The contemporary Left has often embraced morally repugnant policies that are not truly socially inclusive, but that embrace a collection of separate identity politics which are socially divisive and legally discriminatory. Such policies are disruptive of the classical liberal message that everyone should be treated equally before the law.
Barack Obama won two presidential elections enshrining identity politics and Clinton lost her election after embracing such a notorious agenda. This is an agenda of social divisiveness which epitomises a left-leaning distaste for an America that is, in large part, white, Christian and socially conservative. And yet, as the editor-at-large of the Australian newspaper, Paul Kelly, correctly points out, ‘[t]his is relevant in Australia given the Labor Party is fully pledged to identity politics as a tactic while for the Greens it is core ideology’.
Arguably, the principal victims of identity politics are white working-class men. The main culprits for the terrible plight faced by this unfairly targeted group are the radical feminists. Unfortunately, today’s feminist jurisprudence goes far beyond the original and widely supported goal of equal treatment amongst the genders. The new agenda is positively illiberal and hopelessly sexist, in the sense that its primary objective is no longer the achievement of true equality. Instead, it seeks to bring about the radical redistribution of power from the allegedly ‘dominant class’ (specifically white men) to the allegedly ‘subordinate class’ (women).
Naturally, this sort of feminist theory bears no relation to the original liberal approach taken by the first generation of western feminists. Feminist jurisprudence was initially based on an emancipatory theory which sought to dismantle legal barriers that denied women equal opportunity with men. The theory behind this desirable goal was that ‘the rights of individuals as traditionally understood in a liberal society should transcend gender differences’.
By contrast, the sort of feminist jurisprudence that emerged in the 1980s subscribes to a postmodern philosophy that claims the radical indeterminacy of the law. Contemporary feminist jurisprudence reinforces the postmodernist myth of the alleged bias of the courts in favour of white males. On this assumption, the generality and objectivity of the law apparently fails to take into account the particular experiences of women and minority groups.
In this sense, feminist theorists contend that these particularities amount to socio-economic factors that cannot be fully captured by the legal system, and so more adequately appreciated, by the generality of the law. Such scholars are notoriously critical of the classical liberal ideal known as the rule of law, and the inherent logic and objectivity it provides to the legal system. They claim it serves only to legitimise ‘social hierarchies’ that endorse the perpetuation of white-male supremacy. Feminist jurisprudence is therefore based on a form of gender determinism that is concerned only with the particularities of the law, rather than the generalities of a democratic system that should provide for equal rights and freedoms to every citizen regardless of race, religion or gender identity.
The application of ‘particularities’ is what lies behind the leftist agenda for ‘affirmative action legislation’ and its focus on ‘positive discrimination’ at the workplace and other places of social interaction. Affirmative-action policies involve profound questions related to matters of social equality and fairness, including the problem of whether it is ever justifiable or permissible ‘to submerge individuals into whole groups and subject them to certain prophylactic politics which often harm their interests’. As for policies that specifically provide preferential hiring to women, such policies must be considered ‘an insult to those women who have succeeded in their chosen fields on the basis of their own individual qualities’.
To be sure, it is fair to assume that economically disadvantaged white males are the main victims of ‘positive discrimination’ policies that are racially motivated and that make white males pay for ‘past injustices’ that they themselves have personally not committed.
The assumption that white males necessarily acquire a more privileged socio-economic status simply because they were born white and male reflects a disturbing form of determinism that denigrates a group that contains all sorts of social classes and people: rich, poor, middling, left, right, good, bad, happy, sad, etc.
Such a gross generalisation is not simply fallacious; it is as racist as saying that all black men are criminals.
This is why affirmative-action policies not only might ignore the present predicament of many white men who are poor and socially disadvantaged but can further aggravate their predicament. Such challenges start right from the beginning of their lives.
In the United Kingdom, for example, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)—an independent statutory body established by the British government to help eliminate discrimination and protect human rights— has revealed that white boys from poorer backgrounds, ‘suffer the worst start in life as they continue to fall further behind every other ethnic group at school – with their chances of a successful and prosperous career decreasing as a result’.
The disadvantages of being a white male individual in contemporary British society continue to be substantial by the time these boys complete high school.
The statistics unveiled in December 2015 by Universities and College Admissions Service (UCAS)—the UK-based organisation that operates the application process for British universities—indicates that 18-year-old females are 35 per cent more likely to attend a British university than their 18-year-old males. Further, where 37 per cent of black school-leavers go to university, only 28 per cent of white school-leavers do.
Curiously, ‘the white ethnic group was the one least likely to enter university, with only 28 per cent obtaining places compared with 58 per cent from Chinese, 41 per cent for Asians, 37 per cent for black students and 32 per cent for those from a mixed race’. This stark reality has led the executive chief of UCAS, Dr Mary Cook, to wonder if is not necessary to initiate ‘outreach’ projects which are ‘specifically designed to get more white males into college’.
By contrast, female students make up the majority demographic in higher institutions of learning in western societies. Further, a comprehensive study in the United States reveals that boys are increasingly performing at a level substantially below that of girls of the same age group.
