Sunday, March 18, 2007

Dave Sim's blogandmail #188 (March 18th, 2007)


Fourteen Impossible Things to Believe Before Breakfast That Make You a Good Feminist

1. A mother who works a full-time job and delegates to strangers the raising of her children eight hours a day, five days a week does just as good a job as a mother who hand-rears her children full time.

2. It makes great sense for the government to pay 10 to 15,000 dollars a year to fund a daycare space for a child so its mother - who pays perhaps 2,000 dollars in taxes - can be a contributing member of society.

3. A woman's doctor has more of a valid claim to participate in the decision to abort a fetus than does the father of that fetus.

4. So long as a woman makes a decision after consulting with her doctor, she is incapable of making an unethical choice.

5. A car with two steering wheels, two gas pedals and two brakes drives more efficiently than a car with one steering wheel, one gas pedal and one brake which is why marriage should always be an equal partnership.

6. It is absolutely necessary for women to be allowed to join or participate fully in any gathering place for men, just as it is absolutely necessary that there be women only environments from which men are excluded.

7. Because it involves taking jobs away from men and giving them to women, affirmative action makes for a fairer and more just society.

8. It is important to have lower physical standards for women firepersons and women policepersons so that, one day, half of all firepersons and policepersons will be women, thus more effectively protecting the safety of the public.

9. Affirmative action at colleges and universities needs to be maintained now that more women than men are being enrolled, in order to keep from giving men an unfair advantage academically.

10. Having ensured that there is no environment for men where women don't belong (see no.6) it is important to have zero tolerance of any expression or action which any woman might regard as sexist to ensure greater freedom for everyone.

11. Only in a society which maintains a level of 95% of alimony and child support being paid by men to women can men and women be considered as equals.

12. An airline stewardess who earned $20,000 a year at the time that she married a baseball player earning $6 million a year is entitled, in the event of a divorce, to $3 million for each year of the marriage and probably more.

13. A man's opinions on how to rear and/or raise a child are invalid because he is not the child's mother. However, his financial obligation is greater because no woman gets pregnant by herself.

14. Disagreeing with any of these statements makes you anti-woman and/or a misogynist.


Interesting article Jeff Seiler sent me that appeared in the Dallas Morning News for 21 January. A tribute to Elizabeth Fox-Genovese – who had passed away earlier in the month -- by her friend Cathy Young, documenting Fox-Genovese's journey from Marxist feminist to conservative Catholic. They're obviously both first- or second-generation feminists and there are a number of good observations contained in the article which illustrates both many of the pitfalls that feminism has faced in getting a free ride from society and the reason "you can get a free ride from society and still not end up very happy."

Going back to the early days of their friendship, when Young was asked to write a review of Fox-Genovese's 1991 book, Feminism Without Illusions: A Critique of Individualism, Young remarks that at the time Fox-Genovese, who was director of the women's studies program at Emory University in Atlanta

…urged her fellow feminists to acknowledge their debt to Western individualism – but also to formulate a new vision of "collective social life" that would protect members of the community, including women whose self-reliance is circumscribed by motherhood.

This is interesting to me because it is euphemistic – which is to say, evasive -- as so many feminist writings are. If you don't address the specific problem -- in this case the fact that being a mother means that you have your hands full 24/7 being a mother, that is if you're doing the job properly – and instead use overblown phraseology to evade the specific problem (in this case making it seem that "self-reliance for women" is the societal norm and easily achievable except where it is "circumscribed" by an external state of being known as motherhood which is, by inference, not the societal norm) then all you're doing is creating the illusion that you're addressing the problem. And, obviously, the problem is: Who is going to take care of the mothers 24/7 while the mothers are taking care of the children 24/7? Feminism Without Illusions sounds like a great idea, but it seems clear that it's just paying lip service to the idea as a catchy title. The illusions are all still being preserved.

This isn't to say that Fox-Genovese doesn't have her moments: as an example when she is quoted as saying "Those who have experienced the dismissal by the junior high school girls' clique could hardly, with a straight face, claim generosity and nurture as a natural attribute of women." This is astute and very well expressed, but pretty much undermines the suggestion that some "new vision of a `collective social life'" is attainable, at least in my view – middle-aged women are no less susceptible to cliquishness than they are in junior high school and a woman whose "self-reliance is circumscribed by motherhood" and who also fails to share the tribal shibboleths of the "collective" delegated to protect her would be apt to find herself outside of the warm confines of the henhouse in pretty short order and the "collective" all cheerfully ignoring that fact in happy cliquish mutual self-deception.

