Thursday, March 08, 2007

Why feminism is still relevant

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Blog Against Sexism Day

Since I heard about the blog against sexism project, I've wanted to participate. The reason for this should be obvious, since I self-identify as a pro-feminist man.
However, I've had a bit of a problem with finding the right topic for it, but ended up deciding to write about the lack of women in computer science, and how to do something about it. It was not a topic I really felt comfortable about, since I am male, and thus would most certainly overlook a number of things, and put too much or too little emphasis on others. Even though, it was the best I could come up with, until I came across a link to a blogpost in an online version of a Danish newspaper.
The blogpost is in Danish, so I won't link to it, but was basically about how feminism was like socialism, because it wants some kind of ideological society. In other words, it was a typical attack on a straw-feminist, and not really worth spending time on.

In the comments, however, some guy wrote that feminists don't realize that they have won, so they don't need fighting. I know I shouldn't get surprised when I run into such comments, but I can't see how anyone can think that feminists have won the battle, especially not when it's only a couple of days ago that Danish newspapers wrote that only 5% of all Danish CEOs are female.

The comment made me decide to change my idea for my post, and instead write why I think there still is a battle to fight for feminists and pro-feminists. So here is we go.

Feminism for me is about equality between the sexes. It's not about denying that there are some differences between the sexes (there are, though probably not as many as some people would have you believe), but about removing the sociological barriers to women (and men in the few rare occasions where they appear), so women are not penalized solely based on their gender.
For me, being pro-feminism is an important part of being a progressive, and a decent human being.

A note of the numbers I use. Since most of my readers are from the US, I've generally used US numbers, but they are not considerably different from the numbers I've seen from other western countries.

Gender-gap in wages

There is a gap between wages of women and men.
When we look at absolute numbers, women earn 44% less than men, and when we take other variables (like number of hours worked, years of experience) into consideration, women earn 21% less than men1. Other research has shown that there is “only” a 12% wage gap that can't be explained by differences in work patterns etc.2

No matter if the wage gap is 12% or 21%, it is not acceptable that people who do the same work gets paid different wages.

Also, while a part of the wage difference can be explained through differences in working hours, work experience and occupations, it doesn't mean that these differences aren't caused by discrimination and stereotypical gender roles.
This can be expressed in several ways:

Stereotyping of occupations:
A number of professions are considered men-only, or more suited for me. Some because of the physical work involved some because of a perceived mental difference between men and women. An example of the later, is science in general, where some people claim that men have a better aptitude for understanding it. Some of these people, like Lawrence Summers in the past, are in positions where they make decisions on hiring and promoting people.

Different perception of work done by men and women:
Study after study has shown that both men and women have a tendency to evaluate men as better than women, when everything else is equal3. This means that men will get better results (and promotions) for the same work.
Men are also perceived as better leaders than women, since they "take charge", contrary to women who "take care"4. This will lead to promotion of men over women, even if they are considered equally qualified on basis of their past work.

Gender patterns in society:
The overwhelming pattern of US families is to consider women as caregivers and men as earners, even when both work. This means that if they decide that one of them should reduce their working hours, it will in most cases be the woman who does so.
From a pure economical perspective, it also makes sense, since women earn less than men for the same hours, so the relative cost of reducing the hours is less for the woman than for the man.

Penalizing of part-time workers:
People who work part-time earn 17% less than people that work full-time5. Since women are more likely to work part time than men (25% vs. 11%6), women are more likely to be penalized.

Women are also more like to be paid by the hour than men (63% of all female employees vs. 58% of all male7). I am unsure how this affects the pay level though.

So all in all, on top of the explicit gender-specific discrimination of women when it comes to pay, there are a number of other issues that also leads to discrimination of women, which leads to lower wages for female employees.

The objectification of women

I had a bit of a trouble thinking of a proper headline for this section, so I thought I'd explain why I chose this one. This section is about how women are perceived as objects by many people. This is expressed through the horrifying US rape statistics and the blaming of the victim often seen in cases of rape, but it's also expressed through the widespread acceptance of misogynic behavior or laws aimed towards reduction of the women's autonomy.

Rape and sexual assault:
Rape and sexual assault is common throughout the US, and it's estimated that one in six women have been the victim of such8. It's not possible to know for sure, since a majority of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported (in the region of 59%9). The number of rapes is in decline, but hopefully we can all agree that over 200,000 rapes per year is a very serious issue.

