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.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Vatican: No Gay Priests

Or more precisely:

The Vatican says sexually active homosexuals and those who support "gay culture" are unwelcome in the priesthood unless the candidate has overcome homosexual tendencies for at least three years, according to a church document posted on the Internet by an Italian Catholic news agency.

The long-awaited document is scheduled to be released by the Vatican next Tuesday. A church official who has read the document confirmed the authenticity of the Internet posting by the Adista news agency.

The document said that "the Church, while deeply respecting the people in question, cannot admit to the seminary and the sacred orders those who practice homosexuality, present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or support so-called gay culture."

"Those people find themselves, in fact, in a situation that presents a grave obstacle to a correct relationship with men and women. One cannot ignore the negative consequences that can stem from the ordination of people with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies," it said.

This is not new; the Vatican has been opposed to gays in the priesthood for a long time, but it is possible that the more conservative bishops will now be given more power to weed out gays.

I wonder how many candidates for the priesthood this will leave? Women can't be priests, married heterosexual men can't be priests, and gay men can't be priests. That leaves just heterosexual men who are celibate. Is this the "correct relationship with men and women" that the quote refers to?

If the Catholic priest is a bridge between God and humanity then we are told that the only ones who are adequately pure and holy for this task are men who would like to go to bed with women but will not. Indeed, I suspect that all the bans have to do with female sexuality and the idea of its filthiness. That rules women out. It also rules out men who enter the dirty bodies of women. And it rules out men who take the female role in bed. So.

New York Times Lessons For Uppity Women

It is funny. The New York Times seems to have a new series, perhaps secretly entitled "Lessons For Uppity Women", and slated to run an article once a month. The September one was "Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood," by Louise Story, the October one was "What's a Modern Girl to Do?" by Maureen Dowd, and the November one (on Thanksgiving day!) is "Forget the Career. My Parents Need Me at Home." by Jane Gross. Hmmm.

These all share certain odd things: they are all about women with careers, not jobs; they are all about how careers are not really what these women want unless they wish to be unhappy, they all use crummy or nonexistent data and they all look at the women in almost total isolation from men and the society in general. They also all regard everything these women do as "choices", meaning something very similar to picking chocolate ice-cream over vanilla, not choosing to be hanged rather than beheaded when found guilty for some crime that requires the death punishment. In other words, "choice" is viewed in isolation of all the factors that limit it. And this feminine choice is carried out as if women didn't have husbands or brothers. In the last article, the one about quitting careers (not jobs, mind you, but careers) to take care of ailing parents, the author notes the need for not only Mummy Tracks (for women who have children to mind) but Daughter Tracks (for women who have parents to mind). There seem to be no Daddy Tracks or Son Tracks in this world of voluntary choice, and nothing much is said about the way the labor markets are structured or about the societal assumption that it is the daughters who should take care of their parents.

I'm thinking how this all would look to a young teenaged girl who is smart and ambitious and wants to find the cure for cancer or something similar. What would she learn from reading the New York Times? First she would find out that she would probably be regarded as a bad mother if she didn't quit working while her children are young (September). This might make her decide to stay childless. Then she would find out that being successful would make her frightening to men and that she might never marry (October). If she was really ambitious she might then decide to stay single to be able to carry on with her professional plans. But this month, November, she is told that as a potential childless spinster she will probably be expected to take care of her parents one day. There is really no escape from the female gender roles, is there?

I actually believe that everybody should be allowed and expected to spend time with their children and their parents, and that the labor markets shouldn't punish those who do so as harshly as happens today. But the reality is that while the public sector roles of women and men have changed a lot in the last thirty years the private sector roles have not changed very much at all. It is still very much women who are held responsible for all the informal (and unpaid) caring that is needed.

But why does the New York Times only address this in the context of women with careers, of women who are highly educated, of women who are very close to positions of power in the society? What is the hidden message here? I think that it is one against us uppity women, and I am not alone in suspecting this.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Moomin

One of my favorite hiding places as a child were Tove Jansson's moomin books. Jansson was a woman who knew how to live outside the society: she was the daughter of two bohemian artists, she was a Finn who spoke and wrote in Swedish and she was a Lesbian. Her books are very much about difference and how to live with it, about accepting people as they are, not as we would like them to be, and about compromise. But she never preaches.

