Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sure, if you're a sexist, feminism has ruined your love life

One of my homies over at Feministing posted an article by Dr. Wendy Walsh, "How Feminism Hurt Our Love Lives". Oy. There's so much wrong with this article, but before I go into that, I had to do a little research on Dr. Wendy Walsh.

It turns out she's actually got a Ph.D in clinical psychology -- which means she's a therapist, well, actually, she's just overqualified to write self-help books because her undergraduate degree is in journalism. Although, I shouldn't criticize her credentials because I'm sure someday someone is going to criticize me for having my undergrad degree in art rather than something related to law. Bygones. Dr. Walsh has written two books The Girlfriend Test: A Quiz for Women who want to be a Better Date and a Better Mate and The Boyfriend Test: How to Evaluate his Potential Before You Lose Your Heart. I'm not going to go into these books, but suffice it to say, Dr. Walsh writes from a perspective of maintaining heteronormative dating standards, especially the ones that say you're not worth anything, as a woman, if you don't have a man. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but in my opinion anyone who asks "are you girlfriend material?" is going to place a value judgment on the answer.

Now, getting to why feminism ruins people's love lives. At the beginning of the article, Dr. Walsh makes it clear that she is indebted to feminism and she knows it. Good. Perhaps she should have done a little research about feminism, however, rather than just spouting off all of the misconceptions about feminism like...
"I think the whole feminist movement is a bit of a misnomer anyway -- feminism didn't liberate femininity. Feminism liberated masculine energy in women. It was a masculinist movement. This is a good thing. Because of masculism, er, I mean feminism, we can now procure income in the male dominated marketplace and buy ourselves any kind of life we want."
Feminism didn't liberate femininity. Funny, that. Before I go into how wrong she is on this point, let's look at the fallacy that is "we can... buy ourselves any kind of life we want", which in her mind does not include the so-called traditional lives that many, many women still live, even in a so-called liberated society. That's not to say that a great deal of the feminist movement hasn't disappointed women who prefer to be housewives, but "any kind of life we want" does not happen to preclude being a wife and mother -- you can even ask Gloria Steinem. But that's just a semantics argument, the real issue here is her insistence that feminism only liberated masculinity in women, but did nothing for femininity.

Let's go back to the femininity thing, in fact, let's go all the way back to sexism.
"Remember the chick you once broke down in tears in the office? How embarrassing, you thought. You vowed then, to never, ever act like a "girl" at work, right? By the way, I was that girl and made an even stronger vow that day. I swore that no one would ever see me as weak again. And, so I trashed my authentic self -- the girl who used to be vulnerable, honest, and aware of my feelings -- and I even began to distrust my own intuition. Intuition, a primal gift to women, now somehow seemed illogical in the workplace."
Feminism tells that woman that she's not weak because she cries. Feminism attacks this sexist principal (that women are weak and illogical because they are emotional) and attempts to slit its throat, but people like Dr. Walsh here keep applying first aid to the idea that woman=emotional=illogical=weak. Moreover, it applies the opposite standard to men: that masculinity is anything but these things, ergo the stigma around emotionality as a feminine trait persists to the detriment of individuals and relationships. This is exactly the opposite of what Dr. Walsh claims, that women becoming feminists, becoming strong, ruins relationships because now no one is crying, emotional, illogical, and weak.

Weakness is a sexual epithet. If you are weak, either physically or emotionally -- that is, if you show any sort of discomfort at physical or emotional trials -- then you are weak, no matter your gender. That is a societal stigma that feminism strives to defeat. Feminists like myself want to erase the idea that being emotional is a sign of weakness and thereby a sign of being less-than. Weakness leads to vulnerability, and while being vulnerable in the arms of one's lover is a good thing, while meeting new lovers it can be very dangerous. What feminism has done in dating is level the playing field (although, not wholly because women do tend toward showing vulnerability before men do), and taught women to be on their guard because some men are abusive assholes who will take advantage of you. Never forget, of course, that anti-feminism has done the opposite and taught men that any woman is to be taken advantage of because they're all going to use you for your money, trick you into getting married, and blah blah blah. While this could be considered a backlash, it's just misogyny making an attempt to take feminism down with it.
"Finally, feminism did a disservice to many women who weren't (and aren't) unhappy with traditional gender roles."
Really? Is that why all the sexism in the media has disappeared in the last 30 years? Is that why there are no dating websites dedicated to "traditional gender roles"? Is that why the population has gone down so dramatically, and the rate of reproduction since the Women's Lib movement of the 70s has decreased so much? Is that enough sarcasm?
"Feminism robbed them of their identities by devaluing their job description. Millions of women whose self esteem was derived from their role as a great mother or supportive wife were suddenly left with a low-ranking title. There are still many women, (indeed, the backbone of our country) who cringe at a cocktail party when that inevitable small-talk query pops up, "And, what do you do?"

