Gender agenda: why men deserve consideration too

While issues of women’s inequality have long been rife, men’s welfare issues are at risk of being overlooked

As a male literature student you get used to being told by the more extreme proponents of the feminist school of thought that you are – by the sole virtue of being in possession of a Y-chromosome and a penis – automatically and irredeemably of the devil.

One particularly ardent subscriber to this critical stream railed, rather memorably I might add, against the presence of fathers at childbirth as “a penetration – and I use the term intentionally – of the female sphere”. Quite.

Nobody’s denying that females, historically, have had a pretty rum deal in the equality stakes: from Aristotle’s description of women as “a kind of mutilated male” a couple of thousand years ago things didn’t perk up much, and I use the term intentionally, until sometime last century.

But it is the male of the species that has been looking haggard and under threat as of late. The Sunday Times examined recently the rise of stay-at-home fathers, in the context of both the recession – wiping out many traditionally male-dominated jobs – and longer-term educational trends that have seen females outpace males from GCSEs through to employment. Female undergraduates now outstrip their male counterparts by almost 50% and there is a corresponding disparity in numbers of entrants into high-paid jobs such as medicine and law.

“It is the male of the species that has been looking haggard and under threat as of late”

While you could easily, and not entirely incorrectly, argue that such changes are a long-overdue swing towards economic gender equality, the fact is that the playing field is changing fast and such rapid transformations inevitably bring with them a new set of only partially-anticipated problems. These abrupt changes are accompanied by a background trend of single-parent families, often lacking a male role model, and alarming rates of male-perpetrated crime – in 2006, 80% of crimes were committed by men.

The writer of the Sunday Times piece, in her attempt to make sense of these shifts, revisited the works of the influential feminist Simone de Beauvoir, venturing so far as to posit that it may now be the male who is “the second sex”. And that is a radical claim indeed.

In the light of the looming obsolescence facing the hunter-gatherer you’d think that the creation of the first ever men’s society in Manchester University (MENS society – Masculinity Exploring Network and Support) would be greeted with cautious nods of approval, provided that they avoid the stigma of macho Bullingdon-esque drinking clubs of yore. And in theory at least, this newly founded group does so admirably, taking a proactive approach that aims to foster responsible masculinity and raise awareness of male issues, from testicular cancer to the high rates of male depression and suicide.

But no, the NUS women’s officer Olivia Bailey has found it in herself to be suitably outraged, claiming that “discrimination against men on the basis of gender is so unusual as to be non-existent, so what exactly will a men’s society do?” Clearly she hasn’t been reading The Times. She continued in similar terms, adding, “To suggest that men need a specific space to be ‘men’ is ludicrous, when everywhere you turn you will find male-dominated spaces”.

Such reactionary responses are unhelpful. This isn’t a conspiracy to ensure the continuance of some kind of centuries-old male hegemony – the MENS society does not discriminate on the grounds of gender (almost a third of its members are women), it’s just that the focus is on masculinity and what this means in contemporary society.

Surely anything that encourages an open and honest conversation about our roles and our responsibilities can only be a good thing? After all, males – especially British ones – have never been renowned for being especially emotionally forthcoming and whatever tentative steps we can take towards bettering ourselves ought to be welcomed with open arms. There’s no dark secret lurking at the heart of masculinity, just a grubby, slightly dazed teenager wondering what to do next.

53 comments

  1. Olivia Bailey either needs to resign or be sacked. Such sexism and dishonesty should not be allowed in the NUS.

  2. Indeed, I can’t disagree with John Kimble’s message above, nor the content of this article.

    It seems to me, from my observations in everyday life to studying feminism itself – that feminists have swung far and wide from ‘equality’ into a superiority movement filled with hate for anything male.

    Some may argue “that’s not my feminism…” but it is. These feminists who speak so dishonestly about men in general tend to be influential and relatively powerful. They hold the power to tell us what feminism is – and their message is clear: “We hate men and do not want men to have equality.”

  3. You seem to have missed the point of the Times article. (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/men/article6914863.ece) Yes there has been a rise in house husbands, but this doesn’t equal a ‘threat to the male species’. The men enjoy breaking away from the ‘hunter gatherer’ gender role which you seem keen to reinstate.

    I was surprised to read that you suggest there is a disparity which favours females in entrants to medical jobs – because the article you cited states the exact opposite: that there are currently 94,782 females and 136,876 male doctors in the UK.

    However, I am pleased to hear of the MENS society in Manchester, and I agree with you that this is a positive step. I would encourage the creation of one here at York University.

  4. In response to Karl: your observations have perhaps not extended far enough, because the feminists I know are far from the dishonest man-hating beings you describe. They do not hate men, and do believe there are problems surrounding male equality too.

    Feminism is one branch of gender equality. Masculinism is another branch. Male issues are currently underrepresented, which seems to be the concern here. Unfortunately the debate turns too quickly into an attack on feminism, which is unhelpful to the cause. Male and female issues of gender equality are two sides of the same coin, and should ideally be working in unison.

  5. 8 Dec ’09 at 10:59 pm

    Facts, Facts, Facts

    Tricksy, tricksy – the article actually states the exact opposite of what you suggest Estie. To quote:

    “Ten years ago there were 64,737 female and 132,577 male doctors; those figures have now risen to 94,782 females and 136,876 males.”

    So in ten years the number of male doctors has risen by approximately 4,000 while the number of female doctors has risen by 30,000. And “last year there were 172,925 female undergraduates and only 141,643 male” – so there is a significant gender disparity that is continuing to widen.

    Now I don’t think anybody’s suggesting that it’s a bad thing that there are more female doctors, or that men shouldn’t take an active role in the raising of their children – if you read the Times article you’ll see that male support groups can be fantastically useful, and that the lack of male role models is a major contributor to serious social problems. But attempts at communication and support should be encouraged not branded sexist and “ludicrous”.

    Thomas Gradgrind

  6. More importantly than all this ‘debate’, imagining the first three paragraphs said in James’ Irish accent elicited a rare cackle from my cold cold heart.

  7. Thomas: My point was that the statistic was not given in context. Yes there are a growing number of female entrants, but this is correcting a disparity between the current number of male and female doctors.

    If you read my other comments, you will see I am already aware and in agreement that male support groups are useful. I would be the last person to brand this type of communication and support as ‘sexist and ludicrous’.

  8. Very well said.

    I would also advise reading ‘Higher superstition: the academic left and its quarrels with science’ to learn about the feminist ‘critique’ of the scientific method. I won’t go into much detail, but I think it is largely indicative of the postmodern branch of the feminist movement. This branch no longer seems to be comfortable with the idea of gender inequality as a pragmatic issue that needs to be ameliorated, but rather chooses to ascribe to it cosmic dimensions, proposing that every single social institution is inherently tainted by patriarchy and hence is by definition irredeemable.

