Thursday, December 18, 2014

So what's the cure?

Enbrethiliel is always citing the blog The Last Psychiatrist.  I've read it a few times and not liked it, because I don't like his tone.  It's always "you think you know what you want, but actually the system is gaming you.  Oh, and now you think you're clever because you realized the system is gaming you -- that also is how it's gaming you!"  Well, what then?  What exactly is his conclusion about what we're supposed to do?  He never seems to reach that point, in the little I've read of him.

But yesterday I was poking around on there and read this and this, which at least made me think.  In short, he points out a lot of things considered "feminist" like women in Congress or at high levels of corporate life and says that it's about giving women access to the trappings of power, but no actual power.  That women are being tempted with "feminism" to work for soulless companies and finally get the privilege to work themselves to death like men do, and really of course that's just a ploy to lure women in.

The trouble is that all this cleverness doesn't really end in a solution.  So if Sheryl Sandberg's success isn't really success, what would be success?  If women are only allowed in an occupation (like, he suggests, politics) when it's lost all its power, why is that, and what does he suggest we do about it?

Apparently just pat ourselves on the back that we're clever enough to realize we're being scammed?

Of course I'm being unjust, I've only read a few posts and I know that he surely has, somewhere, some sort of philosophy about what we are supposed to do about an oppressive and soulless "system."  But I think if he's going to criticize "feminism," he should explain how feminism isn't helping and what could.  He mentions the Steubenville rape case at the end of his post -- how what really could have saved the situation would have been if some of the other girls at the party had spoken up for the one being raped.

Well, obviously!  That's kind of the whole definition of rape culture -- the pervasive cultural pressures that keep people from speaking out against rape.  For instance, there's the whole good girl/bad girl dichotomy -- the belief that rape happens to "bad girls" and as long as you are a "good girl" it won't happen to you.  (And there is some sense in which this is true: if you don't drink, don't party, don't walk home alone at night, don't get a job, and always have a male escort when you go out, your odds of being raped are quite low.  I fit in this demographic and I haven't been raped.  However, isn't that a rather constrictive box to expect all women to fit into, even if they are lucky enough to be able to?)  In order to continue believing this comforting story, women are often the loudest to blame those who are raped -- because if a "good girl" got raped, then it could happen to them, and that's terrifying, so clearly anyone who got raped is "bad."  There's also the very real danger that someone who spoke up against it might have been targeted for harassment herself -- as has happened loads of times.  And I don't mean "harassment" like teasing at school, but harassment as in getting beat up, kept from attending school, or, yes, raped.

Gosh, I wonder why women don't stand up for themselves more?

When women see men as the deciders of their destiny, when they realize that it's male employers and male professors who can make or break them, they don't want to rock the boat.

I mean, he's right to point out that makeup doesn't exist to make you feel good about yourself, it exists to make men (and women) think highly of you.  And are we going to pretend now that it doesn't matter if people think highly of you?  How many people are actually in a position where they can survive without the good opinion of others?  (I am: hence I don't wear makeup, or even shoes, 90% of the time.)  Most people need a job so they can live; promotions at that job so they can continue to live (since wages have stagnated and inflation keeps going), and on a psychological level we need relationships with our peers -- from the love of a spouse to the respect of our colleagues.  It isn't "taking the red pill" to realize we don't need people -- it's self-deception, because we do.

And it is unfortunate that we can't always get the love of a spouse and the respect of our colleagues without painting our faces and supporting a massive beauty industry.  I don't know the cure.  Suck it up and realize that part of living in society is making sacrifices of what we personally want in order to please others?  Start a movement where we all throw away our makeup and nylons and wear khakis and polos like the men are?  (Though, at the moment, they are wearing suits, because it's a down economy.  Have you noticed that?  Fear makes people go above and beyond the required dresscode.)  Wouldn't work, it would just mean women who dressed up more would get all the jobs and the makeup-less women would be hoping that they get some unemployment benefits to live on.  What is the solution?

I haven't the faintest idea what the cure is, if there is a cure, to the problem of women being valued for how they look and men for what they do.  But I'm not going to say it's not a problem.

But I will say this, that feminism isn't just interviews with Sheryl Sandberg and HuffPo articles about Starbucks.  (Almost every paper has a section labeled "Women"; it doesn't make that paper feminist.)  It has to do, as TLP points out, with teaching your daughters that it's okay to stand up for another women.  (And, cough, cough, YOUR SONS.  Because, seriously, who is more likely to be heard at this party, a girl or a boy?  Who is physically stronger?  Who isn't going to get raped if they speak up?)  And it has to do with providing models of heroism for our kids that go beyond what's shown in the movies.  (See: Mighty Girl.)  It has to do with trying to find solutions for women who get harassed for speaking out -- like the way feminist bloggers get rape and murder threats on Twitter.  (Yes, of course women should just ignore the threats.  Until the one time someone actually follows through and a woman gets murdered.  Then we will ask why she didn't see it coming when the guy specifically said he was coming to her house to kill her, and posted her address?)

It really does no good to say "it's all part of the system."  Yes, we know.  How do you change a system?  In Django Unchained (which, I admit, I have not watched) ,TLP points out, no one just rises up against the system.  But he doesn't exactly answer, why not?  Why didn't the slaves just stop obeying?  (Um, because they would have been lynched.)  Why didn't the oppressors stop oppressing?  (Because they benefited from it.)

You can say, if people want power, they have to stop waiting around for it to be handed to them and just take it.  But that doesn't answer the question, how do you take it?  When the power over you has all the advantages and you have none, whether you're a black slave or a scared high school girl, what are you supposed to do about it?  The people in power could change things, but they don't want to.  So what do you do?

