Thursday, July 05, 2012

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Echidne Goes on Vacation

And to take care of some family matters.  This blog will resume live on August 9th on a daily basis.

There will be summer reruns and most likely occasional posts from me when I get a chance.

I have selected through my old posts all the ones which I believe are important (and a few silly ones, too), to give you something to read.   The reruns include much material on the science of gender differences, on the reasons for the gender gap in wages, on statistics and other similar still-relevant questions.   Kind of granola posts, sadly.  I didn't get around to picking enough fun posts or music for which my apologies.

I wish you a most wonderful July.  Thanks for being my readers.

Heh. Ross the Riveter?

From here.

I read it as a fairly deep analysis of the way women's abilities to do certain things are judged on an apriori basis, whereas men are mostly assumed to be able to do anything should they wish to try it.

The original Rosie the Riveter poster was intended to reassure Americans during WWII that women could, indeed, do factory work.

Back to Mad Men

This is hilarious:

Republican Marty Golden, the only Brooklyn state senator to vote against marriage equality, has some thoughts on gender norms, too. In a planned event called "Posture, Deportment and the Feminine Presence," Golden, with the help of a "certified protocol consultant," promised to help misguided dames find a job by refining their god-given potential...

The event was cancelled after a "general uproar."  Yeah, this is 2012.

Monday, July 02, 2012

On The One Percent Wives. Finally, My Response To Elizabeth Wurtzel.

Not that she probably even knows I'm alive and not that this is really a response to the arguments she makes though it IS about those arguments.

Wurtzel wrote a very angry Atlantic Monthly article in early June on how choice feminism has failed women and how the educated stay-at-home-wives are enabling the war on women.  She's not treading untouched ground;  Linda Hirshman  has written  about this extensively.

It took me this long to write my response because I had to go from the questions to the deep theory, doodled on pieces of paper all around the house, and then all the way back to a simple way of looking at this theory.  And here it is:

Let's take a comment or two from Wurtzel's article:

I have to admit that when I meet a woman who I know is a graduate of, say, Princeton -- one who has read The Second Sex and therefore ought to know better -- but is still a full-time wife, I feel betrayed. I'm not much of a moralist -- I have absolutely no right to be -- but in the interest of doing what's right both for me personally and for women generally, I have been strict with myself about earning my keep. For the longest time I would not date anyone who would now be called a one-percenter because money and power are such a potent combination, and if I am going to be bossed around, I don't want that to be the reason. When it's come up, I have chosen not to get married. Over and over again, I have opted for my integrity and independence over what was easy or obvious. And I am happy. I don't want everyone to live like me, but I do expect educated and able-bodied women to be holding their own in the world of work.


To be a stay-at-home mom is a privilege, and most of the housewives I have ever met -- none of whom do anything around the house -- live in New York City and Los Angeles, far from Peoria. Only in these major metropolises are there the kinds of jobs in finance and entertainment that allow for a family to live luxe on a single income. In any case, having forgotten everything but the lotus position, these women are the reason their husbands think all women are dumb, and I don't blame them. As it happens, fewer than 5 percent of the CEO's of Fortune 500 companies, 16 percent of corporate executives, and 17 percent of law partners are female. The men, the husbands of the 1 percent, are on trading floors or in office complexes with other men all day, and to the extent that they see anyone who isn't male it's pretty much just secretaries and assistants. And they go home to...whatever. What are they supposed to think? They pay gargantuan American Express bills and don't know why or what for. Then they give money to Mitt Romney.

Why does Wurtzel feel betrayed?  Could it be because she took one for the team by choosing a certain lifestyle and she sees other women reaping the benefits of feminism but then failing the "team" women?

I think so.  We need to look much deeper to understand her feelings of anger, and  ---  lo and behold!  ---  what do we find lurking in that deep dark well?