    What it proposes is the abolishment and restructuring of the entire social fabric, which would supposedly advance humanity beyond its ‘masculine’ (implicitly taken to mean ‘evil’) past, and bring it more in touch with its ‘feminine’ (= intrinsically good) side. The influence of this kind of superstition on contemporary feminism, even among otherwise intelligent individuals, is truly shocking.

    As for the quote from Olivia Bailey (“discrimination against men on the basis of gender is so unusual as to be non-existent”).

    This rather begs the question: is there a single position in the NUS for which a woman can’t run for? No, not as far as I am aware of at least (even if there’s a position of male representative somewhere, there’s always a female representative as well, and rightly so). But is there a single position in the NUS for which a male can’t run for? Well yes, and ironically enough it is occupied by Olivia.

    Let us not even go into divorces, child custody, positive discrimination, conscription (wherever this is applicable), pensions and so on and so forth. In fact, it is pretty safe to say that institutional discrimination against males is far more widespread these days than institutional discrimination against females. Worryingly, it is far more socially acceptable too, even though it contradicts everything gender equality is supposed to stand for: that is to say, having the same legal rights and obligations, and being recognised as something more than a product of your sex.

  9. George: “In fact, it is pretty safe to say that institutional discrimination against males is far more widespread these days than institutional discrimination against females.”

    The Statistics:

    1) Women are underpaid.
    Women earn 17% less salary than men overall and up to 50% in financial sectors (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/apr/09/gender-pay-gap-city-equality)

    2) Women are underepresented.
    According to the Equality Human Rights Commission (2008) it will take 212 years for women to be equally represented in Parliament.

    3) Women hold only 9% of dictatorships in FTSE 100 companies.

    These gender inequalities are growing as of 2008 due to people insisting there isn’t a problem, or that the problem has reversed.

  10. As Estie points out, the worrying thing about feminist issues today is they continually are being ignored or covered up by people trying to push the view that the fight has been won and there are no more issues to be raised. Or even going a far as accusing feminists of continuing to fight because of a hatred of men in general!

    A quote from Grayling that has stuck with me: “It it as if women have reached a summit after a long hard climb, only to see the view for the very first time. And for the first time to know the length of the journey ahead of them.”

    I think this is a more realistic description of our current state of progress. Yes things have changed and perhaps according to findings I am more likely to get a job than so-and-so who has a penis but the fact remains that I am still more likely to be discriminated against once I gain access to the workplace.

    Again backing up Estie’s point, a gender pay gap still exists and this means more needs to be done to bring equality to our society. Whether this can be done through men’s societies is debatable. A gender equality one perhaps but a men’s society seems pointless to me in the fight to redress gender inequalities. Olivia makes a valid point when she raises concerns about the ‘man’s space’. It has another name: society.

  11. I have to agree that it’s inappropriate to argue that “everywhere you turn you will find male-dominated spaces” when there are plenty of spaces or territories that are female-dominated too. I’ve often been asked (as the guy who has attended WomCom so much that I’ve been parodied in this issue of Nouse for it – indeed the page after this piece) why there isn’t a Men’s committee and the simple reason is that I have never had a problem raising a male-based problem at Women’s Committee.

    If you really think that there’s a problem, feel free to talk to the Women’s Officers, YUSU in general or submit a UGM motion to change the constitution; there is an imbalance in many areas of society (both against women and against men) and it can’t be denied that overall women are discriminated against more (albeit not deliberately for the most part) – it’s an extremely old debate and one that despite thorough airing has never led to the formation of a Men’s Society or Men’s Committee – and most of those that I know who would support one aren’t in favour due to anything other than slight chauvinism so I would be cautious if approaching it.

  12. 9 Dec ’09 at 1:55 am

    A. Catsambas

    Estie,
    George was only discussing institutional discrimination. The difference in wages and appointment to higher positions is not set by law. On the other hand, the legal system tends to award custody of children to women. Similarly, in most countries only men serve as conscripts.

    In addition, if you think about it, the difference in salaries will soon diminish on its own – no further action is required. Let’s think about this for a moment: what is the average age of a CEO these days? Somewhere around 50-60 years old, I’d say. Which means that these people were brought up 30 years ago, when there was a much starker inequality between men and women. So it is natural that there is a much higher number of male CEOs at the moment.

    However, now, this inequality has been eliminated. There are more female university students than male ones. It is thus obvious that there is no longer any inequality to be tackled. The feminist movement has run its course and achieved its (noble) goal. If you disagree with this, please tell me what needs to be done that has not already been done.

    Best,
    A.

  13. “1) Women are underpaid.
    Women earn 17% less salary than men overall and up to 50% in financial sectors ”

    This is a clear case of inequality, to be sure, but inequality alone does not necessarily equate to institutional discrimination. There are many reasons why this has been true, few of them have anything to do with discrimination in the workplace: the fact of the matter is that many women are more likely to put their family before their career. You may think that this shouldn’t work like that, I know I certainly wouldn’t if I ever have a family, but at the end of the day nobody forces you to make this choice for yourself, so you are not in any way victimised as you seem to (want to?) believe.

    In any case, this is already changing rapidly and we can be pretty sure that it will continue to do so: in New York, for example, women already earn 117% of what men do, and in Dallas this figure stands at 120%.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/urban-women-earn-more-than-men-460217.html

    I think this also covers your third point.

    “2) Women are underepresented.
    According to the Equality Human Rights Commission (2008) it will take 212 years for women to be equally represented in Parliament.”

    I am sure that the Equality Human Rights Commission is perfectly aware that extrapolating current social, political or economic trends over the course of two hundred years is a pretty silly thing to do.

    In any case, this is is still not an example of institutional discrimination: no female citizen (in the Western world at least) has any fewer legal and political rights than a male citizen.

    We also conveniently forget to mention that fewer women choose to stand for a position in the first place. You can possibly attribute this to social expectations, but certainly not to discrimination against them. And I would imagine that gender equality is about giving equal rights to people, not telling them what they should want to do with their lives.

    Also, why don’t you take a minute to consider some of the examples I mentioned earlier? How about child custody, granted to mothers in 91% of the cases? How about positive discrimination? How about the fact that women have the right to retire earlier than men? How about the fact that I’ll have to waste a year of my life in the greek army, by mere virtue of the fact that I am male, whereas a greek woman has no such obligation.

    Don’t you think that all those are clear cases of legal inequality and institutional discrimination, or would you say that discrimination against males is acceptable in the name of gender equality?

    Incidentally, after learning about the (admittedly surprising) success of Manchester’s Men’s Society, I think that a UGM motion is in order here.

  14. “How about child custody, granted to mothers in 91% of the cases”. This would only be discrimination if it were entirely based on irrelevances. In fact, it may just be that in 91% of cases it is better for the child to be with the mother. We only have to compare the number of absent fathers compared to absent mothers to see why this might be the case. Or the greater proportion of men guilty of crimes (oddly the article seems to suggest that this is evidence of recent sexism against men when it is far from recent and results from male behaviour).

