Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Since When is Sexism an Ideology Up for Debate?

Yesterday's coverage in the New York Times of the Google firing (Culture Wars Come to Silicon Valley) implies that reasonable minds can differ about whether women are genetically inferior to men, and that this is merely an ideological debate.   Let's be clear about this:  the Google software engineer wrote a detailed multi-page (internal) memo arguing that women are "genetically" incapable of high level work as computer programmers and that the company should stop trying to hire them. My question is, since when is the worst kind sexism ideological rather than just plain discriminatory?

There was a time in our nation's history when white men felt free to assert in public the inferiority of women and of people of color. Surely that time has passed, and we don't need to lament it.   If a similar memo surfaced claiming that people of color were incapable of being software engineers, would we claim that the writer of the memo was having their free speech censored because they had a right to these opinions?  No.  We wouldn't.  Well Breitbart and its ilk would, but the rest of us, including The New York Times, would not.    Is it the ascendancy of this kind of perspective in the White House that emboldens The New York Times to muse about this? You'd think that being routinely maligned as "failing" by the Tweeter in Chief would make it less likely.   In this case, though, The Times is "failing" us.

We have civil rights laws that protect us from discrimination on the basis of race and gender.  Google was well within its rights to fire this employee because he advocated and tried to justify illegal hiring practices.  This harms the company and puts it at risk for successful lawsuits.  Indeed, the publicity surrounding the surfacing of the memo may have even reduced Google's stock prices.  It's hard to see a more clear instance of an imperative firing.

Yet, many on the right are calling this firing a violation of free speech rights.   The folks raising these objections are in the same ideological camp that fiercely protects the "rights" of private companies (NOT the employees) to deny birth control coverage to employees and to not sell wedding cakes to gay couples.  Do they only want to protect the rights of private companies and employees with whom they agree?

I don't.  If that fired Google employee wanted to write his sexist screeds on the internet and the government suppressed his writing, or jailed him for his opinion, THAT would be a violation of free speech rights, however wrong his writings, unless he was advocating hate crimes against women.  I would protect this guy's right to speak, just not in the workplace.  And I would write against it (or, I might just ignore it, not wanting to give oxygen to such ludicrous nonsense).

Can we please all agree that in a civil society, we do not pretend that advocating discriminatory acts is somehow to be applauded?

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