Showing posts with label Feminism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Feminism. Show all posts

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Opting in, opting out

The New York Times Magazine has a story this week entitled, "The Opt Out Generation Wants Back In."  It's about the high profile, highly educated women of Generation X who, after working in high powered jobs, made the specific choice to stay home with their children - and are now regretting it.  Or not.  Or something.  I'm not sure what the point of it is other than to express, again, that women aren't happy, even when they have choices or have had full agency to make choices because they can't have it all. 

Well, duh.

Life is hard.  Life isn't fair.  Life doesn't come with a guarantee.  We make choices.  No one ever promised you a rose garden.  Pick your cliché, they're all true.

The first woman they profile, Sheilah O'Donnel got divorced after about a decade at home - in the custom home her husband had built for them.  She decided being a stay-at-home mother was disempowering and disenfranchising and skewed the balance in her marriage and caused all kinds of problems in her relationship with her husband:
At her peak, O’Donnel was earning $500,000 a year. But after her first two children were born, O’Donnel’s travel for work became more difficult. She gave up a quarter of her earnings in exchange for working three days a week, but felt marginalized, her best accounts given to others, meetings often scheduled on her days out of the office. “I felt like a second-class citizen,” she said. Even with the reduced schedule, the stresses of life in a two-career household put an overwhelming strain on her marriage. There were ugly fights with her husband about laundry and over who would step in when the nanny was out sick.
So O'Donnel - a la Mary Chapin Carpenter - got the heck out of Dodge and now has a small apartment and a midlevel sales job.  And no husband.  Whee!

The Times profiles two other women, whose stories I was more sympathetic to because they didn't actually break up their families for seemingly frivolous reasons.  The tone of the article seems to be, "You'd better work, honey, because men are unreliable.  It's just safer to support yourself."  Which harkens back to that 2nd Wave feminist idea that women should - must! - all work outside the home because then we are all equal, equal workers, indistinguishable. 

I'm not saying that women shouldn't work or that girls shouldn't be trained for a vocation or learn valuable skills.  I went back to work last year, and it turned out to be a very good thing because my husband is getting laid off in a few weeks, and we will have at least some income to live on until he finds another job.  And, of course, life does sometimes intervene.  Accidents happen, work peters out,  people die or become incapacitated, spouses sometimes leave.  Skills are good to have. 

My point is, Sheilah's husband wasn't the one who stopped being cooperative, who stopped supporting his family.  But somehow, the Times puts Sheilah in the victim role here.  It also really bothers me that feminists frame the working/staying home dilemma entirely in terms of how it affects women.  What about the children?  Sheilah was home for over a decade; did her children not benefit from the time they spent with their mother?  Did Sheilah not benefit from spending time with her kids?  That, to me, is far more important than what the pillows in her new apartment are like. 

I stayed home with my son because I wanted to be with him.  I wanted to know him.  I wanted to be the one from whom he learned his numbers, his letters, his morals, his values.  Not everyone can or even wants to stay home, but I went through a huge effort to have him in my life, and I wanted to be with him.  Now, it's true, he won't remember those years.  Already he doesn't remember how things were when he was a baby.  But I remember, and it's a blessing to me.  Yeah, I had to sacrifice my career as a librarian, such as it was, and, yeah, I had to become financially dependent on my husband and it did change the dynamic between us somewhat and sometimes I felt, I suppose, lesser, being a non-working person in a society that values everything in monetary terms.  But I had time with my son.  I invested my energy in him.  Will it pay off?  I hope so.  There are no guarantees in life.  He's happy, he's secure.  I gave him that, and I feel proud of it.

When I read stories like Sheilah's, I can't help thinking of my grandmother, a teacher and farmer's wife, who kept on keeping on when her husband was struck by lightning and rendered bedbound for the better part of a year.  She kept making dinner, running the farm, raising her boys.  She went back to work to keep money coming in, and you know who never complained that she wasn't fulfilled?  My grandmother.  She went and read to her mother-in-law who had had a stroke and needed the company.  She taught Sunday School.  She was grateful to have enough to eat and a warm place to sleep and a family who loved her.  Great woman, my grandmother.  God rest you, Amy Coleson Pettigrove.  He cracked the mold the day you were born.