The moomin books, like most really good children's books, are as much fun to read in adulthood. The moomin family: Moominmamma, Moominpappa and Moomintroll, their son, live in the Moominvalley in a house shaped like a round tower. The valley is a place of wonder and safety, but it is surrounded by the Lonely Mountains on one side and the frightening yet appealing ocean on the other. The moomins are trolls and their friends and neighbors take various animal forms but the characters and feelings of all of them are human. Even the Groke, the frightening monster who kills everything she touches and who leaves the earth frozen wherever she has sat, is sad and lonely at the same time. The Hemulens (like cows walking upright) are really good at organizing and hale and hearty. They like multiplication tables and cold showers. The Mymbles, especially the smallest of them, the little My, are honest to the point of rudeness, adventurous and selfish but with ultimately good hearts. The Snufkin is a wonderer who must fight his desire to be alone with his desire not to hurt his friend, the Moomintroll, by leaving him. And the Moomins themselves love home and raspberry juice and pancakes but they also love adventure and pine for something beyond the horizon. Here is a picture of the Moomintroll:

Horrible things happen in the moomin books: a comet threatens the Moominvalley, Moominpappa gets a midlife crisis and decides to take the whole family to live on a far-away island in a lighthouse where Moominmamma finally gets her midlife crisis and the family comes back. But the horror is in the background, never wins, and is ultimately seen as not just horrible but something more like the moomins, like ourselves: neither all good or all bad but something muddled and capable of improvement, especially when loved.

The later books in the moomin series are more complex than the earlier ones, but even the first one can be read as a parable of the human society, including its gender relations. Here is a snippet from Finn Family Moomintroll: The family is going to have a picnic on the beach (where they will have to cope with the Hobgoblins scary hat) and is preparing to leave:

Moominmamma hurried off to pack. She collected blankets, sauce-pans, birch-bark, a coffee-pot, masses of food, suntan-oil, matches, and everything you can eat out of, on or with. She packed it all with an umbrella, warm clothes, tummy-ache medicine, an egg-whisk, cushions, a mosquito-net, bathing-drawers and a table cloth in her bag. She bustled to and fro racking her brains for anything she had forgotten, and at last she said: "Now, it's ready! Oh, how lovely it will be to have a rest by the sea!"

Moominpappa packed his pipe and fishing-rod.

"Well, are you all ready?" he asked, "and are you sure you haven't forgotten anything? All right, let's start!"

My personal favorites among Jansson's books are her short story collections. One story (as I remember it) is about an old Hemulen who has spent his whole life guarding the gate to an amusement park, clipping the tickets of the children coming in, and hating the loud noises and laughter, hating the clipping, hating even the children. So he closes the park down. But the children are unhappy with this and keep quietly pestering him, pleading with him, to open it again. He doesn't want to do it, but now he also feels guilty. Jansson's solution is typical of her thinking: ultimately the Hemulen opens up the amusement park but only at night and nobody is allowed to make a noise (except for some giggling here and there). The children agree to maintain the equipment, and there is no clipping of tickets.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

No Girls Allowed

In the treehouse of the boys, you know. It seems that Samuel Alito felt a little this way when he was in college. According to the Nation magazine:

Campus newspapers aren't generally known for making waves inside the Beltway. Recently, however, the Daily Princetonian published a story that merits attention from senators gearing up for the confirmation hearings of Samuel Alito, George W. Bush's nominee to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. As Chanakya Sethi reported in a November 18 article for the paper, in 1985 Princeton graduate and conservative Republican Alito sought to impress his colleagues in the Reagan Administration, where he was applying to become deputy assistant attorney general, by touting his membership in an organization called Concerned Alumni of Princeton.

