Warning: Patriarchy is Bad for Your Health

My parents used to always warn me that if I kept rolling my eyes so dramatically, they’d get stuck in the back of my head. But if this article didn’t do the trick, I think I’ll be ok.

The title — Warning: Feminism is bad for your health — is bad enough. Here’s the thesis:

Researchers in Sweden, arguably one of the most egalitarian countries in the world, have found that equality could be associated with poorer health for both men and women.

In the study, published in Social Science and Medicine, the researchers compared data from all of Sweden’s 290 municipalities. They used nine indicators of equality in both the private and public sectors, ranging from the proportion of men and women in management jobs to average income. These were related to local life expectancy, disability and absence from work through illness.

The results showed a strong link between gender equality and levels of sickness and disability for both men and women. One of the findings was that equal financial resources between the sexes was associated with higher levels of sickness and disability.

For both sexes, gender equality in managerial positions was associated with lower life expectancy.

Fascinating. It shouldn’t surprise us that even in countries with gender-egalitarian laws, patriarchal practices continue and place stress on both women and men. Many studies have shown that, world-wide, women who work outside the home take on a “second shift” domestically and end up putting in far more unpaid working hours per week than a parter who works the same number of paid hours. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that women are sick more often. It also shouldn’t surprise us that when men aren’t being universally catered to, they’re slightly less healthy. I’d probably be a lot more healthy if I had free in-house labor to cook for me, clean up after me and generally look after my health and well-being.

But don’t listen to me — check out what the author of this piece admits the scientists who conducted this study said:

The scientists said possible explanations for the correlation is that men’s health may be adversely affected by a loss of what had been seen as traditional male privileges. Women’s health, meanwhile, could be being damaged by greater opportunities for risky behaviour as a result of increased income, along with stress from longer working hours.

Another suggestion was that gender equality has not yet been fully achieved, and that the effects being seen are just transitional.


If feminism and gender equality is indeed bad for your health, then we’d probably find healthier people in less egalitarian nations, right? While there are lots of ways to evaluate “health,” infant mortality and life expectancy rates are pretty decent indicators. Sweden, feminist as it is, should be doing fairly poorly then, right?

Wrong. This isn’t anywhere near an exhaustive list, but Sweden appears to have the second-highest life expectancy rate listed, right along with Australia and Switzerland, just below Japan, and just above Canada. And it has the lowest infant mortality rate on the list (according to a different list, it’s the second-lowest).

Feminism is so very unhealthy that the lowest life expectancy rates on the list are found in Angola, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The highest infant mortality rates are found in Angola, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Liberia, Mozambique, Niger, Somalia, Mali and Tajikstan.

Beacons of feminism, all.

Obviously poverty plays pretty strongly into these statistics, and poverty is a complicated phenomenon. Here’s a more exhaustive life expectancy list, and, not surprisingly, wealthier countries are toward the top, and poorer countries are a the bottom. Of course, wealth is also fairly correlated with legal gender equality, and while correlation doesn’t equal causation, I think it would be difficult to make the case that the two are entirely unrelated.

But poverty isn’t the only factor. A whole lot of the countries on the bottom of the list are former colonies, which I don’t think is a coincidence. As I wrote in the comments to one of the posts about veiling/Islam, post-colonial societies are struggling to re-assert their identities and independence, and a big part of that relies on emphasizing aggressive masculinity and falling back on traditional gender roles. People in these societies are dealing with multiple oppressions, all of which feed off each other (see post-colonial feminism for a better explanation of this than I can give).

Point being, traditional Western/Northern privilege, coupled with wealth, health care access and a decent social safety net, all influence these statistics. Gender equality is tied up with these other factors, and is also independently influential. Even in the United States, the states with the most gender egalitarian and pro-choice laws (the fewest restrictions on abortion, better contraception access, etc) tend to have higher rates of education, greater wealth, lower divorce rates, higher life expectancies, and lower infant and maternal mortality rates. Since Roe v. Wade and the second-wave feminist movement secured greater gender equality, we’ve seen fantastic results. From my Blog for Choice post:

Women go to college at the same rates as men. We can define ourselves as something other than mothers, or as mothers and something else. Poverty has been cut in half since Roe gave women the right to control their own reproduction. Men can be nurturing too, and are expected to take part in raising their children. Families can be planned. Men have greater choices in their occupations since they aren’t required to be the sole bread-winner. More people have access to education. Women have more power to escape abusive relationships or bad jobs. Parents of both sexes spend more time with their kids than ever before.

