Category Archives: Undead sexist cliches

Undead sexist cliche: feminists should do their own housework

So in a lengthy discussion elsewhere online, one commenter volunteered the opinion that “some white women might not be as keen on sharing that space with women of color, either (see the suffrage an earlier feminist movements), as their feminism and its gains must necessarily involve the subjugation of black and brown women. Can’t have the nanny/housekeeper/babysitter pools drying up. Can we?” I didn’t get a chance to respond before comments closed.

This is not the first time I’ve run into the argument that feminists build their careers on the backs of working-class/WOC who assume responsibility for cooking/cleaning/babycare and that this is bad. Caitlin Flanagan, for example, was complaining a couple of decades back that for career women, “Scrubbing the toilet bowl is a bit of nastiness that can be fobbed off on anyone poor and luckless enough to qualify for no better employment.” As Echidne points out, this is amazingly hypocritical from someone who by her own admission elsewhere employs a full domestic staff, never changes sheets and let her nanny attend to the kids’ diarrhea.

Flanagan also assumes that housework is by definition bad, an occupation only taken by the “poor and luckless” and therefore its inherently exploitative. Writer Sally Howard reaches a similar conclusion in an article from March: she tried paying her cleaning person well (said cleaner was very happy) but felt she was still demeaning her, implying by hiring her that she (Howard) was too good to clean the toilets herself.

I tend to see these arguments as a variation on older jokes about women who hire housekeepers even when they’re stay-at-home moms: what’s with that? As Echidne, again, says, they all hinge on the assumption that women should clean their own homes. And that finding someone else to do it “necessarily involves the subjugation of black and brown women” who are poor and desperate (one reason I’m not linking to the source is that not having had a chance to respond, I can’t be certain I’m interpreting the quote fairly). But as Howard points out, paying someone good money is an option, so finding domestic staff doesn’t require subjugation.

I admit it’s quite possible some of the cleaners wouldn’t take the jobs if they had an alternative: lots of people hate this kind of job. One of the reasons some immigrants gave for moving the American colonies that while life might be hard, it was better than going into domestic service. It’s quite possible the cleaners wouldn’t take the jobs if they had a better alternative but that’s true of many jobs such as farm work or customer service (not that all people hate customer service but I’ve known people who did feel working retail was beneath them). I’ve often wondered whether we’d see huge gaps in the economy if everyone was free to do jobs they wanted (and were qualified for) — though I’ve also heard people say they’re happy with a job that doesn’t demand anything beyond a few hours of grunt work a day. Though either way, we’re not likely to find out any time soon.

And as Echidne says (and Howard too) it’s not like this is some unique evil perpetrated by feminists alone. Men hire housekeepers. Businesses hire cleaning staff. If cleaning is inherently exploitative, then it’s a society wide issue and everyone has a vested interest in keeping the pool of help stocked. And of course, much of modern American capitalism is built around the assumption that men can work long hours because there’s a woman to take care of the cleaning, cooking and kids, only it’s the man’s wife and she’s doing it for nothing. Which is what Howard, Flanagan (quite hypocritically) and possibly the commenter seem to think is fair. The commenter doesn’t seem to see feminists getting their husband or kids to contribute is a solution; Flanagan flatly rules that out as unworkable.

I agree the system is imperfect. But arguing that feminists are hypocrites if they hire housekeepers is just a variation of the “you say you criticize capitalism but you buy things!” school of purity.


Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

Political default settings

So right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro recently announced he was giving up sports because it’s getting too political with all those athletes taking the knee during the anthem. Which as LGM points out, ignores that playing the national anthem is political too. But Shapiro doesn’t notice (assuming he’s sincere, which I do not assume) because that kind of politics is a default setting, something taken for granted. It’s an unmarked category, something that’s treated as normal and unremarkable: “if you had asked a lawyer in 1960 to name three characteristics that every current Supreme Court justice shared, it’s very likely the lawyer would not have mentioned either race or gender. In other words, we notice characteristics we don’t expect to see much more than characteristics we assume will be present.”

