OGH Research

Feb 05
Consumer society – back on the agenda

One of the reasons why the 1960s can be classified as “optimistic” was that they had a clear topic in mind – “consumer society”, and what to do about it. Change seemed possible. Later, the topic turned into “capitalism”. This short essay tells why this was not a good idea.

Consumer society – back to the 60s future?

I read science fiction novels from the 1960s since I love their optimistic vision off the future, before all the bleakness and depression set in. Like I love the best music from that period. I listen to music referencing and critically reflecting the optimistic period, later, like A perfect circle: Motive (LP cover extract above).

Back then, from 1964-65 onwards, western culture was influenced by what was known as the youth revolt, commonly displayed by long-haired boys that challenged conventional gender norms by “looking like girls”. The youth revolt evolving into the counter culture had one main target, or obstacle – not yet defined fully as “enemy” – namely, consumer society. Later, by 1969, due to the repression of the youth revolt, a new image became dominant – there was an enemy, and its name was capitalism. Or the establishment. At the time, this was seen as a more “advanced” and mature analysis of society – the flower children finally growing up.

Was it – really? It is consumer society, not capitalism as such, that has contributed most to the current climate crisis. Doing away with capitalism has not lead to better climate performance (sometimes, the opposite, e g in the Soviet Union). The same production-consumption oriented economy has ruled society, regardless of political color and formal positions of power-holders. The “vague” and “fuzzy” consumer society analysis actually has grown less old, than the supposedly improved capitalism versions.

Back in the 1960s, as a young reader, I absorbed Aldous Huxley’s Brave new world, where citizens are indoctrinated into consuming, as well as novels by Philip K Dick and others detailing the problems of consumer society. Here is one of several 60ies novels where the traditional male role in consumer society was challenged:

Today, I think consumer society oriented analysis has stood the test of time better than most capitalism analyses. Although they may be combined, and consumer society analysis is somewhat blind unless it also has a map of core capital formations and political and economic processes. Its  main point, to me, is that it includes all and any in the diagnoses. It does not creep down to the level of “us” versus “them”. Like working class and capitalists. Or one ethnic group against other groups.

Consumer society analysis basically says, this is complex, we are all into it, one or the other, in different roles and positions. Research may find “classes” of consumer pushers, dealers, strong and less strong consumer adherence / addiction, and so on, but this is clearly a varied landscape, not like a class division. And what is more, it is clearly related or broadly relational, meaning that the choices of one individual are clearly influenced by those of others. It is partly collective and partly individual behavior. It is partly economic but cultural, social and psychological (etc) also – clearly interdisciplinary.

Consumer society theory, appearing from the 1950s onwards, was tuned to the economic, social and cultural contribution of the individual, including the possibility of change on that level – not just the positioning between classes within the consumption cycle. Later research on life forms, work and family, and similar topics confirmed the perspective. Briefly put, consumer society is not just an ordering of society, but also of ways of life. The role of the male breadwinner has been one primary social “driver” behind the system, although women contribute too.

Marx, already, recognized that capitalism affects this syndrome at various levels – in more or less “civil” forms – where “relative” surplus value, developing from more “absolute” value forms, could emerge. Relative surplus value production became tuned to the superior position of the male breadwinner – even though it was actually women (and children), not men, who were the main workers in the early capitalist industry that Marx witnessed. Capitalism “absorbed” and “redirected” earlier societal gender arrangements, and added discrimination forms on its own. Women were the  first main workers in the early industrial revolution, later replaced by men. When the “Russian proletariat” stood up in favour of the Russian revolution, e g in Petersburg, a majority of factory workers were still women – not men. It was only gradually that “industry” became a male bastion, and”consumption” a female affair, in the development of consumer society – with the US as leading force in the 20th century.

 

 

 

 

Apr 20
Den største forbrytelsen?

I et innlegg i Aftenposten impliserer Bernt Hagtvet at Mao var den største forbryteren i det 20. århundret, eller iallfall, at han skapte den største forbrytelsen, ut fra at “Det store spranget” skapte sult og ledet til kanskje 45 – 70 millioner døde. Mer enn noen annen humanitær katastrofe i århundret.

https://www.aftenposten.no/meninger/kronikk/i/Op9kWA/et-diktatur-speiler-seg-selv-bernt-hagtvet

Hagtvet bygger særlig på Frank Dikötters bøker, “Mao’s Great Famine. The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe 1958-62 (2010)” og “The Tragedy of Liberation (2013)”.

Hagtvet oppsummerer at materialet “viser at Mao Zedong er den hovedansvarlige for sultkatastrofene. .. Tanken var å gi den kinesiske økonomien et elektrosjokk og ta igjen Storbritannia på en generasjon eller kortere.” Det gikk dårlig, og ledet til sult.

Hagtvets (og Diköttters) analyse av det kinesiske kommunistpartiet er viktig, og stemmer med en del andre historiske kilder i min bokhylle. Men den bør nyanseres og ses i sammenheng. Det kan virke som om Hagtvet har en egen agenda, i forhold til folk i Norge som “svermet” for Mao. Dette kan – igjen – kanskje være OK, men det må bringes ned på bakkenivå. Hagtvedt nevner norske intellektuelle som – etter sigende – svermet for Kina (f eks Johan Galtung). Det blir for snevert, og kan oppleves som mobbing.