    “How about positive discrimination?”
    Ex-hypothesi, this takes place to counter ‘negative’ discrimination. If the positive discrimiation goes beyond this that is a problem but we need to focus on specific examples.

    “How about the fact that I’ll have to waste a year of my life in the greek army, by mere virtue of the fact that I am male, whereas a greek woman has no such obligation.”
    This is wrong, but I would argue that what is principally wrong is conscription itself, not any sexist dimension of it. Neither men or women should face conscription, moreover the sexist aspect, which pales in comparison to the issue of conscription itself, certainly does not result from any new feminist wave, but from more archaic sexist beliefs that existed in times of greater male dominance. Conscription has focused on men in pretty much every civilization in history that made use of it.

  15. David, no matter if you call it negative or positive, discrimination is still discrimination. And in a society that would like to call itself fair and meritocratic, even one instance of this is one instance too many – no matter if it works in favour of a man or a woman. As for the argument that it is countering past injustice, I’d say that two wrongs do not make a right.

    “In fact, it may just be that in 91% of cases it is better for the child to be with the mother. We only have to compare the number of absent fathers compared to absent mothers to see why this might be the case. Or the greater proportion of men guilty of crimes”

    Then it may also be the case that the gender pay-gap is justifiable too, in terms of these innate characteristics that, according to you, affect our abilities. I don’t believe that in the slightest, but if one is prepared to argue the former (that women tend to make better parents) then surely this implies that it is equally justifiable to argue the latter.

    “certainly does not result from any new feminist wave, but from more archaic sexist beliefs that existed in times of greater male dominance … Conscription has focused on men in pretty much every civilization in history that made use of it.”

    I agree and I too think that conscription should be abolished. However, as long as it is a legal requirement for men, in the interests of equality the same (or at least a similar form of social service) should apply for women. Try making this point to the average Greek feminist woman though and you’d be lucky if you live to tell the story.

  16. 9 Dec ’09 at 5:47 pm

    Thomas Gradgrind

    On a more light hearted note, can I just point out, Estie, that you complained that “women hold only 9% of dictatorships in FTSE 100 companies.” Dictatorships? A Freudian slip…?! Seriously though, thank-you for your reasoned responses, it’s rare for Nouse comments not to disintegrate into anger and name-calling. But can I disagree with you that such large gaps in educational trends are solely correcting an imbalance: the difference is far too wide for this and raises the question of why males are, from such young ages, doing so much worse in the education system. This, however, isn’t a criticism of females, and I don’t think this article was either. We all need support in life, regardless of our genitalia, so why deny this to men on gender alone?

    David, as for positive discrimination, the most recent example of this that springs to mind is Harriet Harman’s plan to introduce quotas for 40% of all boards of directors to be made up of females, regardless of qualification or suitability. Then it turned out that she had fiddled the figures which she had used to justify her suggestion – that seems fairly inappropriate and discriminatory, does it not? To compare another recent example of positive discrimination which has fallen rather flat, the succinctly named South African BBBEE (Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment) initiative – although implemented with the most noble of intentions – has had the deleterious and thoroughly undesirable effect of driving much of the country’s intelligentsia and skilled workforce abroad. The generations of apartheid that preceded the BBBEE meant that there were not enough sufficiently-educated people to do the roles, and therefore many jobs went to people who were not qualified just to fulfil the quotas which has in turn massively hurt both the country’s economic performance and ability to survive the global downturn. Now nobody’s suggesting that apartheid and discrimination should continue unchecked, but sometimes legislation is not the way forward. See, for example, this piece on maternity leave and the damage it does to women’s careers – reasons like this, which women do have control over, do influence pay.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/article6879270.ece

    Amy – I do not see how you can so easily accept discrimination when it works for you but complain when it works against you. Either discrimination is wrong full stop, or you don’t actually have a problem with discrimination unless it damages your economic prospects. And can you really still believe that ” ‘man’s space’… has another name: society”? Perhaps forty years ago, but not any more. There are still inequalities, of course, but they are no longer so intrinsic that you can fairly argue that society is entirely male-dominated.

    And David, I don’t think the author was suggestion that the high-rate of male-perpetrated crime was either recent (hence calling it a “background trend”) or evidence of discrimination – nobody was forcing the men to commit the crime, but the massive disparity seems to suggest an underlying problem with contemporary masculinity that should be addressed and engaged with, not just written off and disparaged.

    Thomas

  17. 9 Dec ’09 at 6:38 pm

    Robin Lindop Fisher

    It seems pointless to me to try and the compare discrimination experienced by males and females.

    Gender discrimination is, broadly speaking, a reflection of the gender role assigned to an individual in a given society, if an individual’s life choices are not those expected of them as a male/female they are likely to run into difficulty. Society has historically expected women to stay at home and care for their children and expected men to go out to work to provide for their families. It is therefore no surprise that women still find it more difficult than men to enter the world of work (and to be respected once they do) just as men are finding it difficult to enter the world of childcare.

    Any attempt to claim that men or women have it worse is at best going to be highly subjective, as the challenges faced by the two groups are in many ways quite different. At worst these arguments detract from the very real issue of gender equality, and hide the fact that these challenges in fact have a common source.

    Surely the only way to effect a real and lasting change to society’s inconsistent and unjust treatment of the individual on the basis of sex or gender is for men and women to unite in working towards an end to gender roles?

  18. 9 Dec ’09 at 6:44 pm

    Gender Equality FTW!

    Well said Robin.

  19. “Gender discrimination is, broadly speaking, a reflection of the gender role assigned to an individual in a given society, if an individual’s life choices are not those expected of them as a male/female they are likely to run into difficulty.”

    I’d probably go with a less abstract definition: “discrimination based on sex is defined as adverse action against another person, that would not have occurred had the person been of another sex.”

  20. 9 Dec ’09 at 8:08 pm

    Robin Lindop Fisher

    Sounds pretty fair to me George. I’ve been writing essays all day and have probably become a bit over-academic as a consequence!

    The point I was making is that as men and women typically experience different kinds of discrimination it is hard for us to objectively compare them. Which is worse: to be expected to stay home and care for the kids, or to be expected to go out to work and leave the kids at home with your partner? You could make a good argument either way, but in the end it depends on your values.

    What I am arguing for is the choice of the individual to choose his or her own future without society’s definition of acceptable sex or gender roles getting in the way. I would say that it is in the interest of all of us, not just women, to work towards this goal together. Splitting into groups of feminists and “masculinists” is unneccessarily divisive and could well hamper the cause of gender equality rather than promote it.

  21. This is, without a doubt, the most refreshing, balanced, and sensitively discussed conversation I had ever read on the Nouse website. I’m somewhat surprised to find common sense breaking out.

