Gender-based III: But Why Cannot We Expect Women to Just Help Themeselves?

First of all, obviously, one woman alone can’t change the system she’s born into and that spreads over hundreds of millions of minds. D’uh. But more than that, it is also not fruitful to expect the people on the receiving end of discrimination to make our society a better place without concessions of those swimming on top, while leaning back in the meantime.


In a system of suppression, adjusting is always the best survival strategy if you want to avoid conflicts. No matter if in regards to women, who restrain from personal freedoms by not walking alone outside after ten at night, or children of working class families, who opt not for the university, but the family business because it’s the path of least resistance. Resistance of a kind which I, being the straight white male with middle class background that I am, never experienced or would only experience if I tried my luck on a construction site rather than in the academical career that was almost handed over to me.

Thanks to this reality the expectation that the system will change if only the suppressed change won’t lead anywhere sensible. The society must change. The expectations and decisions of the people “in charge” must change to become more permeable to skill and less category-based. A world must be created in which women experience social reward for their efforts like men would – not grudges and slander. We are on a good way in this regard, sure. But as shown above, much is yet to be done.

As to grudges and slander: Next to the articles above, I’m led to believe that there is a tendency for those people to say “not me or society, but the women in question are the ones responsible for their own well-being” to be the same people who lash out on feminists – hence on women who actually took on this fight.

As one cannot fail to mention, this works the other way around just as well!

Men must not be judged for becoming the caretaker of the home rather than the main source of income for the family. It must be okay to not try to get laid this friday. And there must not be shame in deciding not go to war. The expectations that we as a society have in regards to men must be stripped of their affinity to violence and, in some regards, power (not that control and independence wouldn’t be good traits, but the critical point here I guess is in the way these are expressed and demanded).

The often heard insistence that women need to carry the same burdens as men if they want the same rights is something no significant feminist disagrees with. Still this is constantly demanded, not to talk about the problems of the status quo, but to construct an us-vs-them-atmosphere.

Even more important: The call that women only needed to take matters into their own hands for things to change is not a path that leads to a better society. It is a mechanism to protect privilege, to protect how things are out of fear that if the hierarchies become more permeable, that if things change, ones position in this world might be at risk. But not only does this have nothing to do with equal-chances society we claim to be. In fact, I think that it is this mechanism that has held human civilisation back since the dawn of time. More egalitarian societies function better than heavily patriarchical ones in any conceivable way. They are more productive, they can provide a better standard of living, more individual freedom, and so on.

But privilege is always relative to the standing of others, and power is all too often conceived as power over others. The notion that protecting ones niche, ones own domestic kingdom, is of more worth than a change in hierarchies of which everyone would benefit is probably as old as the most primitive division of labour and it is damaging to us all.

Gender-based II: The Myth of the “You Can Be Anything”-Society

So, why did I talk earlier about the idea that in our society, everyone can become whatever that persons wants to become? Because it is an illusion many of us cling to as if their lives depended on it (and in a way, at least the perception of our lives does). More than that, it is an illusion which is probably the reason why so many people – men and women – deny the ongoing discrimination of women, as well as of migrants, working class children, etc.

I ultimately know that I can become an astronaut after succeeding, not at any time before. What is clear now already is that becoming an astronaut would require me to cut back on many other things. I very likely couldn’t become an astronaut AND, do a PhD in philosophy AND spend time with my numerous friends and family AND go as often to the gym as I like to. The Lukas Knopp that could become an astronaut would be a completely different person to the Lukas Knopp writing these words.

Not all of us can become the chancellor of Germany – not at the same time, most of us not as hard as we tried, no-one solemnly out of his or her own effort. However, using the fact that the current chancellor of Germany is a woman as evidence that women in Germany can become everything assumes that Mrs. Merkels socialization and the specific context of her life’s journey would match those of any other women in Germany. It also would require the random women to have the goals and priorities necessary (Merkel, for example, doesn’t have kids) or the social skills and will to become friends with people like then-chancellor Helmut Kohl. Furthermore, she would have to be safe from unfortunate destiny such as being the child to parents that are being deported back to Syria, or having a brother who needs intensive care 24/7 that insurance doesn’t entirely account for, or becoming the victim of violent crime as a child and suffering from trauma ever since, etc.

Even if everything worked out in favour of our fictional character, she would still have to fight her way through a world chronically sceptical of her value and skills as described in the research above. It would be much, much harder for a she to reach that a prestigious and powerful position as it would be for a he.

