Saturday, November 26, 2005

An Honest Question

Why do the anti-feminist writers all write so muddily? The most recent example is Gelernter's column in the LA Times, which nowadays has an opinion page where wingnuts roll in mud to their hearts' content. Here is Gelernter on the reasons why college has gone all bad, with students only interested in greed and career preparation:

Why the big change between now and then? Many reasons. But there's one particular reason that students seem reluctant (some even scared) to talk or think about. In those long-ago days, more college women used to plan on staying home to rear children. Those women had other goals than careers in mind, by definition. They saw learning as worth having for its own sake; otherwise why bother with a college education, if you weren't planning on a big-deal career? (There were social reasons, of course — such as finding a husband. But social reasons don't explain why so many of those students who planned on being mothers rather than CEOs took hard courses, did well and wound up at the top of their classes.)

In the days when many college-trained women stayed home to rear children, the nation as a whole devoted a significant fraction of all its college-trained worker-hours to childrearing. This necessarily affected society's attitude toward money and careers. A society that applauds a highly educated woman's decision to rear children instead of making money obviously believes that, under some circumstances, childrearing is more important than moneymaking. No one thought women were incapable of earning money if they wanted or needed to: Childrearing versus moneymaking was a genuine choice.

In those days, liberals looked down on corporations and careerism. In fact, society at large did. "The Organization Man," "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" were all about the silliness (or, to be less polite, the stupidity) of U.S. corporate culture. Deans pleaded with their students to treasure learning for its own sake.

But all that changed with feminism's decision to champion the powerful and successful working woman. Nowadays, feminists and many liberals are delighted when women make careers in large corporations, which are still the road to riches and power in this country.

Now I can add another notch to my feminist rifle butt: that of having ruined the college experience for all thinking men. I am especially sad for having produced Gelernter: a man who doesn't know his history and who can't write a coherent sentence. Also a man who tells us about the 1960's college experience while not graduating until the mid-1970's...

Gelernter's story about the past is a myth. It is a myth that the women in the 1960's would have had equal access to jobs and careers as men. Read the newspaper job announcements from that era: they were separated by sex and the girl jobs were low-paying pink collar jobs. It is also a myth that the society valued childrearing then any more than it does now. It was just assumed that women would take care of it, and I suspect that most women knew this: that they didn't have real access to the best jobs and that they'd be expected to take care of the children. Finally, it is a very odd myth that feminists just suddenly made a decision to "champion" the powerful and successful working woman.

Do you notice how nothing has a cause in Gelernter's view of history? People just decide things without any real cause and stuff happens. There is nothing here about women's rising employment rates from the 1940's onwards, nothing about legal obstacles that kept women from fully participating in higher education until the 1960's, nothing about the artificial economic circumstances of the 1950's which made single-earner families more feasible than they usually are, nothing about how the majority of women have always worked on either farms or in shops. Nothing about the reasons for the second wave of feminism. Nope, all these things were just choices, and the feminist choice was a really bad one, Gelernter believes, because it would have been so much more fun if the men in college could just enjoy learning for its own sake while the women prepared themselves...for what?

And here comes the really muddy part of the column: the tying together of the antifeminist arguments with why colleges are now all about greed and career preparation:

No doubt contempt for the corporation was overdone back then, just as corporation worship is today. In any event, college deans tell their students nowadays (especially women, but men can't help overhearing): Go out there and make money! Get power! Build those careers!

Maybe earplugs for men would take care of this problem, then.