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The Daily Beast


Can The Gender Gap Be Solved?

April 22, 2014

By Kay S. Hymowitz

In the ultra progressive Nordic countries that have done the most to enforce gender equality, a gap stubbornly persists in the workplace. Can America really succeed where Sweden failed?

The gender gap debate has taken some surprising turns in recent days. Conservative critics have argued for years that the reason women make only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men is that they work fewer work hours and in lower paid occupations, not because of rampant sexism at the office or factory. Once it came to light that President Obama and several Democratic senators presided over sizable gaps in their own offices, this criticism of the 77 cent meme gained some new followers, including reliably left-leaning Ruth Marcus who went so far as to accuse the administration of “demagoguery.”

So does that mean we can all get along now? Hardly. There is still a fundamental philosophical divide between liberals and conservatives on the issue, one that leads to entirely different ideas about policy.

In a nutshell, the disagreement is this: Liberals believe that when it comes to the labor market, there are no natural, relevant differences between the sexes. Conservatives, obviously, don’t see it this way. They believe there are basic differences between men and women that are innate, not created by social or political forces.

According to liberals, if women are becoming pediatricians instead of neuro-surgeons, public interest rather than corporate lawyers, child care workers rather than coal miners, and are working 35 rather than 40 hours a week, as they are, it’s because of what Frank Bruni described as a culture that “places a different set of expectations and burdens on women and that still nudges or even shames them into certain roles.”

Get rid of gender stereotyping, inflexible workplaces, bastards on the couch, and mom-shaming, and we will have a society where, as Sheryl Sandberg has put it, “half our homes are run by men and half our institutions are run by women.”

In the conservative view, it’s the natural differences between men and women which lead them to make many of the life choices they do, differences that could probably not be resolved by anything less than mandatory universal hormone injections.

The two sides are not likely to reach agreement on this nature/nurture debate anytime soon. What they can do, though, is look at how far the world’s most egalitarian societies using precisely the policies that liberals say would loosen the grip of gender roles, have travelled towards Sandberg’s vision. The answer is not far at all.

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