Archive for June, 2009

Research dismisses the validity of gender studies

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

A couple of months ago, a Swedish researcher called Helen Lindberg presented her doctoral thesis called Only Women Bleed?: A Critical Reassessment of Comprehensive Feminist Social Theory.

In her thesis she has evaluated four different feminist theories, with regard to internal coherence, and their usefulness as theories in a research context:

Is there a viable specifically feminist social theory that can serve as heuristic devise in our social research? This thesis is a critical reassessment of the ontological and normative assumptions of four social theories with specific and clear claims of being feminist. These are Catharine M MackInnon’s Radical Feminism, Anna G Jonasdottir’s Theory of Love Power, Luce Irigaray’s Feminism of Sexual Difference and Judith Butler’s Queer Feminism.

The English abstract only summarizes her findings on the internal coherence of these feminist theories in very general terms:

The feminist social theories are examined and critically discussed according to their internal coherence and their external relevance; which includes the normative political implications that can be inferred.

However, in the more extensive Swedish abstract, she clearly states that all of these four feminist theories show a lack of internal coherency, meaning that they are filled with contradictions that cannot be reconciled.

Similarly, when she talks about the usefulness of feminist theory within the context of research (such as the entire field of gender studies), she is very conservative in the English abstract:

The thesis claims that implicit in every comprehensive feminist approach, there is also a specific view of science. Then follows a meta-inquiry of comprehensive feminisms as social science and as social theories, including a discussion of the effects of comprehensive ideology on social science research in general, and of the relationship between ideology, theory and a scientific approach in particular. The thesis concludes that it is highly problematic to do science feministly, but that we do need the critical questions feminists raise in order to reevaluate concepts, theories and research priorities. It is argued that feminist social theories are perhaps most helpful as ideological guidance for political action.

Still, if you read the parts I made bold, you realize that her criticism of feminist theory is pretty severe. I will also translate part of the Swedish text, so that you can grasp the full extent of her criticism:

The thesis demonstrates that these four feminist theories about society each turn out to be unsatisfactory as tools in social science research since they rest on strong ideological premises and demonstrate a lack of internal consistency. Even though the theories appear to be different, they display two common theoretical weaknesses where one follows logically from the other. First of all, they all use structuralistic and therefore deterministic assumptions about the relationship between the individual and society which leaves little room for individual agency and thinking, which in turn leaves little room for developing and changing society. The theories therefore display a theoretical and empirical ignorance of the multidimensionality of society, and variance at the individual level. Furthermore, the thesis discusses the political goals and action plans that can be derived from their ideological and theoretical content, and finds that where they aren’t Utopia-like, they are unilaterally reduced to a monolithic identity or are normatively underdeveloped and unclear. Finally the relationship between science, politics and ideology is problematized in a general way, and feminism as science, politics and ideology in a specific way. To be able to conduct social science research about gender relations-the author claims-it isn’t useful to use the examined feminist theories, since they are too ideological and theoretically underdeveloped. They should instead be judged and valued the same way other normative and ideological theories are, such as Marxism, especially when it comes to their critical role in defining problems and acting as guides in political practice.

The short version of what she’s saying is that using feminist theory as the basis for conducting research, is about as useful as using Marxist theory to conduct research. This confirms what I’ve long been suspecting: gender studies are not a scientific discipline, they are a method for applying a certain ideology onto whatever data you collect during your “research”.

Concerning Single Young Men

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

I have long argued that the strong influence of feminist ideology on Western societies has had profound influence on young men. Growing up with feminism, if you’re a boy, can easily lead to being shamed, having poor self-esteem and being confused about what role you are expected to play in society.

The fact that gender roles evolve is inevitable, so from that perspective the confusion seen in young men of today couldn’t have been avoided. On the other hand, I believe that feminism has unnecessarily put the blame on men for the gender roles of the past, instead of realizing that both sexes co-created the past, and we can co-create new gender roles in the future.

Anyhow, the point is that men have been deeply affected by the change in gender roles and by the influence of feminism on young men and women alike. This is finally starting to be acknowledged in the media, and the other day I came across a very interesting text dealing with this phenomenon. I don’t agree with everything being said in the article, but several of the observations made are interesting, and worthy of discussion.

