Christianity, feminism, gender, media, politics, race, racism, religion, social justice, Uncategorized, white privilege

Why “Politically Correct” Is A Right-Wing Slur Designed to Silence Opposition

I was recently asked about whether “politically correct is correct”. Here is my response.

The term “politically correct” is a right-wing specter. I have never once in my life heard an informed activist for the LGBTQ movement, the civil rights and anti-racist movement, the feminist movement, etc. say to someone “We have to be politically correct”. It doesn’t work, it has a namby-pamby ring to it, it doesn’t express the appropriate outrage, and it is frankly not appropriate for activism.
There are so many problems with the assertions against “PC” (I will now call them “basic courtesy and accuracy”) arguments.

The most major one is that we are never discussing the mere use of a slur in isolation. Even when a comedian breaks decorum in some way that costs them popularity, like when Michael Richards (of Kramer fame) did it, no one was focusing just on the mere use of the n-word. It wasn’t as if Richards said, “Man, isn’t Al Sharpton cool? He’s my ni**a”. Rather, he said “Fifty years ago we’d have you upside-down with a f**king fork up your ass!” and “That’s what happens when you interrupt the white man, don’t you know?” In other words, Richards’ rant was racial terrorism. He evoked some of the horrible atrocities that happened to people who were lynched, including being burnt with blowtorches and having pieces taken off, and he asserted his white supremacy and the degree to which he belonged. Yes, that was all still rhetoric, but it wasn’t just the literal word: it was his aggressiveness against people of color.

Many defended Richards on this front. They defended him as if his opposition was just fetishizing a word, “ni**er”, and giving it magical properties.

Of course, each time I write out that word, that word that has been used with hate, my stomach churns. See, whites have the privilege of viewing that word as just being a word. For blacks and even many other people of color (especially Native Americans, Arabs and Muslims, who have been roped into it by “prairie ni**er” and “sand ni**er”), it evokes five hundred years of history. It evokes hundreds of years where that word was bellowed in an effort to kill, enslave, bomb, hurt, lynch, burn, terrorize, and mangle people. It evokes hundreds of years of fear.
White folks routinely have the privilege of pretending history doesn’t matter and doesn’t echo. Even I, as the son of an immigrant, have to know better than that. I know supremacy has a life and a breath all of its own.

When people on the political left and center-left bring up that we should call people “transgender” and call them by the gender pronoun that matches their new gender identity, we aren’t just saying that as an idle matter of decorum: we are saying it to people who want them to go into a bathroom that they will mentally and in many cases physically not belong, who want to cut their wages or kick them out of their community.

When people on the political left and center-left bring up that we should try to call “Mexicans” Chicana/os, Hispanics or Latina/os, we aren’t just talking to people who insist on calling people from Mexico Mexicans: we are fighting against those who would call them rapists and drug dealers, as if the entire group was just one raping, drug dealing apparatus or entity, some tentacled monster.

When people on the political left and center-left insist that we should use gender-neutral language (“firefighters” rather than “firemen”), we aren’t just fighting the rhetorical obliteration of females doing a job: we’re also fighting those who think women can’t be leaders because of their periods.
Notice how no one really organizes as a movement to say “Don’t call atheists ‘godless heathens'”, and yet they still encounter a widespread sentiment that they are inferior and dangerous.

See, conservatives seem to think, “You’ve won everything! Can’t you just leave the English language alone?”

Oh, no, brother (and it is so often a brother rather than a sister), you have it twisted.

In fact, we have so far to go, from anti-discrimination law to basic tolerance in public spaces to people actually being informed about atheists. We are fighting institutional discrimination, prejudice and bigotry stemming from institutional racism and white supremacy, homophobia and heteronormativity, sexism and male dominance, anti-atheist and agnostic bigotry and Christian hegemony, anti-immigrant and anti-global attitudes and American hegemony, and classism and the dominance of the rich. Notice how, in each case, I listed not just the group that was being targeted but the group that was being elevated. Every time someone says “This is a Christian nation”, it is yet another rhetorical assertion of a dominance that they have come to expect and yet have no right to expect and have not earned because such an endeavor would be impossible. The sacrifices of Christians who came before gives no modern Christian a single claim to institutional supremacy. Their majority status does not either.
Even within the realm of language, we’re not just making individual words taboo. When someone says “Blacks have lower IQ”, they are repeating an essentialist, racist, bigoted, stereotypical notion of people of color as if they’re in a spreadsheet. Even when there is some evidence supporting it, that evidence is never deployed honestly or consistently. And many times, such evidence is just outright false and dishonest. We are fighting people’s racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic ideas of other human beings, arguing that other human beings are on average just as competent, decent, intelligent and kind as they are. And those biases are used to justify present inequities. The logic, even when it isn’t stated out loud, goes, “Well, black people are criminals anyways, so why bother feeding their children?” or “Well, blacks are more likely to commit a homicide anyways, so why bother getting lead off the walls?” Once again, we can’t separate language and cognition from political ideas. Martin Gilens, and researchers working in his vein, have repeatedly found that racist biases are massively deterministic of whether one is willing to support policies like welfare. Policy issues in America are racialized and sexualized. Masculine identity is part of militaristic policies, which in turn influences debates like gays and women in the military.
The second issue is that, even insofar as we’re rectifying language, this is what societies do.
No society within the history of the planet has ever said that all language is equally appropriate in public parlance.

Most societies had very strong rules about what one could say in public. Honor codes, rules about courtesy that governed not just what hand one shook with (often as part of an effort to avoid contamination and the spread of germs even before people knew about the modern germ theory), kosher rules… the idea that there are certain things one does not say and do is common to history. Two of the Ten Commandments concern speech: Not taking the Lord’s name in vain, and honoring one’s mother and father.

One could argue that this was the case of feudal, monarchic and non-democratic societies. But that is emphatically false. Courtesy rules, manners books and so forth still exist. There are numerous 1950s shorts about the proper courtesy and rules for having a family dinner together. These emphatically include ways of talking and not talking: don’t gossip, don’t monopolize speech, don’t put people off their lunch.

What astonishes me so much about this is the political cleavage. Naively, I would have thought that many conservatives, people who are concerned with courtesy and decorum, would naturally and easily come to accept that there are certain ways we should and should not speak as a normative fact. They would come to accept, “Ah, these human beings prefer to be addressed by the opposite gender. How boorish would it be not to accommodate it?” One would think it’d be punk leftists who would spit and say “They’re a dude!”

