Posts Tagged ‘gender equality’

Where did feminism go wrong?

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

This is a question I often ask myself. How could a movement that originally was fighting to attain the simple goal of civil and legal equality between the sexes, turn into a radical feminist movement that considers all men to be inherently oppressive or even evil?

Sure, there are still many feminists who still belong to “old school” feminism, and they are usually very sane people. The best example is perhaps Christina Hoff-Sommers who has written a couple of excellent books about radical feminism and its unfortunate consequences in the US.

Let’s have a look at the factors that I believe turned feminism into a mess:

  1. There was a lack of clarity from the start of the feminist movement. Was it a movement for gender equality, or was it a movement that promoted women’s rights? This is a huge distinction, and the assumption that these two struggles are always compatible is far from true.
  2. This lack of clarity is also apparent in the name chosen for the movement. If it had been called equalism, then the end goal would have been clear. However, the name feminism implies that the end goal is female supremacy or something along those lines.
  3. By creating a strong feminist movement, men’s issues are automatically defined as being non-existent or at the very least far smaller than female issues (which is something I dispute in my writings). Originally this was less of a problem, since feminism was focusing on equal rights in society, which was an honorable struggle and a process that needed to happen. However, once equal rights had been implemented, feminism still assumed that women were far worse off than men, and more in need of a strong feminist movement than ever–without stepping back and looking at the wider picture, a picture which included men’s perspectives.
  4. Men have been far too silent in the gender debate, a silence which has probably been interpreted as men feeling guilty, or at the very least having no good arguments to counter the increased radicalization of feminist theory. This has allowed radical feminists to get more and more government grants and influence, which in turn has given them more resources to come up with ever more radical theories that make men responsible for every conceivable evil. Gender study departments in universities around the world, can now hide behind the respectable façade of higher education and use tax payers’ money to promote the theories of radical feminism.
  5. Radical feminism absolves women from personal responsibility in their lives. It’s all the fault of the patriarchy, a mythical structure which means that men always get the good deal in life… This is a seductive stance for young women, especially if a university teacher that you respect tells you that this is how the world works. This means that equity feminism and other branches of old school feminism, that emphasize women’s personal responsibility in creating better lives for themselves, have a harder time gaining new adherents.

There are many more factors of course, but these are some of the key points in my opinion. Feel free to add your own points in the comments.

Gender dimensions

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

When I think about gender issues, I always try to touch base with four different basic dimensions. I find that it’s very easy to become lost in one of them, so I consider it a good practise to keep coming back to all four of them. In this post, I’ll simply describe the four different dimensions I work with.

I. Culture

One important aspect of culture is that men and women have different value spheres, from having had different gender roles for thousands of years (quite possibly innate factors affect these values spheres as well):

  • Female value sphere: nurture, create deep relationships (needed for children, and to make sure the father doesn’t leave), focus on raising children, keeping the children and yourself safe.
  • Male value sphere: take risks, be disposable, cooperate in a “shallow” way with other men to get things done, compete with other men to be successful.

Gender roles thus have a strong culturally constructed component, that cannot be ignored.

II. Society

Society’s institutions were created by men, as feminists often point out. But these institutions were also created to be staffed by men – disposable men as it were – which also had consequences (men being killed or hurt, or men having to spend most of their lives away from their families). If we want to reform these institutions, one way may be to bring in perspectives from the female value sphere (a process that started when women first entered the workforce, but which still has some way to go). We also need to remove the structures that keep men disposable, a process that probably could be helped by applying some of the female value sphere to men as well.

III. Innate factors

Modern research shows us that gender roles and gender patterns are influence in a very real way by brain differences, hormonal differences and body differences (such as women giving birth and breast feeding, while men have superior upper body strength).

While body differences and hormonal differences have been accepted for a long time, brain differences are more controversial. However, research has accelerated during the past couple of decades, and we now have ample proof of these differences:

IV. Inner psychology

Examples of this dimension include:

  • How do women feel knowing that most men have the physical strength needed to overpower them?
  • How do men feel about becoming a man, when manhood means disposability?

How many dysfunctions in either gender are related to these facts?


Gender issues cut across disciplines, and any intelligent discussion around gender needs to include at least these four dimensions.

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.

Equality Need not Mean Sameness

Friday, March 20th, 2009

These days there’s a lot of confusion around what gender equality really means. Will we have reached gender equality when half of all CEOs are women? Or will we have reached gender equality when women and men are exactly the same except for their reproductive organs?

Unfortunately both of these criteria seem to be prevalent when judging whether the sexes are equal or not, and policy makers – at least in Sweden and many other countries – tend to think that the sexes will remain unequal until half the CEOs are women and both sexes behave in the exact same way. 

Since we haven’t reached that point, affirmative action for women is seen as more or less acceptable. However, these “sameness criteria” have nothing to do with authentic gender equality, and instead introduce an element of confusion when discussing this subject.

Assuming that equality means sameness is inherently problematic since if you want men and women to make exactly the same career choices, family choices and lifestyles choices, then you are basically trying to fit individuals into your own preconceived notion of reality.

A Better Definition

Equality between the sexes simply means that men and women have equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities. According to this definition we need to remove all legal discrimination as well as break down stereotypes that prevent people from leading the lives that they want. Everyone should have equal access to education, the labor market, government grants, and so on. If you believe in this definition of equality, then all kinds of affirmative action are rejected, since affirmative action is a form of discrimination.

However, achieving this kind of gender equality need not mean that men and women become the same!

Men and women may very well 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.

By dropping the criterion of sameness, gender equality becomes much more achievable, and does not limit individual freedom. Gender equality needs to be about giving women and men more choices, not imposing new stereotypes of how each sex should behave. And claiming that men and women can and should become completely similar is nothing but another kind of stereotype.

My Personal Opinion

We all know that men and women make different lifestyle choices, and this is generally seen as a sign of cultural programming and gender stereotypes having their way with individuals who are out of touch with their true desires.

I agree that cultural programming influences the choices of men and women in a very real way, however, I disagree with the assertion that all gender differences are culturally constructed. Research has shown that biological differences between the sexes exist, and in my opinion 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.

But you know what? I don’t even care if you agree with me on the biological differences between the sexes. As long as you defend the notion that equality means equal opportunities, rights and responsibilities – while rejecting affirmative action and other forms of discrimination – then we are basically working towards the same goal.

However, I will say this: I cannot help but find it offensive that many branches of feminism claim that all gender differences are culturally constructed. By saying this they basically claim that most people are out of touch with what they really want out of life, and that people allow themselves to be shepherded in whatever direction that stereotypes dictate.

Do you personally feel like your own life is 100 percent controlled by stereotypes and cultural structures, or are you able to make choices that go against that which is expected of you?