politics · Uncategorized

Female empowerment, success objects, and male mental health.

Here’s a chart I discovered recently that concerns me:

Capture2
Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1414751/

It shows a steady increase in the male teen suicide rate, while the suicide rate for female teens remains flat.

On my Twitter feed today, this article from Sophia Graham of the Mental Foundation responds to Mark Dawson’s editorial suggesting that increasing male suicide is linked to their relative less prominent role in society.

Mark says:

One explanation for this disproportion may be the growing empowerment of women and their increasing role in society.

Is an unfortunate side effect that men feel less secure, less sure of their place in a world where they were once more dominant?

Perhaps it reflects the work pressures on men – still usually the main bread-winner. Working males make up a significant proportion of the grim statistics.

Sophia is critical of Mark’s editorial. The headline reads ‘A response to the newspaper editor who thinks feminism may cause male suicide’ though Mark never mentions the term ‘feminism’.

Sophia makes a few points I take issue with:

  • Male suicide rates have always been higher than female suicide rates.
    • This is true – but male suicide rates are also growing. She doesn’t acknowledge this. Correction: in New Zealand suicide rates appear to be on the decline. The excel spread sheet linked from here from Stats NZ  shows a steady increase of suicide rate of both women and men of about 50% from 1985 to 1998 and then a steady decline since then.
  • She says his comments are dangerous. She makes the argument that Mark’s article contributes to the traditional culture of male stoicism.
    • I fail to see how this is the case. Mark’s article is precisely highlighting that one aspect of traditional masculinity is seeing men’s value as an economic provider, and that their changing role in society may lead men feeling disempowered and turning to suicide as a result.
    • Instead it’s Sophia that is reinforcing this gender norm, by shutting down an attempt to encourage looking at the the changing definition of masculinity and how that’s affecting men today. Sophia shames men for talking about their  response to currently defined masculinity by labeling it as dangerous and anti-woman’s empowerment.
  • She makes the point that ” male suicide rates are tied more closely to economic pressures than changing social roles”.
    • The source she cites does indeed mention the decline of traditional male industries as a factor in male suicide. However, the same source also makes a point that traditional conceptions of masculinity also play a role – one of those expressions of masculinity being providing for the family, especially amongst working class men.
  • She says that he shows a lack of compassion towards females who live with depression or anxiety.
    • Mark’s article was specifically talking about male suicide. Sophia’s criticism is a ‘whataboutism’ argument. Given that in New Zealand 3/4 suicides are men, it make sense to pay special attention to why men are doing it.

The one thing I would criticise about Mark’s article is where he says

[suicide is] one area where women don’t want gender equality

this is a cheap shot and is a broad generalisation that serves to paint an uncaring picture of women.

Overall – this was an incredibly disappointing response from the Mental Health Foundation. Instead of congratulating Mark for starting a discussion about this one particular aspect of mental health – she attempts to shut it down by labeling it as dangerous.

The Mental Health Foundation is an organisation that I respect and support, but this is one case of I think them doing exactly the wrong thing.

Sophia ends the piece with

I acknowledge your editorial contained some valid and interesting remarks on the how the pressures men face can contribute to suicide. It’s a shame these were left unexplored.

and to be fair – Mark’s article was quite short, all he’s really doing is saying ‘this is an issue that men are uniquely facing, and we need to do more to focus on it’.

But instead of taking advantage of a teachable moment – and articulating just what the factors and trends of male suicide are, she instead just the discussion as dangerous – without, in my opinion, really conclusively refuting it.

So here I go to further expound what I think Mark was getting at.

Sex objects vs success objects. 

The term sex object or sexual objectification has been used in feminist discourse to describe how society reduces women’s value to society as their function to provide sexual gratification.

This has been frustrating to women, where they’ve felt that their potential contributions to business, science etc has been marginalized because of this.

Using the same lens to look at men’s roles in society – we can use the term ‘success object’.

That is – men’s value to society is a function of their ability to win, to be an economic provider.

In our historic society with traditional gender roles this was easier to achieve for the man – even a single low skilled worker’s pay was enough to support a family.

