Category Archives: feminism

Barack and the women, Part II

My column on the “women’s issues” part of Obama’s Cairo speech is here.

See also this excellent piece by Christopher Hitchens on Slate.com on the same topic.

Leave a comment

Filed under Barack Obama, feminism, gender issues, Islam, Muslims, women

Barack and the women

As I said in my previous post, I had a largely positive reaction to Obama’s Cairo speech.  However, I agree with David Frum’s criticsm of Obama’s comments about women’s rights — which should have been a key part of an “outreach to Muslims” speech.  In contrast to Obama’s strong affirmation of the principles of democracy, his discussion of women’s issues and Islam was too general, too weak, and afflicted with excessive even-handedness.  (Contrary to what many readers on Reason.com’s Hit & Run blog believe, I am not really a champion of indiscriminate moral equivalence.)

Here is the passage in its entirety: Continue reading

15 Comments

Filed under Barack Obama, feminism, gender issues, Islam, Muslims, women

Defending motherhood from straw men (or women)

This caught my eye of National Review‘s blog, The Corner:

Momma Mia!: The Case of Candace Parker [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

A married 22-year-old is subject to scorn for embracing motherhood.

The link is to a column by Colleen Carroll Campbell, described as “an author, television and radio host and St. Louis-based fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.”  Campbell writes about 22-year-old Women’s National Basketball Association star and Olympic gold medalist Candace Parker, a player for the Los Angeles Sparks and wife of Sacramento Kings forward Shelden Williams who recently announced that she was pregnant.  According to Campbell:

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under antifeminism, feminism, motherhood, women's sports

… in which yours truly gets Palined

So I googled myself today (yes, I ego-surf) and came across this piece on the Slate blog, The XX Factor, eviscerating a feature in More magazine (a glossy targeting 40+ women) in which three writers, including yours truly, comment on the Sarah Palin phenomenon.  Slate ladyblogger Susannah Breslin snarks that the magazine ran the feature “in a blatant, desperate, and misguided bid for page-views and newsstand sales.”  Which is pretty … misguided, because the Palin forum is not on the cover of the magazine and, as far as I can tell, not on its website either.

Breslin then comments:

Lisa Schiffren writes: “Knowing that conservative, evangelical Christian women want their daughters to see such a role model [as Palin] tells us that feminism, in its best sense, has won its central battle.” Eh? What? I can’t even figure out what that means.

Now, I’m not a huge Lisa Schiffren fan, but is it really that hard to figure out what she means?  (You know, like … even conservative, evangelical Christians now admire women who are strong leaders and achievers in the public sphere?)

And then there’s this:

Continue reading

7 Comments

Filed under feminism, Sarah Palin

Feminist male-hatred and The Vagina Monologues

Over on Alas, a Blog, in a thread where the comments are limited to “feminists and feminist allies,” Barry Deutsch (Ampersand) deconstructs a speech by Christina Hoff Sommers, a leading critic of feminist orthodoxies (and a good friend of mine, though there are certainly times when we disagree). In particular, he takes her to task for saying that many feminists are anti-male.

Does Christina paint with too broad a brush? Quite possibly. But a couple of things about Barry’s post:

(1) Barry says he hasn’t seen any male-hating attitudes from feminists except for a few people on the Ms. boards way, way back. I’m guessing the late Andrea Dworkin, famous for such aperçus as, “Under patriarchy, every woman’s son is her potential betrayer and also the inevitable rapist or exploiter of another woman,” or “Male sexuality, drunk on its intrinsic contempt for all life, but especially for women’s lives…”, does not qualify? Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under antifeminism, feminism, men

With intellectuals like these, there’s something to be said for anti-intellectualism

The annual meeting of the Modern Language Association dedicates a panel to conference sex.

Alas, with no public demonstrations of the subject at hand. Though one speaker, New York University professor Ann Pellegrini, did conduct her presentation clad in a bathrobe. (Okay, over her clothes.)

Speaker Jennifer Drouin, assistant professor of English and women’s studies at Allegheny College, discussed the fascinating subject of the varieties of conference sex, from cruising by gay male scholars at local gay bars to “‘bi-curious’ experimentation by ‘nerdy academics trying to be more hip'” to “the ‘conference sex get out of jail free’ card that attendees (figuratively) trade with academic partners, permitting each to be free at their respective meetings” to monogamous sex between long-distance spouses or partners who are separated by their careers and reunite at conferences. (In the comments on the Inside Higher Ed report, a couple of people lamented the stereotyping implicit in the suggestion that only gay men pursue casual sex; Drouin helpfully explained that in her presentation, she “lamented the lack of designated cruising spaces, such as bars, bathhouses, and parks, for people other than gay men, especially the lack of cruising spaces for lesbians.”)

