Is it sexist to laud the success of women when they come at the expense of men?

In short, no.

There are two articles in today’s Observer that talk about how woman’s rise in salaries and choice have led to a significant change in the dynamics of the workplace and their relationships with men. Naturally, both of these articles are in praise of this change, referring to the “old” times of gender inequality, both in terms of career and family (and other things too), as a dark shadowy past that we are only now starting to escape. I use the word “we” there because, even though I am a man, I recognise these changes as an inherently good thing and therefore identify myself with those who would laud these things as good (even if it could be shown that it would personally disadvantage me, as I am a man).

The two articles in question are also available online:

Diversion

To jump ahead, ignoring the content for a moment, it’s genuinely very startling to see comments saying things like:

So, inequality is “unfair” when it is skewed in favour of men, but “fair” it is skewed against men.

Not sure I see the fairness in that myself.

LeeDauphin

And:

Men paid more than women, “stonkingly, grievously unfair”.
Women paid more than men, “shaft of sunlight in the gloom”.

Someone explain this to me.

MacGyver

And:

What’s with all these articles about women? I repeat why does everything have to be constructed within the realms of gender?

GiftedOne

Now, I haven’t formally studied gender-ethics, gender-politics, or any other field specifically through the lens of gender; I had the opportunity to do so while studying my undergraduate degree, but the closest I came was, when studying welfare, spending some time studying the state provision of child care resources in various countries. As you might expect, most of the participants were women and – interestingly for me – as the class was in the evening (I had to attend then as I had a scheduling conflict) most of these women either worked, had kids, or both.

To be honest, while I learned about welfare provision and I also learned about these women and it was an eye-opening experience for me. They all loved their children and many of them their jobs, and they wish they could find a better way to balance them, especially with the added pressures of getting a degree. Their partners ‘helped’ them with this but, in the end, that was what it was: ‘help’. When citizens are in need of help, it is the responsibility of  government to step in and help. It seems that in the UK, as with so many other countries, the government was incapable of recognising the hardships that could only ever affect one half of its population: women.

What the commentators have said at the end of these articles is that they cannot understand why “everything these days” is skewed in terms of gender. I can understand the frustration, I suppose, when you see female journalists talking about equality but ostensibly doing so in dichotomous terms of “men vs. women”. But what these commentators don’t understand is that this is the only way to talk about these issues. How else can we talk about female-specific issues and problems without specifically talking about women? That is a truism if I ever did see one.

To put it another way, if we were going to talk about the issues surrounding people who are black – for example, how there is a variation in sentencing which suggests that non-white offenders are more likely to go to prison than white offenders for the same crimes – then you can only ever talk about in terms of a comparison between white people and non-white people; to do otherwise would completely skirt around the issue. For issues surrounding women, there are many that are still very real today. When talking about how the tides are turning for women, you can only ever talk about in terms of how it affects men too.

Inversion

So – returning to the articles – Hinsliff’s article starts with the sentence “It is not often, in these dark times, that one stumbles across a snippet of good economic news.” This sentence then leads on to an exposition of how it is good news that they pay gap between men and women has shrunken to a record low. In fact, she says, women in their 20s are now earning more than their male counterparts. Why – as a male in his 20s – do I think this is a good thing? Because it’s a change. Precisely because the system was so out of balance for the past … erm, forever, that to see women finally gaining parity (even the upperhand) in this single aspect of life is a step towards equality. If one believes that equality is a good thing then one must see this as a good thing.

Now, there are criticisms that say things like, ” but women are starting to overtake men, almost alarmingly, in terms of education and wealth, and this will simply lead to new inequality: that of men”. I disagree, I think it is alarmist to say that this is the thin end of the wedge, and that as soon as women are in a position to “grab power”, that they will use it to subjugate men. It’s an easy – and boring – target to say that feminists wish to destroy all men and hold them back; and seeing as there are still so many strata which women are still truly unable to penetrate, such as parliament – particularly the front bench – and boardrooms, for example, it seems unlikely that there is any evidence for this at all.

Bolick has done a great deal of work while researching her article and she lists many interesting points like these, which I won’t repeat – the best thing to do is to read it for yourself. It is long – some 5,000+ words – but it encapsulates seemingly all major gender-specific aspects of a woman’s life: careers, family, relationships, etc. As a male who is not personally privy to these potential tribulations, it’s an interesting mix of sociology, statistics, and personal viewpoint.

