10.01.2008

The Ya-Ya Sisterhood of the Non-Dangling Pants Parts

Ok, this is a response to J's post, which itself was a commentary to Emily Bazelon's article on Slate.

Here's the question. Do I, by virtue of having girly bits, feel some kinship with Sarah Palin? Do I, deep down inside, secretly want her to win (or at least do well) because she's one of us? Am I conflicted by the fact that I don't share a single personal value with this candidate, but want to vote for a woman? Am I anti-feminist if I don't applaud her ascent to power? Do I feel sorry for her because she isn't doing well?

Fuck.That.Shit.

Oh it's not that I don't want to see a woman succeed. It's just that I don't believe in a vagina network. My version of feminism isn't that women are pulling for one another, working as a group to overcome. Save the kum-ba-ya crap for church camp. Hey! I didn't contribute one of those 18 million cracks in Hillary's glass ceiling. IMO, that's not the purpose of feminism. The objective of feminism is to create a world where what's inside my pants ceases to matter unless I am actually using it at the time. This means that no woman should get a free pass to the front of the line. That means that if a woman gets to the highest level in her field, they shouldn't move the goalposts so she can, you know, serve as a role model. When everyone is allowed access to the same opportunities, how far we go is an individual endeavor. I'm not a feminist, per se. I just believe in equal opportunity.

Call me cold. Call me an anti-feminist. (You'd be dead wrong, but give it a go anyway.) I don't believe in double standards. There is one standard. If you are a woman and want to enter a traditionally male field, don't expect a paradigm shift to accommodate you. First woman entering the field? Little head's up for you. You are probably going to suck at it. You are probably going to be put down, second guessed, and judged more harshly than they'd ever judge one of their own. Is it worth it to you?

Ask Hillary Clinton that one. I think she'd say yes.

Maybe I'm insufficiently sentimental, but I have, without even knowing or understanding it, approached my entire life based on the idea that my gender doesn't limit me, excuse me, or condemn me. The only thing that truly limits me is me. I have met exceedingly few obstacles in my life that couldn't be driven over, around, or a detour found. Oh, I have experienced sexism. I just haven't allowed it to make a victim of me. I consider myself successful. Not a blazing light in the wilderness, but a little more than a bic lighter. A sea of bic lighters might make it easier to see, but it isn't the same as being the blazing light.

I know I'm going to hear it. The old "you're harder on women than other minorities."

Not really. Because I think the same should be true of all irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation, place of birth, yadda, yadda, yadda. I didn't grow up in this "let's give all the kids a trophy so they feel good" era. I grew up where accomlishment and recognition were earned. And not everybody made it. Sometimes I failed. Sometimes I succeeded.

I do not want to be judged by a woman's standard in a man's world. I don't want special accommodation. I want to know when I make it that I made it on my own merits. If I had to work harder, my accomplishment is all the more satisfying. And I don't mind that other women have to work as hard. Intelligence, competence, ambition, hard work, and a little luck. You have to have drive to achieve. You have to want it and never say die.

I didn't buy into Clinton's "I'm doing this for Chelsea" bologna, and I don't feel sorry for Sarah Palin because she bit off more than she could chew. I remember once I found myself in the finals at a summer swim meet. THE FINALS. Ok, so I was in the far outside lane indicating that I made the finals by the skin of my teeth, but there I was. And I swam my heart out. And when I finished and looked up, everyone else was already done. More than one girl was already out of the pool. I came in dead last. Embarrassingly last. Slinking out of the pool and hoping no one asks my name last.

Welcome to my world, Sarah Palin. Sometimes the competition is vastly superior to you. And you have to learn to be okay with that. And not because you are a woman, but because that's how it is. America is a tough town. You can believe in yourself all you want, but sometimes you just come up lacking.

Sarah Palin isn't getting my vote...not because I don't want to see women succeed. She won't get my vote because she took an end run around to the front of the line. She didn't earn it. Ok, so she's also a neanderthal in her thinking and grossly unsuited and unqualified for the job. That's just gravy.

