Category Archives: Undead sexist cliches

Books about politics that made me think

“The religious right showed no mercy and no charity toward these groups when it had the power to impose its will, but when it lost that power, it turned to invoking the importance of religious tolerance and pluralism in a democratic society.” Adam Serwer on how some on the right, having failed to win that way, now reject democracy.

Rereading THE POLITICS OF UNREASON: Right-Wing Extremism in America, 1790-1970 by Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab confirms my memory that rejecting democracy is not anything new in America. This history of extremist movements shows there’s nothing new about status anxiety, backlash, anti-immigrant paranoia, alliances between the down-and-out and rich elitists and fear of the Illuminati (there’s at least one book out already blaming them for the Satanic pedophile conspiracy QAnon is fighting against). Reading now, it feels depressingly prescient.

It does make me wonder how well QAnon will work out in the long run, given the authors argue that truly powerful conspiracy theoies require both a Shadowy Cabal and Vulnerable Targets (e.g., the Papacy and Irish Immigrants or the Elders of Zion and American Jews); does a conspiracy identifying prominent Democrats and Tom Hanks as the face of the Satanic Pedophile Cabal do the trick? I guess we’ll find out.

LICENSE TO HARASS: Law, Hierarchy and Offensive Public Speech by Laura Beth Nielsen looks at how the law handles panhandling, racist street harassment and sexual harassment, and how victims think it should be handled. Nielsen finds that even most victims aren’t in favor of restrictions for reasons ranging from freedom of speech to fear of being seen as a victim to cynicism about the law, favoring instead options such as not letting it get to you or talking back. Except, as she points out, harassment victims don’t talk back and do indeed let it get to you.

The point that stuck with me is that Nielsen’s surveys show targets of panhandlers feel much less harassed than if someone throws the n-word or a sexist come-on (regarding the undead sexist cliche that women are criminalizing harmless compliments, women report far more offensive than innocuous cat-calls) yet it’s much more widely regulated. If yelling “suck my dick” is free speech, if regulations have to be content-neutral (i.e., you can’t simply ban sexist or racist speech — as the book reminded me, you can’t even ban cross-burning completely) why is it okay to have content-specific bans on people saying “please give me money?” She concludes it’s because this is the type most likely to affect high-ranked white men, if not directly then by driving people away from businesses (women altering where they go and when to avoid harassment doesn’t trigger the same worries. Big surprise). Probably the best argument I’ve seen that unrestricted free speech works in favor of the established hierarchy.

THE POWER OF THE POWERLESS was a 1978 essay by Czech dissident, playwright, political prisoner and later president Vaclav Havel about the nature of dictatorship and the role of dissent. I read it last year hoping it would give me some insight into our current political moment (it did) and how to fight it (not much help). Havel argues that the Eastern Bloc dictatorships of his era are “post totalitarian,” a thing apart from the military dictatorships of the past. The old-school totalitarians simply seized power through brute force; their government had no real roots in the country or the culture, or any ideology beyond the will to power. The Communist states, by contrast, draw on their nations’ pasts — Russia’s pre-existing tendency to authoritarian government, for instance — and they’re rationalized by ideology that explains whatever they’re doing is justified and righteous. “The center of power,” Havel says, “is identical with the center of truth,” which does indeed sound like the Age of Trump.

In such a setting, and given the increased ability of the state to crush the opposition, Havel sees dissidents as the best shot at destabilizing the regime, not because they represent a rival political force (“Why was Solzhenitsyn driven out of his own country? Certainly not because he represented a unit of real power, that is, not because any of the regime’s representatives felt he might unseat them and take their place in government.”) but because simply by writing, saying and doing the things they want to do, they create cracks in the government’s vision of reality. While I can see how that works — just by walking around being normal people, gays undercut the myth that they’re some monstrous regiment of perverts — I’m not sure it translates into anything I can practice in my own life. An interesting essay, nonetheless.

All rights to cover image remain with current holder.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Reading, Undead sexist cliches

Undead Sexist Cliches: Stop calling yourself doctor, just be Mrs. Your Husband!