Well, that's the eternal question.  There are certainly times when people have.  There isn't slavery in America anymore -- well, not much.  There isn't segregation anymore.  Gandhi helped kick the British out of India, and Poland is no longer communist.  But these are massive endeavors, done either with violence or with enormous nonviolent protests.  It takes a huge political will; it has to reach a tipping point beyond which you get enough people willing to risk it all at a chance that things will get better.  Think of The Hunger Games; it takes generations for Panem to rise up, plus an icon for everyone to follow and a lot of luck.  It also takes sympathetic people among the oppressor class.  Without all these factors, you don't have a revolution, you have a few uppity members of the oppressed class who get made into an example for the rest of them.

And that's why most people, when they're only a little oppressed -- I think we can safely say women are only a little oppressed, compared with the examples above -- well, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, "all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."  It is so very much easier to say, "this is fine the way it is," or "women are just playing the victim card; they/we are not really oppressed."  I get it, I do.  Getting the vote was hard enough; when it comes to rape culture or the pay gap, it isn't just that there isn't the will to change -- no one even knows where they would start if they did!  So isn't it better to assume it doesn't need to be done?

But take a look at politics for a minute by comparison: it does seem a hopeless cause to expect our representatives to represent us rather than lobbyists; or to expect black kids to get the sort of benefit of the doubt from cops that white kids do; or to expect banks not to be able to manipulate our political process for their own benefit.  But there are means.  It's just that they are usually very specific and hard to do.  The way to change Congress isn't really to vote; it's to run.  And that job could take your entire lifetime and still might not work.  Protests against the police might not work; keeping your elected officials accountable might not work; trying to get your important issues into a major party's platform might not work.  But that doesn't mean it's not worth doing.  The American revolution might not have worked.  People pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on it working, with the knowledge that they might have risked all and gotten nothing.

People point out to me all the time that a republic trends toward oligarchy.  Well, yes it does.  The difference between that and totalitarianism isn't the trend, it's that you have an ability -- no matter how small -- to force things upstream again.  It's a battle.  Your overlords will not respect you unless you make them do it, which means you have to be working on this all the time.

Women's rights and status aren't political, for the most part, but cultural.  Can culture be changed?  Absolutely it can.  But it isn't easy, and often the changes are made by people who care more than you do.  For instance, take a look at gay marriage.  When that lobby started, there wasn't much sympathy for it.  But slowly, in many small ways, the culture was pushed to accept it.  It was in the TV shows we watched; it was in the movies; it was pushed into the platform of a major political party (which is how you get Obama and Clinton announcing that they are now for gay marriage when previously they were opposed to it); it was in blogs; it was in news articles and personal stories and probably the sweet gay couple on your block, and sooner or later most people were okay with it .... or at least felt bad enough being against it that they didn't speak out.

I'm not saying all this is good or bad, but what I'm saying is that they did in fact change the way an entire culture viewed homosexuality, and did it in less than a generation.

Why don't women get what we want, when we're half the population as it is?

Well, my guess is that most of us don't really want it that much.  Some of us already have all the power, respect, status, or safety that we want, because we're not really the oppressed class.  (I think I can safely say I'm not.  I have a man to protect me and earn money for me; feminism has little to offer me personally that I don't already have.)  And most women who fall into this category aren't the slave in this situation, but the slave owner -- they don't want to change the status quo because it's working for them.

And for everyone else, they don't work to change things because they don't have much power anyway, they can't afford the risk, they don't think it will work, or it takes more effort than they have to spare.  Makes sense.  I get it.

But I'm not going to then say that this means there is no problem.  And I'm not going to stop doing the small things which I think may help, even if they are only little and will work only very slowly, if at all.  Better to light a single light than curse the darkness, right?


Enbrethiliel said...


*runs in at the last minute, panting from the effort*

Am I still on time to comment?!?!

Now, in defense of TLP, I can think of a few very practical suggestions that he has made over the years. (Yeah, I've read everything on that blog and on his other blog. #fangirling) For instance, when writing about parents who use surveillance software to keep track of their children's social media accounts, he wrote (and I paraphrase): "If you spend every night with them reading their textbooks, I guarantee you that you will never need to read their Facebook posts." He has also counseled that we spend less time on social media in general because it makes us too preoccupied with the self-image that we're projecting. He's also not a fan of financing too much of your lifestyle with credit, not just because it's a financial trap, but also because it enables you to lie to others and to yourself. (His analysis of the degree inflation is that the parents of all those uni graduates wanted the status of having such a child so much that they put their children's future up as collateral . . . and now the children have to pay.) My favourite advice of his is that if you must describe yourself, use only action verbs, so that you can be sure that you're only talking about what you actually do or have done, and not constructing an idealised imaginary self.

The first time I read his post on women in the senate, it really made me think, too. I started seeing a lot of social justice movements--not just women's movements--as a chasing after power, which always proves elusive. I'm not sure what a wider application of that insight would be, but in my case, I started asking myself, "Do you want this because you really want it or because it's essential to your idealised vision of yourself?" In the narcissist post that I linked in our last discussion, TLP took on men who want to date "Perfect 10s" not because they truly think they'd be happy with such women, but because they imagine that a "real man" would only date such women (and secretly fear that they're not "real men"). And one reason why they think so is that they've never really done anything themselves--never built something from scratch, never tested themselves against nature or in a fight, never failed--which means that they don't know themselves. And if you don't know yourself, how can you know what kind of woman would really suit you as a life partner? You'd be stuck building an identity from external markers.

