What's up, Europe? Gender, media and European integration. The story of a a young Dane exploring the continent.

Friday, October 13, 2006

A few words on power structures and women

Today I saw a very interesting definition of sexism. Jacob Holdt answers the question "can blacks be racists, women sexists and so forth?"

"No, they have no social power to in any way harm the power structure of whites (or e.g. men). Example: if all blacks hated whites how would they affect whites? Only through fear. Whites solve this problem by moving out in the suburbs or visiting a psychologist. If, on the other hand, all whites have negative emotions towards black people, how will they harm them? In relation to work, health care, education, housing etc. All very tangible things that you need to consult whites to get access to. It is easy to see that blacks cannot be racists because they do not in any way have power to discriminate whites."

If we draw parallel to the issue of gender it means that women cannot be sexists because they are not in a social position to discriminate men.

Allow me to explain why I think Jacob Holdt is making a valid point.

Firstly, on a global level: according to statistics 99 percent of the world's property belongs to men. Further, 90 percent of incomes goes to men (These are widely recognized numbers but one source is Jackson & Sörensen 2003). From a global perspective there is not much to discuss. Women clearly have no power to discriminate men.

Property and incomes are of course even more unfairly distributed. Women in Africa, South America and Asia are for sure worse off than women in the Western world. So I will focus a bit more. In this context it is interesting to take a look at Denmark since it is a country known for a high degree of gender equality. Are the women in Denmark in a position to discriminate men? Let us examine the Danish elites:

- Danish business life is run by men: 96 percent of Danish chief executives are men
- Danish academia is run by men: 93 percent of university professors are men
- Danish media are run by men: 87 percent of chief editors are men
- Men constitute a majority in the Danish government: 62 percent of ministers are men
(Sources: lige.dk and A4)

Examining power structures it seems that Danish women are not really in a position from where they can effectively discriminate men. The number of women in control of money, law-making and information is very limited.

Conclusion I: women cannot be sexists.
Conclusions II: Ideas such as that of organized feminist conspiracies against men are completely unrealistic. Why such theories exist is probably better explained by what Susan Faludi calls 'the backlash against women' than by actual activities among women.

(If anyone are in doubt: As a feminist my hope is not that women one day will begin discriminate men. I want women to gain more power and to live in a society with gender equality)

14 comments:

Balder said...

No human being is more able to discriminate against men, than a woman, and I am experiencing that all the time.

Virtually every time I want to eh,... you know, they let me know that there's someone else who is more attractive, wealthier or better endowed, and refuse to give me access.

Since I am not in the habit of flashing in front of a woman in the supermarket or out in the street, I have been wondering how they know about that that last little thing.

Perhaps they can see I only use shoe size 41, perhaps they have x-ray vision or how else they can tell, I don't know, but it's a matter of fact that I have been getting these advertisements about penis pumps in my mailbox ever since the last time I left my parents house just five kilometers outside Lem to visit Copenhagen.

And just a teeny weeny bit more on topic: do you really take that far fetched pseudo scientific bullshit or Jacob Holdt serious?

Lasse said...

All men are being born by a woman ;-)

And every human has the potential capability to discriminate against another human, regardless of sex, race and haircolour.

Rasmus said...

Er det ikke en meget sort/hvid diskussion at sige, at man kun har én identitet, som man kan diskrimineres udfra eller diskriminere med?

Jeg mener, de fleste folk har jo ikke blot en identitet, men en lang række forskellige der tages i brug i forskellige settings, (jf. eksempelvis Luhmann) hvis man da accepterer, at identitet er en social konstruktion (og så er vi vel tilbage ved sex/gender-diskussionen).

Jeg mener eksempelvis, at min identitet som hankønsvæsen kun er en enkelt del, der optræder på lige fod med min status som studerende/ humanist/ fattig/ nørd/ jyde / i-starten-af-20'erne og så videre og så videre.

Jeg har lidt svært ved at se hvorfor det ikke er mindst lige så relevant at se på diskriminationen mellem forskellige samfundsgrupper/ etniske grupper/ forskellige uddannelser (eks. er det lige blevet foreslået, at ingeniørstuderende skal have dobbelt så høj SU, som andre studerende)/ regionale eller nationale grupper, eller hvad det nu måtte være.

R. said...

@Balder: Let us stick to the topic of power structures here because that is what Jacob Holdt's definition of sexism concerns. Who are in control of money and power in society?

Regarding the "far fetched pseudo scientific bullshit" of Jacob Holdt: Looking at discrimination from the perspective of "who has power in society?" is not a new and uncommon thought. I am confident there are well-renowned feminist authors who would suggest the same.

@Lasse: I agree every human being has the potential to discriminate others. But few people have the actual social power to effectively do so.