Mer prinsippielt setter jeg et negativt fortegn framfor en fortelling som skal gjøre Det store spranget til den største menneskeskapte forbrytelsen i det 20 århundret.

Hva med holocaust, Hagtvet? Hva med det industrielle mordet på hele folkegrupper? Dette er da mye viktigere, enn bare de totale tallene for ofre av ulike staters mer eller mindre forbryterske politikk?

Ann Applebaum, amerikansk historiker, analyserer dette i sin bok om det sovjetiske Gulag-systemet med konsentrasjonsleire. Ja, skriver hun, systemet drepte flere, i kombinasjon med sult osv, enn det tyske nazi-systemet. Stalinistene hadde arbeidsleire der mange døde – men nazistene laget dødsleire. Uten parallell i Gulag-systemet. Stalinistenes leire var i hovedsak “økonomiske”, skriver hun, mens nazistenes leire i hovedsak var “straffende” (punitive). Selv om andre feilslåtte og autoritære inngrep skapte store dødstall, er det ingen tvil om at nazismen var den største forbrytelsen mot menneskeheten. Nazismen drepte ikke bare millioner av jøder, påståtte kommunister, demokrater, avvikere og oppviglere (i tillegg til såkalte “undermennesker” inkludert funksjonshemmede) tvers gjennom sitt maktområde, den skapte også en situasjon der 50 millioner, eller mer, måtte bøte med livet, i annen verdenskrig. Med mange flere sårede, ødelagt fysisk og emosjonelt.

Å sammenlikne Det store spranget, med nazistenes gassovner og folkedrap i Europa, holder altså ikke.

“Brutto” statistikk om dødelighet og andre tap er ikke nok. Intensjon og formål må med i bildet. Hitler ville drepe folkegrupper. Mao var ikke ute etter dette. Det er en forskjell. Både Hitler, Stalin og Mao var mer enn villige til å “gå over lik” for å få sine planer gjennom. Alle tre sendte opposisjonelle til konsentrasjonsleire. Men bare Hitler og nazistene fant på hvordan leirene kunne utvikles til det de kalte “den endelige lønsningen”; industrielt massedrap på jøder og alle andre som sto i veien for regimet. Altså en ny type overlagt massedrap.

Jeg er ingen detalj-ekspert på humanitære forbrytelser og folkemord, men har jobbet noe med dette, som historisk orientert sosiolog. og har bidratt til forskningsutviklingen, bl.a. her:

I et kapittel kalt A Theory of Gendercide, drøfter jeg ulike forhold som virket inn på nazistenes drapsmodell, med kjønn som del av bildet. Jfr. Jones, Adam, ed.: Gendercide and genocide. Vanderbilt University Press, Norman, p 62-97, 2004.

En annen nyttig kilde, for å forstå de indre forholdene som skaper folkemord, er Hannah Arendts bok Eichmann in Jerusalem. Jeg leste den om igjen nylig, og det var vel verd det. Eichmann og andre naziforbrytere prøvde å komme unna, ved at de ikke hadde motiv, de var jo glade i jøder, og f eks Eichmann drev egentlig et slags reisebyrå, med transport av jøder. Lite visste han om at reisen endte med døden. Det var ikke deres bord. – Denne klassikeren fra 60-tallet er minst like viktig nå, som da den kom ut. De underordnetes forsøk på å “tilpasse” seg nazistene er del av bildet.

Applebaum’s bok er en moderne klassiker, etter mitt syn. Den vant Pullitzer-prisen i 2004 (se https://www.pulitzer.org/winners/anne-applebaum. Sjekk den ut: Applebaum, Anne 2004: Gulag – a history. Penguin, London. Reprintet mange ganger. Ikke rart.

Boka  bidro til å etablere et nytt fagfelt internasjonalt.  Mer presise studier av autoritære regimers mishandling av dem som står i veien for deres allmektige ambisjoner.

Derfor er slike studier av konsentrasjonsleire og straffesystemer særlig viktige, i diskusjonen om humanitære sammenbrudd, overlagt drap,  forbrytelse og straff. De utforsker hva regimet gjorde i praksis, med motstandere og avvikere. Et slags røntgenbilde, av diktaturet.

Norske forskere, bl.a. Kristian Ottosen, var tidlig ute på feltet. Ottosens monumentale utforskning av konsentrasjonsleire i Tyskland og Japan er dessverre såvidt jeg vet fortsatt bare tilgjengelig på norsk. “It’s a shame”, som man sier. Internasjonale forskere hadde hatt nytte av dette materialet.