But of course this is accepting conservative self-image and propaganda. In fact, the right-wing across history, the forces that preserve tradition, have always been perfectly able to be rude, cruel, and decidedly non-courteous. They just pretended otherwise as a thin veneer of civilization.
And challenging the entitlement (not the right but the sense that one should not face consequences) of those used to being afforded unlimited latitude challenges their supremacy. And when their supremacy is challenged, they are willing to get mighty rude.
Now, of course, is there a balance to be struck? Of course. Certain taboos should always be challenged. A transgressive attitude is always healthy at the right time and the right place. If friends are hanging out and talking, and there’s a high degree of trust, then it can be reasonable to say some things one might not say in mixed company. And certainly artists, comedians, etc. need to be granted some leeway to break sacred cows without too much criticism in response.
But remember: So many of the same people who fight the “PC agenda” will loudly support Trump’s support of seditious libel suits against journalists, loudly insist that one shouldn’t use the Lord’s name in vain, demand that the American flag never be burned or defaced, and insist that one should always “support the troops” no matter one’s disagreements with American foreign policy.
And it is precisely that “high degree of trust” that is not to be taken for granted. When so many people are able to say “I’m not racist, I have a black friend”, or otherwise signal that they’re not “one of the bad ones” and should be given some latitude, they fundamentally misunderstand the trust people. People of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, atheists and agnostics… none of them can trust the rhetorical goodwill of someone they don’t know.
The final point is precisely what the original questioner asked: “Others believe that being politically correct limits opinions, and will restrain them from conversing and interacting with others. Because of this, it will create a barrier between different groups, and do more harm then good”.
In other words, for the need of social lubrication and discussion, once again people of color, women, LGBTQ folks, non-Americans, immigrants… they all must sacrifice their sense of humanity and how they wish people would speak to them for the good of society.
Never once must the dominant group sacrifice their own sense of comfort, even temporarily, in order to learn new language and to (much more importantly) unlearn their toxic, unfair biases.
Every human being has a right to say, “I demand to be treated with respect, and if you don’t, I will not interact with you, I will not speak to you, and I will not do business with you”. There is a bare minimum of treatment we can demand in order to interact with us in commerce and daily life.

Those who demand that people not correct other people’s speech… are correcting other people’s speech.
The anti-PC brigade have a fundamental hypocrisy: They say “I should be able to say anything I want, and you shouldn’t be able to say anything you want”.
To quote Jeremy Sherman’s astute analysis: “By accusing people of being PC we try to persuade people to be less sensitive, less influenced by other people’s opinions, but in declaring PC a universal moral error, we pretend that we could live in a world where no one influences anyone. Usually we do it as a way of claiming our right to try to influence others without being influenced. It’s like the current libertarian craze, motivated by ‘my freedom to say and do what I want, without getting hassled’ If you want your freedom to say and do what you want, expect the same from everyone else. The person who accuses others of being PC has his own PC sensitivities. He’s saying it’s politically incorrect for you to be politically correct. Anti-PC and libertarianism are often rationalizations for dishing it out without having to take it in”.
Either we accept that anything is okay to say or we accept that there should be voluntary rules that we choose, as civilized human beings, as to what we say or do not say. And if anything is okay to say, I get to tell someone else to shut up. If someone else gets to call a friend of mine the “n-word”, I get to call them a monster who shouldn’t show their face in public. If we’re going to make society an endless war of words, then we get every weapon just like you do. Either way, the anti-PC crowd is wrong. Either way, they are demanding “My rules for thee but not for me”.
See, what conservatives want is consequence-free speech, not free speech.
Not only is that not a right, not only is it a logical contradiction, but it is a moral absurdity.
You see, this entire battle is really a battle of entitlement against responsibility.

When we have rights as human beings, that gives us power. And with great power comes great responsibility.

If we have the right to choose how we speak, we have the duty to choose that speech carefully.

Those who argue against those calling on them to have respect and kindness for others are arguing to be moral children. They want the rights without the attendant responsibilities.
That is not good for them. And it must be obliterated as an idea.

Standard
580_how-to-lose-your-frat-boy-look-1031910-TwoByOne
gender

Frat Boys and Male Responsibility: Why What Male Apologists Think They Know is Wrong

After debating the issues of gender inequality in the labor market for about seventy-two hours, I think it’s time to set some issues straight.

Scholars who argue that the gender wage gap is either shrinking or gone claim that once you control for factors like experience, choice of major, occupation, female negotiating strategies compared to male negotiating strategies, and a host of other factors, the apparent wage gap disappears.

By that reasoning, even though the average wage gap between men and women is about 22 to 23 cents, it might only be six to seven cents of that difference that’s unexplained and therefore possibly attributed to gender inequality, discrimination, bias or patriarchy.

Now, this is actually an important argument to engage with. Statistics matter. Understanding the array of causes for things matters.

But I can in turn assert that every single cent of that twenty-two cent difference is due to sexism.

How can I do that, even if other factors seem to control for the variation?

Imagine a person gets sick after he spent multiple nights out drinking. Let’s say it happens to be the flu that he gets sick with.

(Image to this effect courtesy of Ask Men and Getty).

I say, “Wow, dude, you probably should have taken it easy, you got the flu because you partied too hard”.

Another person comes in and says, “How dare you criticize partying? He got the flu because of the influenza virus!”

In fact, both causal narratives are correct, because both had to happen for our hypothetical frat bro to get the flu.

If he had just been exposed to someone else who was a carrier for the flu but he hadn’t been partying, he wouldn’t have gotten sick.

Similarly, if he had just been partying but had managed to avoid someone with the flu, he wouldn’t have gotten sick.

In fact, it could also have been that he didn’t drink enough orange juice, or had too much stress (which may have been the cause of the party binge), or that he doesn’t wash his hands enough, or that other people don’t wash their hands enough, or that he has asthma.

Similarly, a square isn’t just a square because it has four sides. It has to have four equilateral sides.

In a 2000 e-mail debate with David Horowitz, Tim Wise argued the following, discussing the fallacy of trying to break down the aspects of racial inequality: “There is no way to break down “responsibility percentiles” into some numerical percentage, and say, “stereotype threat” explains 10%, and motivation 15%, and family structure 20%, etc…These things can all interrelate, and trying to break it down as you would like me to do, is not possible or logical, any more than Murray and Herrnstein’s ridiculous claim that they could determine what percentage of IQ was genetic and what part environmental, despite the intrinsic interrelationship between both kinds of factors”.

So, in fact, it can be the case that 100% of the wage gap, or at least the vast majority of it, is caused by sexual inequality. That doesn’t mean it’s all caused by sexist bias on the part of employers. But since sexism isn’t just about biases on the parts of employers but also about biases in schools and in popular culture, body image inequalities, biases on the parts of male peers in organizations, pressures to go into particular fields, socialization that causes people to be interested in particular fields and to have certain personality and behavioral traits, social capital inequalities, etc., sexism can be a part of the picture in every single variable.

That doesn’t mean it’s the only part of the picture, any more than the frat boy’s sickness wasn’t just caused by him hitting the bars. Political systems, the effect of statutes, organizational policies, changes to markets and industries as a result of globalization, geography and its effect on labor mismatches, etc. could all also be part of the picture. And yes, sure, genetics, hormones and differing capabilities in various respects could be a part of the picture too.

