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Smart Women, Foolish Quotas

Monday, July 1, 1996

          Willie Brown, then the Speaker of the California Assembly, predicted in March 1995 that the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) would be defeated if it were given the "face . . . of a white woman." Opponents of the CCRI -- an amendment to the state constitution that would prohibit state and local governments from granting preferences or discriminating based on race, ethnicity, or sex--are taking Brown's advice. They're trying to define the initiative, on the ballot in November, as "anti-woman."

          The National Organization for Women (NOW) has made defeating the CCRI its top priority for 1996. Its leaders fear that a CCRI victory might herald the end of preferences in other states--and perhaps even nationwide. "A lot of the success or defeat of feminist issues will hinge on the fight against the CCRI," California NOW president Elizabeth Toledo told the News for a People's World. To show a unified feminist front against the CCRI, NOW chose San Francisco as the site of its annual rally in March.

          Even previously nonpoliticized groups such as the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) have joined the opposition to the initiative. For 176 years, the YWCA has avoided involvement in political activity. But last December, the Los Angeles YWCA held a rally that featured preschoolers chanting "give girls a chance--girls are strong, too." At a press conference in San Diego sponsored by NOW and the YWCA, city councilman George Stevens called the CCRI "the most racist initiative that has ever been put on the ballot." Stevens called white males "the devil in the blue suit," claiming that white males are pushing the initiative as retribution against white women for being unwilling to serve their men at home.

          Anti-CCRI activists cite arguments by law-school professors such as Erwin Chemerinsky (University of Southern California) and Laurie Levenson (Loyola) that the CCRI's Bona Fide Qualifications (BFQ) clause will lower the legal standards against sex-based discrimination. These assertions are absurd. The BFQ clause, taken directly from the 'bona fide occupational qualification" language of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, says, "Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as prohibiting bona fide qualifications based on sex which are reasonably necessary to the normal operation of public employment, public education or public contracting." The clause exists to protect women, not to victimize them: It merely prohibits such things as the supervision by men of girls' locker rooms and strip searches of female prison inmates by male guards.

          It is no mystery why sex is being emphasized. Preferences based on race are as unpopular in California as they are in the rest of the nation. From 1986 to 1994, the American National Election Studies biennial survey consistently measured the opposition to racial preferences at around 80 percent. Proponents of preferences find themselves in the position of having to defend the indefensible: the aggressive categorization of citizens in a democracy by race, ethnicity, and sex so as to give unearned benefits to some at the expense of others. So they are trying to scare women into thinking that the CCRI will lead to discrimination against them. But the strategy won't work. Polls by Charlton Research show no gender gap in the support for the CCRI, with 57 percent of both men and women supporting the initiative. There are four major reasons why women tend to support the California Civil Rights Initiative.

          The first is that women, like men, believe in equality before the law. They believe that racial, ethnic, and gender preferences violate the fundamental principle of our political system: the proposition that all men and women are created equal. Women know their advances in the workplace and the voting booth have come not by departing from America's founding creed, but by showing that America wasn't living up to its own political principles.

          Second, women are mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters. They are concerned about the unfair treatment of their sons, husbands, fathers, and brothers in the current system of group preferences. Responding to a pro-affirmative action editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle, Susan Constantine, a mother of three boys whose husband recently lost his job, wrote, "I find 'affirmative action' and the like racist and sexist. . . . Just as I am opposed to racism and sexism, I am opposed to this form of 'unequal opportunity' toward our sons."

          Third, women themselves are often treated unfairly by the current regime. For example, the University of California at Berkeley has had an official policy of giving preference in admissions to out-of-state minority students, even wealthy ones, over poor California residents of both sexes.

          Consider Lydia Cheryl McDonald. A resident of Los Angeles, McDonald grew up in a broken home and lived on welfare after her father abandoned her family. Yet she managed to accumulate a grade-point average in high school of 4.5 (on a four-point scale), due to credit for advanced placement classes. Her combined SAT score was 1340 out of a possible 1600. In addition to working 15 hours a week, Lydia wracked up an impressive list of awards, including high honors on California's prestigious Golden State Exam for geometry and varsity letters in cross country, soccer, and track. She aspires to a career in engineering. She is exactly the candidate for which Berkeley claims to be looking: high-achieving, well rounded, poor, and a woman interested in science.

          None of this mattered. In March 1996, Lydia received a rejection letter informing her that "we sought an academically strong freshman class which includes students from a wide range of cultural, ethnic, geographic, racial and socio-economic backgrounds." There is little doubt that McDonald would have been admitted under a race-neutral system that placed an emphasis on academic achievement.

