There They Go Again: Women Against Equal Treatment

The Arizona Civil Rights Amendment, also known as Proposition 107 or HCR 2019, will be on the November, 2, 2010, ballot. Virtually identical to similar measures launched by Ward Connerly and passed by substantial margins in California, Washington, Michigan, and Nebraska, Prop. 107 would amend the Arizona constitution to prohibit the state from “discriminat[ing] against or grant[ing] preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”
All these prohibitions against preferential or discriminatory treatment based on race, sex, or ethnicity are based on and embody the non-discrimination principle that inspired the civil rights movement and is at the core of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but nevertheless they have actually all been opposed by those who fancy themselves civil rights activists today. Although it is old hat by now, I remain shocked every time I see additional evidence that “civil rights” are now widely understood — at least by liberals, Democrats, academics, mainstream journalists, etc. (but I repeat myself) — to require racial preferences, that those of us who continue to believe that treating individuals without regard to race, creed, or color are seen to be closet, or out of the closet, racists.
One of the most common, discordant notes in the by now well-rehearsed chorus of opposition to non-discriminatory equal treatment comes from feminists. Early on defenders of preferential treatment realized that there are more women than blacks or Hispanics, and in each campaign they have devoted great wealth and effort into the effort to persuade women that they would become the main victims of non-discriminatory equality. Very early in the debate in Michigan, for example, the leaders of eleven women’s organizations issued a statement opposing the requirement of equal treatment … and supporting preferences for themselves. “Oftentimes,” it stated,

affirmative action is viewed as a tool that solely benefits people of color. However, it is important to remember that affirmative action benefits women as well — regardless of race or color,” concluded Anita Bowden of the Michigan Council of the YWCA. “In fact, women are the most frequent beneficiaries of and will lose most if affirmative action is lost.”
“We stand in opposition to Ward Connerly’s deceptively titled “Michigan Civil Rights Initiative,” said Diane Neth Covel, Director of Public Policy, Michigan AAUW.


Some of the feminist arguments have been at least rational, such as the justified fear of losting public funding for educational programs limited to women; some have been bizarrely ridiculous, such as predictions that screening for breast cancer would become illegal. Really.
I followed the debate over the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative closely on my blog, and in this post, asking Do Women Want Equality? (citing three earlier ones), I quoted three typical examples of feminist opposition to equal treatment:

– women can forget about programs such as breast and cervical cancer screening, breast-feeding promotion, domestic violence treatment and prevention programs, and summer and after-school programs such as technology camps for girls;
– the state’s Department of Natural Resources might have to abandon a program to train women in hunting and other outdoor sports if the initiative is approved;
-local school efforts to encourage high school girls to consider careers in science and engineering, outreach to ensure that qualified women are considered for state and local government jobs and contracts, help overcome discrimination women face in obtaining equal pay for equal work.

In Hysterical Scare Tactics In Michigan, I discussed a report a report by the Center for the Education of Women at the University of Michigan, noting that it “argues, metaphorically speaking (but not metaphorical by much), that if MCRI passes women in Michigan will all become battered victims — scientific illiterates with breast cancer — and besides, none of them will ever again be telephone linemen.”
Nor were all the worthies making these arguments far out on the feminist fringe. As discussed here, Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, argued in a talk that

gender-specific policies in academia are necessary for the health of the American public. She noted that medical research conducted at the University must address the health concerns of both men and women. She held that women’s health issues could only be adequately addressed if women were actually conducting the research.

The Michigan Daily article report of her talk did not mention whether President Coleman also believes that men’s health issues can be addressed adequately only if men conduct the research. In any event, what President Coleman endorsed here was not “being conscious” of gender as “one factor among many” in hiring. She was calling not for “diversity” but undiluted gender-based hiring.
These arguments failed miserably in Michigan, just as they had in California and Washington and did later in Nebraska — voters presumably noticed that “outreach” programs to minorities and women as well as breast cancer screening went on as usual in those states, unaffected by the passage of their non-discrimination amendments — but that hasn’t prevented them from being hauled out again in Arizona, led by the Democrat described in the Phoenix New Times as “Arizona’s Own ‘Obama Girl,’ State Representative Kyrsten Sinema.”
First, it must be noted that Obama Girl Sinema has a rather peculiar understanding of affirmative action, which she has defined out of existence in Arizona. “[T]he notion that affirmative action exists in Arizona,” she told the Tempe State Press, “is a misconception.”

“What we do have are equal opportunity programs,” she said. “They are programs that allow people to succeed. Affirmative action is not legal in Arizona.”
Admitting a student of color to a university, with a greater consideration of ethnic background than academic qualifications, would be affirmative action. This is not allowed in Arizona.
“You get admitted [to universities] based on your merit,” Sinema said.

Whatever she calls it, Sinema is clearly happy to defend a system under which some students are benefitted and others are burdened because of their race or sex or ethnicity. Sinema’s definition of affirmative action is both odd and useless, but her other argument is simply a retread from past anti-equality campaigns.
“According to Sinema,” reports the Arizona Capitol Times,

only 25 percent of science and technology students are women. Programs such as Women in Science and Engineering are designed to provide women with educational and career development opportunities to balance the disparity between genders.
Without these university programs, “we’re not supporting the best and the brightest,” she said.

If one wants “the best and brightest,” of course, one should beat the bushes for the best and brightest, not the best and brightest women. I needn’t belabor this point (though I will anyway), since readers of Minding The Campus have encountered this and similar criticisms of misguided efforts to “diversify” STEM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) a number of times, such as Susan Pinker’s excellent On Women, STEM and Hidden Bias as well as my own The Misguided Push for STEM Diversity and More “Diversity” STEM-Selling.
Why assume, these criticisms ask, that the enormous costs involved in trying to find, create, cajole, admit, hire, promote, etc., more women and black and Hispanic scientists will produce more top flight scientists than would be produced by recruiting even more decidedly not “underrepresented” Asians and Jews? If we need more scientists, we need them of whatever hue or sex. “Equity” demands fair and equal treatment, not proportional representation. “Underrepresentation” is not proof of “lack of access” and thus is not necessarily a problem that must be solved by engaging in discrimination based on race, sex, or ethnicity.
Finally, there is a strong undercurrent in Sinema’s anti-Prop. 107 argument that is actually demeaning to women — the idea that they need special treatment in order to succeed. Several weeks ago here, in Does ”Equity” Require Preferential Treatment for Men?, I noted

an old fault line in the struggle for women’s rights, the struggle between feminists who sought “protective legislation” for women based on their “difference” and feminists who sought gender-blind equality….
When the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution was proposed in 1923, it created a rift among suffragists. Women who had fought for protective labor legislation feared that the ERA would undo their efforts to protect women in the workplace, while feminists believed the amendment was necessary to bring about equality for women in American society.

Times change, as historians are fond of saying, and so far as I know all modern feminists, presumably including Obama Girl Sinema, support the Equal Rights Amendment, Section 1 of which states that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” How odd, then, that they so strenuously object to amending state constitutions to prohibit discrimination against or preferential treatment of anyone based on sex or race or ethnicity.

John S. Rosenberg

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.