Monday, May 17, 2010

Tales From Gilead

"From father's house to husband's house to a grave that still might not be her own, a woman acquiesces to male authority in order to gain some protection from male violence. She conforms, in order to be as safe as she can be." -Andrea Dworkin

As though straight from Serena Joy's journal, I recently read the writings of a conservative woman who wants to restore what she calls "customary discrimination" against women in the workplace. Admitting that pre-feminist days were essentially a giant affirmative-action program for men, blogger The Thinking Housewife ("TH") opines upon her vision for a better future:

"First and foremost, we must restore customary economic discrimination in favor of men. America’s businesses and institutions must be free once again to favor men over women in hiring."

Basically, she's in favor of making shit harder for women in two ways. First, lucrative fields would only be open to men, unless the occasional woman proved that she was "exceptional."

"Business and institutions would be as free to favor women as they were before, but would violate an unwritten code if they favored anything but exceptional women in lucrative fields.

Especially gifted and ambitious women, generally those who will not have families, will still be exceptions in all fields, as they were before the feminist era. There will still be women doctors, lawyers and professors, just far fewer of them. Ambitious women will not find it as easy to make their way as they do today."

Second, she would make divorce more difficult and less desirable for women to obtain. Combined with her proposed restrictions on female wage-earning, the end goal is to keep women economically dependent on men:

"Women should generally face the loss of child custody and a serious decline in income if they initiate divorce, except in the event of proven malfeasance on the part of the husband. Single women will still be able to find jobs and receive help from fathers and extended family. Most of them will not be rich."

The general point of this oh-so-desirable discrimination, TH explains, is essentially the production of consumers who will, in turn, buy stuff:

"Competition in the world economy is not the first and most vital task of the American market. Given its size, the American economy has vast potential for serving itself and Americans alone. In any event, our economy requires a healthy, moral and educated workforce. It also requires a large number of consumers within its own borders. Consumers are born, and raised, not manufactured."

A woman's primary function in this return to traditional society, of course, is to produce and raise consumers. A man's function is to create the stuff that the consumers buy.

How fulfilling.

This plan sounds like a horrifying made-up dystopian plot. But, of course, this experiment has been done before. By limiting women's opportunities to earn a living independent of a man, heterosexuality becomes compulsory for women. For the women who do not marry, they become spinsters, economically unstable, and dependent upon "help from fathers and extended family." Women become valued primarily by the children they bear and raise; men are valued for their contributions to the public sphere and their leadership over their families.

TH's plan is the extension of the ideology that posits that men and women are very different from one another, perhaps complementary, and are thus suitable for different occupations in life. This sort of superficial, shallow thinking about the "inherent" polarity of the sexes is illustrated in TH's discussion section (she does not allow comments on her blog), where she posts emails from readers and then responds to them. Commenter Mark, for instance, mansplains:

"The reality is that the cultural ruin of America was caused by women. Specifically, women’s political, sexual and financial freedom is largely responsible for the decline of the West and not some abstract 'culture.'

We harp a lot on liberalism, but what is liberalism but female thinking unbounded?"

Women, according to Mark, have a way of thinking that is quite different than the way men think. Whereas women think liberally, men think in way that is opposite to that: conservatively.

TH, in response to Mark, does not object to his statement that Women Have Ruined Everything, but instead chooses to give Mark's Male Superiority Complex a handjob while reinforcing this sex polarity:

"A society run by women is less capable of the abstractions needed to ensure its own survival. This is all the more reason why male thinking should assert itself in the economic sphere, which is my point in this article."

Thusly, according to TH, are women inherently less capable of abstract thought whereas men inherently are more capable of it. The manly way of thinking, of course, is the preferred and superior form of thought, as Lady Thinking leads to society's downfall. This exchange is a nice illustration of the way that some use the myth of gender polarity/complementarity to support a sex/gender hierarchy. Men and women think very differently, the argument goes, and the male way of thinking is inherently more suitable for public life. Therefore, men should dominate the public sphere.

In light of this obvious male narcissism, which often still passes for good 'ol folksy folks common sense, it is ironic that Mark and TH accuse women of being inherently "narcissistic" compared to men. Yet, given that patriarchs "always are the reverse of what they claim to be," are we really surprised?

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