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?