On meritocracy

Two posts critiquing the concept of ‘merit’.

Appointed on merit? Might as well believe in the tooth fairy

The idea that talent decides top jobs ignores not just gender or race, but all the social connections that successful candidates accrue
Of course appointments should be made purely on merit. But – especially in public life – they are frequently made on the basis of connections: social and cultural capital accrued via old-school ties, college dining societies, nepotism, networking, and biases subconscious or overt. Nevertheless, those at the top of politics, business, media and the arts hold fast – understandably – to the notion that they have got there through their own hard graft and dazzling talent: their “merit”.
To accept that society functions on a purely meritocratic basis requires the same blend of woolly optimism and wilful blindness that Reaganites invested in “trickle-down economics”. Curiously, champions of meritocracy are usually detractors of socialism, which gets dismissed as “a nice idea, sure, but it simply wouldn’t work in practice, what with human nature being just too venal, greedy and corrupt”. Yet the equally optimistic myth of meritocracy endures, even though in a country governed by an Etonian elite – the cream of society only in the sense that they’re rich, white and bad for your health – it seems as quaint as believing in the tooth fairy.
In theory, a meritocracy should be a good thing. It basically boils down to a society in which people reap the rewards of their skill and effort. But as countless advocates for women and minorities in the tech world have pointed out, meritocracies are a lot messier in real life. The tech industry isn’t still predominantly white and male because white men are better at their jobs than everyone else, it’s because many white men have had more opportunities to succeed than their minority and female counterparts.
The false idea that the tech industry is a meritocracy hurts everyone.
I’ve started to wonder: do white, middle-to-upper class men ever lie awake at night wondering whether they only got as far as they did because of who they are and what they look like? The thought of a true meritocracy must be somewhat terrifying – would they have succeeded if women, working class kids and people of colour got a fair go? Presumably some of them wouldn’t have done nearly as well. Maybe that’s why some of them try to plant the idea of the ‘token woman’ or the ‘token black’ – it makes them feel better.

Sexy and funny only goes so far

From Feminists can be sexy and funny – but it’s anger that changes the world:

“Sexy, funny feminism is inspired by the fear that feminism will never get anywhere unless it is likeable. For a long time now, feminists have been told that their message will never spread to the masses if the messenger appears to be an angry man-hating lesbian shouting the odds from a gender studies seminar room. But we need to realise that popular, non-threatening feminism is destined for failure as well. In a patriarchy – and if you are a feminist, you accept that we are living in one – what is popular and non-threatening is what men deem to be acceptable.”

‘Palin Can Launch Us Back in Time’

Former US Army Brigadier General Janis L. Karpinski writes, “Palin Can Launch Us Back in Time“:

The fierceness of a pit bull, which Palin is trying to use as proof of her ability to serve as the vice president, is ridiculous at best and sadly ironic. Pit bulls are senseless and out of control when angry; they are certainly far from being of good mind, rationale, organized or focused. Her personal comparisons to Hillary Clinton are insulting to Clinton. Senator Clinton did not stoop to use of her sexuality as a means of attracting votes or attention. She is articulate and stays on message, whether in the primaries or campaigning for Obama. Hillary’s supporters, men and women, accepted her for her experience, her credentials and her qualifications, deservedly so, unlike Palin who is trying to steal mileage on the shirttails of Hillary. You can easily recollect memorable events of Hillary’s campaign, but you will not remember her parading about or flirting with her supporters or the media. She did not behave in such a manner. Her wardrobe aside, Hillary Clinton was competing on a level playing field and behaved accordingly, like an intelligent, confident and capable candidate. This is what women hope for and seek to achieve. Sarah Palin’s behavior sets our progress back by decades and encourages the fashionable use of sexuality as the tool to measure success.

Palin, however, is a dangerous choice and her style goes against the grain of feminists and women everywhere. We spent years seeking equality, and ask only for a level playing field where we can find credit for our accomplishments and capabilities and the opportunities to compete fairly. Sarah Palin can launch us back in time and remove years of progress, albeit slow and incomplete. She encourages men and women to be drawn first to the sexuality and beauty of a woman before making a decision about her credibility, intelligence and leadership.

If reading the article makes you mad, then send it on to American friends and reward yourself with a singalong to ‘Hey Sarah Palin‘.

International gay rights desperately needed

Peter Tatchell writes in the Guardian on:
Sexual cleansing in Iraq

The “improved” security situation in Iraq is not benefiting all Iraqis, especially not those who are gay. Islamist death squads are engaged in a homophobic killing spree with the active encouragement of leading Muslim clerics, such as Moqtada al-Sadr, as Newsweek recently revealed.

And in Bosnia: Bosnian Mob Attacks Gay Festival
And generally: 2008 Hate Crime Survey

Hate crime continues to rise in many parts of Europe and North America according to our 2008 Hate Crime Survey, a second annual report examining bias-driven violence in 2007 and 2008.

Going the other way – abortion rights in America?

