Opinion

Yes, a gender-sensitive budget is necessary. Even in Canada. Even in 2017

While federal funding allocation should not devolve into a contest to determine who is worse off, it is necessary to prioritize finite resources.

Women's circumstances are still worse than men's overall, despite individual exceptions

While federal funding allocation should not devolve into a contest to determine who is worse off, it is necessary to prioritize finite resources. (Getty Images/Hero Images)

For every woman feeling grateful that her problems are finally being taken seriously, a man can be heard crying in the distance: "But what about me? I have problems too!"

That cry was heard far and wide last month, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled Canada's first gender-sensitive budget.

We often hear that rhetoric from "men's rights" activists, many of whom argue that feminism has turned men into an oppressed group. However, this sentiment is gaining traction among mainstream voices, too.

In a recent CBCNews.ca column, Neil Macdonald argued that the budget largely ignored the plight of struggling Canadian men, making the case that the government needs to step up and address the problems men face, too.

An easy way to refute that is to wryly point out that this is essentially what the budget has done for the past 150 years — but then I wouldn't make my word count. Instead let's go through Macdonald's original arguments, one by one.

'Women do much better than men in school'

Yes — women do better in school because we must. You might be inclined to work harder, too, if burdened with the knowledge that you'll likely still make less than a man at every step of your career.

This gap increases until there are few women left at the top, a fact the Trudeau government's budget seeks to address.

Men with limited education can slide into the resource, construction, or manufacturing sectors at a pretty good wage. Before the fall in the price of oil, for example, a tradesperson in Fort McMurray could expect a starting wage of as much as $100,000 per year.

Sure, women could try for the same jobs in Fort McMurray and elsewhere, but in the male-dominated trade culture, they will need to prove themselves repeatedly or work in low-paid administrative roles, as most women there do.

'Women have not yet caught up to men in the private sector, but they own the public service, by far the single biggest employer in the country.'

There certainly are a lot of women in the public sector. Could this have something to do with the fact that the public service actively monitors and works toward diversity in its workforce?

Many a man will moan about not even receiving a response to his government job application, but I'd prefer to blame the private sector for driving women into the public sector, where they will at least get a fair shake at the boss's chair.

Macdonald noted that 71 per cent of jobs in the public sector are held by women, and that they have achieved parity among leadership ranks. What's interesting about that is that it shows that women are still proportionally underrepresented in public sector leadership, and it's widely acknowledged the problem is worse in the private sector.

Seventy one is a significant number in the food services industry, too: 71 per cent of food and beverage servers and support personnel are women, according to Statistics Canada, while 59 per cent of chefs are men.

This is indicative of the trend that analysis published on StatsCan sums up nicely: "Women and men occupy distinct occupations, with women's typically being at lower levels than men's."

That's at least 71 per cent depressing if you ask me.

'The overwhelming majority of people who have lost their jobs in the resource sector out West and the manufacturing sector, mostly in Ontario, are men.'

There's no denying that it's a hard time for the resource and manufacturing sectors, and the human cost of this is devastating. However, it's hard to want to fight for a system that encourages young men to rely on precarious economic circumstances, instead of getting an education in a trade or profession that would provide some buoyancy in tough times.

The men who lost their jobs out West were making more money than I've seen in my life, with far less education than I have, and this is partly because of the value we attribute to men's work versus women's work.

For example, according to Statistics Canada, workers in women-dominated fields — "paraprofessional occupations in legal, social, community and education services" — earn an average of $22.57 an hour while workers in male-dominated fields, such as front-line public protection jobs, earn an average $38.43 an hour.

The stigma of doing 'women's work' is alive and well among some men. (iStock)

So, of course, a man who worked for $100,000 in the oilsands is not going to want to come back here and work alongside women as a legal aide or educational assistant: besides the unappealing pay cut, the stigma of doing women's work is alive and well among some men.

This is actually a great example of how stigmatizing women's work can come to directly harm men: now that the industrial workers need the "women's" jobs our society has undervalued, they tend to find the salaries insulting. Welcome, gentlemen—we've been waiting for you.

Bill Morneau delivers budget speech

News

4 years ago
27:41
Finance minister reads his second budget in the House of Commons 27:41

While federal funding allocation should not devolve into a contest to determine who is worse off, it is necessary to prioritize finite resources, and until I can walk down the street at night alone — or really be anywhere by myself — without planning for how I'll protect myself or how I'll explain my outfit to the jury, I don't really have the mental energy to think about how to help the men who cannot be moved to try in school because they have a high-paying resource job waiting for them. 

The world is changing. Jobs are being lost through automation, technology, and offshoring. The world's population is growing, and economic inequality persists.

Women are not to blame for this and neither are policies that aim to improve women's circumstances, which are still worse than men's overall, despite individual exceptions.

And a funny thing happens when we make things better for women: men benefit, too.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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