I happen to love David Wong's riff on that, in his own article about stereotypically masculine markers like military service losing their "macho" status now that more and more women are getting involved in them--which he saw as a good thing. When you can't define yourself with such branded markers, then you're actually going to have to do meaningful stuff. Wong was writing for men, but I think that the same holds true for women. The twist being that we're also after those stereotypically masculine markers. Well, if they alone won't make a man more of a man, then they alone won't make a woman more equal to a man.

*takes a deep breath*

And that was just the response to your first paragraph, wasn't it? LOL!!!

Enbrethiliel said...


Let me try to move a little more efficiently through your post.

You ask a related question in the third paragraph: "If women are only allowed in an occupation . . . when it's lost all its power . . . what does he suggest we do about it?" TLP actually has an answer in the very post you're responding to: ". . . what women did not fight for, and this is to my point, is the specific power of being taken seriously without a college education." And in the other post: ". . . ask for more money. Duh. Ask for less hours. Ask for something real, that can affect your life, instead of the cosmetic, 'trappings of power' gimmicks like titles or prestige . . ."

I believe his point when he brings up the rape cases is that if women don't act when they can act (after all, you don't need a uni degree or a promotion to help prevent a rape at a party), then why do we think that giving them more spheres in which to act is suddenly going to give them more agency? The same women who don't want to rock the boat in a town where they feel that rapists are protected are not going to want to rock the boat in a company where they feel that male CEOs are privileged. Despite the acquisition of the trappings of power, no progress has actually been made. Women are powerless because they choose to be. Now, I personally would not blame any woman for staying silent because she fears being raped herself, but I would say that must stop blaming the system for her choice. If not, then she'll always blame the system. And blaming the system, like chasing after power, has no end.

Full disclosure: I think that my work is worth more money than I'm getting paid, but I can also come up with a million reasons (rationalisations?) for not taking the trouble to ask for a raise. =P What I have decided to do is to pull back and to give less. At the end of the day, the time I don't spend on reports is time that I can spend on other things that affect my life. And yes, I'd advise other women to do the same thing. ("But what happens when a promotion opens up and they don't consider you because you've just been coasting?" You know, my [male] manager just admitted to me that he doesn't earn as much as we all think he does. I would not take his job if it were offered to me on a silver platter. And well, I kind of think that he was a chump to take it after finding out about the compensation package. =S)

*finally scrolls down further*

When you ask, "Why don't women get what we want . . . ?" I confess that I don't know what you mean. What do "women" want? Speaking just for myself, I want what you already have: a husband who will be glad to support the family while I stay at home, a house of our own, and of course, children. And as you know, I wouldn't mind living in America. ;-P Women in developed countries really don't know how good they have it.

Sheila said...

What do women want?

The trouble is, women don't agree on what we want! Educated white women want the respect, status, and career opportunities the men in their lives have -- but many of them don't actually care that much and are happy as they are. As I pointed out, high-status women don't necessarily want anything to change -- they have it all, or as close to having it all as a person can. But a poor, black, single mother wants some very basic things -- to get paid what the men at her level are paid, to get a week or two to get over childbirth without having to go without pay, not to be sexually harassed at work. But the women who could help with this -- the higher-status women --- are often loudly declaring that they're NOT feminists because after all, THEY'RE not oppressed!

See what I mean?

But I don't get this: "Women are powerless because they choose to be." What about, some women are powerless because other women chose to make them so? That's part of it anyway. And when a woman is quiet because she fears being raped, how is she NOT supposed to blame the system? Is she supposed to LIKE being quiet for fear of being raped? Of just say, "Well, my choices were to defend my friend who is being raped and risk rape myself, or stay silent, so I own my choice"? What the heck kind of choice is that? You can blame the rapists (and I do) but you also have to blame a court system that almost never gives rapists any jail time, even when they're convicted, which is rare anyway. (My feminist answer to this is -- be a judge!)

Do you read The Art of Manliness? Yeah, I know it's not intended for women, but I just love it. There's a big focus on being a good man instead of chasing status symbols. I bet you'd like it.

I'm all for an even exchange with your employer. If they pay you well, you put in your full effort -- if not, they get what they pay for. But I would do more for less if I knew the employer was paying as much as they could afford -- as in my first teaching job, where I happily worked for peanuts. The thing is our culture has convinced us that "virtue" equals killing yourself for work, working up through the ranks of the company, and so forth -- if you want something other than that, you must just be "lazy." Good ol' Protestant work ethic, I suppose. And the same on a company level -- John was telling me that the problem with some people at work is that they are content with just doing the same thing year after year. I said "what's wrong with that?" and he pointed out that a company that attempts to rest on its laurels and just keep doing what it was doing, can't compete because everyone else is continually trying to do more and expand. I hate it, but I don't know the solution. >sigh< Like so many things!

Sheila said...

Btw, no such thing as "too late" to comment! On posts over a month old, moderation is turned on, but even then it doesn't really matter -- I'll still post the comment and reply to it. I don't get enough comments to fuss over when they arrive!

I was sort of waiting for you to show up, though ...... this post was pretty much for you. ;)

Enbrethiliel said...


Well, it's not every day I'm honoured by finding a post with "Enbrethiliel" as the very first word! ;-)

The conflict between rich women and poor women that you're sketching out reminds me of what happened a couple of years ago, when two female comics told a joke at Taylor Swift's expense. It was probably a little mean of them to tell her to stay away from someone who appeared to be a nice young man, but given that Taylor has made a lot of money writing revenge songs about her ex-boyfriends, she did set herself up for it. =P Anyway, Taylor didn't take the joke well, and later said (and again I paraphrase), "Katie Couric is one of my favourite people because she said that she believes there's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."