The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, for instance, said prior to the 2016 election that he didn’t want Clinton in office because America didn’t need two “demographically significant” presidents in a row. In his eyes, putting in a white man had no demographic significance; it was an unmarked category. Columnist Suzanne Fields once complained that the American Psychological Association had stopped  classifying homosexuality as a disease not for science because of modern cultural assumptions gay is okay (which she disagrees with). The possibility earlier generations assuming homosexuals were mentally ill was also a response to cultural assumptions did not occur to her, or if it did she kept silent about it.

Then we have the rants of various right-wing SF authors that they’re tired of political Social Justice Warrior novels where Earth conquering alien races is treated like a bad thing. The good old days when Earth empires were perfectly acceptable? No, that wasn’t political at all.

Part of what freaks out 21st century conservatives is that things that were unmarked back when I was born are now marked categories. Having a white male in the Oval Office isn’t just a fact of life, it’s a choice, just like a black or female president. While male characters still dominate action fiction and specfic, people are now conscious that writing about white men is just as much a choice (which some men think is the only right choice). And that raises the uncomfortable (for many people) possibility that even if they’ve worked hard for what they got, they still benefited from being white and male. Conservatives hate being called on it; more liberal people may not want to think they’ve benefited from the oppression of others (I certainly don’t). As a friend of mine said, it’s like learning your family fortune came from blood money.

Much easier to imagine the social hierarchy of the 1950s or the 1920s was a natural one: reserving the Ivy League for white men or favoring white men in jobs was meritocracy in action, not affirmative action for white people.

At least, that’s what some people tell themselves.


Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

Before Roe v. Wade and the limits of research

BEFORE ROE V. WADE: Voices That Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court’s Ruling by Linda Greenhouse and Reva B. Siegel collects various speeches, articles, legislative statements and amicus curae briefs on the title topic. It’s a good addition to my reading for Undead Sexist Cliches but also shows there’s a point at which to stop researching.

The goal of the authors was to capture the period now 50 years gone when abortion was illegal in much of the country, activist groups helped arrange abortions (if you had the money, flying to Japan was one option) and reformers began to speak up. The debate over making moderate reforms was surprisingly different in the late 1960s, focusing on the right of doctors to give medical advice or the need to reduce population growth; it was only with feminism’s boom in the 1970s that the rights of women became the dominant issue.

On the right, nobody but Catholics focused on the life or rights of the fetus.For Phyllis Schlafly the issue was feminism: abortion was just part of the women’s libbers tricking women into giving up their god-given roles as mothers. Other conservatives saw abortion as a sign of society becoming more permissive about sex, which is why the Nixon campaign denounced McGovern (whose views on the topic weren’t very different) as the pro-permissive candidate of “amnesty, acid and abortion.” Nixon staffer Pat Buchanan (who would rant about feminism’s evils many times in his later career as a pundit) saw opposing abortion as a tactical move, a way to peel off Catholic working-class voters from the Democrats. It wasn’t until the end of the decade that “abortion is murder!” became the rallying cry of choice.

The authors conclude with an appendix in which they argue that contrary to some theories, the Supreme Court’s Roe decision did not spark a massive backlash against abortion rights which wouldn’t have happened if state legislatures had made the decision. At the start of the decade, several legislatures did liberalize their abortion laws, then the mostly Catholic opposition got organized and stopped further attempts. Unlike most pro-choicers, anti-abortion voters were single-issue focused, willing to vote against an otherwise favorable candidate on that basis alone.

This provided some useful context to my book’s chapter on anti-abortion cliches but not so much that I couldn’t have done without it. Which is my point about the limits of research: it’s not that I couldn’t learn more from other books, but I’m not going to learn so much that it’s worth the time to read them. I’m not sure it was worth the time for this one, though I did find it interesting (you can download it yourself for free, from a legit site, if you want). Seeking absolute knowledge is futile; at some point you’ve just got to jump in and start (and finish) writing. And with Undead Sexist Cliches, I think I’m there.



Filed under Nonfiction, Politics, Undead sexist cliches, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book

Women are not means to an end. They are ends in themselves

It was Immanuel Kant who said that people are not means to an end, they are ends in themselves. In other words, not tools. Not cannon fodder. Not just supporting characters who have to subordinate their needs to the protagonist’s personal arc. And in the case of women (I do not know that Kant would see it this way but I do) not just baby making machines.