The article starts out with the following observation about SYMs (single young males):

Their argument, in effect, was that the SYM is putting off traditional markers of adulthood—one wife, two kids, three bathrooms—not because he’s immature but because he’s angry. He’s angry because he thinks that young women are dishonest, self-involved, slutty, manipulative, shallow, controlling, and gold-digging. He’s angry because he thinks that the culture disses all things male. He’s angry because he thinks that marriage these days is a raw deal for men.

The anger of these SYM is palpable:

“Maybe we turn to video games not because we are trying to run away from the responsibilities of a ‘grown-up life’ but because they are a better companion than some disease-ridden bar tramp who is only after money and a free ride.”

“Men are finally waking up to the ever-present fact that traditional marriage, or a committed relationship, with its accompanying socially imposed requirements of being wallets with legs for women, is an empty and meaningless drudgery.”

When young men actually enter the dating scene, they find that the rules have changed, and that double standards abound:

But when they walk to his car, he makes his first mistake: he fails to open the car door for her. Mistake Number Two comes a moment later: “So, what would you like to do?” he asks. “Her idea of a date is that the man plans the evening and takes the woman out,” Straus explains. But how was the hapless social worker supposed to know that? In fact, Doesn’t-Open-the-Car-Door Guy might well have been chewed out by a female colleague for reaching for the office door the previous week.

The cultural muddle is at its greatest when the dinner check arrives. The question of who grabs it is a subject of endless discussion on the hundreds of Internet dating sites. The general consensus among women is that a guy should pay on a first date: they see it as a way for him to demonstrate interest.

It’s understandable that SYM become confused. The current dating scene is a mixture of new ideals (women own their own sexuality and have casual sex, often earn just as much money as young men, and will cry foul if you use chivalry on them) and old ideals (men should pay for the dinner date, be chivalrous, etc). Is it any wonder that young men become bitter if women expect the new ideals when it suits them, and the old ideals when those are more advantageous?

Kevin from Ann Arbor writes. “They want to compete equally, and have the privileges of their mother’s generation. They want the executive position, AND the ability to stay home with children and come back into the workplace at or beyond the position at which they left. They want the bad boy and the metrosexual.”

SYM also feel disillusioned when they discover what kind of men are successful in the dating scene. After having been taught by their mothers and by culture that girls are fragile, kind, moral and non-aggressive (i.e. the opposite qualities that feminism ascribes to traditional old-fashioned men), SYM are in for a brutal awakening when they discover how things really work:

This attraction to bad boys is by far guys’ biggest complaint about contemporary women. Young men grew up hearing from their mothers, their teachers, and Oprah that women wanted sensitive, kind, thoughtful, intelligent men who were in touch with their feminine sides, who shared their feelings, who enjoyed watching Ally McBeal rather than Beavis and Butt-Head. Yeah, right, sneer a lot of veterans of the scene. Women don’t want Ashley Wilkes; they’re hot for Rhett Butler, for macho men with tight abs and an emotional range to match.

On Craigslist, one guy posted a succinct, albeit somewhat bitter, analysis of how nice guys fare in contemporary culture (post-sexual revolution):

According to a “Recovering Nice Guy” writing on Craigslist, the female preference for jerks and “assholes,” as they’re also widely known, lies behind women’s age-old lament, “What happened to all the nice guys?” His answer: “You did. You ignored the nice guy. You used him for emotional intimacy without reciprocating, in kind, with physical intimacy.” Women, he says, are actually not attracted to men who hold doors for them, give them hinted-for Christmas gifts, or listen to their sorrows. Such a man, our Recovering Nice Guy continues, probably “came to realize that, if he wanted a woman like you, he’d have to act more like the boyfriend that you had. He probably cleaned up his look, started making some money, and generally acted like more of an asshole than he ever wanted to be.”

Ouch.

