Saturday, August 26, 2006

Fighting prejudice with prejudice

Warning: The following post contains no business content.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you've probably witnesses some of the blogospheric outrage over the recent Forbes opinion piece entitled, "Don't Marry Career Women." In it, columnist Michael Noer cites various studies and statistics that he believe indicate that men are better off marrying a stay-at-home wife.

Precisely as he intended, it sparked a firestorm of outrage, including responses from the BlogHer team.

There is no question that the article is offensive and the author a pig.

But missing in all of this is that fact that none of the posts I read has attempted to refute any of his basic claims with logical argument.

Noer cites a wide variety of sources that claim things like:

1) If they [career women] quit their jobs and stay home with the kids, they will be unhappy (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2003).
2) They will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Social Forces, 2006).
3) You will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2001).
4) You will be more likely to fall ill (American Journal of Sociology).
5) Even your house will be dirtier (Institute for Social Research).
6) Women's work hours consistently increase divorce, whereas increases in men's work hours often have no statistical effect. "I also find that the incidence in divorce is far higher in couples where both spouses are working than in couples where only one spouse is employed," Johnson says.
7) Highly educated people are more likely to have had extra-marital sex (those with graduate degrees are 1.75 more likely to have cheated than those with high school diplomas.)
8) Additionally, individuals who earn more than $30,000 a year are more likely to cheat.

Elizabeth Corcoran's counterpoint makes the argument that the mechanism by which 2-career marriages break down may have more to do with the husband than the wife--if the husband is lazy and takes his wife for granted, a career woman has more attractive alternatives than a financially dependent spouse without marketable skills.

This is an eminently reasonable argument, though it doesn't tackle the $64,000 question, "Regardless of who is to blame for the difficulties experienced in 2-career marriages, is a man more or less likely to be happy if he marries a career woman?"

Elana Centor of BlogHer writes:

"The point is that it took the outrage of readers and their own employees to make the editorial team at Forbes realize that what Noer had written was an opinion piece and not a piece of objective journalism. They broke the public trust. They insulted their subscribers. They were snarky. While readers expect and accept snarky from Gawker and other bloggers, they do not expect it from mainstream business publications that are supposed to adhere to fundamental journalistic ethics. That's not to say Forbes can't be edgy and even snarky. It can. Just label the piece as a blog--- not a piece of journalism. There is a difference."

Um, I'm puzzled by this. "Label the piece as a blog---not a piece of journalism?" This is Forbes we're talking about, not Scientific American. I think it's pretty clear it's an opinion piece.
I think it's fine to blast Forbes for publishing something you find offensive, and immediately cancel your subscription, but don't say that they insulted the public trust.

Lisa Stone writes, "That said, Corcoran's and Noer's pieces are both flawed -- I know far too many men staying at home with the children and far too many women CEOs for these outdated archetypes to hold even one more day. They're laughable! Then again, I have the vision of a woman who doesn't have to work at Forbes with Noer and his editors every day."

Again, I'm puzzled. Essentially, Lisa seems to be saying, "I don't believe the stats and studies that Noer cites because my own anecdotal experience shows that they're incorrect."

I refuse to depend Noer's intentions. It's clear he wanted to stir up controversy, and didn't give a damn about all the feelings he was going to hurt.

I myself am married to a career woman who is a Harvard graduate. I believe that you should marry for love, and that regardless of anything that Noer cites, I'd be less happy if I married an uneducated, unemployed woman.

But if we want to knock any sense into the heads of the troglodytes Noer was trying to rally with his piece, we need to tackle the facts of his argument.

If Noer had written an article advising his readers to avoid living in neighborhoods with African Americans because they tend to commit more crimes, would it be more persuasive to respond by 1) calling Noer a racist, blasting his publication, and citing the fact that none of the black people I know are criminals, or 2) pointing out that Noer's argument had failed to control for the impact of socioeconomic class on crime rates?

I know it's hard to remain calm in the face of willful insult, but allowing your outrage to determine what you write (and using weak arguments in the process) often has the opposite effect of what you desire. We should write to persuade, not just to satisfy our own (eminently understandable) need to vent.

6 comments:

Jackie Danicki said...

Can I just ask: How do we define 'career woman'? The practice of carving life up into little partitions is going the way of the T-rex. And good riddance. "Work/life balance" is for the birds. ("For eight hours a day, I work. The rest of the time, I live!" is, well no way to live, and certainly not how most people live. It's all life.)

For example, I work, I started and run my own non-profit, and I would never call myself a 'career woman'. Work is part of my life, but it doesn't dominate my life. How many of us - women and men - are really that two-dimensional?

Chris said...

Jackie,

I agree with your philosophy of not letting work dominate one's life. I would guess, however, that the majority of people still work some kind of 40+ hour/week job, which may not tap into their deepest passions. That's what we have to change.

In terms of Noer's definition of a career woman, I believe he reserved the term for college-educated women making more than $30,000 per year.

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with this article? Women's magazines have been putting men in to the "marry" or "don't Marry" box for decades.

Now that the shoe's on the other foot, it's "biased".

Just the typical bigotry men have to deal with every day in America.

MJ said...

I think the question is not "what is wrong with this argument" but "why is this argument being made at all?"

Amazingly, marriages in which there is equal or close to equal power between the partners have more conflict than marriages in which one partner is clearly subservient to the other. Well, stop the f-ing presses, Forbes Magazine.

I say, marrying someone your professional and educational equal is just like "punching your weight."

Sure, you could go through life dominating a less powerful woman who has no options but to cling to you no matter how much of putz you are -- or at least her option is to sleep with the pool boy, who she can't run off with, as opposed to an officemate that she can. BTW, I would bet money that it's these women who feel trapped that kill their husbands at a much higher rate than the "career gals" who can toss him aside figuratively rather than literally.

So, the real question is, why does this Forbes writer care? Is this really advice for Forbes' male readership? My guess is anyone who would take this advice wouldn't need to hear it from a magazine in the first place. Or is this an attempt to smack "career gals" for being uppity? "You may be competing with us successfully at the office, but you're making youself unmarriable! Ha ha! Take that, Evil Spinster!" See Faludi, Susan; "Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women"

So yes, by all means, the critics of this piece should challenge the data rather than say "I am TOO marriagable!" But they should also challenge the reasons for writing it, and the definition of happiness that it relies upon.

Punch your weight, punk.

:-)

Tim Taylor said...

Chris,

This is a super post for a variety of reasons, most importantly your final point. Taking this or anything else personally virtually ensures that we can't have a constructive dialogue about it.

One thing I'm curious about in this discussion is how do you account for someone who is a career woman until they get married and then suddenly want to be a stay at home mom. Which is true or is neither true?

I'm down with the fact that you married for love. I think that love should account for people changing and their partners being okay and supportive of that.

I get the article's point and can see value in the discussion. If it's taken as an insult however we'll be nowhere closer to understanding each other.

TT

Loki on the run said...


or 2) pointing out that Noer's argument had failed to control for the impact of socioeconomic class on crime rates?


Hmmm, but you know, it is mainly low SES males in jail, and it is a fact that there are proportionately less whites than blacks in jail, and proportionately less East Asians (Chinese, Japanese and Koreans) than whites.

How do you account for both?

Somehow our racist Western society disciminates against blacks and for East Asians?

?????,??????!