Posts Tagged ‘gender liberation’

Who Has It Worse?

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

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.

The Steps Towards Gender Liberation

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

How will the public debate around gender issues develop over time? What phases will we go through? Nobody knows of course, but here’s my stab at trying to predict the future, combined with the current phases:

  1. Feminism. Women become aware of the limitation of their gender role and start fighting for their rights. Early on this was a healthy struggle, but since the 60s it has increasingly become a polarizing and one-sided perspective where radical feminism dominates the discourse on gender issues.
  2. Men begin to wake up, and notice that feminism doesn’t care much about them, and may even be hostile toward them in its unhealthy forms. This leads to MRAs (men’s rights activists), masculism and anti-feminism. This process is still in its early stages, but it’s gaining traction all the time.
  3. A growing awareness that both gender roles are limited and have serious downsides emerges. This leads to increased understanding between the sexes, and a will to cooperate instead of trying to prove who gets the worse deal. The nature vs nurture debate is also put to rest, since people finally acknowledge that both variables matter.
  4. We start treating people as individuals first, and their gender as a secondary thing. We neither exaggerate nor deny innate gender differences.

Do you have a different take on where we’re at, and where we’re going? Let me know in the comments.

The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness

Friday, June 19th, 2009

One of my core principles when discussing gender issues is that we need to trust facts and research more than we trust ideology. In my experience, it is also quite common for facts and research to fly in the face of commonly accepted ideological “truths” that have been repeated to the point that many people regard them as facts.

Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfer, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, recently published a very interesting research report about the subjective happiness of men and women. If you want to you can read the whole paper, but the most important findings are summarized in the abstract:

By many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. The paradox of women’s declining relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures of subjective well-being, and is pervasive across demographic groups and industrialized countries. Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging—one with higher subjective well-being for men.

These results are very interesting. What the research shows is that as women have entered the workforce, their subjective happiness has declined. Contrary to what is politically correct, women were happier when they were housewives than they are nowadays. How can we explain these results?

  1. Working outside the home is not as glamorous as feminism would have us believe. Many jobs are exhausting without offering a large monetary reward.
  2. Women are torn between society’s expectations to work fulltime throughout life, and their own desire to work part-time when the children are small.
  3. Young women are taught that they can have it all: a successful career, a loving relationship, beautiful children and interesting vacations. In reality, life is much more messy and you often need to sacrifice what is important to you in order to achieve something that is even more important to you. Impossible standards lead to unhappiness.

The researchers themselves also have an interesting theory:

First, there may be other important socio-economic forces that have made women worse off. A number of important macro trends have been documented—decreased social cohesion (Putnam, 2000), increased anxiety and neuroticism (Twenge, 2000), and increased household risk (Hacker, 2006). While each of these trends have impacted both men and women, it is possible for even apparently gender-neutral trends to have gender-biased impacts if men and women respond differently to these forces. For example, if women are more risk averse than men, then an increase in risk may lower women’s utility relative to that of men.

In effect, what they are saying is that women and men have expected to have certain roles for thousands of years, and our biological and cultural makeup have adapted to those roles. Sudden changes to those roles may cause a stressful reaction in either sex, and according to this research women’s liberation has actually been more stressful to women than to men.

This is not to say that we should go back in time and re-create stereotypical gender roles that offer little freedom to either sex. We need to defend the fact that men and women are free to choose their lifestyles, while remaining aware that making new choices may come at a price.

We also need to remember that equality need not mean sameness, and having men and women play identical roles in society is not the only way to be equal.

Obama’s Council on Women and Girls

Monday, June 8th, 2009

US President Barack Obama recently said these words:

But at the same time, when women still earn just 78 cents for every dollar men make, when one in four women still experiences domestic violence in their lifetimes, when women are more than half of our population but just 17% of our Congress, when women are 49% of the workforce but only 3% of our fortune 500 CEOs, when these inequalities stubbornly persist in this country in this century then I think we need to ask ourselves some hard questions and we need to take a hard look at where were falling short and who were leaving out and what that means for the prosperity and the vitality of our nation.

These are the standard statistics that feminists like to cite. Does that make Obama a feminist? I don’t know, but it is troubling that he uses the wage gap statistic that is profoundly misleading, and that he puts forward domestic violence as a woman’s issue instead of a human issue.

