Reading this book is like being stung by a jellyfish at random intervals. It gets steadily worse until eventually it feels as though someone is bashing you on the head with a baseball bat.
The blurb sounds okay. International Besteller. Rave Reviews. A socialist-slanted analysis of inequality.
So why did it feel like pulling teeth…?
It must be that pesky “women problem” again. It just won’t go away and leave me in peace to enjoy reading Important Work [Might be the most important book of the year, Guardian] authored by Important Men [Brave and imaginative…a far reaching analysis, Michael Sargant, Nature]
First off, there is nothing original to it. I’ve made it no secret that I have a penchant for Daniel Dorling’s Injustice, which although doesn’t tell women anything they didn’t already know about injustice, he is trying on the women front, and there are some interesting ideas in there (which I will probably discuss in my next post).
The Spirit Level is very wishy washy by comparison. The main gist is that the more equal a society is, the more well-being increases. When a society has a large rich-poor divide, well-being decreases and crime increases, for obvious reasons. In order for society to reach a state of equilibrium, the income gap must be closed.
So far so good.
Except, nowhere, nowhere are women mentioned as a specifically economically disenfranchised category of people. Nowhere is the inequality that women specifically face addressed! Wilkinson refers to “people” and “populations” ,as though the men and women included in those terms are not designated into a two-tier caste system based on sex. He (and his co-author, Kate Picket) clearly believe this sociological, political FACT is irrelevant.
Okay, I think to myself. I’ll ignore the erasure of an entire economic caste of people and see what they actually have to say about inequality.
But then I became more confused. You see, it turns out women do exist in a separate chategory sometimes, especially when it becomes necesary to make a misogynistic point. Interesting.
I noticed a pattern. Females were mentioned when it came to talking about them unfavourably, but there was never mention of their specific economic disenfranchisment. An example:
“What this means is that when people lack money for essentials such as food, it is usually a reflection of the strength of their desire to live up to prevailing standards. You may, for instance, feel it more important to maintain appearances by spending on clothes while stinting on food. We knew of a young man who was unemployed and had spent a month’s income on a new mobile phone because he said girls ignored people who hadn’t got the right stuff.”
You see how girls force boys to make bad spending decisions? It’s just suffering all the way for men because of those materialistic, status-searching girls. It was out of his hands, and certainly had nothing to do with him just liking gadgets and wanting to get in with his mates.
Women got an INORDINATE amount of mentions when it came to health problems; after all women’s bodies are endless sources of pathology.
“The reason why women’s obesity rates turn out- as we shall see– to be more closely related to inequality than men’s, seems to be that the social gradient in obesity is steeper among women than men. Health problems such as breast cancer, which are not usually more common among the less well-off, are unrelated to inequality.”
That “as we shall see” refers to an ENTIRE chapter focusing on women’s obesity. Nice.
Here’s a corker on page 29.
“Moreover, as Jane Austen shoes in both Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility , the consequences–whatever your birth– of marrying for love rather than money could be serious. Whether material wealth is made or lost, you cannnot long remain a ‘person of substance’ without it. And it is surely because material differences provide the framework round which social distinctions develop that people have often regarded inequality as socially divisive.”
Whatever your birth.?
“Person” of substance?
“People” have often regarded inequality… ?!?!!
It feels like a sledgehammer cracking you on the back of the head.
What Mr whateveryourfuckingbirth Wilkinson fails to comment on is that this situation was specific to the sex class of women. So it’s not “whatever your birth” at all. If you were born a boy, you wouldn’t have to go through the desperate hand-wringing exhibited by the female characters in Austen’s literature. You would not have to choose between love or money, because you were entitled to be the rapist master of your spouse, and therefore love could be, and was insignificant to you, in comparison to how important it was for women. As was material wealth in a spouse. Because as a man you could earn your own material wealth.
