One step forward, two steps back

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Arguments about how men are impacted by gender equality don’t have to tear down women to be valid.

An opinion piece published in CBC, written by Neil Macdonald, argues that the 2017 federal budget, with its focus on gender equity, excluded men in its emphasis on women’s issues, such as the wage gap that continues to impact women and the underrepresentation of women in STEM. 

Macdonald accuses the federal government for ignoring the economic issues that affect men — they’re lagging behind in education and losing their jobs in the manufacturing sector, he says.

Macdonald’s approach is indicative of an unfortunately common tact in discussions about gender inequity — combatting systems that disproportionately impact women are all well and good, but what about men? Why not focus on them?

The reason: in the normalized dichotomy of gender, men aren’t the focus of institutionalized sexism. It’s not men who are paid less per every dollar women make or need to be recruited to join STEM fields.

While men are affected by gender inequity, particularly men who don’t conform to rigid ideals of masculinity, conversations around this need to happen openly and respectfully — shooting down growth in one area for the sake of another isn’t progress.

For the federal government to filter their energy into exploring economic impacts on female populations isn’t because they’re ignoring men — it’s because women are bearing the brunt of the impact.

Macdonald also begins the article by exploring the binary nature of gender. “While some, particularly in academia,” he begins, “regard gender as a "cisnormative" construct, the human race is is fact binary.”

But if he was actually invested in this idea, he’d also recognize the way people who don’t fall into the dichotomy of gender are disenfranchised in the economy, such as trans people or gender-fluid people.

He doesn’t mention this at all — instead, the idea of gender as a construct is only a precursor to another reconstruction of this binary.  

There also seem to be gaping holes in Macdonald’s argument. For instance, Macdonald argues that more focus should be put on men in the 2017 federal budget because they’re lagging behind in school and losing jobs in the manufacturing industry.

While these points are valid and not to be taken lightly, they’re not necessarily issues that stem from discrimination against men. In fact, these issues are largely the result of the same root problem of gender binaries: for instance, women are often deterred from entering the manufacturing industry due to traditional gender roles.  

Conversations around gender inequity, in the economy and beyond, need to be focused on more than just one gender — it’s okay to talk about how gender inequity impacts men and anyone else who falls on the gender spectrum, regardless of how they identify.

But having these conversations doesn’t mean countering the progress in advocacy for women’s issues. We can talk about how the institutionalized sexism of the economy impacts everyone, but it’s important to realize that it impacts some more than others.

The conversation can’t be equal if the problem isn’t either.

— Journal Editorial Board

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