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Tilting at Windmills

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January 9, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

"QUEENS OF THE HILL"....Ryan Lizza's New York Times piece this weekend, "The Invasion of the Alpha Male Democrat," has prompted a number of responses, including this from Chris Bowers:

In a political culture where being serious and being macho are construed as one and the same thing, is it any wonder that Democratic women struggled so greatly on November 7th? In both the top tier and lower tier of House races, Democratic women (the most feminine and unserious sort of person of all) suffered narrow setbacks.

Hmmm. It may be true that several Democratic women lost close races in November, but as Clara Bingham points out in "Queens of the Hill" in the current issue of the Monthly, it's also true that nearly a dozen Democratic women won new seats this November. In fact, women now account for nearly a quarter of the Democratic caucus in both the House and the Senate. And there's this:

What truly marks the 2006 midterms as a watershed for women in politics is the astounding degree to which women in both the House and Senate are now moving up into positions of power, in the leadership and at the head of key committees and subcommittees. Democratic women appear finally to have broken through what Pelosi calls the "marble ceiling." Women will not just be represented in the new Congress -- to a remarkable extent, they will be running the place.

....The 2006 election inspired 244 women to run for Congress, the second largest number of women to do so since the 1992 election. But for those who won their races, the environment they're entering is very different from that encountered by the class of '93. Women are no longer novelty acts, but, in the Democratic caucus at least, have acquired real political clout. In the House, of course, Pelosi is the first woman Speaker.

Slaughter leads the Rules committee, arguably the most powerful in the chamber: No bill will reach the floor for a vote without her approval. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) co-chairs the Democratic Steering Committee, which formulates policy for the caucus, and Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-Calif.) serves as her vice chair. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) have joined the nine-member team of chief deputy whips.

As Bingham points out, this makes a real difference: "Many so-called 'women's issues' of the 1990s -- health care, child care, education, and the minimum wage -- have become mainstream Democratic concerns in the intervening years. Causes that protect women's economic and social equality -- championed by old-timer feminists like Schroeder since the 1970s -- will no longer be pigeonholed as special interests."

Read the whole thing.

Kevin Drum 1:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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Comments

I'm all for a female President.

Madam President Pelosi in 2007!

Posted by: Extradite Rumsfeld on January 9, 2007 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Hey everyone
This just in:

Bush has got a new plan for Iraq!

Jesus fucking god....

Posted by: ROTFLMLiberalAO on January 9, 2007 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

PS:

Puttin Bush in charge of anything
Is like...
Puttin screen doors on a submarine.

Posted by: ROTFLMLiberalAO on January 9, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

unserious? she may have lost but did anyone consider tammy duckworth, for example, unserious? where do people get these notions?

Posted by: mudwall jackson on January 9, 2007 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

Bush's new Iraq plan:

1) Ask for lots of troops we don't have

2) have 'Merica hating DefeatOcrats shoot my plan down

3) Blame DefeatOcrats for loss in Iraq

4) Arm the compound in Paraguay to the hilt

Posted by: Al on January 9, 2007 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

As Bingham points out, this makes a real difference: "Many so-called 'women's issues' of the 1990s -- health care, child care, education, and the minimum wage -- have become mainstream Democratic concerns in the intervening years.

when weren't those issues mainstream Democratic concerns? the wilson administration?

Posted by: mudwall jackson on January 9, 2007 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

Child care has been pigeon-holed as a so-called women's issue (after all men don't have children!) but the other three haven't been.

Posted by: Carol on January 9, 2007 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Does anyone take Lizza seriously? Isn't he another of the bumbling idiots we call the MSM these days?

Posted by: Ghost of Tom Joad on January 9, 2007 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats left about a dozen or so House seats on the table because they didn't use the corruption issue as effectively as they could have.

Facing a climate in which most voters assume all politicians are corrupt but most of the actual scandals involved Republican incumbents, Democrats let the news media make their case for them -- and for the most part declined to use the Foley scandal as a hook on which to hang all the other scandalous (and scandalous-sounding) affairs in Washington around the necks of Republican candidates. I can't say that the sex of some Democratic Congressional candidates made no difference in any race, but don't think it was anywhere near as important as the missed opportunity to tar Republican incumbents with the sins of their colleagues.

Posted by: Zathras on January 9, 2007 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

The day that women become the majority in Congress, will be the day we truly have a Government of, for, and by the people.

Posted by: AkaDad on January 9, 2007 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Writing about what Lizza wrote without noting the theme of his piece is grossly negligent. As Somerby points out (The Daily Howler), Lizza is revisiting the same themes that put GWB in the White House and got us into Iraq. Alpha male, indeed.
http://www.dailyhowler.com/

Posted by: TJM on January 9, 2007 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

For the record, every time he reads something in the paper that disturbs him, my husband says "When are you gals gonna get smart, get together and take over?"

Then he reads something like this and says never mind.

Posted by: Global Citizen on January 9, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Globe, I call your Nora Ephron and raise you George W. Bush.

I think we can agree that the adults need to be in charge. With that said, it's encouraging to see our democracy becoming more representative of its people.

Posted by: Apollo 13 on January 9, 2007 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

Me, I think The Daily Howler had the best assessment, as usual. Somerby puts it well -- "boys" like Lizza should "shut the fuck up". The simpering twits who thrive at places like The New Republic helped grease the skids for the ascension of G.W. Bush. They've darkened all our futures.

Posted by: sglover on January 9, 2007 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Wonder how soon Congress will become the classic "pink-collar ghetto?" You know the drill: men dominate a particular profession, women fight and claw their way in, are kept in lowly positions as a minority, gradually increase their numbers and clout, and finally become the majority and take over management, at which point the owners downgrade the enterprise, eliminating benefits and slashing salaries to a level more appropriate to a female-dominated workplace.

Happened at newspapers and universities; maybe politics is next.

Posted by: Yellow Dog on January 9, 2007 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Yellow Dog, the position of tenured professor is still the most pampered and insular person on the face of the Earth.

Posted by: MNPundit on January 9, 2007 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

To me the most remarkable democratic victory of all was Carole Shea-Porter in New Hampshire, who seemed to have backing neither from the netroots nor the party establishment. Only thing I heard from her was on the much-abused Air America radio, where I was pretty impressed.

Not sure what this proves, except maybe I'd like a world with more Carole Shea-Porters and fewer Ryan Lizzas.

Posted by: Gene O'Grady on January 9, 2007 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

I saw something or other about this on another blog as well, but commenters proceeded to make the same point as in the main post here: "recruit the he-men" was obviously not the only strategy, and if it worked then it worked, and if it didn't work then it wasn't bad enough to sink the whole effort.