However in modern times average guy’s ability to get this kind of role has disappeared, while the expectation that he can do this remains.

Research shows that despite women’s increased participation in the economy – educated women still prefer to marry men who earn than them. 

Pointing this out isn’t an argument against female empowerment. It’s argument for redefining masculinity in the modern era – and that involves allowing men to say ‘I feel pressure to earn a lot of money so I can attract a mate’. Perhaps then we’ll get a conversation about what society values in men instead.

But shutting these conversations down as dangerous or disempowering to women is not the right way to go. That only causes feelings of male disempowerment to fester unseen.

 

Advertisements
policy · politics

Let’s pay people $50/week to use contraception.

First – let’s be clear that I support a Universal Basic Income (UBI). The policy I suggest here could be used in additional to a UBI (ie. people would receive this allowance on top of their UBI), or in the context of our current welfare entitlements, as a less costly, less universal UBI.

The allowance

The proposal is simple. We give people of reproductive age $50/week if they are taking long term contraception (ie. IUD, depo, or implant).

Because the nature of our biology dictates that long term contraception is only available to women, only woman of ages say 16-40 would be eligible for this allowance.

The woman would, upon having her contraception installed, get a signed certificate from her doctor, which she can then take to her welfare office to start receiving her allowance. In the case of contraception that requires renewal (eg. depo), she would be required to bring this certificate to the welfare office every renewal period.

The contraception and doctor’s visit would be paid for by the state.

Someone women don’t suit certain certain kinds of contraception. Fortunately there are three different kinds – so it seems unlikely that a woman would be unsuitable to all three. In the case that she is – she could be given an alternative (eg. condoms if need be), and still be eligible for the allowance – unsuitability would need to have strict criteria.

The allowance wouldn’t be means tested; all women aged 16-40 would be eligible, regardless of whether they’re unemployed, a single mother, or they earn a million dollars a year. The reasoning for this allowance, is that it would provide people with immediate short term incentive to take contraception – making the default position to be not having children. 

Why? Decision making – the discount rate

This necessity for this policy comes down to an economic concept called discount rateIf I were to offer you $1000 now, or $1000 in a year’s time, it would make sense that you would choose the $1000 now, as you can make some use of it now, even if just to put it in the bank to earn interest.

What if I offered you $1000 now, or $2000 in a year’s time? Depending on your situation, you might take the money now, if say you had a power bill you desperately needed to pay; if you were already plenty flush, you’d more likely take the money in a year’s time, 100%pa being a pretty good return on investment. If I was offering $1000 now, or $10,000 in year’s time, you’d be even more likely to put off taking the money.

The exact ratio of how much money I’d need to offer in order for you to delay, is what determines your discount rate. The higher your discount rate, the more money I’d need to offer you to delay; or in other words, the higher your discount rate, the less the same dollar now, is worth in a years time.

Discount rates also apply to costs. Imagine if I were selling you a new phone and you can pay $500 for it now, or $1500 in three years’ time – depending on your discount rate, you might, or might not think that the three years’ time deal is a good deal.

This same decision making factor applies to taking contraception. There’s an immediate cost of taking contraception – the time spent going to the doctor, the cost of contraception etc. There’s also a cost of not taking contraception – the potential that you have a child, (or face the decision of having an abortion), the corresponding time and money costs of raising a child.

Because of peoples’ discount rate – the cost of having a child is reduced – it’s in the future and abstract, compare to the immediate real cost of using contraception. Additionally – New Zealand’s welfare entitlement for children discounts the cost having children for those not already employed by giving increased welfare entitlement.

Anecdotally – this is reflected in doctor’s offices, where a sexually active young girl, who is not on contraception is asked ‘well what are going to do if you get pregnant?’ responds with, ‘I don’t know – receive a benefit’.

An allowance for contraception provides immediate incentive to use contraception – using contraception becomes a lot more worthwhile if you’re receiving $50 a week to do so.

Why is this necessary? What’s wrong with having children? 