Ottosens bøker omfatter:

  • Natt og tåke. Historien om Natzweiler-fangene, 1989
  • Liv og død. Historien om Sachsenhausen-fangene, 1990
  • Kvinneleiren. Historien om Ravensbrück-fangene, 1991
  • Bak lås og slå. Historien om norske kvinner og menn i Hitlers fengsler og tukthus, 1993
  • I slik en natt. Historien om deportasjonen av jøder fra Norge, 1994
  • red. Nordmenn i fangenskap 1940–1945, 1995 (ny utvidet utg. 2003)
  • Ingen nåde. Historien om nordmenn i japansk fangenskap, 1996
  • Nasjonalhjelpen. Et lys i mørket, 1997
  • Redningen. Veien ut av fangenskapet våren 1945, 1998
  • Den annen verdenskrig, 2000
  • Motstand, fangenskap og frihet. Erindringer 1940–45, 2005

Jfr https://nbl.snl.no/Kristian_Ottosen

 

 

 

 

Mar 15
Corona, class and gender

Author at the Margareta Church ruins, in the Maridalen valley north of Oslo, early March 2020

Blog post written March 16, updated March 22 and April 6, 2020

 

“There is no such thing as society” – ? The social profile of Covid19

A virus does not have any idea of social class, status, and other forms of ranking or hierarchy in human society. It just looks for bodies where it can survive and multiply.

The virus spreads to “somebody”, not just “anybody”, in our society. It doesn’t affect all groups in the population equally.

It spreads through people who create society through their practical lives.

The neoliberal idea that “there is no such thing as society” (Margareth Thatcher), that we are only individuals, is not very convincing in these times of trouble.

Epidemics have a social class profile, and this is an important perspective to keep in mind, as argued by Svenn-Erik Mamelund at Oslo Met, and other researchers. Mamelund warns that the effects of the pandemic will be worse, in lower income groups https://www.klassekampen.no/article/20200316/ARTICLE/200319974

The total cost of epidemics is usually higher among poor people and regions. This is why, as the WHO warns us, we need to worry about Africa and the poor world, in the current situation, not just the spread of the virus in Europe and the US. Poor countries will be even worse hit, and this will hit back on us, unless we can break the cycle.

The new corona virus is socially blind, it just jumps to the nearest somebody. Workers in high-contact jobs are more prone to get it, and people with more social contact.  The transmission as well as the resulting Covid-19 disease has a social profile, with the death rate much higher among some population groups than others.

Although the patterns of disease transmission and development are partly cloudy, two facts emerge beyond doubt. 1) the disease selects by age, older people are more likely to get heavier symptoms and are more likely to die from the resulting worsening of the disease. 2) underlying health problems like heart problems and diabetes are also clear negative factors increasing the chance of dying from Covid-19.

Men go first

It is also clear that the death rate from the disease is higher among men than women. Yet the reasons for this are still in the dark. They are not well clarified.

It seems that, once again, “gender” is a topic that stands at the end of the queue, regarding research, even though, empirically, it is central.

I have looked for research on men’s larger death rate from Covid19 since late February. It is only in the last weeks that the issue has shown up more frequently, mainly in the media, citing recent and still rather fragmented research.

The numbers are only partly clear. I have not seen exact international statistics, regarding the gap between women and men’s chance of dying from the disease. My overall impression is that men stand a one and a half chance, to a double chance, of dying from the disease, compared to women. According to the Chinese evidence (based on the first 55 000 deaths), the chance of an infected man dying from the disease was 168 percent the chance of a woman dying from it (crude fatality rate). A more recent study (72 ooo deaths) shows a very similar pattern, 165 percent chance.

Why?

The first reports, from China, on the larger death rate among men, were tentatively explained by the much higher proportion of smokers among men compared to women in the country. Now, reports from Italy indicate that men are even more prone to die from the disease compared to women, than in China. The “extra male burden” of the new disease is maybe even larger in Italy than in China. Yet in Italy, smoking is more gender-balanced than in China. From age 60 upwards – the main part of the new disease death cases –  the proportions of women smoking is circa 80 percent the proportions of men. The gender gap in smoking seems too small to explain the large fatality difference. See https://www.statista.com/statistics/501615/italy-smokers-by-age-and-gender/

I wrote about this in the original version of this post some weeks ago. Now (April 6) I see the same point picked up elsewhere also, e g in this informative text: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/coronavirus-death-men-women

There is recently more interest in gender issues, and I notice a move away from purely “external” explanations, like smoking, towards more integrated approaches. Even if damaged lungs doesn’t help, its not enough to explain the gender difference. The same goes for other biological or other disease factors. They are important, but they don’t explain all. Quoting from the above paper:

“Ultimately, biology, lifestyle and behaviour are all likely to play a role in the spread and impact of Covid-19. But it will only be possible to understand the exact differences between men and women once more countries produce and make available sex-disaggregated statistics on infection and mortality.”

Possibly, fatal cardiovascular disease, more common among men than women, is a more important factor behind the different fatality rates, than smoking. Studies point to a higher fatality among men at this point, maybe twice as high as women, and cardiovascular disease is the number one factor increasing the complications of the new disease, ahead of diabetes, and others, according to Chinese studies. However, this is probably also only part of the picture. The fatality from cardiovascular disease becomes more gender-balanced, among older people.

There are other medical or biological explanatory factors too, including better immune systems among women, and maybe hormone and chromosome differences, but the picture is still far from clear (as far as I can see).

Patterns of behaviour – our old friend “society” – most probably plays a large role.