Cue a bit of culture shock for me. I had to think about it for about a week because I couldn't see how "not helping other women, if you're a woman" is a special sort of sin. And when I figured it out, I felt really turned off from the two feminist ideas that I see implicit in it: a) that "helping other women," regardless of what you're helping them with, is an obligation of all women; and b) that a woman's most important consideration should always be how her actions will impact "women" as a bloc.

I'm also reminded of the time you wrote about career women vs. housewives: the former feel that they're being passed over for promotions because of all the women who have quit working to stay at home with their children, and the latter feel penalised economically because the women who stay in the workforce make it harder to raise a family on a single income. Well, what's the solution that "helps women" here? What is the career woman supposed to do for the housewife? And what is the housewife supposed to do for the career woman? I don't even think that they're playing for the same team. Nor do I think that there's one blanket solution or set of reforms that will benefit all women, which is why I'm not going to work toward one.

And I'm going to be really heartless here--though no one who knows my stance on single mothers is going to be very surprised--but I think that it's very entitled for the single mother in your new example to expect comfortable, happily married women who are strangers to her to do what her own family should be doing. Now, it's true that families often drop the ball and that such mothers can sometimes be classed with the "widows and orphans" whom we are told to look after, but that makes it a community issue rather than a women's issue. In fact, I think that seeing it as a women's issue distorts it.

Enbrethiliel said...


Then there's the hypothetical woman being quiet because she fears being raped. The question is whether that's on the woman or on the system. Now, in this specific case, no woman should ever have to fear that people in her community are going to rape her for any reason. But in the general case that women who worry about negative consequences choose to be powerless, I stand by what I said, but want to add that it's not the awful judgment that it seems to be. I think that the main reason why women don't speak up is not something external like oppression, but simply our own natures. And nature isn't a bad guide.

Here's a more neutral example of women choosing to be powerless. I once argued with someone who cited some findings that men are more likely than women to help people who seem to be having car trouble by the side of the road, because his point was that it proved men are more helpful and generous than women. LOL! Never mind that it's simply not prudent for a woman to stop on the highway to help a stranger, even if she wants to. She's physically weaker and more vulnerable, and she can't ignore that when confronted with a strange situation. So she is "powerless" to help someone who may really need it. I don't blame her and I don't think any other reasonable person would. She could also choose to have more power by stopping anyway, and things might even work out well, but it would be silly for her to blame the system for the fact that she's not as free to do that as a man would be.

Today is the last day of the dawn Masses, so I have to go off early again. I'm not sure my thoughts in the last two paragraphs were very clear, but it will be a while before I can come back to clear them up.

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm back and the sun is just setting on Christmas Eve! Merry Christmas to you and your family, Sheila! =D

As usual, it was after I had logged off that another insight came to me--and it was something that qualifies my last thought. Still pondering women's reason for not stopping to help strangers, I was reminded of a blog post by an American friend of mine. He said that he gets approached by total strangers who are having car trouble because he is white, and he believed that a black or Hispanic or Asian man wouldn't be asked for help in the same way. A woman commenter, who was black, said that her own experience was that people in need will approach anyone who is good-looking enough, regardless of race--and that it happens a lot to her husband, who is also black. But (and here is the part that is relevant) her husband doesn't always help the people who ask, because he is worried about possible consequences. "Just what I need: a white woman saying that I did something to her."

Is that a good reason? Never having experienced race in America, I really don't know. But I respect his right to make that call for himself. And in the light of our discussion, I see it as another way of "choosing to be powerless" (to borrow my wording, which I admit I'd like to amend), although he is not actually powerless. Which brings us back to the same issue: what is holding him back more, his own choices or the society that he lives in?

I can agree that society's norms carry some weight, but I probably disagree with you about how much weight they have. And while I also agree that a change in the greater system would be beneficial, I think that such change should happen on a more grassroots level. (This is why I don't want it done from the top-down, as in your suggestion to do it through the media. Yes, that's how gay marriage advocates did it, but their great success also contributed to a degrading of moral culture.) The problem is that a bottom-up approach would take a really, really long time . . . and the people at the bottom (which doesn't mean the poor, just those on the grassroots level) are often no help. Perhaps in the way that women who stay silent only enable rapists, the aforementioned black husband kills all his chances to improve the image of black men so that they all get some benefit of the doubt when "a white woman says they did something to her."

Sheila said...

Many of these scenarios bring to mind a post I shared like a month ago about "Moloch" --which the author defines as the tendency for people to seek their own advantage even when seeking their own advantage makes things worse for everyone, themselves included. For instance, the black man who won't help someone with her car .... it is to HIS advantage not to stop, because of what someone may say, but if all black men behave as he does (and they will, because they're in the same situation as he is), then of course a woman's assumption will be "no decent black man could be stopping to help me, so if one does, he's probably a rapist."

But when the danger is great, it's hard to expect people to be altruistic!

Up till about 20 years old, when I went to Rome, it never occurred to me that I should ever be afraid to be out by myself. A guy propositioned me on the street once when I was 12, but I just shook it off because maybe he was just trying to be nice. I got lost downtown once and just asked for help from a random stranger, who seemed quite startled but did give me good directions. I worked a job that involved being alone in empty houses on construction sites, and it never even crossed my MIND that this wasn't safe. Why wouldn't it be safe? If a man came into the house (which sometimes happened) I said hello and directed them to whatever it was they had come to work on. Nothing bad ever happened to me.