    It is an unfortunate truth that whenever someone says ‘I’m a feminist’ a large number of people turn off, not because of any fault of the person and definitely not their argument but because the word has been distorted by certain people who have taken the core of movement (equality) and turned it into something else. Robin definitely has a point about the divisiveness of groups such as ‘feminists’ and ‘masculinists’, believing in equality shouldn’t require anyone to pick one of the two titles above (or any other for that matter) and wield it like a flag.

  22. OK….fair enough males and females can experience two different types of discrimination and all are as unjust and undeserving as each other, but to list ‘house husbands’ as a form of male repression is ridiculous. Surely it is sexist to suggest that it is inappropriate for a man to be a house husband? Maybe it would assist societies such as ‘Fathers for Justice’ if the role of a man as a carer was expanded upon and not as openly criticised. Personally I consider it another step towards gender equality that men are choosing to stay at home. Also, I read that Times article some weeks back and I don’t recall the men complaining too much about their role as a house husband. Most of them seemed to find it a fullfilling and insightful role.

    Although I think that James’ comments on masculinity FEELING threatened are justified, men are not obsolete, men are not loosing their mascuinity. Society is just developing at a faster pace then ‘gender perception’.

    While I can comment on such I think I would like to express my embarrassment at the comments that Olivia Bailey has made. If I could apologise on behalf of womankind for them I would. It’s stereotypical comments like that which prevent male representation in issues such as male domestic violence and child custody cases.

    The sexism that women have experienced has been solely through deliberately, repressive patriacle societies however the ‘sexism’ that James hints towards has been through a gradual social change that embrace women as equals- no better or worse than men.Surely the use of the statistics that women (on average) are better then men at school and are therefore getting better jobs is logical? It is not because women are repressing or otherwise hindering men. It is just chance that we happen to be better at education. Suggesting that women is a threat to masculinity in the education stakes is like suggesting that men are a threat to femininity because you are better at sports and endurance tests.

  23. George,

    Thank you for your response, I wrote quite hastily and should clarify my meaning. I don’t mean to say that innate characteristics determine our behaviour or abilities or that women must be better parents, that would be ludicrous. However, surely we can admit that there are hormonal and other biological differences betwen men and women that do at least, when considered in combination with environmental factors, have some effects on behaviour and lead to broad, general trends. Disparities in behavioural trends do exist between men and women and though we can put this down to environmental factors we cannot pretend that men and women are identical. You seem to suggest this yourself when you say that women prioritising family over work is just down to choice. Either this choice is free in which case there must be differences between men and women that make women more likely to make this choice, or it is not in which case it is unfair to deny that the gender-pay-gap is an example of the consequences of institutionalised sexism in society. Sexism is still wrong of course, firstly because equality really means giving fair and equal consideration to people’s rights, welfare and preferences even accepting that there are significant differences between them (as humans, Stalin was the equal of Gandhi, though they could hardly have been more different, certainly morally) and secondly because broad aggregate trends do not allow us to say anything about any individuals that fall within the groups. So even if, for example, women average a higher IQ by 2 points, this would not allow us to make any comparisons between the IQ of any one man and woman.
    Returning to the custody example, obviously it would be wrong if those deciding began to make their decision simply upon noting that one party was male and one female or based their decision on this at all, but this does not mean that custody going to females in a greater proportion of cases could not genuinely be what was best for the children concerned. 91% does seem a little high but based on the attitudes towards parental responsibilities and bringing up children among men and women (which I accept may well be largely environmental and may also be partly distorted by the media) I wouldn’t expect the most appropriate figure to be too far away from this. Also, this doesn’t tell as conclusively of institutional discrimination as the gender-pay-gap because it is far easier to be objective about what constitutes good childcare and thus (at least potentially) find in favour of women in a majority of cases for justifiable reasons than to be objective about what jobs and work performance deserve higher salaries as any criteria for this are invented in society and the dice appear to already be loaded in favour of men (why for example, if women are indeed more likely to prioritise looking after a family, should they not be paid for the work they have to do in doing so?).

    Apologies, I’ve only (and incompletely) made one of the points I wanted to, I’ll try and post again later.

  24. “It is just chance that we happen to be better at education.”

    I would imagine that there are some biological factors involved here, as the difference is particularly clear in the earlier years of schooling but then seems to gradually even out over time. Probably the fact that most primary-school boys can hardly stand still for long, let alone pay much attention, plays a role in this. By the end of high school, however, poverty, ethnicity and season of birth seem to have a far greater impact on a child’s progress than gender.

    “Surely the use of the statistics that women (on average) are better then men at school and are therefore getting better jobs is logical?”

    This is not entirely true, not yet at least. Most science and engineering departments for instance are still depressingly male-dominated. But this will even out eventually, if we can change the public image of science and manage to shake off the idea that only male, reclusive social rejects may find an interest in it. Saying that though, I wouldn’t exactly be a poster-child for such a campaign :p

    In any case, the arrogant and rather embarrassing attempts by postmodern feminist ‘scholars’ to redefine science itself (which they view as nothing more than an inherently sexist cultural construct and an instrument of male domination) are certainly not helping here.

  25. Positive discrimination; Thomas, I completely agree that the examples you give are ones where it is unjustified. However I think it’s not impossible to imagine a situation where it could be justified. Suppose a sexist or racist firm repeatedly employs disproportionately few women or members of ethnic minorities. It is very difficult to prove that this is for reasons of sexism or racism as the employers could just say that the candidates that were best happened to all be e.g. male. One can state that one would expect higher proportions of women but occasionally it is necessary to support this statement with demands or legislation. If 50% female employees is a reasonable expectation, perhaps demand 25%. This goal is so modest that I think it’s reasonable to make it a legal requirement. Such a quota may certainly lead to positive discrimination but I think in this case it would be justified in order to bring about some change. I think the mistake made in Sounth Africa was (perfectly understandably) being impatient for change and so not building long enough timescales to bring it about in. Anyway, I’m playing devil’s advocate here a bit, I don’t generally support positive discrimination, apart from anything else it’s patronising.

    George, a Greek feminist may react with hostility to being asked to serve for a year in the army or civil service. But then I might react with hostility if asked to serve for a year in the British army to balance what you’re faced with. This is not because I don’t sympathise with you or because I don’t believe there should be greater equality between us, but because I believe this should be achieved by improving your situation rather than worsening mine.

    As for gender issues in general, violence against women is still a palpable stain and continuing disgrace all over the world and there are places where women cannot travel unaccompanied, drive or work in certain occupations. Even in the UK polls repeatedly suggest worryingly higher numbers of people who believe that if a women goes out in revealing clothing she is partly to blame for being assaulted, while they believe no similar thing aabout men. Religious instituions practicing in the UK continue to openly discriminate against women in their employment practices, I am most familiar with the Christian churches but I believe the majority of major religions in the UK also do this. For these reasons, I believe that to say that feminism has achieved its goal already is naive and dangerous and as erroneous as Olivia Bailey’s comments.