Carrying on, it seems that many men have made similar observations to what I sometimes address on this blog:

Adding to the bitterness of many SYMs is the feeling that the entire culture is a you-go-girl cheering section. When our guy was a boy, the media prattled on about “girl power,” parents took their daughters to work, and a mysterious plague seemed to have killed off boys, at least white ones, from school textbooks. To this day, male-bashing is the lingua franca of situation comedies and advertising: take the dimwitted television dads from Homer Simpson to Ray Romano to Tim Allen, or the guy who starts a cooking fire to be put out by his multitasking wife, who is already ordering takeout. Further, it’s hard to overstate the distrust of young men who witnessed divorce up close and personal as they were growing up. Not only have they become understandably wary of till-death-do-us-part promises; they frequently suspect that women are highway robbers out to relieve men of their earnings, children, and deepest affections.

I’ve never understood the “take your daughter to work” concept. Why discriminate so blatantly against young boys? Wouldn’t the natural impulse be to take you child to work, regardless of gender? Feminism has indeed been successful in the US educational system.

As the article carries on, it becomes obvious that a substantial portion of young men are ready to pull out of the dating game:

As the disenchanted SYM sees it, then, resistance to settling down is a rational response to a dating environment designed and ruled by women with only their own interests in mind. “Men see all of this, and wonder if it’s really worth risking all in the name of ‘romance’ and ‘growing up,’ ” a correspondent who calls himself Wytchfinde explains. “After all, if women can be hedonistic and change the rules in midstream when it suits them, why shouldn’t men? Why should men be responsible when women refuse to look into the mirror at their own lack of accountability?”

Every action has a reaction. The action taken by feminists during the last few decades, is now eliciting a reaction in SYM; a reaction that can easily lead to men becoming hyper-masculine and more irresponsible:

So, men like Wytchfinde conclude: No more Mister Nice Guy! They will dump all those lessons from their over-feminized childhood and adolescence. They will join what the Boston Globe has called the “Menaissance.” And they will buy titles like The Alphabet of Manliness (K is for Knockers, Q is for Quickies), The Retrosexual Manual, Being the Strong Man a Woman Wants, and actor Jim Belushi’s recent Real Men Don’t Apologize.

Is it any wonder that young men become more narcissistic and less interested in being responsible family fathers and citizens, when Western culture has marginalized the voice of young men?

Conclusion

I believe that the feminist revolution has missed its target for a few different reasons:

  1. Men’s needs, wants and perspectives were ignored
  2. Biological differences between the sexes were ignored, which is a terrible oversight when discussing career choices and partner choice
  3. Feminism focused on changing the negative aspects of the female gender role, while being all too happy about keeping the positive aspects

You ignore biological differences between the sexes at your own peril, as the author of the article notes:

Most of the women interviewed by Jillian Straus say that they’re looking for a man who can be the primary breadwinner. A June 2008 New Scientist article reports on two studies that even suggest that women are biologically attracted to “jerks”; researchers speculate that narcissistic, risk-taking men had an evolutionary advantage.

So women want a man who is a risk-taker and a primary breadwinner? Those wishes certainly go against what feminism has taught young men that women want, and also what young women have been told that they are supposed to want.

If they did similar research on young men and what they desire in women, I’m pretty sure that the response would be that they want a woman who will be the primary caretaker of the children, and only focus fulltime on her career once the children are a bit older. And just like women enjoy men who are confident and risk-taking, many men want a woman who can be loving and feminine. This is extremely politically incorrect, but if there is truth to these claims, do we not need to include them in any movement for gender liberation?

Personally I don’t believe that biology can explain the whole male-female sexual dynamic, far from it. We always need to include cultural and psychological factors, in addition to what biology can teach us. But it is clear that due to the three reasons I listed above, feminist reforms have misfired in a number of important ways, and it is up to us to develop a new, more robust version of gender equality. We need a version that defends the equal value of women and men, without claiming that men and women are essentially the same – while also offering a clear path to success for both genders that does not involve a total absence of moral development.

Obama Swayed by Feminists

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Christina Hoff Sommers, author of the excellent book The War Against Boys as well as the book Who Stole Feminism (that I have yet to read), has written a very revealing article. She starts off by summarizing how the current recession has affected men and women in the US:

A “man-cession.” That’s what some economists are starting to call it. Of the 5.7 million jobs Americans lost between December 2007 and May 2009, nearly 80 percent had been held by men. Mark Perry, an economist at the University of Michigan, characterizes the recession as a “downturn” for women but a “catastrophe” for men.