Unfortunately, now that I've heard some horror stories, I think I wouldn't feel so safe anymore. As a matter of fact it contributes to my agorophobia .... I'm afraid to leave the house for fear someone will catcall me, leer at me, or maybe kidnap me. That isn't fair, that I should be a prisoner of my house because I'm afraid, but is my fear justified? I don't know! I don't know the statistics, I just know I've heard some horror stories. Is it safe to ride in a cab? Is it safe to stop for gas at night? But I keep feeling like if I take any kind of risk and something happens, it will have been my own fault.

I guess it's a mirror of the issue I'm always talking about with kids -- their freedom is constricted, not because they aren't safe, but because their parents FEEL they're not safe . . . because of stories we hear, things in the media, and so forth.

Still, the knowledge that rape victims are consistently unrespected and disbelieved by police and judges is one of the scary parts.

It's not the fault of "sexism" that women are physically weaker. Blame biology. Chivalry used to help some, but let's be honest -- chivalry was generally applied to privileged women. Poor women have been in danger from bad men since forever. You would think with police and street lights and so forth, this wouldn't be the case anymore, but it is. Again, I don't know the cure. There's this fear that any "tip" you share to make women safer will, first, make women scared to go out (as I became after reading tip after tip about how you shouldn't stop for gas at night or whatever) and second, make it seem like women's fault if something does happen, because they didn't follow the tips.

I would love to have a cultural change where, when a woman got attacked, we automatically believed her and were upset and horrified for her rather than blaming her .... but for whatever reason, we aren't there. And I don't know how to change the culture "from the bottom up" if the media isn't "from the bottom up." I mean, in a huge civilization, information doesn't travel very far sideways.

Sheila said...

But here's the question: if women's problem was that they didn't campaign for being respected without the trappings of power than the men had . . . what exactly would a campaign for respect look like? What would you do?

I have fun with little "micro-feminist" things like nudging the girls at debate society to give speeches, or when a man calls me "sweetie" or "toots," telling him I have a name, but I am not really sure how much difference it makes. And when I try things like interrupting men in a conversation instead of deferring to them (women's tendency to defer to men who interrupt them is one reason they don't get listened to) or using more dominant (and "less feminine") postures, it absolutely does work, but then I feel a little annoyed that I had to change to get respected. Why don't men adopt women's polite and deferential conversational style instead of making us use their aggressive one? Well, all I know is that I can change me, but I can't change anybody else.

As far as "women not helping women" goes, I don't think it's a feminist belief that women should help women. I think it's a *female* belief. Part of female culture -- the culture that arises when a lot of women interact without men involved -- is cooperation rather than competition. Sure, women compete, but then other women will judge them for it. The "rule" is that you are supposed to help all women. If a woman complains to you about her problems, you're not supposed to say "do you think it could be your fault?" You're supposed to say, "Oh, that's so terrible, that other person is a jerk to treat you that way." Even if you don't think that. It's not entirely healthy or positive (though it can be in some scenarios) but it does appear to be natural, in that I've observed it in all kinds of all-female groups. (I know a lot more about all-female groups than I do about coed ones!)

And yes, I've adopted some of that, in that I really feel women *ought* to band together. Why? Well, because as individuals, we're weaker. A single man can accomplish a lot all by himself, but women are more likely to have success if they team up.

Of course, if they can't agree on the goal, they're getting nowhere. But I understand the frustration of women who want to get somewhere, miffed at the women who don't share their goal .... because they KNOW if all women got on board, ,they could achieve something!

Have you read the Lysistrata? Fascinating play, and it shows just this dynamic at work.

Enbrethiliel said...


Ah, fears . . . May I confess that my mother's most annoying habit is seeing danger everywhere and making me feel like an imbecile for not agreeing with her? She once told me never to watch a movie alone because rapists cruise cinemas for women who appear to be alone--and that I would surely be raped because I'm the naive sort. She means well, of course, but warnings like these have the effect of smearing up one's day. I don't like being objectified in the imagination of my own mother! Additionally, if blaming the victim is bad, blaming the potential victim is worse to the point of absurdity!

Here's another confession: I really don't know about rape claims. I'd like to give both the accuser and the accused the benefit of the doubt--to treat the former with gentleness and respect and to treat the latter as innocent until proven guilty. But is such a balance even possible? Last year, on the Darwin Catholic blog, there was a post which argued that policies which protect rape victims so that they feel safe enough to report what happened to them will necessarily put people accused of rape at a disadvantage that we'd consider unfair in any other case. Interestingly, Darwin was commenting on an article by a feminist activist, who was appalled by the way her son was treated by his university after he was accused of rape; of all people, Darwin pointed out, the feminist mother should have understood why the system works the way it does. (The son was later found to be innocent.)

Enbrethiliel said...


I think your question about what a campaign for respect without the trappings of power would look like is a great one, so I'll probably need more time to think about it. Off the cuff, I'd say that one important pillar of such a campaign is the promotion of traditional things. Make feminine skirts fashionable again--and expose pantsuits (and most women's business suits) as the sartorial monstrosities they are! Encourage feminine hair styles for women (which doesn't necessarily mean long hair!), but also make sure that men know how much time, effort, and even money it takes for a woman to maintain such a look. Generally educate everyone about how much work it actually takes to get a good meal on the table--but don't portray it as thankless drudgery, but as worthwhile, fulfilling labour. Support mothers who want to breastfeed in public areas.

And now that I'm brainstorming, here's an idea that you might like because it involves responsible media. ;-) One of my guilty, guilty pleasures is the show Wife Swap, which involves letting mothers from very different families trade places for a week or two. While I really hate the way the swaps bring out the worst in the families (the flames fanned by the producers, I'm sure), I love the show's implicit acknowledgement that a family's culture is completely dependent on the mother's influence. And despite the harsh words that the mothers end up exchanging, many of them admit that they signed up for the show precisely because they knew that another mother's opinion on their households could be of value. A different slant to the show, so that it becomes about learning and sharing knowledge--and even "women helping other women" ;-)--could turn it into a real winner. (But would people also watch it???)

