The song “It’s a Man’s World,” made famous by James Brown, was written by one his girlfriends, Betty Jean Newsome, but it’s far from being a feminist tract. According to the song, man made the cars, the trains, “the electrolight to take us out of the dark” — and “Man made the boat for the water/Like Noah made The Ark.”
Despite these sentiments, no one seems to object too strongly to them. Maybe it’s because “Sister” Betty was a former club bouncer who’d been accustomed to frisking men and taking their guns away. She told the truth as she saw it. After noting that the world would be nothing “without a woman or a girl,” she ends the song with these two lines about “Man”:
“He’s lost in the wilderness
He’s lost in bitterness.”
Equality on the Street?
For all the talk of female equality, I don’t see much sign of it on the street. Men do the heavy lifting. They’re the people I see climbing scaffolding or digging holes in the road. They seem to make up the majority of Deliveroo workers in London.
Women may soon achieve equality in the office, but out on the building site or the battlefield — that’s a tough ask.
My featured image (above) is symbolic of women’s progress in the workplace. Many miles to the north of Bangkok, I emerged from a temple to discover the local militia in training. At least, I think that’s who they were. Their equipment was a bit rudimentary, to say the least — but they were all taking it seriously. They were all women.
All women, that is, except for the man in charge. You can clearly see his authoritative boots at the top right of the picture.
Must there always be a man in charge? Of course not. Feminists are still hoping that men have no innate advantage except in muscularity, cultural bias, and freedom from childbearing. That said, they do outnumber women (worldwide) by a ratio of 101.8 to 100, which is surprising, given how often they kill each other.
The Stats Say It All
If you’re thinking of taking street photos in different parts of the world, check out the demographics first. Not long ago, The Washington Post ran an article called “See where women outnumber men around the world (and why).”
The article shows a map of the world (which unaccountably excludes Australia) coloured in various shades of blue and pink. The blue areas (North Africa, Middle East, India and China) are those where men outnumber women. The pink areas (North America, Europe, South-East Asia) are where women outnumber men.
Notably, there’s a dark blue hotspot in and around Saudi Arabia (because of all the male guest-workers from overseas) and a red area covering the former Soviet Union countries (which have never fully restored the male/female balance since World War Two).
“Latvia, Lithuania, Armenia, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and Estonia are among the countries with the largest female populations,” notes the article. In these countries, men’s life-span is considerably shorter than that of women. In Belarus, for example, it’s 65.3 years as opposed to 77 years for women (based on stats for 2015).
The fact is: in Russia and adjoining countries men die young because the culture of drinking alcohol — including cheap or imitation vodka — is especially destructive. Drink-related problems such as disease, road accidents and murders, have a marked influence on the statistics.
Going to Extremes
Of all countries, Australia has the most balanced proportion of men to women, there being 99.9 men for every hundred women. By contrast, the Caribbean island of Martinique has only 84.6 men for every 100 women; while, at the other end of the scale, the United Arab Emirates has 274 men for every hundred women, the most extreme gender imbalance in the world.
I’ve just googled “street photography” with United Arab Emirates, then with Martinique, to see if I can spot the gender imbalance. On a page called “Top 10 places to shoot in the UAE” I found several photos containing around fifty men and a dozen camels. There was not one woman in any of the shots, not even among the thousands of spectators watching Kushti Wrestling in Deira.
For Martinique the result was less conclusive, I found a tumblr site called Street Photography Martinque, but it seems to consist entirely of graffiti — with not a person (of either gender) in sight.
Heavy Lifting Takes Its Toll
With all the alcohol, heavy lifting, soldiering and killing (not to mention Kushti wrestling in Deira and spraying graffiti in Martinique), men have a tough life all around the world. Half the time they’re slaving to keep women happy.
My photo above, which I’ve called “More Long Stem Roses,” shows men hard at work in Bangkok’s flower market, shifting heavy loads of bouquets which will later make women swoon with joy.
OK, many of the flowers will be used for religious purposes, but we don’t normally associate elegant roses with back-breaking work.
There’s no doubt about it. It’s tough being a man, especially in a woman’s world.