Friday, August 26, 2005
Cushions. The kind of thing that gets women really excited. But should they be allowed to impose their values on the rest of us? (Er, women, I mean - not cushions. Do cushions have values?)
Anyway. Here's a long boring post on this subject, while I finish my mouse screenplay. Eek!
The Feminisation of the World?
Girls, girls, girls. They're everywhere these days, changing the furniture, demanding nice loos, imposing their softer, gentler, more 'intuitive' values. And not everyone is happy about it.
One of these unhappy voices belongs to Michaeul Buerk. He's the broadcasting veteran who presented BBC news back in the 90s. During a recent interview, Buerk was heard to complain that too many women had been appointed to senior positions within the corporation. He added that 'womens values' were taking over the world, and that men were increasingly regarded as 'mere sperm donors'.
This may seem like an old buffer's rant. But a quick glance at the TV schedules shows that there certainly is a lot of telly programming aimed at the girls. Here's a selection from one recent evening's viewing. On BBC1 you could have watched Bargain Hunt, Ground Force, and What Not To Wear. BBC2, at the same time, offered Fly to Let and Ready Steady Cook.
Meanwhile, over on the other terrestrial channels, the choice was between New Home of the Year, Grand Designs Abroad, the cosmetic surgery drama Nip/Tuck, back-to-back editions of Sex and the City, plus an hour long documentary about Victoria Wood the comedienne. Not exactly butch.
There were a couple of obviously masculine programmes broadcast that night - one about Brian Clough and the other about black British footballers. Both shows went out after 11pm.
No one, not even Michael Buerk - presumably - is saying that programmes aimed squarely at women are intrinsically a bad thing. And, yes, plenty of men like 'female' TV shows. And it is perfectly true that there are times when TV is dominated by 'male-oriented' viewing - during the World Cup for instance.
But the fact is, when male programmes do dominate the box, there are howls of protest from women viewers. Yet very few men are heard to complain about all those housecleaning shows, or the 374th broadcast of Friends, or the ghettoising of the few programmes still aimed wholly at chaps.
And here, I think, is the nub of the issue. Our passive reaction to this state of affairs shows how far the feminisation of British TV, of our whole society, has progressed. These days we simply presume everything should be organised around women, should cater for women's wants, should overtly favour female desires - because that‘s just how it is. And we neither notice, nor care, that masculine values in many spheres of life are often ignored or traduced.
This mindset is summed up by a conversation I had this week with a friend. When I asked him his opinion of all the female-oriented makeover shows on TV, he shrugged and said: 'well, television is for women anyway, isn't it?'
Duh, no. Television is for all of us.
As is education. Yet you wouldn't know it. Here are a few straws in the wind, to show which gender is now dominating British education.
Women have outperformed their male counterparts in GCSEs in every year that the exam has been set. In 1999, for the first time, girls gained more A-grade passes at A-Levels than boys. In 2000, also for the first time, women won more university degrees with First Class honours than men. It is expected that women will make up 60% of the undergraduate population in a few years.
Quite a list. It's even more remarkable when you consider that IQ tests prove that men are innately as smart as women, or slightly smarter; and that most true geniuses are male.
To be fair, this feminisation of education is causing some concern in high places. The government has instituted any number of studies and committees to find out 'the trouble with boys'. But some experts already think they know where the trouble is, and it's not 'in the boys' - it's in the feminised education system.
Madsen Pirie is president of The Adam Smith Institute. He also writes on education, and explains the growing educational gender-gap this way: ‘The old exams - O-levels, A-levels and degrees - tended to reward the qualities which boys are good at. That is, they favoured risk-taking, and grasp of the big picture, rather than the more thorough, systematic and diligent qualities which can be found amongst girls.’ He adds: ‘The new exams, with their modular elements, place much more emphasis on the kind of work women are good at. It’s therefore not surprising that girls have done better since the changes were made.’
Chris Woodhead, the government’s former chief inspector of schools, agrees with this analysis. ‘There is no doubt that elements have been incorporated into school examinations which girls find easier to do than boys.’ He also points to the troubling preponderance of women in teaching: there are now more women than men teaching in our secondary schools. And at primary school level women teachers outnumber the men by a whopping 5 to 1.
The result of all this is the advance of values and standards that 'favour' female achievement To the arguable detriment of men.
Divorce and parenting law is another arena where men seem to be the victims of a 'feminised' system. Many of us know about this: because of campaigners like Fathers4Justice, and Bob Geldof. But the startling facts still bear repetition.
75% of all divorces are called for by wives. Women are awarded custody in 91% of divorce cases involving children. In divorce cases more men have to quit the family home than women. Since the Ray Parlour case women have become entitled to a share of a man's future earnings, not just those accrued during a marriage. Lone mothers get more state benefit that lone fathers in the same situation. 55% of divorced fathers lose contact with their children three years after the split, with many of them saying this is because of 'obstructive' partners. If a 'father' suspects a child is not his, he cannot have it DNA tested without the permission of the mother. Likewise, an unmarried father cannot apply for a passport for his children, without the say-so of the mother.
