Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Patriarchy Is Dead. Long Live Patriarchy!

That's just me having fun with the title of this post.  I have so few pleasures in life.

The post is about Hanna Rosin's new post, to push her book about the End of Men towards higher sale numbers, I think.  It's a nice kick-in-the-overall-pants for all us feminazis in our academy ivory towers, the Fempire!

I love stuff like that, I do.  To be so powerful!  To be a goddess of all I survey!  And to find that the Evil Patriarchy Is Dead and that I should finally admit it and move to happier pastures of writing.

But I seldom use the term "patriarchy."  That's a bit of a dilemma.  So how about telling you all what Rosin argues in her post at the Slate's DoubleX, a sub-site intended for women and somewhat feminist women at that.  Quoth:

You would think that a book called The End of Men would be, prima facie, an insult to men. But one of the great surprises I’ve had while speaking about the book over the last year is how little resistance I have gotten from the aggrieved sex. Yes, I’ve been to a forum or two where dude-bros from the men’s rights movement accuse me of destroying American manhood. But most of the resistance to the idea that men have ceased to be the dominant sex has come from women—not from working-class women, who seem to find what I’m describing painfully familiar, if not totally obvious, but from women in the college, professional class.
There comes a point in nearly every book event I’ve done when a little feminist revolt stirs inside the crowd. I can feel it coming when an audience saves its whole-hearted applause for the first moment I mention a sin committed against the women of America—say, our appalling lack of paid maternity leave (which is appalling!). Or when a questioner quotes to me in a triumphant tone statistics about the tiny percentage of female CEOs, as if I had never heard them before.
Hmm.  Based on my wading in the really polluted MRA sites they hates Rosin as a feminazi, my precious, they hates her.  But never mind, because hatred is more likely to sell books than indifference, right?

And then there is this:

But that confessional approach only brought more ire. “Lucky for you that you have the luxury to agonize about your choices,” the young woman said. “What about the woman who picks up your trash after you leave at 5?”
This is when I knew I was dealing with some irrational attachment to the concept of unfair. For my book I’d interviewed plenty of women who might find themselves picking up the trash, likely as a second job after a full day of school or another job, or both, because their husbands—or, more likely, the fathers of their children—were out of work. My young interrogator might be annoyed to learn that many of those women who pick up the trash yearn to bring back at least some aspects of the patriarchy. They generally appreciate their new economic independence and feel pride at holding their families together, at working and studying and doing things on their own, but sometimes they long to have a man around who would pay the bills and take care of them and make a life for them in which they could work less. And they want the men in their lives to be happy. It’s elite feminists like my questioner and me who cling to the dreaded patriarchy just as he is walking out of our lives.

And this:

I understand that the big picture is not always reflected in women’s daily experience of life. Maybe a woman has an overbearing husband or a retrograde boss or just a lingering problem that has no name. But as a collective, it sometimes feels that women  look too closely at the spot right in front of us. This is a moment, unprecedented in history—and also pretty confusing—when young women who work how they want and have sex how they want may also quilt and can fruits. When working-class women who quietly leave the only steady paycheck on the kitchen table every week may still believe that a man is the God-ordained head of the household. So I want to tell these women who are seeing only oppression: Look around.

Which brings me back to the title I picked.  We are told that patriarchy is dead, when it comes to uppity educated and probably white women, and then we are told that working-class women really want patriarchy back.  Because their husbands are out of work.  But that's an odd way of offering a choice, isn't it?  Either you have a husband who is not working (and perhaps isn't doing anything in the house) or you can have patriarchy back and be taken care of.

Oppression, patriarchy.  The way Rosin frames her story is intended to be inflammatory, of course, because inflammatory sells books and brings bread on the table.  But it's completely possible to discuss the impact of gender, as it affects our relative position on those complicated societal power ladders based on class, race, gender, nepotism, religion, ethnicity etc etc without imputing hatred or oppression on any particular person.

The way Rosin avoids gender analysis is by comparing women with women, not with men.  Thus, rich and powerful women are better off than poor women.  The former can do almost anything, these days (with the exception of the military and many religions), whereas the latter are much more constrained by income and the local gender norms.

But remember those ladders.  It is quite possible for a rich white woman to be worse off than an otherwise similar rich white man.  And of course any unfairness she suffers isn't as painful as the worry over daily bread.  But then all the same arguments could me made in comparison between rich white men and poor white men or rich white men and rich black men or poor white men and poor black men and so on.

The point I am trying to make here is a simple one:  Gender plays a role.  It is not the only thing that matters, it may not even be the most crucial factor, but it plays a role in where one finds herself or himself on those power ladders.

Depending on which country we look at the impact of gender differs.  In Afghanistan, for example, gender is one of the most crucial features which determines how one's life will be.  Yet of course even there a gilded cage is better than a rusty cage.

Come to think of it, Rosin's post is utterly provincial.  To discuss how feminism is no longer needed is a slap in the face of most of the world.  But nevermind.

Rosin focuses much of his treatise on choice.  I've discussed choice before, the idea that somehow we are autonomous human beings when choosing careers or jobs or how much skin we bare in our clothes.

Yet all that depends on the society we grow up in and on its general gendered values.  The suitable jobs for women are almost in the mother's milk we absorb, they are certainly in the cartoons we watch, in the sermons we hear at church, in the movies we watch, in popular music and in our peer groups.  By the time a choice about an occupation must be made, the choices are already flavored by that smell of gender suitability.  They are also determined by what we believe about the future, whether we are going to be the main breadwinners (with an assistant in that job, these days) or whether we are going to be the main caretakers of children (possibly also with an assistant.)

So it's not that Rosin is wrong in arguing for "choice" as the reason why women don't work as long days as men, on average, or as the reason why women appear to pick jobs which pay less.  But the framework of that choice should be made clearer.

What I find interesting about this post is how it reminds me of most right-wing arguments about gender:  Women don't want to be liberated and, in any case, women choose to earn less. And so there's no problem at all!
Added later:  Bryce's take on all this.

And even later:  Rosin gives wrong figures for the percentage of women in the US Congress.  The correct figure, 18.3%,  is quite a bit lower than one third she uses here:

The 2012 elections inspired a similar reactionary response in some quarters. A record number of women were elected to Congress, bringing their number to a third of the membership, the level many sociologists cite as a tipping point when a minority becomes normalized and starts to enter the mainstream