Equal Wales: Sex Discrimination – Men

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Can you be sexist towards men?

For all the privileges men are inherently believed to possess (“obligations” might be a more fitting description in a few cases), yes, people can be sexist towards men and there are some circumstances where men and boys are put at a disadvantage because of their gender. It even has its own word (misandry).

There’s some debate over whether disadvantages men face are a result of a patriarchal (male-shaped) society – for example, the reinforcement of traditional gender roles, or boys not taking education as seriously as girls.

Perhaps there’s an element of truth to that, but there’s also an element of institutionalised anti-male sexism that women wouldn’t/don’t tolerate when in the same position.

Misandry & Wales

Men’s issues are discussed by politicians – though perhaps not with the same sense of urgency as women’s issues. Examples would include suicide/mental health, parental alienation and, increasingly, male victims of domestic violence.

So men’s issues get an airing, but are they taken seriously? Is there any change on the ground in Wales? The answer probably has to be no and part of that is because the men’s movement has been co-opted by unsavoury characters.

The use of the term “misandry” has obtained an unpleasant reputation because it’s the go-to dismissive insult of more fundamentalist men’s activists online (in the same way some feminists overuse “misogyny”).

That’s unfortunate. There’s no better example of why this is damaging than the so-called Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) movement; a completely noble and correct philosophical and sociological sentiment – that men and boys should focus on their own self-improvement, self-respect and self-sufficiency – is fronted by a minority of very loud, genuine misogynists who equate not interacting with women at all as some sort of achievement.

If men want these issues addressed then our arguments have to become more mature. Not every problem facing men as a whole has women or feminism as the source (and the opposite is equally true).

Where are the problems?

Expendability – Men’s health & wellbeing doesn’t matter

There’s a clear inequality in health and not entirely biological (men generally have shorter life expectancies). It’s often seen as a “man’s duty” to put themselves in dangerous or uncomfortable situations. Conscription has, historically (and even in many modern contexts), nearly always been confined to men and 97% of workplace deaths in 2017 were men (pdf).

According to a 2016 OECD study (pdf), a majority of health spending goes to women – up to 56% in some OECD countries. This can be only partly explained by entire medical specialities being dedicated to women (gynaecology, obstetrics) with no male equivalent (urology is the closest thing) – though men take up a greater proportion of hospital spending due to circulatory problems and other injuries. Just this year, prostate cancer became a bigger killer than breast cancer and is expected to become the most common form of cancer in the UK by the 2030s, yet prostate cancer research has historically received just half the funding-per-diagnosis of breast and 21% of the funding for ovarian cancer.

According to Samaritans (pdf), in 2015 the suicide rate for Welsh men (21 per 100k people) was just under 4 times that of women (5.5 per 100k). Although there’s no great difference between men and women becoming homeless, due to women (particularly those women with dependent children) being placed in priority need when they do so, men are far more likely to end up becoming homeless after being threatened with homelessness or rough sleeping (up to 88% of rough sleepers in England are men).

Criminal & Family Law

Men get a bum deal from the legal system. Analysis from the ONS in 2016 (pdf p9) showed that men were 88% more likely to receive a prison sentence for committing the same crime as a woman – even if it’s their first offence; for some crimes, like drugs offences, the odds increase by 362%. In 2017, there were reports of a record high number of prison violence incidents which will, proportionally, affect men significantly more than women.

Men are about twice as likely to be murdered or a victim of violent crime as women – excusing it by saying they’re more likely to be attacked by a man doesn’t cancel it out in the same way a woman-on-woman domestic violence incident or sexual assault doesn’t. “The night” is, by far and away, much more dangerous for men than women – I’ve been on the receiving end of it myself.

Then there’s family law. Although divorce rates are declining from a peak in 2003 (probably because fewer couples are getting married in the first place) about 42% of opposite-sex marriages end with divorce and 61% of them are initiated by the wife (78% of same-sex divorces were amongst women couples too).

63% of court order applications for a child/children to solely live with their mother were successful compared to 50% for fathers (pdf – p65). Shared residence/joint custody orders are rare. However, fathers were more often than not restricted to irregular “contact” – supervised and unsupervised – where they may not even be trusted to stay in the same house overnight. There may be valid reasons for this such as a history of domestic abuse, but it’s not the most equitable starting position and lessens the value of a father’s role in a child’s life.

Educational attainment & under-representation of men in education

This is the mirror opposite of what I said about girls and young women. While boys are perhaps just as likely to achieve top grades as girls (particularly in certain subjects) they’re also far more likely to underachieve at school.

In 2016-17, barely half of boys (50.7%) managed to get 5 A*-C grades at GCSE including English (and/or Welsh) and maths, while only 47.6% of boys managed 3 A*-C grade A-Levels in the same academic year compared to 60.5% of girls – this is despite boys being more likely than girls to get top A*-A grades in many subjects.

Boys’ academic performance should, therefore, be seen as an inverted bell curve. While girls’ achievements are more evenly spread to be above average with some excellence, boys are more firmly divided into either a high achiever group or low achiever. This isn’t helped by a chronic under-representation of men and male role models in education – only 24.6% of registered teachers in Wales were men in 2017 (pdf).

Where are the improvements?