Everything runs right on time, years of practice and design
Spit and polish till it shines. He thinks he'll keep her
Everything is so benign, safest place you'll ever find
God forbid you change your mind. He thinks he'll keep her

For fifteen years she had a job and not one raise in pay
Now she's in the typing pool at minimum wage

Today is my 15th anniversary.  I've kept the house clean, made healthy meals, repaired things that broke, shuffled my kid to school and basketball and scouts.  I've taken the dogs to the vet and taught myself to cook and garden and make medicines, prayed for my husband when he was away and traveling unsafe roads, and listened to him when he was tired and discouraged and scared. 

And all I have to show for it is: a clean house, a healthy family, rambunctious dogs, a happy and secure kid, a pretty little garden, shelves full of canned goods and herbs, and a loving and appreciative husband.  Poor me.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Piece of Advice #76: Don't have some other guy's baby and try to pass it off as your significant other's

*Note to my niece: I hope and trust that this piece of advice is not for you.

Most of the pieces of advice I have written have been pretty common sense.  It seems surreal that I even have to write the above one out, but let's peruse the recent high-profile case of director Andrew Douglas suing his ex for deliberately duping him about the paternity of her daughter and extracting hundreds of thousands of pounds in child support from him and not being at all contrite when this was exposed:
‘Of course I didn’t lie. I obviously didn’t think that he wasn’t her father,’ she said. ‘If he wants to be her father, he should provide for her. Isn’t that what’s fair?’
Dear greedy, duplicitous skank Ameena Meer: it would be fair if you told him up front that he was not the father and he chose to parent anyway.  However, given that you at least suspected he wasn't and, despite not being in a relationship with him, pressured him to marry you so as not to shame your Muslim parents, and, after you divorced him, you  blithely took your child out of the country he was living in, I'd say nothing about this was "fair."
fair adj. fair·er, fair·est : marked by impartiality and honesty, free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism
On display next: the major motion picture, Mamma Mia, whose plot revolves around a young woman's search for her father, one of three possible men her mother slept with in short succession some twenty odd years ago.  She wants him to walk her down the aisle.  Ignoring for a moment the fact that a father's main purpose in life is not to serve as a prop for the perfect wedding, there's the fact that this play/movie was written, acted, watched and enjoyed without any apparent outcry about the irresponsibility of a woman deliberately denying her daughter even the information about who her father was, let alone respecting and actively trying to involve him in her life.
From the Wikipedia synopsis: The issue of Sophie's parentage is left unsettled, as none of them have any idea whether they are actually her father. Everyone involved agrees that it does not matter which one of them her biological parent is, as Sophie loves all three and they are all happy to be "one-third of a father" and a part of her life at last.
Read the above paragraph again.   Everyone involved agrees that it does not matter which one of them her biological parent is.  That's right, the message of this thing is dads don't matter.  Kids can be successfully raised without them, and they themselves are happy to be considered interchangeable.  Too bad none of that is true.  I do find it interesting that the same people who ascribe to the above beliefs would be horrified if adoptive parents simply did not tell their children they were adopted.  It's strange how biology is of critical importance to a child's sense of self only when it does not inconvenience that child's biological and custodial mother.

Finally, let's take a peek at the views of Melanie McDonagh, a writer for The Spectator.  Recently she opined in "Who's the daddy?":
Now, a cotton-wool swab with a bit of saliva, plus a small fee, less than £200, can settle the matter. At a stroke, the one thing that women had going for them has been taken away, the one respect in which they had the last laugh over their husbands and lovers. DNA tests are an anti-feminist appliance of science, a change in the balance of power between the sexes that we’ve hardly come to terms with. And that holds true even though many women have the economic potential to provide for their children themselves.

The subject has resurfaced lately, courtesy of a story in the Daily Mail, about a married television presenter who for years had been paying for the support of a child conceived, as he thought, as a result of his relationship with a writer. It seems that after meeting the child for the first time, he asked for a DNA test; it duly turned out that he was not, after all, the father. Poor child...

Many men have, of course, ended up raising children who were not genetically their own, but really, does it matter? You can feel quite as much tenderness for a child you mistakenly think to be yours as for one who is...

A.C. Grayling, the philosopher, has written with feeling on this question this week, in an article for the Evening Standard. Noting that 4 per cent of men are, all unknowing, raising children who are not genetically theirs, according to a report in the Journal of Epidemiology and Human Health, he ponders the impact a DNA paternity test can have: ‘The result can be shattering, leading to divorce, marital violence, mental health difficulties for all parties including the children.’ Well, yes. Scientific certainty has produced clarity all right, and relieved any number of men of their moral obligations, but at God knows what cost in misery, recrimination and guilt.

