Feminist writers are too obsessed with gender gaps, argues Alice Robb in her New Republic piece, “Not Every Gender Gap Needs to Be Closed.” “It’s possible that in a totally gender-equal society, every activity—from gardening and crocheting to taxi-driving and construction work—would have an equal number of male and female practitioners,” Robb argues. “But combatting each and every gender gap just does not seem productive.” Yours truly gets singled out for my attempt at addressing the bike-riding gap by telling women it’s more fun and easier to ride a bike than they might think. Other gender gaps that Robb says “don’t seem worth our concern” include gaming and pot-smoking.
Robb suggests that all this attention to inconsequential gender gaps is a form of sexism itself, because no one is trying to close the gender gaps with male-dominated activities. She quotes our own Jessica Grose, who says, “No one bemoans the gender gap in female dominated activities,” such as “knitting or flower arranging.” And Robb tosses in spin as another example, since I noted, in my post, that spin classes are female-dominated. “Yet she sees no problem,” Robb adds, wondering if “men feel unwelcome at Soul Cycle.”
OK, no one is asking why men don’t arrange flowers more, in part because most of us weren’t aware that’s a thing that people do. I can’t speak for all feminists, but it’s certainly not true that I don’t care about the lack of men in, say, spin class. I’m not going to arrange a protest over it! But I care because it’s one more small sign that we live in a society where anything that gets deemed “girly” automatically becomes off-limits to all but the bravest of men. The relentless fear of emasculation that traps the modern American heterosexual adult male does strike me as a problem.
Robb is right that any one of these minor gender gaps, taken on its own, is kind of inconsequential, especially compared to big issues like health care or equal pay. Targeting an individual gap in hobbies and treating it like it’s a dire issue in need of fixing is silly. But that doesn’t mean that there’s no value in looking at these minor gaps. On the contrary, putting all these minor gender gaps together can help reveal certain underlying assumptions about gender that are interesting and important. Take the gender gaps Robb mentions: Bike-riding, pot-smoking and video game-playing, as well as female-dominated ones like knitting and flower arranging. On their own, whatever. Taken together, however, you paint a picture of a society where men feel the freedom to use their bodies how they like and spend their free time doing stuff purely for fun, while women are more constrained to the home and expect their hobbies to be somehow industrious. (Not that I’m trying to pry the knitting needles out of anyone’s hands. Knit on, ladies.) This double standard even rears its head in Robb’s piece, when she writes about the push for more girl gamers: “Video games, for instance, take time away from other, probably more worthwhile activities, like homework and socializing.”
So no, I don’t think the fact that men smoke more pot than women is a problem, in and of itself, that needs fixing. But the fact that men don’t feel guilty about firing up a joint and playing Call of Duty while women think they should be spending that time on “worthwhile” activities perhaps bears a little more interrogation.