Measuring masculine norms

A new report from the OECD calls for better data on ‘restrictive masculinities’ across cultures and geographies so that policy makers can better understand the way they influence, for instance, the low uptake of paternity leave.

Mad in a suit kisses his wife and child at the door as he leaves

 

In the week of International Women’s Day and the aftermath of the murder of Sarah Everard, the OECD put out a release which made interesting reading. It focused on men – a part of the gender equation that receives relatively little scrutiny.

While we have all sorts of data and research relating to women – everything from the supposed impact of working mums’ on childhood obesity to women’s relative lack of confidence – and women’s stories and photos are a large part of the regular diet of most tabloid media, there is relatively little equivalent data on men’s lives. Of course, some of the research and focus on women is meant with the best of intentions – to highlight inequalities or to give women a voice – but it is still the case that men receive much less attention than women.

The OECD wants to address that. It launched a report last week, Man Enough? Measuring Masculine Norms to Promote Women’s Empowerment, which focuses on masculinities, the social constructs that relate to perceived notions about how men behave and are expected to behave. The report analyses two different types of masculinities. Restrictive masculinities, it says, are rigid and promote inflexible notions and expectations of what it means to be a real man, while gender-equitable masculinities allow men to take on diverse roles and behaviours without limiting women’s agency. Often the two types co-exist.

What the OECD wants to do is to measure the main characteristics of restrictive masculinities, given the impact they have on gender equality. The five norms they highlight relating to the workplace include being the breadwinner; being financially dominant at work and at home; working in “manly” jobs, those professions that society defines as “men’s work”; being the “ideal worker”, ie prioritising work over all other aspects of life; and being a “manly” leader by cultivating an assertive and space-occupying leadership style. These undervalue women’s contributions and can justify the exclusion of women from the workforce or from senior roles.

At home restrictive masculinities might relate to not doing unpaid care and domestic work; having the final say in household decisions; controlling and administering household assets; protecting and exercising guardianship of family members especially women and girls within the household; and dominating sexual and reproductive choices, initiating sexual encounters and making reproductive decisions. These serve to minimise women’s and girls’ agency and decision-making power over their time, bodies and resources.

The OECD wants to see better data on these restrictive masculinities across cultures and geographies so that policy makers can better understand the way they influence, for instance, the low uptake of paternity leave. The report puts forward a number of indicators that can be used as proxies to measure and analyse changing masculinities and their impact on women’s empowerment. It’s not about blaming individuals so much as about understanding and questioning the basis of certain norms. With better data comes better policymaking, legislation and support, but more than anything with more information comes greater self awareness and from self awareness comes change.



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