And this is all not taking into account that, being born a girl, very likely will she have been raised in a society that doesn’t infuse her – a girl – with the idea that she would want to become the person that is a national leader, that this is a position fit for her (again, see the studies).

The fight against gender-based discrimination and derogatory stereotype of women, mind you, is a fight that men not only rarely have to fight. It is also one that, for a woman acting outside of gender stereotypes, is a fight with many frontiers. It simultaneously must be fought in all aspects of her career, in her family life, among her peers, in her gym, on holidays, drunk in a pub, and so on.

This is a context that is blurred out by many. In specific, I often see it being blurred out by people who are very much into economic liberalism. In economic models, I guess, all of these factors do not exist. Coincidentally, if you think humans meet their decisions without context or only the context you right now want to account for, the homo economicus and neoliberalism in general suddenly make more sense. But to me “Well, if she wants to earn more money, she could easily have worked somewhere else” is an argument that isn’t very logical in a world that knows social ties, or role expectations that were built up long before that person could decide for herself, or the blatant sexism that seems to be present in many well-paying fields, or even personal interest.

Be it racism or sexism or another -ism: Discrimination, as social scientist have found out, is more than generalizing factual or fictional traits of individuals to entire heterogeneous populations. It is functional. The goal is to legitimize existing hierarchies and privileges. At best, in a way that “naturalizes” the social reality, declaring the construction as something unchangeable and hence, giving way to defeatism.

Originally, this definition refers to racism, but as the aforementioned Pierre Bourdieau pointed out: Sexism works in much the same way.

The studies above provide heaps of evidence on how women have it harder to achieve many goals that in our society should be considered not related to gender. They are ignored away by many of us, because for many of us, the image of our selves is build around the idea that what we are and what we achieved is solemnly the product of our own skills and efforts. (Besides, to be fair, much of this discrimination isn’t easily visible.)

To challenge this not only means to challenge the understanding of ones personal history, it means to challenge narratives with which we have been indoctrinated for all of our lives, that shape the way we perceive reality. Narratives about the control we have on our path and, at the core, narratives of what it means to be an autonomous individual.

This I think is why to many people, even those who otherwise do not show or promote sexist behaviour, discrimination against women is a concept hard to fathom.

But now, you might think, it is perhaps infinitely harder for some people to achieve the same things as others, but it’s still up to the individual to make things better for him- or herself, right?

This is when we get to Part III.

Gender-based I: Where Are Men in This Story?

Both men and women suffer from gender-based social expectations that are to some extent not fulfillable and likely interdependant. But there is a difference.

I’m a bit neglectant to speak of „suppression“ in regards to men, since men are not as much „suppressed“ as we are „uppressed“. This means: Social expectations for men usually aim at independance, activity and control. Being able to repair stuff, being promiscuous, physical strength, etc.

Of course, many men fail at this. In a way, all men do. Not everybody can or wants to live up to these expectations, despite them being inconsistent or even contradictory. As a consequence, many men feel inadequate for all of their lives, damage themselves or others – or exert power over people over which any man in a patriarchical society can exert power over, no matter how small and „unmanly“ one is: His wife or women in general.

The social expectations towards women on the other side are coined by passivity, abstinence and privacy. We are not always aware of these expectations, but the consequent submission is certainly demanded from women in society, as shown in some of the research above or anywhere in comment sections in social media.

250 years of enlightment and feminism on (if you think enlightenment without women fighting for women would have led to the relative emancipation we enjoy today, re-read Kant), women are still expected to be passive, private and subordinate creatures, who need to adjust to men in public spaces. As also shown in the research above, women are apparently regarded to be less worthy, less able or generally less competent in at least most fields of modern work. This is something all venerated modern sociologists agree upon (check out Judith Butler, Pierre Bourdieau or, if very understandably you find these authors too complex in their writings styles and you happen to understand German, Albert Scherr).

If from any of this you draw the conclusion that somebody would be waging a war against men, you are thinking in the lines of people you probably call „feminazis“, yet I refer to as „terfs“ (Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminists): These debates aren’t about putting men and women on two sides and comparing who is somewhat „better“ or more of a victim. These debates are about the good of us all. We are all at the same time perpetrators and victims of gender expectations – all in different ways.