As for "women helping other women" in general . . . This is where I admit that I don't have many female friends. Sigh! (Was it obvious, though? LOL!) It has been a while since I experienced the dynamics that you're describing. And well, asking, "Do you think it could be your fault?" is kind of what I do when people tell me about their problems! =P But my questions are more like, "Do you think your actions/choices are contributing to this in any way?" and "Don't you think we should do something productive to change it?" Yet I don't say these things to be mean; I truly find them more helpful than just empathising over and over again. But if the majority of women disagree, this may be why I haven't bonded with more of them. =(

I looked up the old post on Moloch, which was a 7 Quick Takes post . . . and sure enough, the take on Moloch was the only one that I didn't comment on! LOL! But that was just because I didn't have time to read the long blog post that you were responding to.

Sheila said...

About rape claims: after all my experiences in RC, I have a habit of believing a victim. Of course I don't think anyone should be *punished* without proof -- but I don't think we should wait for proof to offer comfort to the victim or to be cagey around the accused. The most important thing is that rape cases actually come to a trial so we can actually know. In colleges, often there is nothing but a private hearing of administrators and the accused can be expelled without even having the chance to defend themselves. That's as unfair as refusing to listen to a victim.

Of course, there *will* be downsides no matter what you do. The victims have to get cross-examined in court, however traumatic it is for them, in order for the trial to be fair. And in a great many cases, there's insufficient proof to get a conviction. But we can still do a heck of a lot better than we are.

I don't see why wearing dresses and fancy hairstyles is helpful at all. Clothing sends a message, but what is the message? "I value being a woman" or "I think my worth is in how I look, not what I do"? A lot of traditionally feminine clothing is uncomfortable and hinders your activities, which means that you are sacrificing your own comfort and your ability to do all kinds of worthwhile things, just to look good. Why do women do that? Well, because being pretty is how to get ahead as a woman. I kind of hate that.

There is a LOT to be said for making known the difficulty and skill level of "women's work." I mean, this blog does a bit of that. Books with smart women in them who still aren't afraid to do women's work can be really good.... though it's hard to walk the right balance. Meg O'Keefe, for instance, somehow fails to satisfy me. But that woman you mentioned in a Western novel, scrounging up food out of just about anything -- it shows that the women's work *itself* takes skill and smarts -- not just that women with skill and smarts "leave it all" to do the women's work. Hence why I love the "wise old woman" motif so much.

Good movies about women are hard to come by, and when they do exist, men don't watch them, because of all the problems we started out this conversation with! Ditto books with mainly women in them. Adventure and science fiction can sometimes have cross-gender appeal.

Can't blame you for not reading the Moloch one; it's a novel. The first half is worth reading, but when they start talking about solutions, it's kind of dumb. But it's enough to know the basic idea -- which is that when everyone acts with only their own self-interest at heart, generally every other value gets thrown under the bus and civilization as a whole suffers. And this effect is particularly notable when people are threatened, because that's when they are less likely to be able to make altruistic choices. That's why women won't speak out against rape, even though all women suffer when they don't -- it's a high risk and they feel too threatened to make the unselfish choice.

Hear hear about breastfeeding in public -- also stuff like respecting women's freedom to make birth choices and other choices for their kids.

Enbrethiliel said...


I just replied to your e-mail to me, and I realise that I totally skipped over what you were saying about clothing and appearance there. I hope you don't mind if I do it here, where it's equally relevant. =)

Now, I've been thinking very positively about clothing's ability to affect culture ever since I read someone's critique of young people's fashion in general. Why are these really creative, artsy people, he asked, just going with trends that are rooted in nothing, when they could be breathing new life into their own culture's national or regional costumes? The next day, I was at the mall to do some Christmas shopping and I saw that although the comment had come from someone in Europe, it applied to the Philippines, too: while I could easily find dinnerware and home accessories that reflected Filipino culture, all the clothes could have come from anywhere in the world. This may not seem like a big deal, but I see it as a symptom on the level of eating so much Western-inspired takeaway food that you forget your traditional cuisine.

These thoughts were tied up with my new ability to make clothes. I no longer have to settle for what store buyers think is fashionable--which just means what they think will get them more money. This really does feel like empowerment. I'm just sad that I lack the artistic sense it takes to weave cultural motifs into modern clothes.

So it's not just about sending a message, but about revitalising a culture. And in the same way a savvy designer could make traditional costumes more comfortable with modern techniques, he could do the same with traditional women's fashions. Then we wouldn't have a conflict between looking good and being able to function in the modern world.

I also think that feminine beauty is a grace, just as much as health or talent is. Many years ago, I read an article on medieval depictions of Mary with a line that really struck me. I've since been unable to find it again, but this is the line as I remember it: "To medieval man, the face of mercy was a woman's face." It's terrible when people and things don't live up to how they look, but it's wonderful when inner beauty and outer beauty can match.

As before, I need to run off to Mass--the only thing that could drag me away from the PC! =P I'll clear things up when I get back.

Sheila said...

I love traditional clothing -- and by that I mean the traditional wear of working people, not fancy Victorian dress. The trouble is that it's awfully uncomfortable compared to nice machine knits! However, I do very much believe in natural materials and colors. And I would love a linen peasant shirt and some leather moccasins. (Is that combination synchretist or just American?)