Why don't men have the same parenting rights as women? According to the Newcastle Centre for Family Studies, the leading research body on family life in Britain, the problem is our paradoxical attitude to divorced fathers. We think men are not interested in being dads because they lose contact with their kids, yet the reason men lose contact with their kids is because we think they’re not interested, and thus award the woman custody. As the Newcastle Centre puts it: ‘the popular wisdom that men simply lose interest in their children and stop caring is not supported by research.’
Indeed so. The Newcastle Centre's study of 91 non-residential fathers, begun in 1991, showed that six years after divorce, only 34 men saw their children once a week and 21 didn't see them at all. But 60 per cent of the fathers who rarely saw their children were in dispute with their ex-wives about the frequency of contact. And most of the no-contact fathers had only given up in the face of ‘serious hostility and obstructiveness from their former partners.’
One sad affect of divorce, for many men, is declining health. What makes this worse is that when men do become ill, they suffer yet again in comparison to women: because of ostensibly 'feminised' health policies. Look at these stats.
In the UK, men die on average five years younger than women. Before the age of 65 men are three times as likely to suffer heart disease as women. The suicide rate for men is 3.7 times that for women. More men than women now suffer from mental health problems.
And how does the government react? It funnels money into female diseases, female needs. For instance, there at least a dozen ‘well-woman’ health centres in London; there are no ‘well-man’ centres. There are also screening programmes for female diseases like breast and cervical cancer, yet, despite government promises, still no equivalent for prostate or testicular cancer - even though deaths from prostate cancer are almost as high as deaths from breast cancer.
Likewise, in one year in the 1990s, the Government spent £5 million on breast cancer research - and just £76,000 on prostate cancer. And the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in 2000 spent £8m on breast cancer research, compared with £5.5m for colon cancer, even though the latter kills more people.
How is this happening? 'Breast cancer research has moved forward much faster than
the others because of the breast cancer lobby, which is very powerful,' says Ian Gibson MP, chairman of the House of Commons' all-party group on cancer. Professor Jonathan Waxman of the Prostate Cancer Charity, is more blunt. He says the Government had been swayed by a feminine agenda. 'The Government has responded to the huge emotional pull of breast cancer.’
So much for health, education and divorce law. There are plenty of other areas where men are losing out to a system that prioritises female needs. Here's a selection.
Men retire at 65, but women are entitled to a pension from sixty. There are special retraining courses aimed at women returning to work, but none for men. Women-only swimming pool sessions are illegal, yet councils continue to promote them. Women are less likely to go to prison than men - for identical offences. There is a ‘Minister for Women’, no ‘Minister for Men’. The government funds thousands of ‘women’s groups’ and feminist organisations - and not a single male equivalent.
And so on, and so forth. It's a stark imbalance. Yet the most important form of 'girlification' is not in our education policy, nor our health priorities; nor is it even in our divorce law, or pension law, or our attitudes to parenting. No. To my mind it's in the way this feminisation is affecting our culture and mores. Almost without our noticing, female 'aesthetics' and 'values' have taken over.
Here's a little experiment. See how you respond to these female buzzwords: bright, floral, cute, intuitive, friendly, handy, compact, harmonious, easy. Now assess your response to these masculine buzzwords: dark, powerful, logical, aggressive, tough, big, imposing, competitive, hard.
You see? It seems to me that, as a society, we are being conditioned to warm to the former values, and to avoid, even shun, the latter. And contemporary designers and architects are well aware of this. Notice the design of modern pubs. Lots of vases, blonde wood, and sofas. They look like breakfast TV sets - and that's not surprising, because breakfast TV is aimed squarely at women. Alternatively: compare the new, curvy, feminine Gherkin in London to the aggressive, phallic, very 1980s Canary Wharf.
The same feminisation can be found in the design and marketing of almost everything: from curvy cars to cute computers, from winsome iPods to shirtsleeved politicians. Particularly politicians. These days, for our top politicos, it's all polo necks and Jeremy Vine, rather than pinstripes and Jeremy Paxman.
You can even see this feminisation in our moral attitudes. Men differ from women in tending to cherish function over form - just look at the way many men dress.
Conversely, women often see form as being more important than function. And it's the female sensibility which is coming to dominate our sociopolitical debates. It's the obviously brutal form of foxhunting that offends many, not the function of killing foxes (which will still be killed, and brutally). Similarly, it's the form of public emoting over disasters and tragedies which now expect from our leaders, the function of actual grief, anger, and empathy is less important.
But does any of this matter? I think it does. Yes it is right that society should promote softer, kinder, more communicative, 'touchy-feely' female values. Heaven knows we need them - and they were often sorely neglected in the past. But perhaps the pendulum has swung too far. A healthy society will encourage both female and male values. Alongside intuition, niceness and pastel-coloured scatter cushions, we also require - sometimes desperately - the masculine virtues of toughness and daring, innovation and logic.
Madsen Pirie has this to say about British education, and I think it can be applied across the board. ‘Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves what sort of society we are producing if we feminise the education system. When we select the methodical over the risk-takers, and the systematic over those with insight, where will that leave us? While our country might be more peaceable, some may ask - will we still be as inventive and creative? Will we still produce penicillin and hovercraft?’
Put it another way: enough pastel, already.
Posted by sean at 6:50 pm