In general, however, and this is perhaps the actual problem, we have this situation: The gender expecations applied to boys as opposed to the ones applied to girls result in a reality, in which almost all positions of power are occupied by men. This is true for traditional families, for companies, armies, nation states, and so on. And this is a big issue, because:

A) it makes it harder for people not belonging to this group to participate in this kind of power for several reasons, such as the expectations being re-affirmed and/or people belonging to the group in charge feeling threatened by „outsiders“ closing up to them, and

B) homogenous leadership hardly makes decisions for heterogenous populations (unless forced) and/or isn’t aware of detrimental effects their decisions have on people who are not part of the group that is in charge. A committee consisting only out of men is very likely blind to the way their specific subject of interest looks from the perspective of a woman, just like most men are blind to and often surprised by how omnipresent fear of sexual violence or stories of weird strangers following them through the streets are in the world of many young girls.

Now, this being a social problem and humans not being able to exist outside of society, this isn’t a problem for individuals to solve, but for societies. States, in fact.

But wait, you might say now, isn’t everybody responsible for their own good? Don’t we live in a world in which it has been proven again and again that even the most belittled person could dig him- or herself out of the ghetto and become boxing-legend Muhammad Ali?

This will be adressed in Part II.

Shitloads of Research Evidence on Gender-based Discrimination

What is this?

genderbasedLately, I found myself increasingly often debating discrimination against women – an issue many people believe not to exist. I’ve have often heard and read claims such as that the Gender Pay Gap would be a statistical phenomenon, that feminism in todays egalitarian world would no longer be necessary and women are long since emancipated, and of course that any evidence to existing discrimination would be hear-say and individual experiences and there would be no good statistical evidence support this (who ever said this very certainly didn’t bother checking). Not to forget of the mantra that in our society, everyone could become everything if he or she only tried, a very important notion I will get to in the “evaluation” posts I will write about this very post:

Part I: Where Are Men in This Story?

Part II: The Myth of the “You Can Be Anything”-Society

Part III: But Why Cannot We Expect Women to Just Help Themeselves?

Ultimately, this piece here is me gathering tons of arguments and research evidence for later use. But I thought, why not make it accessible to anyone else? And that’s what I do.

As to my method: I didn’t actively search for studies that prove how women are being treated unfairly. Rather, I googled for studies on women in general, such as “study women pay gap” or “study women in media” or so. If any credible research providing evidence that being female brings you any bonusses would have popped up, I would have included it. I didn’t come across any, but I don’t doubt that there are situations in which women actually are on the „winning“ side of discrimination, given that it is a case in which the goal to achieve goes along with the gender stereotypes (an example could be becoming a kindergarten teacher or a nurse). You could claim that my method is flawed because google turns up the most read and shared stuff and obviously doesn’t give out the studies with the most impact. However, antifeminists have likely as much a fanbase clicking “their” articles as feminists do, maybe bigger, and either way, all of these studies are peer-reviewed.

Also, due to where research is happening and also my language barriers, all of the studies refer only to the “Western world”, aka the EU, Northern America and Australia.

The Research

Let’s start of with the Gender Pay Gap

The probably most important thing to say to this: It exists, deal with it. Even if you include all kinds of factors, including profession, experience, education, etc. women in the US still earn only 91% of what men earn (“non-adjusted” 77%).

But as quoted from the article:

Using wage data for men and women with identical degrees and experience, she was able to show that gender discrimination is ultimately at the core of the gap.

Even if differences in occupations account for some of the gender wage gap, why should gender-based educational and occupational segregation count as evidence against gender discrimination? Young girls and young women do not make choices about what to study and where to work in a vacuum. They make them under the influence of peers, family members and adults who tell them, through words and actions, the subjects, majors and careers that are acceptable for them to choose — and these influences inevitably inform their later decisions on careers.

Things are doing not quite so well in Austria, where, depending on the study and the field of work, women earn 81 to 85% of what men earn under the same conditions – for pretty much the same job, as close as one can get to say this.

All of these are .pdf and sadly, the only English one is the one where I’m not sure how much occupation is actually considered. It does say in one paragraph that it is considered, in another that it isn’t. The other studies are being pretty damn clear about it:

The comparison of men and women working in the same economic sector and occupational group, having the same level of education, length of service and age, indicate a decline of the gender wage gap [to] between 15.0 and 18.9 per cent depending on the mode of calculation (Within-Job Gender Wage Gap or multivariate model). Thus one part of the gap can be explained by differences concerning the labour market caused by economic and occupational gender segregation. Another part can be seen as a consequence of individual characteristics of the employees, like education or work experience. Even though taking all factors into account, a significant wage gap still persists that remains unexplained [by the considered socio-economic factors].