Our generation sets a good deal of store by certain knowledge. And DNA tests have obvious advantages when it comes to identifying less happy elements of our heredity: congenital disease, for instance. But in making paternity conditional on a test rather than the say-so of the mother, it has removed from women a powerful instrument of choice. I’m not sure that many people are much happier for it.
 Dear Melanie: clearly you hate men and think they should have no say in life's most basic urge, reproducing one's self.  But just so you know, cuckolding was never a female right or privilege.  It was always wrong, always fraud, always cruel, always selfish.  A man has a right to know if a child is his.  A child has a right to know if a father is his.  A woman has no right to interfere there for her own convenience.  Women have all the other reproductive rights: birth control, abortion, single motherhood, abandonment on a firehouse's steps.  Isn't that enough?

Here's a tip for women who don't want the messy humiliation of determining paternity after the fact: sleep with just one man at a time.  I know that's hard, but, you know, it works pretty well.  The average woman's cycle is only 28 days long, so every four weeks or so you've got a built-in pass for more promiscuous wild oat sowing, but take it one guy at a time, 'kay?  If you fool a man into thinking your child is his and it comes out down the line that that child isn't, the resulting mess and emotional trauma is all your fault.  Yes, it's a lot better for children to have fathers, so pick one good man, reproduce with him, stay faithful to him, and work at keeping that relationship healthy.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Piece of Advice #74: Do not confuse being difficult with being strong

It's been a ubiquitous fiction lo these last few decades that loud, obnoxious, know-it-all women are the strong ones, the brave ones, the ones who blaze the path, the ones who "tell it like it is."  Their brittle, oft off-putting personalities are evidence of their inner strength.  We don't expect men to play nice, the saying goes, why should we expect women to?

Except we do expect our men to play nice.  Oh, maybe not the Donald Trumps of the world, the capitalists-cum-entertainers or the big power players in sports, journalism, or politics.  We give a few artistic types some lenience.  But the rest of them?  Yeah, we pretty much expect them to play nice.  We expect them to be polite or at least not overly aggressive in social interaction.  We want them to hold doors and pick their underwear off the floor and say, "Please," and "Thank you."  We certainly don't want them to make rude gestures, or exhibit road rage, or get in our faces and scream their frustrations or call us names.

But when women do those same things, they're being tough.  They're confronting an unjust system in "the only way that works."  The popular saying is, "Well behaved women seldom make history."

A more accurate, less excuse loaded saying would be, "Women seldom make history."  Hardly anyone makes history, in fact.  Most of us live and die our lives in obscurity, important only to the other obscures we know and love.  People who make history are generally: kings and rulers, criminals, genocidal marauders, and that teeny, tiny bunch of outliers who are gifted in some way, either mentally, physically, spiritually, or artistically.  Everyone else - dust to dust.  Yes, it is true that many of the above, the kings and criminals, are difficult people.  Powerful people are because power corrupts, and there seems to be some sort of correlation between extreme intelligence and artistry and mental illness.  The people who cure cancer or invent computers we give a little leeway.  But all the other people who are naturally aggressive and demanding, the ones who shout everyone else down, the ones who insist their ways are the only ways, that they deserve better service, more respect, that booth in the corner - they are just spoiled and unschooled, unoriginally antisocial.  They failed to learn a lesson we expect most children to master in kindergarten: play well with others.

It is not particularly brave to push yourself, your wants and needs and opinions in the faces of other people.  It is selfish.  It may be true that "the squeaky wheel gets the oil," but why should one wheel get all the oil?  And why should the wheel feel empowered when demanding it?

Don't fool yourself that obnoxious behavior is strength.  Consistent kindness, responsibility, consideration, and hard work are traits of strength.  Treat others as you yourself would like to be treated.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The non-demand for androgyny in women's fantasies

Last week I commented on Newsweek's piece "Why We Need to Reimagine Masculinity."  The authors nod at the trends putting women into formerly masculine spheres and tell men that to balance things out and remain relevant and contributing they need to retreat to more traditionally women's jobs and chores.  An androgynous utopia lies at the end of this path, or so the authors and the feminists they cite suggest: a place where men and women are more or less interchangeable except for their reproductive parts.  Peace, harmony, good will, prosperity, and plenty of love and sex because everyone will be so happy.

