Of Marriage Structure and Sexism in Academia

An interesting hypothesis recently turned up in a paper entitled “Marriage Structure and Resistance to the Gender Revolution in the Workplace,” published on the website of the Social Science Research Network.  According to the authors,

In this article, we examine a heretofore neglected pocket of resistance to the gender revolution in the workplace: married male employees who have stay-at-home wives. We develop and empirically test the theoretical argument suggesting that such organizational members, compared to male employees in modern marriages, are more likely to exhibit attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that are harmful to women in the workplace.

An interesting piece of ideologically loaded academic jargon, that.  It would seem that a large segment of the male population is “resisting” a “revolution” in a way that is “harmful.”  More specifically,

…we found that employed husbands in traditional and neo-traditional marriages, compared to those in modern marriages, tend to (a) view the presence of women in the workplace unfavorably, (b) perceive that organizations with higher numbers of female employees are operating less smoothly, (c) find organizations with female leaders as relatively unattractive, and (d) deny, more frequently, qualified female employees opportunities for promotion. We believe that the results of these studies are important to understanding the stalled gender revolution as well as to theorizing about the effects of marriage structures in the workplace and, more pragmatically, effectively targeting efforts aimed at enhancing gender equality in work organizations.

On the face of it, this appears to be a statement of “is” rather than a statement of “ought.”  In other words, if the authors are correct, they have simply stated facts, not necessarily loaded with an accompanying moral judgment.  I think most readers of the paper will agree that the moral judgment is certainly there, but let’s ignore that for the moment.  Is proposing such hypotheses, and then presenting data to support them “good” or “not good?”  Well, as readers of my blog are aware, while I do have a distinct weakness for making moral judgments myself, I don’t flatter myself that I have any objective basis for doing so.  I can, however, point out that there is a consensus in some human societies that similar statements about various groups regarding characteristics over which they have no control, such as race, gender, ethnicity, etc., are considered evil.  For example, academic papers presenting data, no matter how convincing, that certain races are more intelligent than others, or that certain ethnic groups are more greedy or lazy than others, or even that some subclass of females are similarly “harmful,” would likely be greeted with a storm of protest.  This begs the question of why such discrimination applied to men is OK.  It would seem that what we have here is a classic double standard.

Numerous similar double standards exist in modern societies, often due to the long resistance to recognizing commonalities in human behavior, or “human nature.”  Classification of other human beings into ingroups and outgroups, or what was once referred to as the Amity/Enmity Complex, is one such commonality.  It is the ultimate cause of many of the negative consequences we associate with various forms of discrimination.  However, because we have refused to recognize that ultimate cause, it has been necessary for us to separately identify each negative outcome of that behavior after a long, slow learning process, instead of immediately recognizing the psychological basis of them all.  For example, anti-Semitism was not considered a serious moral fault until the discovery of mounds of corpses in the Nazi death camps.  Racism was similarly acceptable until the social evils arising from it were clearly recognized.  It would seem, based on the evidence of this paper, that sexism directed at men has not yet been recognized as another of the undesirable manifestations of ingroup/outgroup discrimination.

Should it be?  The authors assure us that no such negative consequences are intended.  For example,

Therefore, we do not intend to, nor are we pointing a finger at those whom we have claimed constitute a pocket of resistance to the gender revolution. Some may be characterized as “benevolent sexists” (e.g., Glick & Fiske, 1996) and others may be neither benevolent nor hostile sexists. We do not want to label, we also do not want to ignore a real problem.  Clearly, organizations should not seek to control the marital status of their male employees, for example, by means of selection. To do so would be unjust, likely illegal, and perhaps, bad business.

and,

No, organizations should not seek to manipulate people’s non-work lives; but we, as organizational scholars, should seek to understand better how the byproduct of those non-work lives can be accommodated in the workplace.

It has a familiar ring to it doesn’t it?  “I’m not prejudiced.  Some of my best friends are black!”  Whether the authors are prejudiced against a subgroup of men because of a trait over which many of them have no control is neither here nor there.  It is simply a fact that to make statements such as,

We have found that employed husbands in traditional and neo-traditional marriages, compared to those in modern marriages, tend to deny, more frequently, qualified female employees opportunities for promotion.

and,

…employed husbands embedded in traditional (wife not employed) and neo-traditional (wife employed part-time) marriages compared to those embedded in more modern ones (wife employed full-time) are more likely to exhibit attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors harmful to women in the workplace.

and,

We were led to consider this group by a question posed by Chugh and Brief (2008) in their attempt to suggest a research agenda for the study of diversity in organizations. They stated, “We wonder whether a domestic traditionalist can also be an organizational egalitarian?” (p. 332). The answer we posit is “no.”

will, inevitably, promote discrimination against men, regardless of the author’s protestations of their good intentions.  Is the social good of promoting gender equity in the workplace worth the social cost of promoting discrimination?  I think not.  The author’s are extremely hazy about how their conclusions are to be usefully applied.  For example,

We believe that the results of these studies are important to understanding the stalled gender revolution as well as to theorizing about the effects of marriage structures in the workplace and, more pragmatically, effectively targeting efforts aimed at enhancing gender equality in work organizations.

One wonders what “targeting efforts aimed at enhancing gender equality in work organizations” could possibly consist of if it didn’t somehow imply condemnation of men in “traditional” marriages.  Are we to believe that there is really no better way to promote gender equality than by denouncing a large subgroup of men, whether implicitly, and, as the Germans say, “through the flower,” or not?   The promotion of new forms of sexism seems a counterintuitive way to promote gender equality.

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