Action is unlikely to survive the millennium. As the 20th
century closes, communities and states are rejecting this
Orwellian experiment in social engineering. In
California, proposition 209 (1997) barred preferential
treatment of women or minorities in public employment,
education and government contracts. More recently (August
1999), the Southeastern Legal Foundation filed a federal
lawsuit against the City of Atlanta, protesting that the
"set aside" of city contracts for businesses
owned by women and minorities was unconstitutional. There
is a growing trend against this social policy that
victimizes men and does not benefit women.
Affirmative action is an attempt to redistribute economic
power by forcing employers - through law and court
precedence - to prefer women (and minorities). In other
words, social planners take choice away from individuals.
Despite decades, affirmative action has not cured sex
segregation in the work place nor closed the wage gap.
Instead, it has left a human tragedy.
I witnessed the tragedy. A good friend was passed over
for the tenure he had been promised. He had been teaching
at the university for several years and was immensely
popular, with the students and within the department.
Added to this was a well-reviewed book and a slew of
journal articles to his credit. But he was a white male
in a department that needed more visible women. Never
mind that the woman hired had far less experience and
fewer credentials. Or that the department head could not
even look him in the eye while breaking the news. My
friend is now so embittered that he tells his son to
never pursue an academic career because ability does not
matter. Tenure depends on what you have between your
Advocates of affirmative action dismiss such horror
stories by pointing to the noble intention that underlies
'preference for women.' Namely, the policy is meant to
compensate for past discrimination against women. Men as
the oppressing class have to pay for their past actions,
regardless of whether any individual man that suffers has
committed any wrong. Given that affirmative action draws
upon its honorable intentions, let us examine how the
policy - as applied to women - came into being.
On June 19, 1963, President John F. Kennedy sent a Civil
Rights Act (CRA) to Congress to counter racial
discrimination in the work place. The CRA, intended
primarily for blacks, met stiff political opposition.
Then, on November 22, 1963, Kennedy was assassinated. His
successor Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed, "No memorial
oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President
Kennedy's memory than the earliest passage of the civil
rights bill for which he fought so long." The
CRA became a candle at the altar to a fallen
leader. But opposition was still stiff.
On February 8, 1964, Congressman Howard W. Smith of
Virginia made a colossal blunder in the House of
Representatives. In an attempt to block the CRA, he
announced, "...I offer an amendment." He wished
to insert the word 'sex' after the word 'religion'
whenever it appeared in Title VII, which guaranteed
'fair' employment practices. By tying it to the
controversial women's movement, Smith hoped to kill the
J. Edward Pawlick, in his book chronicling the CRA's
passage (Freedom Will Conquer Racism and Sexism...),
comments on reaction in the House."[T]he laughter
became too great... and Congressman Smith had to
stop." Disingenuously, he assured the House that he
was serious. The bluff backfired. The CRA passed.
Thus the seeds were planted for a social policy that
would alter American society. Within decades, government
had imposed de facto quotas and fair practice standards
for women throughout the work place. This had not been
Kennedy's intention. Affirmative action for women was not
based on noble principles. It was based on an ill-advised
political bluff and - arguably - a bad joke.
Regardless of its origins, how have women fared in this
Brave New World of legal privilege? Not well. In his book
Illiberal Education, Dinesh D'Souza remarks on a
strange phenomenon happening on campuses. Under
affirmative action, incidents of racial hostility seem to
be increasing. D'Souza concludes that a new kind of
racism is appearing. One that has been created by
affirmative action - that is, a racism that stems from
the understandable resentment felt by students who are
discriminated against. Women in the workplace face
a similar dilemma. The black free-market economist Thomas
Sowell has commented on another bitter irony: blacks who
advanced through merit are being victimized by
preferential policies. They are not given due credit for
their accomplishments. The same is true of women in the
Affirmative action embodies assumptions against which I -
as a woman - have fought all my life: I need the
government to protect me; and, that I cannot compete on
merit with men. Moreover, I tenaciously cling to the
belief that whatever people peacefully do behind closed
doors - whether the door leads to a bedroom, a university
class or a factory floor - is not the business of Big
Brother. Or Big Sister.