  26. To David.

    Some good points well put :)

    Mind you there’s a bunch of people in this forum that have put their points accross without resorting to being mean. Probably one of themost intelligent comments I’ve come across.

    :)
    Happy holidays everyone

  27. Let’s be honest for a moment, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the battle for feminism is completely finished, nor would anyone suggest that men don’t have their hardships as a result of gender discrimination either. At the end of the day it’s the extreme biggots who make the world a harder place to live in. No one can deny that there aren’t feminists who hate men, just like no one can deny that there aren’t men who are incredibly sexist to women. The fact is the gap is being bridged and there will always be discrimination in a world that is (corny as it sounds) just unfair.

    I’ve personally been discriminated against for being male, I went to a school where it was a majority of females! (I was one of only a few boy students at my college compared to almost ten times the number of girl students.)

    I think we should stop whining and start doing by making the situation better for everyone one babystep at a time! After all with all the disparities in the world, nobody can argue that in this country females are the most hard done by in society, many races and ethnicities often have it far worse than what can at times (but not always) be put down to petty squabbles between men and women without any constructive action taking place.

    THE WORLD WILL NEVER BE PERFECT BUT THAT DOESN’T STOP ANY OF US FROM TRYING TO GET CLOSE!!

  28. 15 Dec ’09 at 2:14 am

    A. Politician

    Olivia Bailey deserves to be suspended or sacked for making such crass and inflammatory comments.

    Men are more likely to:

    Commit a crime
    Go to prison
    Get an ASBO
    Be homeless
    Carry a knife / gun
    Be the victim of crime
    Fail exams
    Get involved in gangs
    Become a drug addict
    Die younger

    These stark facts should not be ignored, they are equally as (if not more) scandalous as under-representation of women in Parliament.

    Womens’ movements have campaigned hard to change attitudes towards women, fight domestic violence, stop the pay gap, get women elected, get women into managerial positions, give young women role models, improve work/childcare options for mothers and increase awareness of female health issues. All worthy causes, fully justifying the need for female-specific campaigns and (at student level) officers.

    However men need a campaign too, particularly in inner-city areas where teenage boys are sucked into gangs, and role models are far and few between. Surely there is room in the society (even the NUS ) for a ‘mens movement’ to attack gang, gun and knife crime, offer support for men who are not ‘traditionally masculine’, improve awareness of prostate and testicular cancer, and involve itself with communities where men/boys are likely to fail at school and turn to drugs, crime, poverty and depression.

    Both sexes (and transgender people) have gender-specific problems which need addressing, there’s no reason why the NUS womens’ officer should deny this or be so insensitive as to state that men don’t need somewhere to discuss masculinity.

  29. 18 Dec ’09 at 8:54 pm

    A. Just Politician

    I agree men should have a space to discuss masculinity, but I do not not agree that the fact that men are more likely to commit crimes in our society is “equally as (if not more) scandalous as under-representation of women in Parliament.”

    That is a ridiculous statement.

    Representation = Power.

    We need more women in Parliament for the laws to be fairly made without bias. Currently proposals to deal with issues that affect women receive heavy backlash, just look at Harriet Harman.

  30. “That is a ridiculous statement.”

    Is it? Why then is it not justifiable to worry about the fact that men are more likely to become criminals? Should we only worry about the social institutions that are failing women?

    “We need more women in Parliament …”

    Fair enough, but that can only happen if more women choose to stand as candidates.

    “.. for the laws to be fairly made without bias.”

    I am not sure exactly what you have in mind to be honest, I would appreciate a relevant example.

    In any case, women compose no less than half of the electorate, I have no doubt that they are perfectly able to choose for themselves who they want to represent their interests in Parliament.

  31. The article has an interesting angle on this issue, but it’d be a bit more substantial if it had acknowledged that this “male becoming the second-sex” situation and it’s related statistics are restricted to Britain and possibly a few other countries. Females still remain secondary in most cultures around the world, so we can’t really say a few reactionary responses aren’t justified. Don’t get me wrong though, this MENS society sounds good, and most forms of feminism irk me. It’s just that, well, this issue is rather restricted in its scope, and an acknowledgement of the fact that it is nevertheless the female who still doesn’t have some important rights in most parts of the globe would’ve made this article more holistic.

  32. Sarah, you are absolutely right. It is undeniable that gender equality still has a lot of way to go in most parts of the world. Even within civilized nations, sexism and violence against women are sadly pretty common. You are of course right in saying that we shouldn’t be forgetting that. Nevertheless, it’s high time we also recognize that the dogmatism, the hyperbole and the blind hatred that comes from some influential parts of the modern feminist movement are doing absolutely nothing to further the cause of equality.

  33. Thanks Sarah for touching upon the level of equality in England in comparison to the rest of the world. We really do live in a wonderful society all things considered.

    Forfive my ignornace but what makes a feminist a modern feminist? I always thought there was only one type- the type that fights for female equality.

  34. “Forfive my ignornace but what makes a feminist a modern feminist?”

    There have been different waves of feminism over the last couple of centuries. I am no historian, but such distinctions seem sensible to me, especially as I have not bumped into many suffragettes lately. Anyway, by ‘modern’ I was rather simplistically referring to third-wave feminism, and my scepticism is mainly directed at its post-structural and constructionist manifestations.

    “I always thought there was only one type- the type that fights for female equality.”

    I will assume that by ‘female equality’ you mean ‘gender equality’. In any case, you are wrong. You will find that many people who believe in gender equality would now be reluctant to call themselves feminists. Also, you will find many self-proclaimed feminists who believe that gender discrimination against men is perfectly justified – the NUS Womens’ officer being a prime example. So, in my humble and rather stubborn opinion, the latter are clearly not fighting for gender equality but are actively undermining it.

  35. My last comment may have been unnecessarily confrontational, my apologies for that. Also, sorry for the spamming – christmas revision is killing me.

  36. As a male literature student, the author of this piece should perhaps show a bit of intelligence regarding the relationships between feminism and masculinity studies. You will find that interests in masculinities (both sociologically and in literary theory) emerged from the philosophical investigations and interventions of third-wave feminism. Eve Sedgwick, one of the most influential literary and queer theorists of our time, cites feminism as the source from which her pioneering studies on masculinites and male relations stemmed.

    It’s a shame the author can’t seem to discuss a need for male equality without taking a pop at feminists (and misrepresenting them as man-haters in the process). All this shows me is that this men’s movement has a long way to mature before it stops simply being a ‘boys club’.