          Patricia Ribeiro worked for the Head Start program from 1962 to 1971. Five years ago, she applied for a teaching position in the Head Start program of the Long Beach Unified School District. When she asked why the district never acknowledged her application, Ribeiro was told by the programs coordinator, "Don't bother me about your application. I don't care how qualified you are, I am not going to hire you." When she asked why, she was told that the district had "enough white teachers already; you would not match the community you would be serving."

          Preferences do benefit some women in public contracting. By statute, California must seek to award 5 percent of the nominal value of all state contracts to women. But no good data exists on how many women are actually in a position to benefit from these preferences. And proponents of preferences never explain how women would suffer under a gender-neutral system that awards contracts to the lowest bidder.

          Finally, women know that their most significant advances in the workplace have not resulted from gender preferences. A modern political mantra has it that white women have been the greatest beneficiaries of goal-based affirmative action. Women certainly have made tremendous progress in the work force in the last thirty years. But academic analysis finds little conclusive evidence that women, on the whole, have benefited from race- and sex-based preference programs. Jonathan S. Leonard, an associate professor in Berkeley's School of Business, concluded in a 1989 journal article that "affirmative action has contributed negligibly to women's progress in the workplace."

          As Anita K. Blair, the executive vice president of the conservative Independent Women's Forum, recently wrote, the most important reason for this progress is that "women went to college." In 1960, only 19 percent of bachelor's degrees went to women. By 1995, women claimed 55 percent of B.A.s. Over the same period, women increased their share of lucrative professional degrees--M.B.A.s, M.D.s, and J.D.s--by more than 500 percent. The increase in college enrollment is a result not of preferences, but of changing cultural patterns and personal choices that enable women to excel in fields formerly dominated by men.

          Today, half of all professionals are female, and women hold nearly half of all managerial and executive positions. In addition, women are starting their own businesses in droves. In 1980, women owned approximately 2 million businesses with about $25 billion in sales. By 1995, according to the National Foundation for Women Business Owners, women owned almost 8 million businesses with more than $2.25 trillion in sales.

          Just as organized feminists wrongly attribute women's success in the workplace to the protective hand of government, they also point to the glass ceiling and the alleged wage gap between the sexes as proof that preferences are still needed. The wage gap, however, is not so much proof of discrimination as a failure to account for statistical differences in age, education, and continuous years in the work force. June O'Neill, the director of the Congressional Budget Office, has found that childless women between the ages of 27 and 33 earn 98 percent as much as men with the same demographic characteristics.

          The glass ceiling, too, is more the result of disparities in age, education, and career goals than the product of discrimination. Women who choose to invest in professional skills are doing well in our free economy. According to a recent study by Korn/Ferry International, from 1982 to 1992 the proportion of female executive vice presidents more than doubled, from 4 to 9 percent, and their share of senior vice president positions increased from 13 to 23 percent. This study also found that, on average, women were younger than the men surveyed and that women reached the $100,000 salary level earlier than men. Women don't need the protective and guiding hand of government. Just like men, they simply need opportunity. And equal opportunity for everyone is the driving principle of the CCRI.

          The operative clause of the 10-sentence initiative reads, "The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting." In other words, the CCRI aims to reinscribe in California's law the noble language and original purpose of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which has suffered three decades years of quiet subversion by unelected judges and bureaucrats.

          It is no coincidence that the effort to roll back group preferences originated in California. Steeped in racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity, California urgently needs to dismantle the government's ethnic spoils system. If we are to create a truly vibrant community out of such diverse individuals, race and ethnicity must confer neither advantage nor disadvantage under the law.

          This sentiment was expressed in Justice Harlan's ringing dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), in which he wrote, "The destinies of the two races in this country are indissolubly linked together . . . and the interests of both require that the common government of all shall not permit seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of law." Today, however, "grievance politics" threatens to destroy our understanding of a common national identity.

          At its core, the CCRI is a project of community-building, the first step in an effort to recover the animating principle of American citizenship, the Declaration's "self-evident truth" of human equality. This implies that all rights in America are vested in individuals, not groups. Thus, a woman's right to pursue happiness in America is secure, not because she is a woman, but because she is a person. A society in which individual rights are protected by the full force of the law is as beneficial for women as it is for men. As such, the crusade to convince California women of their victimhood will fail. Expect the CCRI to pass in November with the strong support of women.

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