Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Visiting Wingnuttia

It's always good to travel. That way you don't get as ingrown as a bad toenail. I have been to Wingnuttia, a part of the blogosphere that may not be a safe place for a pagan goddess. But I am back in one piece. Thanks to miguel for the travel plan!

One of the places I visited was a blog called Vox Popoli (here's where I found it). I especially enjoyed the following post about the New York Times article on Asian sex workers who leave their poor rural villages for better money and prospects:

One of the aspects of feminism that I've always found particularly amusing is the way in which it dances around a basic and apparently universal fact of life: most women don't like to work* and they won't if they can avoid it by having sex instead. Although I suppose it's remotely possible that an early feminist capable of long-range strategic thinking may have known the likely economics effects of doubling the size of the work force and hoped to use falling real wages to force women out of the home if they wished to maintain a normal standard of living.

*Work is defined here as something that you would never consider doing of your own volition unless someone paid you to do it. Taking care of your children, washing the car and doing the dishes may not be fun-filled leisure activities, but they are not work.

There you have it on a toenail, though a little ingrown. Work is misdefined or defined twice over and the sinister spectre of evil feminists is invoked with a denial of the effect of the same in terms of some faulty economics. The post also contains some more backpedalling about men possibly disliking work, too, and perhaps even preferring sex to work, too. But the gist of the message is here.

And what is this message? It's a little fuzzy as three different arguments are conflated. One is about women being really lazy and rather whorish at core, most women, anyway. This is a traditional misogynist argument. The second one is about women's true desires which are assumed to be related to staying at home, and the third one is about the important distinction (important in the writer's mind) between Work which is what gets paid and work which doesn't get paid in money. The latter type of work is not Work. If you get my meaning.

What is so delightful about this post is how little material it required to get this all going on at the same time. An article about sex workers seemed to do the trick, never mind that sex workers by definition confuse the issues of Work and sex rather badly. Still, at the time when I was reading this, nearly seventy comments had been added.

These comments were also fun reading. They tell me a lot about what feminism means in Wingnuttia, and how hard it is to stay within the allowed frames of thought without getting into something resembling a pretzel. At least one commenter is a stay-at-home-dad, and he was congratulated for it, but none of the stay-at-home-mothers got any praise. This is sort of understandable as a major theme of the comments is that mothering comes naturally to women and isn't Work. Only Work is worthy of praise. Though some gentle souls disagreed with this, too.

Two conclusions were fairly universally accepted: that the desire to care for children, to clean, dust and cook are inbuilt biological drives and that feminists are really evil people. Women have a natural yearning to stay at home, men don't. Hence, some writers in the comments felt anxious about the stay-at-home-dads, and wanted to know if they'd really rather Work. But at least they were sacrificing.

The agreement on the evils of feminism was complete. It seems that feminists in the 1960's went around and got perfectly happy housewives disgruntled by their whisperings. Then all these housewives went out to work and look at the world now! Everybody weeping in their own corner. No-one willing to do the unselfish thing anymore! Families falling apart. I presume that unselfishness is also an innate female trait in Wingnuttia, that selfishness is all one would find in the men over there?

Many of the arguments were novel. One commenter argued that men's greater physical power frees them from most other tasks except heavy lifting. One theory explained that it was the nasty feminist propaganda that made women enter the labor market in record numbers in the 1970's, that this entry depressed real wages for everybody (More supply would do that, but only if nothing else changed.), and that now women are locked into Work which they hate (Why are they locked? Using the same elementary economic theory, lowered wages could make everybody cut back on their working hours).

Except that feminists never had the sort of powers this assumes, except that many educated women were truly frustrated in the 1960's by the then-prevailing social norms and this was partly what created the feminist wave, except that the demand for labor went up a lot in the 1970's, too (if demand rises as well, real wages might even rise) and except that labor markets are highly segregated by sex so the influx of women didn't really affect men's wages downwards (though outsourcing to other countries did). And also, of course, this theory ignores the whole history of women's labor market participation: women have always worked in large numbers in the labor market. The 1950's was an exceptional era in many ways, though it's always viewed as the Golden Era in Wingnuttia.

What I found interesting, too, was the total silence among the commenters about the possibility that our behavior is not only affected by our biology but also our upbringing, the culture that surrounds us and so on. None of them seem to think these are at all relevant matters, though somehow feminism is. As feminism is one social movement, it is very odd that the rest of societal effects are ignored while this one is pulled out for a thorough trashing. A similar illogicality is evident in the way in which sex differences are seen as inborn, yet these inborn differences have been so powerless in affecting behavior that a small group of women with hairy armpits could overpower them.

It's like speaking a foreign language, but I think I did pretty good. What do you think?