Calling all men: feminism can save your life

Russian bear? Fewer men die early in countries where men and women are more equal, like Iceland.

Is feminism good for men? A growing pay gap at hundreds of British companies has sparked a debate about gender equality. But a more feminist society could be good for men too.

The BBC has revealed that, since last year, the gender pay gap has increased in 40% of private companies in the UK. Those with a wider gap include Npower and Virgin Atlantic.

The shock findings highlight the continued inequality faced by women. But a more equal society could benefit men too.

For example, men tend to die earlier than women. It is just biology?

Last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a report arguing that men’s early deaths are, in fact, tied to gender inequality.

As societies become more equal, the life expectancy gap between men and women gets narrower. In Iceland, which was rated the best in Europe for gender equality, women outlive men by just three years. By contrast, in Russia men die on average almost 11 years earlier than women.

But why?

“Men (more than women) tend to cope with their problems and dilemmas by taking refuge in addictions,” write the researchers. But the effect diminishes as women become more equal in society.

Ideas of traditional masculinity are strong in Eastern Europe. Nowhere more so than Russia. Here, the report found that heavy drinking “elevates or maintains a man’s status in working-class social groups”.

Shockingly, 25% of Russian men die before they are 55, with most deaths due to alcohol. Russian and Georgian men are also the most likely to smoke, while men from Iceland smoke the least.

Part of the problem, the researchers argue, is that societies with traditional gender roles expect men to be “breadwinners”. Studies show that men who are the main financial provider are more likely to suffer from health problems.

But the picture goes deeper. In the UK, men are being encouraged to discuss mental health as a way to lower suicide rates. In Western Europe, there are 12 suicides per 100,000 men. In Russia, it is almost 50 per 100,000.

“Gender […] is one of the most important sociocultural factors influencing health,” the WHO concluded.

Is feminism good for men?

Boys will be boys

Of course, say some. Traditional masculinity puts immense pressure on men to hide their feelings, work long hours to provide for their family, indulge in reckless behaviour as one of the “lads”, and to generally “man up”. This creates a culture where men are unable to admit to stress or feelings of inadequacy and so turn to unhealthy lifestyles or even suicide.

Don’t be so sure, respond others. Correlation is not causation, and gender inequality is just one symptom of the real problems in these societies. Countries with greater gender inequality also tend to be more autocratic, have a poorer quality of life and lack protections for workers. It’s naive to pin the problems caused by complex social and economic problems on masculinity.

You Decide

  1. Is feminism good for men?
  2. Have gender stereotypes influenced your life?

Activities

  1. Look up the UK life expectancy. Work out the difference in years between men and women. Is it bigger or smaller than you’d expect? Write a paragraph explaining your thinking.
  2. Research why Iceland, Norway and Sweden are rated so highly for gender equality. Create your own political manifesto for how to improve gender equality in the UK, using statistics about the current state of equality.

Some People Say...

“The mark of a real man is being able to tolerate a chest infection for three months before laying off the smokes.”

Robert Webb

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Across all societies, men on average die before women. When suffering from stress, men are more likely to turn to alcohol, smoking and drugs. Men are likely to exercise less than women. While women have higher rates of depression, men are three times more likely to kill themselves, and when men get ill, they are less likely to see a doctor. Additionally, more young men die in vehicle accidents than any other group.
What do we not know?
Whether the causes behind men dying earlier are biological or social. After looking at social and medical differences across Europe, the WHO concluded that men in unequal societies are more likely to take part in unhealthy behaviours and die young, and part of the reason for that may be to do with the traditional masculine roles built into their lives.

Word Watch

Pay gap
A pay gap is different from unequal pay. Unequal pay when women earn less than men for doing the same work. A pay gap can be caused by factors such as having fewer women in senior or high-paying roles.
Private companies
This is based on figures reported so far this year.
World Health Organisation
An agency of the United Nations that is concerned with global health. This report focused only on the European region.
Iceland
Iceland has eliminated the gender pay gap, and 90% of Icelandic men take three months paternity leave when they have a child. Studies show that shared leave between parents is one of the biggest indicators of equality in the workplace.
Most likely
Almost 60% of men in Russia and Georgia smoke, compared with 15% in Iceland. Roughly 20% of men in the UK smoke.
Sociocultural
Combining social and cultural factors. Our gender identities are shaped in a considerable way by our social interactions with the world and the culture that surrounds us.
Autocratic
A ruler who has absolute power and is not elected democratically.

Subjects

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