Obama’s words above were spoken as he was announcing the creation of the first ever White House Council on Women and Girls, to be headed by Valerie Jarrett. Jarrett made the following comment:

The council is going to examine all the programs at the federal level that touch on women and girls and we’re going to work to coordinate and make sure that each of those programs is doing everything that it could do to help support women and girls,

The US has a bunch of programs and organizations that support women and/or feminism, and now there’s a high profile council in place to coordinate all of them. As you probably know I’m not a big fan of feminism, but I have nothing against programs for women, who help women deal with female health issues or problems that are specific to the female gender role.

However,  what doesn’t get addressed in the media is the acute lack of programs for men, and funding for the few programs that exist. Men have several health issues and gender roles issues that could use some federal level funding (eg. prostate cancer, male disposability, male shelters for victims of domestic violence, homelessness, boys performing worse than girls in school).

So while it’s great that Obama wants to help girls and women, where is the Council on Men and Boys? Do men have to lose for women to win? I don’t believe that is the case, and I do hope that Obama discovers that men’s issues need attention too, and that supporting men is good for women – just like men benefit from the support women get.

Do We Need a Men’s Movement?

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Regardless of what our personal opinion might be about gender issues, women’s rights and men’s rights, the one undeniable truth that remains is that feminism is an established movement, while there is no equivalent established movement advocating men’s rights.

If you believe, like I do, that the male and female gender roles are more or less equally constricted, then it might seem unavoidable to lobby for a masculist movement, in order to award men’s liberation the same political status as women’s liberation. So is this what I’m actually advocating?

Yes and no. It’s evident that we need a much greater focus on the situation of men and the male gender role than we currently have, however, we need to make sure that those issues are approached in the most constructive manner possible – and without turning an ambition for pragmatic reforms into an ideology or religion.

Before digging into the complex question of how to put men’s issues on the political agenda, let’s have a look at the male groups, institutions and support systems that we definitely need to create, or drastically increase in number:

Men’s groups

  • For men to access their true voices, without any women around to impress
  • To discuss fatherhood
  • For men to voice their pain, this includes personal pain as well as collective pain around the male gender role
  • For men to explore what it means to be a man in a postmodern world
  • To discuss how to be able to focus on one’s career while still being a father and husband

Male support groups

  • For victims of domestic violence
  • For sexual abuse survivors
  • For ex-cons. Since society is unable to decrease criminality, the least we can do is to offer support groups for those who are looking for a fresh start.

Men’s shelters

  • For the 70-80% of homeless who are men
  • For male victims of domestic violence who are currently turned away from women’s shelters

Men’s psychology

  • Do we need different therapeutic approaches for men? Is talking about your emotions the best way for men to develop psychologically?
  • Gender specific psychological research would benefit both sexes

Male bonding 

  • Research shows that men have fewer close friends than women
  • It’s important to reintroduce camaraderie between men, and to transcend homophobia. What’s wrong with a man comforting another man who’s lost his wife, child or friend?
  • Evolving male friendship to mean something more than only doing or watching sports together.

As far as I’m concerned, introducing these resources for men have little to do with politics, and far from all of them will depend on government grants for their existence. I’m also hard pressed to find any arguments against the creation or expansion of these resources, since they address real and pressing concerns among men.

Masculism vs Gender Liberation

But what about the actual political dimension of men’s rights? What is the best way forward there?

A masculist movement may be needed as a temporary measure, in order to put men’s issues on the political agenda, and to raise public awareness around men’s issues. At the moment, most people probably believe that there are no real problems with the male gender role, and that men are nothing but the privileged sex.

The very real risk of establishing a masculist movement is that it could fairly easily become polarized and bigoted the same way that feminism has. Creating a war between an increasingly unhealthy feminist movement, and a burgeoning masculist movement that is quickly becoming polarized, will serve no one.

However, we do need to map out how the male gender role is hurting men, and how feminism is adding insult to injury by making men feel guilty for problems that were created by humanity, and not at all by men alone. Trying to bypass this step, and trying to avoid facing these male issues, will lead to a backlash in the long run.

There is sometimes a tendency amongst men and women alike, to advocate a path for men that exclusively stresses that men need to evolve more, perform more, and so on. As important as it is for men to continue evolving and demand more of themselves, this cannot be done at the expense of society facing the male problems that have existed for thousands of years, and those that have been added more recently by feminism. Men cannot be denied this process, even though we need to keep the process clean and avoid villifying women.

The early work of putting men’s issues on the political agenda may therefore involve a masculist movement, but I’m a firm believer that the end goal needs to be a gender liberation movement that describes all gender issues accurately and doesn’t privilege the pain and experiences of either gender. Such a movement will inherently be balanced and able to resist becoming an ideology.