Anecdote

Instead, for me, I want to keep things light – personally, I like the idea of intellectual, financial, and political (i.e., “power”) parity with women. I do enjoy female company, whether it is for simple conversation, intimacy, romance, or sex. The great thing about equality is that there should be no surprise if a woman says the same things about men (or other women). It still surprises me that people are surprised when a woman takes a strong interest in, say, her career, or her children, or both, politics, or even just sex (especially when these exclamations of surprise come from women).

I remember when I first started dating women, I found it incredibly frustrating that there were these strict gender stereotypes that were meant to be adhered to. As a male, despite not having a job, I was expected to pay for everything. As a female, she was not allowed to ask me out – instead she had to “drop hints” that she was interested and hope I pick up on them. The “dating game” is littered with these outmoded, useless, prohibitive bullshit rules that try to contrive how a relationship “should be”. I am sure that there are many men and women out there who still hold these stereotypes up as law. If modern “romantic comedies” are anything to go by, there are. As a friend once said to me, romantic comedies peaked at When Harry Met Sally and have been in decline ever since.

So what if the women you’re dating is earning more than you? So what if the age gap is atypical and she is older than you? So what if her title is more impressive than yours? Crush your ego, man, and look at the positives. I like the idea of the woman wanting to pick up the cheque after a meal. I like the idea of discussing ideas and thoughts that an immature woman would not be interested in. I like the idea of a woman who is successful at her job. Why are these things considered bad? Perhaps I am more alone than I thought in thinking that strong, thoughtful, independent women are interesting and attractive.

Conclusion

I find it very surprising that when confronted with these issues, some men’s first response is simply to lambaste women for their success. It is certainly a bad thing if men were to fall behind in terms of education and wealth, and a new chasm opens just as one closes up. But we should not criticise the successes of women who, through facing adversity and sheer bloody-mindedness, they have managed to promote themselves as equal people in our society. If anything, it is a wake up call – it should be taken as a way to shake up our lives and dispel old-fashioned ways of thinking about gender relationships. It should raise us out of our complacency and enjoy a new level of competition.

The doomsday scenarios that some knee-jerk commentators anticipate are too far in the horizon to be considered a possibility at this point. I think if you were to ask men and women about this, it would be mostly men who see these sorts of issues as divisive rather unifying; a bad thing rather than a good thing. The men could respond that women are just biassed because it benefits “them” more than “us”, which  would (ironically?) not only reinforce suggestions of dichotomy and divisiveness, but totally ignore the benefits that it would bring. Equality is a good thing and if it means that women outperform men in some aspects of life then so be it – but this is still a good thing and merely adds to the wonderfulness of this change.

I genuinely rejoiced when Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said “let’s eat puppies”…

Cannibalism, by Leonhard Kern, 1650

Image via Wikipedia

A brief summary of what Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstall said can be found on the Guardian website, but for the sake of saving you a click allow me to paraphrase:

Let’s eat puppies.

OK, he didn’t say it like that – but what he did say was that there is no moral difference between the eating of puppies and the eating of pigs. After all, it is merely a social difference that we – on the whole – choose to eat to pork rather than puppy. You know what? He’s right. I rejoiced not because I particularly want to eat puppies (I would probably try it) but because it was a win for logic and reason (and it lets me cite my Master’s dissertation in an article).

Veganism

For my Master’s dissertation I asked the question “Is survival cannibalism morally permissible?”, a question, seemingly, that had never really been directly asked. However, there were nuances of it when you looked at the works of philosophers who talked about the consumption of animal flesh, and I think I successfully teased out the best ones it my dissertation.

A common citation for those arguing for in favour of the abolition of meat-eating is the famous bioethicist, Peter Singer. Peter Singer is a vegan himself, supposedly so moved by the force of his own reasoning that he moved away from omnivory and his day job to focus on bioethics. His book, Animal Liberation, is an impressive, well-argued, accessible book that is worth reading by anyone who eats anything (so, no super models).

One of the key arguments in the book – one that he makes early – is that there is a sense of speciesism amongst meat-eaters where they make arbitrary demarcations between animals that are okay to eat and ones that are not. So, we say pigs are fine to eat but not puppies; chickens but not ravens. He examines numerous arguments that people might offer in defence but it always comes down to one similar argument – “but they’re pigs” or “but they’re chickens“.