The fact the men have been hit harder by the recession is understandable, since the private sector is more vulnerable to an economic downturn than the public sector. However, there was still some hope for all these men:

Last November, President-elect Obama addressed the devastation in the construction and manufacturing industries by proposing an ambitious New Deal-like program to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. He called for a two-year “shovel ready” stimulus program to modernize roads, bridges, schools, electrical grids, public transportation, and dams and made reinvigorating the hardest-hit sectors of the economy the goal of the legislation that would become the recovery act.

Whether you agree with Obama’s proposal or not, I think we can all agree that if he was to spend that amount of money, it would be well spent on rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. But apparently not all groups prioritized what was best for the country as a whole:

Women’s groups were appalled. Grids? Dams? Opinion pieces immediately appeared in major newspapers with titles like “Where are the New Jobs for Women?” and “The Macho Stimulus Plan.” A group of “notable feminist economists” circulated a petition that quickly garnered more than 600 signatures, calling on the president-elect to add projects in health, child care, education, and social services and to “institute apprenticeships” to train women for “at least one third” of the infrastructure jobs.

All I can say is “wow”. Even though the US desperately needs to rebuild its infrastructure, and millions of men have recently lost their jobs, feminists manage to turn it into a women’s issue. The primary issue is obviously the US economy, and the secondary issue is that men have been hit so hard by the economy – but apparently those facts don’t become feminists. This is how Sommers puts it:

The president-elect’s original plan was designed to stop the hemorrhaging in construction and manufacturing while investing in physical infrastructure that is indispensable for long-term economic growth. It was not a grab bag of gender-correct programs, nor was it a macho plan–the whole idea of economic stimulus is to use government spending to put idle factors of production back to work.

Common sense would thus dictate that Obama forge ahead with his original plan, but since he knows the power of feminist ideas in the media, he needed to take some kind of action:

The president-elect responded to the protests by sending Jason Furman, his soon-to-be deputy director at the National Economic Council, along with his senior aides to a meeting organized by Kim Gandy and Feminist Majority president Eleanor Smeal.

The meeting wasn’t only held in order to superficially appease the feminists; apparently Obama believed that they were coming from a perspective of social justices. Thus, the National Organization of Women and other feminists managed to change the proposal in quite some detail:

In her March “Below the Belt” column on the NOW website, Kim Gandy could not contain her elation over “this happily-ever-after ‘stimulus story.’ ” When she and her allies saw the final recovery package, they were amazed to find “over and over” versions of “very specific proposals that we had made.” More than that, the programs NOW had proposed had vast sums of money next to them–”numbers that started with a ‘B’ (as in billion),” Gandy said gleefully. “It’s impossible to convey just how many hours we put into this issue during December and early January and how fruitful it really turned out to be.”

This is a sad story indeed. President Obama has distanced himself from lobbyists, but apparently he doesn’t realize that feminism is one of the strongest lobby groups around.

The administration (and Congress) must have been thinking that groups such as NOW and the Feminist Majority were crusading for social justice, when in fact they were lobbying for their share of the action, to the detriment of urgent necessities.

It’s one thing to discuss the current gender discourse, and how the gender roles impact men and women. But when feminist groups are actually managing to influence public policy in the US to the extent that it can hurt the country in very tangible ways, then criticism of contemporary feminism needs to become a mainstream issue.

The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness

Friday, June 19th, 2009

One of my core principles when discussing gender issues is that we need to trust facts and research more than we trust ideology. In my experience, it is also quite common for facts and research to fly in the face of commonly accepted ideological “truths” that have been repeated to the point that many people regard them as facts.

Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfer, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, recently published a very interesting research report about the subjective happiness of men and women. If you want to you can read the whole paper, but the most important findings are summarized in the abstract:

By many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. The paradox of women’s declining relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures of subjective well-being, and is pervasive across demographic groups and industrialized countries. Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging—one with higher subjective well-being for men.

These results are very interesting. What the research shows is that as women have entered the workforce, their subjective happiness has declined. Contrary to what is politically correct, women were happier when they were housewives than they are nowadays. How can we explain these results?

