Friday, November 14, 2003

On Glass Slippers and Ceilings

Cinderella's foot fitted the glass slipper and so she married the prince and lived happily ever on. At least in fairy tale terms. But imagine how uncomfortable glass shoes would be, how easily they would crack and splinter around your unprotected feet.

In some ways that's what women in business management wear every day. Their slippers are made of all sorts of contradictory materials: assertive, but not too much so or you'll be called bitchy, nurturing, but not too much so or your capabilities are suspect, just-like-the-guys but not too much so or you'll be called a ballbreaker. That these slippers crack and splinter is to be expected. That they cut the wearer's feet is not surprising.

So what does this have to do with glass ceilings? Glass ceilings are nice, they let us gaze at the sunrays or the moon and the stars, and pretend that there's nothing between us and these vast upper reaches. But of course there is. The glass is there.

Or is it? The corporate glass ceiling is supposed to keep women out of higher management; all they can do is to gaze at the stars. But now some say that there is no glass ceiling that would prevent women from flying straight up and getting a comet named after themselves. Instead, the reason for few women in leading positions is said to be.... Guess. If you are even one tenth as old as I am, you have heard this before.

Well, the blame belongs to the women, of course. They don't want the brass ring hard enough to grab it. They don't want the long hours. They want to be with their children, and to write poetry or ride a horse. They want to go to Africa to cure hunger. Women are just different.

Hmmm. Different from what? Men, of course, you thick-headed goddess.

Aah! That's why they don't fit into the public sector; the public sector was built to fit men's desires. Well, this is really interesting: why doesn't the public sector reflect the desires of both men and women? Why doesn't the fact that children must be taken care of by somebody, that families must at least meet once and a while, that human beings might need to write poetry or ride horses or cure hunger; why don't any of these things affect the way the jobs and the labor market are structured?

Why is a good manager one who has no life outside the job? Who thinks that managers are equally bright and energetic in their sixteenth consecutive work hour as in their first eight? Do you want important economic decisions made by people who don't remember what their children look like, or who haven't smelled at a flower or played a game for fun for decades?
Never mind if they are men or women, I'd shudder if humans took the division of labor to such extreme degrees.

What I see through my divine sight, are glass mountains on which people slip and slide in their glass slippers. Only those who also have glass hearts thrive. Too sad.

The glass ceilings are still there, of course. That so many deny their existence is because they are not there all the time. When some people look at the stars, they can feel the breeze and sense the raindrops, too. They know that the road is open. When others look up, they see the stars but they also see gates and locks, treehouses with "No girls allowed" signs, preachers telling what good motherhood is, coworkers looking at you askance when you are pregnant and tell that you are coming back, husbands 'helping out' but not knowing if the fridge has milk or what the pediatrician's name is. These people don't imagine things.

It's not as bad as it used to be. Families are more democratic, employers are more open-eyed and many men do their fair share at home. But turning the looking-glass back to face nothing but the women, each alone and separately, is a very cruel thing to do. Women are neither evil step-mothers nor Cinderellas, and the story doesn't reward the one who fits the glass slippers.

Monday, November 10, 2003

The Independent Women's Forum

The Independent Women's Forum (IWF) is one of the girls' auxiliaries to the extreme right wing. They are a feisty lot of gals who spend their days feminist-bashing. In fact, if I didn't know better, I'd suspect they suffer from some sort of a collective obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): "Who oppresses males?" Answer: "The Feminists." "Who controls the universities and colleges?" Answer: "The Feminists." "Who causes the big bad government to meddle with the oh-so-innocent markets?" Answer: "The Feminists." "Who falsifies research?" Answer: "The Feminists." "Who attacks Jane Austen?" Answer:"The Feminists." And so on, ad infinitum.

You'd think that at least a couple of this world's problems would be attributable to some other people. But no. Whatever the problem, the IWF gals always blame the feminists for it.

This smacks of OCD, because one of the hallmarks of OCD is that its sufferer worries endlessly about something quite unrealistic. And I believe that the feminists, whom America loves about as much as it does Karl Marx, do qualify as an unrealistic threat to the things the IWF holds dear. Especially the kind of bogeywomen that the IWF has created by putting together all the most extreme statements any feminist of any sort has ever made (and, believe me, some of them are pretty extreme), and by attributing them all to one monolithic group: The Feminists. Which actually doesn't exist.

