Archive for March, 2010

Boys still struggling in schools

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

An article in Education Week highlights how girls have closed the gap to boys in mathematics, while boys are still trailing girls just as much in reading:

[...] male students in every state where data were available lag behind females in reading, based on an analysis of recent state test results. At the same time, in mathematics, a subject in which girls have historically trailed, the percentages of both genders scoring “proficient” or higher were roughly the same [...]

Luckily, educators are finally beginning to take these trends seriously:

“We’ve been talking about closing the achievement gap in so many different ways, … but we have not focused on the gender gap, which is very clear and startling in this report.”

To the best of my knowledge there has been quite a bit of focus on the gender gap–in math-where girls used to trail boys in their performance. However, the fact that there has been a reversed gender gap in reading has pretty much been ignored, so it’s good to see that it finally may gain some traction.

The gender gap in schools cannot be ignored since it carries over into higher education. In most Western countries more girls than boys are entering college and universities, and the differences cannot be said to be negligible. In Sweden, for example, almost twice as many women are getting a degree from colleges and universitities. What will these differences lead to in the long run?

Individuals and Structures

Friday, March 12th, 2010

If you know anything about contemporary feminism, you know that the word “structure” is popular. Structures in culture and society explain why men and women behave the way they do. Oppressive structures keep women down, and maintain the integrity of the patriarchy. Free will barely exists, since we are all programmed by the structures surrounding us. The only time that individuals are emphasized in this kind of feminism, is when it comes to rebelling against these structures or to illuminate how individuals are hurt by said structures.

People who take issue with the radical feminist description of the world, usually want to switch the focus from cultural and societal structures to talking about individuals. After all, rights and responisibilities are individual, and therefore it doesn’t make much sense to talk about collective rights or identity politics. This is the argument usually put forward in Sweden when discussing whether to implement gender quotas in corporate boards of directors. The argument is that if we prioritize gender quotas instead of each individual’s right to be considered a candidate on his or her own merits, then we are putting identity politics ahead of basic individual rights.

While I agree with the view that rights are first and foremost connected to the individual, and not to groups, I think that anybody opposing feminism and feminist ideas without addressing structures ends up with fairly weak set of arguments. If the radical feminists are talking about individuals and structures, and the opposing side is only talking about individuals, then the feminist view of structures is the prevailing one by default.

At the moment, this is exactly what has happened around the Western World, and beyond. Whenever gender equality and structures are discussed, the seemingly self-evident assumption is that the current structures oppress women and favor men, meaning that women are the group we need to help. This in turn shapes everything from media coverage of gender issues, to policy making domestically and in Third World countries.

Denying the impact of structures is not only ineffective, it is fairly silly too. Whenever you meet someone from a different country you immediatly notice that they speak a different language, and have different customs and traditions. How can we explain this without acknowledging the importance of cultural and societal structures?

In the field of gender issues, this means that the only way to combat misandry and the prevailing perception that men are a privileged group that willfully oppresses women, is to describe how cultural and societal structures keep men stuck in their own kind of straitjacket:

  • It is a man’s job to keep society safe. This cultural expectation means that men are expendable in wars and in dangerous jobs.
  • Cultural expectations of men are narrow. Be successful. If you have a family make sure you support it. If you fail at these tasks, there’s no place for you in society. This in turn leads to men being 3-5 times as likely as women to be homeless or commit suicide.
  • The societal structure that is our educational system produces far more women than men who go to college and university.
  • Men’s harsh reality under the current structures leads large amounts of random street violence between men.

I could list more examples but you get the point. It is only when we dare to describe men’s situation in terms of being exposed to unhealthy structures that we can hold our own in a discussion with a radical feminist (or in a discussion with virtually anybody, since the basic views of radical feminism are embraced by almost everyone nowadays, without knowing where they got those views).

Many men are reluctant to talk about themselves in this way. Men don’t like being victims or abandoning their sense of self-reliance. In my opinion this is a good thing, and the strength of the men’s movement rests on this very attitude.

However, it is perfectly possible to describe the facts of men’s situation in neutral terms, without whining or abandoning individual responsibility for one’s own life. In fact, I believe that the only way to ever have men’s issues reach the political agenda is by daring to describe how men are hurt and suffer in the face of cultural and societal structures.

It is very hard for a politician, or for anyone wanting to come across as a decent person, to say that they don’t care about male suicides and male homelessness. Consequently, the very moment a critical mass of individuals start talking about structures hurting men, that is the moment radical feminism crumbles, once and for all.