The Flaws of Affirmative Action: A Feminist Perspective
Discrimination is a tenacious problem because it involves changing people’s opinions about each other. Affirmative Action was designed to counteract this problem by promoting the rights of women and minorities in the workplace.
In March l961, President John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925, which aimed to insure that applicants for government positions would be judged without any consideration of their race, religion, or national origin. However, “Affirmative Action” as we know it is a creation of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who decided that fairness required more than a commitment to impartial treatment. President Johnson paved the way for future Department of Labor regulations, requiring all contractors to develop “an acceptable affirmative action program.” Suddenly race, sex, and ethnicity were relevant to a person’s ability to do their job.
Unfortunately, changing people’s attitudes is more complicated than passing laws. Any law that systematically discriminates against one people to promote the “equality” of another is counterproductive. This policy reinforces the idea of difference between peoples’ ability, and the idea that women need special treatment in the workplace.
Feminists hold the belief that women and men are equal. Affirmative Action seeks to undermine discrimination by promoting the interests of women and minorities at the expense of equality. Employers are forced to consider not the qualifications of an individual alone, but their race, gender, and sexual orientation, as well. In an attempt to promote equality by brute force, affirmative action has undermined women’s efforts for real equality. Any progress made by women now is cast into doubt, with people tempted to ask, “Is the woman really outstanding or is she riding the coat tails of misguided social policy?”
Affirmative Action sends a negative message to the people it was designed to help. The message is: your failures are always the result of one group’s machinations against you; you are not responsible for your own performance; you are a victim. This is the same self-defeating philosophy used to incite terrorists today, religious or otherwise.
Supporters of Affirmative Action do not argue that this policy is “fair.” They believe that discrimination is omnipresent, and blame for it rests squarely on the shoulders of white men, so the end justifies the means. They try to morally justify discrimination against men, if it means we get a few more jobs for women. Is this really countering discrimination or is this just constructing politically correct statistics? Ending discrimination means creating harmony and mutual respect between different groups of people -- mutual respect, not “an eye for an eye” favoritism. Two opposing versions of discrimination do not cancel each other out to form equality.
Discrimination is an unfortunate reality. It is practiced by every race and gender under the sun. Laws that seek to counter discrimination by instituting unfair and unequal policies do nothing to correct the underlying cause of the problem: the perception that one group is inferior to another. The only way to correct this is to give everyone an equal opportunity to prove themselves. That means judging people on their qualifications, not identity politics.
Where real discrimination does take place, it should be dealt with in court. Discrimination should not be preempted in the workplace. An employer, like any other American, should be innocent until proven guilty and allowed to hire the best candidate for the job -- irrespective of identity.
Andrea Crandall is a member of the class of 2004.