Sexism, believe it or not, and it's not Wurtzel who is guilty of it (though she is guilty of rudeness).  The sexism is the reason why Wurtzel feels betrayed and why stories about women dropping out of the labor force, whether made-up or real, give many feminists heartburn or even a cold fist of fear in the stomach.*

That sexism works like this:  Men are almost always judged as individuals.  Women, in many, many cases, are judged as spoonfuls of that amorphous mass of womanhood.  As an example, a woman applying for a job or a promotion is not judged solely on the basis of her education and experience and so on but also on the basis of her gender.  The last type of judgement can be unconscious but it certainly happens.

This means that her chances will crucially depend on the job evaluator's own views on how women, on average, react to various life changes, how ambitious women, as a class, are and how reliable workers women, as a class are.

The more educated women drop out of the labor force early, the harder getting ahead will be for other educated women.  Because the signal they carry by default, being a woman, is changing its contents towards something less advantageous in a job setting.

Am I making this at all clear?  Because women are not judged as individuals, what other women do matters to all women.  It affects our "reputation" and we will end up meeting that "reputation" one day.

This, I believe, is behind Wurtzel's feelings of betrayal.  As long as sexism of this type exists towards women (judging all women at least partly on the basis of stereotypes about "the average" woman), those individual choices by individual women will affect, at least marginally, the well-being of "women as a class."

To give you an extreme example, take medical schools.  Currently the intake to medical schools is roughly equally split between men and women but there was a time where those schools put maximum quotas on the numbers of female students they would accept.

This was justified on the basis of women's child-rearing duties and the expectation that married women would stay at home.  Thus, the medical education (an expensive one) they were given were regarded as wasted.  Medical schools guarded their backs by limiting the number of these risky women they would accept as students.

That's long ago, of course.  But ask yourself this question:  Suppose that suddenly something like half of all graduating female physicians decided to drop out.  Given that over 80% of the costs of a medical education are subsidized by the society (mostly by Medicare)  how long do you think it would be before there would be loud calls to limit the numbers of women who enter medical training?

Now consider the impact of that on young women wishing to become physicians.  They would essentially face a higher entry threshold than young men.  They would somehow have to try to prove that they were serious about a career in medicine.  But how do you prove something like that?  The most likely outcome would be gender-based discrimination in intake.

I spent so much time on the above explanation because Wurtzel's arguments are inflammatory (the stay-at-home wives of the One Percent  are "dumb") and it helps to understand what is valid about her anger.

What about the solution, then?  My preferred solution is for more men to take on the role as stay-at-home-parents and for more men to quit working if the partnership allows that.  Should this happen (yeah, I know pigs don't fly), the gender signal would stop harming women.  Gender would no longer predict much about any one worker's likelihood of quitting or of being more family-centered or less ambitious.

See how it is all a dance of different types of sexism, all based on the idea that women are interchangeable toasters or microwave ovens?

Wurtzel's second point  is about the failures of choice feminism.  I have written about those failures in the past, from several different angles, and I agree with Wurtzel about choice feminism being a weird commercialized and watered-down feminism.  Indeed, a fundamentalist woman once told me that she is a feminist because she has chosen to subjugate herself to her husband.

There's nothing left of feminism if we travel all the way down that route.  But of course choice feminism does offer a certain kind of minimal feminism:  At least women are not directly or legally forced into certain channels.  Though the cultural norms and pressures certainly influence those "choices."

The goal of feminism, to me, is not ultimately defined by "choice" but by equal opportunities to all individuals irrespective of their gender, given their talents etcetera and by equal valuation of traditionally male and female areas of activity.   Although we are closer to reaching the public sphere aspects of the first goal (though we are certainly not there yet),  we haven't  even started on  the second goal.  And no, praising motherhood in the abstract and having a special day for mothers is not equal valuation of those traditionally female tasks of child-care and family management.

I haven't read the many comments attached to Wurzel's article because I've lost my hazmat suit and don't want to get all irate and grumpy.  But understanding what lies behind her arguments could take us a step forwards.  It's really all about sexism, gender-based work roles and the application of that "generic woman" label to almost all women.

