Friday, December 14, 2018

What All New Right-Wing Authoritarian Movements Share: The Wish To Cancel Feminist Gains.

Peter Beinart has written a piece for the Atlantic Monthly on what ties together the various forms of right-wing authoritarianism we see rearing its ugly heads (it has many) all over the world.  He begins by noting the usual explanations for the rise of Trumpism, and argues that they fail to explain why similar authoritarian movements are cropping up in several countries:

The problem with both American-born story lines is that authoritarian nationalism is rising in a diverse set of countries. Some are mired in recession; others are booming. Some are consumed by fears of immigration; others are not. But besides their hostility to liberal democracy, the right-wing autocrats taking power across the world share one big thing, which often goes unrecognized in the U.S.: They all want to subordinate women.

Bolds are mine.

Beinart fails to include movements such as ISIS (a religious form of right-wing authoritarianism) which share in exactly the same goals, once we understand the resistance to feminist gains to be something that is judged from different starting points.

The ISIS jihadists want women put back to the least possible level of personal power, and that level is lower than what, say, the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orb├ín, can currently achieve (by stopping the funding of gender studies in universities and by encouraging Hungarian women to have lots of children* ) or what is happening in Brazil or in Russia or in Poland or in the Philippines or now, it seems, even in Italy.  But all these movements share the attempt to shrink the sphere within which women are allowed to move, act and live.

And of course I agree with Beinart on what all the right-wing dictatorships share:  The urgency of women's re-subjugation.  After all, I have written the very same arguments on this blog more times than I can remember.  I even agree with one possible remedy to all this:  A fairer division of chores and power at home.  Beinart writes:

Over the long term, defeating the new authoritarians requires more than empowering women politically. It requires normalizing their empowerment so autocrats can’t turn women leaders and protesters into symbols of political perversity. And that requires confronting the underlying reason many men—and some women—view women’s political power as unnatural: because it subverts the hierarchy they see in the home.
Women can't fully participate in the public sphere if they are to bear the whole burden of childcare, cleaning, laundry, household management and the kind of emotional management of relationships and party-organizing work women have traditionally done with respect to the wider kin of both partners.  We need more equal sharing of those chores if we wish to see more equal sharing of work outside the home.

It might also be the case that seeing women in powerful public roles might work to dismantle the traditional hierarchies at home.

And Beinart is correct in the need to normalize the presence of women not only in the labor force in general, but also in positions of economic, social and political power.  That normalization may happen when the percentage of women in a field reaches some critical number, say, thirty**.  Below that, new female entrants (employees, graduate students, freshman politicians) are first viewed as women, and only after that as individuals with their own qualities.  Above that the sex of the person is no longer the first thing others notice.

Where I might disagree with him is in this:

I don't think the central role of women's re-subjugation is just an almost accidental consequence of women being fairly rare in public life and especially in positions of power or of the recent histories in various countries. 

The authoritarians don't want women in the public life, because women are viewed as a fertility resource in the authoritarians' plan for world conquest or similar slightly more modest plans, not as full human beings,  and because the authoritarians wish to keep women doing all the unpaid*** work women have traditionally done so that the society doesn't have to share in it or really pay for it.


* The juxtaposition of these two is not an accident.  Women are to be steered back into the family and away from any uppity ideas feminism might awaken in them.

**  This estimate is based on an early book by Virginia Valian (Why So Slow).  More recent estimates may be different.

*** Depending on the country, women may also be expected to do low-paid work in  the labor market.

Work done at home is not, of course, truly unpaid because those who do it get at least bed and board, but there is no explicit contract about how care work at home should be remunerated.

Thus, the outcome depends not only on the kindness and fairness of the partners, but also on their relative power balance.  That, in turn, can be turned to the disadvantage of women by laws which fail to punish intimate partner violence or which make divorce difficult or which allow the noncustodial parent not to pay child support.  This is especially the case if work in the labor market is made harder for women to do, which leaves them vulnerable in bad marriages or other long-term relationships.

These are the kinds of changes right-wing authoritarians tend to support.  Note what happened to domestic violence laws in Putin's Russia, for one example.  Beinart's article gives more examples from several countries.

As a total aside, it's fascinating how decades of socialism or communism didn't do much for women's liberation.  This is pretty clear when one studies the "post-liberation" changes in Russia, Poland, Hungary and so on. 