Mental health. Wilkinson mentions something about mental health being connected to the sentiment that “I am a person of worth”, but FAILS to possess any understanding of the fact that women are taught from birth that they have no instrinsic worth and the only value they have is that which men confer onto them, depending on how they match a specific set of criteria (invented by men).
The way in which women’s sense of worth is attacked by patriarchy on a daily basis, through porn for example, where the main purpose is to degrade women is not given a mention.
‘Shame’ is discussed, complete without any analysis of how female shame is woven into the fabric of society, and into most religions too. Christianity has long insisted that women are dirty, their bodies are dirty and marriage will purify them. Even after childbirth, they must be “churched” because childbirth is also dirty, like women. But here, I have inadvertantly found a golden nugget of wisdom: men, apparently, know that shaming someone is the easiest way to control them. I assume they mean other men here, because the easiest way to control women is to create a culture of rape and violence against them, with shame acting as merely the cherry on top. Though shame is significant for men, it permeates women’s lives.
“It was Thomas Scheff, emeritus, professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who said that shame was the social emotion. He meant almost exactly what Dickerson and Kemeny were referring to when they found that the most likely kinds of stressors to raise levels of stress hormones were ‘social evaluative threats’ By ‘shame’ he meant the range of emotions to do with feeling foolish, stupid, ridiculous, inadequate, defective, incompetent, awkward, exposed, vulnerable and insecure. SHame and its opposite, pride, are rooted in the processes through which we internalize how we imagine others see us. Scheff called shame the social emotion bceause pride and shame provide the social evaluative feedback as we experience ourselves through others’ eyes”
He doesn’t mention that men get to define themselves and that society defines women through men’s eyes.
How many more FAILS should I mention?
Perhaps this gem:
Having friends, being married, belonging to a religious group or other association and having people who will provide and support, are all protective of health”
Nope, they’re protective of men’s health. Happiness rankings are as follows:
Married men (happiest)
Single women (second happiest; they have to put up with patriarchal shit)
Married women (not very happy at all)
Single Men (most depressed, unhappy and suicidal) [Greer, The Whole Woman]
It’s pretty obvious why men invented marriage isn’t it. Marriage supports men and destroys women (Greer). To say that female happiness correlates positively with being married is a barefaced lie, at best.
He blathers on: apparently having a “sense of control over our lives” makes a difference to happiness. Tell women something they didn’T know already. Srsly, are men just discovering this now? Women could have told them all this a thousand years ago, if they’d only asked.
On the chapter about violence, he cites an incident of a gunman who entered a mall and shot five people , and follows it quickly by two examples of boys being murdered by men. What he is actually doing is drawing attention away from the sheer amount of homicides which are male against female… Or perhaps, like transwomen, he only notices violence when the victim is male. “Violence is a real worry in many people’s lives” he says on page 129. To eliminate femicide from this chapter is not just ignorant, it is obfuscating the truth. And he goes on and on and on and on about how men feel when they are threatened by violence.
The Evolutionary Psychology on page 134 made my day for its originality of though backed up by hard science (not)
“While looks and physical attractiveness are more important for women, it is status that matters most for sexual success among men”
“Sexual success” [boak] Another FAILure to explain that women are oppressed economically and men reap the gains of their labour as they simultaneously withold economic resources from women, forcing them to rely on men. For some strange reason, women just like men of status. Wilkinson offers no political or social analysis of female exploitation at all.
And no book would be complete without a “Blaming the Mother” passage as a substitute for finding ways how society could better support mothers.
“…researchers are also recognizing that stress in early life, in the womb, as well as in infancy and early childhood, has an important inlfuence on people’s health throughout their lives”
There is no suggestion that perhaps men should stop stressing pregnant women out. The author(s) don’t point out that domestic violence increases when a woman is pregnant.
Sorry, no book would be complete without a picture of a naked woman. Which is why on page 86, figure 6.7 sports a naked (young) female body with arrows along it indicating the various health problems caused by stress. Two birds with one stone. Nekkid woman AND women’s bodies are pathological. WIN for the patriarchy.