Monday, July 27, 2009

The "Problem" with Women's Magazines

The problem with women's magazines is not that they feed women double-talk about whether we should feel shame about our bodies. "Celebrate your cellulite! But quick, here's a cream to get rid of it!"

The problem with women's magazines is that they work. People devour these things. They love to be told they're ugly, they relish the idea of "quick fixes" to make them beautiful, and they love ripping apart celebrities for the crime of falling just short of perfect. Women's magazines wouldn't exist, let alone flourish, if people didn't want this stuff.

That's the disease. Women's magazines are the symptom.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Elementary Schools and the Modern Workplace: Food for Thought

Everyone knows about the wage gap, and everyone knows that it sucks. Some people know about the performance gap that's rising between boys and girls in schools, with more girls now graduating from high school, college, graduate school, and so on. Girls are also performing better on all sorts of aptitude tests as far back as elementary school. The question is: why?

I posit that the wage gap is in some part due to the actual structure of the standard workplace. Things that are rewarded include working fulltime (as opposed to part time), working overtime, not taking time off, and asking for pay raises. It evolved over many years in a male-dominated workforce, with men in positions of power, and as a result, it's not well-suited for people who don't behave in the same standard male way. For whatever reasons, be they social, biological or both, women are less likely to do these things that would raise their salaries than men are: they tend to value their time at home more, are more likely to call in sick, and tend to feel uncomfortable asking for pay raises. The system that is in place is ill-suited for women workers, and women workers are ill-suited for the system that is in place. (Note also that young women workers, before child-rearing age, actually make more than men nowadays in a lot of circumstances.)

Similarly, elementary schools are nowadays largely populated by women teachers. Encouraged behaviors include sitting still and quietly for long periods of time, learning things through worksheets and lecture rather than through labs and hands-on workshops, collaborating rather than competing, and so on. These are things that, for whatever reasons, are easier for little girls. Perhaps the gender gap in school performance and the gender gap in salary have similar roots? Some schools have already started examining this possibility. I have high hopes.

"Anti-feminist Bingo."

This is "anti-feminist bingo." When having a feminist conversation with someone who "just doesn't get it," or in other words does not agree with the author, you are supposed to whip out this card and check off all the statements that your opponent has said. It is my opinion that precisely this author's attitude that leads towards a lot of the statements on the anti-feminist bingo card. Let's take a gander:

Before we even get to the Bingo card, the author says: "If you're a man trying not to be an arsehole in feminist conversations, but you seem to find yourself floundering and can't figure out why, you might like to scrutinise your comments critically to see if some of these messages are inadvertently coming across."

Clearly only men can be arseholes in a feminist conversation, because women are imbued with a natural inclination towards being good feminists. We're all just so supportive of our sisters, always! This is why women in the office do much better when they don't have a female boss, and why female directors in the theater biz are so much harsher on women playwrights than male directors. Women bosses are more likely to advance men over women than men bosses are. What the hell.

I count nine out of twenty-five statements that are not in fact "anti-feminist" in any way:

"But I like my women feminine!" Yes, everyone is entitled to an opinion about what traits they find attractive. Women spend a lot of time saying that they like their men some way or another, and feminists do not give them shit for it.
"Feminists have got it all wrong. I'm an equalist." In a lot of ways, I agree with this. "Feminism," theoretically, is the system of beliefs that women should have equal rights as men. That's not what the feminist movement is about anymore: now Western feminists are concerned with equal social treatment of women and the removal of social stigma surrounding women, which is- I'm just going to come right out and say it- not sufficient to remove sexism, genderism, or what have you. I see precious few feminists (but bless the precious few) who actually make a fuss about men being portrayed as big stupid lugs in the media, but I fail to see how that is any less important than women being portrayed as sex objects for the ultimate end goal of eradicating sexism.
"It's your job to teach me about feminism. Now do it." If you are having a conversation with someone about feminist issues, you are taking an authority position, and you are claiming that they "do not get it," then you have put yourself in a teaching position. You might notice that your "student" is not willing to learn, and that might be because you're refusing to talk to them on the level, probably claiming that as a woman you have a monopoly on gender issues and that he is being an "arsehole."
"Patriarchy hurts men too." It does. This is a common bone that feminists throw to men's rights activists and equalists who frequent the feminist blogosphere when they try to bring up men as victims of gender discrimination.
"Women just can't be objective about gender issues." NO, they can't! No one can! So, how does it make sense to give women the monopoly on gender issues, if they only represent one gender?
"You give feminists a bad name." Yes, author of this article, you do. You really, really do.
"You feminists all hate men!" While I would not put this on this list normally, after reading this post (particularly the quoted sentence at the top o' the page and the sexist assumption later down that only women can be raped and that only men can be rapists), I can definitely see where someone would get that idea after talking with you.
"I'll tell you what's wrong with feminism..." You know, it's possible, sometimes, for you to be wrong, author of this article. Please, instead of being frustrated that someone "does not get it," listen to them. They might be saying something that you've never thought of before.
"But I want to talk about this. Listen to me!" Isn't that exactly what you're saying? Yes. I thought so.

I wish people thought a little bit more about what they were saying sometimes.