Archive for April, 2009

Defining Gender Equality

Friday, April 24th, 2009

For an expression that is much talked about, you rarely come across a clear definition of what gender equality actually means. I’m pretty sure different people mean very different things when talking about gender equality, and many people probably aren’t even aware of exactly what they mean.

Not defining words properly is a sure recipe for discussions and debates that lead nowhere, and heated arguments that are as passionate as they are meaningless.

I believe that by defining what we mean by gender equality, we can avoid intellectual sloppiness, and clarify our own beliefs in this area. Furthermore, you cannot hit a target unless you know what the target is, and for most people gender equality is a desired outcome.

My definition of gender equality rests on five different pillars:

1. Men and women have the same intrinsic value

I’m hoping that you find it self-evident that men and women have the same intrinsic value. This is simply the basic moral insight that all people have the same intrinsic value, regardless of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, etc.

2. Men and women are equally valuable to society

Are men and women equally valuable to society? I guess you could try to make the case that either gender is more valuable, but the burden of proof would rest squarely on you. Research has shown that the male and female brains are sometimes good at different things, but there is no overall difference in brain capacity. This indicates that the two genders have equal potential to be valuable.

Men and women still have very or somewhat different roles in most societies, with men more often fulfilling roles in the public sphere, and women more often fulfilling roles in the private sphere. Regardless of whether you think this will change in the future or not, and regardless of whether you find this division of labor desirable or not, I’d say it’s safe to presume that men and women are equally valuable to society.

Society would not function without the roles that men perform or without the roles that women perform.

3. Men and women should have equal rights and responsibilities

The important thing to note here is that rights and responsibilities go hand in hand. If you want to claim a right for yourself, you should be prepared for an accompanying responsibility. As the economists are fond of saying: “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”.

A good starting point for making sure that men and women have equal rights is to check that legislation and public policy are gender neutral. If either sex has responsibilities that the other one doesn’t have (such as the draft or military service), or if either sex has rights that the other one doesn’t have (such as access to women’s shelters), then we need to take a closer look at those imbalances.

4. An absence of discrimination (a k a equal opportunities)

Discrimination is a word that is used frequently in gender discussions, especially when talking about the labor market. But what is and isn’t discrimination? How do we define it?

Discrimination simply means judging someone by their race, gender, religion, sexuality or age – instead of judging them for their competence. The definition is very simple, but implementing it can be a lot harder!

Sometimes the word discrimination is used incorrectly. For example, you can hear people say that women are discriminated against if they don’t have 50 percent of the important positions in society. However, that is not discrimination unless you can show that men who are less qualified than competing women are given the top jobs.

As long as competence determines who gets a job, we may have 80 percent women in a certain workplace or 70 percent men, without any discrimination occurring. Read more about discrimination in this dedicated post.

5. Realizing that equality need not mean sameness

Equality between the sexes means that the sexes are valued equally, and given equal opportunities, as outlined above. But this need not mean that men and women become the same! Men and women may continue to make different choices when it comes to work, family and hobbies – while still being perfectly equal.

In fact, it is irrelevant to gender equality whether men and women make the same choices, as long as each man and each woman is truly free to choose whatever path seems right to him or her.

We know that biological differences between the sexes exist, but we do not yet know to what extent these differences would influence the choices of women and men in a culture that allows you to go beyond stereotypes.

However, it would be naive to assume that men and women would start making exactly the same choices, even in a society that is completely open-minded. By dropping the criterion of sameness, gender equality becomes much more achievable, and does not limit individual freedom.

Misandry in the Media

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

As I wrote in my last post, misandry in the media has become increasingly common. Misandry simply means hatred of men, and corresponds to the more commonly used word misogyny (hatred of women).

In this post, I’ll explore some of the ways that this anti-male bias is showing up, as well as give some examples to illustrate.

Tracking the ongoing misandry in popular culture and the media can be a very useful exercise, since those entities are very good at tuning into what is happening in society and  in the public’s consciousness.

