A Philosopher's Blog

Health Workers & Moral Objections I: Procedures

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on January 19, 2018

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The Trump administration plans to modify the Health and Human Services (HHS) civil rights office to protect health care workers who have moral or religious objections to performing certain medical procedures or treating certain patients. As should be expected, the focus of concern is mainly on abortion and transgender patients. Two of the general moral issues raised by this situation are whether health workers have the moral right to refuse certain services and whether they have the right to refuse to treat certain patients based on the identity of the patients.

While some might, perhaps while thinking of abortion rights, automatically conclude that health care workers have no moral right to refuse services, this would be far to hasty. After all, entering a profession does not entail that a person surrenders their moral rights or conscience. To think otherwise would be to embrace the discredited notion that just following orders or just doing one’s job provides a blanket moral excuse for one’s professional actions. As such, since health care workers are morally accountable for their actions, they also retain the moral agency and freedom needed to ground that accountability.

But, this moral coin has another side—entering a profession, especially in the field of health, also comes with moral and professional responsibilities. These responsibilities can, like all responsibilities, can justly impose burdens. For example, doctors are not permitted to instantly abandon patients they dislike or because they want to move to a better paying position. As such, ethics of a health worker refusing to perform a procedure based on their moral or religious views requires that each procedure be reviewed to determine whether it is one that a health care worker can justly refuse or one that is a justly imposed burden.

To illustrate, consider a doctor who is asked to keep prisoners conscious and alive during torture performed by agents of the state. Most doctors, like most people, would have moral objections to being involved in torture. However, there is the question of whether this would be something they should be morally expected to do as part of their profession. On the face of it, since the purpose of the medical profession is to heal and alleviate suffering (a professional ethics that goes back to the origin of western medicine) this is not something that a doctor is obligated to do even in the face of moral objections. In fact, the ethics of the profession would dictate against engaging in this behavior.

Now, imagine a health care worker who has sincere religious or moral beliefs that when a person can no longer sustain their life on their own, they must be released to God. As such, the worker refuses to engage in procedures that violate their principles, such as keeping a patient on life support. While this could be a sincerely held belief, it seems to run counter to the ethics of the profession. As such, such a health care worker would seem to not have the right to refuse such services.

One could even imagine very extreme cases—after all there is no requirement to prove that sincerely held religious belief is true, one must only be convincing in one’s alleged sincerity. For example, imagine a health care worker who has a sincere religious belief that a patient must prove themselves worthy in the eyes of God by surviving with only the most basic care; anything beyond that is an affront to God’s will: the patient will survive if God wants them to and humans should not interfere with this. Obviously enough, such workers’ views would not be accepted as justifying their actions—they should seek another profession if they cannot do their jobs.

Turning back to services like abortion and gender transition, the issue would be whether these are more like asking a medical worker to participate in torture or more like expecting a medical worker to provide normal medical services. As should be expected, this is a central point of the dispute. Those who oppose abortion will make the moral argument that performing abortion is as bad or worse than abetting torture—it does, after all, involve killing a living entity. Those who are pro-choice will contend that it is a medical procedure like any other. I must admit that I do not have a compelling argument to change any minds on this matter.

In the case of gender transition, there can be no appeal to concerns about killing. Rather, a person must appeal to the view that people should not modify their sex and should simply accept what they were born with. This seems to be more like my imaginary case of a health care worker who believes that people must prove themselves worthy in the eyes of God than like the torture case, especially if someone takes the view that God wants people to stick with their original sex. That said, it could be argued that such modifications are wrong in the same way that non-restorative cosmetic surgery is wrong—after all, both aim to allow a person to be as they envision themselves to be. I do not, however, want to claim that the transitional process is as trivial as a face lift. Once again, I do not think I have a compelling argument here that will change any minds.

While I do not think I will change minds about abortion and such, I do think that the matter of moral objections needs to be given due consideration. It is easy to simply embrace one’s unreflecting views without considering the possibility of error. In my next essay I’ll turn to the issue of whether health workers have the moral right to refuse services based on the identity of the patient, such as their being transgender or Christian.

 

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Gender Identification & Races

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Running, Sports/Athletics by Michael LaBossiere on November 18, 2016

At a recent race, a runner entered with a sex of “other” which caused a bit of a problem with the race results. After all, in such competitions people are divided between male and female. They are also divided by age. Because of this, experienced runners tend to check out the competition before the start of the race, looking to see who is present and mentally gauging their chances of being “a have” (runner slang for getting an award).

