Why Women (Usually) Don’t Belong in the Field: The Cost of Lazy Thinking

(from Universal Free Press)

Earlier we discussed the habit of lazy thinking, mainly with regard to stereotypes and biases. However, the actual cost of such lazy thinking, as well as the similar difficulty with extrinsic and intrinsic valuations, became quite clear to me once I finished reading Matt Walsh’s piece on women in the military.

Mr. Walsh makes some good points; his style is a tad more inflammatory than my own, but that’s a mere quibble. He rightly points out the possible flaws with the entrance of women into the military, and the downgrade of fitness standards in order to accommodate certain numbers of female Marines. And of course he goes on to explain his position more fully, mainly pointing out how men are better suited for combat, and culminating with his avowal of how he needs his wife and daughter in their given roles, and they need him in his given role.

The argument is one that will be retreaded endlessly over the next few weeks, without any doubt, but what’s interesting is how exactly this phenomenon is mainly rooted in lazy thinking. Why is true equality such a difficult notion to grasp?

What it really comes down to is the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic evaluations. We have a difficult time grasping the fact that each person is intrinsically equal to any other, even when they are extrinsically different. Now, Mr. Walsh is certainly right with regard to the physical and psychological demands of combat suiting men better. I might add that that is one small niche of human capability in which men are arguably extrinsically superior to women. Men are, on average, taller, faster, stronger and in general capable of greater fitness.

(Caveat: rather than repeat to tedious length the statistical hedging “on average” and “usually” let’s just presume that whenever I say men are superior in field combat or women elsewhere, I mean that on average.)

The lazy thinking comes into play at this crucial instant. Just because men are better suited for those combat demands doesn’t mean that they are better suited for all combat demands. Who’s to say a female doctor can’t operate behind the lines, away from those specific field duties, but within a sphere in which arguably they are superior? Why can’t a woman be a general? Surely it’s not as if we NEED women to be foot soldiers when it’s easier for men. (Some women will qualify physically, for after all, not all female Marines failed the fitness tests, and if they pass, then obviously those qualified can serve in the front lines).

It’s an obvious point, but one that is sometimes missed, again due to lazy thinking. Superiority in one niche does not imply superiority in others, but if you miss the intrinsic/extrinsic divide, then it’s easy to fall into that trap.

So, should policymakers instill gender diversity requirements in traditionally male-dominated fields? I don’t think so, at least, not in most fields. Many fields have evolved to be the way they are due to their unique strictures. Field combat, for example, where male strength and fitness levels confer an undeniable advantage. However, there are certainly other male-dominated fields such as day trading that could possibly benefit from a dilution of testosterone. I personally would trust my mother with being more diplomatic than myself when it comes to tense conversations and negotiation most of the time, so why not have more female diplomats, to take another example?

It’s not about requiring and thereby forcing equality; it’s about recognizing the intrinsic equality and value of actions despite their different fields. Men excel in field combat and other situations; women excel in communication processing between the analytic and the intuitive. The value of these actions is intrinsically equal even if extrinsically the need for them shifts considerably depending on the situation.

Thus, requirements that mandate so-called equality may do more harm than good, by allowing a standard that engenders other standards that will inevitably decay because anything administered and created by humans is flawed. It’s all right to have some gender imbalance in some fields. Yet at the same time, such discrepancy must be balanced with recognition of the value of other tasks and fields. There shouldn’t be any barriers to entry beyond sheer merit and ability. This means that perhaps some women will pass the fitness levels, and there is nothing wrong with that. Some men won’t, and that is also fine.

Of course, such barriers are never perfect because they can be rigged and are inevitably biased anyway, but they are better than the alternative. And if we are aware of how easy it is to slip into lazily thinking field combat is the only necessary military sphere due to its sheer current media presence, then hopefully we can avoid the inherent biases in such meritocracy.

Final note: at this point, I realized some may say that such true equality is difficult and not possible simply because even if intrinsic equality of actions is recognized, everyday society won’t acknowledge such intrinsic equality, being based on extrinsic qualities. To which I respond that nominally we all acknowledge intrinsic equality, and the only way to correct such perception is to remove the adverb. After all, we ARE society, aren’t we?

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