January 16, 2006

Sophistry. Nothing but a parade of sophistry.

Salon: My lunch with an antifeminist pundit. Okay, maybe it's not sophistry if she believes it, but then what is she? Delusional enough to fight the battles that roiled feminism internally three decades ago? (This will be long, so check out below the fold.)

I was surprised that so much of your book was about Gloria Feldt, Ellie Smeal, Catharine MacKinnon. Only at the very end do you mention someone like Rebecca Walker.

Are you asking about [why I didn't discuss] twenty- or thirtysomething feminism?

Yes. The MacKinnon quote about how "all heterosexual intercourse is rape" is old news. There has been a whole other wave of sex-positive feminism in part in response to ideas like that.

I know you'll do me the favor of talking about the book I wrote. And "What Does the Future of Feminism Hold?" ain't my book. I've been arguing with them since the '70s. That's where I got onboard. It's been 30 years. What has feminism wrought? It's not "What will the third wave look like?" Not "What are the promising movements in feminism?" It's "What has feminism wrought over the past 30 years?"

(Technically, it's been more like 140 years, and 'what does the third wave look like'.)

She might just be an idiot.

But I think it's fair to cite the AAUW [American Association of University Women]; I think it's fair to cite NOW; [criticizing stay-at-home mothers] is what they're all about! ... I say, "You've got to make your own choices for your own family." They don't say that. They say there's one responsible choice: You're hurting your child and yourself and women more broadly if you make the choice [to stay home]. So there is no choice for feminists. They denigrate motherhood.

From NOW's website.

Homemakers' Rights

NOW actively supports full rights for homemakers and recognition of the economic value of the vital services they perform for family and society. We also support legislation and programs reflecting the reality of marriage as an equal economic partnership.

But I suppose she was talking about the NOW of thirty years ago, not NOW today. Oops, in 1979 NOW passed a resolution calling for a Homemaker's Bill of Rights, a body of policies that would have facilitated women (and, presumably, men) moving between working at a conventional job and working as homemakers. Check out the final section of the 2005 Resolutions, too.

Here's another good one:

As for public policy, I hate to be a nerd. But who pays? The majority of families with young children get by on one full-time salary. High-income couples qualify for the dependent-care tax credit. The family struggling to get by on one full-time salary is arguably subsidizing the day-care choices, the career choices, of the more affluent couples.

I can't even parse this. I know it's English, but what the hell is she talking about? High-income couples are more likely to live in a more traditional marriage where she stays home with the kids because they can afford it. The working poor can't have her stay at home while he heads off to work every morning because, duh, they're the working poor. She's completely dismissive of people in this position later on.

I find this bit personally offensive:

Fine. But why is that parent necessarily the mother? Why can't we get used to the idea that it would be just as good for kids to be home with dads?

Who wants that? Why would we do that?

I know lots of men and women who --

I think women who really want that ought to find a guy who wants it. I don't see why there's any big movement needed for this. If some woman really feels very strongly that things ought to be divvied up that way I think she ought to do what that woman [Hirshman] suggested in the American Prospect: marry a starving artist or marry a liberal. Marry the guy who feels that way and do your own thing!

But social expectations make that --

Society will never, ever, ever, ever validate it. Ever. Ever. So, next question. [Because] now we're baying at the moon: Damn, life's unfair! Damn! Life's unfair!

Life's unfair and there's no room for progress?

Room for progress is limitless! We're talking about little trade-offs.

You're accepting that society won't ever validate a man who stays home! That's a big trade-off!

But it's not my opinion! Find me one. Find me one in the history of recorded mankind. You know what's funny to me? Whatever men do, as I understand it, is the status job in that society. Like if they gathered [instead of hunted] in some damn society, then gathering would be the status job because men were doing it.

But that's exactly the problem! To say that it's been true historically without exception doesn't make it right!

They care more about [status] than we do. But that's also why they care more about paid work. And obviously I'm talking broadly here. There are women who dance circles around guys, make them look like slugs. But [there are] recent stories about women being handed keys to the executive washroom and going, "Eh, I really don't want it!"

This last paragraph is what we call begging the question: we'll always be fully immersed in traditional gender roles because society will never validate exceptions because we'll always be fully immersed in traditional gender roles!

This is even more blatantly sexist:

You quote Karl Zinsmeister as describing how men need to be "lured" and "corralled" into being nurturers, using that quote in a passage about the centrality of men in the family. If fathers are so naturally central to the family, why do they need to be lured or corralled? Isn't that a darker view of men's impulses than you argue feminists have?

No, no. Impregnating women? Really natural! Hangin' around? Not necessarily natural! That was [the woman's] job. Her job was to hang around.

So then why do we need them? Why is it so bad -- in your view -- to have fatherless households?

Because there's tons kids learn from their fathers! Look what happens to boys who don't have fathers! They become hyper-male; they don't have male role models, they're joining gangs. They bristle against the matriarchy they're in. The data is incredible about fatherless boys.

I saw all the time as a mother of sons why boys need fathers. It would ruin my day if they didn't get an invitation to a first grade party! [My husband] would be like, "Kate, lighten up, they'll be fine." They really need fathers. And fathers have to feel needed.

The interviewer doesn't come off as all that intelligent herself. This is exactly as it's presented in the article:

But you and I come from a privileged place in that we have careers you can "take time off from." There are few jobs that offer that. What about women who want to protect themselves economically but don't have jobs you can take time off from?

So then maybe they won't. But opinion data tells us that they want to.

In your chapter about divorce you write, "when the traditional values of self-sacrifice and duty lose to conflict with the feminist doctrine of self-fulfillment and personal autonomy, children pay a very steep price." Is your take that people in unhappy marriages should stay in those marriages?

Barbara Walters only wishes she could ask such hard-hitting and insightful followups.

Jesus Christ. And now I'm all pissed off and won't be able to get enough sleep before the first day of classes tomorrow. Fan-fucking-tastic.


Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Noumena,

Good fisking. My blood pressure rose while reading the entire piece and I have to say I was nearly as angry with Traister for her lame, roll-over-and-spank-me style of interviewing as I was for O'Beirne's refusal to answer questions and to make broad pronouncement that lacked any support.


Jeff Hess

Noumena said...

Thanks for your support, Jeff, and let me encourage you to wander back here again soon. It's always nice to know someone you're giving someone besides for friends something to think about.

Thinking the interview over after writing this last night, I was struck by how O'Beirne didn't really say anything that hadn't been said thirty years ago. She just goes on and on about how feminists are ever so intolerant of stay-at-home moms, when fifteen minutes on NOW's website was enough to blow that theory out of the water pretty much completely. That's it, other than some obtuse statistical interpretation and blind declarations of gender essentialism.

Why Salon even bothered with this woman would be beyond me, except they have a long history of taking the occasional cheap shot at feminists and other 'radicals'. If the interview is representative of the quality of the book, we can pretty much toss it in the pile with Treason right now.