Over at Reason, Shikha Dalmia wrote a strange piece called, “Jack Welch vs. Feminists: The Dumb Debate Over Female CEOs.” It’s a weird column not because of the comments about feminists, but because Dalmia may be the first Libertarian I’ve ever seen who seems to have contempt for people who work hard and succeed.
General Electric CEO Jack Welch ignited a firestorm recently when he told female executives that to become top dogs (like him), they have to toughen up. “Over-deliver,” he lectured. “Performance is it.” Forget about “life balance.” A couple of women walked out—and others have since condemned him as “spectacularly stupid.”
Nasty though this spat was, it masks a fundamental agreement between Welch and his feminist detractors: They both regard the paucity of female CEOs as something regrettable needing correction. But if there’s anything regrettable here, it’s that so many men in the 21st century are still reflexively busting their derrières for the pleasure of parking them in the C-Suite.
…Gender-equality feminists regard this as a travesty. But that take is as dumb as Welch’s. Just because women are not assuming their rightful place in the patriarchal power structure doesn’t mean that they are returning to the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. Rather, they are striving for a higher balance based on their own inner needs and strengths. And they are able to do this because they have allowed the feminist revolution to liberate them from the stigma against working women—without letting it consign them to a life of wage slavery.
It is unfortunate that men haven’t experienced something equivalent that would liberate them from traditional role expectations and allow them to make unorthodox life choices for a more fulfilled and self-actualized existence. Men remain psychologically wired for worldly success. But it’s unclear whether it’s their inner needs that are driving them or external social expectations.
If feminists were honest, they’d acknowledge that this state of affairs really presents the best of all possible worlds for women. Should men, liberated from social expectations, decide that they too prefer to stay at home rather than remain stuck in soul-crushing jobs, women will have to pick up the slack or pare back their lifestyles. Either way, they’d lose the social and psychological space they currently have to write their own destiny. This might be equitable and fair, but it won’t necessarily be good for women.
As for Welch, if he weren’t so impressed with himself, he’d realize that women have negotiated a far better deal for themselves than men in the modern world. He’d exhort men to question their priorities, instead of hectoring women to embrace his single-track notions of success.
He is a Neanderthal, all right—but not for the reason feminists think.
This is just an extraordinarily ignorant article by someone who doesn’t seem to be able to think outside of her own narrow little mental box.
Jack Welch is one of the most successful CEOs in history. He’s worth 750 million dollars. He’s co-authored several successful books. He’s had a number of books written about him. He’s appeared on TV — as himself. He’s taught a college course. He’s married to a hot wife who’s almost 25 years younger than he is.
If you were picking a list of the 50 most successful people in America today, he’d probably be on the list and guess what? One hundred years from now, long after he’s dead, the things he has done will probably still be written about in business courses.
If that’s a “neanderthal,” we could use 10 million more “neanderthals” just like him in this country.
That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with “balance” per se. The problem is the idea that you really can have it all is for the most part, a myth. Sure, there are a few people who somehow, some way, do seem to live a balanced life and have success across the board. Sarah Palin comes to mind. She’s wealthy, influential, has risen high in the world of politics, has 5 kids, looks great, and somehow finds time to shoot wolves and go fishing 50 ft. from wild bears. Do you know how many people there are like that?
Very, very, very, very few.
All Welch was doing was telling those women the unpleasant truth about the world. That truth is that most people who rise to the top in a profession, any profession, do so because they’re not “balanced” people. “Balanced” people can be good at things, happy, and you can certainly have a great life if you’re balanced — but the reality is that you’re very unlikely to ever become great at anything by being “balanced” because you are certain to be up against other people who are not “balanced,” and they will kick your ass.
Now, does being “balanced” make you happier? To a certain extent, yes. But, a lot of people who are out-of-balance and able to maintain it can do so because they like what they’re doing. Would they be happier if they were much less successful and more “balanced?” Maybe, maybe not. There are a lot of “balanced” people who work 40 hour a week at a job they don’t like very much with no chance of promotion — because they’re so balanced — who aren’t very happy. Would Jack Welch have been happier if he’d worked 40 hours a week for his entire life and ended up as a middle manager? It’s hard to say with absolute certainy, but I’m guessing that if you gave him the option, he wouldn’t even have to think about it before saying “no.”
Last but not least, let me just add that it’s a lot easier for a woman to talk about the importance of “balance” than a man. A male CEO will marry a maid if he likes her enough. The reverse probably isn’t true because women generally believe it’s important to marry up — or at least laterally. A woman may get to stay home and take care of the kids if her husband makes enough. That reverse probably isn’t true. A man’s self-esteem and often his desirability to women is tied into his status and earning power in a way that doesn’t compare for women. It’s just much easier in every way for a woman to blithely talk about balance than it is for a man. There also seems to be a circular assumption Dalmia has that it’s better to be balanced because women tend to focus more on balance and she’s a woman; so therefore that must be the best way to go. That’s much more arrogant than anything Welch said. After all, he didn’t tell those women that being unbalanced was the best way to be, that they were dumb for not admitting it was the best, or that it was the only way to go. He just told them the truth; that’s what it takes to get the top. Dalmia could learn a lot more from him than she apparently realizes.
Hat tip to Amy Alkon for pointing out this story.