The Handmaid’s Tale: Fact or Fiction?

This morning, I heard an astonishing interview on WNYC that discussed a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) draft document that was just leaked. This document proposes to redefine nearly all forms of birth control, especially birth control pills, as a form of abortion and allows any federal grant recipient to obstruct a woman’s access to contraception [PDF]. Considering that roughly half of all American women use birth control pills, I think this is a shocking proposal that, if enacted, will change modern American society as we know it.
Currently, the federal government accepts the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ definition of pregnancy as beginning at implantation. However, the HHS proposes to reject that definition — provided by medical experts — and to change the federal definition of pregancy to conform with public polling data

Hard to believe, but incredibly scary if it’s true.

Victoria: new law ‘to give abortion right’

From The Age:

Women in Victoria would have the legal right to choose an abortion under historic legislation expected to be introduced to State Parliament next week.
The Age believes the bill, which will prompt long and emotional debate, would decriminalise abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, providing the woman gives consent.

The bill, which will be the subject of a conscience vote, is certain to split both major parties, but pro-choice advocates are confident it will be passed.

It is believed the bill will ensure that a woman’s consent provides lawful authority for an abortion up to 24 weeks’ gestation. After that, terminations would be unlawful unless doctors deemed continuing the pregnancy would pose a risk of harm to the woman.
Health Minister Daniel Andrews, who will introduce the bill, is expected to argue that it is designed to bring the law into line with community expectations and clinical practice.
Abortion officially remains a crime in Victoria, but an estimated 20,000 pregnancies are terminated each year under the common law protection of a 1969 Supreme Court ruling by Justice Menhennitt that allowed abortions if a woman’s physical or mental health would be put at risk by continuing the pregnancy.

Pro-choice advocates, who have been lobbying for the most liberal option, will be disappointed the Government has opted for the so-called compromise mode

Celeb magazines in ‘evil’ shocker… also, real faces more beautiful…

The Guardian turns the tables for a CELEB MAG EDITOR SPECIAL!

Greetings, stardust consumers, and welcome to Lost in Showbiz’s first ever Circle of Shame feature – wherein we highlight the bits celebrity mag editors would rather you DIDN’T see!
Every week, this collection of ringable body parts heave themselves into their offices, where they churn out unsourced stories, BMI porn, blatant untruths, and endless quotes from anonymous “close pals” of celebrities. But as media influentials, they’re public figures too. How can I prove they are? Because a close pal just told me. So without further ado, let’s get all the juicy goss on their work.

In other news, last week the Sunday Times put a gorgeous, apparently un-airbrushed Naomi Watts on the front cover of their Style magazine. It was surprisingly lovely and touching to see a real face – tiny wrinkles and skin with pores. And she was all the hotter for it – so thank you, Sunday Times.

Why the Sunday Times is bad for you

Usually I’m just amused by the self-loathing articles and columns in the Sunday Times, but lately they’ve been pushing more pieces on plastic surgery (in no way a reflection of recent ad placements, I’m sure). Elective plastic surgery freaks me out – why risk death, permanent pain or disfigurement to ‘fix’ some imaginary flaw that doesn’t even bother anyone else?
An article today, The man who wants to reshape your private parts, is a step too far:

“My customers say, ‘You know what, I don’t like the length of my labia minora. I don’t want the small lips projecting outside the outer lips.’ We can take that excess skin away. They say, ‘I don’t want my labia majora. They’re too flat, I want them full.’ We can inject fat there. Or, ‘I’ve got too much fat in my mons pubis. It looks like I have a penis.’ And we can do that. Or, ‘I’ve had children, I’m too relaxed, I want intense sexual gratification’, so we tighten the muscle. Or, simply, ‘I just look too old.’ Because it’s all about youth, youth, youth.”

But is he really helping us out, or giving us one more area of our bodies to feel paranoid about?
“Look, demand for these treatments comes from women,” he says. “I didn’t create it, the market was there, and I discovered it because I listened to women. Every single one of the procedures has been developed because it has been requested. And it’s going international. There is demand.”

And why is an article like that giving him publicity? How many more women suddenly feel paranoid after reading this article?
The author does that lovely ‘women’s mag’ thing of pretending to be objective while undermining any position that offers a real alternative.

In fact, there are no studies to prove that the diameter of a woman’s vagina is the determining factor in her sexual pleasure.
Real-life testimonials, however, speak volumes.

Right – so scientific evidence doesn’t count, but a single anecdote does? Never mind that the outcome given in the anecdote offered could have come from a number of sources – a placebo effect, the general effect of positive action on self-esteem.
The article at least offers this, from another plastic surgeon:

To tell someone otherwise is to promote body dysmorphia. What is the mentality of this person? It’s not progressive, it’s entrepreneurial. It’s about money. And doctors should never be about the money.

And call me a hippie, but surely there’s a better use of medical resources? The money could be better spent on education and preventing female genital mutilation, or trying to help the ‘100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM’. [WHO figures, May 2008]