Somehow it seems awkward to say, "I take pride in my soufflé, kiss plenty of boo boos, find joy in my garden, and I spend a lot of time helping my family with their emotional struggles." No, instead, the woman who does those very things everyday is forced, in public, to extol the merits of the part-time office job that brings her income and not much more."
No dear, that was unfettered, unregulated Freidmanite Free Market CapitalismTM. Because while many women seek to be more than just wombs and caregivers, there are a lot of women who enjoy being mothers and wives, but their families can't be supported on a single income like they could during the golden age of the middle class in the 50s. It wasn't feminism that destroyed this, it was deregulation of markets, outsourcing of jobs, and wages not keeping up with the cost of living. For centuries lower class women, who didn't have the luxury to remain housewives worked to support their families, and feminism allowed them to demand equal wages and equal opportunities. One of my heros, Mary Kay Ash, began her own feminism movement by starting the Mary Kay Cosmetics company, not because she wanted to be more than a housewife, but because she had worked all her life to support her family and saw men she had trained advancing far and ahead of her.

Mary Kay couldn't, even if she had wanted to, just resigned herself to being a middle class housewife, and by claiming that feminism has ruined it for middle class housewives is completely bogus because the majority of feminism's history has been all about the straight, white, middle class, housewife. Up until recently feminism has all but ignored women who didn't fit this mould, so don't tell me that feminism ruined everything for the wife and mother because she is now uncomfortable with the knowledge she has the privilege to be a stay at home mom.
"And, if you think that a married woman who is in touch with her femininity is a pariah in public, imagine a single woman who is developing hers: "Well, I read a lot of parenting and self-help books. I'm currently dating and hoping to encourage emotional intimacy in a man so that we can form a warm union and grow together." That statement just wouldn't fly, would it? Yet, I think this is what many of us are secreting hoping for."
If feminism has taught me anything it's that, as a woman, I should never be ashamed to ask for what I want. If I wanted to be a middle class housewife who takes care of children and is taken care of by my husband, I would have gone to a dating site that caters to people who desire those things. I would have had to marry rich, however, because like most American women, I wasn't born into privilege and I still have to work for a living, just like my boyfriend does. Women who are "secretly hoping" for someone to take care of us, who long for the Cinderella story, basically ignore the fact that in our capitalist society you don't just get a living wage because you have a 40-hour a week job. Middle class is miles away for many of us and that's what you have to be to have the luxury to be a stay-at-home mom. Your beef isn't with feminism, Doc, it's with unfettered capitalism which has destroyed a family's ability to survive on one income.
"It seemed with all the effort to conform and succeed in a male world we unknowingly threw out a crucial, feminine skill -- the ability to be the emotional conduit for a logic-locked man. For centuries, women have held the keys to the emotional locker in relationships."
If I wasn't certain Dr. Walsh was absolutely serious about this, I would be laughing my ass off right now. The notion that all men are logical is another of sexism's core principals. Let me offer a little anecdote here: my boyfriend is not logical unless he's programming. He's extremely emotional, and in the right company he's not afraid to let you know that. I, on the other hand, operating under the assumption that all women are emotional messes, am the opposite. My nature is to be very logical, his nature is to be very emotional. This particular gender-role is reversed, and it's not a detriment to our relationship. What would be detrimental to both our individual and relational well-beings would be to pretend that I am not logical and that he isn't emotional.

The detriment to relationships and the sacred love-life is not that feminism has allowed women to display their logical sides, it's that sexism and misogyny continue to force the idea on us that women are only emotional and "hold the keys to the emotional locker" and that men are not allowed to do this for themselves. So, yeah, I guess if you're a sexist, feminism has ruined your love life.
"In relationships, our retreat from any behavior that might be deemed submissive has caused us to throw out the baby with the bath water. We are so afraid of submission that we have forgotten how to be supportive."
Submission=!=support, for the record. I'm plenty supportive (and in some private instances submissive) in my relationship, but I'm not dumb enough to confuse or be afraid of either of them. My nurturing of the Mister is not subverting my will, and any emotionally mature adult knows the same.
"Indeed many of our Mothers, so inspired by the feminist ideal, deliberately forgot to teach us about love, relationships, nurturing, or -- God forbid! -- the power and creativity derived from running a loving household."
Once again, Doc, your beef isn't with feminism, it's with capitalism. Wanna know why my mom didn't have the opportunity to teach me about running a loving household? Cause she was working. She had to work, and she worked her ass off just to keep a roof over my head. It wasn't that she was inspired by the feminist ideal, it was that she didn't have the luxury of being born into privilege and therefore not having to focus all of her energy on paying the bills. She didn't forget: she was busy making sure I had food. I suspect that that is the case for most of these "Mothers" who "deliberately forgot". They didn't forget dick, working for a living sucks.
"Martha Stewart reminds us of what's missing in our lives, as we manage our hectic schedules, eating from take-out boxes, in our immaculate granite kitchens, wearing our own purchases, and juggling would-be suitors who don't happen to suit us this week."
Martha fucking Stewart. One of the most successful women in America. A woman so successful that she was punished for her success under the guise of "insider trading" and sent to jail. A woman so successful that her prison sentence was minimized when the federal facility was called "Camp Cupcake". Martha Stewart is not someone whose visage you want to conjure while demonizing feminism. Martha Stewart is a pioneer for feminists, even if she does support her empire doing traditionally feminine things, like crafts and baked goods. Good! She's doing what she loves and making a fantastic living at it! She's a perfect role model for capitalists and feminists! By the way, Martha is a divorced single mother. She doesn't exactly have the luxury not to be a brilliant business woman.