But, insofar as sexism is part of the picture, it can be resolved.

I made this argument in my original response to Maddox and I have subsequently made it repeatedly, but it really bears going down the line.

In Facebook discussions, someone responded to my evidence of rampant sexism in the construction industry by claiming that women could just leave a business if they didn’t want to work there because of sexual harassment.

But that would mean that a woman would be leaving a job, reducing her experience as she had to enter the job market again and spend anywhere from weeks to months trying to find a new job, where she would again begin at the bottom. Her experience would be reduced. So too would she be less likely to have a good reference.

I’ve been subsequently told by woman after woman about how they’ve left fields because men ignored them, or treated them like sex objects or secretaries. What that looks like on a resume to someone who doesn’t know about the nature of gender discrimination is a person who is wishy-washy.

There’s a host of factors as to why women don’t have the level and duration of experience that their male colleagues do.

Similarly, the fact that women leave the workplace to have children is itself not a justifiable cause for wage inequality.

Why don’t men leave the workplace for exactly as long? Why aren’t men the ones going to PTA meetings or having to leave work early to pick up their children?

Both the imbalance in the way domestic duties are handled and the social contracts regarding maternity and paternity leave penalize women disproportionately for having children. But that’s not a fact of life. Paternity leave, anti-discrimination laws that protect mothers, education to employers, etc.

To again quote from Wise who makes this argument astutely: “Indeed, for men who want to share child-rearing responsibilities, the exigencies of the workforce make it difficult to exercise that choice. Most men don’t have the kind of job flexibility that would allow them to take time off, job-share, take leave (paid or unpaid), and otherwise split the home responsibilities with their wives and partners. Indeed, for a man who wanted to do any of those things, there would be a constant fear, not unfounded, that his employer could (and likely would) replace him, probably with another man whose nurturing instincts and commitment to gender equity in the home was far less concretized. Unless the social structure supports shared sacrifice, sacrifice will end up being made by those with the least institutional power, irrespective of one’s personal desires”.

This isn’t that hard of a sociological point to comprehend. But none of the men I’ve been discussing the issue with seem to understand that it takes a man and a woman to make a baby.

Worse, plenty of women who never plan to have children are going to struggle because employers and male peers will just assume that they’ll flake out.

Another factor that might explain women’s lower wages and their lack of representation in the higher echelons of many kinds of organizations would be their negotiating strategy. The Carnegie Mellon and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government study that Wise cites, however, finds that women who adopt such aggressive strategies aren’t perceived as courageous but as aggressive or unpleasant.

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, it makes sense that women who were aggressive like this would be misperceived as normbreakers. This may be a country that applauds normbreakers, but it’s a human trait for us to mistrust those who break the rules. (For a really interesting analysis of how the American belief in liberty and in the importance of mavericks can be hemmed in by factors like the imagination of a good folk community as opposed to bad outsiders, I recommend people read Mead’s Special Providence, a far-from-leftist book that examines what the author views as the major strands of American political thought).

Men are supposed to be aggressive, so we expect it from them. In a society that rewards assertiveness and competition, that’s a good thing.

But women aren’t supposed to be aggressive. Sometimes, of course, there will be a boss who admires an aggressive woman who seeks out her own fate. But on average, the fact that people aren’t used to women asserting themselves this way is going to mean that those who do are harmed too, just as with those who don’t.

See, that’s an interconnection of two institutions. Capitalist institutions tend to reward the people who stick to their guns in negotiation. But patriarchy changes how behavior is perceived. You have to combine both.

What’s really important about all this is that these are all average trends.

Sure, some women will be able to overcome these trends and become the next Oprah or Martha Stewart.

But, on average, can’t anyone who’s intellectually honest admit that women just having that additional little bias going against them when they go to each job interview, when they go to each performance review, when they fill out each application form, is going to add up over time? Some women will be so awesome that they’ll overcome it. But there’s just as many awesome men who will overcome too. Looking at the extraordinary people, as we often do in these discussions, is misleading because they’re inherently outliers. Most people are somewhere on the middle in terms of a bell curve of competency and talent. Most people are not Oprah. And a major aspect of male privilege, gender privilege, etc. is that it allows people to be mediocre.

People like me.

See, most people I’ve met say I’m one of the smartest guys, even the smartest guy, they’ve ever met.

And yet in school and in college I got only pretty good grades.

I was exemplary in some ways, but in actual fact I could have worked much harder.

Tim Wise found the same thing. Almost every white male who does work in these areas talks about how they kept getting breaks that they didn’t realize they were getting.

I’m not saying I didn’t deserve those chances. I think I did. But plenty of women got those breaks too.

Similarly, George W. Bush was a mediocre President. He was a mediocre success in his pre-political life too. He got lots of help. Now, George W. Bush actually probably isn’t a dumb guy. He probably shouldn’t have been a politician, but people who know him talk about how charming and quick-witted he can be.

Barack Obama is not mediocre. You may dislike him, but I don’t believe anyone honest can deny that he’s a brilliant orator and a very smart guy.

It takes people like Barack Obama to break into the highest echelons if they’re black, or gay, or women, or poor. It takes people like George W. Bush to succeed if they’re straight white men from affluent backgrounds.

I know this is tough to say. I know it sounds judgmental. But the point is that we need to stop demanding that people be superhuman and instead start getting rid of unequal barriers so that people can just be good enough.

Now, in actual fact, a host of scholarly evidence finds that there are pernicious and ongoing inequalities.

Luca Flabbi found, for example, that “it is possible to separately identify gender discrimination and unobserved productivity differences. The equilibrium shows that both prejudiced and unprejudiced employers wage discriminate. Maximum likelihood estimates on CPS data indicate that half of the employers are prejudiced, average female productivity is 6.5% lower, and two-third of the gender earning differential may be explained by prejudice”. Flabbi then used a model of an affirmative action policy and found that it would result in “a redistribution of welfare from men to women at no cost for employers’ welfare”. Okay, Flabbi may be wrong. But this is a modern source, a scholarly source, from 2010, that did a very careful analysis and looked at the data. Moreover, you’ll notice that Flabbi did find that female productivity is on average lower than male productivity, even though that didn’t explain the variation. (In fact, I’d argue that even the apparent productivity difference itself can be traced to sexism, given that women in sexist organizations are probably quite likely to be more disengaged and not put as much effort into their work, are probably less likely to be getting organizational support like continued professional development, etc.) I’d recommend reading the opening page (which is free if you click on the “Article” tab and then scroll down) which notes that most industrialized societies have a gendered wage gap too, from Japan to Northern Europe.