More gems:

Milton Wendland of the University of Kansas linked the jargon and exchanges of academic papers to academic conference sex. The best papers, he said, “shock us, piss us off, connect two things” that haven’t previously been connected. “We mess around with ideas. We present work that is still germinating,” he said. So too, he said, a conference is “a place to fuck around physically,” and “not as a side activity, but as a form of work making within the space of the conference.”
At a conference, he said, “a collegial discussion of methodology becomes foreplay,” and the finger that may be moved in the air to illuminate a point during a panel presentation (he demonstrated while talking) can later become the finger touching another’s skin for the first time in the hotel room, “where we lose our cap and gown.”
For gay men like himself, Wendland said, conference sex is particularly important as an affirmation of elements of gay sexuality that some seem to want to disappear. As many gay leaders embrace gay marriage and “heteronormative values,” he said, it is important to preserve other options and other values.
Conference sex encounters become more than mere dalliance and physical release,” he said. It is a stand against the “divorcing physicality from being human, much less queer,” he said.

Meanwhile, in her speech, the bathrobe-clad Ann Pellegrini made a poignant complaint:

Academics are regularly “accused of speaking only about ourselves,” she said. “But when we venture out into public square,” and try to share both their knowledge and beliefs, “we are accused of being narcissistic” and of speaking only in “impenetrable jargon.”

Gee, I wonder why.

Another speaker, Daniel Contreras of Fordham University, wondered: “Did eight years of Bush drain away any energy we might have had for intellectual exploration?”

Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. Who needs parody?

7 Comments

Filed under academia, feminism, sexuality

The paradoxes of gender gaps

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus has an interesting column on the controversy that continues to dog former Harvard president Larry Summers.

Was Larry Summers right about women and science after all?

As the mother of two daughters, I hope not. In fact, Summers himself said in his infamous comments about intrinsic differences between the genders, “I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong.”

But Summers may have been on to something, recent research suggests.

Marcus then goes on to summarize the research showing that more males are clustered at the upper end of the distribution of mathematical and science ability, as well as evidence that (as Summers suggested as one of the possible explanations for the gender disperities in science and technology fields) women choose different levels of commitment to family life.

And then she ends thusly:

In short, Summers was boneheaded to say what he did. But he probably had a legitimate point — and the continuing uproar says more about the triumph of political correctness than about Summers’ supposed sexism.

How’s that again?

Summers had a legitimate point, and the uproar (which, Marcus says, may have cost him the job of Secretary of the Treasury) was an expression of dogmatic ideological intolerance … but Summers was boneheaded to say what he did?

Here’s my own take on Larry Summers, from 2005.

Right now, we’re in a paradoxical place when it comes to cultural attitudes toward sex differences. On the one hand, in certain still-influential feminist circles, there remains a ferocious insistence on unisex dogma, so that any discussion of possible innate sex difference — especially in a context that seems to justify existing gender imbalances — is seen as a shocking and punishable heresy. On the other hand, there is a pervasive “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” conventional wisdom that, nowadays, is quite acceptable in polite society (and is often accompanied by facile references to neurobiology).

As an example, I give you Sandra Tsing Loh’s article in the November 2008 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, “Should Women Rule?”, which discusses several books about politics (including Why Women Should Rule the World by Dee Dee Myers) and a book on the biology of sex differences, The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women, and the Real Gender Gap by Susan Pinker). On the basis of Pinker’s book, Loh makes sweeping conclusions about women and power. Women, it seems, are “consensus-minded and team-oriented” and averse to compeition:

Consider this startling study done with fourth-grade Israeli schoolchildren: when boys and girls each ran alone on a track, there was no measurable speed difference by gender. But when each child was teamed with another child and asked to run again, the boys ran faster and the girls ran slower—slowest of all when running against other girls! What females love is bonding, helping, sharing, and oxytocin—that “opiatelike hormone” dubbed by one anthropologist “the elixir of contentment.” Forget all this tedious racing: what girls would really like to do is carry each other around the track—taking turns! Indeed, studies show that whereas competitive situations drive adrenaline increases in men, they drive adrenaline decreases in most women. Men associate more pleasurable feelings with competition than do women, and even “an eagerness to punish and seek revenge feels more fun.”

She then suggests that instead of trying to “rule the world,” women can “change it” through grass-roots organizing — things like protests against cuts in school funding or rallies for gun control. (I wonder if conservative causes such as opposition to abortion would pass muster?) Because, of course, men have never run grass-roots protests.

