The Roles, They Are A’Changing

I’ve recently had some correspondence with a rabid anti-feminist (see my post “The Equal Rights Amendment: Overdue or Overblown?“). It’s easy to write off his comments as the rants of a troll (Internet-speak for someone who deliberately leaves comments intended to rile up the writer or other readers), but I took him seriously enough to answer him and to write about his comments today. For one thing, he appears to be quite serious about his anti-feminism; when he writes on his Anti Feminism Blog he takes the time to address specific arguments for feminism with counter-arguments that sometimes have some validity to them.

For example, he writes that the gender pay gap exists because women choose to work part-time and take off more time than men do because of their child-rearing responsibilities. In other words, they undercut their own advancement by their lifestyle choices. This is a well-documented phenomenon all over the world. But he refuses to acknowledge that women who are willing to accept the same conditions as men traditionally do are treated as if they are going to suddenly turn into women who would rather stay home with their children, even if they are childless.  They are being stereotyped just as surely as African-Americans are who are typified as lazy.

It’s patently unfair, as well as unrealistic, to assume that just because a job candidate has male genitalia he will be a better or harder or more consistent worker than a woman will be.  The real problem lies with society. Not only do we socialize women to be less ambitious in the workplace, we also make it hard for her to juggle her other responsibilities if she does choose to work outside the home. There is no such problem with men, because they have wives. What women need are wives of their own—or else husbands who will contribute as much to home and child care as they do.

I suspect that anti-feminists who are male (sadly, there are female anti-feminists) resent the perception that they are being asked to do all the changing while women reap the benefits. What they don’t realize is that women who enter the work force have to make a lot of changes, too. In a way it was much easier for both sexes when their roles were strictly defined by social expectations. Now that those expectations are shifting, both men and women are finding themselves lost without a template.

Another thing that anti-feminists fail to see is that it is not just feminists who are calling for these changes. Women who would never identify as feminists are standing up for their right to work at whatever job they choose and to be paid as much as men. They welcome more help around the house and with the children. Anti-feminists blame feminists for the ills of society when in fact it is society that is changing.

And it is not only women who benefit when men conform to the “demands” of feminism. Men are no longer expected to be the sole breadwinner for their families. They’re being given custody of children and alimony more often than ever before. (Shared custody is much more common than it used to be.) They don’t carry the full brunt of being our country’s protectors (i.e., in the military). It has become much more acceptable for men to show their emotions and even to express their “feminine” side. They get to spend more time with their children.

It’s human nature to react with fear and anger whenever we think something we’re used to is being taken away from us. But what anti-feminists need to realize is that they’re gaining much more than they’re losing.

The End of Men?

The title, “The End of Men,” is provocative; in fact, it’s like waving a red flag at a bull. I can just see men reacting to it like this: “Those damn feminists! That’s been their agenda all along: to get men out of the picture!” And feminists are bristling at the implication that women have won the war between the sexes.

But that’s not really what the article is about. Hannah Rosin writes in the July/August issue of The Atlantic Monthly of the changes that have occurred in the last twenty or thirty years that favor women. But nowhere does she say that men are obsolete. What she is really asking, it seems, is, do men have as much power as they used to?

What’s it really about?

I’ve had a theory for years that the reason men seek to keep women down is because in reality they fear them and their potential power. That it is precisely because women are so competent that men feel so threatened by them. Most men have ambivalent feelings about women: they like them for some purposes (which I hardly need to go into), but become uncomfortable when they step out of those roles and begin to impinge on the territory of men.

Are women becoming more important?

Perhaps it’s not really the end of men that we’re seeing, but the end of patriarchy. Not that it’s in danger of disappearing any time soon, but I don’t think anyone can deny that its hold on the world is weakening. Even cultures that are still decidedly patriarchal are beginning to recognize that the more empowered women are the better off all people are.  Consider this:

In 2006, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development devised the Gender, Institutions and Development Database, which measures the economic and political power of women in 162 countries. With few exceptions, the greater the power of women, the greater the country’s economic success. [From Rosin’s article.]

The handwriting is on the wall. We ignore the well-being of women at our peril.

Are men giving up?

But does this mean that men are beginning to give up their position of power? Hardly. It’s not in their nature. Even though women now make up more of the work force than men do (only marginally more, but still) and attend and graduate from college in higher numbers, men are not likely to take women’s growing influence in society lying down.  They still make most of the hiring and firing decisions, set the pay scales, orchestrate the promotions and own the companies.  Men primarily conduct the wars, make the laws and head government committees and think-tanks.

