It is often stated that the world is a patriarchy, where anything “male” coded is held in higher regard than anything “female” coded. Clearly, in countries and regions of the world where women aren’t allowed to vote, own land, drive cars, or even leave their homes without a chaperone for risk of being punished if they are raped, one can definitely argue that a patriarchy exists. Most often, there is a clear correlation (I’d dare say causality) between Abrahamic religions and oppression of women.
However, in the secularized Western world, this is hardly the case anymore. Here the constant urging to “google the patriarchy” rings moot. In Sweden for example, there is no legislation working to women’s disadvantage, but several laws working to men’s disadvantage. Not only are Swedish women not subordinate in the eye of the state, they are in fact even better off than their male countrymen. “How about informal discrimination”, you may ask, thinking that everyday life of a woman surely will be harder than that of a man, regardless of equality before the law?
In some areas, yes – in others clearly not. When all pieces of the puzzle have been put together, the image that appears is not one of male oppression of women. It is not an image bearing witness of the existence of a patriarchy, at least not in Sweden.
To keep this article easy to read, I haven’t included references directly in the text. However, under the “Bibliotek” link in the top menu above you will be able to find hundreds of sources (non-fiction literature, scientific reports, statistical studies, newspaper articles and so on) backing my claims.
FEMALE LIFE SATISFACTION. According to the UN, women are on a global scale deemed 8% less fortunate than men, looking at life expectancy, income and education. In only 16 out of 148 looked-at countries are women better off than men, and Sweden is one of them.
This makes sense, as Swedish women self-report a higher level of happiness than do Swedish men. Women are more satisfied in all of the areas family life, close relations, housing arrangements, spare time, social interaction, health and economy. (Only in the areas “looks” and work/studies do women report lower life satisfaction.)
THE APEX FALLACY. True, the power holders at the very top are mostly male. On the other hand, the people at the very bottom (drug and alcohol addicts, suicide victims, homeless, prison inmates and social loners) are also mostly male, and this to an even higher extent. The male over-representation is higher at the bottom than at the top. If one is to comment on equality, one cannot only look at one end of the spectrum. This is called the Apex Fallacy.
In reality, males have a wider bell curve regarding almost anything, wherefore males are expected to be outnumbering females at both ends of the spectrum. Nobel Prize winners are statistically more likely to be males, as are serial killers.
WOMEN IN POLITICS. It is often pointed to the fact that females currently make up less than 40% of the Swedish parliament as proof of discrimination against female politicians. Although I would agree that female politicians are more often than men spoken about as if they were “family persons” rather than professionals (using first names when talking about women, and last names when talking about men) and that there are likely some prejudice that needs countering, this is again not the full picture.
Female voters outnumber male voters, and in Sweden there is the possibility to vote for individual candidates within a party. Hence, if any ruling assembly constitutes of more men than women, it is because a majority of women voted them in. Also worth mentioning is that in 2014 the Swedish government had more women than men appointed as head of ministries.
THE WAGE GAP. It is true that women as a group have a lower collective life income than men (female life earnings amount to approximately 85% of the male earnings). However, the vast majority of this difference vanishes if one adjusts for employment rate and sector/branch. In Sweden, the unexplained difference in actual salary for the same job is approximately 5-6% in the private sector and 1-2% in the public sector.
The organizations that do these studies also admit that there are several other factors, such as staff responsibility, years of service and definitions of “full time”, that hasn’t been fully accounted for and that may have an impact on the outcome. Although wage discrimination cannot be ruled out, all of the gender imbalance could actually also be explained by the higher male inclination for risk taking, causing them to negotiate tougher.
It is also worth mentioning that Swedish men has a life tax balance of -1 million SEK (they pay one more million in taxes than they get back in form of health care, pension, financial support programs etcetera) whereas women have a +1 million SEK balance. This two million net imbalance by far exceeds any “unfair” difference in life income.
Finally, studies show that in heterosexual relationships, the woman controls a majority (up towards 80%) of the collective spending decisions, thus making her financial power higher than implied by her individual salary alone.