So last Friday, Joseph Epstein — yep, the guy who thinks we were better off when WASP men ran everything — has written a Wall Street Journal column lamenting that Jill Biden thinks her PH.D entitles her to be called doctor: “Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo: a bit of advice on what may seem like a small but I think is a not unimportant matter. Any chance you might drop the “Dr.” before your name? “Dr. Jill Biden” sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic.”

Epstein then goes on to say that he “taught at Northwestern University for 30 years without a doctorate or any advanced degree,” but was repeatedly addressed incorrectly as “doctor.” Um, okay, but how is this relevant to whether Dr. Biden, who does have a doctorate, should be called doctor? Why does he complain that honorary doctorates are handed out too freely — again, this has nothing to do with Biden, whose doctorate is not honorary (someone suggested online that Epstein assumed it was, then when he learned differently couldn’t be bothered to rework the article)?

In fairness to Epstein, this is not a novel idea: I remember reading articles back in the 1980s saying that it wasn’t appropriate for a Ph.D. to call themselves a doctor; that should be reserved for medical doctors. Then again, IIRC most of my college professors with PhDs were doctors, or professors. And I doubt Epstein would be writing to tell Dr. Henry Kissinger this. Nor would he address Kissinger as “kiddo.” According to one of his former students, he is a sexist ass in class.

Which leads to the point Monica Hesse and Libby Ann both make, that women use these titles precisely because men like Epstein, and people who are much less sexist, don’t give women their due. In situations where they’d address a man as “doctor,” they’ll address a woman as “Jill” or “kiddo”; even female doctors deal with this. As Libby Ann puts it, “we live in a world where men are granted authority automatically, but women have to claim it. In that world, a man who drops formalities and goes by his first name risks far less than a woman who does the same.”

Professor Debbie Gale Mitchell said on Twitter that she gave her students the choice of calling her Debbie or Dr. Mitchell, until one of them asked if she’d ever get her Ph.D.: “I discovered that for me, the use of my title is VITAL to remind students that I am qualified to be their professor.” As I said a few years ago, white male achievement is never doubted the way POC and women’s accomplishments are.

Or consider Ben Shapiro. He’s referred to Sebastian Gorka online as Dr. Gorka, but Dr. Biden? ROFL: “If you’re at a dinner and somebody introduces himself as ‘Dr. Smith,’ you’d be rather upset to learn that he had a doctorate in musicology if you were to suffer a stroke at the table.” What, does Shapiro think people plan their strokes based on the assumption there’s a doctor in the house? As Hesse says, “nobody is worried that if a pilot gets on the intercom and asks, ‘Is there a doctor on this flight?’ Jill Biden is going to leap from her seat and try to perform a tracheotomy.”

Perhaps, the point, as Hesse says, is in Epstein’s concluding advice that Dr. Biden should just forget about her personal achievements and revel in “the larger thrill of living for the next four years in the best public housing in the world as First Lady Jill Biden.” Isn’t being Mrs. Biden more important than personal achievement? Or as Libby Ann points out, now that increasing number of women are gaining Ph.Ds, maybe men are starting to devalue them, the same way salaries go down when a job becomes predominantly female.

Either way, Epstein fails to convince.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

If she didn’t want to be naked on the Internet, why was she photographed with her clothes on?

If you thought deepfakes were bad, here’s something worse: Washington Post reports that users of a new onlne service “can anonymously submit a photo of a clothed woman and receive an altered version with the clothing removed. The AI technology, trained on large databases of actual nude photographs, can generate fakes with seemingly lifelike accuracy, matching skin tone and swapping in breasts and genitalia where clothes once were. The women’s faces remain clearly visible, and no labels are appended to the images to mark them as fake. Some of the original images show girls younger than 18.”

