Posts Tagged ‘discrimination’

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.

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.

My Vision for the Future

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

It’s easy to point out what is wrong with the current gender roles, or to point out how feminism is incomplete and sometimes plain wrong. What’s harder though, is to be able to state a positive vision for the future, without pointing out all the negatives that can be identified in the gender debate.

So what I would like to do in this post is to simply list my vision for the future, i.e. how I would like men, women and gender roles to evolve. In the not too distant future, I would like the following bullet points to become a lived reality around the world:

  • Gender stereotypes have been completely transcended, and each individual is free to pursue the life path that he or she wants. No boy, girl, woman or man is shamed for having a certain interest, or for wanting to pursue a certain career or be a homemaker. Transcending stereotypes does not necessarily mean that men and women will make the same choices on a group level, since biological differences will still remain in the brain and in bodily makeup.
  • Biological differences between the brains of men and women will no longer be ignored, since scientific research clearly shows that such differences exist. However, biological differences aren’t overemphasized either, since everyone recognizes that each individual is biologically unique, and may not have a brain that corresponds to biological sex.
  • Feminism has been replaced by a gender liberation movement that cares equally about the well-being of both sexes.
  • It has become common knowledge that traditional gender roles arose as a reaction to historical circumstances, and that it made perfect sense at one point to have those gender roles, since they were a functional fit to the current conditions. This understanding enables women and men alike to relax, and to refrain from blaming the other sex for the negative baggage that each gender role has.
  • All legislation is gender neutral, including laws concerning military service and the draft. Gays and lesbians are allowed to get married and adopt children, just like anyone else, since there is no logical reason to uphold such discrimination.
  • Men and women recognize that a marriage is not only about love, it is also something that has a huge impact on your life as a whole. Because of this, men and women form agreements when getting married about what will happen to any children if they are divorced, and how each person will survive financially in case of divorce. Financial and social capital are both valued highly when forming such agreements.
  • Biological paternity and maternity are established on all newborns using DNA testing, and legal paternity and maternity correspond to the results of such testing, unless the child is put up for adoption.
  • Discrimination is frowned upon, as are people who try to blame their own shortcomings on discrimination.
  • Schools teach children relationship skills and emotional awareness, so that the children can grow up to use these skills in the workplace and in personal relationships. This decreases the violence that both sexes instigate in the home, and the violence that men perpetrate outside the home. It also lessens the emotional manipulation of girls and women.

What is your vision for the future?

What Is Discrimination?

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Discrimination is a word that is used extensively in discussions about gender issues and gender inequality. However, the word discrimination is often used indiscriminately these days, so there is a real need to reclaim the correct definition of the word.

How is discrimination defined? Discrimination simply means judging someone by their race, gender, religion, sexuality, age, etc – instead of judging them for their competence. If you apply for a job where you are the most qualified candidate, but you do not get the job because you are gay, then you are being discriminated against. This kind of discrimination, which we can call authentic discrimination, is something that has no place in an evolved society and legislation should make sure that this kind of action is illegal.

Nowadays we sometimes hear the claim that women are being discriminated against because they don’t have as many positions of power in the public sphere as men do. As we all know, women are generally underrepresented in corporate management, political positions and leadership positions in general. However, we cannot automatically draw the conclusion that women are being discriminated against simply because there are more men in these domains! Doing so represents an incorrect use of the word discrimination.

If we want to determine whether women are being discriminated against, we need to investigate how the positions we’re interested in were filled. Was the most competent and suitable candidate for the job hired? If this is the case, then there has been no discrimination, period. We can have 70 percent men in a certain workplace, or 80 percent women in another workplace, without having discriminated against either gender. As long as the most competent and suitable people are being hired, we’re rewarding excellence and dedication, and those factors are gender neutral.

In many countries, feminist lobbying is influencing policy makers to support affirmative action for women. One example is Norway, where recent legislation has enforced that 40 percent of board members in corporations should be women. Spain has passed a similar law, forcing companies with more than 250 employees to appoint women to 40 percent of board seats within six years. While these kinds of actions may be seen as efforts to promote gender equality, they are actually a form of discrimination.

If a company that needs to recruit a new board member already has 60 percent men on the board, it will have no choice but to hire a woman, regardless of whether it’s a woman who’s the most qualified candidate. This means that the laws that are now in place in Norway and Spain, and that may spread elsewhere, can actually discriminate against men. Furthermore, the women on those boards will not know whether they got the job because of their qualifications or because the company simply needed another woman to avoid breaking the law. If I were a woman I’d detest being in that situation, I would much prefer knowing that I got the job (or not) based on my qualifications alone.

The rationale for having affirmative action for women is the claim that women have a hard time being taken seriously in competitive careers. Regardless of whether this claim is true or not in a certain country at a certain point in time, the answer is not affirmative action. The solution to a gender problem can never be to make discrimination legal, and affirmative action means legalizing a subtle form of discrimination. If stereotypes are hindering women from succeeding in the workplace, or if stereotypes are preventing men from developing close connections to their children, then the solution is to transcend those stereotypes, and promote a worldview where each individual is allowed to make his or her own choices, regardless of gender.

We need to create a society where every child and every person is given the opportunity to pursue the career or family life of his or her dreams. This means transcending stereotypes that expect every man to be a certain way, and every woman to be a certain way. But it does not mean making discrimination legal, however alluring that option might seem.


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