But just because it is on the right of French politics doesn't mean that it's genuinely conservative. The party is sponsoring legislation that will make it compulsory for French companies to have women as 50% of their board members by 2015.
Why make it compulsory for board directors to be 50% female? Why not just allow companies to select whoever they think is best to fill these positions?
The answer is that under the logic of liberalism gender must be made not to matter.
Liberals take autonomy to be the highest good in society. Therefore, they favour what is self-determined, rather than predetermined. Our sex is not something we get to choose for ourselves - it is predetermined. Therefore, liberals take the fact of sex distinctions to be a negative impediment to individual freedom that must be made not to matter.
Liberals once thought that equal opportunity would do the trick. They assumed that men and women were by nature the same, so that if there were equal opportunities women would end up doing what men did in equal numbers.
But it hasn't turned out that way. Even though women are favoured in getting onto company boards, there aren't as many women who compete to do so. So even with equal opportunity and affirmative action gender still matters. Therefore liberals are increasingly turning to the blunt instrument of the law to get what they really want - equal outcomes, regardless of merit or fairness.
The president of the UMP, Jean-François Copé, made this perfectly clear when he said,
We must do to companies what we did in the public domain a few years ago and impose parity.
Equality of outcome is to be imposed by a party of the right. So much for the idea that liberalism is a neutral philosophy that leaves people alone to run their own affairs. We have well and truly reached the phase of liberalism in which the state intrusively engineers social outcomes.
As for liberals recognising that equal opportunity wasn't working as they'd hoped, listen to the views of this French woman:
Véronique Préaux-Cobti, a leading businesswoman, said the discussions were a sign that times had changed.
"In 2002, a huge majority would have been against," she told Le Figaro earlier this year. "Now, after years of good will with no change, there is a real realisation that things are not going to change on their own."
What a quote. She recognises that businesswomen have faced "good will" rather than hostility and opposition, but that things haven't changed (i.e. gender still matters). She then says that there has been a change in view as people have realised that "things are not going to change on their own" - which is a nice way of saying that people (liberals) now want things changed forcibly by state coercion.
So equal opportunity isn't enough for liberals. Even when businesswomen were treated favourably the result was not boardroom parity. The fair treatment of women in business is made clear in a large-scale study of executive pay tracking the earnings of 16,000 executives over 14 years. The research showed that,
At any given level of the career hierarchy, women are paid slightly more than men with the same background, have slightly less income uncertainty and are promoted as quickly.
In other words, women in business were treated better in general than similarly qualified men.
There's evidence too that some less qualified women are already being appointed to company boards in order to change gender ratios. Chris Thomas, a partner with an executive head hunting firm, has stated that,
if some of the women on boards today were men, they would not be directors. If the sorts of discussions that go on around the choices made were taped, they would be embarrassing. (Herald Sun, "Time to get on board," 5/12/09)
According to an insider like Chris Thomas, women are cynically being appointed to directorships over better qualified men, in order to bolster the number of female board members.
A lot of men may shrug their shoulders at this. Most of us won't be competing for these directorships anyway. But we have to realise that once the principle is accepted it will work its way through society as a whole.
If the state can act coercively to force a parity in outcomes between men and women, then get ready for some radical social engineering. Expect, for instance, for it to be made compulsory for men and women to have an equal number of months of paid parental care. Expect the level of superannuation paid to women and men to be made the same, regardless of contributions. Expect the level of lifetime earnings to be made the same, regardless of hours worked or the nature of the work undertaken. Expect a mandatory 50% of non-combatant officer positions in the armed services to be reserved for women. And so on.
All of this will present opportunities for traditionalists. There will certainly be men who will understand that less qualified women are being promoted ahead of them. This can only weaken the allegiance of men to a liberal order.
The problem we have is that the men who finally do break faith with liberalism are often so demoralised that they simply opt out and give up on their own civilisation rather than turning to an active and principled opposition. But some men will be spirited enough to consider a traditionalist alternative.
We need to present to these men a very different understanding of gender and freedom. Freedom for traditionalists is a freedom to act as we are really constituted, i.e. as men and women, as members of distinct communities, as moral beings and so on. So it is a more important good to be allowed to fulfil our distinct natures as men and women than to force a parity of outcomes through state coercion.