By contrast we have the view that the prime duty of women is to serve men. We shouldn’t allow women’s equality because it destroys men. We should redistribute women like we do tax money. Sexist pundit Dennis Prager thinks women’s sexual desire is irrelevant to their duty to put out “Why do we assume that it is terribly irresponsible for a man to refuse to go to work because he is not in the mood, but a woman can — indeed, ought to — refuse sex because she is not in the mood?” Right-winger DC McAlister similar argues that if the man’s horny, the woman’s duty is to make love, whether she wants to or not. If that’s a typical view, small wonder so many conservatives think marital rape should be legal. I have yet to see these misogynists argue the reverse — if she wants it and he doesn’t, he has a duty to finger, tongue or sex-toy her to orgasm. Her wishes are negligible, what matters is that the husband get off. And yet right-wingers argue that it’s premarital sex that objectifies women …

Similarly, there’s the sense that the decision to have babies shouldn’t depend on whether a woman wants one, only on whether society needs one. Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, for instance, declares that a woman’s womb is “OUR WOMB — that’s right, it doesn’t belong to her, it belongs to the males in her society.” He’s speaking specifically about white women having interracial babies but it’s just as applicable in other situations. Claims women have to pop out babies to keep up the population or the white population. Alt.right male supremacist Sacco Vandal, for example, declares “we have to strip females of suffrage and most if not all political, legal, and economic power …Our men need harems, and the members of those harems need to be baby factories.” Similarly white nationalist F. Roger Devlin  condemns feminism because it offers women choices other than getting married and breeding more white babies (sorry, too rushed to link to everything).

“When you get a birth rate less than 2 percent, that society is disappearing, and it’s being replaced by folks that come behind them and immigrate, don’t wish to assimilate into that society and they do believe in having children.” — Florida State Rep. Dennis Baxley on how we need to ban abortion to keep our native-born (again) population up. Delaware State Rep. Rep. Richard Collins says he opposes abortion because “Our birthrate is way, way below replacement [levels]. You know, we are just not having enough babies.” Pastor Hans Fiene says women and men being friends distracts them from getting married and making babies for America.

Of course this comes from the same wing freaking out that Obamacare makes insurance ob/gyn coverage standard. They don’t simply want women to stay home, barefoot and pregnant, they don’t give a crap that it’s increasingly hard to do, even in a two-parent household. I’ve heard arguments that since college education correlates with smaller families, maybe governments should make college harder to get into. None of these male supremacists ever suggest better legal protection for pregnant workers. Better day care. Better pay. Better parental leave. Laws that ensure the rights of the fetus don’t cancel out the mother’s. It’s always the stick, never the carrot.

There’s no guarantee that if we did offer carrots, women would have more babies. Even countries with much more parent-friendly policies than ours still have low birth rates. But the solution, contrary to Vandal and Devlin, isn’t to take away women’s rights, it’s to figure out alternative paths.

What would it take to keep the economy going if the native-born population dwindles? More immigration would do it, but that’s unthinkable to the right wing these days. What about automation? I’ve heard scary predictions how many jobs will go away over the next twenty years; maybe we actually don’t need as big a population to run the economy. And there must be ways we can finance an effective government with fewer taxpayers.

But the people who fuss about the lack of babies aren’t going to be into any solutions that require not treating women as means to an end. They can’t stomach them being anything else.

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Undead sexist cliches: Women can’t have it all (#SFWApro)

Back in the 1970s, there was a tentative optimism that women could “have it all.” Meaning a happy marriage, kids and a healthy career instead of having to choose between work or family. Men got to have it all because they could count on wives handling housework and kids so they could work late at the office. So with a little tinkering to make society more egalitarian and renegotiating classical gender roles, women could have the same deal. Get businesses to hire on the basis of merit, not gender. Encourage husbands to help out more at home. Make daycare more wildly available.

Of course it hasn’t worked out like that. Women still deal with most childcare and household tasks (plus a lot of them in my generation and Generation X are helping out with aging parents). Sexism is still deep-rooted in the workplace. The backlash to modern feminism’s initial gains has blocked family friendly policies; as witness one South Dakota Republican who says if a business discriminates against pregnant women, the solution is for the woman to quit. Many feminists have discussed whether having it all even a sensible goal, given the realities a lot of women face (as Anne-Marie Slaughter discusses in The Atlantic). Is it something they can do on their own or do we have to concentrate on remaking society first?