Since awards tend to be divided into categories of sex and age, runners also try to estimate the age of those they do not recognize. While it is far less common, runners sometimes do need to estimate the sex of the competition. While some people advocate avoiding all concerns about age and sex by only having awards for overall top finishers, there are good reasons to have such categories.

One obvious reason is that awards are intended to increase attendance at the race—people are more inclined to participate when they know they have more chances of winning. If awards were limited to top overall finishers, there would be some decline in participation since people who were not the very top runners would know they had no chance of winning anything.

Another reason is to provide people with a chance to compete in ways that offset advantages. Naturally, almost every race allows people to compete in the overall results, so there is still a very broad competition.

Age has a dramatic negative impact on performance. One major factor is that older athletes do not recover as fast, hence it becomes harder to maintain rigorous training while avoiding injury and being well-rested for the competition. People also get weaker as they age, though diligent maintenance can slow this setting of the sun. Because of this, most races have 5 or 10-year age groups for awards to provide runners with a chance to compete against people with comparable temporal challenges. There are, of course, many older runners can still beat many younger runners, but the general advantage lies with the youth. For most races, runners are on the honor system—they provide their age when they sign up. Some races do, however, require proof of age to avoid people cheating by lying.

While there are female runners who can easily defeat almost any male on the planet in a race, males have various biological advantages when it comes to running, such as greater strength. As such, dividing the awards by sex is a way to account for this difference. There are, of course, some races that do not take this approach, but these are very rare and tend to be small races put on by people not familiar with the usual practices of awards.

As with age, runners are on the honor system in regards to providing their biological sex when they sign up. While a male would generally have an advantage if he could pass a female, this could be challenging given the nature of running attire and various other factors. There are, however, some controversial cases. Perhaps the most famous is that of runner Caster Semenya. Semenya is believed to have an intersex condition which causes the production of high levels of testosterone. High testosterone levels are believed to provide an athletic advantage. It must be noted that while testosterone is associated most with males, females also produce testosterone. In the past, some sporting authorities tested female athletes for high testosterone levels, but this practice has largely changed because female athletes, like male athletes, naturally vary a great deal in their testosterone levels.

While sex-changes are not common, they do occur often enough that the matter has been addressed in sports. Because the division of the sexes in sports is justified on the grounds of relative advantages, females who transition to male can generally compete without restrictions. The easy and obvious justification for this is that such a male would not have any advantage over other males. In fact, they would probably tend to have some disadvantage relative to people who were born male. A male who transitions to female would potentially have an advantage. Because of this, a transitioned athlete need not have surgery, but she is typically required to have undergone at least a year of hormone therapy. This prevents male athletes from simply claiming to be female and competing with an advantage.

There are also people who want to change their gender identification but do not want to undergo surgery or hormone therapy. Some might wonder what would prevent unscrupulous male athletes from gender identifying as females to win races. The easy and obvious answer is that sex divisions in sports are not gender divisions. They are a matter of physical factors and not a matter of social construction. As such, a male athlete who gender identified as a female would still compete against males. They are still a male in regards to the factors that matter in competition.

It could be objected that a person who gender identifies as a man or a woman should be able to compete in accord with their preferred identity. That person might, for example, want their race medal or trophy to reflect this identity—being second female in the 20-24 age group, for example. An easy counter to this is to use an analogy to age—a person might identify as “young at heart” or “and old soul”, but this does not impact their actual chronological age. In the case of athletic competition, this is what matters. If people could pick their age identity for races, this would presumably be used to gain an unfair advantage. So, a 26-year-old person who identified as a 40-year-old would not thus be eligible to win the master’s award (for people 40+).

The next to the last matter to be considered is that which started this discussion; a person who wants to identify as “other.” Resolving this would require determining the basis of the claim of otherness. If the person has a biological identity that falls within established rules for competition (being intersex, for example) then those rules would be applied. If the person has a biological identity that falls outside of the existing rules, then there would seem to be two likely approaches. One would be to match the person with the closest biological sex. The other would be to create a new category for sports and establish standards for being in that category. If the person is electing to select other as a gender identity while having a biological sex, then the person would compete in the category of that biological sex, for the reasons given above.

In closing, there is also a practical matter regarding possible legal troubles. Years ago, I would often see race entry forms with “gender” instead of “sex” because the terms were used interchangeably. These days, “sex” is the standard. If an entry form has “gender” rather than “sex”, then a person could presumably use whatever gender they wish to identify with. This would be rather problematic for the awards budget, since Facebook recognizes over fifty genders. As such, race entry forms should go with “sex.” The form might need to include a brief explanation of the difference between sex and gender to help avoid misunderstandings.