One of the biggest factors that creates consistent inequality for women is the ongoing existence of the “old boy’s network”. That’s a somewhat pejorative term for the social capital advantage that white men generally have. Since white men were in charge of the society for as long as they were, they’ve constructed fraternities, bowling clubs, golf clubs, etc. to be methods for amplifying social capital. A white man who goes to an affluent country club has a host of other affluent people to talk to in order to get potential job offers, investment opportunities and crucial information. Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone and his subsequent work has pointed out how important social capital is as a predictor of success. Putnam argues that social capital tends to have a leveling effect, but while this has some truth to it, inequalities in social capital can also serve to keep out women and minorities.

So Steve McDonald found that “people in white male networks receive twice as many job leads as people in female/minority networks. White male networks are also comprised of higher status connections than female/minority networks”. Similarly, Steve McDonald, Nan Lin and Dan Ao found that “Findings from nationally representative survey data reveal significant white male advantage in the number of job leads received through routine conversations when compared to white women and Hispanics”. Worse, these differences are higher at the “highest levels of supervisory authority”, which helps explain a large part of the reason why women and minorities find it so hard to break into those uppermost echelons of the workforce such as becoming senior partners or CEOs.

It’s easy to find hundreds of scholarly analyses like this. It’s so common that Elizabeth Kelan opened her analysis of what she calls “gender fatigue” in organizations (organizations being aware of gender inequality yet having to try to present themselves as being as neutral and fair as possible) claims that “Although gender discrimination remains a feature of working life in many contexts, research on gender in organizations has shown that workplaces are often constructed as gender neutral”. Basically, pretty much any scholar in sociology is going to tell you that sexism and gender bias are real phenomena.

The Kelan article is especially useful because it points out one of the trajectories that happens in discussions like this. “Instead of denying gender discrimination, workers acknowledge it can happen but construct it as singular events that happened in the past and they place the onus on women to overcome such obstacles”. This isn’t just true in the workplace. Most feminist activists will have had the experience of finally eliciting a concession that discrimination may be real but then being told, as Maddox did in his opening article and later when pressed on Facebook, that focusing on discrimination is victimizing.

In that vein, there’s one more point I’d like to bring up to demonstrate how much this discussion is basically about people, usually men, avoiding their responsibilities.

Let’s say for a moment that there was actually no aggregate wage gap between men and women.

However, all of the data about, say, sexual harassment or discrimination in the workforce could still be true. It just would not be having an impact on wages per se.

Okay, that’d be a good thing, were it true. (To be clear: It’s not).

But shouldn’t we still do something about it?

In other words, sexual harassment isn’t just bad because it causes people to have lower wages. It’s also bad because it’s dehumanizing, cruel and evil.

Even if all women who endured discrimination could still succeed, it’d still be a psychic toll. Hell, even if women were ahead of men in wages and political success, it’d still be wrong to ogle them and treat them like objects.

But the men who enter these discussions never talk about this.

They virtually never discuss their own fears and anxieties. (They’re plenty willing to vent about losing a job to a minority or a woman because of affirmative action, but that’s not the same thing).

The combination of vitriolic anger and pseudo-scholarly distance that men affect in these conversations is creepy as shit. It’s like Kevin Spacey in Se7en.

It’s easy to hide behind numbers. It’s (emotionally) easy to do statistical analyses.

It’s much harder to actually talk to a woman about her experiences with injustice. It’s even that much harder to listen.

I have yet to hear from any of the apologists for gender inequality what men should do about any of the phenomena we’re talking about. Even when it’s clear that women are encountering barriers in law. Even when it’s clear that women are facing widespread sexual harassment. Just as whites in debates about racial inequality are very clear about how black people should stop joining gangs or wearing their pants low but never about what white people might want to do to promote dialog or become more fair judges of character. Just as those defending class inequality talk about how the poor just need to work harder and live like monks but never talk about how the rich should change their behavior.

A friend of mine has told me, “Other people say, ‘I’m one person, what can I do?’ You say, ‘I’m one person, look what I can do’”. The reason that I have that attitude is because I believe in personal responsibility.

Until the people who enter these debates talk about what they can do, until they can drop the pretense of objectivity when they’re defending the privileges that people like them are reaping, the debate is bankrupt from the beginning.

For those of you who are actually interested, here’s an additional annotated bibliography.

This analysis by Ridgeway looks at the way that gender framing occurs.

Ineson, Yap and Whiting’s data based on studying hospitality management students found evidence of serious sexual and homophobic discrimination in the hospitality industry.

This USA Today article is actually a very centrist analysis as to why there’s inequality in the construction industry, noting that lawmaker apathy is a big cause.

Despite some evidence that women have higher levels of job satisfaction, there is extensive evidence of stress inequalities between men and women as well as between whites and minorities, as this Perry et al. article indicates.

This Catalysts examination looks at some of the causes for gender inequality in the legal profession.

Standard
gender

A Response to Maddox’s “How Every Company in America can save 23% on Wages”

A Response to Maddox’s “How Every Company in America can save 23% on Wages”

I despise sloppy sociology.

Look, I get it. Social systems are really complicated. One’s eyes can glaze over after reading the tenth article on a row on Mertonian strain or average distance within social networks.

But it’s important that, if we want to dismiss the political aspirations of people, we do our homework.

Maddox is one of my favorite Internet satirists. Sometimes, as a satirist, a person needs to make an argument that might be exaggerated or polemical or aimed for the average person in order to make a point.

However, when people are grossly misinformed about an issue, an article that purports to present a view of the world can actually cause serious problems.

To wit, Maddox has recently posted an article where he takes issue with the idea of sexism as being the cause of the wage gap.

Let’s respond to a lot of these arguments, but first, let me begin with my strongest example of how sexist priorities operate in the real world: Social work.

It’s no secret that social workers are underpaid.

It’s also not a big secret that most social workers are women, and in fact more so in recent years.

So one of the best examples of a “pink collar” service profession, a nurturing profession, is one which is both overrepresented by women and underpaid and overworked.

Now, I offer this example because it robs so many of the bullshit excuses we hear.

There’s no “free market” estimation of work value here going on here because most social work is either in the NGO or public sector. It’s government who’s paying social workers; specifically, it’s government underpaying social workers. (And teachers, another “pink collar” profession, but let’s not even open a can of worms here).

Rather, we have brutal political priorities that make it so we want to make sure that there’s always money for aircraft carriers and subsidies for corporations but can scrimp on things like entitlement payments or social services.

These brutal political priorities, by the way, are economically harmful to us collectively. If we thought about the value that a good social worker has in terms of avoiding long-term externalities, one could make a great case for tripling their pay. Think about all the ways that a social worker helps reduce theft and criminality by getting people in touch with resources to survive, improves life conditions and makes communities safer by intervening in families that have destructive and abusive dynamics, and so forth. Or think about how much better off we’d be if the foster system were not a disaster that is so well-known as a disaster that the messed-up foster care kid is a cliché.