"In short, love has become a mystery. Relationships have an arcane quality that puzzles both genders. I personally think that most single men keep hoping that the right woman will come along with the keys to his emotional locker."

In which case he needs to grow up. Being in a relationship is not about replacing your opposite-sex parental figure with a spouse -- that's creepy. I'm not my boyfriend's mother, he's not my father. It's not my job to unlock his "emotional locker" (what the hell is that, by the way?), that's his job. Feminism, and more generally, pluralism, has taught us that we are all individuals (we are all individuals) and the life of each person is that person's responsibility. Having a pluralistic, and specifically feminist, view of the world and the self enhances one's ability to be a good mate. You can't be in an emotionally mature and satisfying relationship if all you're doing is parroting the gender roles that were prescribed to you upon your birth and classification as male or female. It's not possible.

There are a lot of people who find these prescribed gender roles comfortable, but the will do nothing but benefit from the self-searching that questioning gender roles provides. Why do I cook dinner for my boyfriend? Because I'm a good cook. Because I like it. Because he gets home later than I do, and feeding him is just as easy as feeding myself. Why do I do other domestic chores? Because they need to be done, and I have the opportunity. Asking ourselves why we do certain things helps us to be mature, better people. If you're doing something because society tells you to, not because you want or need to do it for your own personal reasons, you're going to be unhappy.

Feminism teaches women and men to question societal gender roles. Do I have to lift weights? Do I have to knit? Do I have to do these things that are prescribed for my gender in order to be happy? No. You don't. You can do things that aren't prescribed for your gender, and no matter which gender stereotypes you conform to, you're no less of a person for it. That's the point. Feminism doesn't just make women more masculine, it also makes men more feminine -- if they WANT to be. I mean, hey, just look at Martha Stewart.

8 comments:

Kendall said...

I just came across this somehow from Feministing, and I wanted to tell you that I'd like to give you a giant hug for writing this.

You're wonderfully intelligent.

whitelabcoat said...

Like the above poster, I came here via Feministing. Excellent take-down of one of the most frequently cited 'Feminism has ruined [insert issue here]' fallacies.

Josh McNeill said...

I agree with a lot of what you said but there was one paragraph that bothered me. The one where you say women have learned to be on their guard against because some men are assholes. That part is fine, except that you follow it with how men are taught to always use woman because they're just going to try and use men for their money. You position the female side of this dichotomy as just being careful while the male side you portray as completely distrusting and spiteful. This is the problem people have with feminism really. It's very tempting to step over the line and paint men as the ultimate evil of the world.

Also, insider trading is illegal and Martha Stewart was convicted of it. There was no masking there. She wasn't put in jail because she was a successful woman. She was put in jail for the same thing that a man in the same position would be put in jail for.

And, you sure do hate capitalism. There are plenty of people in my family who have done the stay at home thing and haven't been anything like rich. It's possible, it's just a trade off.

Actually, I think after all is said and done, I don't really agree with you or the woman you're so angry at. It seems like you're both coming from extremes and the odd thing is that you're both women. If two women can't agree on the merits and shortcomings of feminism then how can you ever expect to get a male dominated world on your side?

Anonymous said...

I'd much rather date the girl who wrote the other article than you, for what it's worth.

You sound like an entitled college student who just took a philosophy class and wanted to show the world how unique you are because you question things.

And FYI, stop cursing so much. It makes you sound like a jackass.

(And yes, the irony of that last sentence is not lost to me).

Rachel said...

Wow Anonymous, you really hurt my feelings! You don't want to go out with me?! My life is ruined!!! I'm absolutely fucking crushed.

And for the record, I don't care if some people think I sound like a jackass cause I swear so goddamn much. It really doesn't bother me -- especially because I know what you really meant to say was "shut the fuck up and go make me a fucking sammich".

Rachel said...

Hey Josh,
Women are no more prone to group think than are men, so you can't really expect a feminist to agree with a non-feminist on everything. Thanks for stopping by and respectfully putting in your two cents though -- although, I would suppose you don't want to date me either. :~(

Josh McNeill said...

My reason for that wouldn't be the feminism thing, as our frightened anonymous poster here, but that it's best to avoid dating people who aren't single. Ya know, bad karma.

Anonymous said...

Rachel,
LOVED your article. Although you don't agree with me, I do love and respect your voice.

BTW, who, exactly is the villain called capitalism or feminism? I suspect these villains are a composite of the behaviors of millions of people that represent our "culture." And we can't blame our culture for injustices if we are participating in the system.

Anyway, you'll eventually understand what I truly mean when I say that the early feminist movement put some powerful female energies into the closet, when you are doing the busy work of raising children yourself. I promise.

Keep going with your voice. Opinions are welcome.
- Dr. Wendy Walsh