Firstly – global warming. The single most significant thing you can do to blow out your carbon footprint is to have children. We shouldn’t be cavalier about bringing an additional person into the world. It should be a well considered decision – which is what the allowance seeks to do – change the default from ‘having children’ to ‘not having children’.

Secondly – the social cost of additional people.

I think that the investment required to raise someone who is able to contribute to society in a meaningful manner has increased.

Where one hundred years ago – an illiterate person could have a child, and that person grows up less educated than the average person today, that person could still make a useful contribution to society – working as a labourer in a factory or building roads. This is a little glib, but all that was required to produce a useful human being, is having the person healthy and limbs intact.

Now – technology is quickly outstripping our requirement for human labour,  increasingly – those jobs machines can do.

Just being educated also won’t enough. Computers are increasingly taking on intellectual jobs – for example it’s conceivable that doctors wont be required in the future – as evidence by Watson’s ability to diagnose a patient where doctors were not.

Point is – it’s not enough to accept raising a healthy child as successful parenting – there’s a rising bar for what’s required for someone to comfortably navigate the society of the future. Even if all that ‘raising the bar’ means is ‘having parents who really wanted to have you’.

And to do that – we should be delaying parenting until people really want to (enough to forego the contraception allowance), at a point where they’re presumably more prepared and capable as parents.

Immigration

There’s another reason that I think we should be raising the standard of parenting – we can make up a short fall of unskilled and semi-skilled labour via immigration.

There is an existing tension where unskilled or semi-skilled labour in New Zealand are concerned with immigrants taking their jobs.

In a global society, with increased global cooperation I don’t think it’s fair for New Zealand to shut the doors to vast numbers of people in lesser off countries to preserve the jobs of the people lucky enough to be born here.

At the same time – I’m not proposing a fully open door policy, I think cultural tensions need to be managed, but this is out of scope for what we’re discussing here.

By having less children ourselves – that increases our ability to import labour – which is a good thing, because it means that we can select the kinds of education and skills we have to fill the gaps, rather than having to reskill or acccomodate people with skills that we didn’t choose to have.

Addressing criticisms:

“This will cost a lot of money”

Using this page from Stats NZ I estimate that 802,700 are women in the 15-39 age bracket, and using this page  2,510,000* people are employed.

That gives a cost of approximately $16/week per employed person.

Personally, I’m perfectly ok spending this kind of money, and I think many other people would be too. Especially if this program was shown to reduce money spent on sole parent welfare – the cost does not seem like a lot.

*nb. Employed counts as doing at least one hour work, so this number includes people working part time. I had a hard time trying to find fulltime employment statistics.

“This is unfair, because only woman can receive it.” 

Actually, I think this is good measure to address the gender pay gap.

“This is eugenics.”

The entire reason for making the allowance applicable to all women aged 16-40, is avoid the demographic targeting slippery slope.

“This targets the poor, because they’ll be more affected by the monetary incentive than a rich person.” 

I agree that a poor person’s decision making will be more affected by this allowance than the wealthy.

However, what’s important to highlight is that this is giving people free money, where they wouldn’t have received it before. If someone doesn’t want to subscribe to the scheme, they don’t have to.

I would be concerned if the existence of the allowance was used as a reason to cut other entitlements. For example – it wouldn’t be fair to reduce unemployment benefits with the rationale that the cut can be made up with the allowance. But given that only woman are eligible for this contraception allowance – this is quite nicely mitigated – as you couldn’t cut unemployment welfare without affecting the men, and you couldn’t apply unemployment welfare unequally between sexes.

The argument that this policy would be bad for the poor is an interesting one – because essentially it argues against giving more money to the poor.

“This might cause people to delay having children until it’s too late.”

The argument here is that for a couple who both work lower wage jobs, they might keep putting off having children while they earn that extra $2600 a year, and it eventually be too late.

There’s a couple I’d make here:

Firstly, we have Working for Families in New Zealand, which serves to assist families on lower incomes – and I wouldn’t propose scrapping that.

Secondly – I think people who really want to have children, $50/week wouldn’t be enough to put them off. The $50/week really serves as an incentive for those who don’t really intend to have kids right now.