Those brutal political priorities that are the cause of low social worker pay aren’t specifically sexist. I don’t think that politicians are rubbing their hands together and saying, “Let’s hurt women by paying social workers less!”

But it’s an example of why this wage gap between men and women exists. It’s an example of a sexist impact, because it disproportionately harms women, socialized to go into nurturing and support roles. And the brutality and lack of concern about family dynamics is based on sexist and patriarchal value systems that feminists oppose. The fact that politicians aren’t castigated for the way that they’ve screwed up juvenile justice, foster care, child services, and a host of other social work services, but are burnt in effigy if they raise taxes, is based on a value system that has sexist roots. Women bear the brunt of the impact our collective amount of family dysfunction, and they also bear a large portion of the work of fixing that family dysfunction.

More importantly, it helps explain why even excuses like “Women go into different fields” don’t cut it. Those excuses in turn assume that the relative pay that fields get is based on justice, when that assertion is not only absurd but often undermined by the apologists who then go on to claim that it’s men with disadvantages!

So, let’s look at some claims that Maddox makes specifically now, in light of the ideas above.

Maddox claims, “The prevailing theory is that it’s because women are conditioned to have lower expectations in the workplace.”

No, it isn’t.

This is one of the best examples I have ever seen in history of a strawman argument, a deliberately weak interpretation of one’s opponents viewpoints that makes one’s position seem stronger in false comparison.

One is free to look through my blog for the times I’ve discussed gender inequality and race inequality. Like this one on color-blindness , or this one on the bronie phenomenon , or this salient piece on sexual assault and statistics. You’ll see plenty of explanations for both of these factors, and I doubt this conditioning is found plenty of time.

Or let me turn to other scholars.

The European Commission names the following factors: “Direct discrimination, the undervaluing of women’s work, segregation in the labor market, traditions and stereotypes, and balancing work and private life”. Of those, “lower expectations” is a small part of just one, “traditions and stereotypes”.

The Center for American Progress similarly looked at the breakdown. They found that “Women need an additional degree in order to make as much as men with a lower degree over the course of a lifetime. A woman would need a doctoral degree, for instance, to earn the same as a man with a bachelor’s degree, and a man with a high school education would earn approximately the same amount as a woman with a bachelor’s degree”. These are just massive inequalities, what we’d call a big “signal”.

So what are the causes of the gender gap?

Well, one does happen to be lowered expectations in the workforce, sure. Women rightly begin to believe that their efforts just don’t get noticed. Many understandably begin to retreat.

Maddox has a reply on this front, though. He states, “There are plenty of powerful, successful and wealthy women who break this mold every day”.

There’s “plenty” of people who win the lottery too, Maddox. Want to suggest that as a means to fix the gender wage gap problem?

Fact is, there are some women who are hugely assertive. And this is a great thing. But the reason why feminists don’t “focus on the positive”, as he’d like us to do, is because that’s giving people a pat on the back before the job is finished.

This is one of the great challenges of activism, and it’s obvious Maddox doesn’t do any of it. Bono, for example, had a wonderful TED Talk where he went into how poverty is improving globally. He wanted to talk about the positive.

But he also knew that if he just did that then people would stop working. Men and white folks want to hear about how sexism and racism are over so they can stop having to work on those fronts.

Bono pointed out that there’s two possible ways that you can end up going when you see improvements: You can see complacency, and a slowing of change, or continued effort, and the continued rate of change.

The reason why we have to talk about the negative so often is because so many men are insistent that nowadays it’s an advantage to be a woman or a black person in the workforce. Many people refuse to believe that there is still something like gender and race inequality. (And I mention these together because they are linked, as the Center for American Progress article shows, and because the resistance to the idea of white privilege shares many of the same cognitive problems and failings as the resistance to the idea of gender privilege).

Worse, those women who are assertive themselves face challenges. I’ll quote again from Tim, citing “findings of researchers from Carnegie Mellon and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, which demonstrates that women who haggle for better pay are viewed much differently than their male counterparts”. In other words, women are just perceived as bitchier when they are assertive. Women find themselves in a double-bind: They can not negotiate, and be viewed as wallflowers, or try to be assertive and aggressive in negotiation, and be viewed as non-collegial.

However, the domestication of female aspirations is only one factor.

Another is the “old boy’s” network. That may be part of why we’re seeing women enter the lower echelons of industries like law and finance, but still struggle to make it to the higher echelons. The best jobs are still filled by social networking, by one’s “Rolodex” as it was put in the olden days, and having access to those traditional mechanisms like being the gold buddy or the college roommate of a person at the highest echelons is a massive part of the issue. Inequalities in what scholars call “social capital” is a big part of what causes inequality in general.

There’s also subconscious bias. Both male and female employers, human resources professionals, interviewers, etc. are likely to be saddled with subconscious ideas about how women should act and what their capabilities are. The Implicit Attitude Test project, for example, has found that for both race and gender, people’s subconscious biases are quite easy to replicate and even get some degree of measure upon.

Another factor is the perception of the “mommy track”, which saddles women intended to have kids and those who have no such expectation (and is itself partially the result of the second shift, where women continue to bear the disproportionate brunt of domestic work even when they work as hard as their partners). For those of you who believe that the “mommy track” is rational, Tim Wise has a wonderful set of responses.

Here’s another brilliantly obtuse argument: “Women make up about 51% of the workforce, according to the US Department of Labor. So either companies don’t want to save 23% on their wages, or the “77%” wage gap number is bullshit, because both can’t be true”.

But since women are about half the workforce, they’re already represented roughly equally. In fact, the female unemployment rate is slightly lower at the moment than the male unemployment rate. There’s just not a ton of women out there to hire more cheaply.

Maddox makes a false analogy to how employers are willing to hire non-English speakers to pay them less, ignoring that part of this dynamic is that employers have biases against native peoples of color and often hire immigrants in preference, but this is below comment. It’s cheap to hire illegals because you can threaten deportation. You can’t deport women. Women get paid less because of other factors, garden-variety sexism (both subconscious and overt bias) being part of it.

But you know what? I’ve heard employers joke, and heard stories of employers joking, about hiring the minority or hiring the woman because it will be cheaper. See, here’s the thing: Wages aren’t fixed by magic. In most environments, how much people are paid depends on their ability to negotiate. And as we’ve seen, on average, a woman’s ability to negotiate is just lower than a man’s, for both psychological and economic reasons.

Another one of Maddox’s claims that shows how utterly unfamiliar he is with this debate and how out of his depths he is is this gem: “critics struggle to contend with the fact that countless studies have shown that women have a higher job-satisfaction, despite the supposed wage inequality.”

But this “paradox” is only a paradox to people who don’t do any work in social justice.

Here’s an acronym that anyone who actually talks to feminists is likely to know: PHMT, or “Patriarchy Hurts Men Too”.

