Archive for January, 2009

Men Are Expendable

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Throughout human history, and to this very day, societies around the world have tended to view female lives as more valuable than male lives. This sentiment is regularly expressed in a variety of ways. Women and children first. You should be ready to die protecting your woman and your family. A real man will fight for his country, and a coward will run off and avoid the draft.

Men have consciously or unconsciously always been considered to be the expendable or disposable sex. This may sound like a horrible stance, and it certainly is when viewed through a more modern and humanistic lens, but this way of looking at men is actually quite understandable when viewed through a historical and evolutionary lens. As I wrote in my previous post, the simplest way to understand the phenomenon of the disposable man is that women have always needed to be kept safe to ensure that the next generation is large enough for a culture to thrive, whereas it’s been beneficial to cultures to have men risk their lives in order to create wealth and influence. For now, however, let’s leave history behind and look at our own times.

If you have any familiarity with feminism at all, then you’ve probably heard (perhaps more times than you care to remember) that men are privileged. In a traditional society men are the ones who get to hold down jobs and have a salary, as well as have a voice and influence in the public sphere. Women, however, are confined to the home and not allowed to be part of the public sphere on the same terms as men. As true as this may be, the disadvantages of being responsible for the public sphere are rarely discussed in a feminist discourse.

The male responsibility to handle matters in the public sphere, comes with the expectation to risk your life or at the very least your health. Men are police officers, firemen, soldiers, miners, oil platform workers, construction workers and garbage collectors (yes, collecting garbage is more dangerous than you may have ever considered). Men do these jobs without complaining, and oftentimes without getting any special recognition for the dangers they face. Usually these jobs aren’t very well paid, nor considered high status.

Not all male jobs in the public sphere have been or are dangerous of course. However, the more well-paid jobs where you don’t face physical dangers, usually mean very long working hours and an expectation to work overtime. Having a successful career has usually meant that men have had to sacrifice spending time with their family and loved ones. So it’s actually very hard to think of a male job in the public sphere that hasn’t been accompanied by substantial sacrifice.

I think it’s perfectly OK to point out the imbalance between men and women that has existed in the public sphere, with women basically having been shut out for a very long time. However, to simply label this a form of male privilege, and not discuss the very obvious drawbacks and responsibilities that accompany men in the public sphere – is not something I’m comfortable with. If we are attempting to do a sophisticated analysis of gender roles in a traditional society, then we need to have as full a picture as possible of the situation. Pretending that men have been given a good deal at the expense of women is simply not accurate: men have paid a very high price for being responsible for the public sphere.

Transcending the notion that men are expendable, and uncovering the unconscious belief that the lives of women are more valuable than the lives of men, is something of primary importance in a gender liberation movement beyond feminism. This does not mean that men need to be stripped of their dangerous jobs, or that women should be forced to do exactly half of the dangerous jobs. Not at all! Men may actually be more prone to take on these roles and jobs due to a mixture of cultural expectations and biological traits, and we need to let men and women be free to choose the jobs they want.

What bothers me though is that the feminist agenda often pushes for equal salaries for men and women, while forgetting that every person (usually a man) performing a dangerous job should be compensated for this financially. We cannot expect men to keep on doing the dirty, dangerous, outdoor jobs while telling them that their wages are to be the same as women who do office tasks of similar qualifications but in safe, indoor settings.

It’s also crucial that we keep on improving the safety regulations in all professions where physical safety is an issue. Doing so will send a loud and clear message that we do care about the lives of men, and that no longer will men be considered expendable entities whose lives can be sacrificed in order to create wealth. If men can be considered to be intrinsically valuable, even when they do not perform, then we will have taken a huge leap towards gender liberation.

Culture Wars: The Need for a Culture to Be Competitive

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Roy F. Baumeister is a social psychologist who in 2007 gave an excellent speech on the topic “Is There Anything Good About Men?”, that I resonate deeply with. Unfortunately I wasn’t there to hear him speak, but a transcript is freely available.

The gist of Baumeister’s talk is that the feminist assumption that men and women constantly compete for power within a culture, may not be as true as many people think. In fact, feminism has created a false worldview of the sexes always being against each other and competing for power. The reality is that throughout history men and women have usually been forced to cooperate in order to obtain adequate amounts of food and to ensure that their offspring survives and thrives.

We approach a much more profound truth when we realize that every culture has always competed with other cultures for power and influence. The largest determinant of how cultures have been organized through history is not a power struggle between men and women, but instead a competition between different cultures. Cultures have had to be organized efficiently enough to be able to maintain or even increase their power and influence, or else face the possibility of being dominated or subsumed by another, more efficient culture.

So why has there been this constant competition, whether fierce or subtle, between different cultures? Why haven’t cultures been able to get along peacefully, trusting each other to only want what best for everyone? Nowadays, we see that lots of countries do try to stay out of wars as much as possible, and two democracies have still never gone to war with each other. However, historically speaking, cultures and people simply weren’t as evolved as we are now, so the primitive threat of being overrun or dominated by your neighbouring culture was always a very real threat.