My take on that is this:  Communism never really tried to change men's roles.  This gave the women in the system two very long work-days and never really challenged traditional gender norms at home or social sexism or misogyny,  partly, because the assumption was that women were already completely equal outside the home.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

And Disappearing People, Though Only Statistically Speaking

(The title is a pun based on my previous post about how feminists are disappearing men).

When I first came to the US I found the reporting of election results fascinating.  A presidential candidate who got sixty percent of the vote, say, had totally pwned the opposition, had rolled over it!  The country was unanimous!  And from that point onward, the other forty percent was ignored until the next election campaigns began.

I always assumed that this way of looking at large groups of people and their behavior was because of the two-party system and the winner-takes-all principle, and it makes some sense from that angle.  After all, the winner now has the power to speak for all.

Still, the people who voted for the losing candidate persisted in existing, probably persisted in disagreeing with the winner, but they no longer quite counted.  For instance, should the new president make some international move that was almost everywhere viewed as bad, all American voters would be blamed for that move.  Not just those voters who supported him.

There must be a name for this odd disappearance of people, right?  It's common enough and not only in politics. Here's one recent political example I spotted on Twitter*:

I can speculate on the possible reasons for these types of disappearances, or false generalizations, if you wish.  For writers they simplify arguments and make them stronger.  No need to add all those weasel words: some, the majority, a few!  The style of writing benefits from that strength.

Activists can use the generalizations to increase tribal feelings among their own supporters, both by arguing that all the insiders feel the same (right) way and by arguing that all the outsiders consist of a coherent group bent on destroying the insiders**.

But this phenomenon seems to be deeper in our psyches than that.  I see it working in both racism and sexism, in the fear of immigrants and even in the loathing of Republicans by Democrats and vice versa.

I can speculate on the reasons for the ease with which we slip this generalization jacket on, and so can you.  The more interesting question is why it almost always goes unchallenged.


*  I didn't pick that tweet because it would be wrong in some fundamental way (I fully agree with the gist of its meaning), but mostly, because it is otherwise a neutral example.  Had I used gender, race, religion or ethnicity in my example I would have woken up emotions I don't want to come and participate in this discussion. 

In any case, I have committed the very same types of generalizations I discuss in this post.  It seems to be the way our minds tend to go if not forced to go in another direction.  It's quick, it makes a more cumbersome point (that the majority of Nebraskans voted for Trump and may have shot their own foot) in a clear and easy-to-absorb manner.   And what may be more important, it feels right even though it is not.

** (Added later)
This may not be a pure benefit to activists, because that usage can also increase the tribal feelings of those the activists attack, and in particular the tribal feelings of the percentage (whether large or small) which does not agree with whatever the whole group is accused of.  Ironically, using the false generalizations might even make them less false, if people feel their opinions are simply ignored and other opinions stamped on their foreheads.  They might then just go with that.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Disappearing Men

Tucker Carlson, one of the right-wing pundits slowly slipping and sliding from mere misogyny and general bigotry to white nationalism and worse, had a guest on who was very concerned about feminists trying to disappear men:

HEATHER MAC DONALD: Feminism has ambitions to take over civilization and when that happens you can say goodbye to civilization. They’re trying to disappear males.

I really must check what's in the basement freezer.

Just kidding. 

I don't have a freezer in the basement.

Mac Donald seems to be just another right-wing hit-woman shooting, off the hip at the very idea of women's rights.  Here's what she wrote in November about the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh:

It is feminist narcissism to put flimsy accusations of teenage impropriety ahead of a lifetime of achievement in the law. The priorities look like a revenge attack on a civilization deemed too male.

Now link her more recent statement (further above) that we can all say goodbye to civilization if people like Echidne "take over" (boo!) and that November statement that civilization is deemed too male.  If I dared to guess, I would say that our Heather thinks civilization is what men have created, all on their own.

Except that this contradicts with her take on the allegations that Kavanaugh had sexually attacked a teenage girl while he himself was also a teenager.  Mac Donald blames the current permissive sexual mores for what might have happened:
The results were not pretty: the male libido, free to act as boorishly as it wanted; females getting drunk to reduce their innate sexual inhibitions, unprotected by any default assumptions against casual premarital sex. Whether a 17-year-old Brett Kavanaugh took advantage of this putative sexual liberation, many other teenagers have, and in so doing, merely followed the new script for sexual relations.

So let me get my head straight: 

Civilization is important, civilization is probably created by men and feminists try to tear it apart.  But the male libido is a rude bastard,  intent on being boorish and in need of constraints, while the female libido is a fainting Victorian maiden whose corseted body is built out of innate sexual inhibitions.

It's so weird it's almost fun.