Thursday, September 30, 2010

Feminism on the Rocks

Feminism has been having its problems lately. What with the rise of the Mama Grizzlies, feminists have been losing power among American women. 

Before launching into an analysis of why feminism is currently on the rocks, I want to begin with a few pieces of reality, a few observations about human behavior that will add to our understanding of the differences between the sexes.

Say that a man goes to a party or a function where every other man is wearing a blue or gray suit. If he is wearing a brown suit, a sports jacket, or a golf shirt, he is going to fee strangely out of place, as though he does not belong.

For a man, following the dress code is vital to his feeling like he belongs to a group.

Surely, there are exceptions, but, as they say, exceptions prove the rule.

If a woman goes to the same party, and, upon entering the room, notices three women wearing a dress that looks exactly like hers, she will be mortified, offended, and feel generally uncomfortable. If any of the women knew in advance which dress she was wearing, the discomfort will turn to anger.

A woman might well have bought a new dress for the occasion. A man will never buy a new suit to attend a party or a social function.

But, where a man seeks to wear the right uniform, a woman will aim for uniqueness and individuality, as though she is saying that she is irreplaceable.

By comparison, men are far more interchangeable. To the point where you would almost think that human cultures are organized to value women and devalue men.

As everyone knows, male dress codes derive from the military, and, by extension, athletic teams. Wearing the uniform means you belong to the group. Certain insignia show your status and stature within the group.

When women join the military, the dress code is bent, but not broken. Women wear uniforms; their uniforms bear insignia; they play according to the same rules as men.

The same applies to women on athletic teams. And it ought to apply to women who enter male-dominant professions. As an article today suggested, women who play sports do better in business than women who do not play sports. Link here.

All military organizations and all companies foster advancement. They contain ways for people to move up the status hierarchy.

And everyone aspires to advance, by promotion and by compensation.

Those who are on a lower level of the hierarchy emulate those who are above them. And those who are on a higher level of the hierarchy prepare those who will succeed them.

Mentoring is part of any executive job description.

Again, these are male-dominant status hierarchies, ones that have recently been more or less successful at integrating women.

To the point that most women who work in corporate environments would much prefer to work for male bosses than for female executives. Those who have had the experience have mostly stated that men were better mentors than women.

And this caused Susan Faludi to question what appears to her to be a general dysfunctionality in female status hierarchies. Why is it that women do not like to work for women? Why is it that women of different generations have so much difficulty cooperating? And why should feminist groups like the National Organization for Women be having so much trouble arranging for an orderly process of succession and promotion?

Faludi's article appeared in the latest Harpers. A goodly part of it-- but not all of it-- is available online. Link here. I have only read what is available to non-subscribers, but I have also read a few commentaries on it. I will not link or examine the commentaries because I found them disappointing. They did not address Faludi's argument, which I find well worth considering.

Faludi focuses on intergenerational warfare within the feminist movement. Whether at NOW or in women's studies programs, she finds a stark conflict between the generations. And she adds that if feminism is going to reproduce itself-- and not remain barren-- it will need to overcome this problem.

In Faludi's words (note the fertility analogy): "With each go-round, women make gains, but the movement never seems able to establish an enduring birthright, a secure line of descent-- to reproduce itself as a strong and sturdy force. At the core of America's most fruitful political movement resides a perpetual barrenness."

I will confess that I am not very well informed about or very interested in what is going on over at NOW. And I am hardly a supporter of most of what passes for feminism these days. Given its basis in radical leftist politics, I am not unhappy to see it imploding.

Of course, that is not the point. Faludi does identify an important organizational problem and an important issue in the way that women of one generation get along (or don't) with women of another generation.

If a young man will happily emulate an older man who has more status and authority, the same does not seem to apply to a younger woman's relationship with an older woman.

Perhaps a younger woman considers that her youth confers a competitive advantage over an older woman... in the world of relationships. If so, she would not want to dress to look much older than she is.

Where a man's increased age and status will make him a more desirable mate, a woman's advanced age will make her a less desirable mate.

But when younger women refuse to emulate older women, the older women take it as a sign of disrespect. Almost as though the younger women are showing off their advantage.

And this seems to work even within the ranks of NOW where the dynamic does not concern competing for male attention.

And yet, NOW is a gynocracy; it is largely a male-free zone. And it is dedicated to building a sisterhood of like-minded women, accompanied by a few token men.

Even if young women are not naturally driven to emulate or imitate older women, there ought to be a way to negotiate the impediment. And to do it without recruiting young women into the feminist cause.

Let's return to Sarah Palin's Mama Grizzlies. Are these older women subject to the same disrespect as the older generation of feminists is? 

Don't you have the sense that Sarah Palin and Nikki Haley and Meg Whitman are more capable of inspiring young women than are the scolds who inhabit the upper regions of the feminist hierarchy? If you ask a young woman whose life she would rather have, would she answer that she would want the life of a Mama Grizzly or of a feminist leader?

Does feminism aggravate tendencies that can be negotiated? 

Keep in mind: feminists are not inviting girls to become women; they are inviting girls to become feminists.

And this, in itself, will make it far more difficult for feminism to attract adherents.