Young documents that "we shared many of the same concerns about the direction of feminism, particularly the intolerance toward dissent, the demonization of men, and the tendency to cast male-female relations as a male "war against women." I don't think this is intentionally disingenuous – the Raging Feminist Collective all seemed to arrive at the same insights in the early 90s – but it reads the same to me. This is just cliquishness, again. You can try to establish another way for women to behave and for women to think, but once you're got the vast majority of women on board, the behaviour and the "thought" is really just going to come down to: who's in and who's out? Intolerance toward dissent is cliquishness (she doesn't "get it", so she's OUT) The demonization of men is cliquishness (men don't "get it", so men are out). The tendency to cast male-female relations as a male "war against women" is fear of cliquishness (men are saying "we don't get it" and men are trying to exclude us! SCREAM!). And, of course, this leads to counter-cliquishness (people who are intolerant of dissent and who demonize men and who cast male-female relations as a male "war against women" -- unlike me and my good pal Elizabeth -- don't "get it" and they're out). At its ludicrous extreme it attempts to find a way that everyone can be "in" by trying to find the one right way to think, ergo the adoption of the Marxist term "politically correct".

The further along this compounded cliquishness goes, the longer the book titles get. In 1996 Fox-Genovese evidently wrote a book called Feminism Is Not the Story of My Life: How Today's Feminist Elite Has Lost Touch with the Real Concerns of Women. The first half of the title can be paraphrased as "Who wants to belong to your stupid clique anyway? I've got tons of better things to do" and the second half as "Not only that: your stupid clique is so stupid it doesn't know anything about anything".

It seems sensible to me (but what do I know?) that at some point women would tire of these compounded "clique casting out clique" purges as a way of life and at least take a look at the fact that things worked a lot better the old-fashioned way. Instead of devoting great swaths of prime child-bearing years to nebulous theorizing about "a new vision of `collective social life' that would protect members of the community, including women whose self-reliance is circumscribed by motherhood" why not just recommend attracting a husband who will see you and your prospective baby as his responsibility to protect and care for, to see you as an individual human being and his life-mate rather than as just one woman among many "whose self-reliance is circumscribed by motherhood"? I'm anticipating the ending on this particular story, for as Young then writes

I was startled to see in her articles a growing sympathy toward arguments for distinct sex roles, rooted in female domesticity and submission. Later, I learned that in 1995, Ms. [sic] Fox-Genovese converted to Catholicism, partly as a result of her opposition to assisted suicide and, increasingly, to abortion. Hers was a strongly traditionalist faith that rejected any liberalization of women's roles in the church.

In her final years, she passionately embraced the ideal of self-sacrifice as a feminine calling, and she denounced feminists for undermining that ideal and replacing it with individual pride.

Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that, after years of listening to and debating with other feminists, a woman who started with the suggestion of "a new vision of `collective social life' that would protect members of the community" finally had to face the fact the top priorities of the people she was listening to and debating with were all exclusionary – cliquish? Is it also too much of a stretch to suggest that, at the end of the day, she at last saw how futile it was to debate the protection of members of the community with people whose secondary priorities were always abortion and assisted suicide? Cliquish exclusion taken to a more permanent extreme, in other words ("you just don't `get it', so drink your Kool-aid.").

Cathy Young concludes:

Ms. [sic] Fox-Genovese's journey from Marxism to Catholic traditionalism – shared by her husband, historian Eugene Genovese – could be seen, from a classical liberal point of view, in starkly negative terms: as a full-circle transition from one anti-individualist, anti-liberal philosophy to another.

Yet when it comes to women's issues, her critique of individualism contains an important kernel of truth. Reconciling women's pursuit of their new roles, freedoms and opportunities with the needs of families and children has often been a rocky road, as several generations of feminism's daughters have found out.

Again, I find this euphemistic and evasive and, consequently, self-revelatory. It is the needs of families and children which need to be reconciled to women's pursuit of their new roles, freedoms and opportunities in Young's view. I think Elizabeth Fox-Genovese finally recognized that the needs of her family – not families in a general sense – and of her children – not children in a general sense are the only sensible priorities for her, as an individual woman to hold. All else is the madness of "cliquish-exclusion-as-lifestyle" in its many and variegated forms that is second nature to women in any group consisting of more than two members.

But the questions she confronted are ones feminists will continue to confront for a long time to come.

As we race develop new forms of typography and graphic design which can accommodate longer and longer and longer feminist self-help book titles.

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