DOUBLE-WORKING WOMEN. The myth of the double-working woman is often propagated, but in Sweden there is actually no truth to the claim. When the major governmental statistical institute, SCB, did their latest vast time study (covering 2010-2011) it revealed that if you add up paid and non-paid work, women and men work almost to the minute the same amount of time. This was also true in the previous study, one decade earlier (although men’s unpaid work and women’s paid work since has both increased). In households with kids where the parents live together, women actually get more spare time over than men.
Sure one may argue that there are specific downsides of doing more unpaid work, such as poorer pension outcome, but every person owns their own life choices. Want better life quality and less stress, at the cost of career and money? Stay home. Want a high salary, at the cost of interpersonal relationships and health? Work hard in the office. (Also, studies reveal that the women in couples often have the decisive say in how parental leave is distributed.)
WOMEN AS TARGET OF MALE VIOLENCE. No doubt men are more prone for violence than women. However, men aim a majority of their violence (both lethal and non-lethal) at other men, whereas women aim most of their violence at men.
Also, the vast majority of men never use violence against women at all, and when the sexes inflict violence upon each other, women have better societal safety nets in place than men. The hidden statistics for male victims is deemed higher, male reporters are less likely to be believed by authorities, and there are way less shelters for male victims (even adjusted for relative shares of victims/perpetrators).
Furthermore, contrary to common belief women are not that uncommon perpetrators of domestic violence. Although approximately 2/3 of the physically injured and 4/5 of the fatalities are women victims to male perpetrators, as men more often use repetitive and/or brutal violence, the perpetrator head count is gender balanced quite exactly at 50/50. Society’s view on male and female violence proneness doesn’t really match reality.
Finally, in Sweden there is also a specific part of the law regulating violence specifically against women, thus implying that this is a more frowned-upon act than violence towards men. Adding this up it is clear that while women are still worse off in regard to domestic violence, this is definitely a result of the higher generic male proneness for violence, rather than one of an oppressive gender power balance (”the patriarchy”).
NOTE: What about sexual violence, you may add? I handle this specifically in the text “Thoughts on rape”, where I clarify why it’s highly questionable that we’re living in a ”rape culture”.
MEN BUY SEX. Indeed, some men do. Sometimes within the framework of terrible crimes such as trafficking, other times as a mutually voluntary business transaction. Either way, although the men who have ever paid for sex come from all classes and aspects of society, they are a minority for which the variable “sex buyers” is a stronger common denominator than “of male gender”.
Women also buy sex. Not as often, but when they do, it’s overlooked by a society that inherently considers men as offenders and women as victims. Supporting that statement is the fact that more men than women are trafficking victims, only for non-sexual hard/dangerous manual labor. This rarely results in any major societal concern, which also goes for the fact that a higher share of young males than women claims to have had sex for payment.
WHAT ABOUT THE “GENDER GAP” PROOF? Well, the annual Gender Gap report from the distinguished collaboration World Economic Forum may be well-intended, but the methodology is so seriously flawed that the results are of very limited worth.
The report measures the share of women professionals, but doesn’t check for voluntariness. If women choose to stay at home, this is still considered an injustice. The report also looks into equal pay for equal work and net income, while only the first is a meaningful measurement. Political influence is also reviewed, but not by looking at women’s right to vote and/or organize politically. The report only bothers with actual outcome, so if a female voting majority (like in Sweden) has voted for more men than women, this is considered an injustice.
Finally, life expectancy is also measured, and this is where it becomes really interesting. If men outlives women, the index value is <1. If they have the same life expectancy, the value is =1. If women outlive men (which is the case in most Western countries) the value is… =1! A female advantage won’t be accounted for as one – and this is true for any measurement in the report.
This means that the only possible outcome of the report is an (exaggerated) disadvantage for women, which hardly qualifies as proper science.
