Who Has It Worse?

October 11th, 2009 by Pelle Billing

There are lots of different shapes and forms that discussions about gender issues can take. They can focus on pay equality, custody battles, divorce, domestic violence, hours worked per week or just about any subject you can think about.

While there are many different gender issues to discuss–and a range of perspectives, facts and opinions to consider–the underlying unnamed question always seems to be: what gender role is worse, the male gender role or the female gender role? Feminism of course, is an entire political ideology built on the premise that the female gender role is far worse than the male gender role, and the premise of feminism has also been unconsciously adopted by most people in industrialized countries.

But what do we really know about the gender roles, and don’t we owe it to ourselves to consciously analyze the two gender roles before making the call of who has it worse? It’s easy to become emotional about gender issues, but emotions alone cannot guide us when trying to make these kinds of distinctions.

My own take on what the two gender roles are about, at their historical core, is the following:

  • The female gender role is about staying safe and protected, thereby giving up a certain amount of freedom and risk taking. The goal of a woman is to keep her children safe, while getting enough resources for herself and the children.
  • The male gender role is about protecting women, thereby giving up a certain amount of health and safety. The goal of men is to take the risks needed to gather adequate amounts of resources for the woman and children.

In other words: women give up freedom to gain safety, and men give up safety to gain freedom. So when we’re discussing what gender role has it worse, it all depends on whether you value safety more than you value freedom. Feminists attack men and the male gender role by saying that men get a much better deal in life since men on average have more freedom. However, they completely ignore that the price men pay for this is disposability (a lack of safety), and the advantage that women get from a lack of freedom is a higher level of safety. The perks of either sex have always come at a price.

At the end of the day, anyone saying that either gender role is better than the other one (at its core), is claiming that freedom is better than safety, or that safety is better than freedom. Personally, I find it very hard to objectively prove that either of these values is better or more important than the other one, which is also why I am not too interested in the discussion of who has it worse.

However, setting the original, “core” gender roles aside for a moment, we also have to deal with whatever contemporary fluctuations and developments that may affect the gender dynamics. Currently, we have a situation where feminism is quite influential in many different countries, meaning that we have a set of new conditions emerging for each gender:

  • Men (and the male gender role…) are no longer appreciated in the same way for the crucial tasks they perform for society and their families, such as working long hours in jobs that may be physically dangerous or psychologically stressful.
  • Women’s gender role has been expanded by encouraging women to enter the workforce. However, women have not been expected to choose professions that entail real physical risks.
  • The efforts to raise the status of fatherhood (which would mean an expansion of the male gender role) have been weak compared to the efforts to get women to join the workforce.

This means that we are at a point where we cannot continue down the same path, unless we want to artificially keep on helping women, while keeping men down.

At the same time, the effect of feminism seems to be just as negative on women as on men. In a previous post I wrote about the research on subjective happiness in women, and how it has gone straight down since the 70s when the female gender role started changing, in no small part due to feminism. In my opinion this decline in female happiness may well be attributable to the contempt that many feminists have shown for traditional female domains such as child-rearing and being “soft and feminine”. While it may not be politically correct to say out loud, could it be that many women are struggling to be happy when they aren’t allowed to raise and educate their children, the way that women always did in the past?

We are thus faced with a very interesting dilemma when discussing what gender role gets the worst deal. Historically speaking, it’s a very tough call, and the seemingly easy call of saying that men have it worse in a feminist world is partially contradicted by research. Thus, all we can say for sure is that: we need to keep on working towards gender liberation, but without the ideological baggage of feminism which prevents men and women from living the lives they truly want.

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8 Responses to “Who Has It Worse?”

  1. Chris Marshall Says:

    Pelle:

    I wonder how much worse one gender could have it before you could get reasonable people from both to agree that indeed, one has it worse?

    The ultimate test of one group having it worse than another is conducted when people have the ability to switch groups and decide which one they want to live as. In that situation, society can’t make it that much worse to be in one group or people just switch out of the group.

    The is easiest to see in various professions. If society were to suddenly add onerous restrictions on doctors, people would just stop being doctors and do something else, which would restrict the supply of doctors, and result in a lack of available medical treatement, which would become obvious at some point, causing an irresistible reactive force on society to stop making it so bad for doctors.

    When you can’t switch groups, and even worse, when one group isn’t necessary to the survival of society at large, there is no limit to the evil society can dump upon the target group. Witness slavery in the U.S., for example.

    Imbalance of power is the root of all evil.

    The mere fact that women are so necessary to society tends to restrict how badly society can treat women before the reactive forces overwhelm the source of the bad treatment.

    I think the necessity of men to the survival of society is less immediate than it is for women so it is possible that society can push men further, and indeed, society can be very callous in how is disposes of the lives of its men.

    The further fact that men and women generally care about each other, and group together in families were people literally devote their lives to each other’s well being, also restricts how far society can lean on one sex exclusively.

    I wonder what it would take, then, for society to make it noticably worse on one sex?

    If we could answer that question, we might be able to more accurately measure how bad each sex has it.

    p.s. Norah Vincent’s experiment going underground as a man is one example of someone taking the question of ‘which sex has it worse’ seriously. I think more experiments like hers would yield fascinating results (assuming it were done honestly, of course; it is not hard to imagine what a farce would ensue from pressure groups staging false experiments of this type).

  2. Danny Says:

    Chris:
    The ultimate test of one group having it worse than another is conducted when people have the ability to switch groups and decide which one they want to live as.

    I was about to say that people in the trans community come close to what you say here but even as I try to explain I think this may not be so.