 

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Fifty Genders of Facebook

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on February 24, 2014
Sexuality confusion

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Facebook now offers its members to select from among 50 genders. These include the old school heterosexual genders as well as the presumably Spinoza inspired pangender. Since I am awesome gendered, I believe that Facebook should offer that as choice 51, but only for me. However, I suspect I will need to endure the pain of being limited to a mere 50 options.

Upon learning of these fifty options, I was slightly surprised because I was not aware that there were fifty options. However, my colleagues who specialize in gender matters assure me that there is an infinite number of genders. If this is the case, that Facebook is still rather limited in its options.

While mocking Facebook can be amusing, the subject of gender identity is an interesting subject and it is a sign of the progress of our society that this can be a matter of legitimate concern. For folks like me who are comfortable existing within an old school gender identity (in my case, awesome straight male), these fifty options might seem to be of little or no importance. Honesty compels me to admit that I initially laughed at the 50 genders of Facebook—in fact, I thought it was something cooked up by the Onion. However, a little reflection on the matter made me realize that it is actually of some importance.

For those who are dedicated to the traditional genders, these options might seem to be signs of the moral decay of the West.  As such folks might see it, having Facebook offer 50 gender options shows that traditional gender roles are being damaged (if not destroyed) by the media and Facebook. Given that some states have legalized same-sex marriage, the idea that Facebook has embraced gender diversity must be terrifying indeed.

However, the world (and Facebook) does not (as Leibniz noted in one of his replies to the problem of evil) exist just for me. Or for you. It exists for everyone and we are not all the same.

As such, to those who do not neatly fit into the two traditional genders, this change could be quite significant. Although this is just Facebook, having these gender identities recognized by the largest social network on earth is a mark of acceptance and is likely to have some influence in other areas.

As I noted above, I comfortably occupy a traditional gender type. I’ve never questioned my sexuality nor felt that I was anything other than a straight male. This might be due to biology or perhaps I merely conformed perfectly to the social norms. Or some other factor—I do not know for sure why I am this way.

Since I teach critical thinking, I am well aware of the cognitive biases and fallacies that can lead a person to believe that what is true of herself is also true of everyone else. As such, I do not assume that everyone else is the same as me. As part of this, I also do not assume that the people who see themselves as belonging to one of the non-traditional genders are doing this simply because they want attention, want to rebel, are mentally unbalanced or some such similar negative reason. I also do not assume that they are just “faking it.” I also recognize that a person might feel just as natural and comfortable being transgender as I do being a straight male. As such, I should have no more problem with that person’s identification than that person has with mine. After all, the universe is not for me alone.

Because of this, I hold that people should be free to hold to their gender identities without being mocked, abused or harmed. While I have obviously not been mocked for being straight, I am quite familiar with being called a fag or accused of being gay or like a woman—after all, those are stock insults in our society that are thrown out for the most absurd reasons, such as not doing perfectly in a video game and not acting like the meatheads. As such, I have some small notion of how such attitudes can hurt people and I favor steps to change what underlies the idea that genders can be used as insults. Expanding the range of gender identities can, perhaps, help with this a little bit. Then again, I am sure that some folks will looking at the list of fifty for new terms to use in their hateful comments.

As a final point, one obvious reason why I think that a broader range of gender identities is fine is that another person’s gender identity is not my business—unless that identity causes legitimate harm to others. And no, being offended or disgusted are not legitimate harms. As such, if having a broader range of choices is meaningful to some people, then that is a good thing. It does no one else any harm and does some good—as such, it seems quite morally acceptable.

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Yes, But…

Posted in Business, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 15, 2011
In the 1890s when gender role reversals could ...

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I have been a consistent supporter of the idea that women should be regarded as the moral, legal, and political equals of men. In general, I have based this support on the principle of relevant difference: people can (morally) be treated differently only the the basis of a (morally) relevant difference between them. So, while it would be acceptable to pay someone who has more education more than another person, it would not be acceptable to pay someone less simply because she happens to be a woman (or he happens to be a man). I first learned of this principle as an undergraduate during a class on feminism. This class had a lasting impact on me, including an interest in gender issues that persists to this day.

As time marched on from my undergraduate days, I was pleased to see various unjust aspects of American society change. Women had ever increasing opportunities in business, education, sports and in many other areas as well. This trend continued, with the occasional specific set back, until some feminists went so far as to claim that feminism had grown stale or even that there was no longer a need for feminism in America.