FEMALE SEXUALITY IS REPRESSED. This is an area where I’d be inclined to actually agree with the claim – female sexuality is repressed. This is specifically true in regions where Abrahamic religions have a strong influence on politics and legislation, and less so in more secular areas.
In secular areas so called “slut shaming” is probably the main feature of sexual repression of women. However, one should note that it is far from only men who deliver the shaming. Women tend to be at least as harsh in this regard, likely since it is an opportunity to jab at the opposition – the women who are devaluing the sexual currency of all women by “giving it away” at underprice.
Furthermore, the evolutionary perspective is of interest. Men have had more to lose from female infidelity (not being the true father) than what women have had to lose from male infidelity (risk having to share his resources). Hence the gender norm has been adapted to punish female promiscuity harder – chastity becomes a part of the female norm.
The flip side of this coin is the male disposability. Men’s larger muscle mass (along with the fact that 1 man and 5 women can repopulate five times faster than 5 men and 1 woman) have made men the primary “fighters”. It is men who should provide physical safety, even at the price of potentially lethal combat. Hence women have had more to lose from male lack of sacrificial will than the other way around. The male norm therefore includes fearlessness, risk taking and accepting disposability. When a multitude more men than women die every year on risky jobs and/or in civic duty, no-one sees this as a proof of male subordination.
Yes, the gender roles may be to narrow, harmful and limiting – but the fact that they differ doesn’t necessarily make either one more “oppressing” than the other.
HEALTH CARE OVERLOOKS WOMEN. Not true. Historically a majority of medicine tests have indeed been performed upon men, which could arguably be partly due to men having had more power and money to influence test procedures. On the other hand, many medical tests have historically been performed on prison inmates and soldiers, making it appear rather like it’s the male disposability factor at play again. Men got to do the tests, as they were more disposable than women.
Either way, today the image is a rather completely different one:
- Men dominate most common causes of premature death, such as coronary diseases and cancer. In despite of that, women’s health care annually costs 50 billion SEK (~20%) more than men’s in Sweden.
- Even though more than twice as many men as women commit suicide, more anti-depressants are subscribed to women than to men.
- Leading Swedish coronary specialists state that the claim that women should receive less adequate coronary treatments is a myth.
- The government agency responsible for testing/approving new medicines is crystal clear on the fact that all new medicines are tested equally on women and men. In fact, it is even a direct breach of protocol to release a medicine intended for both sexes, has it not also been tested on both.
THE FLIP SIDE OF THE COIN. So far we’ve looked at (and to a large extend also debunked) many claims on “proof for the existence of the Patriarchy”. Should one still not find the image clear enough, it’s simply to look at the flip side of the coin – the one where male adversities are listed… It seems hard to see (Swedish) men to be at a power advantage, when:
- Social exclusion is much higher among men than among women.
- Many more men (especially of young age) than women succeed in committing suicide, and the death toll related to poor mental health in general is way higher for men.
- Boys fare increasingly worse in school, while school policies still keep getting adapted to better suit girls. Also, there are proof that boys are discriminated against, as they get lower grades than girls at equal test results and performance scores.
- Over 90% of those who are annually killed in work place accidents are men, and many more men also die of work related illnesses.
- The death toll for prostate cancer is almost twice as high as the one for breast cancer, but fund raiser campaigns to raise money for breast cancer research outclasses campaigns for prostate cancer research many times over.
- The legal systems sentence men both more often and to longer sentences compared to women, if the crimes committed (and the evidence therefore presented) are equal.
- Men are seen as second grade parents, in spite of much research proving the importance of fathers, especially for boys. An example is custody case verdicts, where social services maintain a distinct bias in favor of mothers. Another is the gender biased legislation on parenthood, where mothers have several rights that fathers lack (especially it the parents aren’t married).
- Fewer men than women have reproductive success, and get to pass their genes on through parenthood.
So, now add up all of the above. It seems quite clear that the case for the existence of a “patriarchy” (at least in Sweden) is utterly weak. What may be proven is that the sexes sometimes have different gender roles and sets of norms – but that Swedish women should be worse off than men is clearly not correct.