Whenever we think of the European Union the first ideas that come to mind are peace, prosperity, economic development, human rights, equality, freedom of speech, and other liberal values. A wonderful picture framed inside a stable 28 stars structure. We love to hang it on our walls, we are proud when we are being associated with its composition and we surely hate when critics complain about its small imperfections.
In this article, I will play the devil’s advocate and argue that Europe is not as progressive as some would want us believe. I will focus on the particular issue of discrimination. This piece of writing has as starting point the feminist/gender-related perspective on EU integration. This approach proposes concepts like gender-mainstreaming, male-female relations, feminism and so on. More specifically, it proposes the idea that many of the EU policies are founded on a preexisting conception of social and economic life where the male is the basic unit in the production system, while the female is at most a wife. Feminists suggest that the whole EU value-system is based on a masculine framework, and that by exporting it to other societies, the gender gap will be even larger on the world stage.
This perception led me to ask myself whether there are cases when men are being discriminated against in Europe. We know for sure that women are but somehow it cannot all be so simple. The difference between men and women cannot be that the former are oppressive in nature. To my mind, discrimination in Europe has even deeper roots than gender based ones. This is what I attempt to explain in this short article.
I will start by stating that there are situations when men are victims of discrimination. But the point I will make is that the existing discrimination has nothing to do with gender conflict. It has to do with the value of power in human perception. Women are being discriminated against the same as men are, the same as ethnic minorities are or the same as immigrants from poor countries are. By whom? By individuals, groups or nations who are better off in the balance of power. I will explain more.
Ever since Darwin, there is a incorrect formalization of the principle that the stronger will survive while the weak will perish. The correct version should have been that the most adaptable will gain more while the more inflexible will suffer harder in the long term. Despite the misconception, our European common value system is much founded upon a spirit of tough competition. Those who are strong will always try to rule on those who are weak and when the weak get a chance to make their voices heard by legislation or other institutional mechanisms, the strong will always try to avoid the implementation of those, or at least to find loopholes or back doors.
The fact that women are being discriminated against has nothing to do with sexual characteristics. It has to do with the other’s perception of the level of strength that a woman possesses. There seems to exist a societal hierarchy of power among men, women, children and elders based exactly on the perception of the roles these categories play in the social life. Again, it is not sexist in the sense that it does not consider gender or physiological attributes. It is a power or strength based differentiation. Not necessarily physical but also emotional and mental power. I do not intend to say that strength can be measured in any way. I am not talking about a real level of power but a falsely perceived one.
At the same time, there is discrimination among men themselves. You have categories like manly men, the alpha-male and the ‘wussies’, the least manly men. You have strong men, goal-driven men , ambitious men, successful men but also weak men, losers, lazy men, mediocre and common men. Furthermore, there is discrimination among females themselves. You have professional, career-oriented women who see themselves as powerful and independent and who look down on housewives who are perceived as slaves to their husbands. Financial success seems to be a key factor when judging the people with whom we interact, regardless of gender. As men, we tend to respect more a successful, independent woman than a lower class, poor man.
Most importantly, you have discrimination among member states at EU level. You have the strong economies, stable democracies, low criminality societies who look down on poor, less stable, corrupt, culturally backwards newly admitted members. The discrimination comes from the different perceived or real levels of economic, political and social strength. During the accession negotiations, the EU treated the eager future EU countries in an imperial manner through the request to comply with the aquis communitaire. The imperial EU managed to attract , open up and eventually intervene inside the domestic lives of the candidate states through imposition of laws, checking of implementation and even through public admonishment when the conduct did not suit the interests of the old member states.
Finally, I will consider if this situation can be changed and how. It will be very difficult to change a culture that dominates and that has developed in this way ever since history. The system of meritocracy itself creates winners and losers. I do not mean to destroy the whole philosophy of ‘let the best man win.’ I just mean to say that meritocracy without equal access to the competition creates elites that are rather closed and social orders without mobility. What could be done in order to have a more equal society is to truly allow everyone to have access to ways of gaining. There should exist a stronger equality of opportunities.
At the same time, the EU should use all soft power instruments to promote the idea that strength should not produce pride and discrimination between member states or competing regions but more responsibility and more risk-taking. The more developed should lead the way but not exclusively for personal benefits or for maintaining their superior position. Their aim should be the creation of a development path for the less fortunate. There are already plenty of women who are showing that they can do men jobs and plenty of poor states that can teach much more to developed ones about overcoming the dark aspects of the political life and about handling social turbulent times. The success of the less discrimination project will have a lot to do with overcoming the uglier aspects of human nature.