Men and health

According to men and masculinities research, men are in situations that may work against good health, and often adapt to patterns of action and practice that increase the health problems. Men’s health behaviour is more often in the high risk zone, than women’s behaviour.

A dramatic example of this rule comes from studies of suicide. These show an almost universal global pattern – men suicide more often than women. Recent studies have also mapped suicide attempts, not just suicides. Here, the situation is the opposite. Women, not men, are most prone to attempt suicide. These studies show that when people consider suicide, men tend to do it, while women more often stay on the brink, they may attempt it, but they don’t go through with it.

Similar patterns can be found in other health-related behaviors. Compared to women, men typically take less (and later) contact with the health system, and are less open about problems. Even in gender-equal Norway, if a couple has a problem, it is typically the wife contacting the family councelling or therapist, dragging the husband along.

Greater fatality among men compared to women in different age groups and for different diseases and causes has been reported e g by the UK researcher Alan White (https://alan-keith-white.blogspot.com/2019/07/mens-health-and-womens-health-emerging.html).

These are relevant factors, even if they may not play the main role for the Covid19 deaths today. The health and social evidence are important parts of the whole. Another important data source on men and health is the International Men and Gender Equality Study (IMAGES, cf. https://promundoglobal.org/programs/international-men-and-gender-equality-survey-images/

It should be noted, that the idea of a “zero sum game” in terms of gender and health is rejected by most health researcher, even if it lives on in the media. Women’s health does not improve by men dying before them (or vice versa). Instead, women’s and men’s health problems should be seen in connection, and reduced in terms of better health behaviours from both (all) genders. Yet the idea stays on, in today’s media and debate.

According to the evidence regarding gender conceptions and bias, “fundamentalist” gender ideas may become stronger, in times of crisis or perceived danger. Crises may create “social panic”, a pattern mapped by researchers already in the 1960s. With more anxiety, studies show, there will be more of a backwards leaning on what is “safe”. Strict conservative gender rules are often considered “safe”. The evidence at this point is not conclusive (there may be gender innovative responses also), but it is clear that gender conservative fallback is a recurrent trend.

Generals planning for the last war?

Imagine what would happen, if women’s death rate from the new disease was almost the double of men’s. Would there have been an outcry? I think so. In gender-equal countries like Norway, at least.

I find it strange, based on the death rate evidence, that “male” is not included, and still not much highlighted and discussed, among the new disease risk factors.

Why not?

Is it mainly due to gender conservativism and a kind of automatic thinking? Men are more prone to die, this is part of the male role, with the man as protector and provider? We are “at war” with the virus, we are told. And men / soldiers are of course the ones most likely to pay their lives. So, the empirical red light warning, the much higher death rate among men, has mainly passed under the conceptual radar.

Class experts tell us that Covid19 will hit poor people worst. Gender experts tell us that women will be worse hit. This has been very visible in Norway, and internationally, as the media debate has taken up research issues, with more peope concerned about the “how” and “why” of the disease.

I think these experts, opinion leaders, or “generals”, are mostly quite correct, regarding strategy, or overall impact. Yet generals need to know about tactics too. Tactics is not about what happens some years ahead. It is about what happens today and tomorrow.  The current empirical picture of transmission, hospital treatment and death from Covid19.

We need to untangle the overall long term effects of the disease, from the actual happenings here and now. Especially, we need to distinguish between the transmission group and the serious impact group (those who get seriously ill, and may die).

For a dramatic example, compare the Black Death. This also probably first started among poor people – we don’t know. It spread through tradesmen to Europe. A typical first stage is transmission through people with money and contacts.

This is now replicated in the European evidence including Norway. Here, ski tourists from Italy and Austria brought home the virus. Likewise, with the so-called Spanish Flu after World War 1, the origin seems to have been in the US, spreading to Europe and the rest of the world mainly through the military. Poor people, and women, usually get the largest total costs from epidemics, but the transmission, especially in the early stage, is another story.

Top down transmission

Instead of the poorest and the lower classes, we obviously have a situation with a “top down” type of distribution of the virus, e g in Norway.

It started with people with money and contacts, mainly. And the fatality rate seems to be quite high, in these groups also. The lack of attention to the top down spread is evident in Europe and elsewhere with leaders in isolation, or infected.

Crying wolf regarding the working class, or women, is important in an overall perspective, but may be misleading, here and now. To understand and reduce pathways of infection and death from the disease we need to look at the upper/middle class, people in occupations with much contact – and men.

There are two different main groups involved, in reducing the total damage to society – the transmitters, and the seriously affected. Their social profiles started quite similar, but are now more diverse, as the disease spreads downwards in terms of social class, gender and ethnicity.

This is now quite clearly confirmed by local evidence from Oslo, capital of Norway. At first, the transmission was largest in the most affluent parts of the city. Recent evidence shows a shift towards the less affluent parts. Maybe, in some weeks time, these areas will be on the top of the list of infections per capita. The transmission will still be somewhat top-down, probably, but less so, than in the first phase.