In other words, we’re not seeing the changing of the guard. Women are not supplanting men. There is no matriarchy developing on the horizon.

Is this true for all men and women?

That doesn’t mean that Rosin’s article doesn’t make some valid points. But when she writes about how gender roles are changing, she is mainly writing about the segment of society that has the luxury of making those changes. The woman who makes more than her husband is a rarity among the lower classes. She might be employed and he isn’t, but she’s not exactly raking in the dough, nor is she stepping into a better job than he formerly held.

Women  still have to work harder than men to get as far. And even then, they aren’t likely to make as much money. There is still a strong separation between the prestige and pay of “men’s work” versus “women’s work.” Just because some women have broken through the ranks to achieve male-like success, doesn’t mean that the barriers have been erased.

Will the war ever be over?

The problem with Rodin’s article is that she represents the gender debate as “either-or.”  As if one sex winning means that the other sex automatically loses. She asks, “What if  the economics of the new era are better suited to women?” as if one, and only one, sex will always be in charge while the other fades into the background.

There is only one answer, only one goal worth having, and that is to make sex/gender irrelevant. I’m not saying that there are no innate differences between the sexes. But these are only generalities.  It’s counterproductive, not to mention stupid, to assume that you can predict a person’s accomplishments based solely on his or her gender. When it comes right down to it, we are much more than our biology. Each person needs to be judged as a human, not as a man or a woman.

Critics of feminism have the misconception that feminists are only for the advancement of women, when in reality their goal has always been for equality of the sexes. But as long as the sexes teeter back and forth in their scrabble to be the one on top, the goal of equality will be elusive.

What’s Up With This? Wednesday: Women in Music

Where are the female Beatles? The female Elvis Presley? Or the female Bob Dylan? Why have so few women made an impact on our popular music culture? There have been many biopics made of male singers and musicians, but hardly any of women. Is it because women aren’t as talented? Or as determined to get ahead in the business? Or because they haven’t been given the chances and the promotion that men have been given? Or are we just more interested in men than in women?

It’s not that women are totally ignored. They have always sold plenty of records. It’s just that they seem to fade from the public’s consciousness as soon as their heydays are over. In my day there was Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Janis Ian, Carol King—who even knows those names today? Even the better-known names like Janis Joplin and Joan Jett have never been given the accolades that their male counterparts were given.

Women have always fared better in country music for some reason. There have been movies made about Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline, for instance. I have a theory about that. The bulk of country music is about topics that are popular with women: love won and lost, getting over (and getting rid of) a love gone wrong, family values, etc. So female country singers are competing on the same playing field as the males are.

The same is somewhat true in blues and R&B—at least when you’re just thinking about singers. There’s Billy Holliday, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Etta James, for instance. But as soon as you start naming famous blues musicians (specifically guitarists), women seem to drop off the radar. Who is there to compare with Stevie Ray Vaughn or Buddy Guy? Is that just because women aren’t as capable of or as drawn to playing the guitar? Or because they can’t get the support—and record deals—that men can?

The situation is even worse for female composers (dead and alive). Can you think of any?

Music isn’t the only field where women are under-represented. But when you think about how music permeates and shapes our culture, it is a little unsettling that women have (seemingly) contributed so little to this process. The strange thing is, topics that women relate to are very popular (even the Beatles started out with “She Loves Me, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”), but they are co-opted by male singers and musicians. Just like white singers used to co-opt the music of black singers.

Let’s face it: sexism and racism are a lot alike. Both are fueled by the white male’s feeling of superiority. Music producers (who are usually white males, at least until recently) control who gets recorded, and they seem to believe that men will sell better than women. If you doubt that men and women are treated differently, look at the music scene.

Misogynist Myths – What Men Think About Women

Photo from BBC News

Here are a few statements about women that are stated as facts. Some of them are patently untrue while others have at least a kernel of truth to them. I’ve added some generalizations of my own in the comments. See what you think.