  1. Working outside the home is not as glamorous as feminism would have us believe. Many jobs are exhausting without offering a large monetary reward.
  2. Women are torn between society’s expectations to work fulltime throughout life, and their own desire to work part-time when the children are small.
  3. Young women are taught that they can have it all: a successful career, a loving relationship, beautiful children and interesting vacations. In reality, life is much more messy and you often need to sacrifice what is important to you in order to achieve something that is even more important to you. Impossible standards lead to unhappiness.

The researchers themselves also have an interesting theory:

First, there may be other important socio-economic forces that have made women worse off. A number of important macro trends have been documented—decreased social cohesion (Putnam, 2000), increased anxiety and neuroticism (Twenge, 2000), and increased household risk (Hacker, 2006). While each of these trends have impacted both men and women, it is possible for even apparently gender-neutral trends to have gender-biased impacts if men and women respond differently to these forces. For example, if women are more risk averse than men, then an increase in risk may lower women’s utility relative to that of men.

In effect, what they are saying is that women and men have expected to have certain roles for thousands of years, and our biological and cultural makeup have adapted to those roles. Sudden changes to those roles may cause a stressful reaction in either sex, and according to this research women’s liberation has actually been more stressful to women than to men.

This is not to say that we should go back in time and re-create stereotypical gender roles that offer little freedom to either sex. We need to defend the fact that men and women are free to choose their lifestyles, while remaining aware that making new choices may come at a price.

We also need to remember that equality need not mean sameness, and having men and women play identical roles in society is not the only way to be equal.

Male Sexuality

Monday, June 15th, 2009

I recently came across an article about male sexuality that I found very interesting, and since I’ve been meaning to expound my thoughts on that topic anyhow, it gave me the nudge I needed. The article is called The Uncelebrated Beauty of Male Sexuality, and the name itself indicates that it’s an unusual theme for an article.

The article adds nuances to male sexuality that are badly needed:

Therefore, the more disgusting a pornographic visual is, the more a “real man” should not show disgust. But, privately, do most men really think they are “like that,” or do they experience their sexuality as more subtle, more diverse, possibly more erotic and even spiritual?

Another important misunderstanding about male sexuality is that the male sex drive is independent of the rest of the man, but this too is addressed:

In truth, the penis is a delicate part of the male being, responding with exquisite sensitivity to every nuance of emotion a man can feel. Erections come and go in men, during sex and during sleep. Most men say they seek desire, not the mechanical means of orgasm or creating erection.

So far so good. However, there is one statement in the article that I disagree with:

Although pornography frequently denigrates women — showing women beaten, black and blue, and liking it

Really? I’ve never seen any porn like that. Most porn, to the best of my knowledge, just shows two people having sex in different positions.

But the author then continues with a vital observation:

Pornography’s implication that men are beasts whose underlying unchangeable natures make them likely to be violent to women is misleading and dangerous.

Again, I’m not sure that most pornography portrays men as violent towards women, but there certainly is a tendency nowadays to regard male sexuality as dangerous. Before reading this article, I don’t remember ever seeing an article celebrating male sexuality.

Instead, male sexuality in the media is one story after another about rape, child molestation, sexual harrassment, and so on. These things certainly exist, but they are not an expression of normal male sexuality – they’re an expression of a man who’s mentally ill and/or who hasn’t been taught normal impulse control.

At this point in time I believe we need to emphasize two different aspects of male sexuality:

  1. Male sexuality is more nuanced, emotional and even spiritual than pornography or society’s stereotypes of men would have us believe. Men can enjoy their sexuality and sensuality in many different ways, not only through mechanical intercourse.
  2. Many (straight) men, do have a strong drive to penetrate, which is perfectly OK (and it’s only to be expected, given the survival benefits that this drive has had). Having a raw, animal side to your sexuality does not make you a rapist or a dangerous individual. However, this drive to penetrate is not separate from the rest of the man – it is connected to his emotions, his mind and his soul. Pornography is but a poor caricature of the male drive to penetrate, devoid of any emotions, passion or meaning.

In my opinion, we need positive images of male sexuality, as an alternative to pornography and the media’s representation of men. Any ideas how to create these kinds of alternatives? Or is there already something out there?

(Just to clarify: my criticism against porn has nothing to do with nudity or sex or men’s animal side; what I don’t like are the barren soulless depictions of male sexuality.)


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