In Which the World Demands Lady Board Members

What Women Really Think
March 23 2010 5:05 PM

In Which the World Demands Lady Board Members

The New York Times' Room for Debate blog asks contributors to debate the question of quotas for female board members at publicly listed companies. Norway demands that 40 percent of board members be womenfolk; Spain and the Netherlands have quotas as well. Companies that implement the quotas apparently take a hit , as people with more ovaries but less experience end up in charge. Linda Hirshman responds :

The Norwegian plan mandates assignment of board seats to females. The German plan rests on enhanced maternity leave and the like. Maternity leave plus quotas equals less experienced women perceived as lightweights in the boardroom.

The real glass ceiling is at home.

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I think that gets near to why such policies strike me as falling short of progress. There is something deeply regressive about the combination of never-ending maternity leave and boardroom quotas, something that suggests the world is not changing but rather bending to accomodate men and women at their most traditional. Enshrining moronic binaries into law is, if nothing else, silly. And in the combination of pregnancy packages and affirmative action there is the suggestion that we are making exceptions for women not just because they're discriminated against, but also because they're dominated by their own fertility. The capacity to regulate pregnancy before and after conception is the reason women can even dream of such jobs, can expect to be defined by something other than their capacity to reproduce. Plenty of items on the progressive wish-list, like universal day care, do not diminish that sense of control over biology. Giving women easy access to top jobs just because they are women somehow does.

Kerry Howley's work has appeared in the Paris Review, Bookforum, and the New York Times Magazine. She is currently finishing a book about consensual violence, ecstatic experience, and the body.