Before you ask no, the AI can’t do the same with men. It’s only set up to declothe women and will give male images female body parts. The article says that’s partly because AI research is male dominated so they don’t have any women working on projects like this who can say “What the hell are you thinking?” But I also think misogyny plays a part: “The bot’s administrator, speaking in Russian, told The Post in a private chat on Monday that they didn’t take responsibility for how requesters used the software, which they argued was freely available, anyway. ‘If a person wants to poison another, he’ll do this without us, and he’ll be the one responsible for his actions,’ the administrator wrote.” A)This is not poison or a gun or a car, something that’s freely available; B)what they are doing with this service is exactly what it’s designed to do — strip women naked.

The administrator also resorted to that old Undead Sexist Cliche, why was she wearing those clothes? “A girl who puts a photo in a swimsuit on the Internet for everyone to see — for what purpose does (she do) this?” Hmm, possibly because she was at the beach and she wanted to share the event with her friends? And even if she posted because she likes how sexy she looks, so what? This does not translate into “since she likes to look sexy, therefore it’s acceptable to faked naked photos of her,” any more than it’s an excuse for rape.

To their credit some AI researchers have called out this kind of shit. One developer took down an app they’d made with similar capabilities because the potential for abuse was too high. Other people, however, adopt the kind of laissez-faire attitude of the administrator — hey, this is cool tech, who cares what happens with it in the real world?

My opinion of such people is not high.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

Sexism costs money

Reading and listening to accounts of women dealing with sexism at work shows how much. Hours spent on problems because they don’t listen to the woman’s view. Talking over the women and prolonging work when listening would wrap things up faster. Delegating crappy jobs to the women that don’t make use of their abilities.

As one of my friends said, what if this went onto the balance sheet? All the work-hours that could have been saved, all the projects that aren’t finished on time because the woman’s cleaning up for someone else’s mistakes. Not to mention talented women who quit because they’ve had enough dealing with sexists and/or harassers. It adds up. In some stories I’ve heard over the years, probably a lot of money.

To say nothing of lawsuits. Fox had to pay $90 million to settle a shareholder lawsuit over sexual harassment at the news channel. They’ve paid more to women who’ve sued over harassment from Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly.

If that were tallied up and actually quantified for investors, that would be one hell of an incentive for businesses to treat women better.

Leave a comment

Filed under economics, Undead sexist cliches

In other news, it’s still a sick sad world

A world where Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis explains those two people Kyle Rittenhouse allegedly shot and killed had it coming. And a church truck bringing water and snack for protesters is seized by the cops because, reasons.

Where some people would sooner have a white-run America than democracy. For example, this guy.

Another reason it’s a sick, sad world is that cops get a legal shield against being investigated or punished for wrongdoing that nobody else does. An appeals court, however, has removed protections for journalists and legal observers in Portland.

Another is that Republican moderates really are a dying breed.

People really are drinking bleach to cure the Trump Virus. Spoiler: it doesn’t work.

The Republican presidential candidate “is an entitled coastal elitist, an easily triggered snowflake who plays the victim card and constantly elevates feelings over thinking. Trump is a big spending, Constitution-disregarding, dictator-coddling, traditional values-disdaining, identity politics-embracing, cancel culture-advocating craver of safe spaces. There’s nothing Trump resembles so much as a stereotype of left wingers” But that doesn’t stop bad Republican arguments why he’s awesome.

Betsy DeVos pushed new college rules for handling sexual assault. They don’t look effective: colleges can’t take action over off-campus incidents and it takes a lot of harassment before a college has to respond. DeVos is a rape apologist, I’m sure this is intentional.

The Washington Redskins name has been controversial. Management’s treatment of women is awful too.

Fred Clark points out the scandal isn’t what’s illegal but what’s acceptable. Crooked religious conservative Ralph Reed, for example, remains in good standing.

Trump and his toadies are still working to stop voting by mail.

Many people on FB have told me Trump is the one who can stop the violence! Actually he’s in favor of some of it.

And they’ve been freaking out over Dems Are Socialists for a century now. Always wrong, never giving up. And continuing to whine that Democratic votes shouldn’t count.

I’m repeatedly told on Facebook that Democrat run cities and states are a living hell of lawlessness, but that’s not true.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

Marrying young and starting a baby boom: Homeward Bound

Amazon recommended HOMEWARD BOUND: American Families in the Cold War Era by Elaine Tyler May to me when I was searching for research books for Alien Visitors. It’s no good for that but it’s a much better book than Welcome to Mars and a good resource for Undead Sexist Cliches.

