Category Archives: Politics

We need women everywhere - even on Wall Street

A friend recently shared this rather unpleasant NYT article on social media, which sparked an interesting discussion about workplace sexism. One commenter said he couldn't feel bad for these women because - well, I'll let him use his own words:

The woman in the story leaves the bank after five years, ending what might have been a "brilliant career on Wall Street." What often constitutes a "brilliant" career on Wall Street seems to me to include the sorts of predatory, irresponsible, and morally bankrupt strategies that are often condemned by outside viewers. I don't mourn the fact that someone was prevented from participating in that business and culture.

It sounds like a valid viewpoint. Wall Street is bad; we should be focusing on dismantling it instead of trying to make the cadre of exploitative assholes who run our financial system more diverse. But I also strongly disagree for a couple of reasons.

BN-AA343_Deutsc_F_20131016143336
Wall street women; possibly also exploitative assholes? (source)

The mere presence of women changes business culture.

We know from empirical evidence that companies with women on their boards make more money. Women take fewer ill-advised risks than men and generally outperform men in investing, which you'd imagine wold be a useful thing on Wall Street!

Maybe the toxic, wasteful, and destructive culture on Wall Street is partly due to the fact that it's largely populated by entitled frat boys with nobody to tell them they're being assholes? I can't promise that more women (and PoC and other underrepresented folks) in high finance will fix all of the things that are wrong with it, but integrating the trading floor is a way easier way to start than burning the entire system down (however appealing that might be).

Having women at the levers of power matters.

This is the other big reason that integrating Wall Street is so  important. Wall Street holds a lot of the levers of power in the modern world. Women being largely excluded from Wall Street has a trickle-down effect in everything from who gets elected to national office to whose startup gets venture capital funding.

It's all well and good to say, "Screw Wall Street; women shouldn't even want to work there!" but the reality right now is that Wall Street being dominated by white men contributes to white men also dominating business, politics, the high-tech sector, and many other important and arguably more virtuous segments of our society.

The argument ultimately boils down to the tired old "boys will be boys".

We tend look at these kinds of stories, throw up our hands, and say, "Well, what did they expect?" It's the exact same dismissal we see when women complain about their treatment in everything from the military to competitive video gaming. And it's wrong.

esports-have-all-the-things-spor-640x360
eSports Guy prefers his gaming with a heaping side of testosterone

When we tell women not to bother working or playing in male-dominated arenas, not only are we complicit in limiting their career options but we also implicitly condone unacceptable behavior by men everywhere.  When Silicon Valley bigwigs hold important meetings at strip clubs; when women aren't invited on business trips because they'd "ruin the mood"; whenever a woman is subjected to behavior that's dismissed with "boys will be boys" or excluded because otherwise men would have to behave themselves like adults - these all damage our ability to succeed and advance in the workplace.

You can't just isolate the problem and hope it will go away. There is no place where sexism is acceptable, and we should not - cannot - allow men to carve out places where it is.

Even if that place is the hive of scum and villainy that is Wall Street.

Rant: "Female-Identified"

I realize the term "female-identified" was created to be an umbrella term for cis women and people in various parts of the trans* spectrum; as perhaps the broadest-possible category of people who aren't men or agender. I also kind of hate it, and the more I hear it, the more it grates on me.

This is not even a request for people to stop saying/writing it. It's just a chance for me to try to express why it bugs me.
female-symbol
So... "female-identified" - let's unpack that. First we have "female". Which is biological sex, not gender. I mean, I'm a woman. Am I "female"? What does that even mean? Sex is a constellation of biological features - it's chromosomes, hormones, primary and secondary sex characteristics. I am decidedly androgyne right now. I'm moving towards female as hard as I can, and if we're going by the preponderance of the evidence, I should be there shortly if I'm not already. But "female-identified"? That's just weird.

It seems that the phrase "female-identified" is reaching for something else. It really wants to be about the identification; to be an umbrella term for those who see themselves on the female side of the gender spectrum regardless of the accident of their birth. We're searching for something that covers all people - cis, trans, nonbinary, bigender, whatever - who see themselves in and want to occupy some or all of those roles; who are othered and excluded by the patriarchy; who are members of some kind of greater Sisterhood.

Fortunately we already have a word for that group: "women"

If you want to be very inclusive, you could say, "women and nonbinary people", "women, nonbinary, and AFAB people", etc. (The choice of whether to include trans men in women's spaces and activities is an interesting one and far too complex for me to deal with here.) Or you could just say, "not men", which is also perfectly fine.

Adding "-identified", IMO, unnecessarily separates cis and trans in a way I'm just not comfortable with. It calls out being inclusive in a situation where inclusivity should sort of be implied. It's icky.

Separate but Equal

In its recent United States v. Windsor decision, the Supreme Court decided that the federal government had to recognize same-sex marriages in states that allow them.  That leaves people in the seven or so states that have civil unions but not marriage in a bit of legal limbo. Right now, it looks like it's going to be up to the executive and the various federal agencies to determine how to treat these people.

States with Civil Unions
Seven states allow same-sex civil unions but not marriage.

The thing about being in legal limbo is that it practically begs for a court challenge. Is separate-but-equal okay when it comes to marriage? The Supreme Court could have decided that as part of their ruling in the Prop 8 case, but they chose to instead deny standing, booting it down to the state level and sidestepping the issue entirely.

That means that separate-but-equal partnership/union laws are still ripe for legal challenges along two main avenues.

  1. Can the federal government refuse to recognize state-backed civil unions that grant the same rights as marriage under federal law?
  2. Can states create separate-but-equal institutions at all? Is that a violation of the Equal Protection clause?  Does it pass whatever level of scrutiny (strict or intermediate) is appropriate when evaluating such laws?

I'm a firm believer that (2) is unconstitutional, but I'm not a Supreme Court justice. And if (2) is struck down, (1) is sort of implied.  But I think that you could come up with a situation where (1) is found to be unconstitutional while (2) is not based on the duck principle: "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck."

In other words, since the federal government has no legal notion of civil unions or domestic partnerships, then couples are either married or not married under federal law.  If a state allows a couple to enter into a legal relationship indistinguishable from marriage except for its name, then the federal government is obligated (under the same principle as in Windsor) to recognize it as such.