This prediction fits the international Covid19 statistics (see e g Worldometers). Here, the numbers still read like a “rich world” club of transmission and deaths, with the rich world country deaths outnumbering the poor countries, and with the “epicentre” moving, with US rising fast, and Europe slowing down, while poorer countries – so far – have far lower rates.

This will most probably change, according to top down transmission class and gender analysis and historical epidemic evidence. We shall see. What is clear, here and now, is that top down transmition is shifting into wider transmition, going further out and downwards in terms of social status (class, gender, and others).

It seems that some of the bias and outmoded thinking in the first stage of the disease – where the gender death rate imbalance was almost totally overlooked (in February, early March, in my evidence), and the top down transmission evidence was mainly ignored  (again, in my impression) – was due to the way expert researchers have conceptualized their work. They are into “gender”, for example, but in a quite restricted way, where gender mainly means “women”. Where men are assumed to be of less interest, and/or less gender-equal.

This gender-means-women bias is quite typical, in my experience, in international organizations, for example. Likewise, in terms of class, there is a common response, class means the lower class. Is this approach wrong? On the whole, no. But like I said, it is not the full picture. Tactics differs from strategy. Tactics involves the empirical material, here and now. At that point, experts have been slow to respond, in my view.

Since women generally live longer than men, and age is the number one factor increasing Covid19 fatality, we might have expected more women than men dying from it. Yet this is not the case. This underlines the need to investigate gender differences further.

Summing up

Clearly, better knowledge of the “hidden” gender dimension is needed. Researchers and experts need to cooperate, to create the best possible socio-medical-biological mapping of how Covid19 spreads, how it develops into serious illness, and takes lives – and how it can be reduced.

It is now clear that this will be a long-term pandemic. Gender is one of the central variables regarding the death rate from Covid19, and the reasons for this, still mostly unknown, are important for research and prevention.

The social part of the mapping of Covid19 should include social class, gender, ethnicity and other factors. This is vital and urgently needed. Gender may be a key factor, to reduce the disease and the social and economic cost of the pandemic.

Today (April 4), in Norway, there is really no telling how many have been infected by the virus. This is because testing equipment has become scarce and testing is not at all on the level of the WHO recommendation  (“test, test, test”).  So, experts and health workers are trying to trace transmission paths through a very limited number of test numbers. This is clearly far from optimal.

But at this stage, a social probability map – and guidelines – who, to test – is very important. Where to look, to find the transmitters. Social science cannot predict this exactly, of course, but it can help out, making it more likely that the tests that are actually done, find their target – the transmitters.

 

Author following Covid19 news on a mobile phone, April 6 (reading some good news, maybe light in the tunnel, now.)

Feb 19
Is gender equality a benefit for men? The case of suicide

Six years ago, in a paper called “What’s in it for men”, I published results from a new data base of 81 European countries and US states, showing that higher levels of gender equality were associated with better health for men, not just for women.

One noteworthy finding was that men’s rate of suicide, compared to women’s rate, was highest in the most gender-unequal countries and states. In other words, the idea that men are worse off, if women have more say, was distinctly disproven, in this (macro) evidence.

Some of the main findings are summarized in this graph, made from the data base:

See: Whats in it for men, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1097184X14558237

Now, a new US study points in the same direction. The study shows that “high–traditional masculinity men were 2.4 times more likely to die by suicide than non-HTM men”.

The study builds on a large health questionnaire that included masculinity-related items. High-traditional masculinity is an index based on items like “not crying, physically fit, not moody, not emotional, liking yourself, fighting, and risk taking”.  The survey included 20745 adolescents in 1995 and in 2014 was matched with death records using the National Death Index. This gave a sample of 22 suicides. The researchers claim that the HTM pattern is very clear, and outperformed other factors. HTM men  “were 1.45 times less likely to report. (..) There was no association between HTM and suicide attempts. High–traditional masculinity men were slightly more likely to report easy gun access (..) and had modestly lower depression levels.”

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2760513?guestAccessKey=62fafc7d-7faa-4bd9-934e-eb6af97812e5&utm_source=silverchair&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=article_alert-jamapsychiatry&utm_content=olf&utm_term=021220

My 2014 paper, pointing to the connection between traditional gender, gender inequality and relatively higher suicide rates among men, is not referred to in the new study. They probably don’t know about it. Their independent conclusion is all the more interesting.

My evidence makes it probable that the relatively higher rate of male suicide in gender-unequal countries and states is related to traditional masculinities and male roles. Even if the HTM scale is only a proxy (somewhat debatable), it points towards a low level of gender equality in society.

This can be connected to statistics showing that men and women “attempt” suicide fairly equally – but that men actually go on and do it. There is no more attempted communication. This “gendered closure” is higher in countries with low levels of gender equality. The tendency cuts across different levels of economic progress and income equality. Gender equality is an independent factor, working on its own, according to the “Whats in it for men” macro data, as well as other studies.

Suicide statistics are also influenced by the availability of “effective/masculine” ways of ending one’s life, like firearms and a culture that enhances their use, and many other factors, that however also often have a gender aspect.

In sum, the evidence points to the potential of a substantial reduction of male over-suicide by gender-equal type of measures, e g focused on communication before the attempt, “don’t do it even if you try it” and curbing “macho” tendencies in suicide contexts.