But for this post, my focus is on the antifeminist side, the people who think women cannot have it all and shouldn’t have it all. Except maybe themselves.

For example, William Bennett (the pompous pundit who waxes nostalgic over the Donner party’s cannibalism) made a complete non sequitur during one interview back in the 1990s, telling the interviewer that women can’t have it all and we should start teaching them that in schools. I have a strong suspicion that if the teaching ran to “you can’t have it all because you live in a patriarchal, sexist society where men don’t want to give up their privilege” he would not be happy.

That women just can’t have it all and nothing about this is changeable is a given for a lot of antifeminists who prefer the current gender hierarchy. That includes lots of female antifeminists such as Suzanne Venker, who’s argued that women would be happier if they let the man work while they stay home. Of course Venker has a full-time career, but she’s cool with that (much as she thinks women who go to college for a career are making a mistake, but she did it to find a husband, so that’s different).

Some antifeminists point out that men can’t have it all either, which is true. But I can’t imagine anyone saying we should teach guys in schools that they might not amount to a hill of beans: they’re supposed to climb as high as their talent will allow.  Another cliche argument is that women don’t really want it all: they choose to stay home, not compete, not work a 50 or 60 hour week. A Roy F. Baumeister (probably the same Roy F. Baumeister who believes evolution makes men superior) makes this argument in a letter to the Economist: most of the people who work more than 48 hours a week are men, that’s why they succeed! Which is not accurate: networking (which Baumeister handwaves away) is often easier for men with male bosses and it makes a difference.

And as multiple feminists have pointed out, “choice” isn’t decided in a void, without considering the obstacles resulting from each choice. Women who might choose to work the same amount of hours may be conscious they won’t be paid as much, won’t get the plum assignments, won’t get the respect for putting in extra hours (but will be dumped on if they don’t show that extra commitment). If they choose not to shoot any higher, that’s not something innate, it’s an acknowledgement the glass ceiling exists and it’s too hard to crack. That’s not to say some women don’t genuinely prefer to stay home or prefer a low-level career, but not every choice is exactly genuine.

As countless feminists have also pointed out, competence in a woman, let alone the kind of confident competence Elizabeth Warren shows, unsettles lots of people. Warren knows she’s capable and doesn’t downplay it; that’s confidence if you’re a man, arrogance in a woman (Hilary Clinton got the same criticism for years — sure, she outperformed Trump in the debate but wasn’t she over-prepared? It’s more acceptable if women present themselves as a hot mess who can’t have it all: 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon, who has an amazing career but a personal life in perpetual freefall, for example.

Women should be able to have it all — whatever that means for a given woman — as much as any man of comparable ability. But we’re a long way from that point yet.

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Darkly brood the links

“If Trump wins (or “wins”) in November, there won’t be anything left four years from now. It won’t matter whether he gets the SCOTUS to declare the 22nd Amendment unconstitutional and goes on to a third term, or installs one of his imbecile children in the office, or simply refuses to hold an election at all. America as we knew it will be over.” — Paul Campos

The author of an upcoming book about tomboys wonders where the tomboys of popular culture disappeared to (“living examples of the feminist zeitgeist that told me I did not have to be feminine to be female”). I think her discussion of gender stereotypes and nonconformity on TV is much sharper than the Brit Marling piece I linked to last week.

Oh good grief. Proposals to include tampons and other feminine hygiene products in Tennessee’s sales tax holiday have one legislator worried women would buy their whole year’s supply at once and cheat the state of sales tax. Of course, this is true of other stuff they could buy, but that doesn’t seem to bother him.

A conservative evangelical pastor opposes Trump getting re-elected. The reaction from other evangelicals was, shall we say, unChristian.

I’ve discussed before how the majority of people take their cues to what’s acceptable from the committed few. Case in point, a lot of kids, just like adults, think Trump’s bigotry gives them a green light to express their own.

Trump still insists troops suffering brain injuries from Iran’s attack aren’t seriously hurt. Of course, it’s hard to comprehend brain damage when you don’t have one.

