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.

Are you religious? Are you really?

First Humanist Society of New York

Image via Wikipedia

The Problem

I don’t just follow commands from an institution that thinks it is better than me, the church (or should that be the British Humanist Association?)

– ‘jfe261’

And I want the British Humanist Association to stop telling me how to fill out my census form.

– ‘Benulek’

I think the BHA needs to be more realistic about the situation: you can’t tell people what constitutes “true” faith or observance.

– Porthos

All of the above quotes are from an article on the Guardian website about the British Humanist Association’s (BHA) latest plea – that lapsed religious folk and non-believers actually tick the most appropriate box on the 2011 census form: no religion.  Some people, however, seem to take this as an affront on all religious folk and people of faith.

What’s Going On?

The BHA aren’t asking people to lie on their census, or to convert to atheism for the sake of the census.  Instead, they want people to be honest about their religious status because it is important to how the country is run and, on a more personal level, how children are educated.

Faith schools in the UK constitute a large proportion of primary and secondary schools.  Many are publicly funded and yet are able to discriminate against children based on their supposed religion or the religion of their parents.  Since there are numerous areas in the UK where school choice is prohibitive or non-existent, many parents lie about their religious status in order to get their child into the school of their choice.

Just to emphasise that point: the UK government supports and subsidises with public money the discrimination of children based on their religion.

Why Don’t They Stop It?

Plainly, the government believes it has a lot of support from the general public.  In the 2001 census 37.3m people put Christianity, or a Christian denomination, as their religion.  By extrapolation this equates to half the population.  Even without the figures for other religions it would seem that there are a lot of religious people living in the UK.  However, church attendance figures tell a different story.

In 2008, the average weekly attendance figures to church show that approximately only 1.145 million people attended church.  Assuming the number of Christians (as reported on the census) stayed steady, this means that in 2008 only 3.07% of Christians went to church.  It simply does not follow to suggest that there truly are 37.3m Christians in the UK when so few of them go to church.

Affront On Religion?

What the above criticisms seem to be suggesting is that the BHA is attacking religion through the census forms or that they are trying to tell Christians how to observe their faith.  This does not seem to be a fair characterisation.

What the BHA are trying to do is to get people to “fess up” and state whether or not they are religious.  “Religiousness” has not been defined in their press release, so we’ll have to try and work out what they mean.

Being religious means observing the rites of a particular religion and imbuing yourself with them.  To use it in a sentence, we may frequently hear people saying “I’m not a religious person but I believe in God.”  There, in that sentence, is a separation between faith (here defined as believing in a God) and religion (following a specific order, reading scripture etc).

What The BHA Is Really About

The BHA wants people to make that separation.  They want people to be honest with themselves.  People should ask themselves “am I a religious person?” and “do I observe the practices of a particular religion?”  Sure, you may have been baptised or raised in a religious household but what about now?  Do you go to church?  Do you read the bible?  Do you say prayers?  The BHA does not think it unfair to ask these questions of people when they should be asking them about themselves.

The criticisms have said things like “don’t tell me how to practice my religion” and the like.  Well, if you feel that strongly about it then you probably are a religious person.  Religion in some people is deeply entrenched and when someone questions your religion you see that as them questioning you.  If that’s the case then you should probably write “Christianity”.

But to those who don’t go to church, read the bible or pray – you need to ask yourself whether you really consider yourself religious.  Sure, you might have faith – you might even believe in the Christian God.  But are you religious?

The government judges its position on faith schools partly on the public’s opinion.  If it sees that 37.3m are in favour of state funded faith schools then it’ll press ahead.  If it sees those numbers dipping, like the church attendance ones are, then it may change its position.  People have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to make their true position heard and they should take it.

Conclusion

Whenever people question the role of religion in our society we must try and steer away from knee-jerk hyperbole.  We must be calm and listen to what they say.  If, afterwards, you think they are wrong then fine.  But if you walk away or stand there with deaf hears, choosing only to react to what you think they are saying then your actions may have unfortunate consequences.

The institutionalised discrimination may continue in our schools.  Throughout the country children and teenagers may not be able to go to the school that they want.  Parents everywhere may end up lying, simply to accommodate their children.  Children may become indoctrinated in a religion that they never truly believe but must follow simply because they have no other alternative.

Personally, I don’t agree with organised religion and I especially don’t agree with faith schools, whether they are publicly or privately funded.  We are fortunate to have such liberal rights in our country where parents are free to bring up their children in a way that they see fit, where a government-endorsed religion isn’t forced upon them.  I don’t agree with thrusting a religion on a child but I agree with the human right that allows it.  However, we simply cannot allow the indoctrination of children to be state-funded, and part of the fight against that starts with adults being honest about their religious beliefs in next year’s census.

This campaign isn’t an affront on religion, it’s an affront on dishonesty and its awful effects.