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Sunday: Even a jerk occasionally asks a good question

Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women

So, this guy, James Poulos, writes some esoteric piece of fluff in The Daily Caller called What are Women For and stirs up the tender feelings of the left.  Digby featured a clip from Chris Hayes’ show from a couple of days ago where Poulos attempts to defend himself from Bob Herbert and Michelle Goldberg.

If the abstract rights of man will bear discussion and explanation, those of women, by a parity of reasoning, will not shrink from the same test.
Mary Wollstonecraft

The gist of this argument seems to be that the right has never made any attempt to deceive when it comes to their perception of the role of women in society, politics and culture.  To the right, women are the famous helpmeets.  They do the dirty work and they play second fiddle, unless the menfolk want them to play first fiddle- to help the menfolk.  I guess the right is pretty confident that Sarah Palin was not a radical feminist who would have had an epiphany the minute she got into the Oval Office.  “Wow, *I*, a woman, am now in charge here.  Well, there will be some changes made, I’m telling you now.  No more of this unequal pay shit, and free birth control for all!  Starting with Bristol.”

The divine right of husbands, like the divine right of kings, may, it is hoped, in this enlightened age, be contested without danger.
Mary Wollstonecraft

Even the most committed conservative can have a change of heart.  Look at David Frum, fighting gallantly to keep a tiny slivver of credibility for his side while succumbing to the irresistable pull of dark side logic and sensibility.  But then there’s also Phyllis Schlafly who has built a very successful independent career as an educated lawyer whose sole goal seems to be keeping other women from ever attaining the status of independent, successful career women and educated lawyers. So, you know, they already understand what women are for.  Women are supposed to use whatever talents God gave them to uphold the social hierarchy of men on top.  The right is pretty clear about that and no one should be surprised when they pull out the anti-contraceptives gun.  It’s also a great political strategy for the right, simultaneously pulling in the working class men, who secretly expect that it will be some other guy’s wife who will get pregnant and have to stay home with the kids and free up a good paying job, while wedging the old Democratic base of traditional liberals from the Obama Democratic base of African-Americans, Evangelicals and eggheads.  Eggheads, it seems, are concerned more with theoreticals than actual effects on the population at large.  Theoretically, voting for a schmoozer with so little political experience and ability to serve as a president during a catastrophic economic downturn was a bad idea- but not for them.

I love my man as my fellow; but his scepter, real, or usurped, extends not to me, unless the reason of an individual demands my homage; and even then the submission is to reason, and not to man.
Mary Wollstonecraft

Anyway, we know where Republicans are coming from.  That’s why we choose up sides and decide to either join them or fight them.

The problem is, what happens when you decide to fight them and then find out that the allies you picked are not really on your side?  What if your side gives lip service but behind your back revives newly buried cultural norms to undermine you? Is it still your ally?  Don’t you have the right to call it to reveal itself?  Who is it working for?  Shouldn’t you know what it is you’re signing up for?  Don’t you have the right to demand more than an absent or anemic response to the aggressive sexism of the right before you give it anymore of your time, money or votes?  What if your party is so intent on winning that it pricks primitive ids and is willing to destroy everything you’ve worked so hard for for 40 years.  Because that’s what happened.  For 40 years:

Biology was not destiny

Sex became less frightening

Women became very well educated

Women became leaders

Women became persons

And in less than one year, in the service of one man and the financial and religious institutions he promised to serve, all of the foundation of modern feminine emancipation that was bitterly fought over, carefully tended and vigorously defended, was put in jeopardy and swept away like it never even happened.  If Hillary Clinton hadn’t been defeated, we might never have been made aware of just how tenuous our grip on emancipation actually is.

If women be educated for dependence; that is, to act according to the will of another fallible being, and submit, right or wrong, to power, where are we to stop?
Mary Wollstonecraft

So, Poulos’ question, as loathsome as it is, deserves some attention and there is no time like the present for the party on the left to declare itself.  It either defends women’s rights now, before the election, or it never, ever will.  If you can’t depend on it to put its power to work for you when it needs your votes, you will not get it to put its power to work for you when it doesn’t.  You will have no leverage.

I’m not sure the panel that Chris Hayes assembled was the best one to discuss it, though he seems well intentioned.  His female guests are too young.  They know that something is wrong but they seem confused and bereft of clear argumentation.  They remind me of internet age children during a power failure trying to navigate the world the way it used to be. They grew up with no real sense of what came before so all of this “What are women for?” bullshit caught them by surprise.  Even I am too young, although women my age were closer to the “before time” and still had to put up with the subtle and not so subtle assumption that we were not quite as accomplished in certain subjects as men and were unlikely to get any encouragement or mentoring. It’s been a long hard slog and just when we thought we saw the top, some bunch of financial psychopaths used a chair lift to get their guy to the pinnacle while using a bulldozer to push us back down the mountain.

But even though women my age didn’t fight the hardest battles, we sure as hell know what we have lost.  Mostly, we have lost the unity with other women to know who is on our side and who has our best interests at heart.  And it is not the men who run *either* party.  When it comes to those guys, the parties are indistinguishable.  Women serve one purpose- they are helpmeets for the men who will run things with their assistance.  All of a woman’s talents are to be directed towards whatever goal the men set for everyone.

Women are systematically degraded by receiving the trivial attentions which men think it manly to pay to the sex, when, in fact, men are insultingly supporting their own superiority.
Mary Wollstonecraft

I don’t know why modernity seems to have skipped the United States of America but suspect that religion has the bigger part of the blame. Other developed countries and even some of the world’s most repressive when it comes to gender, have had female heads of state.  But in *THIS* country, we are still asking ourselves “What Are Women For?” as if the fact that they may have personalities, skills, talents, drives and ambitions to change the world, invent new technology, cure cancer, fix economies and solve social problems is still a matter of debate.