The University of North Carolina recently paid the Sons of Confederate Veterans $2.5 million to take over the care of “Silent Sam,” a Confederate statue torn down on the university grounds. A judge just threw the deal out.

“The pursuit of global social justice neither demands nor benefits from the idea that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and my enemy is American foreign policy.'”

“Since the 1970s it’s almost become a taboo to talk of conflict – we’ve become a society geared around consensus, and co-existence – and this has domesticated politics in a dangerous way. ”

“Human suffering is not primarily a metaphysical problem. It is also that, and such metaphysical conundrums are immensely important in many ways. But these philosophical and theological dilemmas are always secondary. The meaning of human suffering is never primarily The Meaning of Human Suffering. The meaning of human suffering is to be relieved.”

It’s total bullshit but belief in the QAnon conspiracy keeps spreading.

Why this is the golden age of white-collar crime.

A Catholic priest has banned 44 lawmakers from receiving communion because they’re pro-choice and that’s much worse than priestly pedophilia. One lawmaker suggests the logical response is posting “a list of pedophile priests not welcome at the State House. That is a much longer list.”

Right-wing supposed thinker David Barton doesn’t grasp you can be a nonprofit without being tax-exempt.

Franklin Graham lied and claimed whatever happened between Brett Kavanaugh and accuser Christine Blasey Ford was completely consensual. When it comes to sexy dancing at the Superbowl, he’s very, very concerned about women.

A new anti-abortion trend: counties and cities declaring they can ban it within their jurisdiction

Republicans are running campaign ads for Erica Smith, a state senator running for the Dem national Senate nomination. Presumably they think she’ll be easier for Trump toady Thom Tillis to beat.

“In California, a teenager who had been detained for 11 months confided to shelter staff that he wanted to die; in an asylum hearing, the confession was read aloud as evidence he was a danger to himself and should be deported.” — from an article about how therapy sessions for refugees and immigrants are used against them unethically.

How Mike Bloomberg’s money shapes the race.

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Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer says his victims are the ones at fault.

Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer, Donna Rotunno, warned us last month that #metoo would destroy women’s chance of finding love. She’s also stated that she’s never been sexually assaulted because she never makes any decision — drinking, going home with someone she didn’t know — that would make her vulnerable. Because if you’re never alone with people you don’t know, you’ll never be vulnerable — oh, wait, most attacks are by acquaintances, friends and partners, not strangers. As in 75 percent. Which makes it next to impossible to take precautions: as law professor Mary Anne Franks puts it, nobody’s going to keep their finger on the trigger of a gun when they’re sitting with their husband. Oh, and she’s also dismissed the assaults Weinstein is being tried for as “regret sex … having voluntary sex with someone, even if it’s a begrudging act, is not a crime after the fact” which is an undead sexist cliche I’ve written about before.

Rotunno may be figuring that spouting rape cliches is the best way to get her slime of a client off the hook (I have no doubt she’d bring up  “look how they were dressed” if that was still an option in assault cases). Or she may genuinely believe all the rape-culture cliches about sexual assault. I don’t care: they’re blame-the-victim bullshit either way. And in her closing arguments she specifically blames the victims:  “In their universe, women are not responsible for the parties they attend, the men they flirt with, the hotel room invitations, the plane tickets they expect, the jobs they hope to obtain … In this universe, they aren’t even responsible for sitting at their computers and emailing someone across the country… In this script, the powerful man is the villain and he is so unattractive and large that no woman would want to sleep with him. [Allege victim Jessica Mann] made a choice that she wanted to be in his world … She made a choice that she wanted the life that he could potentially provide her.”

Implicit in the argument that it’s “his world” is that Weinstein, in exchanging sex for roles and punishing women for refusing him, isn’t doing anything wrong. That’s the price he set for getting women parts, so if they chose to submit, hey, that was their choice. This is the argument Rebecca Traister ripped into effectively in Good and Mad. Women shouldn’t have to pay with sex as the price of their career. Women shouldn’t have to leave their jobs to avoid sexual harassment. The real issue with sexual harassment isn’t whether they sacrificed their virtue, it’s their ability to work in their chosen career and support themselves without being raped, felt up or forced to watch porn on the boss’s computer. As a person with massive power in the film industry and the willingness to use it ruthlessly (Traister describes him assaulting a reporter in full view of the press corps, without a word of it making the news), Weinstein did indeed wield power over who got into “his” world. That doesn’t justify using it on women this way.

