Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Women Will Rule The World

This is like that "End of Men" piece in the Atlantic Monthly: A way to do a sensational take on increasing gender equality and to suggest that it's not a move towards equality but something which will make women the rulers of this world. The evidence somewhere uses the fact that women are the majority of those in higher education in most countries. That is then expanded to data which actually shows that women are not equal but improving their position to some extent, and the corollary you are supposed to draw is that women will soon rule the world and men will have horrible lives. Sorta traditionally female lives.

Hence titles like "Women Will Rule The World" or "The End Of Men." Newsweek article. A snippet from the former:

When historians write about the great recession of 2007–08, they may very well have a new name for it: the Mancession. It’s a term already being bandied about in the popular media as business writers chronicle the sad tales of the main victims of the recession: men. They were disproportionately represented in the industries hit hardest during the downturn, including financial services, manufacturing, and construction, and their higher salaries often put them first in the line of fire. Men are the victims of two thirds of the 11 million jobs lost since the recession began in 2007; in August 2009, when U.S. male unemployment stood at 11 percent (versus 8.3 for women), it was the largest unemployment gender gap in the postwar era. Those numbers have improved, a bit—new unemployment figures show men at 9.9 percent and women at 7.8—but not enough to stop Larry Summers, the president’s top economic adviser, from speculating recently, that “when the economy recovers, five years from now, one in six men who are 25 to 54 will not be working.”

If they are lucky, they’ll have wives who can take care of them. American women are already the breadwinners or co-breadwinners in two thirds of American households; in the European Union, women filled 75 percent of the 8 million new jobs created since 2000.

Do a reversal on that last paragraph and then note that nobody would be at all upset if you pointed out that if women are lucky they'll have husbands who can take care of them. Or do a reversal of the title with the needed change in the verb: Men Rule The World.

I'm suffering from battle fatigue on this particular topic, bad. But I read through the whole article and came out with these quick thoughts:

Somehow increasing gender equality in India or in China is a sign that women will soon rule the world!

Somehow women-owned firms being 30% of all firms is a sign that women will determine who will be employed in the future!

Somehow a large growth rate is presented as evidence for all this, even though a large growth rate is partly because of a smaller base: If I add 100 new firms to a base which has 1,000,000 I get a smaller percentage increase than if I add it to a base which has 500,000. Just to point out the obvious.

Somehow we focus on the 9.9% male unemployment rate and how those men can be taken care of by their wives (which is emasculating), but the 7.8% female unemployment rate is painless, I guess. Or not there at all, because women have taken all the new juicy jobs. And somehow we completely fail to point out that women of color have higher unemployment rates than white guys. That's because we are doing gender wars, of course, and not race wars here.

Somehow we don't mention that the traditionally male-dominated jobs which suffered so much in the 'mancession' are also the better paying jobs and that those industries are always ahead of business trends: Earlier losses and earlier gains of jobs when times go bad and then good again. (Note that I'm all for getting those guys back to work, but then I'm for getting everyone back to work.)

Yes, it could be that we are now witnessing a structural change and that those good jobs don't come back. But I don't see enough evidence on that. You can't outsource construction, not completely, and the stockbrokers we shall always have among us. U.S. manufacturing might be in trouble, due to outsourcing, and it has been in trouble for several decades due to that.

Somehow doing the grocery shopping and so on translates into real economic power, and so do the number of bank accounts one owns (though what the overall balances on those might be remains undiscussed). And yes, women do own roughly their population percentage of all personal wealth, but that is not because women earn roughly their population percentage of all personal wealth. It's because women live longer than men, on average, and end up inheriting more family wealth that way.

And finally, somehow all these articles fail to discuss what those fantastic new jobs are that women will dominate and why men don't line up for them. I doubt any country has laws forbidding them to apply for them.

I spent some time trying to find those magical jobs, because there are in fact several sites giving us such lists and the lists vary greatly. Many of them have software engineers on top, for example. But Table 2 here might be the list all those articles are quoting.

I don't see a single job in that list from which men are banned. Men, too, can become home health aides (annual income 20,460) or retail salespersons (annual income 20,510)! Or they can get one of the higher earning job in that list, such as a registered nurse (62,450) or (gasp!) even the job of a management analyst (73,570).

Indeed, none of those jobs are earmarked for women and several have earnings which look pretty meager for those women who will rule the world. But whatever, as they say.

What angers me about these stories is that they start with the shocking conclusion that women will, any day now, rule the world or that men are close to extermination or some such rather harmful bullshit, and then they choose to treat any strides women have made towards equality as a sign of that shocking conclusion being correct. One problem is the one I wrote about when discussing "The End of Men" (hi guys, you still around?) which is that articles using that tone are rapidly becoming the homeroom of misogynists. They also will do very little for actually improving the position of women in China or India, say, because they suggest that if you give them an inch they will take the whole hand.

So don't give them an inch.

And that is why this topic angers me so very much. It is a nasty counterargument for increasing gender equality, and it does its work by appealing to traditional gender roles, definitions of masculinity and any evidence that the situation of women is improving.

I'm almost thinking that if all this is because of more women than men in colleges, then for fuck's sake put up gender quotas! If this is because of men's higher unemployment rate, put quotas on that, too.