Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Aspirations of Women (by Phila)

One of the worst things about living in a misogynist society is that capitulating to it can seem like a relief. Who wants to be outraged and offended and tense all the time? Why shouldn't you just accept things as they are, and make up for whatever disappointment you feel, or abuse you get, by praising yourself as a "realist"? Especially given the financial rewards that tend to accrue to women who portray a bemused acceptance of traditional roles as Teh New Radicalism?

That seems to be the logic behind Fay Weldon's new interview in the Daily Mail, in which she hails female subservience as an act of hard-headed realpolitik:
At work, gender should not come into it. Women are right to refuse to make the coffee, but when you get home I'm afraid you have to make the coffee.

'It's such a waste of time trying to tell your husband to pick up the socks or clean the loo. It's much easier just to do it yourself.'
Feminists might disagree, but that's merely because they took the ideal of equality too seriously.
As for feminism, Weldon said: 'Life is much better, because you are not dependent on the goodwill [!] of men. But the trouble is, the battle became too fierce, and the whole culture encouraged women to believe that men are stupid, useless creatures who are the enemy.

'But men nowadays aren't s***. They're actually much nicer.'
Except for treating women like domestic servants, that is. But that's the nature of the beast, as it were. Why fight it? After all, if you make a man unhappy by nagging him, he'll simply run off with someone else...someone who understands and follows Weldon's Eternal Truths. (And don't say "good riddance." Men who won't clean toilets are the best kind, because they're authentic. Who wants a man who acts like a girl?)

If you want to get ahead, you need to approach romance as a business, understand the laws of supply and demand, and remember that the customer is always right. Feminism is admirable to the extent that it has allowed Fay Weldon to speak frankly about sex without being ducked in the nearest pond. But when it runs up against biological determinism, male privilege, and the basic assumptions of capitalism...well, it's time to step away from the abyss, and return to First Principles.
'Women want boyfriends to be like their girlfriends, fun to go to the pictures with, but men are not like that. They want sex and they grunt. If you really want a man to be nice to you, never give him a hard time, never talk about emotions and never ask him how he is feeling.'
Weldon, I presume, is intelligent enough to know that other types of relationships are not only possible, but are happening all around her. But so what? Why split hairs, when you can take a God's-eye view of the matter, and make a categorical imperative of one's own compromises and resentments? Why commit to a difficult political struggle, when you can simply announce that God or evolution made it unnatural for men to clean toilets, and that trying to change this, for the benefit of women and men, is as pointless as trying to divert Niaraga Falls with a teacup?

One thing that's especially irksome about all this is that Weldon is not just spouting regressive nonsense out of spite, but also deploying it as a promotional tactic, for reasons that have as much to do with the structure of British journalism as with her own psychological difficulties with the basic demands of feminism. Like many people who share her ideas, she's using a powerful and essentially sympathetic cultural apparatus to advance her "daring" views, and thus to increase her own visibility relative to other novelists, while ignoring the role that this very apparatus, and the machinations of people like her, play in the formation and reinforcement of regressive attitudes. It takes a huge amount of contrivance and artificiality to portray this as authentic communication, just as it does to portray men who "want sex and grunt," and women who clean up after them with a light heart, as authentic men and women.

That said, journalism has not yet forgotten its obligation to tell both sides of the story. Here's a brief summary of "conventional" feminism's response to Weldon's claim that it's boring, unnecessary, and insufficiently enthusiastic about faking orgasms:
Critics accuse her of losing touch with the aspirations of women.
Harsh words, indeed. If only there were some way of figuring out who's right.