Monday, January 13, 2014

Masculine and Muscular. And Other thoughts On Gender Roles From Conservative American Pundits.

1.  Brit Hume at Fox News has decided to turn the Governor Christie conversation into something that is the fault of women:

HOST HOWARD KURTZ : So what about this bully narrative [surrounding Chris Christie]?
FOX SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST BRIT HUME: Well, I would have to say that in this sort of feminized atmosphere in which we exist today, guys who are masculine and muscular like that in their private conduct, kind of old fashion tough guys, run some risk.
KURTZ: Feminized.
HUME: Atmosphere.
KURTZ: By which you mean?
HUME: By which I mean that men today have learned the lesson the hard way that if you act like a kind of an old fashioned guy's guy, you're in constant danger of slipping out and saying something that's going to get you in trouble and make you look like a sexist or make you look like you seem thuggish or whatever. That's the atmosphere in which he operates. This guy is very much an old fashioned masculine, muscular guy, and there are political risks associated with that. Maybe it shouldn't be, but that's how it is.

Hume is trying to tell us why the conservative war against women is actually a defensive move:  Fight those rooms with feminized atmosphere (sprayed full of Chanel 5), fight those rules that men must wear eyeshadow and hobble about in high-heeled shoes, fight the vast numbers of women in the US Congress determining everything while holding hands and comparing handbags!

He is hilarious, is our Brit.  The idea that "masculine and muscular" is the same as being a bully is sweet, and that the "old-fashioned guy's guy" is somehow a neutral concept is wonderful.

Too bad that women and girls can also be bullies, and too bad that the Christie debacle has nothing to do with women as a class.  Hume insists on dragging the gender wars into all this.  That he does so is the informative part here:  It tells us that the Fox people judge the war against women pays for them.

2.  James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal is a conservative pundit well-known for his negative views on women as a class.   Knowing that will help you make sense out of one recent debate* he had with another anti-feminist, Kay Hymowitz.  The debate is about how horrible single mothers are as parents, especially to boys.  In this quote Taranto gives us his theory about what makes men and women tick when it comes to family formation:

It may be true that fatherlessness begets fatherlessness, but widespread illegitimacy is a recent phenomenon whose ultimate causes demand inquiry. In his landmark 1965 report, "The Negro Family: A Case for National Action," Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed that "both white and Negro illegitimacy rates have been increasing, although from dramatically different bases. The white rate was 2 percent in 1940; it was 3.07 percent in 1963. In that period, the Negro rate went from 16.8 percent to 23.6 percent."
The 2011 figures (which exclude Hispanics) were 29.1% for whites and 72.3% for blacks--a more than eightfold increase for whites and more than threefold for blacks. A cycle of fatherlessness operating over two to three generations cannot be sufficient to explain such an enormous rise.
So what does? In our view, a dramatic change in incentives owing to two major social changes that were just getting under way when Moynihan wrote. 
The first is the rise of female careerism--the expectation that most women will spend most of their adult lives (rather than just the period when they are single) in the workforce. Women have less incentive to wed, since marriage no longer means trading in a job for a provider husband. Female careerism got a big boost with the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination in the workplace. 
The second is the introduction of the pill, which the Food and Drug Administration approved for contraceptive use in 1960. It made nonmarital sex far more easily available, reducing the incentive for men to marry. As George Akerlof and Janet Yellen argued in a 1996 paper (yes, that Janet Yellen, and Akerlof is her husband), the pill very quickly broke down the old institution of the shotgun wedding. With reproduction under female control, it became a female responsibility. Men no longer felt obligated to marry women by whom they fathered children. The paradoxical-seeming result is that a technology to reduce "unwanted pregnancy" massively increased out-of-wedlock births.

You have to screw your eyes and wrinkle your forehead really really hard to understand the framework Taranto uses when he analyzes marriage.  It helps if you know that he is an evolutionary psychology fan and that he seems to think that men don't want children or marriage but just a lot of sex, and that therefore marriage, as an institution, fails if women don't insist on marriage as the payment for sex.  That's why he a little later writes that

That brings us back to the moralistic fallacy for which we faulted Hymowitz in our column last month. Completely absent from her analysis of why boys fail to grow up into "reliable husbands and fathers" is the crucial factor of female choice. If young women are less apt to marry because they are focused on education and career, and more willing to engage in sexual relationships unaccompanied by marriage or the expectation thereof, the incentives for young men are dramatically different.
Female choice is paramount in the reproductive area as a result of three landmark Supreme Court decisions: Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972), which held that unmarried women have a constitutional right to obtain contraceptives; Roe v. Wade (1973), which created a right to abortion; and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), which reaffirmed the abortion right and expanded it by decreeing that even a married man has no legal say in his wife's decision whether to abort.

