Who Has It Worse, Men or Women?

To conclude our discussion of why all these Male Privilege and Female Privilege lists are garbage, I want to share this anecdote that I always think about whenever I hear a debate as to whether men or women have it worse.

Comrade Stalin was asked once, “What kind of a departure from the party line is worse, the one that leans to the Left or the one that leans to the Right?”

“They are both worse!” Comrade Stalin barked.

43 thoughts on “Who Has It Worse, Men or Women?

  1. It might be, once you tally up the problems of women and the problems of men, one of them might have it worse. But so what? According to Ozy’s law, fixing the sexism against women will help men and vice versa. As long as people are working on solving the problems, we shouldn’t berate them for working on the “wrong” problem.


    1. That’s exactly what I’m saying.

      There is such a huge variety in educational, racial, ethnic, age, etc. variety among men and women that arriving at a conclusion who is better or worse off will never even be possible. Why are we wasting our time, then, instead of addressing the real issues?


    2. I think one reason people bother with the tally is so they can either prioritize (“my problems are more important than your!”) or to define someone else’s problems out of existence (“well yeah it sucks that that happened to you but its not systematic or oppressive…”).


    1. I also heard a similar story about Wittgenstein who supposedly answered the question about a woman’s place in society by “On her back.” Obviously, he was not only a sexist but a very sexually ignorant and unfulfilled person. πŸ™‚


  2. Are all these conversations referring to men and women in any particular place on earth? Same with the privilege lists- it is nonsensical to pose these questions as if time and place were irrelevant.

    My feeling is that any time you are talking about modern, civilized, stratified societies, men are more in control and women more controlled so overall it is better to be male. There are gradations of this, and exceptions in some modern countries that have made great strides toward equality. Hunter gatherers are another exception, suggesting that our birthright is a society where men and women do not dominate one another. This may be why we continue to strive for such a world.

    Because men also suffer because of the historical domination of women in stratified societies and the subsequent rigidly defined sexual roles, does not mean they are as bad off as the class (women) that is being controlled.


    1. “My feeling is that any time you are talking about modern, civilized, stratified societies, men are more in control and women more controlled so overall it is better to be male.”

      -I don’t think that anybody who has not had the experience of living both as a man and as a woman can really say for sure. From my admittedly limited perspective, being a woman in our modern and somewhat civilized society is tons better than being a man. I practically thank God every day for making me a woman. I think it’s easier and a lot more fun to be a woman in the society where I live right now. However, I want to reiterate that my perspective is understandably skewed since my female experience is the only one I have.


      1. “My feeling is that any time you are talking about modern, civilized, stratified societies, men are more in control and women more controlled so overall it is better to be male.”

        Overall it might be better to be in the top strata πŸ™‚


    2. “Are all these conversations referring to men and women in any particular place on earth? Same with the privilege lists- it is nonsensical to pose these questions as if time and place were irrelevant.”

      -This, of course, is a crucial point.


  3. The lack of nuance in understanding oppression is a feature of contemporary identity politics, particularly as it is commonly applied. I understand that there are those capable of applying it with more nuance than is usual, but more often than not what we are left with are moral truisms that represent a very static and simplistic notion of power relations. Moreover, the human element of these relationships goes missing in action.

    While I hold that society is, in general, stratified, according to ideological determinations of what gender is skin colour has been historically dominant, the interplay between the individual and his or her society is infinitely complex.

    You spoke in an earlier post about how psychological projection facilitates the idea that if we depart from our gender roles we will be negatively judged. I have also noticed another way in which psychological projection is used, top serve the structure of liberal identity politics. It’s a way of passing on a guilt complex concerning “privilege” (a code word for one’s status as historical oppressor). In terms of a moral stratification of guilt of purification, a person who confesses their status as oppressor is purer than one who will not confess it. So, liberal systems of guilt stratification in America give the former oppressor (for instance, anyone who has white skin), a way out of having a negative, oppressor status.

    In Australia, a similar mechanism of purging one’s oppressor status occurs. The hierarchy of moral purification states that white Australians who pay lip service to issues of “race” are automatically purified. They undergo greater degrees of purification if they can point out that others may have expressed themselves in ways that show them to be guilty of that which these liberals have ritually purified themselves — their racial guilt complex.