In an attempt to counter the problem some American schools have started developing special programs for male-only students. And yet, radical organisations such as the National Organization of Women and the American Civil Liberties Union react very negatively by rising up in opposition.
According to official figures in the United Kingdom, between the ages of 22 and 29, a woman will typically earn £1,111 more than her male counterpart. These figures were released by the Office for National Statistics, which looked at the comparative earnings of men and women between 2006 and 2013. Such advantage ends only at 30 and there is actually a good reason for this: female employees often interrupt their careers to take maternity leave and part-time work when children are born.
By comparison, in the United States, according to the US Census Bureau, male median income—the median income of a man with a full-time job paying job—was six per cent lower in 2014 than it had been in 1973. ‘And as black incomes rose strongly over the period, it was the earnings of white men that were most hard hit’.
Further information for all those who falsely claim ‘white male supremacy’: White men kill themselves more than any other people. Unlike every other age, unlike every other group racial and ethnic group, and unlike their white female counterparts, death rates in this particular gender-ethnic group have been rising dramatically in western countries.
In the United States, white male suicide deaths occur four times more than female ones. In a comprehensive study published in the Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences, Anne Case and Angus Deaton (who won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Economic Science) document a marked increase in the all-cause mortality of middle-aged white male non-Hispanic men in the United States after 1998. These authors reveal that death rates for white, non-college-educated men aged 35 to 45 rose dramatically thanks mainly to a quadrupling in the incidence of drug overdoses and alcohol abuse that are often associated with psychological issues related to marriage breakdown and parental alienation.
These renowned academics from Princeton University noticed in national data sets that ‘middle-age whites were committing suicide at an unprecedented rate and that the all-cause mortality in this group was rising’. In contrast, black male suicides have declined considerable and are considerably lower than white male suicides.
The death rate for blacks and Hispanics continue to decline from 1999 to 2010 but the rate for whites in middle-age jumped an alarming 40 per cent during the same time frame. Reasons are thought to include unfair legal treatment as well as different cultural expectations and also that black Americans and American-Hispanics arguably tend to have stronger community support to carry them through these rough times.
In Britain, a report released by the Office for National Statistics revealed that, although the overall suicide rate is down because of a decrease in women taking their lives (the rate for female suicides has halved since 1981), white male suicide has risen dramatically and men now account for an astounding 77 per cent of all suicides in the country, up from 63 per cent in the 1980s. There were 6,233 suicides in the country in 2013 and 4,583 were committed by men; that is, almost eight out of 10 suicides were by males. The problem is particularly acute amongst white men between the ages 35 and 55, who are more than four times as likely to take their own lives as women of the same age, according to official figures.
Also in Britain, another seminal study involving eleven leading social scientists concluded that marriage breakdown and a notoriously unfair court system that strongly favours women with child custody and the family home (even where men are the victims of adultery and/or unemployment) are significant factors in the suicide of many men.
When marriages fail ‘men are less likely to be awarded full custody of their children, more likely to be displaced from the family home and have less access to their children’. As to the care of children, if the mother and children remain in the family house post-separation, their father is often displaced from the ‘family home’ to a more unstable accommodation. This leads to the loss of a person’s identity, status and respect, as well adding to the isolation of some men in mid-life where loneliness is a very significant cause of their high risk of suicide.
Here too, in Australia suicide is substantially more common among males than females, which is consistent with trends observed in all other western societies. According to the most recent data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics 1,901 males (16.8 per 100,000) as compared to 634 females (5.6 per 100,000) committed suicide in 2012 alone. Accordingly, the ratio of male to female suicides rose from two to one in the 1960s to over 3 to one in 2012.
This finding is highlighted in an academic paper written by Dr Susan Beaton and Dr Peter Forster and published by the Australian Psychological Society. These two renowned experts in suicide preventions explain that ‘suicide is the number killer of men under 44 years’, and that the increase in male suicide risk is at least partially due to marriage breakdown coupled with ‘poorer social support among … divorced males’.
And yet, railing against ‘white male oppression’ continues to be the rallying cry of feminist theory and its fellow travellers who occupy positions of power in the legal and political professions. Of course, to sustain that our legal system supports and validates white male oppression (and that white males are necessarily more privileged than individuals belonging to any other racial-gender group) is utterly ludicrous, especially in countries like the United Kingdom where it has been fully demonstrated that white men are actually less legally protected and less socially successful than almost every other social group.
It is Orwellian to note so many members of the political-academic elite denouncing the alleged privileges of some of the most disadvantaged members of our society. Such affluent elitists may write inflammatory articles and books decrying so-called ‘while male privilege’, but they are infinitely more privileged than the white males who they like so much criticise, particularly those who empty their bins or sweep their roads.
Dr Augusto Zimmermann is Law Reform Commissioner, Law Reform Commission of Western Australia; Former Associate Dean (Research) and Director of Postgraduate Studies at Murdoch University School of Law, where he teaches and coordinates the units Constitutional Law and Legal Theory. Dr Zimmermann is also President of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA), Fellow at the International Academy for the Study of the Jurisprudence of the Family (IASJF); and Professor of Law (Adjunct) at Notre Dame University, Sydney. The author wishes to thank Heath Harley-Bellemore for his valuable assistance and insightful comments on this article.
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