While a lot of conservatives hold up the 1950s as the embodiment of traditional America, May shows it was actually an anomaly, an era when women married younger than ever before (there was a shit ton of teen sex going on but much of it was within the bounds of wedlock), stayed home and produced enough children to launch the baby boom. Women with professional training declared homemaking and motherhood would be their careers and threw themselves into it with a vengeance. Working moms who neglected their kids (it was assumed all working moms neglected their kids) created juvenile delinquents; moms who were too devoted to their kids created homosexual wimps (there was no winning; one woman quoted snarks that “the poor mother has been made to replace God in her omnipotence.”). Women who got college educations didn’t have enough kids, threatening social stability (a lot of the “stupid people outbreed smart people” rhetoric of the era was specifically focused on smart women not prioritizing babymaking).

May see the 1950s dream life of a house in the suburbs, kids, a stay-at-home wife and a great sex life as stemming from multiple sources. A good life with lots of consumer goods embodied American superiority over communism; where the USSR held up its women as proud professionals and workers, Americans exalted the feminine delicacy of stay at home moms. Strong families were the basis of a strong stable society. Getting women married young kept them from having premarital sex. And general conformist pressure encouraged everyone to go along: if you weren’t happy as a stay-at-home mom or a father commuting to a demanding, soul-crushing job, the solution was Valium or psychoanalysis, not questioning the system.

May points out that some women really did find this a satisfactory deal; others found it the best they could do given the circumstances and the lack of opportunity for professional careers. An old survey of married women is a major part of the book, as the women discuss what’s good and bad about their loves. Some of them said the comfortable life, great kids and standing in the community (being single was definitely not cool) were worth it, but they describe the downsides — husbands who belittle their opinions, drinkers, adulterers, boredom — in sad tones that make this era a lot less utopian than traditional-values conservatives want to imagine it.

This being the 20th anniversary edition, May looks at the post-9/11 world and finds many similarities to the Cold War (drawing on Susan Faludi’s excellent The Terror Dream). But the heart of the book is its portrayal of the 1950s; among other things, the acceptance of teen marriage gives a whole new meaning to teen love in romance comics.

#SFWApro. Cover design by Nicole Caputo, photograph by Dmitri Kessel (amazingly I actually met one of the women in it, a few years ago, though I didn’t know it at the time). Comics cover probably by Dick Giordano.

Leave a comment

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

“How can you judge a young man for what he did five years ago?” is not a good defense.

So when 19-year-old Aaron Coleman was a tween he acquired a nude photo of a 13-year-old classmate. He threatened to share it around her family and friends if she didn’t give him more photos. She refused; he shared.

After Coleman won a Democratic primary for the Kansas House, this came to light, along with a stalking incident and him harassing a young woman to the point she attempted suicide. Coleman dropped out of the race, then changed his mind, complaining — as did some of his supporters — that given his strong progressive positions (Medicare for All!) feminists are insane to attack him. Do they want Republicans to win? How can we ever change the status quo if feminists eat their own like this?

Inevitably this has generated more support for Coleman from people showing “himpathy” and demanding (as LGM calls it) “dude process”: He was 13 and everyone knows 13 year olds have poor judgment. Is one foolish mistake going to hang over his head forever? Where is the path to redemption? He tried to apologize (his victims have blocked him on FB so he couldn’t reach them) and he admits his behavior was bad — doesn’t that count for something?

As Lindsay Beyerstein says, “his life is being ruined” is not the issue here. Losing the election or stepping down in the face of these revelations (nobody has demanded the party end his run for office) isn’t ruin, it’s just … not getting to hold elected office. And no, the fact he’s progressive doesn’t obligate feminists or anyone else to support him. Feminists went through this with Democratic Sen. Al Franken and New York AG Eric Schneiderman, both of whom lost their positions because of allegations of past harassment incidents (Schneiderman’s being far, far nastier). In both cases there were people who thought they were too valuable to the party — why not let this slide? I’m glad there was no sliding.

