Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Room of My Own

 I will confess, I’ve never considered myself to be a feminist.  Probably my reluctance to embrace the term has something to do with the fact that most of the men and boys with whom I’ve ended up associating for any length of time—brothers, teachers, friends, coworkers, and now students—have treated me with respect.  My life doesn’t need feminism.

This is not to say that I’m ungrateful for the women and men who made it easier for me to go to college, get an office job, and pursue a PhD: I am grateful.  But oftentimes expression of gratitude towards early feminists really amount to criticisms of the current situation; and I see no need to go through life reminding the gentlemen around me that they (by which I would mean, I suppose, their grandfathers and on back) were not always so polite.

Lately, however, I’ve begun to actively dislike the idea of feminism, or at least the idea of feminism as it’s usually understood: feminism as a call to erase from the lives of women everything that makes their experience different from that of a man.

“But,” says my interlocutor, “that’s not what feminism means at all.  Feminism is about equality—erasing the differences that hurt women, or allow men to take advantage of them.”

And indeed, that’s what feminism meant at one point in history (the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, I believe).  Among my friends who own the title “Feminist,” that’s what feminism still means today: leveling the workplace playing field, making dating and marriage fair, correcting false assumptions about femininity, etc., etc.  But I don’t think that’s what most of America means by “feminism” today.  Certainly that is not how opinion leaders and media outlets use the term.  The write as if feminism means the erasure of the feminine.

This is nothing new, of course; whole books have been written on the topic (not to mention plenty of editorials and other blog posts).  But over the last few years the idea that women must be the same as men—not just equal to but the same as—has been gaining traction.  As evidence, I submit to you three recent stories.

First, there is Sheryl Sandberg’s call to end the chore wage gap.  Yes, apparently boys get more money for their chores than girls.  And apparently, boys and girls do different chores.  Fact #1 would certainly bother me, assuming that there are no ameliorating circumstances; I can, however, imagine many which would not be inconsistent with the evidence Sandberg cites.  Self-reporting errors? boys doing more or harder work by choice? girls receiving rewards in-kind (can anyone say, “Honey, how ’bout let’s get your nails done?”).

 Let it be known that I profoundly disliked
nail polish as a child.  I still do. 
Spending the afternoon with my watercolors, now …
P.S. Is it just me, or does that picture sing
"Cruella De-evil?"

But Fact #2, that boys are doing different chores than girls, troubles me not a wit.  Oh, they get to weed-whack and mow the back forty, before repairing the drywall they kicked in last week?  Be my guest.  Yes, I would actually rather stay in the kitchen with the dishes, and then fold the laundry.  Now obviously, this disparity in chores can become problematic when the boys are always given less work, or when either the gentlemen or the ladies leave the house without knowing the basics of survival.  But there’s a difference between, on the one hand, being fair to one’s children and doing Home Ec right and, on the other hand, making sure that Buddy and Sissy always, but always spend the exact same amount of time doing the exact same thing.  And it’s especially silly to expect Buddy and Sissy to do the same chores all the time when Buddy and Sissy don’t want that.

Now, if your Buddy really does like ironing, he may
have a future in fashion (or at least dry cleaning). 
And Sissy’s fondness for changing oil may signal her future
in the world of auto mechanics.  But for
the love of mud don’t be surprised if
their preferences are more … erm … traditional.

Exhibit #2 in this mug line of The Murderers of True, Good, and Beautiful Feminism is the recent call by some generals for women to register for the draft.  I know full well this is a response—logical or piqued, who can say—to opening up full combat roles to women.  So perhaps it is only fair to say that those women and men who were eager for women in combat started the fire.  But frankly, I don’t care who started it.  It’s foolish to put women in combat, and it’s foolish to draft women.

Let’s speak in broad but true generalities, and words that a five-year-old can understand.  Women make babies, both accidentally and on purpose.  Women give great pleasure to men.  Women are physically weaker than men.  And, finally, men are mentally weaker around women: bad men are more likely to hurt them than to hurt other men, and good men more likely to rush to their protection than to fly to the aid of their fellow bros.

I don’t think I need to spell out the implications of these premises.  Once they’re accepted, it becomes clear why having women in combat is a bad idea.

And a final remark on this whole draft thing, for those of us who are prolife and/or opposed to contraception, for reasons of religion, lifestyle, or health: What happens if you, the woman, are drafted when you already are taking care of three kids?  What happens if you, the woman, are drafted while pregnant?  What happens if you, the woman, spend leave with your husband and are suddenly “at risk for getting pregnant?”  What sort of policies will be concocted to deal with these inevitabilities?  For if there is a female draft, they will be inevitabilities.

I might add, forestalling an objection,
that yes, “I am a coward, doctor.” 
But I’m not actually worried about
ending up on the front lines.  My physical
inability to pass basic training would probably
ensure that, at worst, I ended up typing
some major’s memos.  So this is a
personal concern, but not a
personal one—if you follow me.

My final point of proof—and the immediate inspiration (despiration?) for this post—is an Atlantic article on—um, well, you can go read it if you want to.

The striking thing about this article is not the author’s failure to admit that there are some legitimate concerns about even modern birth control.  The striking thing is not the author’s ignorance of the stability of the luteal phrase in all women.  The striking thing is not the author’s blitheness about suppressing rather than resolving medical issues like endometriosis.  And the striking thing is certainly not the author’s desire to avoid pain and inconvenience.

Actually, all of those are striking, except
for the last.  But that’s another post—and
another kind of blog.  We don’t go there here.

No, the striking thing is the list of reasons the author gives for seeking to avoid a monthly reminder of one’s femininity.

A Midol slogan famously said, “Because your period’s more than a pain.” This is true not only for women like me who just don’t want the burden of buying tampons and avoiding wearing white. There are shift workers who cannot escape to the restroom, women in male-dominated jobs where they feel they have to hide their feminine-hygiene products to prevent further alienation, sex workers for whom bleeding is more than a hassle, and women with young children or otherwise unreliable sleep schedules who don’t need the stress of making sure they take a birth-control pill at the same time every day.

Think about those first three examples for a moment.  Shift workers who can’t go to the restroom.  Women who have to act like the men they’re working with.  Sex workers.  Isn’t it clear that in each case we’re talking about a situation that is profoundly wrong in the first place?  If you can’t go to the bathroom, act as if you are the sex you are, or are selling your body—isn’t it clear that there is something wrong with the job?  And if there’s something wrong with the job, why aren’t we fixing the job?  Why do we need to fix the woman?

This is the problem with modern feminism.  It purports to be about fixing society.  Let’s fix it so that girls can do the same chores as boys.  So that women can do the same dirty work as men.  So that we can stand hardships that, frankly, neither men nor women should have to stand.  But when they say “Let’s fix it” what they really mean is “Let’s fix them.”

Dear world: I may be weak, and possibly even hormonal, but I’m not broken.  And I certainly don’t want to be “fixed.”  In any sense of that euphemistic word.

I’ll give the last lines to Henry Higgins, God bless him.  At least he was frank about what he wanted.

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