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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 29, 2000. All rights reserved.
Peter Singer on Women in the Boardroom
Don’t attribute the glass ceiling to discrimination,
says Peter Singer, the Princeton University professor of bioethics
who has attracted all kinds of controversy about nearly every other
area of bioethics, and now he is airing views on the sex prejudice
in the boardroom. He will read and sign his new book "A Darwinian
Left, Politics, Evolution, and Cooperation (to be published by Yale
University Press) at the Princeton U-Store, 36 University Place, on
Thursday, April 6, at 6:30 p.m. The event is free; call 609-921-8500.
"We cannot use the fact that there is a disproportionately large
number of men in high status positions in business or politics as
a reason for concluding that there has been discrimination against
women," writes Singer in his examination of Darwin’s theory of
"If Darwinian thinking tells us that we have been too ready to
assume a fundamental difference in kind between human beings and nonhuman
animals, it could also tell us that we are too ready to assume that
all human beings are the same in all important respects. While Darwinian
thought has no impact on the priority we give to equality as a moral
or political ideal, it gives us grounds for believing that since men
and women play different roles in reproduction, they may also differ
in their inclinations or temperaments, in ways that best promote the
reproductive prospects of each sex.
"Since women are limited in the number of children they can have,
they are likely to be selective in their choice of mate. Men, on the
other hand, are limited in the number of children they can have only
by the number of women they can have sex with. If achieving high status
increases access to women, then we can expect men to have a stronger
drive for status than women.
"For example, the fact that there are fewer women chief executives
of major corporations than men may be due to men being more willing
to subordinate their personal lives and other interests to their career
goals, and biological differences between men and women may be a factor
in that greater readiness to sacrifice everything for the sake of
getting to the top.
Not only does Singer flout standard claims about sex discrimination,
he also questions many of the values of a capitalistic society. "We
live in a competitive society that values consumption and relates
status to media interest," he writes. "In such a society there
is little connection between status and the benefits one brings to
"Can we strengthen concern for others by shifting ideas of status
away from conspicuous consumption, in a more socially desirable direction?
In `The Winner-Take-All-Society,’ Robert Frank and Philip Cook argue
that a tax on spending — payable through our tax returns rather
than as part of the price we pay when we buy — would have a significant
positive impact in changing the habits of the high-fliers. Whether
or not they are right, this idea, and others in the same arena, are
ripe for further investigation."
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