Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

March 18, 2014

Gender inequality? Men and women inherently different creatures

— — A new crisis threatens the nation. Some women are upset at having been called “bossy” when they were young. This term is so offensive to them that they want the word banned. Yes, that’s right, they want to banish the word “bossy” from the lexicon, never again to be used in any context, even to describe a male, as so many did to Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign.

“Bossy” is now the “B-word,” but must not be confused with another B-word, which arguably is a more serious insult to women.

In junior high, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recounts, a teacher stopped her best friend and told her: “Nobody likes a bossy girl. You should find a new friend who will be a better influence on you.”

“This is a very negative experience for girls,” she said. “If you look at my childhood, if you look at the childhood of most of the leaders we talked to, they lived through being told they were bossy,” Sandberg said. “And it has such a strongly female, and such a strongly negative connotation, that we thought the best way to raise awareness was to say, ‘This isn’t a word we should use.’ ”

OK, so young girls were often referred to as “bossy” because they told others what to do. But isn’t the term “bossy” really just the reaction to a particular type of behavior?

If someone is “bossy,” doesn’t that imply that the person thinks they know better than everyone else how things should be done? Maybe they’re right, or maybe they’re wrong, but their behavior sends that message.

I have worked for and with women who were good leaders, but were not “bossy,” and I’ve worked along side both men and women who weren’t in a leadership position, but were plenty “bossy.” Being “bossy” is gender-neutral, and is not a requirement for being a good leader. Having been called “bossy” does not seem to have hurt Ms. Sandberg’s career.

So that begs the question: Why would anyone be offended at having the behavior they willingly exhibit being accurately identified? Wouldn’t the offended person’s proper response be to modify their behavior so as to no longer impress others as being bossy? Or, just grin and bear it?

Ms. Sandberg and Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chavez expressed the idea in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that using “bossy” to describe girls is at the center of the problem of unequal treatment of girls and boys, noting that girls who lead are more often described as “bossy” and “overly ambitious” while boys who lead are described as “strong” and “determined.”

Perhaps men and women are perceived differently and receive different treatment because men and women are inherently different creatures. We know this because Time magazine told us so after it had an epiphany back in 1992, and thought the discovery warranted a cover story. “Why Are Men and Women Different? It isn’t just upbringing. New studies show they are born that way,” the cover announced.

Since the women’s movement in the ’60s there has been a strong effort for equality between men and women, particularly in the workplace.

There certainly is no reason women cannot be doctors, lawyers, accountants, CEOs, politicians, financial advisers, etc. And there is no reason that if women want to perform those traditionally male jobs, like construction, carpentry, welding, truck driving, mining, or be police officers and firefighters, etc., they certainly can.

But while women may want to have careers, just as men do, nature has placed restrictions on them. Nature has deemed that women are the only gender that can bear children and nurture them in the earliest part of their lives, and the mother’s role is a critical and important duty in our world.

Men cannot be mothers; they are not built for the job, either physically or emotionally. Which is not to say men cannot play a stronger role in parenting and taking care of the home. But they cannot be mothers, and mothers will always have a different role than fathers.

And for that reason, mothers and fathers can never be totally equal, either in the workplace, or in the home.

In Ms. Sandberg’s book, “Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” which she called “sort of a feminist manifesto,” she encouraged women to “lean in” to their careers, yield to their sense of ambition and don’t shrink when they incur challenges in their work-life balance.

Ms. Sandberg’s efforts seem designed to show women as victims who are discriminated against in the workplace.

But when you look at the studies, they show that women frequently choose lower paying careers than men, tend to prefer a better lifestyle to working the longer hours required by many better paying jobs, and they take off blocks of time from their jobs, often due to childbearing, more frequently than men, which affects moving up.

Some of us try to equalize things that are inherently unequal, due to situations that those on the short end actually have helped to create.

James H. “Smokey” Shott, a resident of Bluefield, Va., is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

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