Open post

Why would ‘The Conversation’ reject a conversation about gender inequality?

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.

 

The findings

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.

 

Open post

Men Bereaved by Abortion

by author and journalist John Waters

One of the more commonplace arguments that crops up in relation to abortion is that it is a matter on which only women should have a voice. Even if we are to take this argument on its own reductive “gender” terms, an obvious question arises: may anyone speak on behalf of the male 50 per cent of those human creatures whose existences are snuffed out by abortion?

But there is another unspoken category of overlooked humans here also: the might-have-been fathers of those obliterated children. It is noticeable that, when this issue is referred to at all in these discussions, it usually gets disposed of in the conventionally censorious terms our society has contrived to dispose of fathers: “Oh, he won’t be seen for dust”, etc. etc. Just as self-styled “liberals” use hard cases to bludgeon problematic principles, they also like to advance worst-case caricatures to disallow the claims of inconvenient parties whose involvement might complicate things more than liberals like (a pretty low threshold, generally speaking).

But imagine a 19 year-old boy, perhaps your son, brother or nephew, who gets his 18-year-old girlfriend pregnant. The pregnancy is unplanned, i.e. in conventional terms “unwanted”. In the culture we have constructed of recent times, the question of the child’s survival is a matter primarily for the woman. Perhaps her parents will become involved, but nowadays this is unlikely to alter the dynamic significantly. The man or his family have no right to an opinion. The culturally-allocated role of the might-be father is to offer “unconditional support”.

But let’s imagine that the woman has not quite made up her mind.  She is taking her time with the decision. This, we insist, is her prerogative entirely. The man – the putative father of the child-in-the-balance has no entitlement to speak for himself or his would-be son or daughter. He waits to hear the fate of his child.

In that period of uncertainly, what is to be his disposition? He may be about to become a father or he may not.  Indeed, in his own mind he may already be a father, but this is something he will be well advised to keep to himself.

Western societies increasingly take the following view: If his child is allowed to live, this man must be available, for the rest of his life, to love and provide for his child – emotionally, materially, psychologically, and in manifold other ways. He will be expected – by the mother, her family and friends, and by society in general – to step up to the plate and become a loving, caring and responsible father. He will also be expected to live his life thenceforth as if these days or hours of indecision and mulling-over have never occurred –  as if the idea of obliterating his child had never been considered. From the moment his child is delivered from the threat of the abortionist’s knife, he must locate in himself the qualities of love, devotion, duty and protectiveness that society feels entitled to demand from a father while implacably refusing him the legal basis from which to protect his child.

If, on the other hand, it is decided that his child is to be destroyed, he should be able to go about his life as if nothing has happened, as if he never had a child, the prospect of a child, even the thought of a child.

You do not hear or read much in the media about male bereavement by abortion, but it is nonetheless a real syndrome, documented in numerous academic studies. This research tells us that abortion causes many men to become emotionally overwhelmed, to experience disturbing thoughts, feelings of grief and loss. They react either by silence or hostility.

Reviewing how abortion impacts intimate relationships, Coleman, Rue & Spence (2007) reported that men tend to exert greater control than women over the expression of painful emotions, and so tend to intellectualize grief, and cope alone. The study also found that men are inclined to identify their primary role as providing support for their partners, even after an abortion—even if they opposed the decision. The study also revealed that men are more likely than women to experience feelings of despair long after the abortion, and are accordingly more at risk of suffering chronic grief.  Another study, (Coyle, 2007) found that men whose children have been aborted experience feelings of grief, guilt, anger, depression, anxiety, helplessness, powerlessness, and other feelings akin to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and that they tend to repress these feelings rather than expressing them.  PTSD symptoms, which manifest in 40% of men implicated by abortion, can take an average of 15 years to manifest. Some studies (Coleman & Nelson, 1998; Kero & Lalos, 2000; and Lauzon et al., 2000; Mattinson, 1985) have found evidence that some men grieve more than the mother following the loss of an unborn child, giving the lie to conventional notions about the male as emotionally disconnected from his child. In fact, a great number of men experience abortion as the actual death of a child. Such feelings are frequently exacerbated by the man’s inability to understand what the woman expects of him, with many women experiencing ambivalent feelings which cause them to emit contradictory and confusing messages. Due to the relentless propaganda that attends such matters, many men assume that their role is to ‘support’ the woman even when he disagrees with the decision to abort, whereas in truth the woman may secretly wish for the father to talk her out of killing the child.

I wonder: in the event that his child is not permitted to live, at what precise moment is the father expected to extinguish in himself the love, duty, affection and devotion that would have been required to parent a living child – and demanded of the father by society, even though it simultaneously forbids him to have any say in the matter? Or, conversely, if the child is given the green light, does the father’s responsibility to ignite in himself the various qualities that are expected of a good-enough father begin from the moment of the announcement of the baby’s reprieve? Or is such a suddenly incorporated father entitled to a period of time to initiate the process of ignition in himself? If so, how long might he have to do this?

Of what do we imagine a man is made?

Does modern Western society imagine that its young males come equipped with some hidden mechanism for use when their children are annihilated – when, having been briefly invigorated with the possibility of fatherhood, they find that the emotions normally called upon in this context are not needed? Or, on the other hand, do we—collectively, I mean—believe that a man who has started in himself the process of grieving his child should be able to arrest this procedure and behave as though his child had merely had a miraculous recovery from a serious illness?

What kind of men might such a society expect to produce? Automatons with switches secreted in various regions of their bodies for turning on and off their human passions and emotions? Or – if flesh-and-blood males with real human desires, affections and capacities – what might we expect to happen to the hearts of men under such a regime? Would a society such as ours be entitled to be surprised if it ended up producing male humans who were incapable of loving, or grieving, or telling the difference between?

 

About the author

John Waters is a Permanent Research Fellow at the Center for Ethics and Culture, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA. Having started his career in 1981 with the Irish Music journal Hot Press, he later wrote in The Irish Times from 1990 to 2014. His first book, Jiving at the Crossroads (1991), about Irish politics around the 1980s, became a massive best-seller. He has written a number of books and plays for stage and radio and currently writes a fortnightly essay for the American magazine of religion in the public square, First Things. His latest book – Give us Back the Bad Roads – has just been published

 

 

 

 

 

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