I believe that everyone is beautiful .... a human face, even a weathered one, is one of the most beautiful things there is. But I don't think that makeup and blowdryers help at all. To quote C. S. Lewis:

"Lady, a better sculptor far
Chiseled those curves you smudge and mar;
And God did more than lipstick can
To justify your mouth to man."

In short, while I do believe that beauty can save the world, I'm not wasting any time on dolling myself on an average day. Like the most beautiful chair to me is a simple, functional chair without a lot of decoration, I think the most beautiful woman is a hardworking one.

Of course tastes vary and perhaps your sunflower-yellow cowl is some of the beauty that changes the world!

SeekingOmniscience said...

I have The Last Psychiatrist mentally tagged as a Neoreactionary blog, whether this tag is accurate or not. Which leads me to ask whether Enbrethiliel is a NRx?

Sheila said...

Oh, probably. Though if you read her blog ( you wouldn't be able to sort out many political opinions -- it's a book blog, the only book blog I read.

Though labels are limiting. What do you have me tagged as? Anxious Catholic? Agrolibertarian?

Enbrethiliel said...


In case I gave the impression that I'm holding women to unnaturally high standards, my usual "beauty" regimen is just the oil control method and brushing my hair before putting it up in a bun. I'd love to be able to do crown braids, but they seem to take a lot more practice than I have time for. I wear makeup only a few times a year, when I get invited to really formal parties. But I do think it's unfair to think that a woman who has obviously put more time and effort into her appearance believes "My worth is in how I look and not what I do."

It's a little like gardening. When I was still trying my hand at it (Don't ask about that, please =P), people who wanted to be helpful suggested all sorts of flowers that were easy to grow in containers. But I really wasn't interested in pretty plants; I just wanted stuff that I could eat. LOL! In the sense that there is no practical value to having only flowers, they are a waste of time. But they do pay off in beauty and in grace, and the gardeners who can coax them out of the soil feel real joy in that.

Ariadne said...

I was going to say something similar to what Enbrethiliel just said. Honestly, I don't think it's true to say that most women spend time and effort on their appearance because they think it will help them get ahead. Generally, I don't think beauty helps women get ahead anyway ... unless we're talking about actresses or models or something like that. Women seem to spend time on their appearance because feeling beautiful makes them happy.

Sheila said...

^I'm not making it up, a woman's looks really do affect her prospects a great deal. And if your dream is to get married, well .... looks matter even more with that one.

I like to look nice; so do lots of men, but with women it's a bigger deal because we feel we *have* to. And it's something we learn early on. When do we *ever* see an unattractive woman on television? The most famous and highly-paid women are always beautiful (while men are famous and rich for being intelligent or good at sports).

All my life I've resisted stuff like makeup and stylish clothes, but all this time I've been pressured by pretty much everyone telling me I MUST dress up. Because how you look is how people judge you, and in a world where we are all interconnected, how people judge you matters.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila, my understanding of your point is that it's a bad thing that a woman's looks affect her job prospects or her marriage prospects. Is this correct or have I missed something? Not that I'm going to wait for your answer (LOL!), but this lets you know what I'm responding to.

I think that it's perfectly fine for looks to matter. God gave us eyes; it's only natural for us to be attracted to what pleases us. (Even the saints who went straight for the most unpleasant things did it as a mortification.) So sizing people up by their looks isn't automatically a bad thing. As for women getting more of that pressure than men do, I also think it's a natural value rather than a socially imposed one. Read the earliest myths and legends from any culture that you can find, and they'll all agree that beauty is highly prized in a woman.

The greater issue here seems to be that some people will always have an edge over others--and it seems most unfair when people's luck or bad luck hinges on an accident of birth. Now, I've been thinking about this for a while (to be precise, ever since I read the scene in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy when Almazo and the sons of his father's two hired hands are playing, and only Almanzo gets to play the boss); and my conclusion is that social hierarchies and inequalities are ultimately things that we just have to live with, because they form naturally. Children are often where they are in the world because of their parents' choices and gifts, and although things can change drastically in a single generation (as Almanzo's own family experienced), we can't reorganise the world so that parents can give their children only what all other children have. That is, not without becoming Communists.

The good news is that heredity and inheritance aren't everything. Appearance, in particular, is often very malleable! And my personal opinion is that inner beauty finds a way to shine out through someone's appearance and can transfigure the most ordinary-looking person. But if I understand your comment correctly, your issue is not with appearance itself but with the pressure to keep up a certain appearance.

I've thought about that, too. I've also felt the pressure to look a certain way--and it's usually pressure from other women. Not just the airbrushed ones in the ads, but also women I whom see on the street or even my own friends. And they feel pressure because of me as well--like the one friend who always says, when I happen to pull off a great look, "I hate you, Enbrethiliel" (Sigh)--although making other women feel bad is really not my intention. It seems that the only way to eliminate this pressure is for women to agree to lower the bar for everyone. And frankly, I'd oppose that.

This isn't about a bar that has been raised unnaturally high through Photoshopped images, but about a bar that exists because some women really are considered more attractive than others. Now, I'm no raving beauty; but if someone were to tell me to chop off my hair and to stop working out because my looks put other women at a disadvantage, I'd make him read Harrison Bergeron or something.

SeekingOmniscience said...

I wasn't trying to prematurely box by asking--sometimes it's useful to try to get a handle where someone is. I'm pretty well aware that you can try to use a label to patternmatch someone's arguments / positions into stereotypical and already-refuted box, and thereby ignore it--after all, I'm an Internet Atheist Dude who has a chip on his shoulder about certain definite religious practices, so I know I'd be easy to dismiss.

I kinda like NRx at least in certain respects, also.