Yes, it's sad that only a quarter of America's Congresspeople are women, and it's sad that the machismo strategy might have been necessary, and sad that the relatively progressive party thought it was needed independent of whether or not it really was. But incremental progress is still progress. I'll criticize Democrats when they deserve it, but they don't deserve it for this nearly as much as it seems at first glance.

Posted by: Cyrus on January 9, 2007 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

Yellow Dog: ...at which point the owners downgrade the enterprise, eliminating benefits and slashing salaries to a level more appropriate to a female-dominated workplace.

I look forward to not necessarily the female Congressional majority, but to a more or less gender-balanced Congress, and if we can get them all to slash Congressional salaries and benefits to a level more appropriate of an average American workplace--well, what's not to like? Win-win, baby.

Posted by: shortstop on January 9, 2007 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

That 5:32 post reads like I was raised by wolves. Sorry about the grammar crimes; too much multitasking.

Posted by: shortstop on January 9, 2007 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

That's okay - I used up all the allotted commas for the entire thread in an earlier post. That post had more punctuation than a page of Hemmingway.

Posted by: Global Citizen on January 9, 2007 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

As a hetero male, and one who styles himself an alpha, no less, I must say that I find this whole discussion pathetically stupid and retro. I view the increasing number of women elected to office good in terms of gender equity. That is a very important issue. An exact proportional representation of the population in politics by gender and race/ethnicity is an impossible and silly goal, but we are currently far from that point. Anything that gets us closer to a rough approximation is good.

But, setting aside that important aspect of the issue, the bottom line is 'Who cares?'

I also agree with Yellow that the very idea of 'women's issues is insulting and it may well be a political ploy by the Bush reactionaries to control, or at least affect discussion, of serious public policy debate in a bad way. By the current standards, women's issues' were a major focus of Jefferson, Hamilton, JQ Adams, Franklin, among others. I guess Benjamin Rush should now be reclassified as a sappy pink collar nancy-boy who was not 'serious' becase he did early research on the best system for diagnosis of mental illness.

Whenever this assinine topic comes up, I think the only responsible thing to do is to attack the very notion of 'women's issues.'

Back before women were allowed to run school systems and become medical doctors, were these fields considered to be 'women's issues.'? No, they were not.

Anyone who considers this a serious topic of conversation, or fit topic for a big media story is either a fool or a tool. This blog should point that out, and make it clear that devoting a lot of time and space to it is infantile.

Posted by: commentor on January 9, 2007 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

Here in Fresno we just landed a female sheriff to go with our female DA. You go girls!

Posted by: nutty little nut nut on January 9, 2007 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

Thaks for news, nuttly little nut nut:
Good for Fresno. I wonder if there will be a lot big media stories and big time pundit handwringing over whether this will result in the feminization of the Fresno SWAT teams? Will the Fresno PD fear to go down to Roeding Park and clean out the punks over there? Will they faint and clutch their pearls at a critical moment. Maybe the reactionary pundits will cite this a threat. CA has two women Senators, a woman speaker, and a SF mayor who appoints women as fire and police chiefs. Now Fresno.

Soon we will hear about the threat of feminie Fresno values overrunning the country. Fresno is such a wimpy, effete liberal city, you know.

This 'womens issue' and 'feminization' glop is such a tired and tendentious framing of the issue. It really needs to stop.

Posted by: comment on January 9, 2007 at 6:35 PM | PERMALINK

comment/commentor:

Well, except the symbology of this is all extremely important, and is hardly going away. When Pelosi herself is going on about "marble ceilings" and she brings a hoarde of young children up to the Speaker's podium to "touch the gavel" (and provide an irresistable photo tableau), well then, certain strong signals are being sent.

Are some guys going to feel threatened by this? Of course. But their wives/girlfriends/sisters/mothers might be less inclined to clam up about it.

It's kinda what raising consciousness is all about. A certain amount of feather-rufflage is not only to be expected, but is in fact necessary to get the point across.

Wake me up when Nancy, Barbara Boxer and DiFi start burning their bras :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 9, 2007 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

Bob,
I don't understand your point. Why is the mere fact of Pelosi's sex make her surrounding herself with kids different from Boehner surrounding himself with kids during a recent press conference? Pelosi's use of kids was uplifting and decent, whereas Boehner was doing it as a pert of a sleazy attempt to protect himself from having to answer questions about the Foley page scandal. That is the important difference, not the sex of either.
I do not see anything in what Pelosi did or said as being an excuse for the media or pundits to start talking about 'feminization' or 'woman's issues' or catfights and other dismissive codewords.
The press has used male candidates' dress as an excuse to trash them. So if Pelosi is stylent, good looking and dresses nice, why is that an excuse to go into women's issues?

Posted by: comment on January 9, 2007 at 7:24 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you, Kevin for this post. As a female surrounded in life by alpha males, I appreciate the attention you and Chris Bowers lend to this area. I supervise nine men, all in various stages of alpha-malehood. Mostly I just find it amusing, probably because I married such a great guy. We out-spoken women from the 70's grew into formidable actors on today's proverbial stage. I for one was tickled to see Louise Slaughter et al. in the televised meetings of the house of representatives last Thursday, pretty much sticking it to the macho, semi-angry republicans and their biggest/badest alpha male gesticulation of weenie protest to the new house rules. I just loved it.

P.S.>> Tim Johnson, the senator with the serious brain-related medical condition, is off the ventilator and upgraded in his condition. That is very good news for him, his family, and for the country.


Posted by: consider wisely always on January 9, 2007 at 8:07 PM | PERMALINK

comment:

Well, if memory serves, I believe you're referring to Tom Reynolds, not John Bohener. You're of course correct that this was a particularly shameless way of getting out of answering questions about the Foley scandal.

But recall that it was George Lakoff who coined the phrase "Mommy party" for the Democrats and "Daddy party" for the Republicans. Like it or not, this is the way people associate values with politics. What were the kids at Nancy's podium supposed to symbolize? The future (the menace of the deficit), education, protecting the weakest (not least from sexual predators), preserving the environment for future generations -- and the Democrats' superior ability to address these issues.

If the GOP as "Daddy party" was supposed to be superior in protecting America from external threats -- Nancy's calculation is that Daddy's been spending way too much time at the office lately and neglecting his family. The GOP national security meme has worn threadbare this past election cycle.

