Compulsory military service is still a reality in many parts of the world today. According to a 2019 Pew analysis, 60 countries around the world have an active system of conscription (this does not include the United States, which requires men to register but does not currently call them into service). While conscription has become somewhat more gender neutral than in the past, it still predominantly applies to men.
Conscription has a major impact on people’s lives. Those targeted by it—predominantly men—are required to put their lives on hold for months or years. In some cases they are even subjected to humiliating or degrading treatment in the military environment. We might then expect this to stand out as a serious gender-based hardship and injustice.
But it’s not generally seen as a major problem of gender equality or discrimination, as argued in the 2020 academic article “Gender-Specific Call of Duty”. The authors focus on its absence from gender equality indexes, but they also point out the lack of consideration in other miscellaneous data and reports, concluding that “gender-specific conscription is not considered to be a gender equality issue of high importance”.
My default assumption is that conscription should be abolished entirely, but even if it can be justified as a necessary evil for national defense in some countries, the gender point still stands. Necessary burdens should be applied in a fair and non-discriminatory manner. It’s hard to imagine this principle not being at the top of people’s minds if the genders were reversed. If some policy of compulsory service applied only to women and exempted men, it would be seen as a major gender injustice to fix, and rightly so.
Let’s take a closer look at conscription around the world, and then discuss some possible objections to the idea of conscription as a gender-based injustice.
The outrage over and public inquiry into “missing and murdered Indigenous women” (MMIW) is a major story from Canada that deserves wider attention. It demonstrates attitudes or even policies of male disposability (less concern for the safety and well-being of men than of women) from a government that vocally champions gender equality.
This is an informal survey-based study on people’s views of gender-based pricing in insurance. Two-hundred-and-one Americans, balanced for gender (men and women) and party affiliation (Republican and Democrat, although my interest isn’t party politics itself so much as the broader “Red Tribe” and “Blue Tribe” cultures in the United States that differ in politics, religion, gender roles, geography, urbanization, etc.), indicated their approval level (on a 1–7 scale) of one of the two following policy statements:
Insurance companies should be allowed to charge women more for health insurance, if they find that women on average access health services more often.
Insurance companies should be allowed to charge men more for car insurance, if they find that men on average get in car accidents more often.
Results indicate greater approval for charging men more for car insurance than for charging women more for health insurance. Respondent gender and party affiliation were relevant—women exhibited a larger difference than men in approval ratings, and the “Blue Tribe” (Democrats) had a larger difference than the “Red Tribe” (Republicans).
Some might question whether car insurance and health insurance are comparable. I think they are comparable, although there are obviously some differences. Health insurance is more essential, although car insurance is not far behind in the notoriously car-dependent United States (77% of Americans drive to work, not counting carpools). Health insurance is also more expensive to buy, but more likely to be provided by someone else (a majority of Americans have coverage through their employer, Medicare, or Medicaid). I don’t see these details giving an obvious justification for why gender pricing would be acceptable in one type of insurance and not the other, but that’s an open possibility.
2. Main findings
The overall average approval rating for gender-based pricing in insurance was 3.3 out of 7 (SD = 2.1). The average for charging men more for car insurance was 3.8, compared to 2.8 for charging women more for health insurance. This is a difference of 1 point or about half a standard deviation (Cohen’s d = 0.49), and is statistically significant (see section 3).
Both gender and party of respondent had a significant effect on the difference in ratings between scenarios. Men exhibited a smaller difference in their approval ratings than women did, and Republicans exhibited a smaller difference than Democrats. As a result of the effects of party and gender, Democrat women exhibit numerically the largest disparity (2.5 points) and Republican men the smallest (0.3 points in the other direction), with Democrat men (1.2) and Republican women (1.1) in the middle.
3. Additional details
The 201 participants were recruited from an online research platform and paid a small sum to complete the survey, which took under a minute (and included one other policy question). Respondents were assigned to the question about health insurance or car insurance based on identifying whether the last digit in their day of birth was an even number or an odd number, which divided them approximately in half.
