Indy left an interesting comment on my post about gender politics the other day -
"I don't actually agree with you there. There are certain types of employment that attract different genders. The majority of care workers are women, the vast majority of NHS staff are women, the vast majority of nursery staff and primary teachers are women. The vast majority of bankers are men.
So there is a gender aspect to the situation we are in because the UK Government's cuts will hit women working delivering health or social care services much harder than they will affect the bankers - although bankers have far more responsibility for creating the financial situation which has led to the cuts in the first place.
To add insult to injury we are repeatedly told that the cuts are necessary because we have all been "living beyond our means" - as though the country is teetering on bankruptcy because we have too many nurses or care assistants or nursery teachers. I think we all know that is the most arrant nonsense.
At the end of the day the UK Government has made its choices because it values the work of bankers more than it values the work of nurses or care workers or teachers. Are you so sure that this is not because the bankers are overwhelmingly men and the nurses, care workers and teachers are overwhelmingly women?"
What I find most striking here is that Indy starts by saying he/she disagrees with me, but nothing from that point on actually directly takes issue with what I said, which was about discriminatory thinking on the part of policy-makers in relation to domestic violence and prostitution, and also about whether generically blaming "men" for the financial crisis was sexist. It seems to me that the implicit suggestion is that by identifying areas of discrimination and prejudice against men, I am by definition denying that there is still discrimination and prejudice against women. It should surely be obvious that simply doesn't follow, and as it happens it categorically isn't true. I wouldn't disagree for a moment that women are being disproportionately affected by the Westmister cuts. I've no idea whether sexism is a driving force behind the coalition's actions, but the notion certainly doesn't strike me as being inherently implausible.
So what is going on here? Why do so many on the left refuse to accept that it's perfectly possible to simultaneously acknowledge the existence of discrimination on the basis of gender against both men and women? I pointed out in my earlier post that Scottish Labour's attitude to gender politics is rooted in Marxism, and that's not a bad place to look for the explanation. A hundred years ago, both gender and class inequality was a one-way street - it was almost always women and an easily-defined working class who found themselves on the wrong end. Faced with a world of such clear-cut contrasts, it was easy for reformers to come up with equally clear-cut narratives to explain the underlying problem - the exploitation of one class by another, and the exploitation of women by men. An "original sin" analysis, you might almost say. The consequential logic is obvious - to claim that other groups (eg. men) suffer from inequality is one way of denying that original sin, and thus to perpetuate the root cause of the oppression. That's the prism through which much of the left continues to view gender politics today.
But the world has moved on, and the pattern of inequality and injustice is now much more complex, both in relation to gender and class. Original sin no longer makes sense as a comprehensive explanation - which also means that, contrary to appearances at the time, it never fully made sense. The analysis contained flaws from the start. Deng Xiaoping recognised that in the late 1970s when he moved the Chinese Communist Party away from the rigid dogma of class struggle that was holding his country's development back. The guiding principle from then on was to "seek truth from facts". Now, strange though it may seem to advise our politicians to take a leaf out of a dictator's book, I'd have to say that's an excellent motto to apply to gender politics in this country. The business of the left should be to combat injustice and inequality without fear or favour wherever the facts suggest it exists - not to distort those facts to fit a redundant narrative of blame it has (understandably) become emotionally wedded to as a result of decades of struggle to advance women's rights. That means, for instance, championing the cause of all victims of domestic violence on an equal basis, and not solely the ones who fit the "original sin" template, ie. women beaten by men.
A few more examples off the top of my head of the double-standards this ideology leads to -
1) I recall seeing an article in the Scotsman two or three years back, about how the medical profession was expected on the basis of statistical projections to become heavily dominated by women in the years to come. Someone was quoted as saying that, instead of seeing this as a "problem" that had to be addressed, we should instead be embracing the advantages brought about by the "feminisation" of medicine. Now, can anyone keep a straight face when arguing that we should stop seeing the male domination of the political class as a problem, and instead celebrate the wonderful "masculinity" of the House of Commons?
2) Probably the most fundamental gender inequality of the lot is that women live several years longer than men. Some of that differential is biologically unavoidable, but by no means all of it. If the situation was reversed and men lived longer, it seems highly probable that it would be a policy priority to reduce the longevity gap by identifying and addressing the underlying causes. There would certainly be no suggestion from the left that women only have themselves to blame for dying younger. But, as it is, what is the reaction to men's plight? More often than not, a patronising and disinterested observation that they don't look after their health as well as women. To call that "pathetic" doesn't even begin to do it justice. Actually, we might look back to point 1 for part of the explanation for why men are less careful about their health - the feminisation of doctor's surgeries. Similarly, the feminisation of education must surely be a factor in boys falling behind in so many subjects - but, again, ideology doesn't permit us to view that as in any sense a "problem". It's always boys' fault for not adapting to the preferred methods of their teachers, and never the other way round.
3) Jim White wrote an excellent piece on Yahoo the other day, pointing out the supreme irony in Richard Keys' claim that football had "gone mad" for introducing a female assistant referee to the top flight of the sport, when it was he who held the risible belief that the sole fact of Sian Massey's gender rendered her incapable of understanding and correctly implementing the offside rule. Yet the adherents to the "original sin" analysis of gender relations can see nothing risible about insisting that the sole fact of their gender somehow makes women incapable of committing violence against a partner, or indeed freely entering into a transaction that commercialises the sexual act.
Incidentally, I should say in closing that I've got no particular axe to grind here - I'm not personally aware of ever having been the victim of gender discrimination. It may well happen one day, but it hasn't yet. And, to put it mildly, I'm not particularly a hyper-masculine sort of chap (I even like Jane Austen in small doses) so in some ways the feminisation of society has suited me well enough. But for others it's a very different story.