Thursday, May 04, 2006

Coming Out Of The Nanny Closet

This is a nasty title. I feel honor bound to continue being a vicious feminist who is misunderstanding poor Caitlin Flanagan's point of view. In reality Caitlin is a wonderful person who gives money to Doctors Without Borders. But according to Caitlin, the Democratic Party will not have her:

I am a 44-year-old woman who grew up in Berkeley who has never once voted for a Republican, or crossed a picket line, or failed to send in a small check when the Doctors Without Borders envelope showed up. I believe that we should not have invaded Iraq, that we should have signed the Kyoto treaty, that the Starr Report was, in part, the result of a vast right-wing conspiracy. I believe that poverty is our most pressing issue and that we should be pouring money and energy into its eradication. I believe that allowing migrant women and children to die of thirst in American deserts is a moral transgression that will stain us forever.

But despite all that, there is apparently no room for me in the Democratic Party. In fact, I have spent much of the past week on a forced march to the G.O.P. And the bayonet at my back isn't in the hands of the Republicans; the Democrats are the bullyboys. Such lions of the left as Barbara Ehrenreich, the writers at Salon and much of the Upper West Side of Manhattan have made it abundantly clear to me that I ought to start packing my bags. I'm not leaving, but sometimes I wonder: When did I sign up to be the beaten wife of the Democratic Party?

Here's why they're after me: I have made a lifestyle choice that they can't stand, and I'm not cowering in the closet because of it. I'm out, and I'm proud. I am a happy member of an exceedingly "traditional" family. I'm in charge of the house and the kids, my husband is in charge of the finances and the car maintenance, and we all go to church every Sunday. This month Little, Brown published a collection of my essays about family life called To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife. It's written in the spirit of one of my great heroes, the late housewife writer and feminist Erma Bombeck. It's not a book about social policy or alternative lifestyles or anything even vaguely political. It's a book about how much I miss my mother, who died recently, and about the struggles I have had fighting breast cancer without my mom around to help me. It's a book that pays tribute to the '50s housewife instead of ridiculing her.

Well, no, you are not a member of a traditional family, Caitlin. The traditional family does NOT consist of a working father, a working mother, a nanny and/or a housekeeper. You have yourself stated that neither you nor your husband has ever changed sheets in your house. The traditional family has at least one blood-related person who changed sheets. Even minor Greek goddesses change sheets, scrub toilets and wash floors.

But not Caitlin Flanagan. She has created an odd myth of possibly nonexisting happy 1950 housewives, but by no stretch of imagination can she be counted as one. She works as a writer. She is a working mother, and a wealthy one. Indeed, she is the very thing her articles so mercilessly flagellate. And her assertion that the book based on these articles is not even vaguely political is utter and despicable rubbish. The book is all politics, the sexual kind.

That's two errors corrected. Here's a third one: Flanagan is not criticized for her lifestyle choice (the mythical one about being a traditional housewife). She is criticized for all her writing being a nonstop war against women who work, against women who believe in the equality of sexes, against women who do not view marital sex as nothing more than a wifely duty.

If you are going to go out with a sword, swatting it carelessly left and right, people are going to be mad at you. It's as simple as that, Caitlin. You make up arguments about the glorious 1950s without ever bothering to try to find evidence to back them up. Sex really was better then? How do you know this? Well, you don't know it. It's just a fun thing to say that poor sex now is the fault of the women who have jobs, to whack them on the head with the Flanagan sword.

No. Caitlin is not attacked for her pretended lifestyle choice but for her vicious writing and its message: Women do not deserve equality.

Could this be the reason why she might not be welcomed by all in the Democratic Party if that really is the case? Equality for all except for women. How does that sound as a slogan?

And the reference in the above quote to being the "beaten wife" really stinks, considering that Flanagan's articles never discuss the way housewives might have been trapped in situations of domestic violence in the 1950s, given that they had no earnings and no shelters to go to in those days.

Enough already. The reasons why people like me hate Flanagan's writings are really very simple:

First, she argues for patriarchy and the inequality of the sexes within the family and hence within the wider society. One follows from the other. Are feminists supposed to embrace her for telling us that we should be second class citizens?

Second, she doesn't even bother to do her woman-bashing well. She is a good writer but not a very good thinker and her empirical research lacks a lot. She doesn't alter her arguments when someone presents relevant criticisms; she simply repeats them in the next piece. This is insulting to the readers.

Third, she is a sham. She does not have the lifestyle she pretends to have. In fact, she is exactly the type of woman her articles deplore.

But what angers me much, much more than anything Caitlin Flanagan writes is that her genre of feminist-bashing is now so mainstream that none of the above points matter. A good laugh is had by all the good-ole-boys who watch while Flanagan says what they really think. If only all those pesky women would stop asking for rights! If they could be made to disappear at places of work! And to reappear with the slippers and the sex back at the house! How lovely! Now imagine how manly the Democratic Party would be if only Caitlin would sort this little woman problem out. Then we could get down to real politics

This is what angers me about Flanagan and her ilk: those carrying water for the return of the patriarchy. In a way they deserve such a return, because it would be fair wages for their services. But the rest of us do not.