On the one hand, given the international scope of the statistics and trends he compiles, Salam is highlighting a real problem that has distinctive gender dynamics. Not least to protect the immigrants, Jews, Muslims, and other minorities as well as the women vulnerable to unstable, unemployed young men’s violence and harassment and sometime-fascist politics, we should be thinking about their experience and how to respond creatively. (That isn’t to deny that some women contribute to such oppression, of course—and their experience should be studied as well.) Such a commitment does not have to entail opposition to women’s advancement or any denial whatsoever of the discrimination, hostility, and inequality women continue to face. In fact, just as denying the gender-oriented problems of women in favor of a facile universalism conceals institutionalized sexist patterns, so too envisioning gender equality requires examining the psychology and sociology of male sexism.
On the other hand, I agree with Fortini’s piece that Salam is guilty of some essentialism here.
That’s very fair. It’s definitely written in broad strokes; my hope was that I was nevertheless drawing attention to an important phenomenon, recognizing that I’d necessarily miss a lot of subtleties.
And as Martin recognizes, focus on gender-specific problems can serve to obscure the ways women’s advancement can often benefit men and vice versa—the reality of interdependence that sounds less provocative than narratives of gender conflict.
This is clearly true. Yet I suppose I’m very interested in this idea of conflict between societies that embrace the feminist revolution and those that don’t, which tend to be societies with abnormal sex ratios. That is, the essential conflict won’t be over ideology or supposed “civilizations”; rather, it will be over how different societies react to modernity.
Finally, it should be said that nowhere does Salam come close to claiming that sexism has ended. Indeed, he speculates that to some degree, it will be an obstacle to equality and economic growth for the whole of the twenty-first century. Indeed, one has to hope he is being too pessimistic here.
This is absolutely right. I basically think that societies that continue to discriminate against women are doomed to violence, ignorance, poverty, and disease. If given the chance to write a book about this theme of global conflict driven by the presence or absence of women’s equality (I’d like to!), a hefty section would focus on the development data: female literacy is the key indicator.
Some people are claiming — rather strangely — that I think sexism is over. That’s flatly absurd. It is real and it is pervasive. But like Robert Max Jackson, author of the brilliant Destined for Equality, I think that competitive markets guarantee the rise of women to leadership roles.
The search for profits, votes, organizational rationality, and stability all favored a gender-neutral approach that improved women’s status. The inherent gender impartiality of organizational interests won out over the prejudiced preferences of the men who ran them.
Others seem to suggest that I don’t think violence against women is a serious problem, which strikes me as baffling. A longer version of the piece spent considerable time on how domestic violence predicts internal instability and external aggression, but my editors concluded, not unreasonably, that this research, much of its conducted by BYU political scientist Valerie Hudson, wasn’t directly salient to the thesis.
But I think there’s a too-appealing narrative here: right-wing mini-pundit claims that sexism is dead and that men are the new victims. The fact that I don’t believe that sexism is dead — I think it’s alive and well, but that it is actually an increasingly economically destructive force and that the least sexist societies are the ones that will flourish — or that men are the new victims — I tried to argue that men continue to be powerfully advantaged by state economic policies in most of the world, though this is tentatively and encouragingly changing in a few advanced market democracies — is basically immaterial.
You can’t win ‘em all.