Posts Tagged ‘gender’

The Testaments

Saturday, March 13th, 2021 | Books

The Testaments is a novel by Margaret Atwood. It is a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. There are a couple of very mind spoilers in this post.

Released 34 years after the original, it is set a few decades after the original and tells of the final days of Gilead as told by a series of different narrators: Aunt Lydia, a girl from Gilead and a girl from Canada. The final part of the novel is narrated by a history professor several hundred years in the future attempting to piece together the final days of the failed state.

I enjoyed the novel a lot. probably more so than the original. Atwood comments in the opening that she wrote the book due to so man requests from fans with the implication that it would provide closure. In some ways, I felt this was not needed. It was a dystopian novel: should there be a happy ending? Does it detract from the horror if we know it is going to be alright in the end? But maybe that is a comfort that I, as a man, do not need but others might.

As of today, men have done a full year’s work

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

10 November is Equal Pay Day. As reported by The Telegraph, women, on average, earn 14.2% less than men, so effectively, after 10 November, they are working for free for the rest of the year. If men quit their job on that date, it would take women the rest of the year to catch up.

I like the initiative. It draws attention to the gender pay gap in a clever way.

Like all such initiatives, it misses the fine detail of the discussion. The nuances of the argument. Nobody can blame it; it’s just an advertising slogan. But, when we get down to fixing it, we need to keep those nuances in mind.

The gender hours gap

One of which is that, as of today, men have done a full year’s work. On average, they have worked so many more hours that even if they quit their job today, it would take women the rest of the year to catch up.

It’s not a small difference. Forbes reports that, on average, men work 42 minutes more per day. That’s 3.5 hours per week, 14 hours per month, or an entire month’s worth of working hours by year’s end.

Okay, but why is this relevant?

It is relevant because it shows we have a holistic social problem, not just something that affects women. We’ve built a society in which men are expected to work more and to be paid more.

It is possible in theory, though unlikely in practice, that we can solve the problem by only looking at one side of it. Until we accept that we need a fundamental change in the views of our society, not just a quick fix or call for the problem to magically go away, it seems unlikely we’re going to make more significant progress.

What do we do about it?

We need to change the nature of the debate from “why do women earn less?” to “why are there differences between genders?” Once you look at the whole picture, we become better able to deal with the situation and therefore make a fairer world.

Take maternity pay, for example. Elina and I were planning to split the childcare. But, when we ran the numbers, it was just unaffordable: Elina’s wage would be partially replaced by maternity pay and mine would not.

Aviva recently announced that they would now offer up to six months full pay for any parent, regardless of gender. It will be interesting to see how this changes the progression of women through the company.

But, more widely, we need to change the culture of men go to work, and women raise the children. That won’t just be measured in wage gaps or boardroom quotas, but in whether all genders are free to choose working hours, childcare responsibilities, occupations and a range of other factors.

Gendered cycling helmets

Sunday, November 12th, 2017 | Sport

Recently, Elina and I bought cycling helmets. You may think that they would just be one design for everyone. After all, men and women have basically the same head. Sure, men have larger heads, on average, but that isn’t a reason to gender them: just make them in a variety of sizes.

But that isn’t how it works. Men, who presumably spend more money on such gear, get a range of sizes. And features. Mine, for example, has MIPS. This is the latest safety standard to protect my head in the event of a crash.

Sounds good.

Elina on the other hand, bought a woman’s helmet. Here is what hers has:

Yep, it has a little hole where you can put your hair through. It’s not even special. I can do that with my helmet.

Why age disparity in relationships matter

Monday, February 27th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

On average, men choose to marry women slightly younger than they are. But for would-be dads, this can have a profound impact on family life.

Most people enter relationships with people of a similar age. In western culture this is normal, and indeed doing anything other than this is considered abnormal. However, in different cultures, and at different times, this as not always been the case.

If we look at the 2013 US survey data, we find that a third of heterosexual married couples are within one year of each other. It is not an equal curve on each side though. Women are far more likely to marry older men. In 20% of marriages the man is 2–3 years old, and in 13% 4–5 years older. Compare this to 7% and 3% for women being older.

This makes sense. OK Cupid data, as documented in the book Dataclysm shows that men prefer younger women, and up until the age of 30, women prepare a slightly older man. As many relationships are formed before the age of 30, the older man younger woman setup is likely to have the broader appeal to both parties.

Why is it important, though?

I think it is important because it contributes to the imbalance of women staying at home to look after the children while men continue working. For would-be stay-at-home dads and passionate career women, this is not a desirable situation.

People who are further along in their career earn more money. Nothing controversial there. This means that if you enter into a relationship with someone a few years older than you, on average, they are going to earn more money than you.