7 comments:

  1. So, are you against affirmative action? It's not clear from your post, but your words are similar to the code words strident anti-AA folks use. (That's not accusatory, just an observation -- as much an observation on co-optation of rhetoric as anything else, especially the rhetoric of individualism.)

    After all, I actually do believe in treating women different than men to an extent, since they are -- i.e. post-natal care & leave from work (though I do also believe in PAternity leave, so it's not a radically pants-parts-based-proposition I suppose).

    I know multiculturalism is a bad word these days (not to you, per se, and actually, come to think of it, I think even the Left have stopped using it explicitly -- another win for co-optation). But the key point that I took away from some great trainings at my old job on multiculturalism is that the Golden Rule is wrong. Don't treat others as YOU want to be treated. Treat them as THEY want to be treated -- when you assume everyone is like you, you're going to be wrong. Of course, treating them as they would like to be treated means a lot of conversations and negotiation (especially in a workplace), but I've found this to be a helpful distinguishing point from the Golden Rule every since then -- it's actually been quite useful in relationships. (At least from my perspective; several women I've dated seem to have gotten tired of hearing that. But perhaps an exegesis of my relationships is a different topic.)

    Reconstructive feminism, a term coined by Joan Williams, is what I believe in, and while it hardly has anything to do with the Ya-Ya Sisterhood of Generally-Non-Dangling Pants Parts (i.e. feeling sorry for Palin), it does have to do with what MIGHT call "accommodations" for women -- i.e. active help (affirmative action?) to correct current equality. (Which you could totally be for, I'm just babbling rather than trying to argue with a point I'm not clear on in your blog.) She's well worth a read.

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  2. Clarificaton re: Joan Williams: Though to be clear, what she talks about in her book has little to do with affirmative action as it's generally meant but everything to do with a history of women's roles in the US, how they've become normalized, and changed in self-contradictory ways ("Teaching is too important to leave to women," "Teaching is too unimportant to bother men about it") and how stay-at-home moms and working moms (and caregivers writ large -- men taking care of a sick parent, husbands caring for sick wives, vice versa, etc.) have a whole BUNCH of common cause and don't know it. Just wanted to be clear that I was extemporizing...

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  3. I think you misunderstand me. I think the POINT of feminism is to help create a world in which gender doesn't matter.

    I don't think you get there by just telling white men that they should, you know, be all magnanimous and shit and let women, minorities, gays, etc. in. We all know that isn't going to happen. And I think I have expressed before my views (although somewhat haphazardly) on institutional 'isms.

    But, and I think this is the point, you don't open the door so a moron gets to run to the front of the line. And if one does, I think women have a responsibility to not applaud her as a token but to say, "oh hell no, this isn't what we worked so hard for." Otherwise, the white male establishment has every right to think that we want to be given something for nothing.

    I don't believe in something for nothing.

    I'm not sure I'm being any clearer, but I don't have time to address this in any depth today. More later.

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  4. I'm not sure I get it yet, though I don't think we're going to disagree fundamentally.

    I'll have to re-read your posts to figure out your stance on 'isms.

    I guess the point I was trying to make, to clarify, is that I don't see the point of feminism as to make a world where gender doesn't matter, but rather where it's appreciated. Conservatives deride the very idea that differences can be celebrated, but since every time I learn about a new culture or language or whatnot I find things I love about it and things I don't understand and things I don't like -- I see the point of feminism as to make a world where gender can't hold you back. Which i suppose is what you probably mean by "doesn't matter" -- but I just like to be more expansive since I think it, like so many other things, will always matter. It just shouldn't be an axis for judgment of quality. For example, I'm all for the recent spate of accommodations for breast-feeding mothers; some people seem to see that as "special treatment" where I see it as basic decency. Since we were all babies at some point, and a supposed cultural value of ours is the next generation, it's not a courtesy, it's a responsibility to help the next generation come up in a world where having them is not a disadvantage to a woman's career, and where space, care, and accomodation is given to those, man or woman, helping to raise them.

