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Measuring Fairness - Scott Adams' Blog

Measuring Fairness

I think we all agree that men and women have legitimate concerns about how they are treated by the legal system and the job market. And there are a variety of other concerns about dignity, health, safety, and government funding that get added to the mix. The result is that both men and women have baskets of concerns about how their gender is treated, and the baskets are different.

So who has a bigger basket of concerns?

In a perfect world, it shouldn’t matter who has the biggest basket of issues because all of the items in each basket are worthy of our attention, including but not limited to finding out if the data really says what you think it says. But in our imperfect world, advocacy is about marketing, and packaging, and appearance. And the most powerful way to package some types of issues is by gender, especially if the statistics appear to line up that way. If you were to combine the Men’s Rights issues and Women’s Rights issues into one large basket, you couldn’t even name it. It’s hard to attract attention and resources to combat the institutionalized scourge of miscellaneous. And if you did get attention for your Miscellaneous Rights movement, how would you rank the individual issues so the most important ones get attention first?

I suppose things were clearer in the old days when you had an issue such as a women’s right to vote. It was a yes/no question with clear lines of victimhood and a specific fix. It made perfect sense to view this as a gender issue. But what happens if you start seeing the world primarily through the filter of gender?

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.

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.

So I propose a simple test to determine if you, individually, are a victim of gender unfairness. If a genie gave you the chance to magically switch your gender, and become a member of the other sex, would you do it? And let’s say the new you would be about the same as now on the scale of attractiveness, intelligence, ethnicity, circumstance, and health. The only real change would be gender. Do you take the offer?

If your answer is no, then maybe fairness isn’t what you really want. Maybe what you want is all the advantages you have now plus the good stuff that other people have. I totally understand. I want the same thing.

I apologize to anyone who was offended by this post.