If men had copied women’s more hesitant and communicative suicide patterns, rates would probably have been much lower.

However, we do not know how closely low gender equality in society and traditional masculinity among men are actually connected. Attempts to single out “traditional” or even “toxic” masculinity can be non-nuanced and counterproductive in some contexts.

Note that my macro data did NOT explain why suicide was higher or lower in gender equal countries. That analysis did not show a clear pattern. What DID show a clear pattern, was that the tendency of men to suicide more often than women, or the rate of “male over-suicide”, was clearly and strongly connected to low gender equality.

I would like to thank Kelly Fisher, MA student at my center, for the link to the new study.

 

Feb 03
Democracy on the defensive

Democracy is on the defensive, in the world today. Not only is the proportion of authoritarian and totalitarian countries growing, but the dissatisfaction with democracy in democratic or semi-democratic countries is growing too.

A new report based on public opinion surveys shows the growing dissatisfaction with democracy in many parts of world. Except for a fairly small group of countries, mainly in the European north, many democratic countries show a decline in satisfaction with democracy over the last years. Notable cases include the US, Brazil and the UK.

A brief news report here: https://www.bbc.com/news/education-51281722

More on the method here: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-01/uoc-gdw012720.php

Full report here: https://www.bennettinstitute.cam.ac.uk/publications/global-satisfaction-democracy-report-2020/

The report discusses institutional and other factors behind the decline in support for (or trust in) democracy.

Surprisingly, gender equality is not mentioned as a background factor, even though many countries on the top of the list, with the largest satisfaction with democracy, are also on the top of the global gender equality indexes, like Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden. (Cf http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2020.pdf )

The top performing group in this study is a mix of gender equality and economic benefit, it seems, including Switzerland and Luxembourg (cf report figure 6), but the correlation with high levels of gender equality is very noticeable – and yet not noted in the report.

Gender equality is probably strongly associated with well-functioning democracy in today’s world. It is a cause, not just an effect, of democratization. It is an integral part of democratization as research pioneer Ronald Inglehart (in his paper Gender Equality and Democracy) noted twenty years ago. Gender equality helps pave the way for democracy and helps extend its meaning from formal measures to real changes towards a fair society, working for all.  Gender equality is associated with better life quality, for men as well as women, controlling for economic level and income distribution (see Read more, below). Today, gender equality is a “filter” against build-up of social inequality and social conflict. Its not perfect, but it is there.

The importance of gender and gender equality has been neglected in many areas including democracy research. This needs to be changed – we need more research on this key link.

Read more:

Holter, Øystein Gullvåg 2014:
“What’s in it for Men?”: Old Question, New Data
Men and Masculinities 17(5), 515-548

 

Oct 18
Kjønnslikestilling og FNs bærekraftsmål

 

En internasjonal undersøkelse (IPSOS) tyder på at kjønnslikestilling er det minst kjente området blant 16 omåder i forhold til FNs bærekraftsmål, selv om det er presentert ganske høyt på listen, som mål nr 5.

“A new Ipsos survey finds that at a global level, three out of four adults (74%) have at least some awareness of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals, laid out by world leaders in 2015, were 17 benchmarks set in order to end poverty, fight inequality, and stop climate change around the world. This survey asked more than 19,000 adults from 28 countries about their awareness and opinions of 16 of the 17 SDGs”

«Ingen sult» var det mest kjente av FNs bærekraftsmål, 85 prosent, fulgt av «rent vann», 84 prosent, og «ren energi» med 83 prosent. Etter en rekke med nokså håndfaste mål der raten for kjenskap varierer fra 85 til 79 prosent, kom de to sosiale målene om redusert sosial ulikhet, som en egen pulje lenger bak. Dvs «redusert ulikhet» 76 prosent, og «kjønnslikestilling» 74 prosent.

Cf

https://www.ipsos.com/en/awareness-united-nations-sustainable-development-goals-highest-emerging-countries

https://www.weforum.org/press/2019/09/global-survey-shows-74-are-aware-of-the-sustainable-development-goals

Sep 29
Is gender equality a benefit for men?

Washington Post cites my research here:

https://www.stk.uio.no/om/aktuelt/i-media/2019/why-the-patriarchy-is-killing-men.html

Jun 28
Harriet Holter on gender differentiation and gender stratification

It looks a bit sad, maybe – the cover on Harriet Holter’s doctoral thesis, published by the University press (Universitetsforlaget), Oslo, 1970. The cover was made by me and Iben Hjort. No brains involved. Empty at the top.

What did Harriet Holter actually say, regarding gender differentiation and stratification? Her text was a world first – or a very early candidate, to distinguish more clearly between these dimensions. Here are some excerpts.

‘The concept of sex differentiation is in the present work often distinguished from sex stratification, that is, from the ordering of the two genders in terms of power and social prestige.’ p 18.

‘In the language of exchange theory, the net results of the differentiation accorded each partner must be great enough to keep motivating the exchange.’ 21

Some stratification counters differentiation:

‘Gender stratification [means] that men, in general, have more power and higher prestige than women. In what sense is this a reasonable postulate? Everyone is classified by many criteria in addition to sex. Sex is only one of several attributes that affect a person’s total prestige. It is assumed, then, that men tend to be evaluated more highly (..) when all other status criteria are similar for the two.’ p 44.