When it comes to starting a family, it would be nice to think that childcare could simply be divided as you see fit. However, this is simply not the reality that most of us live in. Many of our decisions are driven by economic factors. That is to say, there are bills to pay and we need to earn enough money to pay them.

Therefore, when it comes to starting a family, many people are faced with the decision of giving up the father’s wage or giving up the mother’s. Unfortunately, for many would-be full-time dads, giving up their own higher wage is not financially viable for the family.

Exactly what can be done about this, I am not sure. You could say that if you want to be a stay-at-home-dad you should marry someone older, or in a more lucrative career than you. However, as most of us know, love does not work that way.

Men twice as likely to be without emotional support

Friday, February 24th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

Men have an almost one in ten chance of having nobody to turn to. Could peer support fill a much-needed gap?

In June, mental health charity Mind published research suggesting that men were twice as likely to have nobody to rely on for emotional support. 9% of men, compared with 5% of women, said that they have nobody to turn to in times of need. The research also suggested men are less likely to feel comfortable talking to the people close to them about their problems, with 52% agreeing.

This is a big problem for a number of reasons.

As Susan Pinker explains in her book _The Village Effect_, having a strong social network and close emotional support is critical to both good mental and physical health. When you eliminate the bias for women to have a stronger circle of close friends to rely on, you find that the disparity between men’s and women’s life expectancies closes dramatically.

Second, with men three times more likely to take their own lives than women, having someone to turn to at the crisis point could mean the difference between an intervention that saves someone’s life, and a successful suicide attempt.

The question is, that can be done about this problem?

To an extent, the problem could lie with our gender itself. If we built stronger relationships and invested more time in building those relationships, we would have a wider circle. However, many men feel like they simply don’t have the connections to do this, that it would not be viewed upon as socially acceptable in their circle, or simply that they feel too uncomfortable to do this.

Another option would be to increase the number of peer support groups available. The advantage of being able to talk to people going through similar problems, and therefore being able to bypass the chance of people not understanding, or judging, may provide a critical avenue for men to get the emotional support they need.

What your genitals say about you

Thursday, April 14th, 2016 | Religion & Politics

Last week, this picture appeared in my Facebook feed:


For making a political point, it’s quite clever. However, in this case it is rather unhelpful. That is because astrology genuinely is a load of nonsense. And your child’s genitals genuinely do predict their toy preferences.

The debate regarding nature and nurture has been going on for a long time. Like so many things though, it is not a black and white solution, but probably somewhere in between. We are all products of our DNA, and our environment.

In the case of children’s toys, it’s obvious to anyone at a quick glance that boys tend to play with trucks and girls tend to play with dolls. The question has always been why. Is it that boys and girls have predetermined generic interests, or is it a result of social conditioning?

It is almost certainly the former, at least in part. As the New Scientist reports, a study on monkeys showed that male monkeys prefered trucks and female monkeys prefered dolls. It’s difficult to to argue that monkey society conditions their young to have a preference one way or the other.

That is not to say that sex is the only factor, or that social conditioning does not play a part. Some boys like to play with dolls and some girls like to play with trucks. It is merely that the statistical average, when looking at a large enough group, with tend to fall onto one side or the other. Your child’s genitals do in fact predict what toys they most likely have a preference for: it just isn’t 100% accurate.

This is where the importance of understanding equality really comes in. I think we can draw a parallel with car insurance. I wrote about this in 2011. It is unfair to charge male drivers more than female drivers. This has traditionally been the case because male drivers are more likely to have serious accidents. However, the EU banned it later that year (what has the EU ever done for us?!?). The reason why this is unfair is because although statistically over a large group, male drivers are more likely to have a serious accident, does not mean that one specific male driver is not a very safe driver. The specific driver getting insurance may be a very safe driver, so it would be unfair to tarnish him with the same brush.

This is also true of children’s toys. Just because boys tend to prefer trucks and girls tend to prefer dolls, does not mean you should force that toy on them: let them choose for themselves. They may choose a different toy to what society might expect them to. However, if your child does in fact choose the toy society expects them to, don’t worry that you have been a victim of social conditioning: they are statistically likely to pick that toy regardless.

Why I read Telegraph Men

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts


As a hippie leftie, my newspaper of choice is usually The Guardian. With its engaging content and unofficial mission to counteract the hate spewed out by the Murdock empire, it, along with the BBC, makes an excellent choice for me to consume the little news I read.

There is one area however, where I read The Telegraph. That, is a Telegraph Men.