It may be possible that men are pushed into professions that are more competitive, more high-paying, but less good for the soul. They may be being pushed into professions that make them wonder if they are contributing.

So while women may be getting the shit end of the stick when it comes to quantifiable advantages like socioeconomic status, income, etc. they may be getting a psychological advantage.

Men are trapped by patriarchy just as much as everyone else. Privilege is always harmful to the people who have it. Orwell pointed out just how utterly banal colonialism made the English in “Killing an Elephant”. He made clear that both the colonized and the colonizer enter into a mutual relationship of mistrust and dependency.

Tim Wise has talked about how privilege can make people sick: It can give us a false sense of our invincibility. White men can often sail through life with every expectation that the world will just keep picking up after them and keep fixing things for them. The few times that doesn’t happen can be terrible for us, and we’re getting to the point that it’s just such a big handicap to have such a small and sheltered view of the world.

The best example Tim offers is about the Columbine shootings. He was told by a SWAT officer that they didn’t go in to save the kids at Columbine because they knew that these were white parents who would ring them out to dry for the slightest mistake.

In that moment of hesitation, those officers made it so that the privilege for those Colorado kids was no longer an advantage. In every other environment in life, they’d see doors open for them. But for the kids that died, there would no longer be any doors, because of the one time privilege did come back to haunt them.

But here’s the point. Orwell, Paulo Freire, Tim Wise, Noam Chomsky… the host of people who make philosophically clear how bad privilege and power is for the powerful are not going to then say that that power doesn’t matter.

Men may have the less satisfying jobs, but we are more likely to get the jobs that give us the money that we can use to have plenty of satisfaction when we get home. We get to have power, influence and respect.

And if we want to talk about stress? Women have a lot of stress too. A friend of mine had a friend point out to a lot of debate that people’s fear of sharks or lightning is viewed as cute or benign (and I would add that our fear of non-white terrorists is applauded), while women’s fear of being raped is viewed as misandry, even though the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network has found that one in six women are going to be victimized in their lifetimes. Maybe RAINN is wrong. Maybe the number is one in eight, or one in sixteen. But it’s enough that a woman has some justifiable reason to be afraid when they go out of how men look at them.

Women have a lot of justifiable fear that their boyfriends or husbands will shoot or beat them.

Women have a lot of stress over entering the mommy track, or having their opinions constantly ignored by men.

Maddox then uses a Politifacts statement, but it’s emphatically clear that he didn’t get the meaning of it:

“The Obama campaign took a legitimate statistic and described it in a way that makes it sound much more dramatic than it actually is. The 77-cent figure is real, but it does not factor in occupations held, hours worked or length of tenure. Describing that statistic as referring to the pay for women “doing the same work as men” earns it a rating of Mostly False.”

The 23% pay difference is a real statistic. The Obama campaign used that statistic, for sake of simplicity, instead of those statistics that take into account the other factors listed. That’s something I find to be problematic, but you will note quite clearly that the Politifacts review here does not deny that there’s a wage gap.

Of course some of the factors in the wage gap aren’t sexism. In sociology, you rarely see any one variable, even one as major as gender, explain anything more than 10 to 15 percent of the variation in a set of data.

But people who have done the disaggregations, even conservative scholars, have found that you can control for variables all day long and you still get an average pay gap differential. The Center for American Progress article has a very careful breakdown and analysis. And we also know from a host of studies that women face all sorts of barriers, so it’s not just a statistical observation but a tested fact that there are barriers to women in the workforce.

Moreover, can’t anyone see that even the factors of “occupations held, hours worked or length of tenure” are themselves partially influenced by sexism, so that you can’t eliminate them from the analysis as if they weren’t part of the problem?

If women face hiring barriers, of course they’ll struggle to get into occupations that might look good on the resume. They’ll be the first fired and the last to get hours and opportunities, so their average hours worked and length of tenure will go down too.

Let’s say that it actually looks worse to an employer that someone has four years of experience as a social worker than four years of experience in finance.

How is that not itself sexist or irrational?

Why is the value system that would lead us to think that going to Wall Street to try one’s hand at being a millionaire, or being a good programmer or something, is somehow intrinsically better for one to be a good worker than having the ridiculous emotional and physical stresses of social work?

That was actually always part of the point of affirmative action in employment. It was the recognition that a woman’s resume and a man’s resume that seem to be roughly equivalent (have the same numbers of years worked at firms of equivalent prestige) just aren’t.

Maddox offers this theory: “My own theory, completely unsubstantiated by any studies or research, but a sound theory nonetheless: jobs that pay lower have fewer responsibilities, less at stake and are generally lower stress. A foreman on a construction site has significantly more responsibilities and stress than a low-stress, lower-wage job.”

Okay, I’ll agree, that may be part of the factor. But let’s say that women who try to enter, say, venture capital are encountering discrimination, like with the Ellen Pao case recently and the fact that the number of female venture capitalists has gone down in recent years. Wouldn’t they be facing just as much stress as their male counterparts?

So Maddox’s argument, even if it were true on average, would ignore how many times sexism still causes inequalities that aren’t justifiable.

Worse, why would women choose low-stress jobs so frequently?

Maybe they’re already encountering the stress of being the subordinate group in a social environment.

Maybe women are constantly told about their weaknesses and inabilities.

Maybe they don’t want to have to fight through the glass ceiling.

Sound sexist? It isn’t, actually, but it’s also just true.

A poll in Australia found girls were perceiving increased sexism. One of the most astonishing aspects of studies like this is the reaction that many men have. They often say, “Oh, that’s just women being sensitive”. Men, especially white men, are so predisposed to think that women are wrong that they disagree with women about their own perception of reality. Isn’t it obvious how sexist that is? A woman saying, “I feel like I’m encountering more sexism these days” being told by a man (who would not be usually the person encountering misogynist bias) “No, you’re not” is a microcosm of the entire gender problem we have.

You can find this research everywhere if you want. Women are constantly telling researchers that they encounter problems and then they’re ignored.

Let’s step back just a second and think.

Why are we so surprised that sexism still exists?

Why are we so surprised that racism still exists?

The 1950s and 1960s are still in living memory. The era when women were supposed to be housewives and black people were supposed to be segregated is one that a lot of people alive today lived through.

It takes time and generations for these trends to change.

Yes, we’ve seen amazing progress on both these fronts. We may well soon have our first female President after having our first black President.

We’re seeing better progress on homophobia too. Class inequality is worsening, but I think we are seeing people begin to see more and more clearly how unequal our economic system is at its base.

So if someone tells us, “Sexism is over”, we should react with skepticism.

We should be thinking, “Wow, that’d be a pretty remarkable fact. The Glass Ceiling Commission found huge inequalities in the 1990s, men and women are still socialized differently in everything from their toys to their cartoon shows… I better check to make sure”.

