Friday, February 12, 2010

Are Men Threatened By Women With Powerful Careers?

I have been pondering this question for awhile now, ever since I watched the episode of Sex and the City where Miranda goes on a series of speed dates and lies about her job. For those of you who are not Sex and the City savvy, Miranda Hobbes is the proverbial ‘voice of reason.’ A graduate of Harvard Law School, she is one of Carrie’s best friends and the cynic of the group when it comes to relationships and men. Anyway, in this particular episode, Miranda starts her first couple of speed dates by telling the men that she is a lawyer, a Harvard alum, and a partner in her firm, with disappointing results. Each man apparently loses interest in her upon hearing this (even if the man has an equally powerful career), eventually prompting Miranda to tell one man, who is a doctor, that she is a stewardess. (It turns out that this guy lies about his career too – he’s actually the manager of a sports store).

We all know that women make less money than men. (As an interesting aside, check out this website I found:
“The Global Gender Gap report 2008, which measures gender gaps in 130 countries, concludes that there is a 40% gap between women and men in terms of economic participation within the economy and a 84% gap in political empowerment despite the fact that gaps in education and health are almost being closed. There are many theories explaining gender gaps, many having recourse to discrimination. Claudia Goldin who has studied, more than any other economist, the evolution of female labour participation in the last century, proposes a “pollution” theory of discrimination, whereby discrimination against women is “the consequence of a desire by men to maintain their occupational status or prestige, distinct from the desire to maintain their earnings.” Hence, male-dominated board [sic] of directors, for instance, do not welcome women in their midst because this would diminish the prestige of being a board member.” (

Aside from explaining the apparent wage gaps, this ‘pollution’ theory of discrimination explains why men want to maintain their status and power, and hence why they feel threatened by women whose careers rival theirs in terms of prestige and success. However, although Claudia Goldwin claims that men’s desire to maintain their earnings is distinct from their desire to maintain their occupational status or prestige, I think that this distinction can hardly be made in light of the fact that in many cases, one’s occupational status or prestige is directly reflected by his or her earnings, and vice versa. We’ve all heard the saying ‘money is power,’ and if men are concerned with holding their own in a gender power struggle, money is a powerful tool to wield. Many battered women, for example, return to abusive relationships because of economic dependence ( An economically independent woman is more difficult to control than one who relies on her partner for monetary support. Miranda Hobbes is strong-willed, opinionated, and intelligent, and she has a substantial paycheque to back herself up, so it’s not surprising that the average male finds her intimidating.

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