The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Dadsplaining for @cynthiablee: Women, Victimhood and the #Google Memo

Posted on | August 11, 2017 | 1 Comment


Dear Professor Lee:
Your article (“I’m a woman in computer science. Let me ladysplain the Google memo to you”) is very interesting and well-argued, and far be it from me to question your professional qualifications or your experiential authority. For a woman to say, “This is what it’s like for me as a woman in situation X” — whether the situation is childbirth or being catcalled on the streets — puts any man at a disadvantage, if he wishes to criticize whatever argument is based on such distinctly female experiences. In this sense, the feminist slogan “the personal is political” becomes a trump card in the deck, so that as soon as a woman throws it onto the table, a wise man walks away from the game. Perhaps you see why this problem is directly related to James Damore’s now-legendary Google memo.

Ceding that I know nothing of working conditions at Google or elsewhere in Silicon Valley, and most certainly cannot speak for the experiences of women in high-tech careers, nevertheless there are general points in your argument which need to be critically examined, e.g.:

It’s important to appreciate the background of endless skepticism that every woman in tech faces, and the resulting exhaustion we feel as the legitimacy of our presence is constantly questioned.

Notice my emphasis on your use of the word “feel” here. My own feelings have been hurt a thousand times in the course of my career, and I might complain of “exhaustion” at annoying patterns of behavior I’ve encountered in the workplace, and the bottom line is this: Nobody cares.

Although I have done a great many different jobs in my life, no one has ever hired me for the job of Director of Emotional Empathy. And while I have often worked in diverse environments, it was never my job to be Token White Male, hired to comply with an implicit quota.

Here again, Professor Lee, you can perceive the relevance of my point to the situation at Google, a company that recently won a court decision in a federal Labor Department investigation of the alleged “gender gap” in its personnel policies. Every male employee at Google must be aware that the company has been under pressure to prove that its policies are fair to women. The company has spent vast sums to hire lawyers to defend itself against the accusation of sexism, and must consider the potential of even greater costs for further litigation. Ergo, woe be unto any male employee at Google who doesn’t watch his step around The Woman Issue.

Let me now quote your argument more extensively, Professor Lee:

If, as the manifesto’s defenders claim, the population averages do not have anything to say about individual Googlers, who are all exceptional, then why is Google the subject of the manifesto’s arguments at all? What do averages have to do with hiring practices at a company that famously hires fewer than one percent of applicants? In the name of the rational empiricism and quantitative rigor that the manifesto holds so dear, shouldn’t we insist that it only cite studies that specifically speak to the tails of the distribution — to the actual pool of women Google draws from?
For example, we could look to the percentage of women majoring in computer science at highly selective colleges and universities. Women currently make up about 30 percent of the computer science majors at Stanford University, one key source of Google’s elite workforce. Harvey Mudd College, another elite program, has seen its numbers grow steadily for many years, and is currently at about 50 percent women in their computer science department.
Yet Google’s workforce is just 19 percent female. So even if we imagine for a moment that the manifesto is correct and there is some biological ceiling on the percentage of women who will be suited to work at Google — less than 50 percent of their workforce — isn’t it the case that Google, and tech generally, is almost certainly not yet hitting that ceiling?

Isn’t it obvious, Professor Lee, that statistics about the number of women currently enrolled in computer science programs do not tell us anything about previous discrimination in Google’s personnel policies? That is to say, when Google was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin (both male, incidentally) in 1998, they recruited employees from the pool of tech workers then available, most of whom were likewise male. There was no widespread K-12 educational crusade to teach STEM to girls in 1998 and so, as the Google workforce grew, the company necessarily acquired a disproportionate male-to-female ratio of employees. Even if the company had, five or 10 years ago, consciously begun recruiting female employees to remedy this “gender gap,” and even if its current policies were entirely gender-blind, there would still be a residual disproportion in numbers, inherited from those early days when the company was just Larry and Sergey hiring buddies they knew in Silicon Valley.

You see, Professor Lee, that we need not use anthropological arguments about male-female differences to understand this. It’s just common sense, supplemented with a bit of basic economics. And now, to counter your playing of The Gender Card — telling us how women in tech feel about male skepticism toward their qualifications — permit me to throw into this game The Dad Card. Raising children (and I’ve got six of them, ages 14 to 28) is an experience that is quite educational, and until you’ve accomplished this task successfully, you are deficient in certain knowledge that can be learned in no other way than by experience.

“It’s not fair!”

Every parent must learn how to deal with this childish complaint. You have made a decision, denying the child something he desires, or requiring him to do something he doesn’t want to do, and he responds by calling into question the justice of your parental authority.

Well, on what basis is a 5-year-old qualified to sit in judgment of the parent? If Mom says he can’t go swimming until he picks up all the Lego blocks on his bedroom floor, he must either comply with her decision or else forfeit his trip to the swimming pool. “It’s not fair!” he will complain, when the time arrives for the trip to the pool and Mom, finding the Legos still scattered on the floor, says he can’t go swimming with his friends.

The child will then predictably appeal to Dad, asking him to overrule Mom’s decision. This is when Dad gets the chance to teach the child an important lesson: “Who ever told you life was fair?”

You can go through life sulking, pouting and whining like a frustrated toddler, or you can grow up and become a responsible adult.

Everybody’s running around claiming to be a victim of social injustice — e.g., women are oppressed by “Eurocentric beauty standards” — which I consider to be evidence that parents have failed to do their basic job of teaching children to endure hardship without complaint.

If you sincerely believe your employer is treating you unfairly, quit. Go find another job somewhere else, but whatever you do, don’t sit around whining about your grievances, which will only have the effect of undermining the morale of your co-workers. Nor would I ever advise anyone to file a discrimination complaint against an employer, because this expands the problem by involving courts or regulatory bureaucrats in the company’s business, which always impairs productivity.

Unfortunately, Professor Lee, James Damore didn’t make these points in his Google memo, and so this unpleasant duty has fallen to me. Could I complain that it’s unfair that my time has been diverted to this task? Perhaps, but almost nobody cares about the value of my time.

Let the reader contemplate the value of the lesson I’ve attempted to teach this Stanford University professor. Ask yourself if any other commentator on the Google controversy has thought to make the points I’ve made. If you think my 1,300-word argument is valuable, you can share it with your friends by linking it on your Facebook page, or sending it by email or Twitter. And if you believe the two hours I’ve spent composing this argument have any value, then a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour would make it worth $14.50 — which you could pay me via PayPal.


Whatever you think is fair compensation, I would be most grateful, but if you decide not to hit the tip jar, don’t worry about me suing you for discrimination. The readers are my bosses in this fee-for-service arrangement, and I try to avoid complaining, because I’d prefer to keep the federal government from interfering in my workplace. What does freedom mean, if we can’t run our own lives without being threatened by whiny misfits who want to sue us because life is unfair? Grow up!