I believe that I am an emancipated man. At least, I was brought up with the idea and practice that men and women are equal. I was the youngest at home, with two older sisters, which meant that I also learned to sew and knit and was expected to shoulder a fair share of the household chores. All quite normal. My father also helped out with the domestic jobs. As he had learned from his father. Because I was brought up gender deaf, I am a really bad feminist. In my own actions and choices, I judge people based on their qualities, not on whether they are a man or a woman.
I now know that this is not good enough. The big problem with gender equality is that you cannot reduce it to your own experience or upbringing. And as a white man, I have the added handicap of not knowing how it feels to be discriminated against. So I find myself on a very slippery slope if I say anything about gender equality.
However, the statistics are still crystal clear: the world is not equal. Women in many ways have a disadvantage in the labour market, they are underrepresented in politics and still do the lion's share of the household chores. Also, because working part time is so widespread in the Netherlands, many women in this country are less economically independent than we would wish. On a worldwide level, the differences are even greater, ranging from women who are not allowed to take part in public life to big pay differences.
Apart from the fact that gender equality should be perfectly normal, it would also make the world more sustainable. It is not income growth, but especially an increase in the number of highly educated and more autonomous women that will reduce population growth. There have also been studies that show that decision-making by groups with an equal number of women and men results in more sustainable outcomes. And that women are more focused on the long-term and have a greater aversion to inequality. It is hardly surprising that countries with a greater representation of women in politics, have stricter sustainability laws and lower greenhouse gas emissions. And not because women are naturally ‘greener’, but mainly because they assess risks differently.
For me there can only be one conclusion: it is all very well for a man to be emancipated, but it is not enough. Men also need to be confirmed feminists if mankind is to achieve its sustainability goals.
One small word of warning: the feminist attitude to life is not without risk. Anyone who starts from the assumption that men and women are different, is cancelled before he knows what has hit him. But that risk seems acceptable, because we want to save the world, don’t we?
This is a translation of Hans Stegeman's column in , published January 11th, 2022.
Read Hans' previous column 'Toxic taxonomy'.