Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘gender roles

Why women’s roles have changed

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In a recent text, I had an excursion on moving and an out-dated world view. The first time I entertained such thoughts was in my early years in Germany, specifically concerning opening hours*, and how my lack of a house-wife put me at a disadvantage. In a next step, the observation presented it self that the opening hours could be a hindrance for women who wanted to work (or move from part- to full-time). Used as I was to the Swedish feminists, I even wondered why there were no loud protests requiring that the restrictive “sexist”/“Patriarchal” regulations were loosened.

*While the current opening hours are fairly civilized, excepting Sundays, the situation used to be horrifying. For instance, when I started working in the late 1990s (and lost the flexibility of the student) there was a blanket ban after 8 PM on weekdays, after 4 (!) PM on Saturdays, and during the entire Sunday. To boot, I lived in a small town where even the legal limits were usually not exhausted: Most stores might have closed at 6 resp. 2 PM or less on week- resp. Saturdays. Correspondingly, going shopping after a long workday was often stressful or outright impossible; and Saturdays were almost as bad. I actually often resorted to buying groceries in the morning and going to work correspondingly later—even though this increased the distance to walk considerably. (Instead of just making a short detour on the way from office to apartment, I now had to go from apartment to store, from store to apartment, and then from apartment to office.)

Ruminating on this and a few other recent posts, I have to question how many societal changes in e.g. “gender roles” or opportunities for women actually go back directly* to legislation**, “enlightened attitudes”, whatnot—and how many to a naturally changing environment.

*As with e.g. a law intended to increase equality and as opposed to a law intended to liberalize the market that happens to have a positive side-effect.

**Irrespective of who is to credit or blame for the changes. The common feminist claim that they deserve the credit is usually unwarranted, at least the positive changes typically being the result of a much wider movement, societal tendency, whatnot. (Note that not all changes have been positive. Consider the U.S. “Title IX” in conjuncture with college sports for a negative example.)

Look at e.g. a typical low- or mid-income* household a hundred years ago compared to today: No dish-washer, no washing-machine, no electric iron, no vacuum cleaner, … and consider how much extra work this implied to keep the household in shape and how much less time there was to go to an office or a factory floor. Or consider what was available to purchase at what prices, adding even more work, e.g. to mend clothes that today would just be thrown away, to grind coffee beans, to bake bread, to make meals from scratch, …

*Upper-income households were more likely to have hired help, making the practical burden of work less dependent on such factors. Indeed, with the relative rarity of household servants today, it is not inconceivable that some upper-income households are worse of today, when it comes to household work.

Or take a look at the number of children: A typical modern Western women has her 1.x children. Compare the effort involved, even technology etc. aside, with having three, four, five children*; or consider how the typically more physical work made it harder to be employed when pregnant.

*Or more, depending on when and where we look. One of my great-grandfathers had nine or ten, if I recall my grandmother’s statements correctly. He was likely already unusual by then, but such numbers are not extraordinary if we go back further yet in time.

Or look at the care for others: Daycare for children? At best rare. Severely sick family members? Often still cared for at home. Retirement homes for the previous generations? Unless we count the poor-house—no.

Or consider the types of jobs available: The proportion of the workforce engaging in heavy* manual labor was considerably larger than today (and larger still if we go back a bit further in time). Such work was simply not on the table for the clear majority of women, because they would not be physically able to handle it—and unlike with e.g. modern day firemen, this would have been obvious from day one, not just on that rare occasion when a maximum effort was needed.

*Also note that “heavy” usually had a different meaning from today, including both longer work-days and, like above, fewer helpful tools. Try, e.g., to cut down a tree with a chain-saw and an axe, respectively.

A deeper analysis might reveal quite a few other similar differences between then and now. However, even from the above, it is quite clear that e.g. the relative benefits and opportunity costs of a woman staying at home and going to work were very different from today.

As an aside, there are at least two changes that I have heard given somewhat similar credit in other sources:

Firstly, the birth-control pill, which is given credit* specifically for contributing to the sexual revolution. This, especially when extended to include other contraceptives and more tolerance against abortions, is probably correct. It would also play in with some of the above, because not all pregnancies of the past were wanted and improvements in various forms of birth-control are very likely to have led to fewer children, even assuming unchanged attitudes.

*Whether the sexual revolution is actually a positive is a matter of dispute, but in e.g. feminist discussions it is invariably seen as positive. (My own feelings are a little mixed.)

Secondly, the impact of WWII on female employment (in at least the U.S.): With a lack of available men, women were drawn upon as a source of labor in some “traditionally male” occupations, which in turn gave them a foot in the door for the future and could have indirectly impacted attitudes. On the other hand, that women were used as labor in WWII could be taken as an indication that attitudes were not the problem, but (as above) that roles resulted from a pragmatic use of people where they brought the greater utility—the war might have done less to change attitudes and more to change utility.

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Written by michaeleriksson

June 30, 2018 at 10:46 pm

Not getting women in(to) technology

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I just stumbled on a blog entry discussing the low proportion of women in technologye and related issues. This article started in a very promising manner, making several good (if not new) points. However, in the continuation, it ultimately revealed it self to entirely miss the point, by spreading feminist misconceptions and half-truths like:

We could just as easily say today, “Give me a child until she is seven, and I will give you the female engineer.” But we don’t say that; we as a culture don’t encourage little girls in their most formative years to be engineers. We encourage them to be mothers, caretakers, cooks, designers, aestheticians, seamstresses, communicators, hairdressers, and everything but engineers — or generals, mechanics, and anything else that, harking back to the beginning of this essay, requires the slightest bit of scientific, mathematical or technological skill.

