!
So BeyoncÃ© decreed, and so it has come to pass – that is, if you read the End of Men, The War Against Boys and recent multiple articles by so-called "data journalists" who have looked at how girls are doing in school ... and determined that it'll be but another generation until men are the downtrodden gender.
If you were one of the many following the kerfluffle over Jill Abramson's firing at the New York Times and the gender-gap discussion therein – or if you're simply aware of how institutional sexism operates – you might think it would take just a little bit longer not only to eliminate, but totally reverse, sexism. And you'd be wrong. Just sit down, because some men have something to explain to you.
A few weeks ago, David Leonhardt at the Times examined the behavior gap between young boys and girls in school. "By kindergarten, girls are substantially more attentive, better behaved, more sensitive, more persistent, more flexible and more independent than boys," he wrote. Because the current economy rewards brains over brawn, he warned, these fidgety boys will struggle. And he goes so far as to claim that because of this, "the American economy – for all its troubles (and all of the lingering sexism) – looks to be doing pretty well when you focus on girls."
A week later, his colleague Sendhil Mullainathan took Leonhardt's argument a step further. Given that girls outperform boys in school on both behavior and academic standards, he said that, in 50 years, women will earn more than men. In fact, he predicted that women will not only achieve pay equity but actually reverse it, despite the reality that women currently earn on average 77% of what men do and that the gap has barely budged in the last decade.
To his credit, and despite his big leap from classes to career paths, Leonhardt at least remembers to mention one big factor that might – just maybe – keep the matriarchy from creating a permanent male underclass: sexism. Mullainathan, on the other hand, makes nary a mention of how women are often held back not because they perform poorly, because they bear children, or because they may have different character traits, but because they are female.
This is not an esoteric concept without roots in the real world. There's plenty of evidence of the persistent role that sexism still plays in our economy – and it comes despite the fact that girls have long been doing better than boys in elementary, secondary and post-secondary educational settings.
If you wanted to move beyond mansplaining with charts and look at the key numbers in context, you could start with the research finding that, when women act like men in the workplace – exhibiting ambition, aggression and competitiveness – they are penalized for breaking gender stereotypes.
Or you could look at the lawsuit recently filed by a group of women who work as saleswomen for the country's largest jewelry chain. Of the group, 13 of them allege that at some point they found out they were being paid less than men who not only had the same experience as them, but sometimes with lower qualifications. Others were denied promotions that were given out to less-qualified men. (Oh, and a handful of them experienced some pretty awful sexual harassment to boot.)
You could grapple with the fact that people give more money as a starting offer to someone who appears to be father than someone who mentions that she's a mother. You could look at how research subjects are twice as likely to want to hire a man for a math job than a woman when all they know is the applicants' genders.
You could also give weight to a study that found that young women at work are "consistently underestimated and overlooked". You might consider how managers start off salary negotiations with male employees by offering raises that are two and a half times bigger for men than for women. You could contemplate the studies that show that women will be given fewer high-profile, critical projects (and ones with smaller budgets and higher risks) than equally qualified men.
And if you think women should maybe just go work for themselves, consider this: investors would rather give their money to a man with the same pitch as a woman.
If the economy really was a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps meritocracy – rather than one where women don't even get boots – then the "boy crisis" handwringers might have a point. Academic rigor, ambition and self-control should be paths to financial success for both men and women. But the economic playing field is not just tilted toward men: it's pockmarked with pitfalls for women that they might not even be able to see coming.