While I was pleased with the trend towards equality, another trend that has stood out is what could be called the “yes, but…” trend. I first noticed this when I was doing research for some essays on men, women, and higher education (which appeared in my book). I found that the although the majority of undergraduates were women, there seemed to be almost no concern about this new gender inequality. This initially struck me as odd. After all, feminists and their allies had always been very quick to point out gender disparities that were not in favor of women and endeavored to rectify such imbalances. When I would bring up my concerns about the male decline in higher education, I would most often by the phrase “yes, but…” where the “but” would be followed by some area where men still exceeded women, such as in  physics or the highest levels of the corporate world. Watching the occasional news report that mentioned gender issues, I noticed a similar pattern: it would be pointed out that women exceeded men in some area, but this would be followed by pointing out some area (like income) where women were said to lag behind men.

I most recently noticed this in a Newsweek article, “Born Again Feminism“, by Kathleen Parker. She writes:

As a group, we are worse at some things, but better at others—the very “others,” it also turns out, that happen to be driving today’s economy and that of the future.

Consequently, in the U.S. today, women hold a majority of the jobs, and dominate in colleges and professional schools. They also hold a majority of managerial and professional positions, and about half of all accounting, banking, and insurance jobs.

These socioeconomic facts don’t mean that women have achieved perfect parity with men, who still dominate at the highest levels of business.

As a side point before getting back to the main issue, it is interesting to note that Parker also makes use of a common device in today’s discussion of gender issues: men and women are different, but women are better than men in terms of what is needed today. This, in many ways, is a distorted echo what might be called the old sexism in which men and women were seen as different, but men were regarded as being better than women in the ways that mattered economically, politically and so on. Given this similarity, this sort of thing should be a point of concern among those who are worried about sexism.

Getting back to the main point, this nicely illustrates the “yes, but…”approach. Parker notes that women hold the majority of American jobs, classrooms, managerial positions and have parity in accounting, banking and insurance. But, they have not “achieved perfect parity with men.”

One obvious response is that she is quite right. In America, women have not achieved perfect parity because they are the majority in the areas she mentioned. Perfect parity would require that no gender dominates in any area-even if the dominate gender is female.

I always find it interesting how quickly certain people can transition from saying how women dominate in so many areas to criticizing the fact that there are still areas dominated by men. What is most interesting about this is that the arguments used to argue for equality in the areas still dominated by men would certainly seem to apply to the areas that are now dominated by women. As such, it would seem that the concern about the remaining male dominated areas should also apply to those areas where women now dominate. After all, if gender inequality is unjust when it favors men over women, it would seem to be unjust when it favors women over men. However, this concern often seems to be lacking and it might be suspected that there is a certain moral inconsistency at play in some cases.

This is not to say that there are not areas where the inequality does not unjustly favor men nor is it to say that there are no longer any valid problems left in the area of women’s rights. When people use the “yes, but…” approach they often do point out legitimate problems that need to be addressed. However, they all too often seem to miss the legitimate concerns in regards to areas in which women dominate.

Naturally, I am open to the idea that cases of gender inequality need not be cases of injustice. For example, in my book I consider that the gender disparities in higher education might be due to free choices on the part of men and women and not the result of any form of sexism. However, I am also careful to consider (as I learned from the feminists) that gender disparities could be the result of injustice. Those who use the “yes, but…” approach should be careful to apply a consistent set of principles to both sorts of situations, those in which men dominate and those in which women dominate. After all, we surely do not want to trade one form of sexism for another.

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The Value of Diversity

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on November 23, 2010
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Diversity, we are constantly told, is a good thing. It is something to aim for and it is something that the law should compel or at least facilitate. Unfortunately, folks are not always clear or precise in regards to what is meant by the term and just why it is a good thing.

The easy and obvious view of diversity is a variety in ethnicities in an area or group. For example, people speak of the military as being diverse because there blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians and so on. Another common form of diversity is cultural. This, obviously enough, involves a variety of people from various cultural groups (which may or may not also involve ethnicity as a factor). A third common form is gender diversity. Traditionally this involved having a mix of males and females, but has been expanded to include sexual orientation (straight, bisexual, gay, trans, and so on). Other forms of diversity (ideological, for example) are also possible.

It is commonly assumed in some circles that diversity is good. However, it is reasonable to inquire as to the nature and extent of this value.

The value of diversity is typically presented as extrinsic: diversity is supposed to have various positive effects.  In the case of communities, diversity provides a greater variety of restaurants and is supposed to make the area more interesting. In the case of the military, diversity is supposed to provide useful things such as a variety of language skills, understanding of different cultures, and other things that can be useful in operating in other countries. In the case of academics, diversity is supposed to bring in a variety of opinions and perspectives other than those held by the white males of the old academy.