Now with that said, I *do* share your annoyance with all the gretuitous fashion references. I really don't need to hear another word about Mrs. Pelosi's Armani suit or slingback heels ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 9, 2007 at 8:24 PM | PERMALINK

"Alpha male" = insecure jerk.

Posted by: captcrisis on January 9, 2007 at 8:25 PM | PERMALINK

consider wisely:

I love the smell of sour grapes in the morning :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 9, 2007 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

Hello CWA (smiling and waving) - missed you yesterday!

Do you share this sentiment? Shut up already and do something?

It's such a big deal that Nancy's the Speaker - all the pearl-clutching! My goodness! Is she up to it???

Good Ford! She grew up in the shadow of DC readign the congressional record, and she held the Dems together the last congress and led them to the majority. I guarantee you she isn't wrapped up with the first woman speaker thing. She's The Speaker, not the women's speaker.

Some of us Alpha Bitches are sick of parsing gender, and wish the luster would wear off for everyone else.

Posted by: Global Citizen on January 9, 2007 at 8:30 PM | PERMALINK

Globe:

Well it *would* be great -- but it's sort of like wishing racism or racial symbology away ...

Just as we're never going to have a completely colorblind society, we're never going to get to the point where we as a society read gender as a pure social construction.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 9, 2007 at 8:33 PM | PERMALINK

As a matter of principle, I refuse to play. It's an exercise in futility and I have better things to do. Promised myself when I accidentally ended up with a minor in Women's Studies I would never engage in another hand-wringing session. Instead I would just do my damned job.

Posted by: Global Citizen on January 9, 2007 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

we're never going to get to the point where we as a society read gender as a pure social construction

Good lord I hope not, since we are fundamentally different at the chromosomal level! I'm still pissed at the feminists who came before me for espousing that goal.

Posted by: Global Citizen on January 9, 2007 at 8:39 PM | PERMALINK

Hi guys, glad you are here!-----I think it just early on with Nancy and the Dems.
They have a seemingly stellar week planned--meetings on important agenda items each day,
culminating Friday with the concept of negotiating drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies.
They are proceeding nicely with their first 100 hours agenda, and Mr. Bush would like to throw them off-course with his ill-advised escalation of violence. I am keeping my fingers crossed and,
like the illustrious Global Citizen, will not engage in hand-wringing!

Posted by: consider wisely always on January 9, 2007 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK

Globe:

Actually the feminists who came before you were the Betty Friedan feminists, the anti- In Loco Parentis feminists, who espoused equal political rights and individual liberty above all and fought for women to be allowed to make the same mistakes as men. They were not only anti-patriarchal, they were anti-paternalistic (and, by implication, maternalistic) as well. That generation of feminists, the ones who fought for the ERA, I admire greatly.

It's the feminists of our generation and a little later who wormed their ways into womens' studies departments and came up with the cockamamie idea of "gender feminism." (I exclude radical feminists like Andrea Dworkin, because they were never part of the mainstream, and radicals -- gods 'n' goddesses bless 'em -- will always be with us.) Gender is supposed to be both a nearly pure social construction *and* a "female paradigm" is supposed to be capable of steering humanity to a more humane future. Talk about wanting to have it both ways ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 9, 2007 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

You know who I miss on this board--stefan. He went to Europe, I think I remember reading, before Christmas? He is insightful. His comments kind of drew me to posting here. As a teen my favorite parts of news magazines were the letters to the editor, so this posting stuff sure fits in!

Posted by: consider wisely always on January 9, 2007 at 9:51 PM | PERMALINK

CWA: Not ten minutes ago I checked my email and had a message from Stefan. He will be back soon.

Posted by: Global Citizen on January 9, 2007 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

Globe--It is like ESP--that is too much.

Posted by: consider wisely always on January 9, 2007 at 10:31 PM | PERMALINK

I took the night off posting yesterday--my girlfriends took me out for a delicious belated birthday dinner which lasted late into the evening. It was a blast. Hubby and I had a big day today, he was giving a seminar, and I had all kind of appointments. Now, as he snores, I log on...and on...

Posted by: consider wisely always on January 9, 2007 at 10:41 PM | PERMALINK

I believe the notion that health care, education and the minimum wage are "women's issues" vs. crime, foreign policy and taxes as "men's issues" stems from years of polling that - for a while, anyway - showed female voters rated the former issues as more important, while male voters claimed to gravitate towards the latter. During the time when there was a persistant gender gap of roughly 10 points, female voters preferred the Dems, who focused on health care, education and poverty and men favored the Republicans, who enjoyed talking about taxes and crime. (This started to change when the Republicans went after independent women voters with the "compassionate conservative" strategy and tried to appropriate education with No Child Left Behind.)

Of course this dichotomy disappeared after 9/11. Its a different environment, and thinking of healthcare and education as "women's issues" and foreign policy/security as "men's issues" has lost its meaning, except for certain pundits who can apparently write any nitwit nonsense and still collect a paycheck.

Lakoff may have coined "mommy party" etc but he is just trading in shallow stereotypes. If the Dems are the "mommy party" its because for a period of time women - particularly so-called soccer moms - preferred Democrats over Republicans by a significant margin.

Posted by: nm in dc on January 9, 2007 at 11:07 PM | PERMALINK

nm in dc:

Lakoff's appropriators -- political consultants looking for a "silver bullet" to re-brand the Democratic message -- may be trading in shallow sterotypes, but Lakoff himself is a linguist and a fairly subtle thinker. I think we dismiss his ideas at our peril.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 9, 2007 at 11:12 PM | PERMALINK

>>That post had more punctuation than a page of Hemmingway.
Posted by: Global Citizen

Umm...Hemingway and excessive punctuation?

I need to refer you to one of James Thurber's classics where he attempts to write in the convoluted style peculiar to Henry James. Got it around here somewhere.

Hell, everyone should be required to read Thurber on a regular basis as a mental health issue.

Posted by: MsNThrope on January 10, 2007 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

The Best of Bad Hemingway: Choice Entries from the Harry's Bar & American Grill Imitation Hemingway Competition

There are several of these - check your local library. Short, choppy declarative sentences are the very signature of Hemingway.

Posted by: MsNThrope on January 10, 2007 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

Heh. I have a friend who occasionally does Henry James imitations out loud. Pretty funny stuff.

I once wrote a love letter in the style of Thomas Hardy. It was received with the expressions of mirth for which I'd been hoping, although I came to believe the work had been wasted on the OOMA.