    Again, I don't think we disagree, I'm really just probably avoiding working = p

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  5. This is really a note to myself, but I think there is a distinct difference between the professional and social aspects of -isms. There is, on the one hand, how I wish to be treated as an employee in the workplace (solely on the basis of my performance), and on the other, as a woman in the workplace (with respect, without prejudice, as an equal, etc.).

    Then again, I am a highly competitive person who is motivated by success. I don't think you enter a doctoral program if you aren't to some extent turned on by the struggle (even though it is unnecessarily hard and cumbersome on occasion). I am of the mind that achievement should be difficult. If anyone could become a doctor, "doctor" wouldn't have much meaning. I'll expand this rif later.

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  6. "...there is a distinct difference between the professional and social aspects of -isms."

    Hmm. I'm not sure I understand what that means. There are certainly different manifestations of all -isms, but I think the social and professional are pretty thoroughly interdigitated all the say.

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  7. Ok, just to give you some satisfaction before bedtime. I do support affirmative action. I support aa because I realize that without incentives, there is no reason for those in power to consider other perspectives. I completely agree with your previous posts in that favored groups can't see the discrimination and see any efforts to change the status quo as an attempt to replace "our discrimination" for "your discrimination" as repercussions for past sins. How many times do we STILL hear white men say they are the most discriminated against group in America today?

    I also consider traditionally "feminist" workplace issues to be misnamed. They are usually family issues. We mistakenly consider them to be women's issues because we disproportionately expect women to deal with family issues. Why should mom always stay at home when the kids have a school holiday or are sick? In fact my empoyees who were parents took turns with their spouses on these matters and I was completely understanding. Did I get irritated sometimes about having to cover for my staff? Sure. Did I take it out on them when considering raises or promotions? Hell no. There is no reason that businesses can't be pro-family, and humane.

    But in reality businesses don't have to be family friendly. They do so to attract the best candidates. So accommodation of family issues (and under this I lump things like maternity/paternity leave, child care, and the like)are not a fundamental right. If you want such accommodations and you don't have them already you can 1) choose a different employer, or 2) work to change the system from within.

    Breast feeding. I'm completely ignorant of whatever issues surround breast feeding. Are women being told that they can't breast feed their children? Do they want to bring infants into the workplace to breast feed? What do women want that is being denied?

    Look, we have to recognize that women have the babies, so it isn't special accommodation for healthcare to include maternity care/leave if a business wants to be family-friendly. But if an employer is going to grant "extra" time (beyond what is necessary to heal after a birth) to a mother to, for instance, bond with the baby, then this goes beyond what is fair accommodation. If extra time is granted to mothers, it should also be granted to men. The pendulum swings both ways.

    But, you do have a valid point about women being shuttled into the mommy-track, and of women not being taken seriously because they want to have children. Academics is a case in point. We really do need to wake up to the fact that motherhood is not incompatible with a desire for a tenure-track career. A woman's reproductive years coincide (unfortunately) with the time that she's trying to prove herself in the work environment. There is no reason a woman should have to choose between a real career and a family. They are absolutely marginalized in a way that fathers are not. That must be addressed. This IS a feminist issue.

    IMO, the role of the feminist movement is to assure that women who chose to be mothers can also maintain credibility in a professional environment. It is to assure that women have pay equity for comparable work. To assure that women are not held to a higher (or lower) standard. I'm not sure I have answered your questions specifically, but I hope that you are getting some insight into my thought processes.

    Speaking for a minute to diversity. I think that virtually every workplace benefits from multiple perspectives in the same way that travel opens up your world view. So while something in me sort of bristles at your language of "celebrating women's differences in the workplace" but I think that's because that just feels sort of touchy-feely.

    When I bust my ass in the workplace, I want to be recognized as a great employee, not a great female employee.

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