Crowding, in fact, may be more effective for women than ruling when it comes to changing the world. While at a biological disadvantage in competitions, women—who even make trips to restaurant bathrooms in pairs—are at a clear advantage when it comes to grouping together and the activities that accompany it: gossiping, sharing, bonding, assisting, scrapbooking, and building networks.

Given the apparent female neuro­endocrinic aversion to competitive, winner-take-all activities like elections, unless testosterone shots become a new female norm, even democracy (thanks, Founding Fathers!), with its boastful, chest-beating campaigning, is clearly stacked against female candidates.

So, Loh concludes, let’s get to work on “crowding.” (Completely forgotten is her own mention, earlier in the article, of famous “dragon ladies” who could participate in ruthless competition with meanest of men: “Queen of Mean” Leona Helmsley, publishing shark Judith Regan, Vogue editor Anna Wintour.)

I’m not a dogmatic “old-school” feminist on the issue of sex differences. However, does anyone who has lived in the real world seriously believe this tripe about women’s niceness? Yes, there is evidence that women are more “relationally” oriented and more attuned to the moods and feelings of other people, but as often as not this translates into using relationships and feelings to establish dominance and inflict punishment/revenge. To quote the memorable words of the late Elizabeth Fox-Genovese (from the 1993 book Feminism Without Illusions: A Critique of Individualism): “Those who have experienced dismissal by the junior high school girls’ clique could hardly, with a straight face, claim generosity and nurture as a natural attribute of women.”
Even before feminism, women competed plenty in “feminine” spheres (and of conversely, of course, there was always plenty of cooperation in the “masculine” world; even war, that most masculine of spheres, is as much about brotherhood as it is about the pursuit of dominance and about dog eating dog). Today, the world is full of women who compete gleefully in sports, business, and yes, politics.

Are there real, innate psychological and intellectual differences between men and women? Most likely yes; but in most cases they are vastly attenuated by individual differences, and that is something both unisex feminists and sex-difference proponents tend to miss. Quite often, the former tend to make a pro forma nod to biology (“of course no one says men and women are exactly the same”) and then go on to react with hostility and intolerance to any actual suggestion of sex differences, while the latter tend to make a pro forma nod to individual variation (“of course sex differences are not absolutes, they’re just a matter of tendencies and degrees”) and then go on to to make sweeping statements in which men are this and women are that.

Shameless self-promotion alert: this is where I suggest a chapter from my 1999 book Ceasefire: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality, adapted into a Reason essay titled “Sex and Sensibility.” I don’t think it’s particularly dated. Looking over some relevant passages from Pinker’s book, I discovered an amusing coincidence: at one point, we both discuss the same study, but in a rather different vein.

Pinker:

One study showed how four- and five-year-old boys and girls were motivated by the same goal but reached it through different means. When these preschoolers needed to work together to watch a cartoon, boys used competition and physical tactics fifty times more often than girls. Meanwhile, girls used talking and turn-taking twenty times more often than boys.

Me:

In an especially intriguing experiment, preschoolers in single-sex groups of four were given a film viewer designed so that a child could watch a cartoon through an eyepiece only if two others cooperated by turning a crank and pressing a switch. There was much more playful pushing and hitting among boys. But the girls weren’t shy about giving orders, using putdowns, or even blocking the viewer so that another child couldn’t watch. Moreover, girl groups tended to have “a single dominant individual,” while boys showed “more equal participation” in viewing. Nor did the alpha females get to the top by being nurturing: They gave commands, hit, and disrupted others’ viewing much more often than other girls.

Is it really that difficult to simultaneously hold in our heads the proposition that there are real, biologically influenced behavior differences between men and women on average, and that these average differences tell us next to nothing about any given individual? Even when male and female tactics are visibly different, the differences are often of style rather than substance — not male competition and power struggles vs. female bonding and sharing, but different ways of competing and cooperating.

By the way, I find Summers’s much-maligned speech to be far less demeaning to women than Loh’s musings. The idea that fewer women than men may rise to the pinnacle of some human endeavors while competing on the same terms does not, to be honest, bother me tremendously (any more than the fact that there are more males at the bottom of the pyramid). “Difference feminism,” on the other hand, seems to simply take women out of the human enterprise of achievement, individual initiative and, yes, competition, and consign them to some gooey collectivity. Visions of crowding, grouping, bonding females traveling to the bathroom together and organizing into egalitarian groups for a properly feminine cause is enough to make me cheer for Margaret “The Iron Lady” Thatcher, or perhaps even Sarah “Barracuda” Palin. Let’s hear it for the alpha females.

8 Comments

Filed under feminism, men, sex differences, women