Or in the slightly less confusing German version:

Vergleicht man die Verdienste von Frauen und Männern innerhalb der gleichen Branche, des gleichen Berufs, der gleichen Bildungsschicht sowie mit gleicher Dauer der Zugehörigkeit zum Unternehmen und gleichem Alter, sinkt der geschlechtsspezifische Lohn- und Gehaltsunterschied je nach Berechnung auf 18,9% bis 15,0%. Ein Teil des Lohn- und Gehaltsunterschiedes kann demnach durch die Konzentration von Frauen und Männern in unterschiedlichen Branchen sowie Unterschiede in der beruflichen Tätigkeit und individueller Merkmale erklärt werden. Das Ergebnis zeigt aber auch, dass trotz gleicher Hintergrundmerkmale deutlich niedrigere Löhne und Gehälter für Frauen im Vergleich zu Männern bezahlt werden.

Now you could say, okay, there is a gap between what men and women get for the same work as much as this can be accounted for. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is because they are seen as less worthy, right? There could also be other factors that weren’t accounted for, couldn’t there be?

Well, let’s see what happens when scientists turn with the exact same application, only differentiating by the sex of the applicant, to job offers or investors.

Apparently, women have less chances than men to get a job (in Yale) and if they do, they are offered less money:

…and are less likely to be be invested in by both male and female private investors when applying for their start-up:

Fun fact: Attractive men have the best chances.

The weird thing about this is that people in HR are very likely not even aware of their bias. You could probably show someone after twenty years of job interviews a statistic proving that he or she was much more likely to hire men with the exact same background as women, and that person would be stunned in disbelief.

Still, one could speculate about potential other factors the researchers didn’t account for – but that’s a claim you can make with any research. If you don’t accept this evidence for gender gaps, I don’t know what kind of evidence you would accept. Maybe you should ask that to yourself as well.

By the way, this idea that the wage gap exists because engineers are being paid more than kindergarten teachers, despite having effect on some percentage points (see above studies) is basically a myth as well. Sure, engineers earn more, but (in Germany) typically masculine professions such as coal miner and other blue-coat jobs earn less than typically feminine professions such as the service sector – as can be read in this (German) interview with a researcher who actually focusses on how even when the wife is the main source of income, she usually does still more housework than the husband:

Most couples do believe that they split chores evenly, but it turns out that they don’t. Similarly, I’m sure most men who have issues with their female bosses don’t get behind the true reasons for their grudge:

Oh, how fragile is masculinity?

Fun fact and in accordance with the actual research: When I google “female bosses study”, next to studies such as the one above (and studies pointing out how companies with women at the top do better), google suggests that maybe I’ve been searching for “female bosses are worse”, “dealing with female bosses” etc.

It is curious how women are being ignored when they are not hated. For example, women are more likely to be “forgotten” when they are working together with men.

Women in science publish less often and are cited less often than men, a gap that can’t sufficiently be explained by pregnancy breaks but apparently has to do with networking capabilities:

How networking capabilities can be an issue for women in work environments can be seen in this study, which actually focusses on why engineering has so few women doing the job as compared to women studying engineering in the universities:

Women’s experience of their education differed along two critical dimensions — they encountered a culture where sexism and stereotypes were left unaddressed, and they saw only lip service offered toward improving society—and both of these disproportionately alienated them.

Oh yeah, and coming back to the hated-part of “hated when not ignored”:

The Guardian studied its own comment section.

Although the majority of our regular opinion writers are white men, we found that those who experienced the highest levels of abuse and dismissive trolling were not. The 10 regular writers who got the most abuse were eight women (four white and four non-white) and two black men. Two of the women and one of the men were gay. And of the eight women in the “top 10”, one was Muslim and one Jewish.

Now let’s hop from verbal violence to physical violence. Sadly, in the EU, still there is much of sexualised violence going on:

For example, one in three women (33 %) has experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15. One in five women (18 %) has experienced stalking; every second woman (55 %) has been confronted with one or more forms of sexual harassment. Given this, violence against women cannot be seen as a marginal issue that touches only on some women’s lives.

Now you could rightly argue that this perhaps isn’t actually evidence for gender-based discrimination because it doesn’t say anything about violence going on against men. Apparently, in the UK, 40% of the cases of domestic violence have men as the victims.