Posted by: shortstop on January 10, 2007 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK
It's the feminists of our generation and a little later who wormed their ways into womens' studies departments and came up with the cockamamie idea of "gender feminism." (I exclude radical feminists like Andrea Dworkin, because they were never part of the mainstream, and radicals -- gods 'n' goddesses bless 'em -- will always be with us.) Gender is supposed to be both a nearly pure social construction *and* a "female paradigm" is supposed to be capable of steering humanity to a more humane future. Talk about wanting to have it both ways ...

Wanting to have what both ways? It seems to me this doesn't even have the kind of superficial contradiction that is seen on the face of things like wave/particle duality, time/space equivalency, or mass as energy.

The "female paradigm" of gender feminism is (or rather, each of the various female paradigms proceeding from gender feminism is), itself, as I understand it, a self-conscious social construct that adapts, recontextualizes, and relativizes elements of the "female" side of traditional gender roles.

(And I can kinda see a fuzzy outline of a pragmatic case for that being a reasonable idea in light of the areas of life dominated by those traditional roles in the contexts where they arose, and changes in the social and technical context of society since then, but that's a way far out discussion.)

Posted by: cmdicely on January 10, 2007 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

comdicely:

>> It's the feminists of our generation and a little later who wormed
>> their ways into womens' studies departments and came up with the
>> cockamamie idea of "gender feminism." (I exclude radical feminists
>> like Andrea Dworkin, because they were never part of the
>> mainstream, and radicals -- gods 'n' goddesses bless 'em -- will
>> always be with us.) Gender is supposed to be both a nearly pure
>> social construction *and* a "female paradigm" is supposed to be
>> capable of steering humanity to a more humane future. Talk about
>> wanting to have it both ways ...

> Wanting to have what both ways? It seems to me this doesn't
> even have the kind of superficial contradiction that is seen
> on the face of things like wave/particle duality, time/space
> equivalency, or mass as energy.

*rolling eyes in affectionate exasperation* You know, Chris, as
incisive and insightful as you can be, you have this terminal nerd's
tendency to completely blow by the spirit of a rhetorical argument.
I was essentially agreeing with GC, but wanted to rescue the equal
rights feminists from academic feminism as it evolved through the 80s
and 90s. What *physics analogies* have to do with this, I'm clueless.

But if you'd like me to spell it out, I shall do so: if gender is
primarily a social construction -- properties which all human beings
possess which have been MOL divided into two categories and assigned
to the biological sexes -- then to even speak of a "female paradigm"
is a logical contradiction. There can be no "female paradigm" as such
if the very notion of "female" is a malleable artifact of culture.

> The "female paradigm" of gender feminism is (or rather, each of
> the various female paradigms proceeding from gender feminism is),
> itself, as I understand it, a self-conscious social construct
> that adapts, recontextualizes, and relativizes elements of
> the "female" side of traditional gender roles.

Exactly. It's vacuous -- whatever a particular gender feminist wants
it to mean, or whatever particular cultures of periods of history she
chooses to derive it from. If gender characteristics were something
more hardwired, then you could talk about genuinely female qualities.

Note that my own position is like most people's, a sensible middle
ground. I believe that there are such things as female and male
qualities *and* that gender is, in very important ways, socially
constructed. But there *is* something like a Heisenberg situation
here, where the more one talks about gender as a social construction,
the less salient becomes notions of essential female or male
qualities, and the more one talks about male or female paradigms,
the less salient becomes the notion of gender as culture-dependent.

> (And I can kinda see a fuzzy outline of a pragmatic case for
> that being a reasonable idea in light of the areas of life
> dominated by those traditional roles in the contexts where
> they arose, and changes in the social and technical context
> of society since then, but that's a way far out discussion.)

Sure, but there's no direct need to call those needed qualities male
or female. Our society is also tremendously histrionic -- a quality
associated in this culture with the female. It gets problematic very
quickly. But certainly I'd agree with you as a practical matter that
this culture could use more orientation to nurturing, cooperation and
less aggressiveness -- all qualities associated *in this culture, in
this moment in history* with femaleness. Whether that counts as a
genuine "female paradigm" is a more complex questions entirely.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 10, 2007 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK
You know, Chris, as incisive and insightful as you can be, you have this terminal nerd's tendency to completely blow by the spirit of a rhetorical argument.

Its true that what is interesting to me in what someone says isn't always what they were principally concerned with communicating when they said it.


I was essentially agreeing with GC,

Yes, I got that. Wasn't really related to what interested me about that comment, though.

but wanted to rescue the equal rights feminists from academic feminism as it evolved through the 80s and 90s.

I got that, too. And I would agree that the distinction is valid and in some contexts important. What I was taking issue with was the judgement and criticism of the latter group of feminists.

What *physics analogies* have to do with this, I'm clueless.

The point, I thought, was rather obvious: things that superficially seem contradictory often are not, and, additionally, they served as illustration of the kind of even superficial contradiction that seemed missing in the asserted "contradiction".

if gender is primarily a social construction -- properties which all human beings possess which have been MOL divided into two categories and assigned to the biological sexes -- then to even speak of a "female paradigm" is a logical contradiction.

Yeah. I got your point that you were asserting this was a "logical contradiction". I think I was pretty clear with why and how I think that this is not, in fact, the case.

Exactly. It's vacuous -- whatever a particular gender feminist wants it to mean, or whatever particular cultures of periods of history she chooses to derive it from. If gender characteristics were something more hardwired, then you could talk about genuinely female qualities.

But it doesn't even pretend, generally, to be talking about "genuinely female qualities", which, as you correctly note, the idea of gender as a social construct is at odds with. Rather, it addresses critical reevaluation of the qualities labelled as "female".

It might be useful to look at what the two points stand in contrast to. The "social construct" point stands against the alternative view that gender roles are innate, the idea of a positive "female paradigm" stands against the idea that the male role is superior. They don't conflict in any way, they are largely orthogonal criticisms to different beliefs seen as part of a "paternalistic" set of assumptions.

The problem, here, is that you are injecting as an assumption external to (and directly contrary to) the actual content of gender feminism, the exact point needed to establish the contradiction you then are "discovering": that the description of a "paradigm" as a "female" one is one of its essential biological character, rather than its relation to a cultural context.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 10, 2007 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:

> But it doesn't even pretend, generally, to be talking
> about "genuinely female qualities", which, as you
> correctly note, the idea of gender as a social
> construct is at odds with. Rather, it addresses critical
? reevaluation of the qualities labelled as "female".

Well Chris, I strongly disagree with you and think most scholars of
the feminist movement would as well. There has always been a central
conflict within feminism over this issue, even if in the early days
it wasn't expressed in these later terms: Is feminism about allowing
women to "act like men," or is "acting like men" part of the problem?

