“Lace Curtain?” Thoughts on Gender and Privilege

In Saturday’s National Post, there was an article discussing a male studies program and the “declining state of today’s male.” The article talks about the decline of men and boys in the job market and in academia, the disproportionate diagnosis and pharmaceutical treatment of ADHD in school-aged boys, and how boys’ different ways of problem-solving are not addressed (and in fact, can be pathologized).

Feminism has hurt men, the argument goes. The notions of masculinity and boyness have been demonized. The discussion of the frosh week date rape seminars are discussed, with women starring as victims-in-waiting and men as potential perpetrators.

The article’s premise leaves me conflicted. No surprise that I identify as a feminist. I did an undergraduate degree in Women’s Studies. I’ve worked and volunteered in the anti-violence against women movement. I have spent a significant amount of my adolescent and adult life working in gender equity issues, from a specifically feminist perspective.

And now I have a son, who’s almost 10. I’ve done the research. I know that while boys read, their motivators are different. They may be more likely to learn in kinaesthetic ways than many girls, ways that aren’t easily accommodated in the traditional classroom. They may set their pencils and notebooks on fire rather than write in them, and in 21st century North America, we don’t know what to do with that or with them. My kid’s been really lucky on that end, and I think in part it’s because he’s had access to male teachers at the elementary level.

I don’t want to say that boys are best taught by men, but for *my* child, who doesn’t have the ongoing daily presence of any other men in his life, having access to a consistent male presence has been great for him. He’s spent the last four years in classrooms filled with Lego, work benches, and comic books. Until 2 weeks ago, his current classroom had a giant pyramid constructed out of yoghurt containers, as a way to teach volume. His teacher convinced the principal to find funds to purchase enough scooters for each of the kids in his class. He keeps them outside for longer breaks to get their energy out so they can concentrate better when doing sit-down work.

I can see what the article is saying, and I’m surprising myself by not entirely disagreeing with it. But without an economic analysis, the article doesn’t even come close to dealing with the bigger picture.

When looking at the income gap between men and women, Canada currently ranks 12 out of 17 comparable countries. On average, women earn a little over 2/3 of what men earn. That gap has decreased slowly but progressively over the last 30 years. Broken down by education, highly educated women are earning almost equal incomes to men in most fields. Women in trades earn only 65% of what men do, and are still overrepresented in low-paying fields like the service industry.

While the argument could be made that women choose fields that will pay them less, and are therefore voluntarily under-employed/underpaid, that’s a very simplistic view of the reasons why women “choose” these positions. With the lack of affordable childcare, many women (particularly single mothers) need to have jobs that have flexible hours that fit around their children’s school schedules. Women are also more likely than men to become the primary caregivers to aging parents. Being stuck in a position of part-time low-skill, low-pay jobs makes it much harder for women to break out of poverty, which means that their children grow up in poverty. Poor kids get sick more often, which leads to more time away from work (and work that cannot be done from a home office).

Male lone-parent families earned $14000 more than female lone-parent families in 2001. And women of colour earn even less than that.

The Canadian federal government closed most of the Status of Women offices, citing no more need to separate men’s and women’s issues. It has also eliminated funding of daycare and early learning programs. It will be interesting to study the wage gap numbers for 2008-2013 to see if these cuts have had any impact.

Now, to address the complaint about the date rape prevention programs, I was involved in a similar campaign for years. Over the course of my tenure, the tone changed to reflect an increased understanding of the target audience. More men were recruited as facilitators. And message was clear: sexual assault happens. It can and has happened to men as well as women, and particularly male children. As young adults, though, the data says that those who are assaulted are most often women, and those who assault are most often men. Every man is not an eventual rapist, nor is every woman an eventual victim, but sexual assault is a gender-based violent crime, and it does reinforce the structure of privilege and power that still shapes our world.

One more thing that needs to be discussed when we’re talking about gender: transgendered individuals are at frighteningly high risk of poverty, violence, and discrimination. To not include the realities of transgendered people when discussing gender and privilege is to ignore the very real dangers that trans people deal with, and it is based on gender.

I think that there does need to be an examination of education practice across the board (not just to get the average boy motivated to learn), but I also think that the Post article was very near-sighted.



  1. Paul Elam said,

    April 14, 2010 at 9:20 am

    The problem with your reservations is that your perspective is tainted, likely by your education in women’ studies. And you do the same shallow analysis of raw numbers pushed by the AAUW.

    There is no gender wage gap that does not go back to women’s choices. The less pay for the same work myth has been debunked as many times as feminists have ignored it. If women want earning parity with men, they will have to start moving away from arts programs, and the uneducated will have to gravity toward more dangerous, physically demanding work.

    Also, there never was any harm in efforts to understand the problems of any given population, and there is no real reason to bar anyone from approaching those studies monolithically. Studying men without respect to women or the GLBT community needs to happen, as men have their own unique set of problems. That prevents no one from addressing other problems in other populations.

  2. Piranhtachew said,

    April 21, 2010 at 5:11 am

    But Paul’s analysis doesn’t use any of that girly perspective stuff.

    “and the uneducated will have to gravity(sic) toward more dangerous, physically demanding work.” Isn’t that usually the work that’s usually available to them?

    “Studying men without respect to women or the GLBT community needs to happen, as men have their own unique set of problems. That prevents no one from addressing other problems in other populations.” Not how it works in real life. But, hey, I’m just a tainted feminist who took an eco-feminism class, what do I know? ¬¬

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