But the evolutionary psychology angle to men as only interested in as much sex as possible is insufficient to understand what goes on inside Taranto's head.  We need to add that women's "careerism" argument, too!  Take note that Taranto uses a term here which should not be used, because it is not the careerist women (uppity women going to university and becoming CEOs) who mostly end up as single parents.  It's the non-careerist women who just try to support themselves and their families.

The vast majority of married women have always done work which today would be regarded as contributing to the family's financial income: working on the family farm, working in the family shop, selling cloth, beer, eggs, milk.

Taranto believes that this was not the case, that the 1950s American white middle-class norms are a general historical norm, and that this is what has changed in the recent decades.  He also believes that if only women couldn't survive without a husband to provide for them, we'd get  a world with high rates of long-term marriage!

He might well be correct in that, but I doubt many people would view such a world with great delight, given that forcing aspect (lots of laws would be needed to, once again, exclude women from higher education and most professions) and the who-cares aspect about human rights and equality and the complete absence of love and caring in that way of looking at marriage.

Taranto's analysis of the increase in single-parent families fails in a more immediate sense as well, because the rates of single parent families are not the highest among the groups with the highest use of the contraceptive pill or the highest recent changes in women's "careerism" (women having paid jobs), but rather the exact reverse of that.

The focus on female choice in Taranto's argument isn't completely invalid because of course even poor women have some agency.   But note that family formation isn't based on the say-so of just one partner.  It matters what the men do, too, and it matters whether child maintenance is paid by the absent parent, and poverty matters greatly in the rational assessment of whether marriage is a good idea or not.

The renewed focus of marriage as the solution to all problems of income inequality and poverty in this country must have come down the wires to all conservative pundits, I suspect, because it's back in the popular media.

3.  Finally, a concept I have recently learned:  Sexualityism!  It's something the more religious right-wingers use to explain what is wrong with the current horrible American culture.  From a 2012 piece by Helen Alvar√©:

Against what social science tells us about human happiness, the government is promoting sexualityism–a commitment to uncommitted, unencumbered, inconsequential sex–as the answer.
Professor Gerry Bradley made a spot-on observation here at Public Discoursethat one of the underlying forces driving the HHS abortion, contraception, and sterilization mandate is the current federal ideology of “equal sexual liberty,” embracing the notion that “women will and should have lots more sexual intercourse than they have interest in conceiving children. … [that] sexual license should never impede a woman’s lifestyle, at least no more than it does a man’s.” Elsewhere, I have identified such a position as “sexual expressionism” or “sexualityism” and have defined it to include also the suggestion that sex should not only be free of the slightest reflection on its link with procreation, but also free of commitment, or even the real possibility of a relationship between the man and the woman involved.

Bolds are mine.  The quote is interesting because it begins with an argument that social science tells us something about human happiness, but then slides neatly into talking about why "sexualityism" wouldn't make women happy.   Implicit in all that is the suspicion they seem to have that it might make men happy, but because society needs well-behaved families it is (heterosexual) women who must be the gatekeepers in the sexual market places.  

I believe that this is what many "social conservatives" believe, whether they are of the evo-psycho type or of the religious type, and that's why they are always preaching about women as potential sluts.  Yet men, too, want meaningful long-term relationships, friendship, love, families and so on, and it's not impossible that women might want not only long-term commitment and children but also short-term relationships and recreational sex.  At least some women and at some times in their lives.

I'm probably taking these arguments too seriously, sigh.  Had Hitler's mother not been a married housewife who devoted her life to her children (according to Hitler in Mein Kampf), the conservative pundits would interpret the second world war and the holocaust as the fault of working mothers or single mothers or slutty women.  That's how they roll.

*You can follow their debate by reading first this Hymowitz piece, then Taranto's response to it, then Hymowitz' response to that response, then the piece I quote in the post.  I don't have the expertise or the time to acquire that expertise which is needed to judge what Hymowitz says about the research into the effects of single-parent families on boys and girls growing up in them, though clearly it is crucial that such studies take poverty into account, both in terms of the family itself and in terms of the area the family lives in.

But I can say something about Hymowitz' main thesis about the school trouble with boys being mainly the fault of single mothers:  International data does not support this argument, because countries like Iran have similar differences between men and women going to college as the US.  Or had them until the Iranian government put maximum quotas on the number of women in college.  So whatever the problem is caused by it cannot be explained by something distinctly American or even distinctly Western, given that it's pretty much the case in all countries which allow girls and women to acquire education.