Monday, January 10, 2005

Feminism in the News

Whenever this happens, I know that the news are bad for feminism. That's just how it is, and I'm not going to pontificate on the reasons. You can make your own equally informed guesses about the possible reasons.

The most recent bad news about feminism are these:

America's feminist leaders and their critics agree on at least one current political fact: These are daunting times for the women's movement as it braces for another term of an administration it desperately wanted to topple.
"The next four years are going to be tough, so we must be tougher," National Organization for Women (news - web sites) president Kim Gandy recently told supporters. "Our health, our rights, and our democracy are teetering on the brink."
NOW, the Feminist Majority Foundation and numerous like-minded groups campaigned zealously against President Bush (news - web sites), contending that his economic agenda would inflict disproportionate harm on women and that his potential judicial appointments could jeopardize abortion rights.
To the feminists' dismay, Bush not only won — but he sharply reduced the Democrats' "gender gap" edge among women voters. Republicans also increased their majorities in Congress; new GOP senators include several staunch foes of abortion.
Many of the conservative activists and organizations that cheered the GOP triumph — and now claim expanded influence in Washington — are stridently anti-feminist. The Rev. Jerry Falwell, for example, recently referred to NOW as "The National Order of Witches"

What's so cute about the neutral journalistic language is the use of terms such as "feminist" and "anti-feminist" without any definition whatsoever. No wonder if some women are confused about the meaning of feminism when Falwell's comment is allowed to stand as the closest definition of feminism in the whole article. It might make things a little bit clearer if anti-feminism was defined as the belief that men and women are not of equal value and that they should not be offered the same opportunities. But that would perhaps be biased writing.

The article goes on stolidly in the middle right ground: comments are included from various lefty feminists and also from various righty anti-feminists. The former argue that things will be bad for women, the latter argue that things are just dandy for women who are nearly almost equal in nearly almost all fields and who don't want to have government funded anything anyway.

Then the writer of the article states this:

Bush, of course, can make a strong case that he respects women — his new Cabinet will likely have four, including Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, and women for years have been among his closest political and legal advisers.

Some of Bush's best friends are women, you know! Never mind that he has decided to cut family planning funds to third world countries by enormous amounts, he really respects women. Though he deplored Yale going coed, he really respects women. And if we use Cabinet numbers to judge how much respect the president gives various constitutents, it seems pretty clear that he respects white men the most.

The writer is now on full fire:

Beyond Washington, meanwhile, women are making impressive professional gains — as big-city police chiefs and university presidents, for example. They now comprise roughly half the enrollment in U.S. medical schools. And though a wage gap persists, woman now earn 80 percent of what men do, compared to 62 percent in 1980.

And exactly how is this not a credit for the feminists who started the push to get women access to higher education, who worked very hard for nondiscriminatory treatment of women in the work force and who were among the most vociferous of those talking about the wage gap? The writer appears to imply that these developments are due to George Bush, which gives me a lot of hilarity, but is otherwise not very clever. He also fails to note that the Wingnuttia women argue that the wage gap is all due to women's choices. If women choose to have children and stuff, they are obviously going to earn less. (Especially in a system which has institutionalized this idea in its labor laws and markets.)

Of course, the writer excludes the necessary next bit in truly neutral reporting: something along the lines that the majority of poor people in this country are women and that the percentage of women in the House and Senate is so low that internationally the United States ranks somewhere below Rwanda in female political representation.

Maybe he had to cram everything to a certain number of words, and other words were more interesting? But he does say some things which are important to note, and one of them is that women indeed voted for Bush in larger numbers than any sane person would expect. What this shows, though, is not at all as clear as the writer surmises, as the Kerry campaign did a truly miserable job in trying to reach women before the election. They woke up far too late and then came across as insincere in their efforts. Though Bush didn't even try, of course.

Feminists have an unsurmountable barrier in getting their message across these days. Feminism isn't really newsworthy unless it's something that can be framed to be negative news. We have Rush Limbaugh and his brothers and sisters to thank for this, and even more moderate commentators who see their role as placing their butts smack in the middle of the Attila-the-Hunites and the few hesitant voices of the moderate left. This distorts the discussion about feminism, and I, for one, suffer from the battle fatigue of trying to explain, over and over, the simplest thing about what feminism means to me, when the general consensus is that if I'm a feminist I like to eat babies and have hairs sprouting from every orifice and sacrifice handsome young women in weird rites at midnight. Who on earth would like to join a movement like that one? No, don't answer me on that one.

Of course feminists could do better in trying to get the message across. But it's still an extemely hard job and articles like this one are not making it any easier.
Thanks for Philalethes for a post about this article.