Man-to-Man Mansplaining

When I wrote the blog “Gender-Based Pay Discrimination,” I thought I was laying out something relatively obvious, but one of my readers took exception, using various statistics to explain both in detail and in a gently condescending manner how I was oh so mistaken, but honestly so, based on my experience, which he implied, if indirectly, was not in synch with the real world, that is, the world as he has experienced it.

One of my basic points was that statistics don’t accurately measure the extent of that discrimination, in response to which he politely provided yet more statistics, pointing out where I erred and ignoring the statistics he could not refute. For those unfamiliar with the term, this is just another example of “mansplaining,” or at least man-to-man mansplaining, since the connotation of the word usually refers to men explaining to women in a patronizing manner, using logic and favorable statistics to minimize one’s opponent.

And in my replies to him, as is often the case in replying to such an approach, I tended to lose sight of the basic issues.

So…let’s put the basic facts on the table. Societal control and domination is determined by four basic factors: (1) physical force; (2) economic power; (3) political power, and (4) religious power.

For as far back as history goes, and likely as farther back as humanity goes, men have dominated women in all four areas. This remains true, even today, although the degree of domination varies more by nation and region than it ever has before in history.

There’s little contest in physical force. Men are physically stronger than a woman of the same size because of the difference in muscle mass, and the use of that strength is the basis of long-standing gender discrimination.

But even today, when physical strength isn’t as necessary for most tasks and professions, in more “liberal” countries, such as the U.S., and the Scandinavian nations, men still dominate the other three areas. Now… one can explain and provide all the statistics one wants, but the fact of male domination remains.

In almost no country does a woman have full and personal control of her reproductive rights. The limitations on her rights are imposed by male-dominated political structures. And just for the record, I don’t see much legislation forbidding male vasectomies or laws requiring men to support, all by themselves, children they forced on unwilling women.

Likewise, there’s no record of any society in history, legends of the Amazons notwithstanding, where men were the chattels of women, or where men were compelled as a class to serve as sex slaves of women. Or where even men’s clothes belonged to women. Men were never denied the right to vote or be in government because of their gender, although often they were denied rights because of color, belief or social standing, but not gender.

As for those helpful statistics… they don’t deal with “male privilege,” loosely defined as the assumption that a man is automatically more qualified for a position than a woman, and that the burden is upon her to prove her ability to a greater degree than upon a man.

Unfortunately, it’s often hard to “prove” that “male privilege” exists because, first, most men deny it, and, second, all sorts of other excuses and rationales are offered as to why more men prevail in whatever it is.

One of the best examples I can provide is that of symphony orchestra job openings. For decades, the largely male orchestras and conductors insisted that men were always better, and proved this by almost always hiring men. Then, blind auditions were instituted, where the men who were doing the selecting neither knew the names of applicants nor could see them as they played. At first, this didn’t work as planned, not until all applicants took off their shoes before they walked onto the stage. But after that, miraculously, the number of women in symphonies began to increase.

Figures that seem to support the idea that discrimination doesn’t exist or is less than is claimed by women ignore non-quantifiable factors, such as the fact that in upper level positions women are generally paid less while more is expected, or that they have to weather a greater array of minimization assaults, or that they’re often excluded from venues and activities where males bond. And those are just the beginning, as all too many women could testify.

And, yes, there are reasons and statistics that explain why some women choose not to make the extra effort to break the glass ceiling. But those reasons don’t mean that glass ceilings don’t exist, only that some women don’t see the goal as worth the effort. And when women have to undergo more and produce more for the same or a lesser reward, that’s discrimination, whether the statistics show it or not.

And piling on the statistics doesn’t “prove” that gender discrimination doesn’t exist or isn’t as great as those who experience it say it is, it only proves an unwillingness to see what every woman experiences to some agree or another, even if some of those women aren’t allowed to say so or don’t wish to acknowledge it.

1 thought on “Man-to-Man Mansplaining”

  1. Wayne Kernochan says:

    This is probably overkill :), but:

    1. I don’t at all accept that your reader has given a good prima facie case that his statistics are valid expressions of underlying reality. My new “go-to” economist, Heather Boushey (because of her excellent follow-on to Thomas Piketty in the study of income and wealth inequality), in her labor studies has, I think, a solid body of work showing just how gender inequality plays out in the economy.

    2. I recently read a fascinating book called the “The Seeds of Life” (can’t remember author) about the 1600-1870 discovery of the true mechanisms of human reproduction (discovery of sperm, ova, etc.). This book points out that in most cultures based on farming, before science stepped in, the dominant belief was that seminal fluid was the seed (hence Abraham’s seed in the Bible) and the woman was the field. The result, for example, was that failure of reproduction was the fault of the woman (“barren field”) and that women, as passive receptacles all too prone to having sexual interests of their own, were of inherently “weaker, more vacillating” character.

    3. In the recent book “Outnumbered” (a study of the limits and insights of Big Data in statistical analysis), the author — who is in no doubt as a statistician that serious gender inequality exists — attempts to test his own sexism using a statistical survey and finds that with the best of will it is hard to eradicate.

    4. In “The Age of Sustainability”, Jeffrey Sachs includes a discussion of how women’s — more accurately, teenage girls’ — control over their own reproduction is now vital to combating global poverty. It also, by the way, contains both surprisingly positive (combating global poverty and disease) and distressing (climate change) assessments of where we are as a species.

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