Wall Street’s Misogyny on Display

Perhaps this billionaire should focus on the ills of the financial industry?

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A mom works on her laptop while her two-year-old son plays on a tablet computer.

Legal discrimination was made against the law and de facto discrimination hasn't completely done the job. Sexual harassment has had some impact, but not resolved the issue. Even trying to dissuade women from seeking high-level jobs by telling them they'll be less marriageable just when their "biological time clocks" are ticking away hasn't worked. Women are still working in powerful positions, seeking elected office and refusing to abandon it all to have families.

So the misogynists of the world have summoned up their last, desperate argument: human biology makes it impossible for women to be both mothers and "focused" professionals.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

So says Paul Tudor Jones, a billionaire hedge fund manager who told an audience at the University of Virginia that having children (for women, not men) is a focus "killer" that makes it impossible for females to pay attention to the serious world of global trading. That, Jones said, is the real reason men overwhelming dominate the trading biz. Or as he explained, describing female former collegaues:

As soon as that baby's lips touched that girl's bosom, forget it … Every single investment idea . . . 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.

Setting aside the antiquated and slightly creepy description of motherhood (a "girl?" The imagery of a baby's "lips" on a woman's breast?), Jones misses the mark in several ways. First, the idea that having a baby in the house does not interfere at all with a man's focus is absurd. (The men at the office who looked like they haven't slept in months? There's a good chance they are new parents.)

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Secondly, Jones, not being one of those unfocused women himself, can't possibly know the effect of the bond between mother and child. It's simply a gender-based narrative that fits his agenda. What if a woman were to say men shouldn't be traders because they are too easily distracted by the sight of female bodies in the office and therefore can't "focus?"

But what is most galling about Jones' diagnosis is that it is coming during the painful aftermath of the Wall Street meltdown, a fiscal crisis for which investment bankers – focused or not – are largely to blame. If men hold the vast majority of the high-level jobs in trading, and are more able to focus than women, then how did such a disaster occur in 2008? What's their excuse?

Wall Street is still coming up with an answer for that. But there's no excuse for Jones' comments, which he initially defended as "off the cuff." All that phrase means is that he was saying exactly what he was thinking without first editing it for public relations purposes. His apology was weak, sounded insincere and is likely to dog him for some time. He should be careful about that – it might make it hard for him to focus.