    Projection becomes a very powerful mechanism to try to get rid of one’s feeling of historical induced guilt. In Australia, one is always trying to find someone who looks more guilty to oppress with one’s own guilt complex


    1. How come I’m suddenly getting all these brilliant commenters from Australia? This is so great!

      I have been blogging about liberal self-flagellation as a way of expiating guilt and occupying a moral high-ground for a while, so I completely agree with you. There is also a lot of condescension such “privilege-scratchers”, as I term them, secretly entertain towards the object of their compassion.

      Here, for example, I talked about how annoying this rhetoric is to someone from a country like mine: https://clarissasblog.com/2011/07/29/femininity-part-ii/

      I’m turning into this person who keeps saying, “Now if you’ll allow me to quote myself. . .” πŸ™‚

      “In Australia, one is always trying to find someone who looks more guilty to oppress with one’s own guilt complex”

      -This is an absolutely brilliant statement.


    2. In Australia, a similar mechanism of purging one’s oppressor status occurs. The hierarchy of moral purification states that white Australians who pay lip service to issues of β€œrace” are automatically purified.

      So true! How many meetings start with an acknowledgement to traditional land owners?


  4. But how do you fight Oppression Olympics without resorting to using Oppression Olympics? I mean, sure, we know better not to compare the genders but the sad reality is that most of the world think in terms of who has it worse. The general consensus in most developed countries is that women have it far worse and this is often used as a justification to implement sexist laws against men. It is often the only justification upon which people rest their case. I can’t count how many gender politicians have said this after suggesting a man-tax or a women’s quota (while not implementing a men’s quota where men are underrepresented) or whatever other retaliatory ideas they come up with. In my country, gender representatives cannot be male and men cannot take part in the vote for one either. And the justification is, as always, that women have it worse (not in so many words).

    So how else can we deal with it? I mean, even you, in your awesome dismantling of that male privilege list, basically only made a list of female privileges which is, guess what, more Oppression Olympics.


    1. I’ve been thinking about this, hence the delay in answering. I like comments that make me think hard. πŸ™‚

      It’s true that I participated in the Olympics with these posts. I was just so incensed by seeing how the balance is skewed so unfairly and dishonestly towards one gender that I couldn’t help myself.

      Honestly, I don’t have an answer here. All one can do, I believe, is try to get rid of these gender lenses that we all so often put on when analyzing people we meet and events we witness.

      I don’t know. If anybody has any suggestions, feel free to voice them.


  5. A much more difficult approach than one that is as cut and dried as the oppression Olympics is to let people make their own mistakes. While it is understandable that my standards of justice will not be understood and shared by all, I still have the right, at a personal level, to limit the interactions I have with somebody who is prejudiced against women or even unconsciously biased. I draw many, many lines, so that I don’t need to have to engage with those who put their foot into their mouths. Sometimes, if I like somebody enough, I’ll let them know that there are certain kinds of behaviour, like addressing me (a relative stranger) in diminutive terms, that I find jarring. If the person is unable to make an effort to see things a bit more from my point of view, I cut the off (or vastly reduce my time spent with them). I think that the message eventually sinks through that treating me like one’s mother or a potential member of one’s harem is an ineffectual way to relate to another human being.


    1. Oh, yes, this is the perfect approach. Whenever anybody tries to push me, I push right back very aggressively and they don’t want to try again. In my field, it happens a lot that men address one in condescending terms. I usually start ridiculing such individuals so loudly and insistently that they shut up very soon. πŸ™‚


  6. And another thing that came to my mind is that this could also be used as a means to shut down possibly legitimate grievances. And lets not forget that Oppression Olympics has been a vital and frequently used tool in feminist activism since the very beginning. Now when there is a tiny start of a male emancipation movement, denying them the same tool to achieve the same goal is kind of cynical. It’s like pulling up the ladder behind you.


    1. What a great observation. You are absolutely right when you say that the initial stages of feminism (until the right to vote for women was won, I would say) indeed relied on enumerating female grievances against men. This was an important stage in the development of feminism.

      I believe that this stage in the development of feminism as a political and intellectual movement has served its purpose. Now it needs to end. For feminists, it is not leading into any productive direction any more. In my opinion, the only future for feminism is to arrive at the stage where we recognize that equal right lead to equal responsibilities. In my view, the reason why feminism has stalled in the last couple of decades is not that any bad, horrible, patriarchal men have shut us up. The reason for feminism’s loss of popularity and prestige is that we have arrived at the stage where women have to assume these equal responsibilities: equal contribution to the financial success of the family, equality in terms of child-rearing, being in favor of shared custody of children in case of divorce, being equally prepared to lose custody, accepting equal punishment for the same crimes as men do, preparing to pay alimony and child support equally with men, etc.

