Thursday, January 6, 2011

Looking at the Source on New 'Study' That Says Women Want to 'Marry Up'

(Flickr/Mr. Physics)

I was all set to write a snarky blog post about this recent article in the British Telegraph that says a new "study" finds that women don't really want equal pay and a career. Instead, says Dr. Catherine Hakim of the London School of Economics, that women really just want to "marry up." But then I realized that this was an actual News Article published in a serious Newspaper and that people might take it seriously. Sometimes folks think the British are more trustworthy -- possibly because they add extra letters to words and have authoritative accents.

Let's start with the newspaper that published the article. See, Brits don't have our weird American obsession with objective journalism. Instead, they adopted long ago what we have adopted more of today. According to NPR's helpful map of British newspaper ideology, The Guardian is back by the UK's Labor (liberal) party, while the Telegraph is backed by the conservatives. This quote from a conservative member of parliament pretty much says it all:
"If a Guardian journalist were to interview me, I would definitely assume that they would be trying to penetrate into areas of weakness in what the government is doing ... or particular policies that they are very worried about," says Nick Boles, a Conservative member of Parliament from England's East Midlands region. "Whereas with The Telegraph, they'd probably be more likely to be ... looking for ways in which the government was betraying the Conservative cause."
So I guess the Guardian is more similar to the American Huffington Post while the Telegraph is more similar to more conservative news outlets like the Daily Caller or the Weekly Standard.

Meanwhile the place that published the study mentioned in the Telegraph article is the Centre for Policy Studies, which is basically a conservative think tank. It was founded, according to its own website, to "'convert the Tory Party' to economic liberalism." It also looks like the think tank has picked up more of a socially conservative bent over the years. From CPS' page on "social policy/family":
The family is at the heart of society. Evidence from a wide range of UK and US sources show that children who experience family breakdown or who grow up in fatherless families are at much higher risk of poor outcomes: from educational failure to drink and drug abuse, from crime and teenage pregnancy to unemployment and relationship breakdown.

UK fiscal policy should be reformed to support marriage through the tax system and to remove the welfare penalty on two-parent families. State intervention in family life should focus on protection of vulnerable children; it should not extend to managing their day-to-day lives and removing responsibility and judgment from parents.

CPS also held an event last March titled "How the sisterhood fails mothers." And the title of the study cited in the Telegraph article is actually titled "Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine," and the text of the study itself sounds a lot like gender essentialism from the days of yore. Hakim notices that few women are high economic achievers, so she concludes this must be because women don't want to be high economic achievers. In short, the research seems to conclude that feminism has been around for a few decades and we don't have gender equality yet, so it must not work!

Sounds like pretty standard social conservatism here in America. In other words, it sounds like citing a study about women in the workforce put out by CPS would be similar to one put out by the Heritage Foundation.

One of Heim's key findings in the study she put forth is that "Despite feminist claims, the truth is that most men and women have different career aspirations and priorities." She simply observes a pattern and doesn't delve into why women "want" different things from careers than men and doesn't spend much time diving into what forces might shape those different desires.

Hakim herself is known for criticizing feminist theory, and has recently put forth work on "erotic capitol" or the idea that sexual appeal can result in economic capitol. This is yet another gender essentialist idea that at best makes feminists uncomfortable.

So next time you see an article that puts forth claims that new research finds women don't actually want equality, it might be useful to spend some time thinking about who is saying that and why.

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