One concern with this sort of view is that it seems to rest on the assumption that individuals represent their groups. So, for example, adding an Hispanic woman to the faculty will provide a perspective that must be distinct from those held by a white male (who represents his ethnicity and gender) or a black woman (who also represents her ethnicity and gender). To assume that a person must somehow represent or instantiate the perspective of his/her group or even be different from others seems to rest on stereotyping. In fact, it might be suspected that this sort of view is analogous to racism/sexism/etc. in that it assumes, uncritically, that people will or will not have certain qualities based solely on their membership in a group (ethnic, gender, cultural or other).

That said, it is not unreasonable to believe that people who differ in ethnicity, gender, and so on will tend to be be different in other ways. But, whether these differences are significant or valuable is another matter.

The value of diversity is also put forth as being an end in and of itself. That is, it is presented as having intrinsic value. So, for example, having a diverse faculty would be valuable even if the diversity had no discernible effect on education. While I will admit that arguing for intrinsic value is tricky, it seems unlikely that diversity is valuable in and of itself. Rather, as noted above, its value seems to stem from its consequences.

People also argue for diversity in terms of equal opportunity. That is, we should strive for diversity as a means of creating more equal opportunity and to reduce discrimination. In this case, the end is not to achieve diversity, but to end discrimination. This should, in theory, create more diversity by removing unfair obstacles. Of course, some people do take diversity to be the goal. That is, the end is not to allow equal opportunity but to ensure that the population in question is divided among certain groups. In general, the usual idea is that the diversity of the specific population (for example university faculty) matches the diversity of the general population.

One obvious concern with this sort of approach is that it can directly conflict with non-discrimination and equal opportunity. For example , individuals could be excluded from a job based on their membership in an over-represented group rather than on the basis of their qualifications for that job. It is, I think, rather well established that denying a person a job on the basis of race, gender and so on is unjust. Excluding someone in the name of diversity is no more right than excluding someone in the same of uniformity.

This was a suggested topic. You can suggest another topic here.

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The End of Men III

Posted in Business, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 30, 2010
The Feminine Mystique
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This blog concludes my discussion of Rosin’s essay “The End of Men.”
Rosin continues by noting that the shift is not just a matter of women dominating 13 of the 15 fastest growing job fields. As she points out, women are starting to dominate the realms of middle management and the professional fields.  Women still lag behind men in engineering and the sciences.
Rosin explains this by indicating that women are better educated, brighter, more conscientious and more stable than men.  These claims are, of course, factual claims. Women are currently dominating higher education, which gives them a clear advantage over men. It might also be true that women are better than men in these areas. If so, this would help explain the current plight of men and the excellent situation of women.
However, it is well worth considering this current situation in the light of the past. When men where dominant, it was often argued by feminists that this dominance was unjust and not a “natural dominance” based on on superior abilities. Crudely put, it was often argued that the patriarchy was unfairly excluding women and using various unfair means to keep men in dominant positions. Of course, men tended to argue that they held their dominant positions because of being superior in relevant ways. In short, the situation seems to have been exactly reversed: now that woman are dominate or expanding, this is explained (mostly by women) in terms of the superiority of women. It will be interesting to see if a movement comparable to feminism will arise in any significant way to argue against this alleged superiority. In any case, one would imagine that such critics will point to affirmative action programs and other means that have provided special support to women in education, sports, and business. As such, it seems that a case could be assembled that women have taken advantage of a system that works quite well in their favor-just as men did before them.
Rosin next presents a common lament: while woman are dominating higher education and moving ahead of men economically, these is still a male bastion that remains: the top of the job pyramid. It is interesting that female dominance in an area is often lauded as a good thing, while male dominance is still cast as a problem that remains to be fixed (presumably by female dominance).
Rosin concludes by considering the changing nature of leadership-or at least the changing perception of leadership. Tied into this is, naturally enough, the nature (or alleged nature) of each sex. Interestingly enough, female leadership is cast in terms that are stereotypically female: empathy, sensitivity, communication and so on. The difference is, of course, that these stereotypical traits are now presented as those that leaders should have. The traditional male qualities and leadership styles are, not surprisingly, generally cast as being negative in character. For example, much has been made of the role of men in the economic collapse.
Rosin does not, of course, explore these matters in depth. However, there are many important issues here that are well worth considering. One is whether men and women do, in fact, have distinct qualities. For example, are women actually more empathetic and better at communication? A second is whether such sex based qualities are better or worse in terms of leadership and job success. Right now, women seem to be doing better than men. But, the cause of this needs to be analyzed more. While some are tempted to attribute this to the qualities of women, it is wise to consider the feminist arguments of the past: greater success need not be the result of better qualities-it might be due to other factors, such as unfair advantages or external circumstances. Looking back, some thinkers wrote with great confidence about the superiority of men over women and saw no injustice in this. However, these views were later subject to criticism. Now, it seems to the turn for women-they get to write with confidence about the superiority of women and see no injustice in the disparity.
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The End of Men II

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on June 29, 2010
Former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Carly Fiorina
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This blog continues my discussion of Rosin’s article “The End of Men.”