Betty Friedan's generation of feminists wouldn't have used the
term, but they were solid social constructionists. They believed
that sex roles ("gender" wasn't a term yet in vogue) were a bunch
of hoo-hah, and they fought to have the same rights as men, such
as the rights to pursue ambition, to delay or opt out of family
responsibilities, to sexually pursue lovers, to speak their minds
freely. If these were considered "male traits," well then so be
it -- but they were the traits of those with social power and
personal autonomy, and they wanted their equal share of both.

Then what Friedan called the "second wave" of feminists came
along -- along with the first wave of cultural reaction against
feminism. This is a very complex story, easy to mischaracterize.
Suffice it to say that the sexual revolution provided more benefits
to men than to women. And women began to question the initial
assumptions of the equal rights feminists and reconsider the values
that had been trivialized as "merely feminine" both by the culture
at large and by feminism's first wave. It is out of this context
that gender feminism and its deep critique of patriarchy arose.

> It might be useful to look at what the two points stand in
> contrast to. The "social construct" point stands against the
> alternative view that gender roles are innate, the idea of a
> positive "female paradigm" stands against the idea that the
> male role is superior. They don't conflict in any way, they
> are largely orthogonal criticisms to different beliefs seen
> as part of a "paternalistic" set of assumptions.

Well I disagree with you, Chris; I think this is the essential
conflict of feminism. If the social constructionists of the first
wave are right, then the "battle of the sexes" is essentially a
proxy war fought on behalf of insecure male egos. Critiques against
powerful women for being "unfeminine" have no substance, because
"feminine" is arbitrary. The second wave began to see it differently.
While power and autonomy are important, at the end of the day they
support the very system that oppresses women to begin with. Only
when feminine traits are reclaimed as having equal value can society
begin to change enough to allow women to be successful *as women.*

While it's of course possible to believe aspects of both,
fundamentally these views are in deep philosophical confilct.
If gender roles are in the most important aspects not innate,
then the mission of feminism is a purely political one of raising
consciousnesses and winning legal rights. If gender roles are in
important aspects biological (and of course in some respects they
irreducibly are), then the issue of male supremecy is much more
intractible and requires reclaiming the "inferior" feminine values
directly rather than merely abandoning them for "masculine" freedom.

> The problem, here, is that you are injecting as an assumption
> external to (and directly contrary to) the actual content of
> gender feminism, the exact point needed to establish the
> contradiction you then are "discovering": that the description
> of a "paradigm" as a "female" one is one of its essential biological
> character, rather than its relation to a cultural context.

The unifying rallying cry of feminism, whether for Betty Friedan in
the 60s or for Carol Gilligan in the 80s, is a resounding attack
against essentialism -- the notion that biology is destiny. But if
this attack was prima facie true, then "gender feminism" would be
unnecessary, because the edifice of male supremecy would be as
unsupportable as white supremecy. It is women themselves who began
to feel cheated by the sky-high expectations of first-wave feminism,
who were reminded after the heady early days of the sexual revolution
that men can walk away from the children they produce in a way that
women can't. It's not to say that biology is destiny, but rather
to say that the inequality of the sexes is biologically rooted in
a singularly unfair way -- and it behooves society to redress this
imbalance by reclaiming the virtues that sustain human relationships.

It's one thing to argue for sexual equality, because the sex wars are
an inherently meaningless artifact of history and culture. It's quite
another to argue that the sex wars are entirely real and played for
the highest stakes (because men and women are irreducibly different),
and it's about time women start winning some battles for a change.

While I'd agree that it *would* be nice for "female values" to make
a resurgence in our culture (think of the payoffs to diplomacy alone),
I guess I have a hard time accepting the idea of irreducible conflict.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 10, 2007 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK
Well Chris, I strongly disagree with you and think most scholars of the feminist movement would as well.

I think we've established that we disagree, and I don't think speculation on whether other people would agree with one or the other of us really advances anything.

There has always been a central conflict within feminism over this issue, even if in the early days it wasn't expressed in these later terms: Is feminism about allowing women to "act like men," or is "acting like men" part of the problem?

Sure, that's always been a conflict in feminism, phrased many different ways (personally, I think the answer to that question is "yes", but my personal views on what should be is somewhat beside the point of our debate about characterization of gender feminism.)

Betty Friedan's generation of feminists wouldn't have used the term, but they were solid social constructionists. They believed that sex roles ("gender" wasn't a term yet in vogue) were a bunch of hoo-hah, and they fought to have the same rights as men, such as the rights to pursue ambition, to delay or opt out of family responsibilities, to sexually pursue lovers, to speak their minds freely.

Certainly, Betty Friedan saw things that way, as did many others then and since; I'm not sure I'd subscribe to a generational analysis entirely, as that seems likely to descend into a line-drawing dispute over what the boundaries of "feminism" are; certainly there were women's rights activists that didn't see eye to eye with Friedan either on the scope of policy goals or the fundamental underlying values.

Then what Friedan called the "second wave" of feminists came along -- along with the first wave of cultural reaction against feminism. This is a very complex story, easy to mischaracterize. Suffice it to say that the sexual revolution provided more benefits to men than to women. And women began to question the initial assumptions of the equal rights feminists and reconsider the values that had been trivialized as "merely feminine" both by the culture at large and by feminism's first wave. It is out of this context that gender feminism and its deep critique of patriarchy arose.

I think its wrong to see gender feminism as simply a negative reaction against equal rights feminism. Rather, its more of an extension of equal rights feminism (accepting the foundational principals of that movement as a given) that at the same time revived some of the ideas of what might be called the "better nature feminism" of some of the dissenters to the equal right feminist movement within the broader women's movement and reconciled it with equal rights feminism by eliminating the focus on "nature".

Now, its true, the movements are differentiated by their focus, but they are not incompatible. Equal rights feminists focus on the destruction of gender roles (particularly, legally enforced gender distinctions) on the basis that women should enjoy the same freedoms as men. Gender feminists generally agree with this, and accept it as fundamental and important but on its own insufficient.

Gender feminists go further and suggests that not only are gender roles artificial and harmful for the artificial distinction they create, but that the elevation of that masculine role and the corresponding subjection of the feminine role is harmful. Here, they often conflict with equal rights feminists not so much on policy grounds (as they don't, generally, oppose women having the right to do what men have historically been permitted to) but on values; seeing things that the equal rights femininists see as "progress" with women breaking into traditionally male roles as regress, in that they see more people adopting those roles as socially undesirable.