It’s worth remembering that according to the Ronan Farrow exposé on Weinstein, women didn’t just walk up to his hotel room knowing what was coming: Weinstein frequently arranged to be there with one of his assistants in tow, then the assistant would leave, thereby making it that much more awkward for the victim to walk out. And contrary to Rotunno, it’s not surprising if some of them kept up communications with Weinstein afterwards. It’s a safe bet that if they’d been openly hostile, it wouldn’t have helped their careers.

And of course Rotunno’s not making arguments in court alone: she’s gone on the assault in the press spouting rape apologist and harassment apologist cliches in interviews. Even if it doesn’t get Weinstein off, she’s shitting on rape victims by recycling this bullshit.

No wonder people hate lawyers.

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They were just a product of their time …

February 11, Tuesday, was the anniversary of when a group of Quakers petitioned Congress to end slavery. As Fred Clark says at the link, “Congress opted to ignore that. You’ve probably been told at several points that we mustn’t judge Congress for doing so because, after all, they were ‘men of their time.’ But the Quakers were people of their time too. And so were all the people who were enslaved in 1790. Sufficient moral evidence was readily available for anyone who wasn’t working ferociously hard to ignore it. Still is.”

This is important to keep in mind. We’re often told that we shouldn’t judge people for doing what was acceptable by the standards of their era. It’s been applied to everything from slavery to religious intolerance to Isaac Asimov aggressively fondling women to doctors who made nuclear experiments on unwitting human guinea pigs. The standards were different. If we’d been them, we’d have done the same things. Do we think we’ll do any better when judged by the standards of 230 years in the future or even 50?

I understand the logic of this argument, but it’s implicitly inviting us to judge the past and the standards of the past from the view of the oppressor. Not the view of the slaves or abolitionists. Not the female fans Asimov groped or the secretaries he chased around a desk; I suppose it’s possible he was oblivious to their discomfort, but I don’t buy that at all (as witness he almost never groped women who had any status in the SF world, only those who were safely subordinate). Not the people who brought up this behavior at the time, as abolitionists did. Some slave-owners saw the light and converted; others could have chosen to do so. The Catholic Church at its peak faced plenty of people who challenged its power and its opposition to religious freedom; the church leadership could have conceived that intolerance wasn’t the way to go.

After all, today we still have people who advocate for slavery or insist it really, really was good for blacks (unsurprisingly when they talk about shiftless people who need to shape up and work hard, they never mean unemployed white people). Marital rape was legally not rape in the U.S. until the 1970s, and wasn’t outlawed in every state until 1993. There are still people who think religious freedom is bad, just as long as their faith gets to decide what the rules are. I’m less troubled by someone in the future frowning over my views than the people arguing that bigotry and intolerance in the early 21st century were just the way it was — you couldn’t expect people to know any better could you?

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Strong female leads, once more

Director/writer/actor Brit Marling wrote a recent NYT op-ed declaring how fed up she is with strong female characters. (hat tip to The Mary Sue). Specifically that as an female actor, her choices were protagonist’s lover, protagonist’s parent or female butt-kicker. While that widened the options some, it didn’t widen them much, and the strong female template was extremely limited: “I became aware of the narrow specificity of the characters’ strengths — physical prowess, linear ambition, focused rationality. Masculine modalities of power … a man but in the body of a woman I still want to see naked.” And that by emphasizing masculine traits, they make it difficult “for us to imagine femininity itself — empathy, vulnerability, listening — as strong.”

I agree with Marling that it’s good to have a wide range of female protagonists. And that empathy and compassion should be acknowledged as strengths. But arguing that they are essentially feminine, or implying that a real female character has to have them, and that rationality, ambition and physical prowess are “masculine” — there we part company.

