The fact that the economic playing field has become more fair to women and minorities over the past fifty years has paradoxically been cited by some critics of feminism as an affront on men’s rights. Jordan Peterson and Tucker Carlson see an assault on “masculinity”—an assault that is “a consequence of directed policy,” Peterson said in an appearance on Carlson’s Fox News show.
Cathy Young is sympathetic to Peterson’s case. “Crisis or no, there is certainly evidence that many men and boys have been left struggling by the cultural transformations of recent decades,” she wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed published, citing, in part, the fact that the women attending college outnumber men, “working-class men are more likely to be left behind by economic shifts that working-class women,” and jobless men are not attractive as mates.
Young is far from the only commentator to point to such trends. Others have done so with much less elegance and culture than she. The anonymous author of the HipCrime Vocab blog, for instance, wrote in a piece about Peterson, “The rise of the Sheconomy has made the only jobs on offer for men ones that they don’t particularly enjoy doing or are not particularly suited for.” The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh, while not discussing Peterson, cited similar stats about education and claimed, “The eduction system is designed for girls.”
What is striking about these pieces is how little thought the authors engage in about the causes of these supposed problems and whether they really are problems. Is society really biased against men? Is the reason men are reportedly falling behind due to societal discrimination or incentives unfairly stacked against men? Because if that’s not the reason, then there is no problem. It could just be a result of individual choices or circumstances.
In fact, one could even quote something Peterson has written in his book 12 Rules for Life: “Maybe it’s not the world that’s at fault. Maybe it’s you. You’ve failed to make the mark.”
When Peterson discusses the fact that the average salary of women across the entire economy is lower than that of men, he doesn’t automatically assume women are being systematically underpaid by the patriarchy. He said in an interview with the BBC, “These broad based comparisons of gender and salary are not sufficiently sophisticated to capture the variability in the data, not by any stretch of the imagination,” and then he proceeded to list some reasons.
It’s not hard to think of reasons why the number of women attending college has risen and why average women’s pay has risen faster since 1980 than has average men’s pay. For most of history, in most societies in the world, women in the large scale were prevented from achieving higher education and from working by both direct discrimination and rigid social attitudes. In 1955 in the United States, just over 35 percent of women were in the workforce. By 2005, that percentage was up to nearly 60. The percentage of women working in many countries has increased over the decades from amount many times lower than men. The story is similar in education. It was not until 1945 that Harvard Medical School began admitting women.
The strives women have made, then, are simply an expression of the playing field evening out. That is something to celebrate, not bemoan.
Since the 1980’s, the number of women graduating with bachelor’s degrees has actually exceeded that of men. This statistic can be cited by critics of feminism and “men’s rights activists” in order to argue that men are a victimized class.
There are so many statistics about any topic that can be sought out and manipulated any which way anyone with an agenda wants to back up their pre-existing viewpoint. The critics of post-modern feminism have actually adopted the same grievance-mongering, socially-focused view of the world.
The number of men graduating college with degrees in STEM fields is much greater than that of women, and more men get jobs in STEM, for example. Why is it that we don’t hear so much about the STEM gap, which could just as easily be claimed as evidence of patriarchal oppression of women, from Peterson, Young, and Walsh?
Discrepancy doesn’t always prove discrimination. It could just be that women are, on average, better at staying focused and engaging in the kinds of soft skills that are helpful in academics and increasingly in jobs in white collar service industries and rapidly expanding pink collar industries.
Women are working hard to get good educations and learning the skills necessary for new kinds of jobs and hence are experiencing success in a number of fields. After centuries of discrimination, women are proving themselves just as capable as—maybe even more than—men at a variety of endeavors from which they were previously barred. Indeed, many women are even outcompeting men. This is an assault on men? A problem to be solved? No, this is what equality of opportunity is all about.
Photo by Gage Skidmore. Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia.