To which part of the world would you look first for hard evidence that the roles men and women perform are a social construct? To Scandinavia, of course, where governments have worked for decades to ensure equality between men and women. Norway, for example, must by now be a gender equity paradise of male nurses and female engineers. Isn’t it?
Nope. A documentary first screened by Norwegian State Television three years ago blew that myth apart and at the same time raised questions about the scientific basis for even having that kind of equality as a policy goal.
The Gender Equality Paradox (video above), the first of a series of 40-minute films exploring hot button social issues, is both hilarious and serious – hilarious because it was created by comedian Harald Eia, and serious enough to cause the Norwegian government to drastically cut its funding for gender studies.
Eia, who happens to have a sociology degree, plays the role of the innocent who simply wants to know why, for example, men still account for 80 percent of engineers in Norway, and why a programme to recruit men into nursing has been a dismal failure. Like the court jester of old, he approaches experts in their ivory towers and people on the street with the same genial naivety, gradually laying before us something like a consensus among ordinary folks but diametrically opposed positions among the academics.
At issue is the significance of biology in determining a person’s vocational and career choices. The gender theorists say biology doesn’t matter at all, what matters is social expectations. The evolutionary psychologists insist that biology matters a lot. They have data, the others have, well, their own ideas.
The deeper issues, of course, are whether men and women are complementary sexes, and whether “male” and “female” are still relevant categories for describing the human race.
An interesting finding to emerge from some of the research is that in developing countries women are more likely than their Western counterparts to choose jobs in the typically male field of technology because these jobs are better paid and offer better career opportunities. In the highly developed democratic countries, however, women are freer to choose what they typically prefer: work involving face to face dealings with people.