Certainly rationality is often coded as masculine, empathy and vulnerability as feminine. But I know women who are physicists, IT geeks, chemists, doctors, nurses and accountants all of which call for a lot of rationality. Showing women onscreen with “focused rationality” doesn’t read to me as “male in a woman’s body” it means getting away from stereotype and portraying what some women are like. Ditto for physical prowess and ambition; I’ve known women with those traits too. Marling feels that when she was ambitious as an investment banker and cared little for who got hurt by her financial movies, she “buried my feminine intelligence alive in order to survive.”

Female characters being just men with boobs is a criticism I’ve heard back since the 1970s (it may go back further). It’s one you can find on both the right and the left. There are right-wingers who believe female action heroes just aren’t realistic; I’ve read feminist critiques to the same effect (no real woman would ever choose violence to resolve a problem!). The logic frequently comes across just as much mired in stereotype as the kind of writing of women Marling critiques. I know women who practice a variety of martial arts, and women have been boxing since the 1700s, but these examples often don’t sway anyone. I’ve seen arguments lthat women who watch strippers/are ambitious in business/like physical combat are, as Marling says, burying their real femininity and adopting male standards. If they could find their true authentic selves, they wouldn’t do any of that stuff. Which effectively eliminates all counter-examples: they’re women trying to be men instead of women QED.

And the empathic woman can become a stereotype or a plot device: the nurturer who puts the hero back together, the one who shows compassion and mercy when the man wants to be ruthless. Though it’s clear that’s not the kind of role Marling wants to see more of.

I don’t really have a brilliant conclusion to take from all this. All we can do is write the characters, get female beta-readers (assuming “we” in this context is non-female), improve based on feedback and keep trying to do better.

#SFWApro. All rights to cover image remain with current holder.


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Undead Sexist Cliche: College education destroys women’s lives

Lynne Peril’s book College Girls does a very good job tracking the American stereotypes about college girls from the 19th century onward: were they just in college to land a man? Were they sluts? Or worse, frigid, sexless grinds devoted to a life of the mind instead of a life of motherhood? And what if education destroyed their ability to be a wife and mother? They might learn Greek but not how to cook, or learn math and not learn how to look attractive (the really important skill for a woman, of course).

Depressingly, this bullshit hasn’t gone away — well of course not, that’s why it’s an undead cliche. Perhaps the most infamous example was Newsweek‘s once legendary 1986 article reporting that college-educated women over 40 had more chance of being killed by a terrorist than getting married. This was based on a study (not the terrorist claim, that was all Newsweek) that applied to women in their 30s and up at the time of the research, but the article presented it as a universal rule, something all educated women, of any age, would have to live with. The study’s authors retracted it later but the media and dating-advice books kept invoking it on into the current century. It just fits too well with the ambivalence many people have about women who aren’t stay-at-home moms.

And pundits are still discussing how education is going to ruin women’s love lives. Mona Charen, in her book Sex Matters, says that as more women than men are attending college and women want a man with more education than they have, lots of those women will indeed end up alone. Male supremacist Suzanne Venker says she’s was totally focused on being a wife and mother when she was in college but now “you don’t go to college to find a husband; you go to find your own single life and your career.” She seems to think this is a problem. So, I imagine, would Susan Patton, the Princeton grad who recommends young women marry before completing freshman year, and that they spend 80 percent of their time husband-hunting. And former NYT columnist and sexist John Tierney who sadly writes about the increasing number of women attending college:  “You could think of this as a victory for women’s rights, but many of the victors will end up celebrating alone.”

Venker is also down on millennial women taking on student-loan debt to get a college degree (I can’t find the link right now, sorry): they’ll get their degree but debt will make them unmarriagable! An online blog post about how women should be “debt-free virgins without tattoos” says the quiet parts out loud: college will put ideas into your head your future husband may not approve of! Better to stay at home and avoid having any independent life.

Implicit in all these critiques is the assumption that nothing is more important to a woman than landing a man. And that if it is important — if she’s going to college because she values education and a career over marriage, or isn’t worried about landing a man yet — well, she’s wrong!

Oh, and contrary to the antifeminists, women who do want to marry after graduating college are okay marrying less-educated men. And women with college degrees do better getting and staying married than less-educated women. But as women such as Venker and Charen have built their career on punching down at other women, I doubt they’ll stop preaching bullshit.

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Filed under Undead sexist cliches