A careful person would look for inequalities that might be hiding. They would consider how maybe things may not be as rosy as they would like.

And a person doing this is not a misogynist, or an inveterate pessimist. Hell, they’re very likely an optimist.

A responsible person makes sure a problem is resolved before they stop worrying about it.

Can’t we do the same with gender?

Post-Script

After extensive discussion, this was elicited from Maddox:

“… I acknowledged the possibility that the remaining 5-7% wage gap may be due in part to discrimination”.

After which I was accused of “writ[ing] a lot” but not “say[ing] a lot”.

So then, folks, we should do something about it. (Putting aside that I do not agree that “the remaining 5-7% is due to discrimination” and view it as a lot more. However, because these variables are all interconnected, you can’t really disentangle them, as Tim Wise pointed out to David Horowitz).

Standard
gender

“Redpills” and Freedom In Relationships: A Project for Feminism

The “redpill” movement’s philosophy is presumptuous and sexist slop that dresses up a very old (and discredited) idea as if it were new and liberating wisdom, and it pisses me off. And it’s just one indication of how we need to craft narratives for people that both empower them to embrace their inner humanity and enable them to express that humanity in the diverse ways that they want to. It’s one more challenge to feminism’s ability to give people the kind of relationships that they desire.

tumblr_ltzxlq3Rk91qkq3ogo1_500[1]

Image courtesy of Kingpin Social

Okay, maybe I should give some context.

I’m the kind of guy who tends to look at something, a philosophy being expressed, and then try to interrogate it from all angles. Sometimes, I will admit that I can be doctrinaire in doing that, only considering one perspective. But I do try to consider, “What if I’m wrong? How might someone else with a perfectly valid theoretical perspective approach this issue?”

That tends to let me meander. I see connections others don’t. Sometimes they’re salient, sometimes… eh, not so much.

So, what are “redpills”?
The “redpill” movement is a group that, in essence, advocates that women want to be dominated. Let’s be clear: That doesn’t mean they’re advocating physical or emotional abuse, or anything of that kind. They’re advocating consensual submission by women and consensual domination by men, within a framework of mutual respect. One redpill analogy that is used is the idea of the “First Officer and Captain”. The woman should be the first officer, making her objections known in private and having her own opinions that can of course (like Spock’s opinions with Kirk or Riker’s opinions with Captain Picard in Star Trek) differ from the man’s, but in public they should be a unified team.

Of course, this analogy that they’re using sort of indicates the problem. Spock was always willing as a first officer to openly dissent with and even mock both the ship’s doctor and the captain. Kirk had to prove himself and prove the validity of his ideas, but because Kirk and Spock were such dear friends, Spock ended up not only seeing the wisdom of Kirk’s unique approach that balanced reason and emotion but also even would do anything possible to advance that idea.

There are plenty of marriages that work like Spock and Kirk’s interaction. In fact, my favorite relationships have been like theirs: Where my significant other would openly disagree with me, and I had to therefore prove the validity of my argument. It was good for me because it kept me humble, not to mention having the excitement of debate and hypothesis testing.

Why isn’t that a valid relationship too?

Now, let me be totally clear before I proceed: I know people in “redpill” relationships. They are good friends and incredibly decent people. Their relationships seem to work fine. There’s nothing against the idea of empowerment and consent for a person to want to seek out a partner stronger than them and then, in a context of mutual respect and ultimate autonomy, have one partner tend to be the one in charge in the relationship. Moreover, I’ve noticed that many of these relationships in actual fact have the woman firmly in charge in general, dictating the flow of things.

I’m also from the BDSM community in terms of my own interests.

There are millions of people, men and women, who practice submission and domination in their relationships and find it perfectly healthy and liberating. Sometimes, it is the man who is the dom; other times, it is the woman. Sometimes, they practice it within very confined areas, only within the bedroom; other times, couples like to have submission dynamics in the rest of their life.

The problem with the “redpill” movement is emphatically not that someone can’t practice such a relationship without being abusive. The problem with the movement is that its ideological foundation is mendacious and disgusting tripe.

The “redpill” movement in what passes for official literature for a cultural phenomenon asserts, with unmitigated gall usually restricted to cult leaders, that in fact we’ve all been getting it wrong all these many years. All people need to be happy in relationships is for the woman to submit! Women naturally have a submission urge! The man is the “Alpha” and the woman “Beta”, or, from Athol Kay: “Women respond with sexual interest to men that are in social positions above them, and typically have minimal interest in men in social positions below them…  The Captain and First Officer model seeks to harness the erotic potential of a male led relationship (Alpha), but to do so with clear concern for the welfare of  the female (Beta)”. Elsewhere, Kay offers this observation: “The advice [about marriage and relationships] is that bad. The Blue Pill is what women say they want from a man”. The Blue Pill, to be clear, is the idea of marriage equality. And never once does any of this literature suggest that the man can be the First Officer, even though they offer an example of just that from Star Trek: Voyager in their own literature.

The “redpill”, then, is the idea taken from the Matrix (that’s the level of intellectual sophistication we’re dealing with here) that people need to be shown a whole new world… A whole new world that looks pretty much exactly like most marriage norms on the planet since before the 1950s!

This is all bullshit.

Nowhere does the “redpill” movement, or anyone else who regurgitates this sociobiological excrement, cite what gene they believe might cause such behavior. They just point to behavior and say it must be intrinsic.

Anyone who actually has spent time in the BDSM movement knows several things that alone makes clear how wrong the “redpill” assertion is:

  • People can be just as miserable in submissive-dominant relationships as in any other relationship.
  • People want all sorts of things that are bad for them.
  • People think they want all sorts of things they really don’t.

There’s plenty of divorces, intimate partner violence, and bad stuff in the BDSM community, and have been for decades. A woman submitting to her male partner is no guarantee to success. And the idea that these people have stumbled upon the one true secret to divorce rates and social changes that have a ton of sociological antecedents is so colossally arrogant as to call into question their motives and their intelligence. (Again, I am speaking firmly and exclusively about the people who promote this as the only way to live, not those people who just happen to find it works for them).

In fact, of all of the battered women and victims of assault I’ve worked with, that cultural idea (and it is inherently cultural) that a woman should seek out a tough and strong man has been a big part of the problem. Of course people are attracted to confidence and dynamism. But all too often they fundamentally mistake that for arrogance and cruelty. We unfortunately have a repeated tendency throughout history to confuse kindness with weakness and violence with courage. And, to their credit, the “redpills” do admit that a man has to have a mix of traits that include kindness (though they try to justify it by referring to oxytocin release and other pseudo-scientific garbage).

Worse, if you may notice, the above is actually the opposite of many BDSM-based relationships. In those, in public the couple has an image of equality and it’s only in private that they practice submission.