This is of interest to me because it conflicts entirely with the most obvious trends in women's fiction and romance which are essentially women's fantasies written by women, for women, and consumed by a overwhelmingly female audience.  If you are at all familiar with romance novels, you will have noticed that in the past decade the heroes of these novels have not been written as more androgynous, but instead hyper-masculine.  Readers have gobbled up Navy SEAL books by Suzanne Brockmann and Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series.  The men these authors write aren't just strong and manly, they meet an unbelievably high standard of macho, and in some cases simply can't be killed or suffer harm.  They could render their heroines harmless (or dead) with their pinky fingers if they so desired.  Physically, experientially, and frequently financially, they are their heroines' superiors in every way.

Take the extremely popular In Death/Eve Dallas mystery series written by Nora Roberts (writing under the pseudonym J.D. Robb) and set in the future.*  The latest book is #38.   Roberts's hero, Roarke, is highly alpha.  Here is the wikipedia description:
"Roarke is in his mid-thirties; he is an immigrant from Dublin, Ireland; in NYC, he is the CEO of Roarke Industries, and one of the richest men in the world, possibly the richest. He owns an old mansion off of Central Park that he remodeled to his specifications with very high tech security. Also in the home is his own personal collection of firearms, which are illegal in 2058 unless one possesses a collector's license. Roarke also owns maces, swords, daggers, medieval armor, and other assorted weapons. He is quite skilled in electronics and can dismantle any type of security, lock, or coding, as well as hacking into any electronic database—including but not limited to the FBI, Interpol, and Homeland Security.

He convinces Eve to move in with him in Glory in Death and then proposes at the end of the book. Roarke's house officially becomes a home once Eve moves in, and after this, Roarke is happiest at home rather than traveling. He also enjoys helping Eve with her cases, finding the role reversal quite entertaining." [My emphasis.]
Eve, the series' heroine, is a tough cop, fiercely committed to her job and to finding justice for victims of crime.  She is damaged emotionally from a childhood filled with extreme abuse.  She is not beautiful, and can be brusque and distant.  She doesn't like dealing with children and eschews feminine behavior as weakness.  Before Roarke her relationships with men were limited to one-night stands.

So basically she's a guy.  Nearly all of her behaviors are traditionally male.  But notice that in this fantasy, Eve's romantic partner is not more androgynous.  He's not at home taking care of the kids she's uncomfortable around and making dinner for her to eat when she comes home tired from fighting crime.  Oh no.  He's the unimaginably wealthy, hyper-alpha former criminal who parleyed his knowledge to become the richest man in the world.  

And in 2058 the richest man in the world, the man who can have literally anything on the planet, wants a mannish, emotionally damaged, average looking thirty-year-old woman who is obsessed with her job.  In fact he finds the role reversal quite entertaining.

Eve Dallas's androgyny and the utter inequality of status between her husband and her is a new direction in romance.  In 1972 a novel called The Flame and the Flower kickstarted the modern romance genre, moving it from the tamer very subtly sexy Mills and Boone/Harlequin short novels to historicals with longer longer word counts and love scenes.  It was wildly popular, but its heroine was about as different from Eve Dallas as can be.  Heather was a beautiful English virgin, 18, who met her hero (Brandon, an American ship captain and plantation owner) under inauspicious circumstances when he mistook her for a prostitute and raped her.  When she becomes pregnant, her relatives force him to marry her and her takes her with him to South Carolina.  Hijinks ensue.  What is interesting about The Flame and Flower, especially in comparison with the above, is that while the details of their meeting are fantastic, their pairing is actually pretty uncontroversial.  Brandon is wealthy, handsome, and very alpha, but it is not outside the realm of possibility for him to marry a young, very beautiful English girl of good birth.  Also notable is Heather's extreme submissiveness.  She is 18 years younger than her husband and still quite childlike.  Also interesting: one of the villains who who makes mischief for Heather and Brandon is an older woman, still handsome, but not in the first blush of youth.  She is sexually experienced and adventurous and wants Brandon for herself, but he is not interested even though she owns a nearby plantation and the alliance would be perhaps financially beneficial. No, Brandon has eyes only for the lovely, innocent, docile Heather.

Remember: scores of women ate this up in 1972 and the book is still in print.

As time passed, however, romance novels changed.  Heroines began to have premarital sex that wasn't rape or coerced, and love scenes got longer and more detailed.  Heroines were written as older and more worldly, smarter.  They had careers, they smoked and drank, and the age difference between them and their lovers shrank.  Readers made it clear that they did not want to read about the love lives of teenagers who had yet to experience life.  They wanted sexually experienced heroines and ones that were tough and successful on their own merits - heroines who were, in other words, more like the readers themselves.

