Feminism has a special preoccupation with women’s physical safety. “Violence against women” is a key topic in feminist discourse, frequently discussed with a tone of unique seriousness, urgency, and outrage that portrays it as something separate from, and worse than, “regular violence” (i.e., against men). What is interesting, but hardly ever remarked on, is that this special concern for violence against women actually looks a lot like the protective attitudes towards women commonly found in traditional gender roles. Feminists and traditionalists obviously differ in some of the details but both sides have rhetoric that sends similar messages when it comes to violence and safety.
In March of 2019, some women working at the provincial legislature in British Columbia were issued warnings that their sleeveless shirts did not meet the institution’s standards of business attire. This incident evoked controversy that largely portrayed the policy or its enforcement as a gendered attack on women, even though the sleeve requirement applied to both genders. Dress code requirements that applied only to men, like the need to wear a tie, received no such controversy or interpretation as a gender issue.
I want to bring attention to this incident and the response it received as an example of problems with the modern discourse on gender issues. It seems that none of the people who portrayed the dress code incident as a gendered attack on women gave any thought or concern to the men’s side of the issue, and the fact that they have to follow the same or more restrictive dress code requirements.
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).
October 2017 saw a series of allegations of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault in Hollywood spark a conversation about sexual misconduct in society. I don’t object to that conversation happening, but I do object to one concerning trend: people and outlets conflating unwanted sexual advances with sexual harassment.
Attitudes towards women are hostile and contemptuous, according to the standard model of prejudice (as described by Glick & Fiske, 2001). This view is prevalent:
A “culture of misogyny” is “deeply-rooted in our society” (Kathleen Wynne, former Premier of Ontario). “We live in a culture of casual misogyny” (Megan Leslie, former deputy leader, New Democratic Party in Canada). We live in a “patriarchal misogynistic society” (Tina Garnett, Equity Committee Coordinator, York University). “Misogyny runs so deep in this society […] all the women-hating, woman-blaming, woman-fearing instincts” (Polly Toynbee, columnist for The Guardian). “[W]e should look in the mirror for woman-hating culture” (Stephen Hume, columnist for the Vancouver Sun). “This Is How Much America Hates Women” (Anne Helen Petersen, PhD, writer for BuzzFeed News). “America really, really hates women […] there is actually nothing women can do that is right” (Megan Murphy, Feminist Current).
But the actual psychological research on gender attitudes and stereotypes paints a very different picture, one where women are viewed more positively than men. Glick and Fiske describe this phenomenon (the women-are-wonderful effect) as an “extremely robust” finding (although it is found more strongly among women than among men).
We treat male and female sexuality differently. The most well-known example of that is the slut double standard for women (casual sex is seen as degrading and disgraceful for them to an extent that it isn’t for men), but we also have some important sexual double standards for men. The first and second (player and virgin) involve having or not having sex, while the third and fourth (creep and objectifier) are about expressing sexual desire. The fifth (“male nudity is funny, not sexy”) is a difference in how we tend to see men’s and women’s bodies. The sixth is “male homosexuality is uniquely offensive”.
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).
“Yes, dear” is the characteristic phrase of a one-sided relationship dynamic where the woman functions as the “boss” of the relationship and the man is said to be “henpecked” or “whipped”. This is a common portrayal of marriage on TV or in jokes, but it also underlies a lot of real relationship advice for men. It’s a problem because taking it to heart can leave men unable to stand up for themselves in relationships.
Stories and jokes aren’t obligated to portray healthy relationships, but in light of these portrayals and especially the serious advice, men (particularly young men) need to learn that this is not ideal, and certainly not inevitable, in a relationship. It’s likely that we’re not as concerned about teaching men to stand up for themselves in relationships due to the history of men being head of household, but that’s largely a thing of the past.
There’s a saying going around that “political correctness is just common decency”. Sometimes it is—you probably shouldn’t refer to someone using a demeaning or insulting term (e.g., “tranny” for someone who’s transgender). But political correctness is so much more than that. In a 2015 article, American journalist Jonathan Chait calls political correctness a “style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate”, which involves treating “even faintly unpleasant ideas or behaviors as full-scale offenses”.
This page is a resource on suicide as a gender issue for men. It includes first some statistics demonstrating the concerning fact that men are a lot more likely to kill themselves, and second some possible explanations for why that’s the case, including in the context of the “gender paradox of suicide” where men kill themselves much more but women consider and attempt it somewhat more.