This argument, he says, has been used countlessly in the past to justify other atrocities – the slave trade and racism (“but they’re black people“), the oppression of women (“but they’re women“), and in the case of cannibalism (“but they’re human!“). None of these arguments are based on any sort of facts or reliable evidence – they are just based on the values of “we are us” and “they are them”. One cannot help but feel inclined to agree with Singer on these points (at least when they are presented so generally).

Snips and Snails and Puppy Dogs Tails

Indeed, when you examine Fearnley-Whittingstall argument with this context in mind it’s hard to refute it. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised that I could not find an article of outrage on either the Daily Mail or Daily Telegraph website – one was neutral and the other (the Telegraph) conceded but said that there was evidence that it would be difficult to breed dogs for meat, as if that was the salient point.

The salient point is in our values. Values are things the ends that we find important; goals in life that we strive to accomplish; the things we want around us in our lives. Values are ‘arational’ in the sense that they can be rational, irrational or neither – we may value something for reasons that simply do not exist, and what is valuable to one person may not be to others. Think of something you like doing – do all people like doing it? Is it conceivable that there are people who hate it?

When we think about puppies, we might conjure up images of playful pets, certain television adverts, or simply an animal that you are apathetic to. You may, however, think of your next meal. You may think “I wonder what puppies taste like?” This is a valid and reasonable thought – it’s not disgusting or vile; it’s not something to be concerned about. In fact, if you were to substitute ‘puppies’ for ‘humans’ I may not even blink an eyelid at you.

All it is is culture – the values we are brought up to believe in and the ones that are reinforced daily by our peers, the media and society at large (like nursery rhymes).

Culture

Don’t kid yourself – there were cultures that believed in human cannibalism. Whilst my dissertation only covers cases of extreme hunger, there was a whole world that I simply didn’t have the time to delve into where our entire human history may have been built on the recycling of human flesh via direct consumption of the dead. In many places on Earth, protein would have been a rare commodity and the freshly slain body of an enemy would have made an excellent feast for your kin.

Furthermore, cannibalism was used as a psychological weapon to strike fear into the hearts and minds of rival clans. Could you imagine, being in the jungle with your hunting party knowing that any moment these demon warriors could leap out at you, capture you and then tear your friends’ flesh from their bones at eat it in front of you? These are not just myths – there is strong anthropological evidence of it. This was a cultural thing that ran right through the lives of some people. Don’t think children were spared either.

Any interesting case to consider with cannibalism is that in some cultures it was considered a great honour to eat someone. If they requested you did it, it meant that you were special to them and that they wanted their body and spirit to be united with yours forever. They would even go so far as to crush up their bones to a powder, mix it with liquid and then drink it. Bones are mostly calcium – what better way to get calcium in a civilisation that does not milk cows or an equivalent?

Conclusion

Really, then, there are many interesting ideas to consider. The most important one is that there seems to be good reason to distinguish between animals on the morality of eating them. While some may be repulsed by the idea – which is their right, no one would force them to eat meat – others are not so. They are simply curious and logically making the point that there simply is no good reason to arbitrarily say “it’s OK to eat pigs but not puppies”. There isn’t – attempts to do so will fail. In my opinion, at least, it is simply a matter of cultural values and the personal choice of individuals. If one is dead set against meat in all forms then the matter is already settled; if you’re a meat-eater then the choice is personal. Most will probably shy away, but at least they should have the choice and not some poorly reasoned “this is yucky”-type arguments.

Muslim Extremists do the craziest things.

Muslims clash with police after burning poppy in anti-Armistice Day protest” screams the headline on this Daily Telegraph article to be found here, stoking the fires of hatred as they do so.

It’s arguable that whenever there is a protest of significance the press ought to cover it.  It makes sure that people throughout the locality, region, nation or world here about it and that there can be no argument about suppression.  Sometimes, however, I think there should be exceptions.

Vicious Cycle

The protesters identified themselves as being from a group called “Muslims Against Crusades”, an organisation believed to be a splinter group from Islam4UK.  Islam4UK is notorious Islamic extremist group that was proscribed recently, i.e. banned from existing.  Before this, however, they were a group that believed in a very fundamentalist interpretation of Islam believing in Sharia Law, for instance.

What’s funny about their organisation is the way they conducted themselves in public.  They were massive PR whores, feeding off the hatred that they stoked in a seemingly symbiotic relationship with the media.  The now famous Wootten Bassett non-incident is worth finding out about, especially if you look at how satirist Charlie Brooker reported on it (see the Newswipe with Charlie Brooker episode for this).