What would you be? I don't know... you'd probably be in different categories in different domains. "Agrolibertarian" is new to me, but that would work for at least some things. As far as religion goes, you would go into a category which I've mentally carved out, over the course of contemplating religion, but which doesn't have a name, so far as I know.

I guess I'd say it seems as if your opinions are still somewhat fluid, so I don't really want to think of you as fitting in too many definite categories.

...hopefully I'm not a Bitter Internet Atheist.

Ariadne said...

Sheila, I don't think you're making it up, but I also don't think appearance is as big of a factor as you seem to think it is. Preferring attractive people to unattractive people is a fairly basic human trait, and if two people had the same job qualifications, maybe the more beautiful person would get hired. However, as far as I can tell, job qualifications are the most important factor when going through the interview process and personality is second. (By the way, the fact that people want to hire outgoing "team players" over quiet, more solitary introverts does seem unfair to me.) Appearance may have an influence, but I don't think it's a big one. I just can't imagine that a beautiful person with no job experience would get hired over a more average person with a Master's degree and experience.

Which brings me to your point about getting married: since there is no universal standard of beauty, everyone can decide on their own. Frankly, women don't have to wear makeup, dress a certain way, or be conventionally beautiful to get married. All they need is for a man to find them beautiful, and all men really do seem to have different standards when it comes to beauty! I really think it all works out, because clearly women of more average appearance and all different kinds of body types get married.

I'm sorry you feel under pressure to look and dress a certain way. My philosophy is to wear what makes you happy. If you feel pretty, then there's no need to worry about what anyone else thinks. :-)

Sheila said...

Well, E, I was actually responding to TLP who seemed to think that wearing lipstick at work to impress other people *was* a bad thing! I think dressing up is great, but you should know why you're doing it. To please yourself when you look in the mirror? To feel more confident? To get a job? To get a boyfriend?

I have realized over time that I am finally in a position where my looks truly don't matter. I don't have or need a job, my husband is one of the least visual people I've ever met, my kids will love me regardless, and my own tastes in looks tend toward the natural ... to the point that I am actually PROUD of getting a few crows' feet. So the big challenge right now for me is to recognize the pressure to look a certain way and to honestly consider whether or not it applies to me. Is someone perhaps just trying to make me feel insecure to sell me lipstick? To make themselves feel better?

Yeah, all of my friends look more stylish than me, which sometimes makes me feel like a slacker. But by clearly putting in my mind what my goals are, I stop caring -- they don't find me frumpy, or if they do it clearly hasn't made them stop liking me, so why should I feel bad because they look good?

S.O., I think your name defines your category: rationalist, hopeful of having all the answers while humble enough to accept that you aren't there yet. Also the guy who sends me Slate Star Codex links. Read another one the other day and was thinking .... "gosh, the world looks so different from his angle." Not bad, but much more rationalist than me. And that's the category you fit in for me -- very smart people who don't seem to get the more irrational side of everything. (John is another.)

Enbrethiliel said...


First of all, I think it's great that you're in the position that you're in. I wish that more women were! My two closest friends don't care how I look, either, and of course, I think they're beautiful because they're my friends. =) When you first wrote about being told that you MUST dress up, I worried that your friends were the ones putting pressure on you, so I'm glad that that's not the case.

I tend more toward lines under my eyes than to crows feet, but it took me a long time to feel okay about them. Then one day, I figured out, hey, aging happens and if you don't like my face we don't have to hang out together. =P

My understanding of TLP's post is that he thinks the bad thing is women saying they wear makeup just to feel good about themselves. He actually thinks they should be more like you and not be so dependent on makeup to feel good! Rational reasons for wearing makeup would be: a) to attract men, b) to look polished during a job interview, c) to fit in during a very formal party, d) to compete with other women (Sad but true!), and my favourite, e) Halloween! ;-P But because some women think it's unfair that we should wear makeup when men don't, they stigmatise those reasons and so have to find another reason for continuing to wear makeup. And the only one that fits their worldview happens to be: to feel good about themselves. Which brings us back to the usual TLP refrain: if you don't feel good about yourself without [Insert external branding marker here], then then you won't feel good about yourself even with [Insert external branding marker here].

And now I'm going to go comment on your latest 7QT, which must have been really hard for you to live through but was so awesome for me to read! ;-D

Sheila said...

I like wrinkles because they show you've lived. I always like the tough old gritty characters in books more than the rookies. And anyway why should I live my life regretting every day older I get? That would mean life was getting worse and worse, and I hope it gets better and better.

The wrinkles I have (and it's not a lot, I mean, I'm going to have to adapt to a lot more than these) I like because they show my personality, they show the expressions my face makes the most, even when my face is blank. When I was a kid, if I made a blank face, I could have been anybody. Now you can tell straight off that I'm a smiley person. I like that. (The furrow in my eyebrows I don't like so much -- it's just the face I make when I'm reading, but it looks like I'm perpetually worried.)

S.O., I forgot to mention that I don't think you're a Bitter Atheist at all. I hardly think of you as an atheist; you're in the broad category of "searchers and questioners" and have been for a long time. It's not like you are dogmatic about atheism.

Perhaps this is why, when I mentioned you offhand to my mother-in-law (can't remember what we were talking about), and she said "people who leave the Church, you'll find, always have some reason behind it they won't admit," I flew to your defense! After all, I did read that post of yours about Catholic explanations for apostasy, and it's just what she was doing. And besides, you're not an atheist, you're a truth-ist. You will readily believe whatever appears to be true, whether it includes a God or not. That core value hasn't changed for you as long as I've known you.

(I made the word agrolibertarian up. But two adherents are Joel Salatin and to a lesser extent Gene Logsdon.)

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