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
social philosophy

If I were a girl, how would I dress?

As a fun thought experiment, I sometimes wonder what I’d be like if I were a girl.

Firstly, I imagine that if I were a girl I’d have big boobs, but this is probably more  a projection of my own preferences, and my own assessment of my attractiveness, than any serious consideration of my genetic make up.

One way we can assess both male and female dress sense would be to put it on a scale of ‘low effort’ to ‘high effort’. Here we can fairly objectively define effort as some kind of function of time and money – time including time spent grooming and applying making, time spent picking out clothes, observing fashion (for example watching fashion shows), spent shopping and talking to friends about fashion or clothing choices, and money including money spent on clothing, grooming products and make up, or haircuts.

Here we could fit all people on this scale, and for both men and women, it would fit some kind of bell shaped standard distribution.

The men’s bell curve would be lower down the scale than the women’s, as well as being  narrower than the women’s.

graph.png

If we generalise and consider what the general grooming and dress habits of what we imagine the average man to be like, it would be something like:

  • Shave 2-5 times a week using disposable razor and aerosol shaving cream from the super market.
  • Shampoos hair 1-2 times a week.
  • Hair cut 4-10 times a year at $20 a pop.
  • Combs hair in the morning, perhaps applies product.
  • Buys clothes four times a year, from mid-low end stores.

There are some deviations on this average, that we would still consider the guy to be a ‘fairly average’ guy.

For example he perhaps:

  • Applies cologne every day.
  • Uses moisturisers and face creams.
  • Uses double edge/speciality shaving gear.
  • Has his hair coloured.
  • Doesn’t shave and has a beard.
  • Shaves his legs.
  • Waxes his chest.
  • Buys expensive suits.

The ‘average woman’ on the other hand has a much broader range what we’d consider normal grooming activity.

Now I should offer the immediate caveat here that my not being woman means I could be totally wrong about frequency of some of these activities.

For example she perhaps:

  • Shampoos her hair 2-5 times a week.
  • Applies make up everyday or not at all.
  • Plucks her eyebrows not at all/fortnightly/sees a beautician to have them threaded.
  • Shaves her legs 2-3 times a week.
  • Shaves her armpits 2-3 time a week.
  • Has her hair cut/done 4-6 times a year at $100-200 a pop
  • Owns sensible shoes, or several pairs of $300 shoes
  • Buys clothes from op shops, or regularly spends $150+ on dresses, etc.

The important thing to highlight here, is that women are more likely to spend both more money, and more time on grooming.

At the same time there’s a wider range of what’s socially conventional in terms of female grooming habits.

For example, a woman can, or can not, wear eye makeup and lipstick, and remain in the realm of ‘socially conventional’. Whereas a guy using those grooming techniques makes him socially unconventional.

There’s also a wider range of clothing woman can wear – for example in an office women can wear dresses, skirt and blouse, a pant suit, pants and a blouse, pants and a skivvy and these are all conventional office attire. The shoes can be high heeled, flat, open, closed or boots.

The wider range of acceptable office attire might lead to more time being spent on a wardrobe and choosing outfits.

Men’s office attire is a lot more limited – it tends to be black or grey pants, and collared long sleeve or short sleeve shirt, and perhaps a tie. The shoes tend to be black dress shoes, or sneakers can be acceptable depending on the office. Unless it’s a very casual office, open shoes are out.

There seems to be a higher minimum standard of grooming for women, for them to remain in the socially acceptable range. For example, while I know plenty of women who don’t shave their underarms, this is seen as socially unconventional and will draw remarks. The same goes for shaving legs.

The best analogy for men – would be beards – which are seen as a little unconventional, though have been very popular in the last decade, and a more seen as a matter of preference than social convention.

So if we were to transmute my current grooming habits to a woman’s – it makes sense that there would be corresponding increase in the effort spent on grooming.

There are specific questions to ask – Would I wear eye make up? Would I spend $200 on a hair cut?

Regarding eye make up – I imagine I would! Given that I notice other woman’s eye make up already, and generally think it looks attractive and fun, I imagine if I would probably experiment with it.

On the other hand, it does seem like a lot of effort, often it seems that I don’t have enough time in the morning anyway – I’m not sure I’d have the inclination to do it every morning.