And I’m glad they called out Coleman. What he’s doing was not a case of “boys will be boys” — yes, teenagers do stupid, irresponsible things, but that’s not the case here. Coleman wasn’t sneaking into the girls’ locker room to get a peek (which is not good either, admittedly); what he did was vicious bullying and harassment. Coleman admits he was a “sick and troubled boy” and I don’t doubt that’s true, but it’s not a justification or an excuse, no more than admitting “I have a bad temper” excuses having a bad temper. With the dark times running 12 to 14, that’s a period just five years back. At least Brett Kavanaugh (who also got the Just Teenage Horseplay defense) was 20 years older than when he assaulted Christine Blasey Ford. Of course, both teenage boys and adults busted for rapes they just committed get the “you can’t ruin their life!” defense so I’m not sure time is relevant.

And it’s debatable whether Coleman has, in fact repented. He acknowledges he did some bad shit, which is good (and he really does acknowledge it, which a lot of these creeps don’t) … but then again, he also dismisses some of his harassing ways as “only digital,” as if that didn’t hurt. And his complaint about the circular firing squad is clearly saying criticizing his behavior is unreasonable. Plus his ex claims he choked her during an argument and that was just within the past year.

Contrary to some of the articles, I don’t think the victims have to forgive him for him to redeem himself; forgiveness and redemption are twinned but separate processes. I have no idea what redemption would look like (as I discuss here). But I don’t think Coleman’s redeemed himself yet, except by the standards of dude process.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

It’s the centennial of women’s suffrage—

Though as Vox points out, the history of women getting the vote is a messy one, with white suffragettes prioritizing their own right to vote over women (and men) of color (while not mentioned in the article, that cut both ways: black activists during Reconstruction were willing to back off support for women’s right to vote as a compromise toward securing their own). And of course, getting the vote didn’t end sexism —

Roy Edroso points out how the women of “the Squad” have been crushing their primary opponents but the media portray them as barely surviving. And while the initial attacks on Kamala Harris are mostly about race, they’re also going with She’s a Slut. While that’s a classic approach to squashing women, I have a feeling the party of confessed sexual harasser, adulterer and lover of porn stars Donald Trump will not be able to make an effective attack out of someone else’s sexual errors. Though Rush Limbaugh, of course, is trying.

Jordan Hester was a star bar manager in the Raleigh NC restaurant scene. This Indy piece says he was also a chronic abuser and rapist. The story has some depressingly familiar traits: women who aren’t at first willing to call it rape, a guy with a general fondness for dominating women, friendly gestures that turn nasty.

A Monica Hesse piece discusses how conservatives feel entitled to judge women’s clothes, abortions or their sex life but suddenly decide they’re not going to dictate and be all big government when it comes to masks: “You might believe that abortion is murder, but you cannot say that it is contagious and airborne, something you can catch or transmit unknowingly to others. You cannot argue that, upon choosing to have an abortion, a pregnant person walks into a grocery store and infects 50 other innocent shoppers with abortion. As clever and self-righteous as anti-maskers may believe themselves to be, public health concerns are completely different from individual medical procedures. But if that’s the comparison that anti-mask folks want to make — fine. Prepare to be judged and harangued the way women are for seeking abortions. And prepare to deserve it, because unlike what goes on inside a Planned Parenthood clinic, public health actually is the business of the public.”

Want to keep Internet misogynists at a distance? Tattoos work. But they remain convinced women who say they’re lonely are really getting lots of sex.

Some conservatives argue that as most women fail strength tests for the infantry or special forces, that proves women don’t belong there. A military captain makes the counter-argument that this proves women who pass deserve to fight. And as he says, if lots more women were passing, there’d be loud complaints about how the tests had obviously been made too easy.

Another look at Isaac Asimov, professed feminist and self-confessed dirty old man.

A woman with three kids by three different men is a right-wing nightmare (ditto a black man with three different kids by three different mothers). This white guy, however, brags about getting three women pregnant because he doesn’t like condoms.