Priciple # 1: Men Are Stupid

Check out the TV ad below. The man is not only portrayed as stupid, but almost retarded, and very submissive as well.


Can you imagine the outrage and public outcry if a woman was portrayed in this way?

Principle # 2: Men Need Women to Get Anything Right

Have a look at this banned Verizon commercial, where the man is clueless and needs the guidance of his wife as if he were her child.

Principle # 3: Only Women Must Evolve

Feminism has worked tirelessly to give women more rights and more benefits, while simultaneously presenting a worldview that prevents society from doing anything about male issues (because there are no male issues in the feminist worldview…).

This means that there is no public discussion about the pressure on men to perform, in fact, you can still get away with attacking a man for not performing the way you think he should!

Check out these horrible lyrics by Destiny’s Child:

At first we started out real cool,(cool)
Taking me places i ain’t never been
But now your getting comfortable
Ain’t doing those things that you did no more
You’re slowly makin me pay for things
Your money should be handling

And now you ask to use my car (car)
Drive it all day and don’t fill up the tank
And you have the audacity
To even come and step to me
And ask to hold some money from me
Until you get your check next week
You triflin’,good for nothing type of brother
Silly me,why haven’t I found another
A baller, when times get hard he’s the one to help me out
insted of, a scrub like you who don’t know what a man’s about

can you pay my bills
can you pay my telephone bills
can you pay my automo’bills
then maybe we can chill

I don’t think you do
so you and me are through

What they are basically saying is that it’s a man’s role to pay for everything, and the women of Destiny’s Child can only imagine being with a man if he starts paying for everything. As long as he doesn’t, he’s a “triflin’ good for nothing type of brother”.

Women, on the other hand, are immune to any corresponding slurs about the female gender role, such as a woman’s place being in the home, since anyone saying such a thing is being misogynistic and discriminatory.

Do you have any examples of misandry in the media?

(A shoutout to James Barrow who inspired me to write this post!)

Is There Anything Good About Fathers?

Friday, April 17th, 2009

It’s not easy being a father nowadays, as you can tell from the question in the heading.

Canadian researchers and authors Paul Nathanson and Katherine K. Young have written about the persistant anti-male bias in the media, in their two books Spreading Misandry and Legalizing Misandry (you can read a short summary of their work on Wikipedia).

Fathers are an important subgroup of men that are under attack in the media. Directly or indirectly, they are portrayed as:

  • Wife beaters
  • Child abusers
  • Child molesters

Furthermore, we hear a lot about deadbeat dads in the media (i.e. dads who are avoiding paying child support), but hardly anything about all the men who desperately want to see their children but who have been denied any kind of custody.

Something we almost never hear about are the specific benefits that fathers can bring to their children, even though fathers keep young men away from crimes and a range of other psychosocial problems.

Can this really be true, that fathers have a vital protective effect on their children that their mother cannot replace on her own?

The Facts

In the book The Case for Marriage, the authors review the available evidence about single parent households (i.e. fatherless families) and conclude that these children are more likely:

  • To be poor
  • To have health problems
  • To have psychological disorders
  • To commit crimes
  • To exhibit conduct disorders (other than crime)
  • To have poorer relationships with their family and peers
  • To get fewer years of education

This list holds true even when controlling for parents’ race, income and socioeconomic status.

Other research (Harper and McLanahan, 1998) has shown that boys living without their biological fathers are twice as likely to have spent time in jail. These results also hold up after controlling for race, income and parents’ education. Having a stepfather, however, does not decrease incarceration rates – the protective effect comes from a biological dad alone.

In his book Fatherless America, sociologist David Blankenhorn states that:

“Despite the difficulty of proving causation in social sciences, the wealth of evidence increasingly supports the conclusion that fatherlessness is a primary generator of violence among young men.”

Swedish studies (Weitoft, Hjern, et al, 2002) have found that children of single parents are twice as likely to develop a psychiatric disease, to attempt suicide or to have an alcohol-related disease.