But of course there is no such thing as a collective OCD, either. And the women of the IWF are smart chicks, with quite a few law degrees tucked into their Chanel handbags and the astonishing ability to promptly interpret any research results, however far these might be from the woman's own field of specialization. I must admit I am green with envy.

So what are these smart ladies after? Is it too rash to suggest that they are beavering away at the task their brothers in politics have set them, viz. the demolition of any and all female opposition to some of the current GOP ideology? Probably, for that would make them dependent women. Still, this wild conjecture is given some credibility by the neat way in which the IWF and the rest of the right wing have divvied up the political battlefield; you know, men against men, women against women. After all, a gentleman never hits a lady.

Is this theory just another feminist myth? We'll see. If the IWF website and writings suddenly start including a sprinkling of attacks against nonfeminist women and, dare one hope, even against a Republican man or two, I'll buy the idea that these gals truly are independent. I'll even join the IWF, especially if they let me be the expert in some exciting field I never got around to studying.

Female Nudes Should Be Prettier

Today the BBC interviewed a man who comes from a group demanding that female nudes in art should be more idealized. The female nude in the 20th century art turned too ugly, too angular, too cubistic. The interviewer, also a man, asked an art expert, also a man, for comments on this question. There was much talk about whether beauty was a relevant criterion in art.

Nobody talked about how funny it is to have three men pontificate on this, or the fact that it is funny to demand more idealized female nudes to counterbalance the ugly ones. What about realistic female nudes? Or are these the ugly ones that should be made prettier?

What is the function of the female nude in art? What is the function of the male nude in art? Should male nudes be made more handsome? Would this boost attendance at art museums? And what is involved in making nudes better looking? Fewer body hairs? Firmer breasts? Bigger penises? More muscle definition?

There is probably no association for the prettification of the male nude in art. Male nudes are not symbols in the same way as female nudes are. Women don't appear to have the same feelings of ownership that would let them demand better-looking naked men to ogle at. Talk about the male gaze.

But men are more visual, I've heard said. Sexually that is. That's why pornography is aimed almost totally at the male market. Women just don't care about looks, some say.
Hmmm. I say:"You wish." It would release some men from the same yoke that they are so desperately trying to fit on female shoulders:"Be pretty, be good-looking, turn me on."

The Guerrilla girls once made a poster depicting an Ingres' reclining female nude in a gorilla mask. The text said:"Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female."

The BBC interview struck me as showing the Guerrilla girls the way forward: Make the female artists prettier. Even better, have them paint in the nude.

Just to make sure, I'm being sarcastic here. Thank goddess that I'm not human. My nudity is always divine.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Mummy Wars

For those of you who have been asleep for the last hundred years in an enchanted castle surrounded by thorny rosebushes, this is the vicious argument ongoing between mothers who work outside the home and mothers who are full-time caretakers of their children, or sometimes between women with children and women without children. It also has a subcategory of fights about women on welfare and women who work.

Mummy wars are not real wars. They look staged to me; as if they are there to entertain someone else. Who is the audience?

This is what I wrote on one of my bad-hair days: ( Even goddesses have them, and then our power turns not-so-nice. Well, ok. Goddesses don't have bad-hair days, but then I need to find a language to communicate with mere mortals, and hair seems to be one of those things everybody is allowed to be angry about, even women.) So rather, here is my view from above on a cloudy day when the rain whipped down with a vengeance:

U.S. women are sharply divided by motherhood and its meaning. The ferocious battles being waged over this have been called the Mummy Wars. But what we are observing is not so much a real war as a series of carefully orchestrated matches in a sports arena. In fact, Mummy Wars are best seen as a set of fights between Roman gladiators in the Colosseum:

The first match of each night is always between the teams Mothers and Others. The Mothers are armed with accusations of selfishness against those Others who could've joined Mothers but didn't, and condescending pity towards those Others who tried to join Mothers but couldn't. For a long time the Others had very puny weapons and predictably lost most matches, but recently they have wrought a sword out of accusations that Mothers get preferential treatment in the workplace. This should make future battles much more interesting to watch.

