Blaming men for the financial crisis

Matt directs me to Robert Peston, who begins his piece ‘Why men are to blame for the crunch‘:

“I routinely characterise the credit crunch as “men behaving badly” – because it’s almost impossible to find a woman to blame.”

He trepidatiously stops short of explicitly making a cause out of a correlation, but nevertheless ends with:

“But if we’re looking to prevent a repetition of the kind of financial calamity we’ve just endured, it mightn’t be a bad start to appoint a woman as chief executive of Citigroup (or HSBC), or as chancellor of the exchequer or even (heaven forfend) as governor of the Bank of England …”

Below are some reasons not to go down this route.

It is false to attribute to financial crisis to biological maleness. Peston’s reference to chromosomes may have been a literary device, but I’m inclined to make more of it. Nobody serious seeks to deny that endocrinology and neurology can account for behaviour – although only to an extent, and an extent which remains poorly understood.  Given that anti-discrimination law exists to elevate humans above this lottery of biology, to then propose ruling out job applicants on the basis of sex is hugely regressive (in the recruitment situation under discussion, sex is not by any stretch a genuine occupational qualification). Blaming men as men per se denies the diversity of men. For example, men belonging to the Awa tribe make a living by hunting and gathering and I can’t find anything to suggest they perceive a need for a currency. Clearly these men have had no part in the financial crisis, but if we blame men per se, I can’t see a way to avoid extrapolating our judgements about men in such a way that, in practice, they comprehend these men of the Awa. Yet Peston’s suggestion, which implies ruling men out of the recruitment process altogether, fundamentally contravenes local and international anti-discrimination law.

Robert Peston displays a readiness to analyse social ills in terms of the culpability of social groups. Jews and African American borrowers have also been blamed for the financial crisis, and in their case singling out a social group for blame is, or should be, a clear case of scape-goating. Less clear with men – men occupy most of the positions of power, and are never going to be marginalised and subjugated within society; therefore blame of men is far less likely to progress beyond the discourse stage than blame of Jews (see comment 23 on the Peston piece) or African American borrowers.However, discourse is important to how social groups relate to each other.

It is not unreasonable to view Peston’s suggestion in the same way one Icelandic government official did after the Icelandic government blithely swept away the notoriously “aggressive” male chief execs of two newly nationalised banks, and replaced them with women:

“Now the women are taking over,” said one government official. “It’s typical, the men make the mess and the women come in to clean it up.”

Certainly, crises are an opportunity to break down barriers but, what with the glass ceiling which confronts women in the financial sector, isn’t it a bit glass cliff to embrace a strategy of recruiting women in a crisis of this magnitude? (Not that I’m suggesting women should decline to get involved.)

Peston doesn’t go into the qualities of women, and I think it would be unfair to call his proposal reverse sexism. However, read Barbara Taylor’s RSA mag piece on the history of female archetypes and follow her to the conclusion that women per se are not the answer to our current economic problems.

I’m afraid Robert Peston here presents himself as the kind of feminist who stands up for women by blaming men. I can’t think of any case where this kitsch feminism, which simply flips the prejudice on its head, has helped women.

By way of comparison, have a look at Women Capital who are pursuing (although they do not explicitly articulate it) a genuinely anti-sexist diversity agenda for top management positions.

Update – Matt directs me to some of the other comments in Robert Peston’s post. Eddixon:

“You say that women are not connected at all with the decisions that led to the credit crunch, but I have yet to meet one that didn’t push their husband into looking at a more expensive house, thereby taking a bigger mortgage etc etc!”

Women as complicit bloodsuckers.

And Yottskry:

“Ahhh yes, it’s all the fault of men.

Apart from those women who racked up huge credit card debts while the going was seemingly good and who (as much as the men) bought to let with mortgages they can no longer afford. And so on.

If you look away from the very top, you’ll find women do indeed share a portion of the blame.”

Women credit card debt racker-uppers as somehow different from men credit card debt racker-uppers, in keeping with Peston’s essentialisation of city workers according to their maleness.

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