Launched in 1972, the year Alito graduated, CAP had an innocuous-sounding name that disguised a less benign agenda, which included preventing women and minorities from entering an institution that had long been a bastion of white male privilege. In a 1973 article in Prospect, a magazine CAP published, Shelby Cullom Davis, one of its founders, harked back to the days when a gathering of Princeton alumni consisted of "a body of men, relatively homogeneous in interests and backgrounds." Lamented Cullom Davis: "I cannot envisage a similar happening in the future with an undergraduate student population of approximately 40% women and minorities, such as the Administration has proposed." Another article published that same year bemoaned the fact that "the makeup of the Princeton student body has changed drastically for the worse" in recent years--Princeton had begun admitting women in 1969--and wondered aloud what might happen if the university adopted a "sex-blind" policy "removing limits on the number of women." In an unsuccessful effort to forestall this frightening development, the executive committee of CAP published a statement in December 1973 that affirmed unequivocally, "Concerned Alumni of Princeton opposes adoption of a sex-blind admission policy."

It is quite possible that Alito belonged to CAP because of its other conservative goals, that he wasn't very deeply involved in its activities and that he didn't support the views expressed in the articles quoted above. But such views clearly didn't make him resign his membership or even feel ashamed of it.

Digging up things from thirty years ago seems a little silly but may be necessary if we ever want to know the exact colors of Alito's wingnut stripes. At a minimum, I'd like to hear Alito's responses to questions about his CAP membership.

Just A Note

To tell you, my sweet and erudite and powerful readers (must hedge bets), that my approach to blogging during the rest of this week will be a little more fluid than usual. If something interesting happens I will blog on that, of course, but I'm also planning to write about books, my third most favorite things, and on various themes related to the awfulness of candied sweet potatoes, turkey legs and, worst of all, the monstrosity of a pumpkin pie. Now shoot me.

A Ripple Effect

Creationism is spreading in this country. From the classrooms of Dover, Pennsylvania to the whole school system of Kansas, and now it has evolved (!) into something that affects the arts industry:

An exhibition celebrating the life of Charles Darwin, which is slated for the National Museum of Australia later this decade, has failed to find a corporate sponsor in the United States because American companies are anxious not to take sides in the heated debate between scientists and fundamentalist Christians over the theory of evolution.

The entire $US3 million ($1.7 million) cost of Darwin, which opened at the American Museum of Natural History in New York at the weekend, is instead being borne by wealthy individuals and private donations.

The failure of American companies to back the exhibition reflects the growing influence of fundamentalist Christians, who are among President George Bush's most vocal supporters, in all walks of life in the US.

While the Darwin exhibition, which features a live Galapagos tortoise, has been unable to find a business backer, the Creationist Museum near Cincinnati, Ohio, which takes literally the Bible's account of creation, has recently raised $7 million in donations.

Isn't that hilarious? I wonder what good old Charles would have thought about it.

I never realized that business people are such cowards. Aren't they supposed to be the brave creative force of our capitalist economy?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Angela Merkel and Kathleen Uhl

These two have nothing to do with each other except that they both got promoted today and I don't want to put up two posts about promotions.

Angela Merkel was elected to become the chancellor of Germany:

In a ceremony mixing solemnity with a bit of humor, Germany's parliament today elected the conservative party leader Angela Merkel to the post of chancellor, making her the first woman to head a German government and the first chancellor to grow up under the Communist regime of the former East Germany.

The German election results were unusual in that neither candidate for the chancellor got a clear majority. The government will now be based on a grand coalition; the American equivalent would be an administration of both Democrats and Republicans. I predict that Merkel will not have a fun time trying to govern Germany under these circumstances.

Kathleen Uhl is the new director of the Office of Women's Health in the Food and Drug Administration:

Kathleen brings a breadth of professional experience, as well as a strong science background and passion for women's health, to her new position," acting FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach said in a statement.

A family physician and clinical pharmacologist by training, Uhl joined the FDA in 1988 and has held a variety of jobs reviewing the safety of drugs, devices and other products. Most recently, she has been leading an office that is trying to improve warning labels for women who are pregnant or lactating.

At least she is not a veterinarian like one of the earlier appointments to this post.

Another Leaked Memo?