The second match of the night is a filler where Mothers Who Pull Their Weight butcher Mothers Who Are Welfare Queens. As the latter team has no weapons, the match is enjoyed by only the most sadistic of spectators.

The third match is the main event of the night, and always promises lots of blood and gore. The teams are the Stay-At-Home Mothers and the Employed Mothers. The Stay-At-Home Mothers fight mostly with accusations of selfish greed and child neglect. Although these weapons are few, the ferocity with which they are used makes the team a formidable opponent. The Employed Mothers have an interesting strategy: They appear to fight almost solely defensively by using individual freedom of choice as a shield. This is because the rules of this Colosseum forbid open attacks against Stay-At-Home Mothers. But covert maneuvres are always possible, and the Employed team uses them brilliantly by whispering that their opponents should really be called the Ladies Who Lunch or Mealticketed For Life.

The outcome of this match is never certain, but one thing is: if you get turned on by a protracted struggle resulting in lots of severed limbs and bleeding guts, this is the battle for you to watch.

The real Roman gladiators fought each other to please their spectators. This is something all of us fighting the Mummy Wars would do well to remember.

Nasty, isn't it? A suitable episode in the Mummy Wars. Of course it has a point, all sarcasm does, and the point is that the Mummy Wars do give men free entertainment. Yet there are no Daddy Wars.

Now, I'm not one of those goddesses who did things with immaculate conception. For there to be babies, mothers are needed, but so are fathers. And their place is not in the stands, munching on popcorn and rooting for one of the favorites or not. And it's not their place to be the sole creators of the rules for this arena. Yet that's what is happening today.

Take a different view of the Mummy Wars. One I took on a lovely, bright day while being adulated by my snakes.

The human cultures have a biased view of women. Mostly, men are seen as individuals, but women are seen only partially as individuals and largely as members of an amorphous mass 'womanhood'. Think of actors: male actors are not asked the sorts of questions that women actors are, about how they cope with combining family and career, about how they stay beautiful. Men are asked individual questions about their acting choices and lives. Women are asked largely 'woman' questions (how do you compare to other women?). And so on.

So all humans, to some extent, see women as a mass and men as individuals. If these humans happen to be women themselves, they will partly view themselves as individuals, but also keep asking themselves how they compare to others in the mass 'women'. All other women then affect their self-esteem; others' choices affect how right our choices look. If a woman stays at home with the children and another one works outside the home but also has children, their choices are not seen as independent of each other. One woman affects the other, her self-esteem and the society's judgment of her 'goodness'. And this effect goes both ways. A working mother will be blamed because she is not at home, a stay-at-home mother feels that her choices are made unimportant by the existence of women who appear to be able to both work for money and care for children. Thus, both feel exposed and criticized by the existence of the other's different life. Sisterhood? Not likely. But it doesn't have to be so.

There are two secret devices that cause the Mummy Wars. One I have already referred to: women's tendency to be treated as an undifferentiated mass of femaleness, both by men and by women themselves, when in fact we are all individuals with different temperaments, talents, limitations and life situations. The second one is the presumption that if two women make opposite choices, one of these choices must be wrong. This I call false duality. It is false, because we don't apply it to people's choices in general. Matt may choose to enter into engineering, Jessica into medicine. Yet nobody would argue that EITHER Matt OR Jessica must be right.

But when we talk about the 'female' kinds of choices, suddenly one choice must be right and the other wrong. This is because we see all women as essentially the same woman in this sphere, and therefore it appears obvious that one of the choices is better than the other. This is wrong, an example of false dualism, and it is false because all women are not the same woman.

These two devices also explain why women often have the tendency to be more judgmental towards other women than men. What other women do affects the self-esteem of the judging woman. What men do has no such effect in general cases, because the same false dualism is not applied to men.

So we women (I'll count myself here as one, to look less judgmental here...) are cruel to our sisters, we keep them in line, because if we don't do so, our own self-image might shatter. This is all so sad and all so unnecessary. If we could only climb over the obstacles of regarding womanhood as one amorphous lump and of making snappy falsely dualistic judgments we could actually approach some idea of realistic sisterhood, lower our weapons in the Mummy Wars, pack up our armor and go into life.

Let the audience watch the empty arena, or get a life, too.