Media feminists have responded to the COVID 19 pandemic in stereotypical ways. These can be summed up as,
- More men are dying but it is their own fault through not washing their hands and having poor health habits.
- Male morbidly and mortality from COVID 19 is higher but women are suffering more. After all, nothing must ever challenge female victimhood because victimhood brings power.
- Female leaders are managing the COVID 19 pandemic better than men. This female supremacist argument has featured in a number of boringly predictable outlets including The Conversation, the Guardian and the Independent.
This first problem with the articles in category 3 is that we do not yet know what constitutes optimum management. This is because the outbreak probably has two years or more to run and judgments about the management of the pandemic may well prove premature. For example, if herd immunity plays an important part in ending the pandemic because no vaccine emerges or vaccines are only partially effective then allowing controlled spread, without overwhelming hospital services, could be the best option. Conversely, if an effective treatment or vaccine emerges then the approach of ‘crushing the curve’, for which New Zealand is the poster child, may be the best approach. What is clear is that the proponents of each approach have shown immense moral courage. On the one hand, Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand who has ‘crushed the curve’ and Anders Tegnell in Sweden who has allowed controlled spread. Sadly, feminist click-bait writers (mostly ‘poshos’ with humanities degrees) have dichotomised the issue into one of good versus evil and to even suggest that herd immunity may play a role in the ending of the pandemic is to be on the side of evil.
Another factor in the debate has been the fawning approach, in parts of the media, to Jacinda Ardern. There is no doubt that she is a good leader perhaps even a great one; time alone will tell. However, according to international indices, New Zealand has enjoyed low levels of corruption, high levels of transparency and high levels of public trust, long before Jacinda arrived on the scene. The Guardian, The Independent and other ‘progressive’ news outlets would seem incomplete without gushing articles about Taylor Swift and Jacinda Ardern and at times the names seem interchangeable.
The source of most of the female supremacist articles was a study published by two economists, Supriya Garikipati at the University of Liverpool and Uma Kambhampati from the University of Reading. The article was not published in the peer-reviewed literature but on a preprint repository. This matters. Elsewhere, the Guardian has criticised health stories that originate from non-peer-reviewed studies on preprint servers. Here, however, it is apparently quite acceptable.
Garikipati and Kambhampati adopt a case-control methodology of sorts. That is, they pair countries with female leaders with countries with male leaders and compare death rates from COVID 19. As you might guess case-control studies a fraught with difficulty and it all depends on how you select your controls and that is where the problems begin with this study. For example, New Zealand is twinned with Ireland. Why? The countries are clearly not comparable. It would have made more sense to twin New Zealand with neighbour Australia which has a male leader. At May 28th New Zealand had 4.5 deaths per million people and Australia with a male leader had 4 deaths per million people. In short, there was no significant difference.
In a similar vein, the authors chose to pair Germany with the UK rather than adjacent counties on the European mainland. Had they done so a different picture would have emerged. Germany recorded 102.8 deaths per million. The nearby Czech Republic with a male leader recorded 29.8 deaths per million and Poland which also has a male leader recorded 27.8 deaths per million. Similarly, the UK might have been twinned with Belgium which has a female leader and a higher per capita COVID 19 death rate.
Commentators have been quick to compare the performances of Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson and although Nicola Sturgeon has appeared more assured there hasn’t been a great deal of difference between England and Scotland both in terms of policy and deaths. However, a more useful comparison might have been made between Scotland and Wales. Wales with a male leader Mark Drakeford has recorded a significantly lower COVID 19 death rate and its policies differed from those of England in a much more meaningful manner than those of Scotland. You could just as easily publish a paper ‘showing’ that countries led by female leaders have a higher death rate. That too would be a fatuous exercise.
A number of authors have rigorously debunked the claims contained in the Guardian article. When it comes to analysing dodgy, feminist statistics William Collins’ excellent blog The Illustrated Empathy Gap is always a good place to start and you can find his analysis here. Similarly, back in May, another website Antifeminist Station, demolished this type of argument in the blog entry New York Times Article Displays Feminazi Ideology. Another detailed statistical takedown can be found on Reddit – Female-Led Counties versus Male led countries in the COVID 19 pandemic: my own analysis of data from the European CDC and Oxford Government Response tracker.
I doubt if the paper cited by The Guardian, The Conversation and The Independent will find its way into a credible peer-reviewed journal because its statistical flaws are so obvious. No doubt when it is rejected the authors will claim sexism on the part of male reviewers and that in turn will be the next story in the dear old Grauniad.
It isn’t that I don’t think the likes of Angela Merckel or Jacinda Adern are great leaders and I would much rather have them than Boris Johnson in charge of the UK. However, the claim that female leaders are systematically better than male leaders hinges on not including all female leaders in the analysis (only the good ones) and then only matching that selected group with male leaders who appear to have done badly. In short, the sort of dodgy statistics that shouldn’t even pass muster in an undergraduate essay.
Another useful perspective is to compare the fate of James Damore who wrote an internal memo at Google about gender imbalance or Allessandro Strumia who argued in PowerPoint presentation that women were not discriminated against in hiring decisions at CERN. Both lost their jobs following carefully organised Twitter storms. Supriya Garikipati and Uma Kambhampati have been lauded by the ‘progressive press’ in spite of presenting arguments that were much less well developed than those of Damore and Strumia. Such is the world we live in.
Postscript 14/09/20- For a much better takedown of this nonsense than I could manage look at the always brilliant Glass Blindspot on YouTube.