Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

Matriarchy, patriarchy and the masters of the universe

Chrystia Freeland
May 31, 2013 19:39 UTC

The past week has underscored one more way in which the lives of the super-rich are diverging from the lives of everyone else: The middle class is becoming a matriarchy, while the plutocracy remains firmly patriarchal.

The sexist mores of the super-rich were exposed by one of that tribe’s most prominent philanthropists, the hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones. At an April symposium at the University of Virginia, Jones said that women didn’t trade as successfully as men because becoming a mother is a “killer” to professional focus. “You will never see as many great women investors or traders as men – period, end of story,” he said.

“As soon as that baby’s lips touched that girl’s bosom, forget it,” Jones said, describing the grim career impact of motherhood on two women who had worked with him in the late 1970s.

“Every single investment idea,” he said, “every desire to understand what is going to make this go up or go down is going to be overwhelmed by the most beautiful experience which a man will never share about a mode of connection between that mother and that baby.”

When they were revealed by the Washington Post last Thursday, Jones’s remarks swiftly became notorious, partly because of the vivid language he used to make his case. And Jones duly apologized.

Why are people leaning on “Lean In”?

Chrystia Freeland
Mar 14, 2013 22:30 UTC

“Man is defined as a human being and woman is defined as a female. Whenever she tries to behave as a human being she is accused of trying to emulate the male.” That observation by Simone de Beauvoir helped to inspire the feminist revolution after World War Two. Two generations later, Sheryl K. Sandberg has written a book, “Lean In,” arguing that is still the case today.

Some critics have challenged Sandberg’s authority to comment on the female condition because her gilded perch as chief operating officer of Facebook makes her one of the most powerful and richest women in the world. But it is precisely that insider’s perspective – what Sandberg demurely describes as her front-row seat – that makes her “sort of feminist manifesto” so persuasive and so radical.

It is radical because Sandberg is not decrying the vile misogyny that oppresses women in some distant and impoverished land. The sexism endured by the women of, say, Afghanistan is of course incomparably more severe and more limiting than the stereotypes that trammel the graduates of Harvard Business School. But it is also much easier for the privileged Westerners – men and women alike – who inhabit Sandberg’s world to champion the cause of downtrodden females in another, poorer society. Confronting the problems in your own backyard – or indeed your own corner office – is more personally threatening.

Falling birthrates: the threat and the dilemma

Chrystia Freeland
Dec 7, 2012 16:28 UTC

Which is the more powerful agent of social change: fear or sympathy? Women in rich and middle-income countries may soon find themselves enrolled in a real-life experiment testing this proposition. That is because birthrates are dropping in much of the world. Demographics may soon rocket to the top of the political agenda, demanding an entirely new way of thinking about women and motherhood and the economy.

One reason for the shift was, as it were, born in the USA. That is because, for a long time, the United States has watched declining birthrates in places like Western Europe, Russia and even China with an air of superiority. The United States, lusty and fertile, was bucking the demographic trends.

Then, last week, new data showed that in 2011 the U.S. birthrate fell to the lowest level ever recorded: 63.2 babies per 1,000 women of childbearing age.

Cheers to Elena Kagan, but where are the rest of the women?

Chrystia Freeland
Jul 2, 2010 15:25 UTC

women swimmersThis piece first appeared in the Washington Post.

Watching Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings this week, it is tempting to declare — as some have of late — that we have entered the age of women. Not just in politics but in school and in the broader economy women are doing well. Yet this female triumphalism overlooks an important exception: The areas where the real money and power reside are occupied almost exclusively by men.

Consider the industries occupying the commanding heights of capitalism: technology and finance. Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook were all founded by men and are led by male CEOs. All of the big Wall Street banks are run by men. Hedge funds and private equity firms — where the real action is — are a male preserve. Sebastian Mallaby’s fine new history of hedge funds zeroes in on 14 chief protagonists — all male. In 400 pages, he interviews only two female hedge fund executives. Mallaby didn’t speak to more women because there aren’t many to talk to. Of the top 10 highest-paid hedge fund managers in 2009, none were women.

The absence of women at the economic summit is particularly significant because those at the very top of the income distribution have reaped the lion’s share of the rewards in the past couple of decades. For all their success elsewhere, it is precisely this economic apex that women are failing to scale.

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