The status of fatherhood needs to be upgraded immediately. The available research clearly demonstrates that growing up without your father puts a child at a real disadvantage in a host of ways. Courts who are nowadays awarding sole custody to the mother “in the best interest” of the child, aren’t doing their job in a satisfactory way.

Shared custody needs to become default ruling in all custody cases that go to court, unless one parent is obviously unfit to raise a child (eg. drug addicts, convicted sex criminals, proven abusers, etc).

Furthermore, parents need to start cooperating after a divorce, instead of using the children as “collateral”. Children are not a way to extort more money from your spouse after a divorce, nor are they a tool to feel good about yourself.

All parents owe it to themselves and to their children to live close to each other after a divorce, so that shared custody can be practically implemented and so that the children can stay close to both parents.

When Personal Accountability Is a Challenge

Monday, April 13th, 2009

I’ve recently written about Intimate Partner Violence (part 1, part 2), and some time ago I wrote about the Culture of Victimhood and the absence of personal accountability in feminist rhetoric.

In this post I’ll combine the subjects of physical abuse and personal accountability, by publishing an edited version of a piece that I originally posted in an online forum, in a response to a woman who had been abused both when growing up and later on in her marriage.

The gist of what I’m trying to get across to her is that it’s possible to hold ourselves responsible for our actions no matter how difficult the situation is, and that holding ourselves responsible is not the same thing as blaming ourselves.

I feel a lot of compassion for your experience, and I agree that placing blame on a victim doesn’t lead to anything constructive, but like J, I would like to make a few distinctions.

You cannot be responsible for another person’s actions. If someone beats you up regularly in your own home, then you have zero responsibility for their actions. The person who’s doing the beating has full responsibility for his/her actions.

You however, have full responsibility for your response/reaction. You can respond in a host of different ways (maybe not when the actual beating is going on, but afterwards). You can stay, you can leave, you can call the police, you can go talk to a friend, you can do nothing, etc..

This is not to say that you are to be blamed for your response! Blame leads nowhere, and has no purpose except to put another individual down, or to put ourselves down.

But as long as you are responsible for your actions, then you can choose a different, and better, response. So holding you responsible for what you do is not about blaming you, it’s about believing that you can make better choices for yourself. It’s about trusting your innate power and the fact that the path to empowerment remains open for every human being during their whole life.

Nothing of this denies the fact that if you had a terrible upbringing then it may be awfully hard to respond in a constructive way, and to get out of a destructive relationship. Even if you didn’t have a bad upbringing, you can get sucked into a bad/abusive relationship, to the point that you hardly can see your options. But you are still responsible! You still have access to your free will, and saying that you are responsible is a way of honoring your integrity and autonomy, and not treating you like a child.

Because children… are not responsible. When you are under a certain age, you simply are not a fully autonomous individual with full access to your own free will. Therefore society has an extra responsibility to look out for children that are being abused, because they cannot even be expected to call out for help, and it is developmentally incorrect to refer to them as response-able individuals.

So children can be, and are, helpless victims of abuse. But when we extend that view to adults, as has often been done in feminist literature aimed at women who have been abused – then we start to disempower adults, and that is something I simply cannot agree with.

The “helpless victim” line of reasoning is sometimes even extended to persons who molest children, and the reasoning is then that they are simply repeating the behaviors that they themselves were subjected to when growing up. However much compassion I may feel for what these persons were exposed to as children, I still hold them responsible for their own actions. They are adults, with access to their free will, and if they choose to molest they should go to jail. And should they be pathological to the extent that they have lost access to their free will, then they have no place in a free society anyhow – they have then become “automated response mechanisms” that are programmed to do damage in society.

Again, I feel deep compassion for people who have been subjected to abuse. However, once we are adults we have choice, and we can be empowered, and as a consequence we have responsibility. I consider holding another person responsible one of the most loving things you can do. Because by doing that you show them that you believe in their ability to make better choices for themselves, and their ability to break free from destructive relationships.