‘A functional explanation of the common rank order between men and women would have to postulate that women’s tasks, that is, to give birth to children and take care of them and rear them, is less necessary for society. (..) This position seems untenable. Gender differentiation, not gender stratification, may promote basic societal requisites like protection of the young and securing a close contact between infants and nourishing mothers. (..) Once men and women are differentiated with respect to responsibilities for infants, the two sexes differ in their opportunities for securing wealth and power.’ p 45

‘Women’s ties to their infants create immobility that is incompatible with many kinds of instrumental activities. (..) Instrumental activities are valued more highly than expressive ones especially in modern society.’ p 46

‘Expressive tasks devalued since they are less easily evaluated, dont give control over large resources (like some instrumental tasks).’ p 47. ‘Unlike expressive roles, instrumental ones require the delay of gratification, which helps in the control of resources’ 47

‘The more differentiated in the traditional manner are the tasks of men and women, the more likely it is that the stratification is marked. (..) [Yet] Certain forces act counter to these processes’. 47-48

‘The complementary natures of sex roles … is also a basis for the development of female forms of power as well as male ones.’ 49
‘The main hypothesis [in research] about improvements in the exchange positions of women follows from their increased occupational participation.’ 50 ‘Women do not have to use sexual favours as goods-in-exchange, a fact that enables them to enjoy sexuality as a pleasure in itself. And it might be added, women’s freedom with respect to choice of marital partner is increased.’ p 50.

Harriet Holter compared sex and race as examples of ‘ascriptive differentiation. Due to the conventions at her time, she here uses the term differentiation, rather than stratification, and states  (p 51), that “One characteristic of sex differentiation, and partly of race differentiation (..) has been the change in the definitions of criteria from legal rules to informal norms. Such a shift seems to have taken place in all societies that have experienced prosperity in recent times.” She concludes that “sex differentiation, like other functional differentiations, entails a rank ordering of the positions of men and women.” (p 53).

In chapter two, on sex differentiating norms, she defines “sex roles or gender roles” (p 54) more precisely  – this is “stable, patterned and sanction-carrying expectations about a person’s behaviour”, “the sum of norms directed towards a person occupying a certain position.”

Later, she discusses why gender is not class – a different type of ranking mechnanism, p 225. She notes that women are sometimes more conservative than men, ‘more in favour of ascriptive principles than men’ 230. ‘Sex differentiation may support class stratification by reducing tensions produced by the stratification’ 231.

Here we are into the heart of the matter. Renewed and increased class stratification may be eased by going back to a more traditional gender role system.

 

 

 

 

Jun 26
Men and gender equality research model wins peace prize

Each year, since 2012, the Schengen Peace Foundation and the World Peace Forum award the Luxembourg Peace Prize, an award that “honors the outstanding in the field of peace”. The categories of the Luxembourg Peace Prize and their celebration “amplify the aims and goals of the World Peace Forum”. This year, the award for “outstanding peace organization” was given to Promundo.

The prize for “outstanding peace activist” was given to Masami Saionji and Hiroo Saionji of the Goi Peace Foundation and May Peace Prevail On Earth International, based in Japan. Thich Nhat Hanh received the award for “outstanding inner peace”.

Since its founding in Brazil in 1997, Promundo has worked in collaboration with partners to advance gender equality and prevent violence in over 40 countries around the world through research and evaluation, targeted advocacy efforts, and evidence-based educational and community-wide program implementation.

The research model and its links to implementation and innovation are a main part of the reason why Promundo received the prize. The prize statement specifically mentions “high-impact research”.  Cf https://luxembourgpeaceprize.org/laureates/outstanding-peace-organization/2019-promundo/

The new research is also used in the recent State of the world’s fathers report (cf https://genderjustice.org.za/publication/state-of-the-worlds-fathers-2019-executive-summary/), which has drawn attention from media including The New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/07/us/parents-fathers-role.html )

An important part of this research model was developed in Norway. Here is the background. And some ideas, how to follow up. 7 points, in all.

(detail of cover of Brandth and Kvande, editors: Fedrekvoten [The father quota], 2013)

1

A main part of the Promundo research effort started from a new type of gender equality survey made in Norway in 2007 in a project and survey called “Gender equality and quality of life”.  The survey included much more detail on gender equality than previous studies, including more perspective on men as well as women, more focus on gender equality not just in opinions but also practices, household care and work divisions, and well-being, health, conflict and violence.

2

The Promundo team developed the Norway survey framework into a more relevant and applied version applicable in the global south, focusing on violence and health issues, and expanding the practical experience questions. In the first 6-country survey (2009-11), about 60 percent of the questions were taken from the Norwegian survey. The Promundo survey was called IMAGES – International Men and Gender Equality Survey. Later, as Promundo and local partners have adapted the survey in new contexts, now more than 40 countries, many of those core questions have continued to be used.  And the logic of gender equality being related to quality of life continues to be a key conceptual framework for the studies.