      But this is where feminism stops dead in its tracks because equal rights are super cool but equal responsibilities are not. Equality means freedom but it always means a harsher burden of responsibility.

      This is what my feminism is about. And if anybody thinks it’s easy to voice these ideas in feminist circles, believe me, it’s not.

      What I want to make very clear is that I don’t defend these ideas because I want to be “nice to men” as some people have suggested. I only defend them because I am a feminist. I want full equality in EVERYTHING. Not just the good things but everything. When I hear of these court cases where women get much lighter sentences than any man would in the same circumstances, it makes my blood boil. Because I see myself as a complete human being who should be given equal punishment for the same crime. Women don’t need condescension or handouts. We need equality and justice. In everything, bad things and good things.

      I’m very glad to have you commenting on this blog, Adi. Your comments always add a lot to the discussion and provide a lot of useful things to think about. If I might ask, how did you find my blog?


      1. Thanks Clarissa.
        I came here through Ozy’s blog. The one with the terrible acronym “NSWATM” where I’ve stopped by lately.

        Your views on this are awesome but I’m afraid I’m not that optimistic about feminism for the future of gender equality. This just isn’t how things work in lobby driven politics. A movement such as feminism will either continue to exclusively advance women’s concerns or it will get replaced by one that does. Pointing out that women would benefit from male emancipation requires just a little too much intellectual contortion for the masses. Sure, smart people like you can see that but try selling it to the US electorate.
        Also one would have to address the increasingly obvious elephant in the closet of feminist gynocentrism. I mean how do you even reconcile the word “feminism” with gender egalitarianism let alone get rid of the radical elements in it?

        And having a competing men’s emancipation movement would have to be just as radical and aggressive as the feminist movement was back in the day. Not cool. And it brings the additional problem of them mixing with conservatives who long for “the good old days” – the exact opposite of emancipation. Not to mention the problem of having two gender lobbies competing entirely leaves out anyone who doesn’t want to identify completely as one gender which would include me. They’d need their own lobby I suppose.

        Perhaps such a situation is inevitable. I mean, everyone will want some kind of representation of their kind. But I don’t like it at all. Competing lobbies lead to a situation where the stronger lobby always wins so we’re back to survival of the fittest. And people who don’t fit into any particular grievance group get screwed over that much more.
        Sorry. I’ve only got more issues to point out and no solutions. Must be the weather.


        1. NSWATM is a great blog. They have a bunch of such talented writers, it’s scary. πŸ™‚

          You raise another series of excellent concerns. I hope that the feminist movement in this country will start demanding equal rights before the law for men and women in all respects. This is quite possible. Look at Spain where in Aragon a court decision has been made to award equal custody in over 90% of cases. Spain is a lot more advanced in terms of feminism in spite its decades of a fascist dictatorship that only ended recently.

          I strongly believe that as soon as the ways people think about these issues change, the political lobbying will take care of itself. If more people get as outraged as I am about, for example, Mary Winkler’s case, no extra lobbying will even be needed to ensure that juries do not give out such ridiculous verdicts in the future.

          It is a lot harder to change the mentality than to change the laws. I’m very far removed from any political lobbyism. It’s changing mentalities that I want and can contribute to, at least a little bit.


    2. It’s especially ironic (to say the least) when the main proponents of these privilege lists try to silence dissenters by accusing *them* of turning the discussion into the Oppression Olympics. I was referred to some document about “Unpacking the Privilege Knapsack” about 100 times – every time I tried to bring class into a discussion on the academic and science blogs. I finally read it. It was about 20 years out of date and all about upper middle class privilege. eg “People like you are usually represented positively on TV and in movies” “If you ask to speak to the person in charge you will be comfortable because they will be like you” and so on.

      Same with the (no longer active) blog “Things White People Do”; 80-90% of the offenses (and all the most egregious ones) were done by upper middle class people. Lower middle class people do not fill all the important jobs, or proudly display pictures of themselves with crowds of cute dark-skinned people from their travels, or treat their maids like shit, etc. But when I tried to make this point I was attacked relentlessly. Told I was “derailing the conversation” and “making it all about the white people, we are trying to have a conversation about brown people” and so on. I was persistent, not because I expected these close-minded drones to change their minds, but to hopefully insert a little reality into the discussion for the benefit of lurkers; some of these blogs had thousands of readers.


