Posts Tagged ‘history’

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.

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 Workshop

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Last night I came back home from the Netherlands, where I’ve attended a leadership retreat focusing on sustainability. I was both a participant and a teacher at the retreat, and one of my two workshops was about gender issues and leadership.


I presented some of the ideas that I write about here on the blog, especially focusing on how gender roles developed historically, and that the goal was never to oppress either women or men, but to be as efficient as possible in obtaining food and security. In my opinion, it’s tremendously important that we stop shaming men and women for the gender roles we have been handed down.

When we say that men as a group have conspired to oppress women as a group for thousands of years, we are labeling men as evil and women as sheep. Is it really plausible to assume that men have managed to collectively oppress women across all cultures and large time spans? That assumption gives men far too much credit; it is exceedingly hard to maintain an empire, and to continually oppress 50 percent of the population seems like an impossible task. Women also aren’t as meek or weak as the radical feminists suggest when talking about patriarchy having a stranglehold on women since forever. It’s crucial that these historical insights become mainstream knowledge, so boys and girls aren’t taught confusing and incorrect insights about their ancestors.

This is not to say that gender roles haven’t been oppressive, because they have, for both sexes. I’m also not saying that feminism is entirely bad. Classical feminism, the original form of feminism that simply strives for equal rights between the sexes, is an honorable struggle. However, once equal rights have been achieved (which includes any laws about the draft or military service, mind you), then we need to focus on both gender roles, not only the female one. Only looking at the female gender role is far too partial, and therefore feminism quickly becomes outdated the moment a society is fully democratized and has equal rights between the sexes.

I also talked about male disposability and “the missing men’s studies” (hardly anyone studies men’s issues without having a feminist agenda).

All the material was well received by the group and relevant questions showed that the participants were following the line of reasoning without any trouble. People were also curious about my personal experience of growing up in a country where (radical and poststructural) feminism has a strong presence in public policy and the media. My experience is one of having been shamed for being male, so my work on gender issues has a very real personal experience as its starting point.

The feedback after the workshop was the the material and the discussion had been both usable and “fresh”, as opposed to the standard take on gender issues that most leaders and professionals have heard more times than they care to remember. So all in all it was a very positive experience for me, and it fills me with hope that parts of Europe are ready to move on beyond feminism, and into an era where gender roles are looked at with compassion and intellectual sharpness.

Male Sacrifice

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

I visited the American Military Cemetery in The Netherlands yesterday. More than 8000 American soldiers are buried there, most of them represented by white crosses.

All of these soldiers have one thing in common: they were men, and they died because they were men.

Never has my experience of male disposablility and male sacrifice been stronger than when walking around that cemetery. It angers me that many feminists will dismiss male war sacrifice by saying that “men are the ones who start wars anyhow”. Saying that is akin to dismissing women traditionally being stuck in the home by saying “that’s where women have chosen to be anyhow”.

We all need more compassion when discussing gender issues.

The men who lie buried in Margraten, The Netherlands, fought to keep Nazism as bay. As such, they are heroes. And as always, when humankind needed a dangerous task to be performed, men came to the rescue.

Margraten American Military Cemetery

Principles of Evolutionary Psychology

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

What is evolutionary psychology and why is it interesting in a discourse about gender issues? Marriam Webster defines evolutionary psychology as the study of human cognition and behavior with respect to their evolutionary origins. In other words, the way we think and behave nowadays, may well be adaptations to solve recurrent problems in human ancestral environments.

A simplified way of putting it is that if a behavior or way of thinking was advantageous for thousands of years (for example during the stone age), then it may well have been hardwired into the human brain. We are not born as blank slates, and it makes sense that the programming that we are born with be useful for our survival and reproduction. However, what was useful in the past, may not be useful nowadays, even though the programming remains in our brains.

Evolutionary psychology can be a controversial field. Its proponents want to explain all human behavior using this theory, while its detractors emphasize the importance of human flexibility and continuous biological adaptation to the current cultural climate. In my opinion, the truth is somewhere in between those two polarities, and I leave it up to you to determine what importance you want to allot to each stance.

Let’s have a look at some of the basic principles of evolutionary biology and how they relate to gender issues:

  • Since women are the ones who get pregnant (since times immemorial…), women have always been forced to choose a man carefully. A woman can only carry one child at a time, and a pregnancy takes nine months, which means that she’d better choose a man with good genes, because she won’t get very many chances to pass on her own genes. She also needs a man around who’s willing to protect and provide for the child, be it the father or a man who thinks he is the father. This means that the emotional connection to the man is crucial for a women, because the emotional connection is a good indicator of whether he’ll stick around or if he’s only interested in sex.
  • The principle above changed with the introduction of the female birth control pill, which enabled women to have sex without risking pregnancy. However, the old dynamics are still part of female nature, competing with the new dynamics that the pill introduced. This means that to some extent women are still looking for a confident man who can be a good protector, and preferably a man who can provide for the child – even if she’s only interested in a sexual relationship, and not in having children.
  • Men, however, do not get pregnant and therefore don’t need to choose their sexual partners as carefully. Fathering a bastard child could potentially be done at a very low cost, if you don’t have to assume the role of father for that child. However, being a committed father has always been a very good option for men, since in past eras the survival rate of your children was much higher if you stuck around.
  • Since men can father a child at a very low cost while women cannot, women end up being the sexual selectors more often than men.
  • Men are attracted to beautiful women. Beauty in this case is not some kind of esoteric concept, it is simply another word for proportional and symmetric facial features. Since women instinctively know that their looks are important when attracting a man, we have a whole cosmetic and plastic surgery industry catering to the needs of women. Evolutionary speaking, men are attracted to female beauty, due to symmetric facial features being a predictor of good health in the past, and good health is crucial if a woman is to survive a pregnancy, and pass on the man’s genes.
  • Gay men generally care more about their looks than straight men, and know more about grooming and skin care. The reason for this is simple: gay men are looking to attract other men, and even if those other men are also gay, they are still 100 percent men – and therefore attracted to good looks. Lesbian women, on the other hand, are often more relaxed about their looks, since they are attempting to attract other women, and women care less about good looks (even though good looks are still far from unimportant).