What angers me about this conversation is that most of the anger should be aimed at that Monster Of Sexism.  That's what makes us all dependent on other women's behavior.  That's what you see when some individual woman fails in an endeavor and this failure is then used to teach us something about all women.  We are like horses harnessed to pull the same carriage and any one horse pulling away will hurt all the other horses.
This could provide a further reason for those feelings.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

A Guest Post by Anna: A Feminist Literary Canon, Part Four: 1950-1966

Echidne's Note:  This series will continue in August.  For earlier posts in this series, go back to Part Three which links to the first two posts.

Valerie Saiving Goldstein (1921-1992) was a feminist theologian. She is best known for "The Human Situation: A Feminine View"  (1960), in which she criticized the Christian focus on pride as a sin, noting that many women struggle much more with feelings of self-doubt. She noted that much of Christian theology was written by men and based on male experience, and might not apply to women, and that women would have to write out their own theology. Her essay had a strong influence on other feminist theologians. Mary Daly for example, cited her in her own book The Church and the Second Sex, while Judith Plaskow, a Jewish theologian, both published a dissertation on Saiving's essay (entitled “Sex, Sin and Grace: Women’s Experience and the Theologies of Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich”) and reproduced the 1960 article in her own anthology Womanspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion.

"The Human Situation: A Feminine View” can be read in its entirety here

Betty Friedan (February 4, 1921 - February 4, 2006) was a leading feminist activist. Her best-known written book is The Feminine Mystique (1963), which is widely credited with sparking the beginning of the second-wave feminist movement in the United States.

In it she criticized the fact that women were encouraged to see housewifery as a career, and declared that women needed a purpose in life separate from their children and husbands. She also praised what we would now consider the first wave of feminism, which won the vote for women, and decried how popular culture had made feminism seem ridiculous and cold-hearted, or alternately insisted that all battles for women had been won.

The Feminine Mystique was extremely influential in the feminist movement, although it was criticized by later waves of feminism for its focus on upper-class housewives to the exclusion of the problems of other women. Still, the fact that most women were not fulfilled by full-time housework and should not be ashamed of their career dreams was a true and important point.  The Feminine Mystique  is also criticized for its homophobia – Friedan believed that homosexuality was at least in part caused by overbearing mothers – but it should be noted that this was an entirely mainstream idea at the time.

Friedan is also noted for co-writing"The National Organization for Women's Statement of Purpose" (1966) with feminist and civil rights activist Pauli Murray (1910-1985). Murray and Friedan both helped found the organization and Friedan was its first president. "The National Organization for Women's Statement of Purpose" is notable for its idealism; it declared that the goal of the National Organization for Women was “to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men,” and elaborated that women should have equal rights and responsibilities with men in all fields.

Chapter 1 of  The Feminine Mystique  can be read in its entirety here.

Chapter 2 of  The Feminine Mystique  can be read in its entirety here.

The“National Organization for Women's Statement of Purpose” can be read in its entirety here.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (1960-1970s) The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee emerged from a series of student meetings held by civil rights activist Ella Baker in 1960. The “Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Position Paper: Women in the Movement” (1964), was written and submitted anonymously at the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee meeting in Waveland, Mississippi. It denounced the sexism of the Committee and called for the civil rights movement to “start the slow process of changing values and ideas so that all of us gradually come to understand that this is no more a man's world than it is a white world.”

The “Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Position Paper: Women in the Movement” can be read in its entirety here.

Casey Hayden (born Sandra Cason) and Mary King (birthdate unknown, both still alive) are left-wing activists. Their most noted feminist writing is “Sex and Caste – A Kind of Memo” (1965) which was based on their experiences as Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee volunteers. It is widely regarded as one of the first documents of the emerging second-wave feminist movement. In it they described and denounced the sexism of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which was common in left-wing movements at the time, and woke many women up to the fact that while they were ostensibly working for freedom and justice, they themselves were being oppressed.
“Sex and Caste – A Kind of Memo” can be read in its entirety here.