Proposition #10

There is no such thing as ‘positive’ discrimination.

My final proposition is one I feel very strongly about. Being a girl in CS, this is a topic I often discuss. There are many aspects to this problem and I am listing the three mains reasons I am against.

It is not ‘positive’

My foremost problem with positive discrimination is that the framing is off. It is not a positive thing to do. I consider using affirmative action to increase equality is a last resort to fix discrimination, by using discrimination.

I am aware of studies showing the bias for male candidates, but I feel there are alternatives (see also my proposition #7), they might be slower, but they are fairer and more sustainable. But if it is needed, okay. But then it is a lesser of two evils. It annoys me that some women (and men) celebrate the fact that they are helped as an achievement itself.

To give an example, very recently, my university was sued by man, who felt it was unfair that the university was creating positions for females [1]. In another case that is till pending, a woman sued a different Dutch university because she did not get a job and felt this was due to her gender[2]. The male complainer lost his case. The judge felt that, even though usually positive discrimination can only be used in case of equal fitness for the vacancy, but now it is allowed, since the inequality is so big. See what’s happening here? This is the ‘unpositive’ part. Someone is feeling treated unfairly and put on a disadvantage because of a personal property like gender. Sounds familiar?

It confirms the stereotype

The second problem I have is that these special rules confirm the stereotype, they stress the fact that there are minorities. Accepting a special position for women like the one in [1] for me would feel like giving of the signal to other young girls that we need special care and attention in order to achieve something.

I shouldn’t say we should totally ignore the fact that we are a minority, but stressing it can cause serious harm, this  this is not just my personal believe. There is a psychological phenomenon called stereotype threat, that basically means that subjects perform less on a large range of assignments, if they are made aware that the minority they belong to typically performs less, they will actually perform worse.

For example, female participants who were made aware of the stereotype of females performing worse at chess than male participants, performed worse in their chess games [3].

I don’t feel like I need it

This is my most personal reason, feel free to disagree. I have always been a girl in a group of boys. In high school, I was the only girl in a class with 16 boys. In university, in my first year there were 2 girls and about 130 freshmen. I was the first girl to be hired in my current research group. Despite these facts, I have never felt: alone, out of place or discriminated against. Sure, there were funny remarks about my gender, but there were funny remarks about boys too, boys that were from Belgium, still lived with their parents or changed subjects from another major. Everyone is different in his own way and I never felt more different than my class mates.

I am aware other women have different experiences, but I do not feel in need of help and this makes me feel uncomfortable about the whole idea.


[3] Maass, Anne; D’Ettole, Claudio; Cadinu, Mara (2008). “Checkmate? The role of gender stereotypes in the ultimate intellectual sport”. European Journal of Social Psychology 38 (2): 231–245

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