    Men and women who transition to the other gender get a glimpse of what both sides live like although I would say that this is limited to the fact that due (usually) money contraints the transition happens later in life. With this limitation you have a middle aged man that grew up as a young girl and vice versa but more than that you have a middle aged man who grew up as a boy in a girl’s body and vice versa. So I guess that poses the question that since they did not feel right in the male/female body they were born in (to the point that when they did things people of their born sex are not supposed to do they are harassed, attacked, and shunned by family/friends) can you say that a boy that grew up in a girl’s body lived a girl’s life and vice versa?

    What I’m wondering is can you take a woman that transitioned to a man (and vice versa) and say that that person has seen both the man and woman sides of the equation and can say which side is worse?

    Personally I think that trying to figure out who has it worse overall is a waste of time except to those who want to use the answer to sway support to their side and claim that they are the real victims and the other gender should wait their turn for help. When you look at situation to situation the answer is going to change from one gender to the other. When it comes to being the victim of sexual crimes its women. Broaden the scope to violent crimes in general (murder, assault, sexual crimes, etc…) and the the answer is men.

    I say screw trying to tally who has it worse overall and just fix the damn problems.

  3. Chris Marshall Says:

    Danny:

    I agree definitively answering the question of who has it worse overall is not possible.

    I think you can learn a lot of valuable stuff by seriously (and honestly) attempting it, though, even though you know you will never be able to pull it off.

    It’s like trying to solve the halting problem. It’s impossible. You can learn a lot of useful and interesing stuff by trying to solve it though.

    >I say screw trying to tally who has it worse overall and just fix the damn problems.

    Well, there’s no sense anyone holding their breath while we try to figure out who has it worse, certainly ;-)

    There is a lot of confusion as to what is going on between the sexes, however, and conducting bold thought experiments is an important part of getting past the confusion.

    Chris

  4. Jay R Says:

    > “definitively answering the question of who has it worse overall is not possible.”

    Sorry, but I think this is politically-correct dissembling. In terms of any objective, quantifiable measure (death, for instance), men have always had it worse. In the ultimate measure of success for any organism, only 40% of the men who have ever lived successfully reproduced, while 80% of the women successfully reproduced — notwithstanding childbirth mortality.

    Men are disposable, fungible, resource providers; women, as providers of children and early childcare, are precious and thus protected. Men work (often difficult, dangerous jobs) to earn most of the money; women spend most of the money, and are as a group, wealthier than men. The vast majority of the occupants of society’s “glass cellar” — those living the most mean and precarious of existences — are men. Does “women and children first!” mean anything to us? Of course it does.

    This is not something to be remedied, however. Society benefits from men’s greater risks and sacrifices — their disposability. So, we men compete with each other to provide for women and children — even in the face of danger. This does not entitle us to special privilege, nor give us a right to complain of oppression. It does entitle us to a measure of respect and gratitude. And it does deprive women of the right to complain about THEIR more protected (and thus sometimes more restricted) lot in life, and of their right to demand special privilege to make up for past “oppression.” After all, if we are going to even the scales between men and women, then a huge number of women will have to die, for starters.

    We should not fall for the “front-man fallacy” so beloved by the feminists.

  5. Danny Says:

    I think you can learn a lot of valuable stuff by seriously (and honestly) attempting it, though, even though you know you will never be able to pull it off.

    I certainly agree. Such thought experiments are probably the best insight in to how the other gender lives. My problem is just when people use those experiments for “Ha! I told you _____ have it worse!” instead of “Wow I didn’t realize there was so much stuff _______ have to put up with.” declarations.

  6. Lavazza Says:

    Chirs Marshall:

    “The mere fact that women are so necessary to society tends to restrict how badly society can treat women before the reactive forces overwhelm the source of the bad treatment.

    I think the necessity of men to the survival of society is less immediate than it is for women so it is possible that society can push men further, and indeed, society can be very callous in how is disposes of the lives of its men.

    The further fact that men and women generally care about each other, and group together in families were people literally devote their lives to each other’s well being, also restricts how far society can lean on one sex exclusively.”

    Well put!

    I have tried to ask feminists if a so called imbalance that goes on for centuries and centuries must not be seen as balance. Should we look on how we lean the bicycle or the body, and say that there is an unbalance, or look at the fact that the bicycle and cyclist does not tip over and fall down, and say that there is a balance.

  7. Chris Marshall Says:

    Lavazza:

    Should we look on how we lean the bicycle or the body, and say that there is an unbalance, or look at the fact that the bicycle and cyclist does not tip over and fall down, and say that there is a balance.

    What a beautiful analogy!

  8. Lavazza Says:

    Thank you. It was totally lost on the feminists, though.

    My Indian teacher says that man and woman are like the wheels of a carriage (meaning society or matrimony), they depend on each other to be able to move forward.

    If we take the feminists seriously they must mean that man has for ages been oppressing woman in a dangerous way, but without this leading to the breakdown of the carriage. They can see no self adjustment from man in the common interest or his indirect personal interest and they are for some reason convinced that woman alone has done that every time and from the beginning of time.

    Feminist also always start the beginning of any story with the action of man and the reaction of woman. There can never be an action of woman and a reaction of man. Of course they are not so stupid as to say something so stupid. But every anecdote, fact or story they tell is going this way and none are going the other way.

    I live in Sweden and here we have a bit of a north/south divide but not really a east/west divide, since the country is thin but long from south to north. Feminists are like west swedes always talking about the misery of the west Swedes, even when the east Swedes have the same or comparable misery, and talking about the advantages of the east Swedes, even when the west Swedes have the same or comparable advantages. What is best? Having the capital or the second AND the third biggest cities? Which is best? Having the most population near the south close to the sea or having most of the population further north and a longer shore line?

    Nobody would be so stupid as to say that there is a clear objective answer to these questions, but by lying by omission it is possible to suggest that there is such a clear and objective answer to the question.


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