We’re wealthier, better-educated, and more family-focused. Sweden, the example of ill health caused by feminism, has one of the highest life expectancy rates and lowest infant mortality rates in the world. It’s also been ranked as having the best business creativity in Europe.

But, yeah, feminism is totally bad for your health. I’m sure Roger Dobson is packing his bags to move from his horribly feminist-friendly home in Europe into a hotbed of gender inequality and misogyny. I hear Afghanistan is pretty affordable right now.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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50 Responses to Warning: Patriarchy is Bad for Your Health

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  2. arielladrake says:

    Thanks, for taking this down, Jill. The Daily Mail, of all places, does a lot more expanding on the ‘transitional’ explanation, and how we need an equality where men change their behaviour, also. Of course, I’m not so sure about The Daily Mail’s decision to run the article with the picture it did.

  3. stephanie says:

    OT,
    When I read this at Kathy Sierras blog, I thought of you and your recent trouble.
    She’s a respected software developer whos being harrassed online.

    http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2007/03/as_i_type_this_.html

  4. Lindsay says:

    Oh boo hoo, male privelege blah blah blah, I don’t have anyone to cook my dinner and make my babies waaaaa.

    It’s articles like this that put a damper on my mental health. When I read things like these I feel almost psychotic or that I’m going to have an anurism (sp).

    I know being a feminist has caused me to be more angry, but only because I’m aware of the BS happening in the world and I want to change it. I’d rather be knowledgable and a little heartsick than dancing around in ignorance.

  5. mom_of_2 says:

    The interpretation of the data is a great area for discussion. I am just pleased to see data being collected that will be useful as other industrialized nations approach a more egalitarian economy. Young people of either gender need to know about the health impacts of various choices of lifestyle. I would expect that as a larger body of data becomes available, patterns which are more useful to young people and less exciting for pundits will begin to emerge.

  6. Alex says:

    Haven’t you heard? The only way for women to be healthy is to stay at home doing housework whilst barefoot and pregnant.

  7. Michelle says:

    Word to you, Lindsay. You said just about everything I was going to. I only want to add that since feminism found it’s way into my life (or vice versa, however it happened), I may be “angry” in the sense Lindsay pointed out, but on the whole, I’m healthier. It’s given me a cause, a reason to get out of bed in the morning and a need to stick around and stick it out. Thus, I’m eating better and exercising more than I ever have. Do a study on that.

  8. annaham says:

    I really love how they don’t even explain what is meant by “risky behavior.” Which also assumes that ALL feminists engage in “risky behavior.” I’m a feminist, and most of my friends would call me the least risk-taking person they know (in terms of sex, drugs, alcohol, et al.), and I’ve still had some major health problems (mostly as a result of premature birth). Nice to know that feminism is apparently the source of all of my problems. Thanks, alarmist news media!

  9. Alix says:

    Annaham – word. As an asexual virgin teetotaler whose greatest desire is to be a hermit (and who attempts to live like one), I must totally not be a feminist, then.

    I want to slap the writer of that piece. Talk about twisting things around…

  10. mom_of_2 says:

    Don’t you think the author means risky behavior in the business sense? Running a business or an organization can be a lot like gambling, taking risks based on limited information. Also, you really have to push yourself physically to keep yourself at the critical decision point at all times. Certainly some high-paying jobs are cushy sinecures but generally, stress accompanies advancement.

  11. preying mantis says:

    If they’re counting sick days as days sick, that’s going to throw things off as much as calling it “day care” whenever a child spends more than ten hours a week with someone who isn’t specifically its mother.

  12. Alix says:

    Mom of 2 – I have practically never seen the phrase “risky behavior” used to refer to running a business, except in a book on risk I read once.

  13. britgirlsf says:

    You know, I’ve been a feminist in the sense of actually calling myself one since I was 12. I was one on the inside before that, I just didn’t have a name for it. And yet I am now 33 and I am not dead. In fact, in my entire life my only experience of illness is…well, I’ve had the flu a couple of times. And I have to take Claritin sometimes or I sneeze when the pollen count’s high. Oh, the horrors! Clearly not spending my entire life barefoot and pregnant is killing me inch by inch.
    In reality higher levels of equality correlate with a higher standard of living for both men and women all over the world. Seriously, the UN does studies on this and everything. The overall winner is Canada, if anyone’s interested.
    Anti-feminist media stooges can kiss my very feminist and yet mysteriously healthy ass.

  14. StacyM says:

    If they’re counting sick days as days sick, that’s going to throw things off as much as calling it “day care” whenever a child spends more than ten hours a week with someone who isn’t specifically its mother.