Rosin’s next step is to consider the nature of the current, “postindustrial” economy. She argues that this economy favors women. The basis for her case is that the male’s advantages in size and strength do not provide an edge in this new economy, rather social skills (such as communication) and the ability to “sit still and focus” are the dominant skills. While women do not have a monopoly on these traits, she does consider that these attributes might be held predominantly by women.

Interestingly enough, her view rests on the classic stereotypes: men are strong and woman are social. Of course, when women were regarded as the weaker sex because of this difference, feminists argued that these were unjust stereotypes. However, now that these traits are advantageous, they are lauded. One might infer that the rule is that stereotyping is acceptable, provided that it stereotypes men as being at a disadvantage and women as being superior. Naturally, the reverse of this is still to be regarded as unacceptable.

Those who are rather against stereotyping might point out that this approach is still stereotyping and be critical of such an approach. Also, those who were concerned about how women fared poorly in the past economies should now be concerned about the situation faced by men. If the plight of women in the past was a bad thing, then the comparable plight of men today should also be a bad thing. However, there seems to be an unfortunate tendency to laud the “fall of men” and there seems to be, at best, modest concern for the plight of men.

In fact, as Rosin points out, there is a tendency to blame men for the current woes. She cites Iceland’s Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardotti’s expressed desire to put an end to the  “age of testosterone.” While this probably involves the usual political rhetoric, comparable attacks on women would no doubt be seen as sexist and hateful. However, consistency requires that what is hateful for one sex should also be hateful when applied to the other.

Following the standard approach, Rosin notes that although women have made significant advances and dominate higher education, they still fall behind men in wages. However, she is quick to point out that this is changing and that the  “modern economy is becoming a place where women hold the cards.”

While Rosin might be right, it is also possible that her prediction is mistaken. While the male dominated aspects of the economy have slumped badly, it is risky to make predictions from this situation. After all, the economy might very well shift again during the course of the recovery. As such, the plight of men might not be as dire as she predicts. That said, the general trends do seem to favor women over men.

To be specific, the current prediction is that there are 15 jobs that are likely to experience the most growth. As Rosin notes, only two (janitor and computer engineer) are currently male dominated. The other 13 jobs are dominated by women and, ironically, consist of traditional female jobs such as nursing, child care and food preparation. As Rosin notes, while women have expanded into jobs traditionally held by men, the reverse has generally not occurred-at least not yet. Some, such as Jessica Grose, have claimed that men seem to be stuck in their roles and are largely unable to adapt to the changes.

Rosin and Grose seem to be fairly accurate in this point: while women face cultural obstacles when entering fields traditionally dominated by men, men seem to face even greater obstacles. One difference is that the obstacles men face seem to be internal. That is, men are not being excluded by external forces but by their own decisions not to enter such fields. For example, there have been significant attempts to recruit men into the field of nursing, but men seem to be largely reluctant to enter that field.

If this analysis is correct, then men largely have themselves to blame for this aspect of the situation. If men could adapt as women did and enter non-traditional roles, then this would counter (to some degree) the new gender gap. Making such a conceptual switch would require redefining what it is to be a man, much as women went through a conceptual change when they began entering male dominated fields.

Men might be able to do this and, in fact, might be forced to do so by the realities of the new economy. While it might be unmanly to work in childcare, it might be seen as less unmanly than being unemployed.

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The End of Men I

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 28, 2010

Hanna Rosin recently wrote a provocative article entitled “The End of Men” for the Atlantic. Being a philosopher and a man, I thought it would be interesting to critique the essay. Hence, the following critique.

Rosin begins her article discussing Ronald Ericsson, the biologist who developed a means to increase the likelihood that a specific sex could be selected by parents when using artificial means of reproduction.

Not surprisingly, some feminists were rather concerned about this method. As Rosin notes, Roberta Steinbacher expressed worries that this method would be used to ensure male dominance. However, this did not turn out to be the case. The data is that parents now select girls to boys at a 2 to 1 ratio. A newer method, called MicroSort, apparently is used to select girls 75% of the time, at least in clinical trials (which might conceivably influence the results).

