Comprehensive Research on Discrimination Against Men in Finland

This is a chapter-by-chapter summary of Discrimination Against Men: Appearance and Causes in the Context of a Modern Welfare State, a 2009 doctoral dissertation by Pasi Malmi (University of Lapland) that provides an impressively detailed and balanced investigation of discrimination against men in Finland (the theory and results actually give almost as much detail on discrimination against women, although men will be the focus here).

Chapters 5 to 8 are the most critical. Chapter 5 explains six biases that cause gender discrimination, chapter 6 delineates the patriarchal and matriarchal subsystems of Finnish society, chapter 7 examines the various discourses that justify discrimination against men, and chapter 8 analyzes a database of gender discrimination complaints made to the Finnish gender equality ombudsman, a third of which were made by men.

(Length: 1,800 words.)

Chapters 1 to 4 (introductory/background chapters)

Chapter 1 situates the perspective taken by the dissertation within gender studies. It rejects anti-feminist and anti-women perspectives, and the glorification of traditional masculinity and gender roles (e.g. the mythopoetic men’s movement). But it also rejects the “critical studies of men” paradigm, which sees men as the main causes of men’s and women’s problems, refuses to criticize feminism or women, and does not believe that discrimination against white, heterosexual, middle-class men exists (pp. 20–21).

Chapter 2 defines various relevant concepts, and explains that the findings from Finland are intended to be relevant primarily for the Northern European welfare states, and secondarily for other European and Anglo-American countries (pp. 32–34).

Chapter 3 gives a brief overview of current or traditional viewpoints on what causes direct or indirect discrimination or mistreatment of men: gender roles, hegemonic masculinity, industrial capitalism, feminism (specifically gender feminism and victimization feminism), and exploitative women (pp. 36-44).

Chapter 4 develops a theory of sociocultural evolution, which says that ideas that are simple, exaggerated, and coherent with popular paradigms generally win out over their rivals, regardless of whether they are true or backed up by evidence. This happens due to functional selection (p. 57), unintentional biases (p. 63), and interest group bias (p. 71), among other factors (see summary, p. 115).

Chapter 5: Applying the Theory to Gender Discrimination (p. 118)

This chapter develops a general theory of gender discrimination, centered on a typology of six different biases that cause gender discrimination (p. 127).

The masculine bias and feminine bias are unintentional gender biases caused by the processes that simplify, exaggerate, and mutate people’s mental memes or ideas according to their gender (p. 127). For example, a person’s conception of domestic work or childcare will be centered on their own experiences or contributions, which are partly determined by their gender, and so they will often downplay/exclude the other gender’s contributions (e.g. yardwork vs. housework) (pp. 135–138). As a result of these biases, segregated groups and networks of men or women tend to have a masculine-biased or feminine-biased culture of values, priorities, concepts, words, stories, jokes, stereotypes and beliefs that can lead to practices that discriminate against the other gender (p. 120). For example, a group of female social workers might decide that women are better custodians of children and default to recommending custody to them (pp. 141–142).

The masculist bias and feminist bias come from interest groups, networks, or movements seeking to advance the status of men or women, respectively. Masculism and feminism have sexist and anti-sexist branches (p. 143). The modern sexist branch of feminism includes theories like feminist standpoint epistemology (which gives special status to women’s feelings and intuitions) and the feminist theory of social work (interests of women and children are synonymous, social workers should identify with their female customers). It also includes stereotypes that women are unselfish, peaceful, responsible, loving, hard working, while men are the opposite (pp. 149–152). The anti-sexist branch of feminism by definition is less hostile towards men as people, but it is not necessarily able or willing to accept men’s issues: “[i]n general, the idea of the discrimination of men is perceived as bizarre by feminists” (pp. 155–158). The sexist branch of masculism is discussed primarily in the context of religion (pp. 144–129). The anti-sexist branch of masculism has little power, although it is discussed as sometimes being the source of biased statistics downplaying women’s issues (pp. 152–155).

The alpha male bias and alpha female bias are the biases of high status (wealthy, powerful, attractive, etc.) members of each gender against low status members of their gender. They are particularly apparent in high status men’s bias against male criminals (male judges giving harsher treatment, including sentences, to them compared to women) and high status women’s bias against female prostitutes (pp. 170–173).

A central point of this dissertation is that male-dominated and female-dominated organizations (the patriarchal and matriarchal subsystems) are prone to predominantly discriminate against the other gender, but it’s important to clarify that they’re not guaranteed to do so. The masculine and feminine biases (the unintentional “own gender” biases) are just two of the six biases. An organization could be more influenced by the ideological biases (masculist and feminist biases) or the biases against low social status people of each gender (alpha male and alpha female biases).

Chapter 6: Locating the Patriarchal and Matriarchal Subsystems of the Finnish Society (p. 188)

This chapter identifies Finnish society’s patriarchal and matriarchal subsystems by looking at various measures of power, including raw numbers, managerial positions, control of knowledge, and informal positions of power (p. 222).

