Jennifer Shahade has raised the issue recently of whether we need women's titles. It's a good question. The WSJ featured an article on the subject, quoting Jennifer, and I also note that ChessVibes and ChessBase tied into the issue. Opinions on the question are unsurprisingly all over the map. Here's how I see it in a nutshell:
1. The argument for reverse discrimination (or affirmative action, or "benign discrimination") is that it attempts to speed up the repair of the long term bad effects of prejudice. The theory (almost indisputable) is that societal forces have acted differently on men and women in many endeavors, leaving men over-represented in areas we tend to think of as important (e.g., math, sciences, and other higher order intellectual pursuits such as chess). By changing the otherwise natural results in favor of the class discriminated against--women--we believe we can speed up getting the playing field back to level, as well as directly affording opportunities to some who would have had the opportunities but for the discrimination. Sounds complicated. It is.
2. The argument against reverse discrimination is that it's still discrimination. Calling it "benign" discrimination doesn't help much. Its ill effects are felt by both those who aren't eligible for the special treatment because they're of the wrong gender, and also by women who although benefitted by the reverse discrimination find their accomplishment diminished. Are you a GM or a WGM? To paraphrase a well-known jurist, if you want to stop discrimination, stop discriminating.
My take. I want to hear much further from two groups: (1) those who have studied the supposed effects of the action or inaction proposed by the two sides, and (2) women. I'm undecided, but if we're going to err, let's do so on the side of the titles for now. This isn't like Bakke, where one takes an admission to medical school away from the better qualified applicant (referring to the U.S. Supreme Court case involving the University of California), but rather women's titles are almost entirely affirmative (and not at the expense of others), and thus if they come at a price, it's largely to women themselves. Let's ensure that the titles aren't making a contribution in the balance right now before eliminating them, a day that we should all look forward to. Once they're gone, it's likely they're gone for good. When women begin to decline the "W" titles with a "no thanks" in significant numbers and press on toward the GM and IM titles, we'll have a further clue.