NOTE: I wrote this text when I was a student and student representative at University of Innsbruck. Now, a deacde later(!) I discovered it, found that it is more topical than ever and decided to publish it here. However, I made some minor edits to the original text (which is probably from around 2009 or so). Don't get confused: I lived in Austria back then and in Germany today. But some things never change: I could still anytime rant about female quota systems!
I thought heteronormativity would be kinda outdated, but it looks like it is stronger than ever!
Why should we make this giant leap backwards and push people into a dual gender system? At the same time society seemingly starts to accept people not wanting to assign themselves to any of the classical gender categories or living as transgender, we install quota systems that do not even acknowledge their existence? Whoever demands quotas, cements the gender order in a clear-cut man-woman division, neglecting point-blank all recent theories from the humanities that aim to separate the biological from the social gender. In which category do I fall if I am a woman biologically, but I feel like a man, or the other way around? But why sex or gender? Why should those be the categories on which we base unequal treatment of people? Why not religion or skin color? Oh wait, we had that… I want a quota for Austrian expats living in Germany (yeah, like I said, I moved)! Finally, I can be more sluggish, stupid or anything else - 99% of my competition for a good position is still out of the race. Great, right? Unfair? No…
For selecting the highest qualified people on the job market - regardless of their gender!
I would never want to take a job at any institution that has a quota for women! I never want to wonder if my gender was ultimately crucial. Let me briefly explain the Austrian 40% women quota for all university boards: 80% men, 20% women in a collegiate body is not OK. 100% women is completely fine! At this point a short anecdote: We as the student representatives of biology at University of Innsbruck (by the way, 100% women - without any quota ...) have actually dared to nominate a man for an appointment committee for a professorship - a body in which the students are to fill a single mandate. Promptly, we were called upon to hand in a written statement about why we failed to fulfill the 40% women quota. So if you don’t want to explain yourself in why you used your right as the student’s representative to nominate whoever seems to be the best candidate for the job, you can only nominate a woman. Along those lines mandates on a board of three need to be filled with at least two women, thus 66% women, because 33% would just not meet the quota. Then, and only then, no questions are being asked. Being a woman is what qualifies you here. By the way, the 40% quota is in effect for all boards at all faculties. That includes the faculty of engineering at which – at the time I was still at University of Innsbruck – 16% of all students enrolled are female.
We are far away from gender equality, but this is not the way to change anything about that!
It is shocking that women still earn significantly less than men for the same work in almost all countries. This must be counteracted and requires structural changes. In Austria it is still normal that women go on maternal leave for a year or even two after birth and later work part-time while men these days seem to be super-proud and oh-so progressive when they stay at home for a few months before they go back to their full-time career. Imaging you are a PR manager seeking to hire a highly qualified person who finished university and is thus probably in his late twenties or early thirties. The risk that this person soon after being hired while make use of his right to go on maternity leave and then on a part-time contract is just a lot higher if you hire a woman than if you hire a man. So things will not change unless we are convinced that all PR managers will soon enough choose candidates based on some feminists' ideals (who wants that?). Laws that aim to coerce people into hiring a women instead of men when equally qualified are not only morally wrong because of their underlying heteronormativity but also will never be effective (who can ever judge if two different resumés qualify two persons equally for a job?).
Apparently, policy makers do not really want to change anything!
Crazy idea, what if we change our family policies? What if, as a couple, you would get the maximum out of your parental leave benefit only if the parental leave time is split 50/50. If this becomes the usual way to raise kids in our society it will naturally change the PR managers' decision making. If the risk of loosing manpower or womanpower due to maternal or paternal leave will be close to equal, female and male candidates might eventually be hired solely based on their qualification. All of that without the need of quotas or you-must-hire-the-woman-if-equally-qualified tokenism or any other measure with highly problematic ideas of collective guilt lying behind them. I don't think that policy makers are too stupid to come up with strategies that would truly bring us closer to gender equality. So that suggests another, more scary, implication: this change is actually unwanted! We should thus speak up against most of those gender policies which are in place at the moment and demand useful ones!
The Paracetamol argument
I want to close with what I think is the most important argument. I call it the Paracetamol argument. Paracetamol is a great drug but it should be taken with caution. It alleviates your symptoms in order for you to feel better. However, it usually doesn’t treat any of the underlying causes that made you feel bad in the first place. Therefore, taking a lot of Paracetamol is dangerous as you will feel better and thus stop thinking about and figthing the underlying causes. Apparently we live in a society in which for whatever reasons (I am sure there is many) it seems to be less likely for a woman to end up in a leadership position than for a man. If we now only treat the symptoms, that is, increase the number of women in these positions through quotas and stuff, we mask the problem. And that is dangerous as we might stop thinking about the real underlying problems that cause this situation.
Women and Men of our and previous generations have been fighting so hard for sex to not matter in getting access to education, jobs, etc. We are definitely not there yet! It is thus even more important that we do not ruin everything by insisting that sex again is the measure by which we categorize people and equip them with rights unequally.