  • Patriarchal subsystem: technology, commerce, state finances, defense, agriculture, transportation, trade, corporative labor and employer organizations.
  • Matriarchal subsystem: healthcare, social services, social policy, equality policy, hotels, restaurants, and some cultural services.

Not all areas of Finnish society fall into one of these subsystems.

Chapter 7: An Empirical Examination of the Memeplexes, Discourses and Coalitions that Induce Discrimination against Men (p. 224)

This chapter analyzes the discourses that justify discrimination against men, coming from sources that include sexism and feminism.

Sexism: The development of the modern misandric versions of sexism is examined, including 19th century views of men as “barbarians whose urges had to be leashed in by the forces of decency—meaning women—if civilization were to survive” (p. 233), which it attributes to the joint interests of women and upper class men. Notions of chivalry and macho masculinity also lead to institutionalized belief systems where men’s comfort, health, and even lives are considered less important than women’s (p. 238). Macho masculinity, with its aversion to men “complaining”, tends to oppose talking about men’s issues or especially seeing them as equality issues (p. 306).

Feminism: Certain influential varieties of feminism see women as the disadvantaged and discriminated gender (p. 247). Thus the sole purpose of equality policy is women’s advancement (p. 256) and men are largely reduced to the role of defendant (p. 270). When faced with cases requiring a choice between promotion of equality and empowerment of women, many feminists reacted by rejecting equality as outdated or as a smokescreen for promoting men’s interests over women. Under these discourses, “the empowerment of women is more important than the advancement of gender equality in all contexts, including the matriarchal subsystem of the society” (pp. 259–260). That would apply even to women’s advantage in family courts and criminal courts (p. 305).

Also mentioned is a combination (and mutation) of difference feminism and equality feminism which says that “women are superior to men in many ways, but men are not superior to women in any ways” (p. 296)—which means that when men are ahead it’s because of sexism, but when women are ahead it is legitimate and natural.

The groups and alliances that justify misandry and discrimination against men (p. 334):


Chapter 8: Gender Discrimination, According to the Complaints Sent to the Finnish Equality Ombudsman (p. 346)

Complaints: This chapter analyzes 800 complaints of gender discrimination made between 1997 and 2004 and sent to the Finnish equality ombudsman (p. 348). Men were 33% of victims, according to the author’s suggestion for the best measure of actual discrimination in these cases (outcome types 3–5, p. 356). Labour market discrimination, the largest category, primarily involved women (76%), while the second largest category, discrimination against customers, primarily involved men (~60%).

Another category, discriminative legislation, primarily involved men (77%). Few complaints were made, but due to active conscription policies (lasting 5-12 months), almost all men in Finland are affected by discriminative legislation. The author classifies these complaints as discrimination, although the equality ombudsman does not, “as the Finnish equality law is not applicable to men’s obligatory military service” (p. 354).

Bias: Per chapter 6, equality policy itself is in the matriarchal subsystem of equality (e.g. 90% of employees in the equality ombudsman office are female, p. 354). The ombudsman has a policy not to comment on complaints involving custody and divorce, purportedly to not interfere with the court system, but the author suggests that it stems from a bias against men, perhaps due to prioritizing women’s status over equality or wanting to avoid a flood of complaints from men (p. 354). This is made more explicit by another comment from the ombudsman’s office saying that it is not taking action on certain cases of discrimination against men because “the main purpose of the equality law is to improve women’s status especially in the labor market”, suggesting that the law should be applied more strictly to cases of discrimination against women (p. 381).

Patriarchal & matriarchal subsystems: 57% of discrimination cases in the matriarchal subsystem of society (as defined in chapter 6) were against men, compared to 31% in neutral domains, and 17% in the patriarchal subsystem of society (p. 358).

Discrimination examples: Many cases of discrimination against women (e.g. a workplace that only required women to do extra cleaning tasks on top of their regular duties) are recounted on the same pages but we’ll look at men here.

  • In the labour market: At a mental hospital, only men were appointed to night shifts (p. 374). At a school, preference was given to hiring female teachers even though men are the “underrepresented” gender (p. 376). Many traditionally feminine jobs excluded men in their recruitment material (p. 377). A workplace allowed women to wear more casual and comfortable clothing than men (p. 377).
  • As customers: Favourable pricing for women in boat cruises (a 50% discount!), discotheques & dancing places, dating services, gymnastics, a theatre, restaurants, horse races, and car insurance (pp. 380–382). Also more strict clothing standards for men at a casino, higher minimum ages for men to enter restaurants, and an apartment that only allowed women (pp. 382–383).
  • Government administration: Subsidy for women’s osteoporosis medicines but not men’s (from pension fund), free public screening for breast cancer but not prostate cancer, higher retirement age for men (which has been changed) (pp. 387–389).
  • Legislation: Men’s complaints were all about the obligatory military or civil service of six to thirteen months (those who refuse get six months in prison, p. 390).

Likely motives: Two alternative rating methods (tables 52 and 53) find that either (certain) feminist ideas are the most common motivators of discrimination against men, or sexism and the feminine bias are the most common motivators (feminine bias meaning unintentional gender bias of groups of women, counterpart to masculine bias of groups of men). Financial motives were also frequent (pp. 401-402).


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