David asked me a very interesting question, in a recent thread:
Hi, Pelle. Regarding free speech, could the Lawrence Summers thing have happened in Sweden? Could a university president be fired for saying the things he did? Can you speak of any ways that men are better than women in Sweden other than weight lifting or mixed marital arts?
Here it seems you can say that women are better than men in any number of things, including many cognitive/emotional ways, but if you suggest men are better in cognitive/emotional ways I think you take a big risk in getting labelled sexist.
Whereas you could say things like women are better communicators and have better emotional intelligence and not have anything happen, I think you might get in big trouble and perhaps even be fired if you said something analogous in favor of men, perhaps partly because women or women’s groups might complain if you said something like that but men wouldn’t.
We have the very same problem here in Sweden, so I addressed this issue in my Swedish book on gender issues.
Here is an excerpt from my book, where I comment on the double standards regarding one gender having better skills than the other. I ran the passage through Google Translate, and then cleaned up anything that was incomprehensible:
Let’s do a little thought experiment to see how we reason about gender in our culture.
Some people argue that the problems that exist in our civilization – such as war, environmental destruction and violence – are the fault of men. Men are the ones who have had power in society since time immemorial, and therefore men should be held responsible for things gone wrong. There is a clear logic to this argument, let us accept it as true.
With the same logic, one can argue that the positive things that have occurred in our civilization – such as technological development, prosperity and democracy – are the result of men’s work. But somehow this reasoning is not put forward as frequently.
Instead of asserting that men have created these positive values it is emphasized that women did not get a chance to participate in the building of society – until relatively late in the process, and therefore it is unfair to pay tribute to the men. The women could have done an equally good job if they had had the chance. This argument has a clear logic to it, so let us accept it as true.
The major question that then arises is: If women would have been able to build a civilization just as well as men, would they not have been able to create as much war, environmental degradation and violence? If we believe that women are just as capable of all the positive characteristics of men, do we believe that women are just as capable of all the negative characteristics that men have?
If you argue that women would have been able to build all that men did, but at the same time believe that women would have created fewer wars and less pollution, then you believe that women are a superior life form. Unfortunately, this type of reasoning is far from unusual.
This kind of thinking is exemplified by the Danish author Hanne-Vibeke Holst when she is interviewed by DN:
“So, I’m not saying that men are not human. But they have a tradition of resolving conflicts through violence. Women have a tradition of resolving conflicts by peaceful means. Therefore, overall, it is very important that women are in the highest positions in the UN, at the highest policy levels. Madeleine Albright has certainly sent men into battle, but I think she really thought about it first.”
Holst believes that women are more peaceful, but does she believe that men have positive qualities that women lack in their leadership? Would she be ready to name a positive quality ín men, that women do not have to the same degree? If not, then she unknowingly carries the idea that women are superior to men. If you believe that women are better at certain things, but do not think that men are better at other things, you are basically a gender racist.
Personally, I believe that both men and women are capable of great deeds and misdeeds, and that both sexes have contributed to the positive and negative conditions that exist in our civilization. To the extent that there are differences between the sexes, I do not believe that these differences make one sex better or worse, just different.
Have you come across this issue? Where it’s OK to claim that women are more peaceful and better negotiators, but completely taboo to say that men are better at other things?