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“This house believes that a women’s place is at work”

December 6, 2011 | Karin

This evening, Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers, a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Linda Basch, President of the National Council for Research on Women, are participating in a debate on Women and Work sponsored by The Economist. They are debating the following motion, “This house believes that a women’s place is at work.”

Defending the motion, Basch asserts the following: “Women belong in the workplace. It is right for families, communities, the economy and, most importantly, for women so that they can live to their full potential as productive and self-reliant individuals.” Dr. Sommers is against the motion with the following position: “Women do not have an assigned place. In free societies, they choose where they wish to be. For at least 5m women in America, that happens to be in the home as full-time mothers. What is wrong with that?”

Basch goes so far as to suggest that women need to be in the workforce for the economy to turn around:

The participation of women in the formal economy is crucial for sustainable economic growth and innovation and their non-entry comes at a high cost in terms of weakened economic and social development. Although women’s presence in the workplace has increased steadily in the United States—from 33.9% of the total workforce in 1950 to 46.8% in 2010 ,—globally their participation is estimated at 40%, according to the ILO. Despite the gender employment gap, evidence points to women as increasingly important drivers of economic growth.

Sommers responds, focusing on the freedom women have today.

Furthermore, American and British women are among the freest, best-educated and most self-determining people in the world. Their consciousness has been raised. It seems more than a little matronising to suggest they have been manipulated into their life choices. In any case, on what grounds can the egalitarians deny that their own preferences are driven by just another set of internalised dogmas, stereotypes or unconscious schemas?

It is amazing how differently these two women look at the issue. It is an Oxford-style debate and you can vote here. I have heard Sommers speak before and she has really thought about these issues and knows how to argue them well. No wonder she is winning.

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