Interesting enough, the feminists who were so concerned when they thought Ericsson’s methods would be used to perpetuate male dominance seem to be rather silent. Perhaps this is because they are less worried about such methods in general. Or perhaps it is because the current situation favors females over males. However, speculation about motives is not my primary concern here. Rather, it seems more important to consider if the earlier feminist arguments against using the methods to produce more males can be used today to argue against these methods being used to produce more females. If so and if the arguments from then are strong, then they could be pressed into service today. In any case, it does seem reasonable to be concerned when one sex seems to be getting a leg up over the other. Of even greater concern is the future social implications if the ratio of women to men changes significantly. While this might be beneficial in some ways, there could also be negative consequences that should be considered.

That said, the available selection methods do not work in “natural” reproduction-the ratio of males to females remains the same. Since most reproduction is “natural”, the impact on the population as a whole should be fairly minimal. However, the preferences for females is an interesting change. As Rosin points out, sons have been generally preferred over daughters throughout history.

However, as the title of her essay suggests, this has changed. As she points out, the world is less male dominated now and the preference for sons has diminished. In fact, she claims that the situation is now reversed: there is a preference now for daughters over sons.

Like other thinkers before her, she then turns to considering factors that might be contributing to this change. One option she considers is that women have an advantage in the current economic system.

As I have discussed in earlier blogs of my own, one reason for the change is that the economic meltdown damaged male-dominated industries more heavily than those dominated by women. This, of course, does not entail that women will thus continue to do better than men. After all, these industries might recover and thus swing things back towards the way they were. However, Rosin contends that this shift is not merely a a matter of a temporary economic disaster. Rather, she contends that there is a real and lasting change in the economy and one that is very much in favor of women. This is, of course, an empirical matter and will be settled by the passage of time.

In any case, Rosin is correct to point out that women have become the majority in higher education. For example, for every two men who earn a B.A. or B.S. there are three women. This, obviously enough, will translate into greater employment and economic opportunities for women. After all, education is generally key to getting a job and also a significant factor in the salary of jobs.

As I have pointed out in previous blogs and my book, it is interesting that the feminists who were concerned when men dominated education seem to be rather silent now that men are the minority. Of course, as I have argued before, the same arguments that feminists used in the past in this context can be dusted off and modified a bit to argue that we are in a situation of unjust inequality.

Interestingly, when Rosin was being interviewed on the Colbert Report, Colbert asked her if the affirmative action programs for women would be discontinued. I think this is an excellent question. After all, if women are dominated education and so on, there hardly seems to be any need to maintain programs that were intended (in theory)to bring about equality. After all, they have done that and, in fact, have helped swing the inequality the other way.

While it might be argued that the programs are still needed to keep things from sliding back, that would seem to be more of an excuse to keep a system that favors women in place. While closing these programs would probably result in some shift back towards men, women seem to have taken a commanding enough lead to make such programs unnecessary. In fact, there seems to now be a need for programs for men. If an argument is needed, it is easy enough to go back to when men dominated education and dig up the arguments the feminists used to argue for these very successful programs for women.

Being a Man I: Social Construct

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on April 19, 2010
my 1960s wedding suit
Image by Chaymation via Flickr

Apparently some men are having trouble figuring out what it is to be a man. There are various groups and individuals that purport to be able to teach men how to be men (or at least dress like the male actors on the show Mad Men).

Before a person can become a man, it must be known what it is to be a man.  There are, of course, many conceptions about what it is to be a man.

One option is to take the easy and obvious approach: just go with the generally accepted standards of  society. After all, a significant part of being a man is being accepted as a man by other people.

On a large scale, each society has a set of expectations, stereotypes and assumptions about what it is to be a man. These can be taken as forming a set of standards regarding what one needs to be and do in order to be  a man.

Naturally, there will be conflicting (even contradictory) expectations so that meeting the standards for being a man will require selecting a specific subset. One option is to select the ones that are accepted by the majority or by the dominant aspect of the population. This has the obvious advantage that this sort of manliness will be broadly accepted.

Another option is to narrow the field by selecting the standards held by a specific group. For example, a person in a fraternity might elect to go with the fraternities view of what it is to be a man (which will probably involve the mass consumption of beer). On the plus side, this enables a person to clearly  be a man in that specific group. On the minus side, if the standards (or mandards) of the group differ in significant ways from the more general view of manliness, then the individual can run into problems if he strays outside of his mangroup.

A third option is to attempt to create your own standards of being a man and getting them accepted by others (or not). Good luck with that.