    Uh, how about substituting the word parent for the word mother? Parents do seem to come in several different varieties. :)

    Other than that, I’m not exactly sure of the meaning of the “ten hours a week” comment. Clarification, please?

  15. Hawise says:

    More sickness and less death. Somehow I feel that that is a balance that I am happy to have working in my favor. So the next thing is to get men to go see the doctor without having to drag them there and then maybe the stress women are under will go down and average health will go up. Just saying ;)

  16. Lesley Plum says:

    It also apparently doesn’t occur to the reporter that a study specific to Sweden can’t be extrapolated to any other country. One day reporters will understand things like random samples. Of course, I’ll be dead on that day.

    But you can’t have everything. Where would you put it?

  17. preying mantis says:

    I would love to substitute “parent” for “mother,” Stacy, but the study being kicked around on CNN.com right now about the *pearl-clutch* detrimental effects of day care specified “mother.” Dad doesn’t rate, apparently. Nor do Gramma and Grampa. For the purpose of the study, routinely spending ten hours a week with someone other than mom counted as “day care.”

    To me, the overly-broad and specious definition of day care seems as likely to skew the results of that study as the flawed assumption that “sick days taken by women” = “days the women were sick” does the results of this study.

  18. tigtog says:

    I’ll also note a classic correlation vs causation problem that may well have been noted by the authors of the study but is not being noted by the article: sexual equality as measured by proportion of women in management and average income is always going to be more common in the career culture of the cities than it is in the livelihood culture of rural areas, of which Sweden’s boonies rate amongst the booniest. So how do they control for the simple effects of pollution on health for the purpose of this study?

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  20. Tiny says:

    I would like to comment but I’m feeling a bit under the weather due to um, mold in my oh so feminist apartment. Asshats!

  21. Raging Moderate says:

    For an article that has you rolling your eyes, you seem to agree with much of it.

    He says: men’s health may be adversely affected by a loss of what had been seen as traditional male privileges

    You say: It also shouldn’t surprise us that when men aren’t being universally catered to, they’re slightly less healthy. I’d probably be a lot more healthy if I had free in-house labor to cook for me, clean up after me and generally look after my health and well-being

    I agree with both of you.

    He says: Women’s health, meanwhile, could be being damaged by greater opportunities for risky behaviour as a result of increased income, along with stress from longer working hours.

    You say: Many studies have shown that, world-wide, women who work outside the home take on a “second shift” domestically and end up putting in far more unpaid working hours per week than a parter who works the same number of paid hours. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that women are sick more often

    If we take out the “risky behavior” wording, again I agree with both of you.

    Aside from the title, I don’t see what’s wrong with article.

    The claim that “equality could be associated with poorer health for both men and women” is refuted nicely in the last two paragraphs.

  22. a second kate says:

    Uh, how about substituting the word parent for the word mother? Parents do seem to come in several different varieties. :)

    preying mantis was referring to a specific study which came out today

    Child care was defined as care by anyone other than the child’s mother that was regularly scheduled for at least 10 hours per week. This included care by fathers, grandparents and other relatives.

    http://www.nichd.nih.gov/news/releases/child_care_linked_to_vocabulary_032607.cfm

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  24. StacyM says:

    Ah. Now I understand. Good grief, that’s an infuriatingly sexist definition of childcare. Nothing says “bias” quite like integrating sexist assumptions right into the variables of your study.

  25. Najasoist's says:

    From the abstract of the study in question:

    However, the results suggest an unfortunate trade-off between gender equality as we know it and public health. Sweden may have reached a critical point where further one-sided expansion by women into traditionally male roles, spheres and activities will not lead to positive health effects unless men also significantly alter their behaviour. Negative effects of this unfinished equality might be found both for women, who have become more burdened, and men, who as a group have lost many of their old privileges.

  26. mom_of_2 says:

    Here is a testimonial from someone with impeccable credentials that seems to bear out the gist of the article:

    I get paid by the hour, and have no benefits or paid vacation time, and I make less than I did as a first-year associate many moons ago. Yet I’m so much happier doing this than slaving away at the Evil Empire and working on an ulcer or nervous breakdown.

  27. zuzu says:

    Does it? I still work full-time, I still make more than the average bear. Just because I jumped off the partnership track for the sake of my sanity doesn’t mean that feminism was the cause of my problems. In fact, feminism helped give me the wherewithal to do what was right for me rather than to follow blindly the patriarchy-approved path to success.

    Why don’t you just state your agenda, mom of 2.

