Posts Tagged ‘male disposability’

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.

Men Are Expendable

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Throughout human history, and to this very day, societies around the world have tended to view female lives as more valuable than male lives. This sentiment is regularly expressed in a variety of ways. Women and children first. You should be ready to die protecting your woman and your family. A real man will fight for his country, and a coward will run off and avoid the draft.

Men have consciously or unconsciously always been considered to be the expendable or disposable sex. This may sound like a horrible stance, and it certainly is when viewed through a more modern and humanistic lens, but this way of looking at men is actually quite understandable when viewed through a historical and evolutionary lens. As I wrote in my previous post, the simplest way to understand the phenomenon of the disposable man is that women have always needed to be kept safe to ensure that the next generation is large enough for a culture to thrive, whereas it’s been beneficial to cultures to have men risk their lives in order to create wealth and influence. For now, however, let’s leave history behind and look at our own times.

If you have any familiarity with feminism at all, then you’ve probably heard (perhaps more times than you care to remember) that men are privileged. In a traditional society men are the ones who get to hold down jobs and have a salary, as well as have a voice and influence in the public sphere. Women, however, are confined to the home and not allowed to be part of the public sphere on the same terms as men. As true as this may be, the disadvantages of being responsible for the public sphere are rarely discussed in a feminist discourse.

The male responsibility to handle matters in the public sphere, comes with the expectation to risk your life or at the very least your health. Men are police officers, firemen, soldiers, miners, oil platform workers, construction workers and garbage collectors (yes, collecting garbage is more dangerous than you may have ever considered). Men do these jobs without complaining, and oftentimes without getting any special recognition for the dangers they face. Usually these jobs aren’t very well paid, nor considered high status.

Not all male jobs in the public sphere have been or are dangerous of course. However, the more well-paid jobs where you don’t face physical dangers, usually mean very long working hours and an expectation to work overtime. Having a successful career has usually meant that men have had to sacrifice spending time with their family and loved ones. So it’s actually very hard to think of a male job in the public sphere that hasn’t been accompanied by substantial sacrifice.

I think it’s perfectly OK to point out the imbalance between men and women that has existed in the public sphere, with women basically having been shut out for a very long time. However, to simply label this a form of male privilege, and not discuss the very obvious drawbacks and responsibilities that accompany men in the public sphere – is not something I’m comfortable with. If we are attempting to do a sophisticated analysis of gender roles in a traditional society, then we need to have as full a picture as possible of the situation. Pretending that men have been given a good deal at the expense of women is simply not accurate: men have paid a very high price for being responsible for the public sphere.

Transcending the notion that men are expendable, and uncovering the unconscious belief that the lives of women are more valuable than the lives of men, is something of primary importance in a gender liberation movement beyond feminism. This does not mean that men need to be stripped of their dangerous jobs, or that women should be forced to do exactly half of the dangerous jobs. Not at all! Men may actually be more prone to take on these roles and jobs due to a mixture of cultural expectations and biological traits, and we need to let men and women be free to choose the jobs they want.

What bothers me though is that the feminist agenda often pushes for equal salaries for men and women, while forgetting that every person (usually a man) performing a dangerous job should be compensated for this financially. We cannot expect men to keep on doing the dirty, dangerous, outdoor jobs while telling them that their wages are to be the same as women who do office tasks of similar qualifications but in safe, indoor settings.

It’s also crucial that we keep on improving the safety regulations in all professions where physical safety is an issue. Doing so will send a loud and clear message that we do care about the lives of men, and that no longer will men be considered expendable entities whose lives can be sacrificed in order to create wealth. If men can be considered to be intrinsically valuable, even when they do not perform, then we will have taken a huge leap towards gender liberation.

Culture Wars: The Need for a Culture to Be Competitive

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Roy F. Baumeister is a social psychologist who in 2007 gave an excellent speech on the topic “Is There Anything Good About Men?”, that I resonate deeply with. Unfortunately I wasn’t there to hear him speak, but a transcript is freely available.

The gist of Baumeister’s talk is that the feminist assumption that men and women constantly compete for power within a culture, may not be as true as many people think. In fact, feminism has created a false worldview of the sexes always being against each other and competing for power. The reality is that throughout history men and women have usually been forced to cooperate in order to obtain adequate amounts of food and to ensure that their offspring survives and thrives.

We approach a much more profound truth when we realize that every culture has always competed with other cultures for power and influence. The largest determinant of how cultures have been organized through history is not a power struggle between men and women, but instead a competition between different cultures. Cultures have had to be organized efficiently enough to be able to maintain or even increase their power and influence, or else face the possibility of being dominated or subsumed by another, more efficient culture.

So why has there been this constant competition, whether fierce or subtle, between different cultures? Why haven’t cultures been able to get along peacefully, trusting each other to only want what best for everyone? Nowadays, we see that lots of countries do try to stay out of wars as much as possible, and two democracies have still never gone to war with each other. However, historically speaking, cultures and people simply weren’t as evolved as we are now, so the primitive threat of being overrun or dominated by your neighbouring culture was always a very real threat.

Cultures therefore needed to be as efficient as possible, in order to stay competitive and also to simply be able to gather enough food to survive. As it turns out, what all successful cultures have discovered is that it is very efficient and beneficial to use men for most or all of the high risk tasks, while keeping women as safe as possible. As you are probably aware of yourself, this pattern of using men for high risk activities while keeping women safe remains with us until this day.

But why did women need to be kept safe? Why couldn’t women participate alongside men in the dangerous activities? The safety of women has always been crucial, because it’s only women who have wombs – and wombs are the limiting factor for maintaining or increasing the population of a certain culture. Men’s biological contribution to reproduction is simply a batch of sperms, and sperms are abundant. Each man could potentially father hundreds of children with hundreds of different women, which means that men have never been a limiting factor in the reproduction process.

Each woman, on the other hand, can only be pregnant with one baby at a time (on average), and each pregnancy lasts for nine months. Losing the life of a woman is thereby equivalent to losing a womb, and from the perspective of a culture competing with other cultures, this represents the loss of a “baby factory”. Lots of children being born increased the chances for a culture to expand its influence and power. When population grows, you have more people available to produce wealth by working, trading or fighting. And in this context wealth creation is pretty the same thing as becoming more powerful and influential.

We can now see that the competition that has been going on between different cultures or societies around the world has been a major catalyst for the evolution of human culture and human societies. Constantly striving for wealth creation and better organization, in order to be able to compete better, has fueled the process of increased civilization and has given us more sophisticated ways of being human. We’ve simply become less primitive and more evolved.

The downside to all this is that even to this day, we view men as expendable and male lives as less worth than female lives. Men are still the ones who go to war, and who do the dangerous jobs such as being a police officer, fireman, coal miner, oil platform worker and pretty much any dangerous job you can think of. This is an issue that is currently not addressed properly in the gender debate, and feminism does not have this issue on its agenda.

Feminism has very much realized that the whole business of keeping women safe, helped contribute to women being shut out of the public sphere, which isn’t desirable in a modern society. However, if we are intellectually honest, we need to look at the flip side of the coin, and the fact that because of cultures competing in the past (and to some extent still competing) – men now have a gender role where they are considered expendable or disposable.

Stay tuned for the upcoming post where I’ll address this universal male expendability in a lot more detail.