  37. Queer theory, incidentally, is just that – a theory. It is a different perspective on gender and society that is intrinsically unverifiable by any empirical means. But then again, extrapolating wildly from textual analysis and selling their perspectives as undisputed facts is what postmodernists like Sedgwick do for a living. They see no need for a sound empirical method when examining the social; they believe (rather conveniently, one might add) that the search for objective, reliable and reproducible evidence is quite simply irrelevant to their self-congratulatory field of studies.

    The most worrying part, however, is that so many people are all too keen to buy into the totalist mindset of identity politics whenever it suits their political purposes. Let’s face it, no matter how noble their intentions, such theories are effectively indistinguishable from political ideologies, and their disdain for rationalism and the scientific method should be a cause of concern for all of us – as de Goya put it, the sleep of reason produces monsters.

  38. George, you obviously haven’t read Sedgwick (for one example) closely, if at all. She absolutely refuses to draw broad conclusions in her work and goes to great lengths (see Epistemologies of the Closet) to point out that the only broad aim of her work is in its status as an ‘antihomophobic inquiry’. In fact an accurate understanding of the ‘queer’ in ‘queer theory’ is not to reduce observations/analyses of something ‘queer’ down to facts/definitions/pathologies, but to keep meanings as open as possible. It is absolutely not about proving something as fact, but offering possibilties. These key theorists/philosophers have been more influential in how we look at issues such as gender and sexuality than any other group that I can think of. The whole idea that gender is a performative social construct (a notion that essentially provides the framework for gender equal rights campaigns) had not been articulated or explored before Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble. All these accounts are perfectly rational (and provide sound reasoning and evidence for their thoughts). I can’t imagine how you’d go about using scientific method to prove much about gender/sexuality when these issues are socially produced in a culture forever in flux (art, literature, music, movies thus become incredibly useful in understanding the ideologies behind gender construction at any given point). You should understand something a little better before completely diminishing its importance.

  39. lol

    apologies for the ironic spelling errors :)

  40. Anon, you first admit that these theories are essentially unverifiable thought experiments, and then (visibly annoyed) you accuse me of trying to diminish their ‘importance’. I find this somewhat paradoxical – how can an unprovable perspective be any more ‘important’ than the next? It can be more influential, to be sure, very much like the Marxist or the Christian perspectives, but why would an untestable belief system be any truer or any more useful than the next?

    You also say that Sedgwick is cautious enough not to make any factual claims, but only seeks to ‘open up possibilities’. That would be fair enough, if it applied across the board. However, you’ll only have to use your mouse to scroll up if you want to see examples of people trying to present the constructivist outlook on gender and society as a well-established fact.

    Finally, you say that you can’t understand how “you’d go about using [the] scientific method” to understand society, but at the same time you insist that queer theory and similar accounts “provide sound reasoning and evidence for their thoughts.” One can only wonder, what kind of evidence and reasoning is this, given that the search for objective, reliable and reproducible data (which is what the scientific method is all about) is already out of the question? Has the field of hermeneutics provided us with new methods of social research (other than wildly extrapolating from textual analysis) that have so far eluded generations of social scientists? If that is the case, I would like to know more, so please do provide some examples.

    While you are at it, please explain to me why it was possible for the Sokal hoax to take place, and whether this says something about the quality, objectivity and seriousness of this particular academic field – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_hoax

  41. Ok well I wasn’t annoyed as such. I just wanted to point out, somewhat ironically, that the only person who was wrongly positing something as ‘undisputed fact’ was you. Your previous assumptions about ‘postmodernists like Sedgwick’ were entirely inaccurate.

    Indeed queer theorists do provide sound reasoning and evidence for any claims, opinions and thoughts they make and they do not use any scientific method. And no, this isn’t paradoxical. For example, if someone wanted to understand perceptions of gender in the nineteenth century there is no scientific way of doing this – you couldn’t exactly create a time machine in order to travel back and conduct a survey of people’s attitudes. All that remains are art objects (fiction, biographies, documents, books etc) from which we can examine, interpret and offer possibilities about how gender was understood; but these objects cannot contain an essential truth, and so your obsession with verifying everything ‘scientifically’ is really irrelevant when examining cultural art-objects. Credible theorists use these art objects as evidence for their thoughts and puts forward a logical argument (not wild, or irrational) that are not claiming to be ultimate fact but rich, suggestive, and influential possibilities.

    You’re placing an value on verifying something as fact, but social issues surrounding gender and sexuality can never be verified as absolute fact through social or scientific methods. Meanings of gender change over time; consequently, theoretical readings are not static, immune to suggestion, reapplication or reinterpretation but are fluid. Queer theory is the arts, the social and the political – it is not concerned with providing people with scientific fact, and the presence of science is not necessary for people to grasp concepts like the social construction of gender (they’d simply have to open their eyes and observe the world they live in – not an empirically sound method perhaps, but it certainly smacks of something true). So to then mistake queer theory for a scientific field, then criticise it as a failed scientific field is completely nonsensical.

    And I’m not going to try and explain someone’s motivations and the reactions of others in the Sokal affair. Maybe instead you could explain to me why queer theory is stronger than ever 30 years after its instigation, why so many people value its contributions, why its usefulness is self-evident all around us (with people rethinking issues of gender and sexuality around us, all the time)? Obviously you don’t value art objects, but millions of people do and this is a perfectly legitimate choice to make. I challenge you to give me one example of how scientific method can prove, or has proved, something about gender as 100% fact.

  42. “Your previous assumptions about ‘postmodernists like Sedgwick’ were entirely inaccurate.”

    Were they? How about postmodern theorist Stanley Aronowitz and his assertion that Einstein’s theory of relativity (down to the nitty-gritty physical level) is a social construct? Isn’t this a factual claim, and do you believe it is correct? How about the Sokal hoax, which you have simply failed to explain – because that would necessarily involve admitting that, within postmodern circles, anyone can propose anything as long as it reinforces certain ideological convictions. How about postmodern Afrocentrism and its pseudohistoric assertions – like, for example, George James’ claim that Aristotle had stolen his ideas from the Library of Alexandria, even though the library was founded after his death? Or the assertion that early African civilizations directly influenced cultures such as the American Olmec or the Chinese Xia, even though absolutely no evidence suggests that these civilizations ever made contact with each other? How about the (downright irresponsible) claims that the AIDS pandemic is a matter of “semiological discourse,” a system of social conventions that can be defeated through language? I could go on for quite a while, but you could just read a book that I mentioned earlier (Higher superstition) for a more detailed list of pompous and utterly ridiculous factual claims, which also include some from Sedgwick’s own work.

    “social issues surrounding gender and sexuality can never be verified as absolute fact through social or scientific methods.”

    You just dismissed biology, psychology and sociology in a single sentence, but then again perhaps they are social constructs too?