The vast majority of playthings for little girls encourage them to think about nurturing others and caring for themselves — including, to a large extent, their appearances. These aren’t inherently negative lessons to learn, except for the fact that these lessons exclude others that deal with problem-solving, strategy, physics… you know, the kinds of things you learn from playing with Lego, K’nex, Stratego and other male gender-coded games and toys.

We are misguided to demand more women in tech when there simply isn’t an adequate supply of competent technological professionals to support gender parity. Women in tech begins with little girls playing with science- and math-related toys, and it takes much longer than just a few months or a few years to undo the sociological mores of a few millenia.

When push comes to shove, girls are not girlie because they are given girlie toys—but they are given girlie toys because they are girlie to begin with. (Cf. my points on Disney’s princesses.)

Certainly, all girls who are interested in technology should be given both corresponding opportunity and encouragement. We must, however, not disqualify them from being girls based on naive ideas that biology is a non-factor and that every girl who is girlie is so due to external influences that robbed her of the chance of being a tomboy.

Another quote from the post is highly ironic, because it his happens to attack the exact error that the author herself makes:

We must stop treating girls as gender-crippled, pink-collar versions of ourselves and start treating them like the facsinated young minds that they are,[…]

In the bigger issue of the article, another important point is missed: Is it a given that we should strive to increase the number of women in tech? (Ironically, the beginning of the article gives the impression of really having understood this point…) My personal view: No. It is important that there are sufficiently many techies and it is important that we all can chose our own occupations and interests (to the degree that we have the ability—not everyone can be a professor of mathematics). The exact composition of the corps of techies, nurses, garbage collectors, and professors of English literature, however, is near irrelevant when the other goals are met.

Note: I chose to make this a post instead of a comment for two reasons. Firstly, the original post did not provide a comment field. Secondly, I spend more time writing comments than own entries, and I intend this as an experiment to see whether a part of these comments can be turned into posts. (With the dual goal of increasing my post count and having my opinions on the topics at hand reach a wider audience.)

Written by michaeleriksson

September 8, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Comment censorship and comment policies IVc: Excursion on “nature vs. nurture” and related issues

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During the discussionse that spawned this part IV, a side-discussion seemed to branch out into a formal debate on nature vs. nurture (or, possibly, epistemology…), but ran out in the sand as the nurture (or, possibly, post-modernist…) participant backed out. It resulted, however, in some private correspondence on my opinions in the area. A summary of these opinions based on the correspondence is provided below:

  1. More or less all characteristics are influenced by both “nature” and “nurture” (and often from the subset “society”).

  2. To say that the one is more important than the other is only possibly within limits. In particular, there are many characteristics that are strongly “nature” (e.g. to have two legs), but can be changed by external influences (e.g. by stepping on a land-mine). This need not be true for all characteristics, however. (Cf. the case of David Reimer on http://www.slate.com/id/2101678e and David_Reimerw.)

    In addition, circumstances can affect the relative strength of different factors. A good example is IQ, which can depend strongly on access to and quality of food in a country with nutritional problems, but will be largely determined by inheritance in e.g. Germany.

  3. I have very strong objections to “Gender as social construct”, as this idea is refuted by scientific studies with a high degree of probability. (With some reservations for the exact definition used, and for the possibility that border-line cases could be moved with ease in different directions.)

  4. This does not mean, however, that society has no influence on “gender-roles”, behaviour, and similar. Based on my own (subjective) observations and basic considerations, it seems plausible to me that the more basic a particular characteristic is, the stronger is “nature” and the harder it is to affect it through “nurture”. Conversely, characteristics are the easier to change, the less basic they are—in particular, when they can be seen as conscious or unconscious choices based on more basic characteristics. (That women wear high-heels is hardly caused by genetics; but the wish to be attractive, which is the cause of the wish to wear high-heels, is a different matter.)

  5. An important, but originally left-out issue: Even, absolutely speaking, small differences can have a very major impact in a narrow context. Men and women pose excellent examples of this, with differences that are far smaller than between humans and mushrooms, spiders, dogs, or even chimpanzees. Yet, these difference have a great impact within the context of human behaviour.

    To take an extreme example, a difference in 100m-time of 0.10 s (a nothing in most contexts) can make the difference between a world champion and an also-ran (as in 1991w).

    The differences between men and women are small, but the context is sufficiently narrow that these differences have a great impact—and, ironically, by narrowing the context further by blurring the roles of men and women, these differences could conceivably grow even more important. (Consider the career of Usain Bolt if he was forced to run long distance or Haile Gebrselassie as a forced sprinter.)

I also discussed a few aspects of the alternate topic that both illustrate common problems with feminist (or e.g. Creationist) reasoning: The claims that we cannot know anything for sure and that it is unfair to give greater weight to non-feminist authorities than to the feminist:

  1. Even in science, it is impossible to reach perfect certainty. It is still possible, however, to make some statements with near certainty or with a high probability. Other cases include “we do not know for sure, but a lot speaks for X”. It is important to not hide ones head in the sand, when confronted with such statements—and a lack of perfect certainty is something very different from a question of faith (“Glaubensfrage”, as was claimed by feminists)—the latter implying holding on to a belief despite a lack of proof, or even a preponderance of negative proof.

  2. Authorities should not be believed because they are authorities, but because (respectively, if) they bring good arguments and facts. If one adheres to this, the question of what authorities to believe is a non-issue (and it is clear why feminist authorities tend to have a hard-time with critical thinkers).

Those who speak German may also be interested in an informal debate on nature vs. nurturee that did take place, without my participation, as an off-shot of a blog entry by the nature proponent dealing with why the formal debate did not take place.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 11, 2010 at 2:32 am