Blaming the victim:
There is a large tendency to blaming the victims when they are female, and the crime or behavior is mostly targeted towards women. One obvious example of this is the case of rape victims who are being blamed for “asking for it” because of their clothes or because they were somewhere unsafe.
This of course not only ignores the fact that rape victims are likely to know the perpetrator (only 28% of all rapes cannot be traced back to someone the victim already knew10), but it also absolves the perpetrator of guilt. There is no justification for this, like there is absolutely no justification for the behavior of the perpetrator. Not only does it try to make the women responsible for the very thing they were the victim of, it also reduces men to mere animals who cannot control themselves.

A different kind of blaming the victim happens when people find it absolutely acceptable that women can't go out without being bothered by men. The justification usually runs something like: they should know that someone would hit on them when they are in town. Why is this acceptable? Men should not feel entitled to go and disturb the women while they are engaged in other things, and they should definitely leave them alone when they are turned down.

A 3rd kind of blaming is described by Jill over at Feministe. It falls somewhere between the two above examples. Here someone used some of her pictures without her consent, and when asked to remove them, they blamed her for putting them on the internet in the first place. These people apparently believe that if a woman puts up pictures of herself, those pictures are fair game for whatever purpose they want to use them for. Not bloody likely!

Turning the women into breeding machines:
I should probably add "and punishing them for having sex". Here I am talking about the widespread attempt to reduce the right to abortion and the availability of alternatives (morning-after pill etc.). Some of these attempts are made by politicians, while others are made by private citizens. All of them have the goal to make it impossible for women to make decisions over their own bodies.

Acceptance of misogynic behavior:
We have all probably experienced a situation where someone said or did something that was misogynic, yet no one seemed to mind. If a feminist or pro-feminist speaks out against it, she or he is overreacting, being hysterical or "political correct".
Misogynic behavior is so widespread that many people do even notice it when it happens, or can't see why it's such an issue. Why is it not acceptable to stare at a woman's chest? Why are certain words out of bounds? Because they are part of a pattern of misogynism that's widespread. Men quite often find it acceptable to pat a woman on the behind, even if they don't know her. What kind of strange rationale can justify such behavior? And why does so many others simply accept this?

Another example comes from the comments section that started this article. One of the commenters remarked that you don't find beautiful feminists. What does the looks of the people have to do with anything? Such a comment could only be made because the commenter, and many of the readers, considers it quite appropriate to comment on someone's look when discussing their ideological stance.
Why is it appropriate to comment on Ann Coulter's looks when discussing her recent lunatic ranting?
When does the same happen when discussing the ideological stance of a man?


I could continue explaining the many unresolved issues that feminism still addresses – for example I haven't gotten into the plight of women outside the western countries. However, since this post is getting very long indeed, I'll round it off here. As I have tried to show, there are a number of issues where there is still an obvious inequality in the US (and in the Western countries in general). As long as such issues are around, there is still very much a need for a feminist movement, willing to fight the battles needed to get full equality between the sexes.


1 See p. 32 of WOMEN'S EARNINGS - Work Patterns Partially Explain Difference between Men's and Women's Earnings (pdf)
2 Explaining Trends in the Gender Wage Gap
3 For a summary of some of the findings, see here.
4 Women "Take Care," Men "Take Charge:" Stereotyping of U.S. Business Leaders Exposed (pdf)
5Women and Part-Time Employment: Workers' 'Choices' and Wage Penalties in Five Industrialized Countries (pdf)
6P. 2 of Highlights of Women's Earnings in 2005 (pdf)
7Ibid (pdf)
8Facts about sexual assault (pdf)
9Ibid (pdf)
10National Sexual Assault Hotline statistics

Blog Against Sexism Day

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Blogger Kaethe said...

I'd really enjoy a post on feminism and inequality around you. How bad is the wage discrepency? Is childcare very sex-segregated? Who looks after elderly family? Are there contraception/vaccine/abortion arguments such as have raged here?

And really, if you have any good examples of anything y'all are doing better than us, I'd love to hear it.

March 08, 2007 6:11 PM  
Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

I probably should get around to writing a post about equality in Denmark. There are some differences, but the same basic tendencies are still there, though the fact that we are a welfare state makes up for some issues.

Interestingly enough, todays newspapers focused on the fact that quite a few more women get an education than men.

I think I'll try to do a little research into the subjects you mentioned, and see what I can knock together. US statistics are just so much easier to get hold of.

March 08, 2007 6:33 PM  

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