    “Maybe instead you could explain to me why queer theory is stronger than ever 30 years after its instigation”

    I have already done that – ‘because so many people are all too keen to buy into the totalist mindset of identity politics whenever it suits their political purposes’. Because these supposedly ‘subversive’ theories/ideologies allow people to live under the illusion that they are part of a special group, a type of priesthood, that uniquely understands how the world functions. Doing away with the requirement of systematically proving any of their theories was also quite convenient too.

    Also, the idea of gender being exclusively socially constructed is unanimously rejected by both biology and psychology, so by ‘popularity’ I assume you mean ‘popularity within postmodern circles’, which as we’ve seen is hardly an achievement.

    “Obviously you don’t value art objects”

    Obviously. I also enjoy torturing kittens and I am most likely a homophobic racist pedophile. No my friend, as a matter of fact I do value art objects – but valuing something, like I do, and ascribing to it cosmic properties, like you do, are two quite different things.

    “challenge you to give me one example of how scientific method can prove, or has proved, something about gender as 100% fact.”

    I accept the challenge with some amusement, noting that science is the process of disproving theories and was never about proving anything with 100% certainty. Anyway, there is no need to give you only one example: everything of value that we know about sex and gender is thanks to a systematic empirical process, and not thanks to feeble unprovable suggestions based on exegesis and hermeneutics.

    So. Hormonal differences between males and females, to take an obvious example, and some of their effects on human behaviour. Also, the existence of some particular behavioural differences between men and women; such as greater levels of aggression among men and higher self-report scales of empathy among women. (Note that this is not a debate on nature vs nurture: after all, this too is an issue that lies within the domain of the science of psychology). Evidence-based analyses by historians and sociologists also speak volumes about gender roles in past societies. The list goes on ad infinitum.

    I will now have to ask you to tell me of a single thing that the postmodern ‘critique’ has managed to prove. I am asking for any proof that you can possibly think of – other than proof that ideologists, should they wish to, can perform some quite astonishing mental gymnastics.

  43. “how can an unprovable perspective be any more ‘important’ than the next?”

    For example: ‘every even number greater than two can be expressed as the sum of two primes’. ‘There is a flying spaghetti monster’. Both are unprovable, yet the first one is more important/believable/likely to be true.

    Science is overvalued: people often think that something that cannot be proven should not be considered. I disagree – thinking experiments can be just as useful and more fun than rigorous scientific experiments. And in any case, fanatism, even if it is in favour of science, is wrong [reference: South Park – Go God Go].

    ‘“social issues surrounding gender and sexuality can never be verified as absolute fact through social or scientific methods.”

    You just dismissed biology, psychology and sociology in a single sentence, but then again perhaps they are social constructs too?’

    Psychology and sociology are definitely not scientific methods! They are based on conjectures and theories. How can you support science on one hand and sociology on another?

    Also, on the Sokal Affair: to be fair, consider this also:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCIgen
    Long story short, a science conference accepted an article generated by a random-article generating machine! I think that’s even more embarrassing than the Sokal affair.

    A.

    A.

  44. I’ve not going to provide you with an example of what post-modern critique proves, because I’ve never argued that it proves anything (in the sense that you mean) and have only advocated a position of open-minded possibilities. For me, and many others, the notion that gender is a social construct is as true as the fact that we need air to breath. But one example is possible to prove (indeed, human beings will always need air) and the other is more complicated and cannot be verified as easily (ideologies behind gender construction are always changing). You might value ‘self-report’ scales, but these are very fallible; referring to small sample populations and by definition dependent on a binary definition of gender (something that is widely believed to be a social, not natural, division) and doesn’t prove anything (just offers an observation that doesn’t hold for everyone). We know that some people who are biologically one sex, identify as the opposite gender so where does science stand on this? Transgender people are widely pathologised by scientists and there is a very visible tradition of their being treated badly by medical practitioners (just ask someone transgender). I was not knocking science as a whole, but it does have a history of being very harmful when it comes to issues of gender and sexuality. Science believed homosexuality to be a mental illness until 1986 – something it believed it could prove – so science is certainly not the be all and end all. There are suggestions and possibilities in all fields that are continually disputed or improved. So then I find it pretty baffling as to how you think one is more helpful than the other.

    ‘Evidence-based analyses by historians and sociologists also speak volumes about gender roles in past societies’

    Yes, this was my point. The evidence they use are cultural objects (literature, documents, biography etc) which do not contain an ‘essential truth’ that is waiting to be discovered thus they cannot PROVE anything (in a scientific sense) but at the same time they do ‘speak volumes’. Sociologists and historians just make the best of the evidence they’ve got, as do queer theorists. You might also want to remember that many queer theorists are also sociologists and social historians – this is why you’ll find the majority of publications by queer theorists in the sociology section of the library. Sedgwick, for one, engages thoroughly with the historian Alan Bray in Between Men.

    I say you don’t value art objects because you’ve demonstrated that you think they’re not helpful in analysing our culture and social constructs (well at least not when they’re analysed by queer theorists, although you don’t seem to mind if historians/sociologists do it – it’s not like they might have an agenda too). Not because I assume you kill kittens or whatever other moronic thing you suggested.

    And just to correct your complete and utter misunderstanding on how queer theorists think about the AIDS crisis in terms of semiological discourse, they have (rather unanimously) discussed how semiological discourse has influenced the (still) widely held belief that AIDS is a gay disease; despite the fact that the vast majority people carrying HIV are heterosexual men and women. Now are you going to argue that AIDS has not been figured as a gay disease? Are these theorists really being unreasonable and irrational?

    I’m not going to rise to discussion with you anymore George. You clearly want the last word on this thread and you’re welcome to it. It is painstakingly obvious that you haven’t read a single piece of theory itself, but rather read your one cynical little book (and, I might add, failed to deconstruct the agenda and ideological purpose of that said book). If you think that you’re somehow so right about queer theory being total nonsense and that hoards of others are mindlessly labouring under a delusion, then I suggest you go and discuss your ideas with some of the specialists in queer theory at University. And I’d love to be a fly on the wall when that happens.

  45. And just one last thing which I forgot to mention in my last post. AIDS was first named by scientistis as GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency); a name which has negatively affected perceptions of gay men ever since and has helped AIDS to be wrongfully recognized as a gay disease. I know of biology lecturers at York who have still used this term in their lectures. So tell me again why I should place my faith in science when it comes to gender/sexuality issues?

  46. Anon, your last point is not valid. I agree with you in that science often makes huge mistakes, which is why I claimed earlier it is overvalued. However, this does not entitle you to disregard it completely.
    A.

  47. “Science believed homosexuality to be a mental illness until 1986″

    Incorrect. Some scientists believed it to be a treatable illness and some still do. Throughout history, people have “proven” things to be correct that are not. Seeing the horizon doesn’t show that the world is not flat (though scientists never said that it was) and likewise many of our assumptions can be incorrect. Two sets of scientists proved that smoking was good for your health and bad for your health respectively (and probably many more than 2) and whilst it doesn’t show that science is always wrong, or whatever, it shows that theories or evidence won’t always be accurate.