That being said, there often are policy disputes, as sometimes things that equal rights feminists tend to say everyone should be free to do, and equally so, that have traditionally favored men in law or practice, gender feminists say everyone should be prohibited by law or social convention from doing, and equally so (and gender feminists, some of them at least, often line up in odd social alignments with conservative religious factions on such issues.)

Well I disagree with you, Chris; I think this is the essential conflict of feminism.

There is certainly a conflict over what feminism should be between equal-rights-only feminists and others who would see feminism that goes beyond equal rights. I think that's the "essential", or at least most longstanding, conflict within feminism, and that the divide between equal rights feminists and gender feminists is the most visible current manifestation of that split.

I don't think, though, that it is a logical conflict in that belief, in gender feminism, that some elements of traditional female gender roles have been, by association with the feminine and its subordinate social role, devalued improperly is somehow logically in conflict with the belief, in both equal rights feminism and gender feminism, that gender roles are largely social constructs that should not be allowed to bind people.

Although I'd agree that, as you suggest later, part of the motivation for some elements of gender feminism is the indisputable fact that there are essential differences associated with biological sex particularly as regards reproduction, and a belief that developed in response to some manifestations of that that while equal rights are clearly necessary for equality between the sexes, so is a social transformation in which some traditionally feminine traits are universalized, rather than women seeing success in traditionally masculine terms.

But I don't think that conflicts with equal rights feminisms view of gender roles as socially constructed; I don't think equal rights feminists ever thought that things like child-bearing were social constructs (child-rearing, of course, is a different thing). Gender feminism is, to my view, built on the premises of equal rights feminims and a product of the goals of equal rights feminism being partially realized and producing discontents. It validates and proposes solutions for those discontents, without abandoning either the broad goal of equality under the law and even equality in what is socially acceptable and preferred, by proposing that what is socially acceptable and preferred must not simply reflect a preference for those things that are "better" because they are associated with the historically-preferred masculine role, but that the universal value of the traditionally feminine must be recognized as well.


The unifying rallying cry of feminism, whether for Betty Friedan in the 60s or for Carol Gilligan in the 80s, is a resounding attack against essentialism -- the notion that biology is destiny. But if this attack was prima facie true, then "gender feminism" would be unnecessary, because the edifice of male supremecy would be as unsupportable as white supremecy.

I disagree that that is true, though there is a substantial distinction between patriarchy and white supremacy in that the devaluation of the roles associated with unfavored races in societies with institutional racism generally predate and transcend the particular forms of institutional racism, such that, say, field labor isn't devalued in society because it was associated with the socially constructed role of blacks, but rather blacks were forced into it because they were powerless and the role already devalued. So, while they are may be a movement for the dignity of such labor, even if it is associated with a past or present disadvantaged racial or ethnic group, it won't have the character of "gender feminism" because the problem it addresses isn't the same.

Nevertheless, if the specific activities and traits devalued by association with the feminine social role are not "essentially" female, that does not change the degree to which they are devalued, nor the fact that they were devalued by attachment to the feminine role. Nor, to the extent that they have social utility, does their lack of an "essential" connection to female biology make it any less undesirable for them to continue to be devalued, as they would tend to be a feminism that glories in the achievement of the traditionally masculine and sees the traditionally feminine as something only for women to escape.


It's one thing to argue for sexual equality, because the sex wars are an inherently meaningless artifact of history and culture. It's quite another to argue that the sex wars are entirely real and played for the highest stakes (because men and women are irreducibly different), and it's about time women start winning some battles for a change.

While I'd agree that it *would* be nice for "female values" to make a resurgence in our culture (think of the payoffs to diplomacy alone), I guess I have a hard time accepting the idea of irreducible conflict.

I don't think gender feminism is about irreducible conflict, as much as about reexamining social values—it does, in part, address biological differences, though I'm not as sure that there "irreducibility" is central to gender feminism; I think when you get into irreducible conflict rather than natural and perhaps irreducible differences you've crossed from gender feminism into a kind of radical feminism (though some "radical" feminism, such as that of Dworkin—rather than the hostile caricatures of Dworkin—are not essentially all that different from "gender feminism" and don't seem to involve irreducible conflict.)

Posted by: cmdicely on January 10, 2007 at 8:07 PM | PERMALINK

If the topic were race instead of gender, would you two (presumably) white males be so prolific on the topic? I'm looking for Ashley Montagu to present at any moment!

Posted by: Just Curious on January 10, 2007 at 8:20 PM | PERMALINK

What, are you saying that cmdicely or rmck1 cannot hold valid points of view on feminism merely because of the type of reproductive organs or chromosomes they possess?

How sexist, and hypocritical.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on January 10, 2007 at 8:43 PM | PERMALINK

Just Curious:

The short answer: Yes, of course; I was a cultural studies major.

Hey, I'm neither a trained composer nor a highly skilled instrumentalist -- yet I hold forth for screens on music history, theory and aesthetics. Maybe because I love music so damned much I took the trouble to develop an understanding of it?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 11, 2007 at 1:03 AM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:

First Chris, let me thank you for engaging me in what is doubtless
my favorite kind of discussion on blogs -- a civil, closely-argued
disagreement on an issue with deep philosophical implications.

As much darned *fun* as it can be is to, say, torture
"Norman Rogers" :), this is the truer reason I come here.

>> Well Chris, I strongly disagree with you and think
>> most scholars of the feminist movement would as well.

> I think we've established that we disagree, and I don't
> think speculation on whether other people would agree
> with one or the other of us really advances anything.

I have to disagree here as well. As you doubtless know, I was an
American studies major and I think it's important to look at social
movements both longitudinally and comparatively. Betty Friedan made
many of the same points I'm doing here in her book The Second Wave
(and was sharply criticized by some feminists for it), and I think
it's more instructive to cite them as part of larger stream of an
ongoing body of critique than to merely assert one's opinions.

>> Betty Friedan's generation of feminists wouldn't have used
>> the term, but they were solid social constructionists. They
>> believed that sex roles ("gender" wasn't a term yet in vogue)
>> were a bunch of hoo-hah, and they fought to have the same
>> rights as men, such as the rights to pursue ambition, to
>> delay or opt out of family responsibilities, to sexually
>> pursue lovers, to speak their minds freely.

> Certainly, Betty Friedan saw things that way, as did many others
> then and since; I'm not sure I'd subscribe to a generational
> analysis entirely, as that seems likely to descend into a
> line-drawing dispute over what the boundaries of "feminism"
> are; certainly there were women's rights activists that didn't
> see eye to eye with Friedan either on the scope of policy
> goals or the fundamental underlying values.