By now Rep. Ocasia-Cortez’s slap down of colleague Ted Yoho for calling her a “fucking bitch” is old news. But this is still a good article on A-OC’s response and Yoho’s faux-pology that he insulted her because he loves his country. The Cut looks at how NYT portrays this as some elaborate media-manipulation by Ocasia-Cortez, for example putting quotes around ‘accosted and publicly ridiculed’ as if that was an interpretation rather than a fact.

“While it is a husband’s God-given right to use spanking as a form of discipline on his wife (with or without her consent), a husband should be wise in regard to the hostile culture we live in.” just part of a horrible article on the God-given right of husbands to enslave their wives.

The United States has pushed for the rights of women overseas in the past. Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thinks the only rights we should care about are property and religious freedom. I’ll bet money that won’t include the freedom of the right to abortion, birth control, or religion other than right-wing Christianity.

Donald Trump’s proof he’s the women’s choice for president: He’s pardoning Susan B. Anthony! Which is not a bad thing, but it’s nothing that’s going to redeem him or make him less of a sexist and rapist, either.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

The Pat Savage syndrome

One of the points Tim Hanley makes in his Batgirl and Beyond is that in the Silver Age Batwoman, Batgirl I (Betty Kane) and Batgirl II (Barbara Gordon whom you’re probably all familiar with) were all shown to be competent, but still constantly sidelined. Reading I Died Yesterday this month has me thinking how I’ve often seen that trope, and it definitely applies to Doc’s cousin Patricia Savage.

When we first meet Pat in Brand of the Werewolf, she’s 18 years old, just lost her father and is determined to figure out the mystery behind his death. She can shoot, fight and track and has the same taste for adventure her cousin does. When she shows up in New York in Fear Cay, she tells Doc that after the previous adventure, life in the Canadian wilderness is just too dull. When the bad guys target a young woman, Pat trades places and lets them kidnap her instead. She admits later it was more excitement than she’d anticipated, but she’s up for the gig. By the following book, Death in Silver, she’s opened Patricia, Incorporated, her New York beauty salon/health spa which charges skyhigh prices (I Died Yesterday says Pat’s ruthless about turning away potential clients, thereby reassuring people she’s exclusive enough to be worth paying through the nose). And whenever she can, cutting herself in on Doc’s adventures.

It’s understandable Doc’s never very enthused about this. He’s in his thirties, Pat’s barely an adult; as he says in The Feathered Octopus, he knows she could hold her own with his team but he doesn’t want his last living relative risking her neck. It doesn’t change the fact that she is sidelined even in the stories she appears in; I Died Yesterday is one of the few that really shows her capable, and even there Doc’s conducting himself like a jerk to discourage her. It’s the kind of trick Ricky Ricardo might play on Lucy, if they’d been PIs. And it’s not unique; while one WW II book mentioned Doc recruiting Pat because his regular resources are stretched so thin, Violent Night has him using US spies to scare her off the case (it doesn’t work). Given he’s supposed to be hunting down Hitler, it’s a remarkable waste of resources. Pat almost never gets to shine, though both Millennium’s and Dynamite’s Doc Savage comics made it a point to give her more action.

Pat’s hardly unique. I’ve seen lots of books and movies where they establish the female lead is competent and capable, but then treat her as just the love interest. Or assume that no matter how competent or professional she is, all she really wants is to land a man; once she does that, forget her career! Or simply assume she’s just not good enough. I read a sequel in the 1970s to Robert E. Howard’s stories of mercenary Dark Agnes and it ends with this tough, capable warrior woman going all weak at the knees — good thing there’s a man around to hold her close and tell her everything’s okay (it makes me appreciate why Sigourney Weaver said she was so glad they never put a scene like that into Aliens). It’s an equivalent of sorts to the hot mess approach to writing women: show that no matter how tough, capable or adventurous she is, she’s not really going to be the hero Because our culture tells us that’s a a man’s job!

#SFWApro. Covers by Carmine Infantino, James Bama and Walter Swenson, all rights remain with current holders.

1 Comment

Filed under Doc Savage, 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.

2 Comments

Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches