Posted tagged ‘feminism’

The skinny culture vindicated by science? I hope not…

July 22, 2011

A graduate research project carried out at the University of Tennessee claims to have found that marriages work better where the wife has a lower body mass index (BMI) than her husband. In fact, both men and women ideally prefer a partner with lower BMI than themselves, apparently, but women adapt over time.

The researcher has pointed out that this finding does not particularly suggest that women need to be skinny; it is all a matter of relative BMI. In other words, they just need to be somewhat thinner than their rotund husbands. However, that qualification would probably be lost on the audience, and the risk must be that research of this kind reaffirms the skinny-body-and-diet culture that has created so much psychological and physical harm in western society.

Healthy lifestyles, exercise, nutritious food and the like are all quite proper objectives in today’s culture. But it is not OK to suggest to women that their happiness in life and that of their partner is in any way connected with being thinner than him. We need to lose that kind of message.

Educating women – bad for equality?

April 4, 2011

Is feminism to blame for social inequality and poverty? Do women in employment ‘deprive’ working class males of opportunities? According to British Universities Minister, David Willetts, the answer is yes. In a briefing on social mobility the Minister suggested that feminism was perhaps probably the ‘single biggest factor’ in preventing mobility and causing entrenched inequality.

For readers who might not immediately follow this argument, I could perhaps explain it like this. Well educated people tend to be more mobile and have higher pay. If you have a society in which men receive education and then seek to better themselves, they can avail of whatever opportunities there are out there in the labour market. The opportunities are greatest if their wives stay at home and concern themselves with the household. If however the women are also educated and enter the labour market, then the wealthiest couples will hoover up the opportunities. Wealthy and particularly well-educated men meet and marry similar women, and together they will take the available high status jobs, leaving poorer males to make do with the less interesting and rewarding employment. Social division is perpetuated.

Willetts summed it all up like this:

‘The feminist revolution in its first round effects was probably the key factor. Feminism trumped egalitarianism. It is not that I am against feminism, it’s just that is probably the single biggest factor.’

There is something curiously old-fashioned about all this. I don’t just mean the attitude to women (elsewhere in this he insists he is all in favour of women’s rights), but the apparent belief that the labour market supplies a precisely limited number of jobs unrelated to the economic activity of its members. So for example, it is well established that in general migrants don’t displace indigenous jobs: they enter the labour market and their industry generates more jobs again.

There is also something extraordinarily odd about the idea that we must choose between women’s working opportunities and social equality, and that we cannot have both; that one kind of equality can only be achieved at the expense of another. Apart from the qualms of principle that some of us might have around this, there really isn’t any respectable evidence to back it up.

The Minister has been attacked from all sides for his argument. This has prompted him to produce a further explanation – not a retraction but an elaboration:

‘I am not blaming anyone but I am explaining something in terms of why inequality has widened. I am not trying to reverse the opportunities for women, rather I am drawing attention to the consequences when you are measuring household incomes. I think it is just a statement of truth.’

It is not easy to see where David Willetts wants us to go with this; or more importantly, where he proposes to go with it himself. There is a dangerous hint here of an idea that women’s education is not a good thing. That may not be what he actually believes, but in that case why has he raised this issue at all? In any case, there is abundant evidence that growing the labour pool raises productivity and encourages economic growth.

This seems to be an example of a man who likes exploring where his hypotheses take him. But in his case his conclusions could turn our world upside down and roll back decades of progress in gender policy and rights. The time to stop this kind of thinking is now.

What now for men?

August 15, 2009

As readers may know, I have just been on vacation. On one sunny day in beautiful East Hampton, I was sitting on a street bench waiting for my companion (described in one comment by a reader of this blog as ‘my long-suffering wife’) and was watching a group of children who were playing on the pavement as they also waited. They were all probably around 8 to 10 years old. Two boys, rather big for their age, moved in on a rather pretty looking but smaller girl and started taunting her, calling her a ‘dwarf’ and pushing her once or twice. I was just contemplating whether I should intervene when the girl raised herself to her full (but not substantial) height, fixed her eyes on the boys in a steely gaze and said, ‘Imbeciles!’ I am certain the boys had no idea what the word meant, but they both suddenly backed off, looked sheepish, and sat down on the ground almost disoriented. I relaxed again. She didn’t need my help. In fact, what I had just witnessed seemed rather symbolic.

In a post I wrote about a year ago, I commented on the growing insecurity of men and asked what it might mean, in social terms. It is an ongoing issue, and today again we had confirmation of that in reports that girls are out-performing boys in Leaving Certificate results in almost all subjects. Nor is this a phenomenon typical for or unique to Ireland: similar trends are known to exist in the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Pakistan, and pretty much everywhere else.

Some commentators – wrongly, I believe – conclude that what this means is that the feminist agenda, or the policy to achieve equal opportunities for women, has gone too far and that men are now the disadvantaged. When we look at who occupies key positions of influence and power the picture is not much different from what it was 20 years ago; most corporate board rooms are overwhelmingly occupied by men, as are government ministries, religious prelatures, and so forth. The changes that have taken place have had their greatest effect at lower levels. But that is not to say that there isn’t a problem. It is clear that young males in particular are now disproportionately chronic under-achievers and as a result are often alienated from society; some of them drift into anti-social behaviour or worse, particularly in lower socio-economic groups.

There are a number of causes and so also a number of measures that should be taken. But one of the key reasons for this trend appears to be the lack of male role models for young boys in their formative years. Men are often not sufficiently visible in the home, as they are either excessively absent at work, or absent in bars and other such establishments. When children go to school, they will sometimes only ever experience women as teachers in their junior schools. These are trends we do need to take seriously and to try to reverse. Perhaps one place to start is to tackle student preferences regarding teacher training – we need to persuade more young men to think of a teaching career, so that there is a greater gender balance and more of a chance that boys will see that learning and intellectual achievement is not something peculiarly female and possibly ‘unmanly’. We need to do this urgently.