Sure, just as there were two poles in the civil rights struggle
represented by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. But in
the final analysis, you have to ask yourself which pole became more
influential for the larger culture, and I think clearly (especially
in light of Malcolm's epiphany at Mecca) Dr. King wins the day here.

Since equal rights feminism -- like racial integrationism -- became
assimilated into American culture in a way that transcends political
ideology, you have to likewise give most props to Ms. Friedan.

>> Then what Friedan called the "second wave" of feminists came along
>> -- along with the first wave of cultural reaction against feminism.
>> This is a very complex story, easy to mischaracterize. Suffice it
>> to say that the sexual revolution provided more benefits to men
>> than to women. And women began to question the initial assumptions
>> of the equal rights feminists and reconsider the values that had
>> been trivialized as "merely feminine" both by the culture at large
>> and by feminism's first wave. It is out of this context that
>> gender feminism and its deep critique of patriarchy arose.

> I think its wrong to see gender feminism as simply a
> negative reaction against equal rights feminism.

It wasn't a negative reaction against equal rights feminism *per
se*, but rather an acknowledgement that the narrowly practical focus
of equal rights feminism left unchallenged some important cultural
assumptions that supported the edifice of male supremacy.

I'm a tail-end boomer, and I remember my naive gut reaction as a
kid to the Virginia Slims cigarette ad campaign: "You've got your
own cigarette now, baby, you've come a long long way!" I said
to myself oh groovy -- women have the equal right now to develop
lung cancer and emphysema and die at an early age *just like men*.

Later when I studied advertising, it became apparent that this TV
campaign -- replete with sepia-toned footage of women in the Gay
90s and Roaring 20s suffering social opprobrium for sneaking a smoke
-- was aimed directly at first-wave feminists who saw the struggle
in terms of equal rights only. That a national ad campaign could be
aimed at an ideological cohort certainly demonstrates that "Betty
Friedan feminism" is not some arbitrary line-drawing category.

> Rather, its more of an extension of equal rights feminism
> (accepting the foundational principals of that movement as a given)

Does it, though? What about, say, predatory sexual behavior
-- does that go unchallenged? In Friedan's generation, Playgirl
magazine was seen as liberating. One of the biggest conflicts
roiling academic feminism today is between pro-porn (and often
lesbian/bisexual) libertarian feminists and Dworkinites who scourge
all porn as a tool of patriarchy and equate penetrative sex with rape.

> that at the same time revived some of the ideas of what
> might be called the "better nature feminism" of some of
> the dissenters to the equal right feminist movement within
> the broader women's movement and reconciled it with equal
> rights feminism by eliminating the focus on "nature".

And therein lies the dichotomous contradiction which started us off
on this thread. You can't reclaim "better nature feminism" if there's
no "nature" to reclaim. This is an unresolved contradiction within
current feminism -- again, exemplified by the battles between sexual
puritans/communitarians and feminist libertarians. Do womens' special
sexual vulnerabilities require special protection, or is the freedom
to sexually pursue and objectify through lusting an equal right?

I have no answers here; only suggesting that nobody else does, either.

> Now, its true, the movements are differentiated by their focus,
> but they are not incompatible. Equal rights feminists focus on the
> destruction of gender roles (particularly, legally enforced gender
> distinctions) on the basis that women should enjoy the same freedoms
> as men. Gender feminists generally agree with this, and accept
> it as fundamental and important but on its own insufficient.

In the voting booth absolutely, in the courts slightly less so. I
know that some gender feminists, following Andrea Dworkin's lead,
have made common cause with religious conservatives against porn
and prostitution -- not goals necessarily shared as strongly with
equal rights feminists as, say, keeping abortion safe and legal.

> Gender feminists go further and suggests that not only are gender
> roles artificial and harmful for the artificial distinction they
> create, but that the elevation of that masculine role and the
> corresponding subjection of the feminine role is harmful. Here, they
> often conflict with equal rights feminists not so much on policy
> grounds (as they don't, generally, oppose women having the right to
> do what men have historically been permitted to) but on values;
> seeing things that the equal rights femininists see as "progress"
> with women breaking into traditionally male roles as regress, inthat
> they see more people adopting those roles as socially undesirable.

Yep. As a corollary to this, I've never understood how academic
gender feminists (Camille Paglia, of course, completely aside) fell
so in love with Madonna -- a woman who used her sexuality to create
a persona which allowed her to parlay her decidedly mediocre musical
talents into worldwide superstardom, with the message to young women
everywhere that it's an empowering thing to exploit your sexuality.

Somebody with a handle on gender feminism please explain this to me.
Strikes me that if Madonna's career happened a decade earlier, the
first-wave feminists would have piled on her for being retrograde.

> That being said, there often are policy disputes, as sometimes
> things that equal rights feminists tend to say everyone should be
> free to do, and equally so, that have traditionally favored men in
> law or practice, gender feminists say everyone should be prohibited
> by law or social convention from doing, and equally so (and gender
> feminists, some of them at least, often line up in odd social
> alignments with conservative religious factions on such issues.)

Right.

Which also serves as an object lesson in why it is
wise not to begin a response until one has completely
read the message one is responding to :( Cf. supra.

> I don't think, though, that it is a logical conflict in that
> belief, in gender feminism, that some elements of traditional
> female gender roles have been, by association with the feminine
> and its subordinate social role, devalued improperly is somehow
> logically in conflict with the belief, in both equal rights
> feminism and gender feminism, that gender roles are largely
> social constructs that should not be allowed to bind people.

Except, Chris, that by its very name, "gender feminism" doesn't
fully buy into the social construction analysis. To a Dworkinite
or anti-porn feminist, the experience of sex is inherently different
for men and women, and women are inherently more sexually vulnerable.
Men penetrate and women are penetrated, men pursue, women are
pursued; from this it follows that we live in a "rape culture,"
where the act of sex inevitably implies the imposition of the will
of the stronger onto the weaker. Agree or disagree with this;
I'm not necessarily a Dworkin-basher. I'm only saying that this
viewpoint is strictly impossible in a social construction analysis.

> Although I'd agree that, as you suggest later, part of the
> motivation for some elements of gender feminism is the indisputable
> fact that there are essential differences associated with biological
> sex particularly as regards reproduction, and a belief that
> developed in response to some manifestations of that that while
> equal rights are clearly necessary for equality between the
> sexes, so is a social transformation in which some traditionally
> feminine traits are universalized, rather than women
> seeing success in traditionally masculine terms.

That was a large part of my point, yes.