Gender Roles & Stereotypes

There’s a wider acceptance of non-traditional roles for men – perhaps not universally as of yet, but getting there. According to the British Social Attitudes Survey in 2012, only 13% of people believed men should be the sole breadwinner (though this is perhaps due to the present economic necessity of needing two incomes), men are also doing a greater share of housework (though women still say they do more on the whole).

However, very few, if any, people believed a father should stay at home and a mother work full-time, compared to 31% support for the opposite.

There’s also far less pressure on men to “settle down”. With women still broadly opting for hypergamy (entering into a relationship with men of similar or better means/status) than “marrying down”, there’s a lot more reproductive and personal freedom for men as expectations change. The challenge is making sure it results in a positive outcome, not this pick up artist (PUA) and incel crap.

Life Expectancy & Workplace Safety

As mentioned earlier, according to the HSE (pdf), in 2017 97% of workplace deaths in the UK were men (133 men), almost three-quarters of which happened to men aged 16-59 – though you’re proportionally more likely to suffer a fatal injury at work if you’re aged 65+. You’re more likely to be killed in agriculture or construction – both traditionally male-dominated industries.

That’s bad of course, but the good news is there’s been a significant fall in the number of workplace deaths – falling by 55% since 2006-07. It’s also one of the “good” side-effects of de-industrialisation, as one conservative estimate puts the numbers killed in Welsh coalmines at a minimum of 6,000 – practically all of whom will have been men and boys (a notable exception being the Aberfan disaster). Add those later killed by lung diseases etc. and the death toll is potentially enormous.

The side effect of all this is that men’s life expectancy at birth has improved, with the gap in life expectancy between men and women in Wales closing from 5.6 years in 1993 to 4 years in 2013-14.

Acknowledgement that there’s such a thing as “Men’s Issues”

As recently as 10 years ago, the very notion of a male domestic violence victim would’ve been laughed at. Now it’s increasingly acknowledged that as men make up around 37% of domestic abuse victims, the support they get (or, in most cases, don’t get at all) is completely inadequate.

I’ve already mentioned the prostate cancer research funding example. The impact of mental and physical health on men is also being discussed in a way that it’s never been before with high-profile campaigns like Movember, as well as that nauseating phrase “man up” being increasingly seen as the equivalent of telling women to “cheer up, love”.

Policy options to tackle misandry

(Reverse) Gender quotas – While under-representation of women in public life needs to be addressed, there are examples of areas where men are under-represented – some of which are quite important – such as nursing, teaching, social services, retail, care, public administration and, increasingly, both veterinary and human medicine. In education, male pupils have said they find male teachers more approachable and “a vital role model” – especially in primary schools.

Sex-segregated school classes (and anonymised assessments)? This might be worth a pilot rather than outright policy, but there may be an argument for gender-segregated classes for core subjects (English, maths, Welsh in WM schools, science, IT). It could – but not necessarily would – stop myths about gender and ability in certain subjects (i.e. it may encourage more girls to take science and IT and boys to study English). Assessments may need to change too; girls’ good performance may be down to them being better at continued assessment/coursework (which is a key element of GCSEs and A-Levels), while boys tend to do better in one-off end-of-year exams. There’s evidence from OECD studies quoted by The Economist that teachers mark down boys in in-class assessments, but scores improve when tests are anonymised so they don’t know the gender of the pupil.

Treat marriage as a contract – Any man of significant means getting married these days without a prenuptial agreement is an idiot, in my humble opinion. It’s a romance killer, but prenups should become the norm and legally-binding (they’re currently not in EnglandandWales). Only assets generated, bought or received over the course of a marriage/civil partnership itself should be subject to equal division after a divorce. For example, if someone marries a millionaire and divorces a year later, they should only be legally entitled to a 50% share of whatever was generated/bought/raised during that year – unless both parties were to negotiate a different deal.

Keep child support, ban alimony – There’s no reason for any significant changes to how child support works (and enforcement should perhaps be stronger and extended to age 21). However, a man should have no obligation, financial or otherwise, to a child that either isn’t biologically theirs or hasn’t been formally adopted by them (i.e. a step-child through marriage, or conceived as part of a same-sex marriage), so paternity tests could become a statutory part of the child support application process. Maintaining a standard of living for the former spouse and their earning potential shouldn’t be a material consideration in asset division either (that goes for both partners). There should also be a presumption in favour of joint custody/shared residence of any children unless there’s a clear and proven reason for there not to be (i.e. domestic abuse, inability to care). The whole process should be sped up too if there are no mitigating factors that could cause delays.

Sentencing equality – There’s a lot of focus on sentencing differences when it comes to race (as mentioned in another post) but very little discussion on gender. If men and women commit the same crime they should serve the same sentence or receive the same punishment – end of. The issue around why this happens and prisons themselves is an entire topic in its own right and, while the loss of a mother to prison will have an effect (and is used to justify more lenient sentences for women), a father’s absence also has a long-lasting effect on children.

More equitable health spending (in particular male cancers) – The World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledges that health outcomes for men are often worse than women, yet the experiences of males are rarely heard. This may, in some cases, improve women’s health too – extending STD screening and vaccinations like HPV to boys and men, for example. There’s also the argument as to whether there needs to be an entire medical discipline dedicated to men’s health (a male equivalent of gynaecology, presumably called andrology) that not only focuses on exclusive reproductive aspects but perhaps male-centred mental health/psychology and counselling services too.