    The same is true with this situation. Scientists may “prove” that homosexuality is unnatural or scientists may “prove” that it is natural. Most scientists have an agenda when they move into the field, whether their beliefs make them want to prove it a “sin” or not – and this means that science on both sides can be discounted up to a point. But there are some aspects that can’t be ignored such as the fact that people that have spent £100,000+ on “de-gaying” and have had to accept homosexuality; that being trans can be a remarkably horrible ordeal for many people but that they continue nonetheless and that hermaphrodites, etc, automatically eliminate any discussion on sex being a definitive two-possibility-answer. Semenya was yet another example; a rare medical condition that left even scientists, doctors etc. unclear as to whether she qualified as a woman or not by international standards.

    Science is not always definitive (and I’m an astrophysicist so I’d prefer to think it was :P) but there are many things it can be certain about!

  48. “For me, and many others, the notion that gender is a social construct is as true as the fact that we need air to breath.”

    All I have to say is that this sentence illustrates perfectly what’s the problem with ‘you and many other’ postmodernists. You keep repeating that the various constructivist perspectives are only about ‘opening possibilities’ and not about proving anything. But at the same time, you admit that you have already made up your mind about those ‘possibilities’ and that no amount of evidence will convince you otherwise. That, my friend, is called dogmatism, and your attempts to dress it up as an open-ended academic inquiry are rather disingenuous.

    Also, I suggest you read this, you may find it interesting – http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/dec/26/goodbye-noughties-raising-boys

    Or, even better, this – http://www.frca.co.uk/article.aspx?articleid=100112

    Finally, to address some of your doubts, let me assure you that I’m a postgraduate student in the sociology department’s science and technology studies unit, so like it or not I do have to read about the postmodern ‘critique’ in quite some detail. I’ve already had the chance to debate these issues with some academics in my department; I’d love it too if you were a fly on the wall when they all agreed that strong constructivism is a farce. Anyhow, that’s all I have to say, I wish you all the best and a happy new year.

  49. Ari, I think you missed the point here. I was not arguing in favour of ‘scientism’, or any other -ism for that matter. I was only saying that discussions on important social issues should be based on reliable evidence, not on ideological prejudice and superstition. Yes, people do not lead perfectly rational lives. I don’t need to prove why marmite tastes horrible, and many people choose to believe in God even though they are unable to prove his existence. That is all fair enough and rather typical.

    However, when it comes to policy, being able to support a claim with reason and evidence is (pretty obviously) essential. Irrationalism, after all, has led to the emergence of some of the world’s most dangerous ideologies. Why, for example, would white supremacists provide conclusive proof that other races are inferior, when for them “it is as true as the fact that they we need air to breathe”? And why would orthodox Marxists prove that Communism is a more efficient economic system, when to them the idea seems self-evident? Before Anon gets a heart attack from a paroxysm of anger, let me clarify that I am not trying to dismiss or equate all ideologies and I do realize that some of them have very noble intentions. The ends, however, do not justify the means. Nobody should be exempt from having to prove claims that have political implications, at least not if they want those claims to be taken seriously by the rest of us.

    Let’s also consider the example of the AIDS pandemic. Anon suggests that in popular discourse AIDS is depicted as a “gay disease”. Postmodernists argue that this is untrue, rather homophobic and probably quite harmful. And at first sight, these would seem like valid and reasonable propositions. After all, many people in the West do think that AIDS is a “gay disease” and, in many cases, this has been used as a justification by homophobes who want to restrict the civil liberties of the LGBT community. Additionally, if we take a representative statistical sample of HIV-positive people from all over the world, we will indeed find that most of them are not LGBT.

    However, we do need to keep in mind that the vast majority of HIV-positive people live in developing nations, mostly in Africa and Asia. In developed nations, the numbers tell a different story. In the US for example, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that “63% [of diagnosed HIV infections] were among men who were infected through sexual contact with other men.” The same applies to most economically advanced Western nations.

    These facts should not in any way be taken as an excuse to discriminate against homosexuals. However, if we are serious about helping people, it would be equally irresponsible to ignore the facts in the name of ideology, which is what postmodernists essentially propose. I quote from the BBC website: “In February, a report by the National Aids Trust blamed homophobia for the fact that health authorities were spending on average 20% of their HIV prevention budgets on gay men. They said this was despite the fact that gay men accounted for 60% of new cases.”

    So clearly, we need to focus more on preventing HIV-infection among gay people, not less. In a few words, despite the postmodernists’ honorable intentions, following their advice and choosing to ignore the facts would misdirect policy even further and make this situation even worse for those at risk. More human lives could be at stake because of this type of politically correct dogmatism. Hence the need for objective evidence in the social sciences (which are definitely not only about theories and conjectures, as you seem to believe).

    As for science being ‘overvalued’ in society; does this explain the popularity of religious and political fanaticism, or even astrology, homeopathy etc., as well as all the absurd conspiracy theories that we hear now and again? I fear not, for many people irrationalism is a badge of honor.

  50. “Why, for example, would white supremacists provide conclusive proof that other races are inferior, when for them “it is as true as the fact that they we need air to breathe”? ”

    As a thought experiment though, what would happen if someone could prove that one race is definitely superior to another? For example, that a particular race has a higher average IQ, are healthier etc?

    Extreme rationalism can be as dangerous as irrationalism, I think. But anyway, I suggest that you and Anon reconcile your differences and enjoy the new year and decade!
    Best wishes,
    A.

  51. A, sure you can state properties that hold on average over two groups of people.

    For example, you can say people in “group a” are shorter than people in “group b” on average, simply by taking the cumulative heights of both groups and dividing each by its group count. It’s nothing new that we can measure average properties over a group of people.

    However, using that information to stereotype that a person from “group a” will definitely be shorter than a person from “group b” is nonsense. Not extreme rationalism, just nonsense, and unfortunately nonsense that extremists decide to follow.

    Anyway, keep up the interesting discussion :)

  52. Having read this article I have a couple of additional points to make:

    1) Firstly is this about gender discrimination, sex discrimination or both? Sex and gender are seperate things.

    2) It is assumed that there is a dictomony of male/female, man/woman. I think it is important to note here that some people do not fit into male/female or man/woman. That these people are rarely recognised to exist, and if they are they are usually stigmatised. These people are still not protected under equality bill and only now are the necessary changes for them to be included in it are trying to make its way in as an ammendment currently going through the house of lords.

    (Incidently if you are interested in supporting this ammendement or meeting some of these people this facebook group will give you a way:http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=180071242437)

  53. “Women’s Income to Grow by $5 Trillion by 2013″. Something positive to report anyway.

    http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/wealthofnations/archive/2009/09/21/women-s-income-to-grow-by-5-trillion-by-2013.aspx

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