The Status of the Estonian Men
Women can be paradoxical. They want men to be sensitive and understanding but when educating their sons and students they subconciously teach them to be “real men” so to say machos.
Already in the 1980s it was noticed that the role and status of the man in Estonia has changed. At that time the novel “Possibility to Choose” (1978) by Aimee Beekman was published. The novel is about a female teacher working in a small town who has difficulties to marry because the local men lack education and are only interested in machines and alcohol. Eventually the woman marries a good-hearted workman who is good with his hands and loves alcohol. But her children she conceives with other men – high intellectuals from the capital city. Mats Traat in his novel “Inger” (1988) gave an analogous picture of the status of men in Estonian small towns.
The traditional family model is disappearing
In 1991 Estonia got liberated from the Soviet Union and as this was a very important event the problems of the status and alcohol dependency of men did not get attention for a long time. The wish to get rid of everything soviet-like was the main issue, including abandoning the idea of equal working conditions for men and women. During the Soviet regime the employment of women was practically 100 %. There were very few house wives as working was for women a matter of honour and pride. But women also worked because wages were low and the man was not able not feed the family alone.
After the re-independence of Estonia people wished to restore "the old good Estonia" that existed before the Second world war. So many mothers stayed at home with their children and the fathers began again to “feed their families”. Soon it became clear that history cannot be repeated. When in 1990 89% of the people in Estonia believed that the man should earn money and feed the family while the purpose of the woman should be home and children then already in 1999 only 61% of people thought so and amongst young people aged 15-24 a quater believed that the times of the traditional family model are over altogether. Young women aspire to be independent and not depend on men, while older women go to work for the same reason as before in the Soviet times – when wages are low the whole family needs to work and earn money. In 2003 there were 337 000 men and 323 000 women on the Estonian labour market – so more or less the same as it was in the Soviet times.
Girls learn better
Lately the topic of the status of Estonian boys and men has risen on the agenda again. The education circles are discussing the question why girls and boys study differently. Tests in the whole country show that girls have better results in most subjects, including for example mathematics. Girls also face fewer serious problems in school than boys. For instance in 2004 2465 boys and only 1120 girls had to repeat their study-year. Many more boys are thrown out of school than girls. Why is that? One rather convincing speculation is that the curricula of Estonian schools are created by female teachers and therefore fit better to the needs of girls. Another important reason could be the fact that girls mature physically and mentally at an earlier age than boys do. But again the curricula have not taken this fact in consideration. Thirdly boys enthusiasm for studying might be challenged by the subconscious attitude of many teachers thinking that boys do not want to learn and are themselves guilty for their problems.
The education scientist Mare Leino has noted while observing classes that in general teachers speak mild and friendly with girls while with boys they are categorical and even nagging. The effect of the above-mentioned reasons is that every year over one thousand students fall out of elementary school and there are more girls in both elementary and secondary schools. The proportional difference of boys and girls is even bigger in universities. For this reason the Tallinn University that is the main university for training teachers is sometimes called jokingly The Tallinn Girls’ University. And this joke is not very far from reality as only 10% of teachers in Estonian schools are male, and in the faculty of teachers’ training of the Tallinn University the percentage of male professors is even smaller.
Alas it cannot be said that the educational circles take the problem of “discrimination of boys” very seriously. At the moment a new study curriculum of the state is being created and the topic of boys is completely left in the background.
The subject of the status of the man was brought for the first time under a serious debate in Estonia by the Swedish. In autumn 2005 an international conference called “new masculinity” was held in Tallinn. The clear message of the conference was that soon the power will be taken over by women. The Swedish researcher Ingemar Gens said that he has betted already twice that in 20 years women will be dominating not only in education and medicine but also amongst executives of major companies and in politics. He said that only in Muslim countries the dominance of men will remain the way it is now. The European men that now seem to complain about lack of power will lose it altogether during the next 20 years. The majority of participants in the conference considered this speculation “an absurd fantasy” – this was revealed by the mobile phone votings. The more conservative people found the lecture of Ingemar Jens even dangerous for the Estonian culture.
Ingemar Gens recommended men to accept the downfall of their status calmly. Do not fight against the power of women – get accustomed to it, was his message. But he also suggested that women should change. In his opinion a lot of women in Nordic and Baltic countries act paradoxically. On the one hand they aspire for caring and sensitivity from men and on the other hand they educate their sons and students with strict methods, subconsciously hoping that the boys will grow up to be “real men” that do not cry, regret, apologize or give in. This kind of men we call machos. And eventually both the boys, the men as well as the women themselves will suffer from such educational philosophy, Gens said.
Educate the mothers
To better the situation Gens suggested to focus on educating the mothers of the boys. He claimed that in Sweden the daughters are raised by the mother, and sons by the street: a gang of boys where the son spends most of his free time and where macho-like relations are a rule, with leaders and the beaten ones. Gens called upon mothers to spend as much time with their sons as they do with their daughters. Secondly he called upon the female teachers to approach boys as attentively and caringly as they approach girls. In this way we could educate men with the new masculinity, that are able to understand instead of being superior or looking tough, the Swedish researcher said.
The “real men” at the conference found the ideas of Gens shocking. They asked if the role of the man should not be to protect and feed the family. They were also opposing to the criticism towards the family model of the Islamic countries. The representatives of “old masculinity” are as a rule approving the male position in the Islamic countries – whatever problems this may cause.
Surprisingly also the supporters of Gens could not comprehend his message completely. He was asked what to do in order to bring more men to schools as teachers. Gens said that there is even no hope that men become teachers again. Instead of bringing more male teachers to schools it is needed that the female teachers change their attitudes towards students. Gens brought the example of an experiment he led where in a kindergarten and primary school boys and girls were playing the same games together, including foot-ball and skipping games. He predicted that these children can grow up to be understanding and caring persons. Even these ideas were opposed by the public but neither were there alternatives brought up.
Thus it can be claimed that in Estonia the problems of the status and character of the man are not nearly as articulated as they are in Sweden. Never-the-less after the conference the Estonian media discussed these problems for several months. Before that the only gender-related issue had been the difficulties of women in our society.
The paradoxical fact related to this is that in Estonia the feminists are the most active to support men from the new pressure. For example Barbi Pilvre has stressed out that the work-day of men in nowadays Estonia is too long and pressure too hard – thus even less time and opportunity remains for showing understanding and care.
Text and photos by Raivo Juurak, raivo.juurak(ät)gmail.com
Translated by Krõõt Juurak
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Tests in Estonia show that girls have better results in most subjects. Girls also face fewer serious problems in school than boys. Many more boys are thrown out of school than girls. Why is that?
According to Ingemar Gens, on the one hand women aspire for caring and sensitivity from men. On the other hand they educate their sons and students with strict methods, subconsciously hoping that the boys will grow up to be “real men” that do not cry, regret, apologize or give in.