Is this authentic? I can't make up my mind about that but the story is reported by quite a few of the U.K. papers:

There were calls for Downing Street to publish the transcript of a conversation between Tony Blair and US President George Bush, amid claims that the Prime Minister persuaded Mr Bush not to launch a military strike on a TV station in a friendly Arab state.

According to unnamed sources quoted in the Daily Mirror, the memo - stamped Top Secret - records Mr Bush suggesting that he might order the bombing of Al-Jazeera's studios in Qatar.

And it allegedly details how Mr Blair argued against an attack on the station's buildings in the business district of Doha, the capital city of Qatar, which is a key ally of the West in the Persian Gulf.

Al-Jazeera had sparked the anger of the US administration by broadcasting video messages from al Qaida head Osama bin Laden and leaders of the insurgency in Iraq, as well as showing footage of the bodies of US servicemen and Iraqi civilians killed in fighting.

If there is any truth to this I will not sleep for the next three years.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Asking For It

Wouldn't it be interesting to conduct a survey about mugging victims' culpability in their muggings? If I was creating one of these surveys I'd ask whether driving an expensive car makes the victim partly responsible for the crime of carjacking or if checking the time with ones Rolex in plain view contributes to the arm being cut off when the watch is stolen. Such things are incitements to mug, aren't they? And then there is the usual question about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Victims really should be more responsible.

Amnesty International just published a similar survey about the British public's views on rape, and found that one third of the public (or that proportion of those surveyed, anyway) believes that acting in a flirtatious manner makes the woman totally or partially responsible for her own rape. This really worries me because I'm not quite sure what counts as flirtatious. Does smiling count? Or looking the rapist in the eyes?

The survey also found that

...more than a quarter (26%) of those asked said that they thought a women was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing, and more than one in five (22%) held the same view if a woman had had many sexual partners.

Around one in 12 people (8%) believed that a woman was totally responsible for being raped if she'd had many sexual partners.

Similarly, more than a quarter of people (30%) said that a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was drunk, and more than a third (37%) held the same view if the woman had failed to clearly say "no" to the man.

I'm speechless. Well, not really, but I'm sitting here wondering how Americans would answer a similar survey if they didn't already know that certain answers would be frowned upon.

My comparison to mugging surveys has a problem, of course, and that is the absence of anything like mugging which would be mutually voluntary and which could be used as a defense by the person accused of mugging, although I guess the mugger could always argue that the guy wanted to give him or her the Rolex so much that he hacked off his arm to speed up the process. But on the whole the defense in rape cases is that the sexual contact was a voluntary one, and this survey shows that a worrisome number of Brits seem to think that a woman has entered such an agreement by perhaps smiling or by drinking too much or by having entered many similar agreements in the past. Or by dressing seductively. To be absolutely sure of her safety a woman should probably wrap herself in a blanket, drink nothing but water and say NO in a gruff tone whenever a man walks by. Which is my way of pointing out that the scope for some dangerous communication problems here is enormous.

Though I also think that the respondents who chose to find fault with a rape victim for being flirtatious or drunk or promiscuous did so because they want to think that rape can be avoided by avoiding whatever "slutty" behaviors they mention.

Then there is the really frightening possibility that the respondents attributing responsibility to the rape victim based on her clothes or drinking or past sexual history actually think that certain types of women deserve to be raped. But this one is too horrible to contemplate.

Framing Questions

Think Progress caught Dick Cheney framing a question in an interesting way:

Vice President Cheney made a striking claim a few minutes ago at the American Enterprise Institute:

Those who advocate a sudden withdraw from Iraq should answer a couple simple questions. Would the United States and other free nations be better off or worse off with Zarqawi, Bin Laden and Zawahiri in control Iraq? Would we be safer or less safe with Iraq ruled by men intent upon the destruction of our country.

This reminds me of the standard wingnut response to any criticism of the Iraq occupation, the one where you are asked if you would prefer having Saddam in power instead.