Also, while the heroes stayed handsome and rich and alpha - getting richer and more ripped and super alpha in some sub-genres - the heroines got less beautiful, significantly less beautiful than Heather, and older.  The fantasy was no longer just finding an alpha to love, but became snagging one so far out of your league as to be conspicuous.  In the Navy SEAL books Suzanne Brockmann writes the heroes are supermen, and the heroines are, at best, pretty, and frequently have physical trouble spots or figure flaws.  Often they are older than the men they snag.  In Twilight Edward is physically stunning, a perfect looking man.  Bella is nothing special.  Literally nothing special.  Ordinary.  Yet he pines for her.  In the 2010 version of The Flame and the Flower, the villainess would be the heroine, and Heather would be a murder victim or perhaps a secondary character.  There is no room for very young, very beautiful, docile virgin heroines in romance novels today.  They do not exist.

So the romance novel changes, reflecting women more truthfully and men more fantastically.  The gulf in status and desirability may widen further even because - as the genre makes clear - women don't desire feminine men.  Bad news for all those men who take the advice of Andrew Romano and Tony Dokoupil and "Man up!"  Chicks don't dig other chicks.  Unless they're lesbians.  And lesbians aren't who most men are trying to attract.  All of which means men who take that advice can expect to be less successful to the women whose feminist dreams and aspirations they further with their modified domestic and career choices.  Win-win.  Er, wait.  No.

*I did not select this series randomly.  Roberts is a prolific writer and publishes at least one addition to the In Death series annually, and readers regularly vote for Eve and Roarke as favorite heroine, favorite hero, and favorite couple in the All About Romance annual poll.  They are long established characters, but often win or place.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Piece of Advice #69: Don't make everything into the Girls vs. the Boys

A society succeeds or fails based on the success or failure of the aggregate of its population.  Not half, not part - the majority of its citizens have to be successful or competent for the nation to be successful and competent.

I find it disturbing that so many women think that:
  • if visible, well positioned women succeed, all women benefit or are proved superior (the Girls Team wins!)
  • if men fail, women succeed
We should want women to succeed, but not if its at the expense of men or society in general.  Dramatically increasing the number of women in the workforce isn't such a victory if the average wage stagnates or declines to the point that two people have to work in order to afford the same middle class lifestyle.  Or if women are going from working in the home around their children (housework, piecework, or assisting in the home business) to working low status, poorly paid Wal-Mart jobs and expensively warehousing their children.

Is it a boon to women to comprise 60% of college students if getting a college education is impossible without falling into debt slavery?

By focusing on number counting and measuring success in terms of gender parity, we focus on only part of the story - what the scoreboard says in the great Girls vs. Boys Tournament.  We do not ask ourselves if, despite all these touted successes, women are happier (or even happy) now.  Because by many counts we are not actually happier than our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were.  If you win the game, but you spilled all your blood on the court and all but your two top players ended up in the ER, that's not a very satisfying victory.  And if your opponent now hates you and never wants to play with you again - I think we can agree that game was not well played.

We should not want our men to fail.  We should not feel satisfied when they - any of them - are humiliated or fall behind.  They are not our enemies or our opponents, they are our husbands, our fathers, our brothers, our sons, our friends, our coworkers.  Gender schadenfreude is an ugly thing and says something about the women who think that way.  It says they can't hope to compete or keep up so they have to get their satisfaction in watching others fail.  We should be thinking that this is one team composed of men and women and the only way it can succeed is to strengthen and develop each member's talents (each member's true talent, that is; we should not be trying to force everyone to try and be a quarterback or starter or pickyoursportsmetaphor if that is not where her gifts lie).

Finally, let's remember that power is not the same as achievement or progress or betterment.  If Hillary Clinton ever reaches her goal of being a woman President, it will only mean that a women was capable of being as two-faced and calculating, as ruthless and sly as the male politicians who proceeded her to that office, in all probability doubly so.   And if she ever gets there, it will not mean that any woman has been proven to be "better" at anything unless her name is Hillary Clinton.  Yes, power is what makes the world go round, but it is not what makes the world a better or happier place.  That happens at the local level, most conspicuously at the family level - the level women have always had plenty of access to.

By thinking only in terms of Girls vs. Boys we focus on bean counting and the success of a few female outliers and miss the important larger picture.  We need to stop doing that.