  1. Women are bad drivers. I discuss this in my February 11, 2010 post, “Women Drivers.”
  2. Women are emotional. While this may be true, that doesn’t mean that men aren’t also emotional. It’s just that the emotions themselves may be different.
  3. Women are passive. If this is so, it’s because they’re socialized to be that way.
  4. Women seek love as opposed to sex. See #5.
  5. Women are less interested in sex than men are. Depends on which women—and men—you’re talking to. Besides, if this were true, why do so many cultures go out of their way to control women’s sexuality?
  6. Women talk too much. No, they just tend to talk about different things than men do. And women have been tagged as talkative because men don’t value their opinions.
  7. Women are into commitment and monogamy more than men are. This may be hard-wired into them because they know they need a stable environment in which to raise children.
  8. Women are weak. Some women are physically weak compared to some men, but they tend to be stronger emotionally. And they handle pain better.
  9. Women are sneaky. This is another way of saying “passive-aggressive.” And like, passivity, they have learned to be “sneaky” because being out-front often backfires on them.
  10. Women are hard to work with/for. I say men are just as hard to work for although perhaps for different reasons (autocratic leadership styles, sexual harassment, not giving women credit, etc.)
  11. Women are more “into” parenthood than men are. This one is unfair to men.
  12. Women are better with babies and young children. Again, unfair to men.
  13. All women want to have children. Not true. And it’s not unnatural if they don’t.
  14. Women are especially suited for the “helping” professions. This is a myth that is perpetrated in order to keep women in their place. Besides, men don’t want to do the “dirty” work.
  15. Women don’t have the drive to succeed than men do (women are not ambitious). This one’s a laugh!
  16. Women can’t make up their minds. It may seem this way because women are good at looking at an issue from all sides and weighing the alternatives.
  17. Women are better at keeping house than men are. Maybe that’s because housekeeping is one sphere they’re allowed to operate in and they take pride in it. However, men can be just as good at it.
  18. Women have better verbal skills, men have better math skills. Although the brain shows signs of gender differentiation, this may be something that is encouraged by their environments.
  19. Women are more into the arts, men into sports. Same response as number 18.
  20. Women don’t age well. Really? Have you seen Susan Sarandon lately?

The Breakdown of the Family

There are a lot of people who blame feminism for the breakdown of the family. They see feminists as essentially selfish people, who don’t care who they hurt in their quests to get what they want. They divorce their husbands, leave their children in the care of strangers and let ambition take over their lives. What critics of feminism won’t admit is that it is not just feminists who are doing these things. Any woman can be guilty of putting themselves before their families, as can any man.

familyRather, feminism is a corrective measure for what’s wrong with our society.

When a relationship is unhealthy or abusive, feminism gives a woman the courage to leave. When an employer is cheating female employees out of pay or benefits, feminism inspires them to speak up for themselves. When a woman has to support herself and her children, feminism looks out for her interests in the courts and the workplace. When young girls and women are trying to find themselves, feminism gives them models and mentors.

Emotional, physical and financial security do not contribute to the breakdown of the family.

What does?

The economy. It’s the rare family that can exist on one income. Most women go to work outside of the home at some point in their marriages. (And that’s not even counting the ones who have to work because of divorce or the death of their spouses.) Children get more expensive, college needs to be paid for, retirement plans need to be funded, health care costs rise.

Materialism. More families might be able to get by with less if they didn’t want so damn much. The rate at which technology is changing means that there is always some new improved products that consumers feel they just have to have. Many people overspend on houses, cars and vacations. Cable, cell phones and Internet access are seen as necessities.

The workplace. When the world became industrialized, women left their homes to work in sweatshops and mills. When WWII came along they went to work in the factories. Now the service industry is growing exponentially and women obviously have to work outside of the home when they have those kinds of jobs. Not only that, but the workplace usually makes it more difficult for a woman to fulfill her wifely and motherly duties because of inflexibility.

Divorce. I include divorce in this list, but the truth is, divorce doesn’t break down the family, it just creates different family formations. A single parent with children is a family. An adult child living with parents is a family. The only form of family that gets hit hard by divorce is the nuclear family. And it’s never been as prominent as people would like to believe. Parents used to have to send their children to relatives or children’s homes when they couldn’t afford to keep them. Now they at least try to maintain some kind of family unit. It just doesn’t look like some people want it to look.

The reason that feminism is blamed for the breakdown of the family is because women are blamed for the breakdown of the family. What about the man who abandons or doesn’t support his family? Is that feminism’s fault, too? Let’s put the blame where it really belongs and start looking to feminism for solutions.