  7. I forgot to say that the “Unpacking the Knapsack” document was supposedly about White privilege. I was always referred to it when I was making the point that class was being ignored. I have male relatives who are white but have had far more difficult lives than an upper class white female. And every time I tried to make this point, some know-it-all would start lecturing me about “intersectionality” – as if that wasn’t exactly my point!

    The other annoying thing is how they will constantly tell you “look in the mirror and cop to your privilege. I did it and it was tough” and they go in to some example they’ve told and retold about how humiliated they were when their privilege was pointed out to them blah blah. But no matter how thoroughly I would best them in an argument my opponents NEVER copped to their privilege. Instead I would end up banned or something (as happened on IBTP) so I never got to see this “copping to it” in action.


      1. Nearly every American I have met denies the existence of class in the US. I put it down to them not noticing because they are not in one of the lower classes.


            1. I don’t think it is as simple as that. But you are correct that most of the people who are complaining about privilege are from the upper middle classes, so the class aspect of privilege is invisible to them. Right wing pundits and politicians take a lot of blame for the lack of class awareness and activism in the US, but Democrats and progressives have completely turned their backs on lower class whites and have only VERY recently turned their full attention to economic issues. If you chalk it up to the American Dream you are ignoring a lot of history.


              1. “Democrats and progressives have completely turned their backs on lower class whites and have only VERY recently turned their full attention to economic issues. If you chalk it up to the American Dream you are ignoring a lot of history.”

                -You can’t just leave us hanging this way. πŸ™‚ Why do you think the Dems and progressives did this? Why did they pay no attention to the economy for so long?


              2. I really don’t know. I do know that until about six months ago if anybody complained they were told that compared to people in most parts of the world they were rich blah blah. Now suddenly it’s speeches about the top 1%. Of course, lower class people themselves are blamed for this, as they have “voted for the wrong people because they are RACISTS”. Better to take away the one right these idiots have, is the unstated conclusion. How did the lower classes fare during the eight years of Clinton? A. Their descent continued unabated, now helped along by NAFTA. But every last liberal progressive will blame the conservatives and the idiot voters who are in the words of one popular science blogger “ignorant pig-fuckers who deserve their lot in life”.. He says things like “we raised them up out of their mud huts but all they care about is being above other groups (they are racists blah blah) they would give up their own progress and their children’s futures to make sure someone else sinks lower” Yes progressives are wonderful people.:)


            2. Yes, any day now. . . πŸ™‚ This idea that one will strike it super rich with a bit of luck and “chance” is very very infectious. It’s almost like a disease. I see very good, intelligent people destroy themselves by following this impossible dream. 😦


      2. Thanks for the link, and excellent comment by Spanish Prof “I’ve seen a comment this weekend from somebody who is supposedly a progressive where class is divided between “those who rule the country and those who are fucked”. So if you are not among the 1% of the wealthiest, you are supposed to be oppressed like the remaining 99% of the population. Sorry, but that is absurd, and a good way of overlooking poverty rates in the United States ”

        I am nauseatingly familiar with this attitude. The top 15% is very, very comfortable. There is not much of a middle class anymore, and most people in the US including most white people are working very hard to pay the bills. This reminds me of another refrain “people of color built this country” as if the other 90% (the white percentage until the mid 60’s at least) were all supervisors or CEOs or something. They have an upside down vision of the class pyramid where the vast majority is on top living off the small minority.


        1. I agree with Spanish Prof’s comment you quote completely. These slogans bother me too because they simplify the issue beyond all reason. This 99% versus 1% slogan is a populist statement that has no depth and that doesn’t reflect the existing realities.


  8. Isabel :
    If you chalk it up to the American Dream you are ignoring a lot of history.

    I am sure some of it is rooted in a rejection of the English class system that the ruling classes attempted to export the colonies. But how many Americans consider that on a daily basis?


  9. On the subject of class in america, I’d like to recommend this very fun and interesting book. It’s slightly dated now but still relevant.


    1. I don’t know how helpful that ‘amusing’ book is, but I do recommend Jim Goad’s brilliant Redneck Manifesto. He discusses reprehensible liberal attitudes and the lives of lower class white people, along with the nation’s obsession with race and refusal to acknowledge class. It is also hilarious, but not in a light way like the book you recommend, in fact it’s not for the faint of heart.


      1. Hey thanks for both suggestions. I will certainly have a look at both. I have always been bemused by the way many Americans seem to refuse the existence of a class system. This has to colour nearly every social justice movement including feminism.


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