Table 1: Question answered, by gender and party affiliation
Answered question on men & car insurance
Answered question on women & health insurance
Having participants answer one question, but not both, has the advantage that seeing one question doesn’t influence their answer to the second question, but the disadvantage of lower statistical power. Respondents also provided their ages, which I’ve summarized below. Republicans were a bit older than Democrats.
Table 2: Age of sample, by gender and party affiliation
Statistical analysis was done using a linear regression (lm in R). The response variable was the 1–7 rating of acceptability; the predictor variables were scenario (men on car insurance, women on health insurance), gender of the respondent (man, woman), and party affiliation of the respondent (Republican or Democrat).
The ANOVA table of the output is provided below. The most relevant results are the significant main effect of scenario (charging men more for car insurance was rated as more acceptable than charging women more for health insurance) and the significant scenario:gender and scenario:party interactions (both party and gender affect the disparity in ratings, as explained above). The non-significant scenario:gender:party interaction is also relevant; it means that the disparity exhibited by each party + gender combination is predicted by the separate effects of party and gender. In other words, the scenario ratings difference of Democrat women is largely predicted by the separate effects of “Democrat” and “woman” rather than something special about Democrat women (and similarly for Republican women, Republican men, and Democrat men).
Chapters 5 to 8 are the most important. 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.
The average man lives significantly fewer years in retirement than the average woman. This happens because men have a lower life expectancy than women in practically every country in the world, and because the age of retirement is higher for men than women in some countries (counter-intuitively, given the life expectancy gap).
There are disturbing trends of male underachievement in employment and education that, if left to continue, will leave men in a very bad place. Economist Larry Summers estimates that by 2050, more than 1 in 3 men aged 25-54 will be out of work in America (compared to 1 in 10 in the 1970s). The BBCreports that current trends in Britain suggest that a girl born in 2016 will be 75% more likely to go to university than a boy. Hillary Clinton might just be right when she said that “the future is female”.
The typical method of dismissing sexism against men is to say it isn’t “institutional”. This usually means claiming that prejudice and discrimination against men occur as isolated events by individuals, without backing of institutional power, and with limited ability to do harm. A clear counterexample is that the criminal justice system is more severe on men than on women in numerous ways, including likelihood of arrest, chance of pretrial detention, bail amount, and chance and length of jail-time. And many are calling for even more special concern and treatment for women in the justice system.
Singling out “women and children” is especially common in this reporting. Sometimes it happens when they’re disproportionately affected (“Dozens killed in Aleppo; mostly women and children among the dead”), but even when men are disproportionately affected—which is very often—it’s still generally “women and children” whose victimization is singled out. I consider this an example of male disposability and finding the suffering/death of men less distressing than that of women (and children).
Men’s and women’s reproductive systems are different, and so a full discussion of reproductive rights needs to take into account each gender’s unique concerns. Being the ones to carry the child gives women unique concerns involving the physical/medical consequences of pregnancy, but not being the ones to carry the child gives men unique concerns as well, namely paternal uncertainty—men are at a natural disadvantage when it comes to knowing if the child is theirs. This page looks into how big of a problem this is, and what we can do to address this unique reproductive concern for men.
Title IX (of the Education Amendments of 1972) prohibits discrimination based on sex at federally-funded educational institutions in the United States. Historically most known for ensuring equality between male and female athletics programs, in August of 2011 it was invoked to apply a new policy for sexual assault to all federally-funded universities and colleges. The “dear colleague” letter (pdf) from the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education under the Obama administration defines acts of sexual violence (rape, sexual assault, etc.) as “discrimination based on sex”. Among other policies, this letter mandates that universities and colleges (if they want to keep federal funding) investigate claims of sexual assault made by students and apply the “preponderance of evidence” standard when determining guilt.