3

The survey design was further developed by the Promundo team in a variety of contexts and collaborations, including cooperation with researchers at the Centre for gender research, University of Oslo. In some respects, it goes far beyond the original Norwegian project, although main questions and an important part of the framework remained the same.

4

The Promundo development mainly concerned actions – more than structures. The original Norwegian model had more emphasis on mapping structural factors hindering or helping gender equality. Later, an independent development of the structural part of the design was made in a Poland-Norway study (2015). Several books and papers have been published from this project (called GEQ – Gender equality and quality of life).

(Poland-Norway study logo)

The Poland-Norway study includes a “European blueprint” for a wider European project, combining a developed survey questionnaire with interviews and other data. See http://www.geq.socjologia.uj.edu.pl/en_GB/start?p_p_id=56_INSTANCE_ZGJFS82ydNo6&p_p_lifecycle=0&p_p_state=normal&p_p_mode=view&p_p_col_id=column-2&p_p_col_count=3&groupId=32447484&articleId=136474060  – The Promundo survey developments gradually also included structural factors.

5

However, a comparison of these partly independent developments of the same research model remains to be made. The original gender equality model focused on a number of broad factors to be investigated regarding the “state of gender in/equality” – how to measure this as an independent dimension, in society. These included gender equality in childhood and youth, in working life, public sphere, family and household, etc. The presumed factors were designated mainly as “structural” but included cultural variables also. The design had a social-psychological dimension.

6

Why has the research model been a success?  It goes into a not so well known area, men and gender equality, combining action questions with structure questions and cultural questions. It is focused on important issues like health, caring, conflict and violence. It s not a “cover all” but offers a more detailed map than other research designs. Weak spots can be reduced by combining surveys with other methods.

A main reason for the success, in my view, is the combination of action and structure aspects. This means that trends and actions among men (and women) can be analyzed with more nuance and precision, regarding structural factors. You get more information on specific themes like violence, especially in the IMAGES version, and also tools to adjust for different social and cultural context, including five main dimensions of gender equality and (in less detail) other discrimination experiences. This makes for a powerful tool. It is a bit like a “meme”. Once you have this new mapping, you don’t want to be without it. In principle, investigation can be focused and targeted, and remain balanced, un-prejudiced.

7

Analyzing the total evidence, both the new European studies and the new global studies, is a main issue now. It needs to be done. Through our center at the University of Oslo,  I have cooperated with Promundo in order to get this issue into the prioritized European research agenda. So far, without funding. I hope this will change, now.

There is no doubt whatsoever that this research effort on gender, men, women, violence and conflict, health and well-being – is of great importance not just in itself, but also in relation to other top priority research areas. How to reduce social discrimination. How to resolve burning questions of climate change. How to engage men and boys as well as girls and women in positive gender equality change.

Now more than ever, with so much interest in the topic of engaging boys and men by donors, governments and academics, the IMAGES dataset, together with the European dataset, is an unprecedented resource for analyzing these issues, and considering how to bring other topics into new surveys, and begin to carry out the survey again in the same countries 10 or 15 years later to assess change. Furthermore, given that Gates Foundation supported Promundo to unify and clean up the global dataset, Promundo and the University of Oslo are well-placed to carry out this analysis – building theory, identifying gaps and opportunities, and making IMAGES and European tools, questionnaires and interview guides even more available to interested researchers.

 

 

Apr 12
The mystery of the Beatles – and boys “looking like girls”

How come boys and young men wanted to grow their hair long, going against the dominant social norms in the 1960s and 70s?

They were seen as girls, devalued and unmanly. Yet long hair became a way to demonstrate a youth revolt and a counter culture.

I am reading a lot of books, including music histories, for a book project on men and masculinities, in order to understand this change.

“All you need is ears”, Beatles producer George Martin argues, regarding the success of the Beatles – the leading long-haired band.

This is a good book regarding sound – a focused yet limited regarding the artistic contribution of the Beatles (and their sound as part of their artistic intention). Martin writes a lot about the technical issues and troubles with analog recording, with too few tracks and too much noise, and the text (written in the late 1970s) is more technical than emotional.

Yet this is the text of a record producer, not an artist, and should be judged on its own merits.

Much of what he says about analog recording, written before the advent of digital recording, which emerged some years later than this text (in the early 1980ies, with CDs supposed to represent “perfect sound forever”) is still relevant and interesting today. His book gives valuable knowledge, for example, on how to set up microphones, how to adjust for different instruments, and how to get the full sound of a band.

George Martin the producer and sometime-co-musician with the Beatles was never fully credited for his work. This is made very evident in the last part of the book. His complaints are reasonable, but his nagging tone,  bringing up the theme, also reminds me of other recent music books I have read, in the direction, “I should have been paid x times more”. Artists and contributors often start out from artistic and idealistic reasons, but often end up – even if they sell well (or, especially in that case) – in conflicts regarding revenues, profits and egos. With maybe the ego part the hardest territory to negotiate. Alltogether, the in-depth books I read, including biographies of rock bands, artists and producers, describe a complaint against music capitalism. You can make a hit, but from then on, you are on the run.