  28. kali says:

    I’m quite proud of myself for coming up with the same explanation the study’s authors gave before I even got to that part of your post. It also occurs to me that disabled people might be attracted to more socially progressive areas to live in.

  29. preying mantis says:

    “Here is a testimonial from someone with impeccable credentials that seems to bear out the gist of the article:”

    Do you think you could possibly elaborate on pretty much everything in the above sentence a bit more?

  30. zuzu says:

    Looks like Mom of 2 has been obsessively searching the archives for that one. I wrote it, though I can’t remember if it was in a post or as a comment.

  31. R. Mildred says:

    Why don’t you just state your agenda, mom of 2.

    Why? Was it ambiguous?

    Of course Sweden is also the most porny country in the world (they invented the modern hardcore market and have zero censorship on everything that doesn’t involve) and they also have the most insane alchohol laws in the world, you can get arrested for being drunk and disorderly in your own home.

    Is there a (preferrably free) source for the study itself? the bigger gaping holes would be around the teeny tiny issues of A) what sectors are more egalitarian compared to what sectors are less egalitarian (that women are apparently less well because they’re now being allowed into high stress jobs, implies that the more sedentry and less stressful jobs aren’t as egalitarian, and so are essentially forming the meat of the study) and B) WHAT THE FUCK possible professional privelages could men have that would make them more healthy, I’m seriously racking my brains here and the only thing I can think of is one related to men now having to compete in a marginally bigger employee market now that middle class women work, but that was covered in manifesto; [marxist] capital is defined as competition between workers, so that’s capitalism’s fault not feminism’s…

    What possible male privelages that this study would actually measure could possibly be beneficial to men’s health? They didn’t measure the propensity of male managers and stuff to beat their wives or anything did they? Because I want to see that line “and here [figure 34.6] we can clearly see how routine marital abuse improves the health of working husbands by 24%, with a 5% spike for every year that such abuse is allowed to continue, legalised marital rape and other such perks of patriarchy increase these figures by a factor of 2 [figure 34.7]. Occasionally women are killed like this, but who cares if it benefits men?…”

    Oh I’m sorry, of course feminism is just the eternal struggle for female middle class acceptance and upward mobility, nevermind me…

  32. mom_of_2 says:

    I have searched madly through my purse for anything marked “agenda” and I’m afraid I can’t find it. I was really just hoping to engage in some civil discussion with some interesting people. I saw your lights were on so I thought I’d come in and say hello. I seem to have come into one of those houses where all the living room furniture is covered with thick plastic covers and the towels in the bathroom have that pall of dust bunnies down the back because no one has the courage to use them and they never get washed. There is a candy dish on the coffee table but it has all congealed into one big lump since it is unheard of for anyone to actually take a piece.
    Zuzu you recognize your own passage (always a good sign) but don’t know that it is easily found in your introduction and requires no obsessive digging to read?
    You seem like very unhappy people. Life is to be enjoyed. Obstacles are to be overcome.
    I wish you well in all your efforts. Please don’t panic if I comment from time to time. I will be very careful not to derail your threads nor disturb your bric-a-brac.

  33. preying mantis says:

    “I wrote it, though I can’t remember if it was in a post or as a comment.”

    Ah. That takes care of the impeccable credentials, but I’m still not sure how it would apply to anything but the possibility that there’s more stress the higher up the ladder you go as far as the working world goes. I’m assuming the ulcer would have been the result of the job itself, not all that equality you were suffering from.

  34. Nomie says:

    Shorter mom_of_2: I’m a troll, but I’m a nice one wearing a Laura Ashley dress!

  35. TinaH says:

    Dad doesn’t rate, apparently. Nor do Gramma and Grampa. For the purpose of the study, routinely spending ten hours a week with someone other than mom counted as “day care.”

    That’s because when Dads do it, it’s called “babysitting” and when Moms do it, it’s called, um, er, well, “parenting,” I guess.

    Talk about dissing Dads and Moms all in one fell swoop. Asshat authors of study. I smell a set up.

  36. zuzu says:

    I’m assuming the ulcer would have been the result of the job itself, not all that equality you were suffering from.

    The job and the atmosphere, which was cutthroat and full of screamers.

    Mom of 2, don’t bother coming back. Between this thread and your comments in the cancer screening thread asking for basic education about feminism and socialism, it’s clear that you’re not ready or willing to participate in good faith.

  37. Sheelzebub says:

    Is this person the same one as “mom of 2″? Sounds very familiar to me. . .