Most women want career success, not ideological commitments. They want to have lives, as balanced or unbalanced as they would wish, without having to worry about conforming to the dictates of a cause.

And this is something that the Mama Grizzlies represent, along with their demonstration that you can, as a woman, have it all.


Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman, et al.
RE: Heh

Keep in mind: feminists are not inviting girls to become women; they are inviting girls to become feminists. -- Stuart Schneiderman

What's that old saying....

Misery enjoys company.


[These days, misery doesn't merely enjoy company. It insists on it.]

P.S. I'm not overly worried about these foolish people. I prefer the way Niven and Pournelle put it in their epic work Lucifer's Hammer

The feminist movement died, one milli-second after the first impact.

Dennis said...

I have always wondered if there is a rule that goes "whenever a group is established to right a wrong that needs to be addressed radicals will always take it over and corrupt it to the point that it is unrecognizable by the original people." It also no longer represents those who started it.
It seems to happen no matter how much good the group accomplished at its inception. Feminists have not represented women as a whole for at least 30 plus years. Unions have not represented the needs of its members in over a 100 years. Name the group and it all comes to the same end, radicalized by those who could careless about the people they are supposed to represent.

David Foster said...

Not sure that younger men typically look up to older men in quite the way they used two. Two reasons: (1)the devaluing of experience-based knowledge in favor of education-based knowledge, and (2)the availability of highly successful role models closer to their own age. Why aspire to be Larry Ellison, or even Steve Jobs, if you can aspire to be Mark Zuckerberg?

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: David, et al.
RE: [OT] Speaking of 'Education'

....(1)the devaluing of experience-based knowledge in favor of education-based knowledge, and (2)the availability of highly successful role models closer to their own age. -- David

My father-in-law worked in the local steel mill. He's retired. He likes to relate a story on the difference between those two forms of 'education' you mention.

He retired some time back. And it seems that the steel mill started using scrap metal to make steel rather than ore.

Batches of steel were coming out that were brittle to the point that they were useless. The people in quality control turned their books, i.e., 'education-based knowledge, but NOTHING they found would explain the problem. Let alone the solution.

Then one really old guy who was also retired came up and said, "Test for tin." And they found it in trace amounts in the steel.

Seems that minute amounts of tin, as found in tin cans in the scrap metal, cause that sort of problem in making steel.

None of the modern books mentioned that problem. But it was apparently 'common knowledge' way back when. And somehow that knowledge got left out of the books in their 'improvement' over time.


[Common knowledge is becoming less commonly understood.]

Chuck Pelto said...

P.S. And then there's the discussion of this down the 'hall' from here, wherein I mentioned the stupidity of 'book learned' professionals selecting the site for Denver International Airport (DIA) over the recommendation of the local old folk who KNEW that that was 'tornado alley' along the Front Range.

David Foster said...

Chuck, you might enjoy my post the dictatorship of theory.

David Foster said...

I do want to note that I've known several women, some of them working for me, who were/are excellent managers and leaders, generally of groups containing both men and women in roughly equal proportions.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I just read through David's essay on "The Dictatorship of Theory" and very much enjoyed it.

David does a great job of debunking the ivory tower obsession with theory.

I agree completely when he suggests that the emphasis on theory is a kind of intellectual sloth. If you know, as he puts it, that everything is about power relations, then you really do not have to do the hard work of questioning and challenging yourself.

I would only add that most of those who march behind the banner of theory are exceptionally inept at doing real theory. Most of them prefer the arcane and unintelligible, because otherwise people would see how little they really know.

David Foster said...

I'd also note, though, that theory/abstraction is an essential part of the modern world. Many jobs at a retailer like Target or Wal-Mart, for example, are inherently much more abstract than those at an old-time small store: product managers, regional managers, logistics experts are living in a world which is largely quantitative and abstract. Peter Druckers has thoughts on the balance between the abstract and the concrete which are very good. (He even manages to work bra sizes into the discussion)

One of the main purposes of a university education should be to teach people how to deal with abstractions properly and intelligenty, for example to avoid the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. There is sort of an analogy, which I've been trying to further develop, between VFR (visual flight rules) and IFR(instrument flight rules)..a college degree should be sort of an IFR rating for the mind. Unfortunately, it rarely is; indeed, it often encourages the reification of abstractions in a very damaging way.

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: David
RE: The Dictatorship of Theory

Captured. Converted to PDF. Loaded to my iPad for reading tonight.


[The moment a person forms a theory, his imagination sees in every object only the traits which favor that theory. -- Thomas Jefferson]

Proud Hindu said...

"For a man, following the dress code is vital to his feeling like he belongs to a group."

Conformity is important to men because they are socialist sheeple.

Women on the otherhand are rugged individualists.

I've seen this throughout most of the cultures I've stayed amongst.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you, David, for linking the post on Peter Drucker. I do hope that everyone has a chance to look at it. He has long been one of my favorite writers and thinkers. You do him full justice in your post.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

In re: Proud Hindu's remarks: do you think that women who are rugged individualists are the basis of the Tea Party movement?

You certainly have a point when you say that men tend to conform, though that does not, in my view, necessarily make them socialists.

Socialism is more about who owns what, than about who dresses how.