> But I don't think that conflicts with equal rights feminisms view
> of gender roles as socially constructed; I don't think equal rights
> feminists ever thought that things like child-bearing were social
> constructs (child-rearing, of course, is a different thing).

The idea was more like modern technology and a scientific worldview
serves to obviate the big differences. If giving birth is no longer a
mystic ritual but rather a medical proceedure, if upper-body strength
is augmented by machines, if the act of sex can be reliably divorced
from reproduction, then physical differences shrink to marginality.

Unfortunately, some of this naive faith in science and technology
went the way of too cheap to meter and better living through
chemistry in the cultural backlash against the sexual revolution ...

> Gender feminism is, to my view, built on the premises of
> equal rights feminims and a product of the goals of equal rights
> feminism being partially realized and producing discontents.

Yes.

> It validates and proposes solutions for those discontents, without
> abandoning either the broad goal of equality under the law

Under the law, certainly not.

> and even equality in what is socially acceptable and preferred,
> by proposing that what is socially acceptable and preferred
> must not simply reflect a preference for those things that are
> "better" because they are associated with the historically-
> preferred masculine role, but that the universal value of
> the traditionally feminine must be recognized as well.

Just as in the Black Power movement, it is an attempt to reclaim what
was culturally devalued. But notice something: Black Power was
basically a fad, an epiphenomenon of the ethnic roots-obsessed late
60s/early 70s. And while today you occasionally note catch phrases
like "It's a Black thing, baby, you wouldn't understand," nobody
really takes this seriously. Gangsta rap is occasionally defended
(often by whites) as being a valid expression of black culture --
and many African-Americans become offended by this. While there may
be such a thing as "gender feminism," there's certainly no such thing
as "race civil rights." Why? Because the social constructionist
analysis has completely won out: black and white people are seen as
inherently equal and *all* differences are the products of culture.

Except, I dunno, maybe schlong size :)

Can't quite say the same thing about the sexes -- which is why
the various backlashes against feminism have had much more
cultural currency than the more strictly politically-motivated
backlashes against civil rights -- which has even so continued
to march in a MOL straight line towards full social equality.
My problem with gender feminism is that a continual assertion
of qualities associated with one gender or the other can't help
impeding the notion that men and women are inherently equal beings.

>> The unifying rallying cry of feminism, whether for Betty Friedan in
>> the 60s or for Carol Gilligan in the 80s, is a resounding attack
>> against essentialism -- the notion that biology is destiny. But if
>> this attack was prima facie true, then "gender feminism" would be
>> unnecessary, because the edifice of male supremecy would be as
>> unsupportable as white supremecy.

> I disagree that that is true, though there is a substantial
> distinction between patriarchy and white supremacy in that the
> devaluation of the roles associated with unfavored races in
> societies with institutional racism generally predate and transcend
> the particular forms of institutional racism, such that, say, field
> labor isn't devalued in society because it was associated with the
> socially constructed role of blacks, but rather blacks were forced
> into it because they were powerless and the role already devalued.
> So, while they are may be a movement for the dignity of such labor,
> even if it is associated with a past or present disadvantaged racial
> or ethnic group, it won't have the character of "gender feminism"
> because the problem it addresses isn't the same.

Or more simply put, the difference between the races
is purely socially constructed in a way that the
difference between the sexes -- especially regarding
the sexual vulnerability of women -- is not.

> Nevertheless, if the specific activities and traits devalued by
> association with the feminine social role are not "essentially"
> female, that does not change the degree to which they are devalued,
> nor the fact that they were devalued by attachment to the feminine
> role. Nor, to the extent that they have social utility, does their
> lack of an "essential" connection to female biology make it any
> less undesirable for them to continue to be devalued, as they
> would tend to be a feminism that glories in the achievement
> of the traditionally masculine and sees the traditionally
> feminine as something only for women to escape.

Camille Paglia (who I must confess a certain fascination for, despite
the fact that she's completely bonkers) once wrote that the entire
history of sexual dimorphism through culture can be explained by the
fact that men can piss their names in the snow :) I dunno if I'd get
quite *that* Sir James Frazer about it, but does seem to me that all
the qualities associated with women of which this particular culture
so sorely lacks -- conflict resolution, lateral networking, nurturing,
concern for the weakest, group-directed problem solving -- are so
strongly associated with the skills required in child rearing that
the question of nature vs nurture is a virtual moot point. Biology
ain't destiny -- but until men are forced en masse for a handful of
generations to be the primary caregivers of children, we are going
to continue see a strong sexual dimorphism with these qualities.

And that, IMHO, is a goddamn tragedy.

>> It's one thing to argue for sexual equality, because the sex wars
>> are an inherently meaningless artifact of history and culture. It's
>> quite another to argue that the sex wars are entirely real and
>> played for the highest stakes (because men and women are
>> irreducibly different), and it's about time women start
>> winning some battles for a change.

>> While I'd agree that it *would* be nice for "female values"
>> to make a resurgence in our culture (think of the payoffs
>> to diplomacy alone), I guess I have a hard time accepting
>> the idea of irreducible conflict.

> I don't think gender feminism is about irreducible conflict, as
> much as about reexamining social values--it does, in part,
> address biological differences, though I'm not as sure that there
> "irreducibility" is central to gender feminism; I think when you
> get into irreducible conflict rather than natural and perhaps
> irreducible differences you've crossed from gender feminism into
> a kind of radical feminism (though some "radical" feminism, such
> as that of Dworkin--rather than the hostile caricatures of Dworkin--
> are not essentially all that different from "gender feminism"
> and don't seem to involve irreducible conflict.)

Well, take our interlocutor, Just Curious (doubtless a product
of the modern academy), who just snarked at the both of us for
having the temerity to be (s/he assumes) umm, white males (I'll
confess if you will, Chris; though I doubtless get less points
for not having a Latina wife :), while having this immense, multi-
screen discussion of feminism. What does that say? That feminism
is not, you know, a discussion about inherently human values which
happen to have been, through a malicious accident of history,
socially constructed so as to sexually dimorphize them, but rather
that feminism is a woman's issue, baby, and we wouldn't understand.

The only proper response there is fuck *that* shit, baby :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 11, 2007 at 6:52 AM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:

Arrghh, egregious mistake. Black Power movement = Black is Beautiful movement.

Black Power was associated with the Black Panthers and was explicitly political and revolutionary. Black is Beautiful was a more mainstream cultural movement (associated with afro hairstyles and dashikis, etc.) to instill black pride, and for awhile it was a good thing, if somewhat faddish in that it faded away fairly quickly.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 11, 2007 at 7:02 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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