  38. Anne Onne says:

    The Daily Mail article wasn’t terrible, considering the subject matter, but the comments…talk about Trolls!

    I’m surprised that so many people will happily blame a movement that aims to improve life for everybody, but especially for those who have the least protection in society, for something like this. Could it be that highly paid jobs of various descriptions might just be very stressful? That the remaining inequalities expose the women at the top to the most horrendous institutional and personal sexism (Which can’t be good for health on any level)? Perhaps some of the priveleged are feeling the pinch of more competition from more talented women and minorities allowed to reach the top? That’s all assuming that they weren’t playing stats games with us by carefully chosen wording, dodgy focus and poorly defined studies which they seem to be.

    As a Brit, I was just surprised at how many American trolls there were… I’m used to local ones, but I really am a bit curious as to why most of the comments come from people who don’t read the newspaper. If they wanted to comment, I’m sure they could (and did) on American sites, too. I guess the cynic in me believes trolls really want to crow everywhere they can when someone gives them fuel for their ‘women are different and therefore lesser’ argument. Charming.

  39. zuzu says:

    Sheelz, the content and tone are the same, but the emails and IP addresses are different. Plus, the other one used A LOT MORE CAPS.

    Though I suppose we could put up a picture of someone’s baby and see what happens.

  40. preying mantis says:

    “As a Brit, I was just surprised at how many American trolls there were…”
    We’re an opinionated bunch.

    “If they wanted to comment, I’m sure they could (and did) on American sites, too.”
    Actually a lot of American sites disallow commenting. It’s easier than trying to keep porn spam and vulgar comments off their pages, and then dealing with the “Think of the children!” loonies when one gets through.

  41. Lesley Plum says:

    RM, the title is a large part of the issue with the article. Titles convey information about the author’s focus. They hint where you, the reader, are supposed to pay the most attention. They color how you interpret a piece.

    You’re also confusing the researchers with the reporter. The quotes you pick are from the study. No one here has rolled their eyes at the study. It’s the focus the paper directed readers to that’s at issue (“Feminism is bad for your health”).

  42. Matt says:

    It’s because dads are barely people to say nothing of occupying the same place as moms. Parenting is probably the one place where patriarchal culture screwed men as much as women. It’s silly because they say that only moms can be parents and dads can’t parent well enough to actually call it parenting.

  43. R. Mildred says:

    You’re also confusing the researchers with the reporter.

    I don’t care about the reporter, the independent is left leaning, but is more center left, like kos, I’m intrigued by the research though, more a sort of morbid interest in how they fucked with the stats than anything else.

  44. tzs says:

    What, they didn’t also add the correlation between feminism and degrees north longitude?

    Now, for their next coup: “How getting rid of slavery was bad for the health of the average Southern slaveowner.”

  45. Z. M. Davis says:

    For what it’s worth, Lesley Plum, I’m given to understand that reporters generally don’t write their own headlines, so it’s not perfectly clear to what extent one should blame Dobson and to what extent the editors of The Independent. Not to suggest Dobson is entirely innocent.

  46. Lesley Plum says:

    I’m sorry, R. Mildred. Wrong RM. I was addressing my comments to Raging Moderate. My bad, as it was quite unclear. He picked quotes from the researchers.

    Without seeing the study, it’s hard to know if the researchers fucked up the stats at all. I’m not sure they did. It’s just that there are multiple explanations for such an outcome, most of which are not “Ooh, bad feminism! Bad!” There’s also the issue of correlation v. causality.

  47. octogalore says:

    RM — the study seemed to be suggesting that “male privileges” had to do with being able to take for granted being senior to women in the workplace. Possible psychological discomfort resulting from that could have physical health ramifications.

    But so what? As the article gives a nod to, this is a transition effect, and once men don’t have this expectation anymore, there won’t be the sense of having something taken away. Transition effects don’t have much relevance. I’m sure the plantation owners hated having their slaves taken away too, and some probably suffered physical effects. Does that mean, mom_of_2 notwithstanding, that slavery was a good thing?

  48. As a former newspaper editor, I can say that in every one I know of, copy editors write the headlines, and they aim for simplicity and shock value. ( I know I did.)

  49. Anne Onne says:

    ”We’re an opinionated bunch.” Well, I always though being opinionated was a good thing. I guess it depends on the opinion, though. ;)
    Actually, I guess I never considered that sites wouldn’t allow comments. It makes sense, because there are always going to be unsavoury or pointless comments. I think a lot of newpaper sites do seem to screen their comments somewhat, but I’m not sure whether they just pick out the really bad ones, or whether they only choose a few from each side.

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