Cultures therefore needed to be as efficient as possible, in order to stay competitive and also to simply be able to gather enough food to survive. As it turns out, what all successful cultures have discovered is that it is very efficient and beneficial to use men for most or all of the high risk tasks, while keeping women as safe as possible. As you are probably aware of yourself, this pattern of using men for high risk activities while keeping women safe remains with us until this day.

But why did women need to be kept safe? Why couldn’t women participate alongside men in the dangerous activities? The safety of women has always been crucial, because it’s only women who have wombs – and wombs are the limiting factor for maintaining or increasing the population of a certain culture. Men’s biological contribution to reproduction is simply a batch of sperms, and sperms are abundant. Each man could potentially father hundreds of children with hundreds of different women, which means that men have never been a limiting factor in the reproduction process.

Each woman, on the other hand, can only be pregnant with one baby at a time (on average), and each pregnancy lasts for nine months. Losing the life of a woman is thereby equivalent to losing a womb, and from the perspective of a culture competing with other cultures, this represents the loss of a “baby factory”. Lots of children being born increased the chances for a culture to expand its influence and power. When population grows, you have more people available to produce wealth by working, trading or fighting. And in this context wealth creation is pretty the same thing as becoming more powerful and influential.

We can now see that the competition that has been going on between different cultures or societies around the world has been a major catalyst for the evolution of human culture and human societies. Constantly striving for wealth creation and better organization, in order to be able to compete better, has fueled the process of increased civilization and has given us more sophisticated ways of being human. We’ve simply become less primitive and more evolved.

The downside to all this is that even to this day, we view men as expendable and male lives as less worth than female lives. Men are still the ones who go to war, and who do the dangerous jobs such as being a police officer, fireman, coal miner, oil platform worker and pretty much any dangerous job you can think of. This is an issue that is currently not addressed properly in the gender debate, and feminism does not have this issue on its agenda.

Feminism has very much realized that the whole business of keeping women safe, helped contribute to women being shut out of the public sphere, which isn’t desirable in a modern society. However, if we are intellectually honest, we need to look at the flip side of the coin, and the fact that because of cultures competing in the past (and to some extent still competing) – men now have a gender role where they are considered expendable or disposable.

Stay tuned for the upcoming post where I’ll address this universal male expendability in a lot more detail.

Feminism is a lousy name…

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

… for a movement that wants to create a better world by reforming gender roles.

I’ve often heard the claim that feminism is about achieving gender equality, and rectifying all kinds of social injustices that exist around the world. But there is a clear disparity between the word “feminism” and the agenda that the feminist movement claims to have. The word “feminism” implies a movement that focuses on women’s issues and women’s rights; it does not imply a movement that is working to reform gender roles for both sexes in a constructive manner.

At first glance this might seem like I’m nitpicking. After all, didn’t we need a women’s movement to allow women to enter the public sphere where they could work, vote and have their voice heard? We certainly did need (and in some countries still need) a movement that fought for women’s rights and responsibilities in the public sphere; however, I don’t believe that feminism was a good choice of name for such a movement. The intention that a name sets is tremendously important, and ‘feminism’ irrevocably sets the intention to only look at gender issues from women’s perspective, and to always assume that women get a bad deal in every situation – or at the very least a worse deal than men do. Furthermore, ‘feminism’ seems to imply that the end goal is a world where women are on top and where women dominate men.

I truly believe that a gender liberation movement was needed around the time that feminism arose, and that it has been needed ever since. What I don’t believe though is that it makes any sense to name such a movement ‘feminism’, whether we’re talking about the present day or the end of the 19th century when feminism crystallized into being. The intention to change gender roles for the better would have been much better served by calling it a “gender liberation movement” or a “gender equality movement”.

A gender liberation movement would be at liberty to look at gender issues freely, taking the perspectives of men and women as needed, thereby noticing that the gender role of men is as constricted as that of women. Men have a unique set of challenges to face, many of which are unknown or ignored by mainstream media, and as long as the word “feminism” denotes the only strong voice in the gender debate, then all male issues will continue to be suppressed. I’ll be writing a lot more about these men’s issues in coming posts, since I believe that men (and women) deserve a much more nuanced and accurate description of what gender roles really mean for both sexes, not only how women have been limited by their gender role.

Letting go of feminism wouldn’t mean any loss for women either, since a gender liberation movement would continue to look at all the issues women face, and work to improve them. In fact, I believe that a gender liberation movement would be much more effective in achieving real results, since men and women have co-created this world together, and we will only be able to change it by working together. The only thing that women stand to lose by letting go of feminism is the false sense of victimhood and entitlement that feminist theory can sometimes instill.

The time has come to move beyond feminism, and to liberate men and women alike. Are you ready to have your notions about gender issues challenged?