@Rasmus: Of course there are several factors at play. That I attempt to explain the structures behind sexism is not the same as I think there are no other forms of discrimination taking place. White, middle-age men are often in a better position than young, black women. Danish high-ranking business women (e.g. Charlotte Rønhof from the Danish Confederation of Industries who has a lot to say regarding the future of the Danish study grant) hold more power than Danish male students from the humanities. There are a lot of structural factors that affect how much you have to say in society. Gender is one of them.

Lasse said...

It is a bit paranoid to see "men" as being a single homogenic and conspirating group holding all power and money in a society, isn´t it?

And i as a regular danish "Otto-normalverbraucher" don't have a shred more social power than a young danish black woman.

R. said...

Yes, of course in taken into its extreme the thought is paranoid and unnuanced... and not very constructive. And as I said in my answer to Rasmus there are more factors at play than just gender.

To that I will add that I do not believe everything in life is determined by gender (nor race nor age). That there are power structures in the Danish society that favours men does not mean that women cannot gain power. It is just very likely that they will have to put more effort into achieving it.

My point in posting something like this is not to create an image of men as a homogenic and conspiracing group but instead to contrast a view on gender and power that is often aired here in the Danish, political blogosphere. Namely, that some sort of conspiracy against men should exist in Denmark (and I think occasionally it is also claimed to exist globally). I wanted to give that a sanity check.

Anonymous said...

I am sitting here with my dictionary trying to read your blog, where the hell did you learn all this English? But it´s an interesting subject especially for an HR department Employee in a male run financial business ( like me). To bad we can´t sit down in a café and talk :-)
Kiss from Iceland. Inga

Kimporator said...

Det er jo noget bullshit at mænd sidder på magten. I vesteuropa er det kvinder. Der er flest kvinder på universiteterne skønt der er flere mænd end kvinder i IQ-toppen. Det er alt man behøver vide.

At der endnnu er flest mandlige topchefer er en stakket frist, og ligegyldigt for den almindelige mand og kvinde.

Kvinder har mindre behov for mænd end omvendt her i velfærdssamfundets dage, og det det giver dem en magtposition de udnytter skånselsløst til at ødelægge mænds maskulinitet og øvrige identitet. Kvinder bestemmer næsten alt i hjemmet, bruger de fleste penge og klarer sig bedre i næsten alle aspekter af livet. Kulturtilbud er primært for dem, og tv er totalt feminiseret.

Men selvfølgelig kan de forkælede vestlige kvinder lave en global statistik der viser det modsatte. Kvinder i den 3die verden har det garanteret værre end mændene, men at blande statistik fra helt forskellige kulturkredse er uvederhæftigt, typisk for kvinder og de leflende underdanige hanhunde som betjener herskerinderne.

R. said...

Der er flest kvinder på universiteterne skønt der er flere mænd end kvinder i IQ-toppen

More women than men graduate from the universities in Denmark but that is not the same as a society that favours women. In spite their higher education women get paid less and advance less.

With respect to your claim about women's intelligence research in sex and intelligence is a highly disputed area. So there is a lot more one need to know about that.

At der endnnu er flest mandlige topchefer er en stakket frist og ligegyldigt for den almindelige mand og kvinde

Less than five percent of business executives are women. There is still a long, long way to go before we reach some remotely reasonable gender balance.

And of course it matters. I am certain that if we had a better gender balance among top executives the rules/norms for parental leave would look a lot different. And not to forget equal pay...

Kvinder har mindre behov for mænd end omvendt her i velfærdssamfundets dage, og det det giver dem en magtposition de udnytter skånselsløst til at ødelægge mænds maskulinitet og øvrige identitet.

That is your personal interpretation for which I find very little evidence. As said before I recognize gender roles are changing and that both men and women need to rethink how they understand the genders. I see it as something positive: we are to a less extent bound to traditional ideas about what the genders should be like. For women one advantage is more economical independence. For men one advantage is increased access to the home and the family.

To bad for you that you see the growth in women's independence as something that suppresses you. That men need women more than vice versa is your personal estimate. I see it from the perspective that men and women need each other for different reasons today than 30 years ago.

Kvinder bestemmer næsten alt i hjemmet, bruger de fleste penge og klarer sig bedre i næsten alle aspekter af livet

Women earn less money and never really reach the top of the hierarchy. With equal pay and easier advancement I am confident that women would let go of the power they have with respect to buying house hold appliances, cars and furniture.

Men selvfølgelig kan de forkælede vestlige kvinder lave en global statistik der viser det modsatte. Kvinder i den 3die verden har det garanteret værre end mændene, men at blande statistik fra helt forskellige kulturkredse er uvederhæftigt,

Actually the book is written by two men. But you are also welcome just to focus on the Danish statistics. They should be pretty clear.