In short, they announced that they were going to stage a protest at a place where people publicly mourn the deaths of servicemen and women who have died on public duty.  Naturally, this caused public outrage with the usual vitriol of “it’s disgusting” and “it’s an outrage” spurting from whatever vox pop reporters could find on the streets.

After a media frenzy lasting only a week, Islam4UK called it off.  The police said that they never even received an application from them to hold a protest there.  The whole thing was a hoax.  Of course, this didn’t stop a 400,000 strong anti-Islam4UK Facebook group from being created and anti-Muslim sentiments being poured out across the nation in newspapers and the internet.

The media loved it.  It was controversial.  It riled up everybody.  It sold copy.  For them, this was a good news story as it meant that people would want to read their paper and people would be spending time talking about.  Fantastic.

The problem with this, of course, is that this is exactly what Islam4UK wanted.  It was a PR stunt.  Imagine T-Mobile shooting kittens on live TV or Simon Cowell literally flinging his turds at an X-Factor contestant.  This stuff would be all over the news.  AND EVERYBODY WOULD BE TALKING ABOUT IT.  Of course, for Cowell and T-Mobile it would damage their careers but for Islam4UK, who have no reputation, this was a gold mine.

Furthermore, Islam4UK are a group of Islamic extremists.  What they want is animosity towards Muslims.  There are many, many moderate Muslims in the world – ordinary people who are religious but are happy to live in the society that they do, enjoying their faith and letting others do the same.  What extremists want are people to join their side and the only way they can do this is by polarising people, by getting these moderate Muslims on their side.  Of course, the moderates aren’t going to be convinced that they should commit extreme acts without a good reason and the best reason of all seems to be “because non-Muslims hate you”.

By getting non-Muslims to attack Muslims it will make moderate Muslims feel threatened, make them feel that they don’t belong to the community as a whole and, instead, can only trust their Muslim brothers and sisters.  Such a move would galvanise all Muslims against anti-Muslim sentiments, thus creating the army that Islam4UK needs to seriously challenge the established laws and practices of the UK.

Thus, we find ourselves in an odd position.  The more extreme things Islam4UK do, the more the press reports it.  The more the press reports it, the more people make stupid generalised comments about Muslims.  The more Muslims feel threatened the more likely they are to join extremist organisations.  The more members extremist organisations have the more likely they are to do extremist activities.  The more they do these extremist activities the more likely they are to feature in the press.  Do you see the circle?

The Press Is Not Helping

The press want to sell copy.  People buying their paper is good for them and the way to get people to buy it is to either to make them angry or scare the shit out of them.  Extremist Muslims tick both of those boxes.  Good for them and the press, bad for us.

The weird thing about this story in particular is that they use the headline “Muslims clash with police after burning poppy in anti-Armistice Day protest” rather than using the term “Islamists” (usually used to denote the political side of Islam, i.e. those who believe in the establishment of Sharia Law) or “Muslim Extremists” (Muslims that typically hold ‘fundamental’ or otherwise unorthodox views about Islam).

Both of these terms seem far more accurate.  Andy Bloxham, the author of the article, probably didn’t write the headline (they seldom do) but he uses the phrase “Islamic protesters” in the first sentence of the article, thus clearly stating their views on Islam.  The headline writer, however, either didn’t see that bit or, and this is far more likely, believed that the generalised term “Muslims” would sell more copy than the more accurate alternatives.

And So?

Personally, I think the press coverage that these groups get in the press should be stopped.  One of my friends said to me that all protests should be covered by the press.  They have a right to protest and the world has a right to know that they did so.  But with groups like these, ones much like the ‘proscribed’ groups, the benefit of reporting their protest is surely greatly shadowed by the damage this does to Muslims and our society.

If the urge to cover these protests is too much then coverage should be short, concise and matter-of-fact.  There was a protest by some Islamist group, 35 people turned up and that’s it.  Headlines that seem to say “Muslims hate fallen soldiers” are no help to anybody and are merely inflammatory.  Those sorts of remarks exist simply to create controversy where it does not reside and create debate on topics that aren’t even worth debating.  There are people with strange and evil views but they don’t make the paper, why report this?  Because it sells copy.

On a side note, I am aware of the irony of this post.  I’m arguing that the press shouldn’t report on it because it brings it to people’s attention and yet here I am writing about it myself, thus joining it.  Perhaps, but if the Telegraph hadn’t done it in the first place I wouldn’t be writing about it now.  I’d be asleep, not worrying about what stupid thing the media was going to do next.