The crucial missing part in this approach to framing questions is: Compared to what, exactly? "Is the world better off without Saddam Hussein?" is not the complete question. Of course the world would be better off without Saddam if he could have been removed by just pressing the delete button on some divine computer. But the real questions should include the costs of taking Saddam out, both in lives and reputations lost and in the creation of what amounts to a civil war in Iraq.

Likewise, Cheney's new question is not a complete one, because it fails to point out that the terrorists are in Iraq to a large part because of the American occupation. They are not going to go away if the American troops stay. Not that I am necessarily advocating immediate withdrawal (a few days at least would be required for packing up...).

Politics and Commercial Thinking

The "Feminists To The Rescue" post that follows this one has an interesting comments thread. One comment notes that its writer is neither a feminist nor an anti-feminist. I found this very confusing because I cant see how this is possible if we apply the political definition of feminism here: equality of opportunity and equal esteem of the traditionally male and female spheres of activity. One either believes in the desirability of this kind of equality or one does not. So how does one hover at the edge of doing neither? Or is this one of those angels-and-the-head-of-a-pin questions?

I believe that this statement reflects the successful inculcation of a commercial way of thinking in most citizens of this country. We look at practically every idea or principle as if it was a new car or a new DVD or a new brand of wine, and we try to decide if the price is reasonable and the product attractive enough. If the price is too high or the product of shoddy quality we refuse the purchase. But this way of thinking doesn't work in politics.

Some years ago a friend and I were complaining about some political outcomes in the state. She said that she had not voted, so none of the deplorable events were her fault. I found this way of thinking shocking; she seemed to view political participation like it was, say, a shopping trip to buy a dress: if you don't find one you like you go home empty-handed.

The difference between politicians and dresses is pretty obvious: you get the politician whether you vote or not, and the very act of my friend not voting may have gotten the worst candidate in. Well, probably not, but the point is an important one: Political regimes are public goods or bads: you will be affected by them whether you vote or not. They are not like private goods and services which you can return to the store if they prove less than optimal.

Since I first encountered the commercial approach to political thinking I have spotted it many times. Sometimes I think that there are people in this country who would rather stay on a deserted island after a shipwreck and starve than to get on any ship that is less than a luxury liner, for this is how they seem to judge the political organizations which are trying to help their causes. It seems that these organizations shouldn't do just politics but they should also be entertaining and amusing and charge very little. Commercial thinking.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Feminists To The Rescue

A few days ago Ann Althouse, a fairly conservative blogger, had some trouble with the boys of Little Green Footballs, a wingnut site. They called her names and such, and Ann wasn't very happy about it:

Remember back last February when Kevin Drum wrote about why there are so few women in political blogging? He guessed that "men are more comfortable with the food fight nature of opinion writing — both writing it and reading it." I had occasion to think about that yesterday. One thing Kevin failed to note is that male attacks on women are not so much of a food fight as a sex fight. Blogosphere-strength fighting with a woman takes on an outrageous sexual tone, aggressively declaring that that this is a boy's game. Are there any feminists around to see when it's happening and say a little something?

It's like calling in the plumber, isn't it? Or like something you might hear in a supermarket: "A feminist is needed in Aisle Eight to fix some spilled self-esteem."

Maureen Dowd's recent writings about feminism are really very similar: feminists are this weird group of deranged women and no self-respecting fashionista would want to be one of them. But they should have fixed everything for women anyway, and if they tried to fix something and the society refused to pay attention, well, then it was clearly the fault of feminism!

Why does all of this make me think of Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition?

It's pretty fucking awful to be a feminist, actually. You get called names by Rush Limbaugh and friends, you get to be ridiculed in the mainstream media and if the wingnut sources are anything to come by you are responsible for white women disappearing in Aruba, for the falling birthrate, for every divorce that has taken place and the demise of the Western civilization. You are even responsible for increased alcohol use among young women and male depression. In fact, you are pretty goddamnawful.

At the same time, you are responsible for anything that still affects women negatively. Because you haven't fixed it yet. Women like Althouse and Dowd will not risk anything for feminism, it seems, even if they have been clear beneficiaries of it. But they still think that a feminist might be called to Aisle Eight whenever needed.