Of course, there is also the question of whether there is something more to being a man above and beyond the social construction of manliness. For some theorists, gender roles and identities are simply that-social constructs. Naturally, there is also the biological matter of being a male, but being biologically male and being a man are two distinct matters. There is a clear normative aspect to being a man and merely a biological aspect to being male.

If being a man is purely a matter of social construction (that is, we create and make up gender roles) than being a man in group X simply involves meeting the standards of being a man in group X. If that involves owing guns, killing animals, and chugging beer while watching porn and sports, then do that to be a man. If it involves sipping lattes, talking about Proust,  listening to NPR  and talking about a scrumptious quiche, then do that. So, to be a man, just pick your group, sort out the standards and then meet them as best you can.

In many ways, this is comparable to being good: if being good is merely a social construct, then to be good you just meet the standards of the group in question.

But perhaps being a man is more than just meeting socially constructed gender standards. If so, a person who merely meets the “mandards” of being a man in a specific group might think he is a man, but he might be mistaken. I’m reasonable sure this happens often. (You know who you are…don’t deny it.)  This is, of course, a subject for another time and another blog.

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Gender Mystery & Sports

Posted in Ethics, Sports/Athletics by Michael LaBossiere on August 25, 2009
Testosterone
Image via Wikipedia

Since I am a runner (well, returning to running as my tendon heals), I pay some attention to news about the sport. One thing I like about the coverage is that it tends to involve less controversy and bad news than other sports. Of course, running is not free of such controversy as a recent incident attests.

Semenya, a South African runner, is currently the world’s champion in the women’s 800 meter race. The controversy is that it has apparently been claimed that she is not a woman. The basis of this is that her testosterone levels were tested at three times the normal level. She has also been under observation since her racing ability has made incredible advances in a relatively short time. Since natural improvements are generally gradual in nature, this raised suspicions.

One reply that has been given to the charge that “she is actually a he” is that Semenya certainly seems to be a female.

This sports controversy also raises a controversy over the nature of gender. Presumably Semenya appears to be a female (it has been implied that sort of check has been done). However, there are cases in which a person looks like a female yet is genetically male. This is complete androgen insensitivity syndrome and is more common than one might expect. Such people have higher testosterone levels than “normal” women because they have testes (albeit not descended). I must emphasize that I am not making any claims about Semenya, I am merely bringing this up for the sake of the discussion.

Since human societies are generally built around an obsession about gender identity and divisions, this syndrome does create some difficulties. If the syndrome is discovered when the child is young, there is the option of assigning a gender through the use of medical means (including surgery). In some cases, the procedure is delayed until the child can make his/her own decision.

Sports are, of course, not free from the gender obsession. Of course,  the concern over gender can be seen as quite reasonable. One interesting thing about gender sorting is that it is presumably justified on the basis of fairness. As noted above, men tend to have an advantage over women in physical competition. For example, the best male runner will be much faster than the best female runner. Given this fact, having men and women compete against each other in such events would be unfair, because the men would tend to win because of their natural advantages. This seems to be morally on par with divisions based on age (like age groups in road races) and weight (like in boxing). However, if someone looks like a women yet has male genes (and the higher testosterone) then that person might be seen as having an unfair advantage over “normal” women. Of course, such a person might be at a disadvantage relative to “normal” male athletes.

One way to deal with this sort of concern would be to determine the degree to which a person with this syndrome has an advantage over “normal” woman in regards to athletic competition. If such an advantage exists and places the person into the male range, then it would seem to be unfair to allow the person to compete against “normal” women. Of course, if people are to be tested to determine how they fall on the competitive spectrum, then fairness would seem to require that all athletes be tested and grouped based on their capabilities rather than on gender. Of course, practical concerns (costs, for example) would make this sort of testing and sorting very unlikely. As such, the sorting of folks by gender is likely to remain the standard in sports.  Of course, this approach is the cause of the difficulty in the matter at hand.

Some sports, like running, could sort people based on performance rather than gender. While this would tend to result in men being in the top slots, it would make for some interesting competition and would provide more in the way of gender equality. It would also be fair since people would be competing against those of comparable abilities.

Naturally, it could be argued that women would be being treated unfairly in such competition-after all, while they would compete in their performance grades, they would almost certainly not be winning the top places overall. This would create a nifty bit of irony: this most equal sort of competition would also seem to be rather “unfair” to women because they would have to compete against men.

Getting back to the original story that started the discussion, it should be noted that high testosterone levels can occur naturally in “normal” women. This would not be “cheating” anymore than a person who is born with superior lung capacity would be cheating.

It should also be noted that athletes can test for higher levels of testosterone because they have been using synthetic testosterone as a steroid. In this case, the ethics of the situation would be quite clear.

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