The “redpill” movement is less a rejection of feminism than it is simply ignoring its existence. “Redpill” advocates pretend that they’ve stumbled upon some new wisdom, when in fact what they’re suggesting is as old as recorded history.

Confucian ideology put the woman below the man in every social setting. Madam Ban Zhao suggested, “Let a woman modestly yield to others; let her respect others; let her put others first, herself last”. Though many scholars find that actual Confucian practice may have been much more equitable, its ideology was basically that of the wife as being subordinate to the husband.

The philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel suggested that men could participate in civic life but that women just didn’t have it out for that: “Woman, on the other hand, has her substantive destiny in the family, and to be imbued with family piety is her ethical frame of mind”.

In fact, it’s a repeated theme of philosophy for millennia to try to justify misogynistic social relationships as being somehow orderly, or natural, or based on women’s inferiority.

So, “redpill” advocates, let me ask: If you’re so right that women have just been lied to with all these promises of jobs and careers and autonomy and they just really need a man to be a captain and steer their ship because they’re too iddle-widdle to do it themselves, where the hell did feminism come from?
If people intrinsically wanted to be dominated, we never would have seen feminism, civil rights, resistance against slavery, democracy, American revolution, civil libertarianism, or anarchism. If women just want a strong man to take charge in an environment of trust and strength, why didn’t marriage norms that emphasized exactly that for centuries stick and why did so many millions of women reject them so harshly? “Redpill” advocates want to pretend that five hundred years of history never happened.

The kind of people who offer this drivel are usually in tune with or at least sympathetic with the so-called “men’s rights” movement. But the “men’s rights” movement, much as they might want to pretend otherwise, isn’t about curing misandry. The reason why feminism came into being was as part of a trend in history towards greater liberty, greater equality, and more expressions for freedom. Trying to return people to a mold where there’s only one real expression of love isn’t just an insult to women. It constrains and limits us all.

But the “redpill” movement is in fact an expression of a deep challenge, one of the most important that feminists have faced.

Every feminist who has done any kind of work on gender equality will eventually get asked: “Look, my husband [or boyfriend or significant other] tends to run things. I’m happy that way. I like being at home. I like cooking and taking care of the kids. Why should I be forced to do something I don’t like? Why should I be forced to get a job I don’t need and don’t want?”
In his fantastic, if often maddeningly centrist and mainstream, review of ideas throughout history, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto argues, “At least [feminists] succeeded in persuading women to try to make the most of social changes and opportunities that would have occurred anyway… [by] joining the workforce they added another level of exploitation to their roles as homemakers and mothers… Some women, who wanted to remain at home… found themelves doubly disadvantaged: exploited by men and pilloried by ‘sisters’. Society still needs to strike the right balance: liberating all women to lead the lives they want, without having to conform to rules devised for them by intellectuals of either sex”.

Felipe insults feminism markedly here. Those social changes probably would not have happened had it not been for courageous activists. Moreover, equating those women trying to broaden the horizons of other women with men trying to keep them pinioned is pretty grotesque. But there is still something true being said here.

Why have feminists so often insisted on the idea that women should aspire to enter the workforce, or not be at home, or be in charge in relationships?

Because for more than a hundred years, from at least the Civil War to the 1960s, women were controlled at least as much by social norms as laws.

Unfortunately, society restricts our horizons at least as often as it gives us new heights to achieve. When society tells you, “Your best job is to be a mother and a housewife”, people will aim for it. That’s just the thing to do.

It took millions of women being unsatisfied and not knowing why to begin a wave of feminist thought that emphasized women being able to do more. They had to have support groups and discuss quietly before they all began to realize that “The personal is political”: Their personal problems weren’t their fault, it was just that they were being forced by society to do something they shouldn’t have to.

And so, when a woman says, “I like being at home and cooking meals”, our fear is naturally that she’s saying that not because she truly knows all the options but she’s been unable to resist the psychic assault that that’s all she should amount to.

As activists, we often have to try to tell people that their perceptions of the world may be based not on reason or a true consciousness of their inner state but not having adequately interrogated their social assumptions. Sometimes, this means insisting to people who say otherwise that they can and maybe even should do more.

My own experience has been with working with victims of sexual assault and torture, people who are seriously depressed, people with psychological issues. What I’ve found is that the domestication of aspirations is universal. We as a species are so attuned to just accept the bad that we say, “That must be what I want, it’s all that’s possible anyways”. With those people and in fact with people in general, being skillful means actually arguing with them. It means “pillor[ying]” them, as Fernandez-Armesto would put it, because consciousness raising can be difficult and require patience and outside criticism.

Those who love people and want to see a better tomorrow have to tell people that they’re capable of more. We have to say, “Don’t let anyone, even yourself, limit your potential. Do anything you can dream of”. We even have to help them find what those dreams are. That’s one of the goals of anarchism: To create people who know what they want and are empowered to get it.

But what we’re discovering now, in the decades of wildly expanded freedom that feminism and civil rights have given us, is that some people really do enter the workforce and strive to be empowered and they just don’t want it. At some point, the “why” becomes moot. It doesn’t matter if someone wants to be submissive or return to work at home because work is too stressful, or they have low self-esteem, or whatever else. They had the options, they tried it, and now they feel that they are being told that they have to do something they hurt.

Worse, it is seemingly utterly true that feminism’s successes at allowing women to expand their horizons coincided exactly with the changes to the economy that would force women into the workforce.

Let’s be clear: The fact that the economy is so grossly crappy at this point that most couples need to have both partners working full-time is a feminist issue as well as a socialist and progressive issue. Women are restricted by the “second shift” both because of sexism that makes it so women are the expected domestic partners and capitalism which requires those women to also pick up the slack in the workforce.

The “super-mom” phenomenon is not something anyone chose. It was forced on us by capitalism, by the needs of the rich to have an economy that resembles a slot machine more than a factory. No one should need to work eighty hours at home and on the job to be able to be a mother or a father.

Today, we are seeing more men stay at home. We are seeing some men want to cook, clean, and take care of the children. They want that as their family duty.

I think that we’ve struggled for decades now to deal with a very simple fact: People are just different.

“Women” and “men” don’t exist. There are just people.

Some women want to enter the workforce. Some men want to stay at home. I know couples who just want to take it easy, raise their children quietly, watch TV, and have a nice and clean space. They want domestic tranquility. They don’t want to work to the bone to climb the corporate ladder.

So some women want to be in a “redpill” relationship. Fine. But feminists still need to stand up for them, because they might change their mind, and if society accepts the “redpill” ideology as the only valid way, they won’t be able to. They will be trapped, just as women were in most of history before the 1960s.

It’s our mission if we love our neighbors and ourselves to free to fight for people to have options. We have to fight the rhetoric that pretends that there’s any one secret to happiness and any one good life.

It’s just too important for real people and their happiness.

Standard