Equality is Not a Zero Sum


Today at work, during some downtime while I was stuck on a particular writing problem (note: writing specialized English for an ESL audience can be very hard some days), I started reading articles on CNN.com, looking for ideas for new topics. This one in particular caught my eye – you can easily guess why, if you’re at all familiar with my personal philosophy.  

William J. Bennett, the author of the article, acknowledges that women have made huge strides in equality, but that these strides have come at the cost of men. Men are confused nowadays about what it means to be a man – apparently, the evidence of this problem is that they play videogames more than their teenage counterparts…who are in full-time school. Bennett’s solution to this masculinity crisis? Teaching children about the things that make you a man – in Bennett’s mind, that means going back to the “Founding Fathers” and their ideals of “industriousness, marriage, and religion.” He doesn’t say what religion, but judging from his biography, I’m going to guess he doesn’t mean Islam.


I started off the article ambivalent (as I do with all articles that profess alarmist theses about “men are in trouble!”). Bennett’s premise is a little weird – that with the rise of women, men have declined. The statistics he cite create a bit of a vacuum in that he neglects to note that, though women are, indeed, earning more college degrees than men, we are still paid 78 cents to every man’s dollar, for the exact same work. The dramatic increase in women’s pay that Bennett cites is not to be seen as a threat to men but rather a cause for celebration as it means our pay is equalizing – I’m willing to bet money that the 44% increase in women’s pay is a direct result of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. It does not necessarily mean that we are taking good pay from men – we are simply, finally, getting paid a fair wage for the jobs we are already performing alongside men.


Similarly, Bennett mentions that 20% of men in the US last year were unemployed – while neglecting to mention that this number comes from one of the worst economic times since the great depression. His point of comparison is strange as well – he says that in 1950, unemployment for men was only 5%, compared to last year’s 20% - shocking! Let’s compare the 2010 unemployment to the unemployment rate from a post-war economic boom – a year, I might add, that probably had a massive decrease in the amount of men even available for jobs because…hello, war. It’s almost purposefully misleading – a manipulation of statistics to prove his point.


The deceitful manipulation of statistics is bothersome in of itself, but Bennett appears to be using them to manufacture a crisis where there is none. In passing, Bennett acknowledges that “Men still maintain a majority of the highest paid and most powerful occupations, but women are catching them and will soon be passing them if this trend continues.” This statement gives nod to the equality statistics he doesn’t cite: despite being roughly 50% of the population, only 16% of the approximately 535 members of the US Congress are female. We are behind Afghanistan, Pakistan, Rwanda and Uganda in terms of female representation in government. For CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, only 2.4% are women (that’s 12 out of 500 companies, for those of you keeping score).


I hardly think we have a men-in-leadership crisis.


But Bennett draws an interesting conclusion from all these scary statistics: that we have a "masculinity crisis" in the US. The reason that women are catching up and even surpassing men in several fields is not necessarily because, hey, equality, but rather, because men are forgetting how to be men. Apparently, 40% of babies are born out-of-wedlock, and therefore, there’s a crisis of men growing up without fathers.*


This “rise of women” is, for some reason, a bad thing, though Bennett is never quite clear on what the consequences of such masculinity crisis is – he never quite clarifies why we should be worried. The evidence is kind of thin on the ground in this part of the article – he cites some statistics about how men in their 20s play videogames more often, and some anecdotal evidence about how women complain “where have all the good men gone?” (as though this complaint is a new invention – if you go back to the Dark Ages, I’ll bet you can find a spinster wondering where all the good men are).


Bennett cites that work, marriage, and religion are the virtues our currently confused culture of men is lacking, but fails to create a good argument for it. He seems to be longing for a time when men knew that being a man meant working outside the home, meant going to church every Sunday, and goddammit, it meant being married and having 2.5 kids that your wife takes care of so you don’t have to.


The problem, Mr. Bennett, is that equality is not a zero-sum game, which seems to be the basis of your thesis. Women getting the vote means that women get their voices heard, which makes it harder for men to ignore us. Women working outside the home means that women get to be financially independent, which means we can leave our husbands if they become abusive. Women in politics means that women actually wield some power, which means misogynistic and harmful policies have a harder time passing.


If you're regretting losing the power to control women as we gain equality, it may be time to take another look at your priorities.



*There’s another statistical problem here – “out of wedlock” doesn’t translate immediately to “single mother,” and 40% of all babies does not mean that it is all little boys.