The Price to Be Paid

Ours is the age of equality between men and women, or so they say. Not a day passes without the media announcing some great achievement by women who have done this or that, conquered this or that field of previously male activity. Today it pleases me to focus on the price women have paid for succumbing to penis envy.

Follow a few highlights:

* Many women now work as hard as men. Fifty years ago, the time when the shift that made it normal and acceptable for married women to obtain paid jobs got under way, many of them started by working part time. Since then, however, the difference in the percentage of men and women working full time has been shrinking. Do you want to see the result? Just look at the bookstores. In them, one volume after another dealing with how to balance work, household and family is becoming a best-seller. As if wishful thinking could lead to a day of twenty-six hours.

* The rising cost of living. Most working women incur expenses non-working ones do not have; such as clothing, transport, help in running the household, and child care. In particular, the last two have led to the rise of entire industries that are worth billions and billions a year. Women who work and pay others to work for them also have the privilege of paying all kinds of taxes (income tax, VAT, social security, employers’ taxes), which otherwise would not have been the case. All this explains why, whereas fifty years ago most middle-class families could live on one salary, today such a blessing has become rare.

* Exposure to sexual harassment. Women who work outside the home are more exposed to sexual harassment than those who do not. Period.

* Difficulty in conceiving. Paid work often means preparing for it by undertaking some kind of academic study, and the years spent on academic study are one reason why the age at which people get married for the first time has been rising until it is currently the highest in history. The outcome: more and more women who live with a partner cannot have children and are forced to turn to artificial insemination labs or adoption agencies instead.

* Estrangement from children who suffer. Historically the fact that women spent far more time with little children in particular meant that mothers were considerably closer to their offspring than fathers were. That, however, is no longer the case; today’s newborn are likely to be handed to the care of strangers within months, or even weeks, of entering this world. At least some studies have concluded that mothers’ employment is “associated with negative child outcomes when families [are] not at risk financially (i.e., when families [are] middle or upper-middle class).” A fortiori, of course, for poor and/or single working mothers.

* Payment of child support and palimony. Half a century ago, for women to pay child support, let alone palimony, was almost unheard of. Such demands indeed, tended to be laughed out of court. No longer. The courts’ bias in favor of women, as well as the fact that most men still make more than most women, means that, even today, far fewer women than men are ordered to make these payments. However, the gap is shrinking.

* Crime and punishment. Starting at the time when Medea, in a fit of jealousy, killed her children to spite her philandering husband Jason but was never put on trial, women have always suffered much lighter punishments for the crimes they committed then men did. To a large extent, that is still the case. A man who killed his children is certain to be denounced as a monster and subjected to the heaviest possible punishment; a woman can expect much lighter punishment as well as sympathy and psychological help. Still, over the last thirty years or so the gap has been shrinking. As is shown, inter alia, by the fact that women’s incarceration rate has increased nearly twice as fast as that of men.

* Military service. Throughout history, in one form or another men have often been conscripted to fight and die for their dear countries whereas women were not. To-date, the only country that made women wear uniform even against their will is Israel. This, however, seems to be changing. At least one country, Norway, now has some form of conscription for women, albeit that it has so many loopholes as to ensure that no woman (or man) should serve against their will. In other countries the possibility of registering women for conscription, though not conscription itself, has become the topic of public debate.

* Declining life expectancy. As far back into history as we can look, men have always outlived women. That was as true in Neolithic times as it was in eighteenth-century Europe. Only after 1800 or so did the situation begin to change; first in Europe and the US, then gradually in other places as well. By 1975-80, in developed countries, women had come to outlive men by 6-8 years. In marches feminism and the idea that women have to work, and endure stress, and smoke, and join the military, just as men do. The outcome? In just forty years, in some of the countries in question, the gap in life expectancy between men and women has been halved.

Has it been worth it? Let women judge.