The problem with being on the left these days is that as a straight white cis male, I am basically the enemy. My boat automatically rises high on the sea of privilege that propels it up towards the heavens. I don’t dispute this. I think the evidence shows that being a white man actually does grant me privilege. Whether it compares to the privilege differences between classes remains to be seen, but there is definitely a benefit.

Given that this benefit does exist, the left, committed to empowering everyone, cannot tolerate any further benefit coming my way. Again, I am not even going to suggest this is a bad thing. When International Men’s Day rolls around, there is a backlash from the left, insisting that it is a stupid idea. The arguments are long. “What if it was men’s health day?” sympathetic advocates say. The idea that we should be able to talk about men being three times more likely to kill themselves is a touchy subject.

Once again, I want to state that, in this post, I am not complaining about this. Perhaps it is fair to take that point of view.

The end result of this seems to be that the idea of devoting column inches to men seems unpalatable to Guardian readers. They have a men’s health section. Of which, at time of writing, the second story on the page is:

My husband has turned into a fitness fanatic. What can I do?

I’m not interested in this. It does not appeal to me.

Telegraph Men on the other hand, has no such problems. They write engaging content that does appeal to me as a liberal progressive modern-man. They write about men taking shared parental leave, men who choose a career in midwifery and whether veganism is a good dietary choice. It is both interesting and relevant to me to read about a father writing about raising an autistic son.

Nor does it take itself too seriously. Amusing articles about photoshopping and a Twitter account description that reads…

Advice, opinions, expertise and experiences. For men. And women. But mostly men.

…shows an playful sense of humour. I am not sure you could do this in a left-leaning media outlet. The idea that as a straight white man I might have something to contribute to the gender equality debate is not a welcome opinion. The idea that you could do any of this without a completely serious look on your face is even more out there.

Therefore, ironically perhaps, it is the right-leaning media, without such gender-political baggage, that can write about being a stay-at-home dad or breaking down stereotypes in traditionally female careers.

Of course, I am fully aware that I am reading The Torygraph. The paper that was fined £30,000 for telling people to vote Conservative. My own charity work has been the victim of their right-wing attacks.

However, in Telegraph Men, I have found interesting, engaging and relevant content that the media of the left does not seem to be able to replicate. As a father-to-be who aspires to a more liberal, equal and open society, it is, surprisingly, The Telegraph, that is leading the way.


Saturday, December 19th, 2015 | Books

Christian Rudder is a founder and head of data trends at the dating site OkCupid. For years he ran the blog OkTrends which looked at what data you could mine from their site. This book is a continuation of this work as well as bringing in other data sets, mostly to talk about human sexuality.

The full title is Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking).

The anonymised data of OkCupid in aggregate provide some surprising facts, and some expected ones. Take gender differences, for example. Women rate men of a similar age to themselves as the most attract. Up until 30 women will rate men a year or two older than them as the most attractive; after 30 they find men a year or two younger than them most attractive. A drop off starts at 40. That is a good innings though. Compare this to the way men rate women. They rate 21 year olds the most attractive and it goes down hill from there.

He looks at the use of English on Twitter. Many people suppose the internet is degrading the quality of language used. Not so. The average length of a word used on Twitter is actually longer than that in professional publications, and historically. It turns out that when you limit people to 140 characters, they write concisely using a wide lexicon.

He quotes Steve Jobs: “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”. This always reminds me of the Henry Ford quote “if I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”. Whether Ford actually said that is unknown, but it makes a good point. When asking for feedback you really need to find out what they think the problem is that you want to solve, rather than asking them what they think the solution is. In Ford’s case a faster way to get from A to B and in Job’s case an easier way to play and listen to music.

Back on OkCupid, it turns out that everyone is a racist. Rudder breaks the data down into how four groups: white, asian, latino, black, rate each other’s photos. It turns out that people generally rate their own race as the most attractive, but the real drop off is for black women by any other group, who consistently rate them lower. This has geographic differences however. There is a big gap in the US for example, while almost no gap in the UK.

He also looks at the differences between the heterosexual and LGBT communities. Is sexuality a spectrum, for example. Only 19% self-identifying bisexuals regularly message both males and females. This could imply a number of things. It could be that there is a spectrum and many bisexuals fall at either end of it. It could also be that some gay people identify as bisexual for cultural or social reasons. Especially given it correlates with their state’s tolerance of homosexuality. The answer is probably a number of different factors.

Rudder also mentions that Justine Sacco, the woman who made the “hope I don’t get aids” tweet, worked for OkCupid’s parent company. Sacco was discussed in Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve been Publicly Shamed. The hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet is a classic example of how quickly things can travel world the world these days.