None of this negates the fact that you can help abused people by being a friend, offering them a place to stay, driving them to the police or to a hospital, etc. But if you help people without holding them accountable for their own responses, then you are simply helping them perpetuate their personal tragedy.

The Myth of the Wage Gap

Friday, April 10th, 2009

The standard fact that is repeated when discussing the wage gap between men and women is that women earn 75-80 percent of what men earn, the exact figure depending on what modern country you are discussing.

The implicit assumption when mentioning this statistical wage gap is that women earn less than men because of discrimination: women are paid less than men simply because they are women, and society values women less and has no problems giving women a lower salary even though they are as competent as men.

While this is a seductive explanation for anyone believing that men are intentionally trying to keep women down, it hardly makes sense to a person who has any business experience at all.

Within a market economy, any company looking to survive, needs to turn a yearly profit. Competition is often fierce, and small gains in efficiency can often mean the difference between becoming a winner and a loser in the marketplace.

Under these circumstances, why would a company want to hire a man if it’s cheaper to hire a woman who’s equally competent? It simply does not make any sense, and if women really were paid less for the same performance, we’d quickly see a trend of companies preferring to hire women over men.

A Closer Look

Common sense alone tells us that it is unlikely that women get paid less than men based on gender, all other factors being the same. But what can we learn when taking a closer look at the facts? Are there any other factors than gender discrimination that better explain why men earn more money than women?

The glaring explanation that is somehow overlooked in most gender debates is that men and women make very different choices in the workplace:

  • Men prioritize earning a good salary, whereas women prioritize flexibility, fulfillment, autonomy and safety.
  • Men choose “death careers” such as mining, oil platform work, the army, the police force and firefighting. Women, however, usually choose indoor jobs that are safe and clean.
  • Men choose to work longer hours, thereby sacrificing time with their spouse and children. Women want to work part-time, or at the very least have a flexible work schedule so that they can spend more time at home with their children.
  • Men are ready to travel more, and sacrifice their dreams of a fulfilling job, in order to be able to support a family, or even to become “marriage material” in the first place. Many women can count on not being faced with that choice, since they can expect their future husband to be the primary breadwinner.

US writer Warren Farrell has written about the wage gap in his carefully researched book Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap — and What Women Can Do About It. In the book, he demonstrates that when you control for 25 different variables that have to do with the tendencies listed above, the wage gap disappears entirely.

Other references can be found in this book, and in this blog post.

So, What to Do?

When all is said and done, is the wage gap really a problem? This question needs to be answered in two parts:

From the perspective of wanting a society that’s free of gender discrimination, the wage gap is not an issue. There is no proof that gender is a factor when determining the salary of an employee. Both sexes can be paid a good salary if they are ready to make the necessary sacrifices.

From the perspective of polarized gender roles, men and women still make different lifestyle choices, with women prioritizing being the primary caregiver of the children, and men prioritizing being the primary breadwinner of the family. Women are prepared to give up a high salary in order to have a satisfying family life, while men are prepared to give up part of their family life (and sometimes part of their health!) in order to make good money. 

Personally I don’t believe that it’s a problem that men and women have different gender roles, since no matter how much we change culture, the nature component of nature vs nurture will remain. Many men will likely prefer to continue focusing on their careers, while many women will likely prefer adapting their job to their family life, or even giving up their career temporarily when raising toddlers.

However, overly polarized gender roles do not benefit either sex. Women are quite capable of contributing to the family income by having a part-time or full-time career, and men are quite capable of participating in the raising of children. Each individual needs to think carefully about his or her choices, and the consequences that those choices will bring.

It’s important that women look over their financial future, and find a way to make sure that they are financially compensated for the work they do by being the primary caregiver. Likewise, it’s important for men to demand that their workplaces are as safe as possible (preferably by legal regulation), and that their working hours enable them to have a family life.