by Professor Gijsbert Stoet
The Conversation is a well-known online news outlet. It works closely together with the many UK universities it receives payments from. This is, in principle, a good deal for all parties. The Conversation gets paid by universities to brings academic work to the general public in lay terms.
In the past, I have published a few short contributions for The Conversation about my own research.
Early January 2019, I called one of the editors I had worked with in the past, and I suggested that our latest paper might be of interest for them. The editor was enthusiastic and agreed. After a few days of me following the various suggestions by the supportive editor, a contribution titled “Inequality isn’t just something that impacts women – men need help too” was ready to go.
Or so I thought. All of a sudden there was a problem! The editor I had worked with needed approval from someone higher up in the editorial team. The superior was opposed to publication, despite the fact that it had been fully edited after several days of work on it! My university’s press office told me that this was the first time a The Conversation article gets pulled in this late stage of editing.
So what was the reason for not publishing it? I quote from an email I received from The Conversation:
“Unfortunately, after filing your article this morning to the news desk, my editor has rejected the piece. [anonymous*] explained that in this instance, we won’t be taking your article forward as the research seems to contradict itself – in one breath indicating men are more unequal and then indicating women are. She felt the end result was an article that doesn’t work for us or stand up to the rigour required for our pieces.” (*Name not disclosed here)
So basically, there are 3 objections listed here:
1) “The research seems to contradict itself – in one breath indicating men are more unequal and then indicating women are”. This objection is absurd, given that we report that in some countries women fall behind and in others men fall behind (read it yourself below). The whole point of the paper is that countries differ in terms of gender inequality.
2) “an article that doesn’t work for us” – that is strange. On the PLOS ONE website, our original research paper was viewed/downloaded more than 60,000 times in just the first 2 weeks after publication, that is a very high level of popularity for PLOS ONE. The Conversation regularly publishes about research that receives far less attention!
3) It does not “stand up to the rigour required for our pieces.” What is the rigour they expect then? They regularly publish articles that regurgitate old data, rather than being based on the latest innovative research. I have no problem with that at all (and it can be worthwhile), but I would argue that our paper has at least the same rigour as such articles that just reinterpret old data with a moral message (such as for example, this article).
Of course, senior editors at The Conversation have every right not to publish an article I have worked on for days with one of their editors. But still, you wonder why they really do not want it, given that the above mentioned objections seem hard to follow. I can only speculate!
I speculate that one of the issues that played into it is that many people seem to get angry when their accepted view on the world needs revision. Our research article argues that, in highly developed nations, men and women have it nearly equally good, but that men often fall somewhat behind women due to a shorter healthy life expectancy and less education. And therefore, men need a bit of help. That contrasts with the widely held view that women fall behind in every single country of the world (of course, it depends how you define “falling behind”, and our paper addresses exactly that issue).
Unfortunately, raising awareness for men’s disadvantages can lead to real frustration among gender warriors. For example, there is much opposition against the idea to put “men’s day” on university equality and diversity agendas. In 2015, staff and students of York university had protested the fact that men’s day was put on the agenda. It just shows that many highly educated people in this country are not ready for the idea that men need help and attention too, or that men and boys can suffer from disadvantages just as well as women and girls (and our paper actually addresses women’s issues just as well).
Interestingly, John Barry and Martin Seager recently argued that there is a general tendency to magnify both positive achievements and negative actions of women more than those of men. This cognitive distortion, which they call gamma bias, means that when women suffer from inequalities it is seen as a more serious issue than when men suffer from inequalities. For those people suffering from gamma bias, our paper seems to do injustice to women. Hopefully, raising awareness of gamma bias will help to overcome it. I fear it will take some time though!
Now without further ado, here is the text of my contribution for The Conversation, that was pulled by a senior staff member of the UK editorial team last minute. Read it and draw your own conclusions.
Inequality isn’t just something that impacts women – men need help too
by Gijsbert Stoet, Professor of Psychology at the University of Essex
When it comes to gender inequality, many people believe women are still (on average) worse off in life than men. The #metoo campaigns have certainly exacerbated this impression.
When measuring gender equality, typically a number of different variables are considered. This often includes the number of female politicians in a country or how many years boys and girls go to school. Then, using such numbers, an “inequality score” for each country is calculated. A popular index, for example, is the Global Gender Gap Index.
Most existing measures of gender inequality tend to focus on issues such as women in politics, women on company boards, and gender pay gaps. All of which are, of course, highly important issues, but often these same calculations fail to recognise factors that statistically are more likely to impact men – such as suicide, imprisonment, homelessness and negative experiences in family courts.
So with this in mind, in our recent research we wanted to look at three issues that are critically important to everybody’s well-being to create our own equality measure. The factors we looked at were healthy life expectancy (expected years living in good health), basic education (primary and secondary) and life satisfaction.
What we generally found, based on our three factors, was that in very highly developed nations – such as the UK – men and women have it nearly equally good with regard to well-being. The UK actually does really well – coming in at second place in our ranking after Bahrain.
But in these nations men fall typically behind on healthy life expectancy. So despite the fact that modern medicine has improved the lives of both men and women – in today’s world, women experience good health for a longer time than men.
Industrialisation and modern lifestyles have also increased exposure to toxins – including easily accessible alcohol and industrial toxins – which often affect men more than women. On the flipside, we found more maternal deaths during births in the less gender equal countries – such as Chad and Nigeria.
Our research also showed that despite greater access to education than ever before, in many countries girls often receive less of an education than boys.
This is why most part of Africa and also parts of Asia, women fall behind enormously on our gender equality index – mainly because of lack of education. So although education has been on the agenda for a long time, the outlook for girls in many developing nations is still grossly unfair.
Equality for all
Using our measure for equality, it seems then that in the most developed countries, men and women have it nearly equally good – with a slight advantage seen for women. In contrast, inequality often prevails in the less well developed nations – with Chad, Benin, and Liberia found to be the least equal in our measure.
Our gender equality index shows a need for more awareness of men’s health issues in very highly developed countries. This is particularly important given that countries such as the UK have a national health strategy for women, but no such thing for men. And although a few Western nations – such as Ireland and Australia – have now recently started to create a men’s health strategy, it is clear more needs to be done.
Our study also shows a focus on girls’ education in the developing world is of crucial importance to reaching gender parity. Particularly, as the degree to which girls fall behind in the developing world is often larger than the degree to which men fall behind in terms of a shorter life expectancy in the wealthiest nations.
And while our research does not take variables such as women in politics or company board diversity into account, such positions are only occupied by a very small fraction of the population.
If these factors were to be included, we would also need to look at the larger number of men than women in prisons, the fact that more men than women live rough, or that more men take their own lives. So we chose to ignore the tiny proportion of people at the top of politics and economy, because we felt it wasn’t relevant to the opportunities of people to live a good life and their overall well-being.
About the author
Gijsbert (English: Gilbert) Stoet is originally from The Netherlands, where he studied psychology at the well known Groningen University. In 1998, he was awareded his summa cum laude PhD at the Ludwig Maximilian’s University (aka University of Munich). In 1999, he was also awarded the Otto Hahn Medal for his doctoral research. From 1998 to 2006, he worked at the Washington University Medical School in St.Louis in the USA, one of the world’s leading universities and medical schools. Here, he focused on the neurobiological foundation of cognitive processes. In 2006, he moved back to Europe and has since worked at a various UK institutions, including Leeds University and Glasgow University. He is currently working as Professor of Psychology at the University of Essex, which is a research-focused university in the South East of the UK, not far from London.