In summary, it’s not too clear what Dataclysm was actually about. It seemed to be mostly “here is some interesting data about people”. From that respect, it was genuinely interesting. It also had a lot of crossover with A Billion Wicked Thoughts in using anonymous internet data, a source that has only come around in the last few decades, to reveal fascinating insights into human thoughts and behaviour.


A Billion Wicked Thoughts

Friday, November 13th, 2015 | Books

A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tells Us About Sexual Relationships is a book by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam looking at sexuality.

This has been a subject that has traditionally been difficult to study. Sex, especially kinky sex, is a taboo to some extent in most cultures, and so people do not discuss it openly. You cannot see what porn people are purchasing by looking at the supermarket. Even on questionnaires, people might not believe it is really as anonymous as it claims to be, and will lie.

Luckily though, the past few decade have seen the triumphant rise of the internet. Now people can search for whatever they like in the privacy of their own home. They are no longer constrained by social taboos because they can turn their browser to porn mode and happily search for Vietnamese midgets shitting in a bucket without it leaving an traceable history.

So what do billions of internet logs tell us about sexuality?

Mostly that people conform to gender stereotypes.

At this point, let me say that I am going to lay out what the books says in broad terms. The caveat is that any stereotype has some outliers, possibly many. Women can like porn. Men can like romance. We are dealing with statistics only and to tar one individual with any one giant brush would be silly. Please insert this thought into the start of every sentence. Onwards…

Men like porn. For them the goal is the organum as once they have shot their seed, their job is done. They are willing to pay for it. 98% of online porn purchasers are men. In fact women buy porn so rarely that if some payment processors automatically flag any card with a woman’s name as fraud.

Women on the other hand like romance. Their brain functions as a detective agency as the book describes it. Carefully considering men because they have to deal with the consequences of getting pregnant. They want to imagine a tough alpha male who falls for them, and only for them, so they can live happily ever after.

Men experience high corrolation between mental and physical arousal. If our junk is excite, we feel excited. But women don’t have this. You can stimulate a woman’s body, but unless you stimulate her mind as well, she isn’t into it. A deeply serious example of this is rape. Women’s bodies can become aroused during being raped and some wrongly assume this implies a level of consent. It does not.

Another example is viagra. This works for men because if you can get the blood flowing through your member, you get aroused. But for women, with the decoupled physical and emotional states, it does not have the same effect.

Gay men on the whole have a male brain. It likes the same thing straight men like – watching porn, aiming for the ejaculation. It is no more interested in romance than the straight’s man brain. The only difference is that gay men are attracted to masculinity rather than femininity. Ironically this leads many gay men to be attracted to straight men, gay for pay porn stars, because shagging women is associated with being masculine.

Whether you are gay or straight could be influenced by testosterone. Interestingly, it is gay men who seem to have more of it. The average length of a straight guy’s penis is 5.99 inches, for a gay man it is 6.32 – a third of an inch longer.

Men’s sexual cues are probably imprinted during their teenage years and cannot be changed easily. So if you get off on being tied up, you’re going to feel that way your whole life. Men get aroused by unconditioned responses such as looking at breasts, but it is difficult to condition a response into them. Pavlov might be able to make a man salivate, but he can’t trigger a full erection.

This brings up interesting points for equality. For example, it has long been believed that society conditions the idea that promiscuous men are “players” whereas promiscuous women are “sluts”. But the evidence suggests this is wrong. We are naturally wired to feel this way because the most successful males (in terms of reproduction, the only scoresheet nature uses) are the ones that sleep with the most women whereas the most successfully women are those that only sleep with, and therefore get pregnant by, the most successfully socially-dominant males.

Nowadays we do not have to worry about this, of course, thanks to the wide availability of contraception. But we are hard wired to feel this way. If anything, society reduces the objectification and shaming of women by socially conditioning us away from our baser instincts. Much like how society actually reduces rape and violence, as Steven Pinker points out.

As Noreena Hertz points out in Eyes Wide Open we’re all wired to be a bit racist, and it is up to us as intelligent people to battle our biases. Similarly, we’re all a bit sexist, so we shouldn’t feel guilty for how we are made. We should still strive for a fair and equal society though, knowing we have biases to overcome.

In summary, human sexuality is incredibly complex on an individual level. Statistically, though, a lot of us are wired to like similar things, and so long may the internet be filled with porn, and romance stories. Browse whichever makes you happy.

A Billion Wicked Thoughts

The Handmaid’s Tale

Monday, June 29th, 2015 | Books

The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel Margaret Atwood. It describes a near-future dystopian world in which democracy has been replaced by a fundamentalist Christian military government and re-structured society.

In said society women are divided into functions for men. The protagonist, Offred, is a handmaid. She is used for breeding purposes only. Still, better than being a Martha, or shipped off to the colonies…