Hans Side said...

The most sexist assertion existing is the assertion that only one sex can be sexist.

The group based argument is a fallacy. Even if we accept your premise that 99 percent of property in the world is held by men, there could easily be a country where most property is held by women.

Of course the group based argument is much more fundamentally flawed, because the world consists of individuals.

Groups are just abstractions, and really tells us little of the experiences of the individuals they harbour except from the character on which the group abstraction was based.

E.g the group 'women' only tells us one things about all its members.

They are all women. Some may have been abused others helped, and so on. Some for the group of men or any other.

But alas, I suppose this is too complicated to understand for an exchange student.

R. said...

The group based argument is a fallacy. Even if we accept your premise that 99 percent of property in the world is held by men, there could easily be a country where most property is held by women.

I can only encourage you find it and let me know what you've learned. I would be interested. Following, we can compare your finding to the number of countries where men own far the biggest share of property.

Of course the group based argument is much more fundamentally flawed, because the world consists of individuals.

Groups are just abstractions, and really tells us little of the experiences of the individuals they harbour except from the character on which the group abstraction was based.


Okay, from that perspective your own project regarding men and their rights makes no sense. Judging from your web page you seem to have the opinion that (the group) men are suppressed by (the group) women.


E.g the group 'women' only tells us one things about all its members.

They are all women. Some may have been abused others helped, and so on. Some for the group of men or any other.


Yes, but think of it in terms of probability. It is much more likely that a man will become top executive than a woman. Also in Denmark.

But alas, I suppose this is too complicated to understand for an exchange student.

When I post messages or comment on my own or other people's webpages I stay away from personal insults and arguments' based on people's personal situation. I respond to people's opinions and not their persons - regardless of how much I disagree. That is a basic principle of rational debate. I hope you will show me the same courtesy.

Hans Side said...

Okay, from that perspective your own project regarding men and their rights makes no sense. Judging from your web page you seem to have the opinion that (the group) men are suppressed by (the group) women.

No. I do not think men are being suppressed (sic) by women. That would be absurd.

My point is that the media tends to portray men negatively and women positively to an extend that is not justified by reality.

I do not believe in the moral superiority of women.

Another point is that boys who has been sexually or violently abused by women get no help because it is assumed that women do not do these things. These guys are then left behind, a sad issue because it hurts both the boys and later women also.

By helping these boys we would help also women, but feminist theories that Patriarchy is behind all violence obscures reality and thus is hurting both sexes, because oif we do not understand reality we cannot alter it to the better.

Finally I want to make people understand that since women are fully human and rational - they should have the same rights AND the same responsibilities as men.

You could thus call me a feminist in the original Wollstonecraftian sense of the word.

Hans Side said...

When I post messages or comment on my own or other people's webpages I stay away from personal insults and arguments' based on people's personal situation. I respond to people's opinions and not their persons - regardless of how much I disagree. That is a basic principle of rational debate. I hope you will show me the same courtesy.

I apologize. It was not meant as an insult.

The comment was based on many years of experience with Erasmus exchange students, most of whome seemed to be more preoccupied with partying than anything else.

Someone told me once, that these guys are supposed to be the flower of European youth, but quite frankly they never showed any intellectual proof of that.

You are right, of course, in pointing out that rational debate ought to proceed without ad hominem attacks.

I am not sure my comment qualifies as such, it was, after all, only a supposition.

R. said...

My point is that the media tends to portray men negatively and women positively to an extend that is not justified by reality.

That depends a lot on what you regard 'negative' and 'positive'. A good example is the viscious coverage of Hillary Clinton during her time as first lady and main responsible for the healthcare reform. Hillary was repeatly mocked for not being a first lady in Barbara Bush/Nancy Reagan style. The list of examples of gender stereotyping of women seeking positions of power is almost endless.

However, this does not imply that men are not the target of stereotyping. For sure it is a problem that men are portrayed as violent in the media. I have touched upon that topic before: http://thesurface.blogspot.com/2006/10/new-images-of-new-man.html

I do not believe in the moral superiority of women.

Neither do I.

By helping these boys we would help also women, but feminist theories that Patriarchy is behind all violence obscures reality and thus is hurting both sexes, because oif we do not understand reality we cannot alter it to the better.

Neither me nor the feminist activists and scholars I associate myself with close our eyes to the fact that women can be sexual offenders too. In that sense I am sympathetic to your cause.

Still, it does not change the statistics presented in the original post. That women are unlikely to advance to top management and earn less than men doing the same jobs are significant problems and justify talking about patriarchy. Ignoring these problems would be to obscure reality too.