However, statistics like this (and all of the others, too) are to be considered with care. In this research, being slapped on the butt counts as much as being raped at gunpoint. The distorting effect this can have on the statistic the Guardian quotes can be imagined when reading this article about domestic violence in Australia:

In Australia, one in three cases of domestic violence sees a male victim. However, Australian sociologists share with us interesting observations from their research:

[Dr. McInnes] recounts some of her research that showed that when men talked about women’s violence against men, some cited abuse as not having a hot meal on the table, not having the children bathed before bed, or women spending money on gambling or shopping. At the more severe end of the spectrum, they nominated verbal and emotional violence as abuse. Then, a tiny minority documented physical abuse, and an even smaller minority named sexual abuse.

“Women were talking about being run over, being drugged and raped at knifepoint, having their children dangled over high rise balconies till they did as they were told and of course you get verbal and emotional violence,” says McInnes. “When we were talking about physical violence against men, one of the worst examples was that she banged his head with the cupboard door – which isn’t good – but the sheer level of fear, harm and terror that women talked about was simply not present in what the men’s data showed.”

It remains somewhat unclear as to how the secret world of everyday violence actually looks like under the aspect of gender, with violence in relationships still being a huge taboo and so on and so forth. However, it is not far-fetched so say that something is wrong with our image of masculinity in regards to violence. After all, as quoting from the EU’s study:

Women can perpetrate violence, and men and boys can be victims of violence at the hands of both sexes, but the results of this survey, together with other data collection,show that violence against women is predominantly perpetrated by men. This is overwhelmingly the case when it comes to sexual violence and sexual harassment.

I’m going to randomly assume that violence against men (all violence, not only domestic, so including everything from bar fights over prison revolts to actual wars) also mainly is carried out by men.

The invisibility of women, as well as an affinity for violence in the gender expecations for men, can be grasped for example by looking at popular contemporary movies in the US:

Here we see that popular movies focus mainly on men (surprise, surprise), as well as other pieces of the puzzle, such as that the goals of portrayed men and women differ in regards to being social or anti-social (male characters were more likely to strive for anti-social goals), and so on.

Even more interesting is this study (.pdf) though, concerned more detailed about how women are depicted in popular movies in several (and not only Western) countries:

Some of the findings are summarised as follows:

• Sexualization is the standard for female characters globally: girls and women are twice as likely as boys and men to be shown in sexually revealing clothing, partially or fully naked, thin, and five times as likely to be referenced as attractive. Films for younger audiences are less likely to sexualize females than are those films for older audiences.
• Teen females (13-20 years) are just as likely as young adult females (21-39 years) to be sexualized.
• Female characters only comprise 22.5% of the global film workforce, whereas male characters form 77.5%.
• Leadership positions pull male; only 13.9% of executives and just 9.5% of high-level politicians were women.
• Across prestigious professions, male characters outnumbered their female counterparts as attorneys and judges (13 to 1), professors (16 to 1), medical

As to the function of movies providing role models, in this quote in regards to body expectations:

Research reveals that exposure to sexualized and thin content can contribute to or reinforce body shame, appearance anxiety, or internalization of the thin ideal among some females.

Here, many things come together that are important.

Women in movies are to a large extent blurred out, their are sexualised and more likely reduced to appearance, they are not leaders as men are, and so on. The same study provided also a reason how this situation came across:

• Out of a total of 1,452 filmmakers with an identifiable gender, 20.5% were female and 79.5% were male. Females comprised 7% of directors, 19.7% of writers, and 22.7% of producers across the sample.
• Films with a female director or female writer attached had significantly more girls and women on screen than did those without a female director or writer attached.

A product, in this case films, comes into existence reflecting the world according to the perspectives, stereotypes and norms present in those at whoms hands it is created. Which is, in this case, mainly men. (Also, consider: This is popular films, not all films nor series included.)

One final study I want to mention is specifically interesting to me because it shows how a process of structural discrimination is hardly observable and, hinsight, looks to us like a given, “natural” constant rather than a development, or perhaps as the outcome of random individual choices rather than systemic:

Apparently, in the 70s, women would be increasingly interested in computer sciences – until in the 80s, the industry began marketing computers as “toys for boys”. This lead, for example, to families rather buying a computer for their sons than their daughters even if daughters might have shown as much or more interest in a PC. The article also points out that at that time, movies about geeks would be shown in the cinemas, also featuring exceptionally men as protagonists.

This factored into a development which we see changing slightly over the past decade or so, one that resulted in a new major source of power – being able to use computers, the internet, and all of what is connected to that – is again given in the hands of a rather homogenous group.

I could go on like this forever, but I kind of doubt anyone actually read all of it. I think the important question here is, and I will try to answer this in the upcoming pieces:

Why does this disparity exist and why are so many people so certain that it doesn’t still?