Slavery to monarchs and ministers, which the world will be long freeing itself from, and whose deadly grasp stops the progress of the human mind, is not yet abolished.
Mary Wollstonecraft

At this moment in time in our nation’s history, neither party is committed to seeing women as equal persons under the law.  One party believes this is due to nature; the other is just taking advantage of tradition to score political points.  And the problem is more crucial on the left because until someone holds the perpetrators accountable for the sexism that continues to persist, and more alarmingly, seems to be growing, women will continue to lose ground.  There’s nothing that can be done to influence the right.  It is going to continue to treat women like second class citizens until their older population dies out and their younger working men get a fricking clue and turn on the money men who keep their wages from rising.  I have some hope for the former but the latter will take a longer time.

It’s the left, that still has a veneer of fighting for equality and has the more powerful females that should be doing a better job of policing its own.  And the worst thing that those females could have done was let the misogyny of 2008 go unchecked.  They instantly undermined their own position.  Now, we are stuck trudging back up that mountain when it was so unavoidable.  It’s like we almost got to the top of Mount Everest in 2008 and at the last minute decided the last 20 feet were too much trouble.  Or did they decide that getting to the top wasn’t that important after all? Or did they mistakenly assume that reproductive rights in the absence of true constitutional equality was enough?  This is the reason why I think Hayes’ panel was too young.  They have lost sight and perspective of the landscape they are on.  They were their own worst enemies.  In any case, the result has been deadly for all women.

Women are degraded by the propensity to enjoy the present moment, and, at last, despise the freedom which they have not sufficient virtue to struggle to attain.
Mary Wollstonecraft

Neither party is advocating for the rights of more than half of the population.  We are not a minority and we aren’t a special interest group.  The question we need to ask our own side of the political spectrum is do we still subscribe to the principles of the Enlightenment?  Do we still believe in equality and certain unalienable rights and agree that these are also bestowed on women?  Does reason govern our lives or are we still slaves to religious superstition, tradition and political expedience?

The numbers are not in our favor.  Right now, women are a pathetic 16% of the legislative body.  We *lost* representation in the 2010 election and here in New Jersey, the state hasn’t elected a single woman to our Congressional delegation in decades.  This  state is the densest by population in the entire country and we don’t have even one woman representing us in Congress or the Senate.  Until we pump our numbers up in all states, we will continue to devolve and be forced to deal with stupid questions about what we are for.

Women ought to have representatives, instead of being arbitrarily governed without any direct share allowed them in the deliberations of government.
Mary Wollstonecraft

There is only one correct answer to that question: We are for MORE WOMEN.

The beginning is always today.
Mary Wollstonecraft


Don’t forget that Enlightenment 2.0 kicks off on March 24, 2012 at The Reason Rally.  Mary would approve.

This video isn’t for the Reason Rally but I liked its message so much that I thought I would post it here.  It’s from Evid3nc3, who documented his deconversion from devout Christian to Positive Atheist on youtube.  You can witness his deconversion testimony here.  Highly recommended.  He’s brilliant, sincere and deeply philosophical.  The guy really needs to write a book.  More on him in another post.  He deserves to be famous.

This video starts out with a persecution rant from a Christian.  Very topical.

17 Responses

  1. Democratic women have an excellent opportunity to demonstrate their resolve in the Ohio 9th district primary election.

  2. In calling for more representation of women by women, is there a useful distinction to be made between “women for women” and “ladies against women”? In my own mind I would suspect that electing a few, or even many “ladies against women” such as Paylinn and Schlafly to office would further damage the rights and interests of “women for women”. I believe I understand the post to even suggest as much .But as a “mbp” I won’t presume to go any further than to raise the question. I assume that the fbp community including both women and “ladies against women” will settle that question themselves, one way or another.

  3. (Separately, and totally OTB . . . . there is a “kinder and gentler” kossite-lite weblication called Talking Points Memo. They ran an article about how The Daily Kos is conspiring to get crossover Democrats to vote for Santorum in Michigan’s primary. Isn’t that Markos Moulitsas just the cleverest little dembot operative? Would it surprise anyone to think that David Atkins would support this clever prank if he were asked his opinion? Those DDs who would find the thought of a President Santorum just too unacceptable to even consider should really think about invading the Michigan primary to vote for Romney. Romney would have a better chance of administering the “rebuke of defeat” to Obama. Anyway, here is the link.

  4. Last known location of younger brother, Tut- Afghanistan.
    So not good.

  5. Phyllis Chesler (remember her?) locates Western feminism’s current mess partly in its co-opting by an anti-Western, pro-Arab/anti-feminist, and specifically anti-Israeli strain of Marxism. If you find this sort of view upsetting, you’ll find her web site infuriating. But this does not constitute her entire body of work, all of which is worth a look in any case.

    In her articles archive is a selection of Obama’s comments on burqas, and a selection of Sarkozy’s and Clinton’s comments on same. You’ll be amazed to learn that Obama’s are of a piece with his comments about contraception and abortion.

  6. To go off slightly on a tangent–why does religion remain so strong in the USA, compared to most other affluent “Western” nations?

    I would guess two reasons:

    [1] The British Crown and Parliament used British colonies as a convenient dumping ground for troublesome religious dissenters. When a country has an established sect of a particular religion, people who do not feel strongly about religion will tend to pay lip service to the established sect, and otherwise ignore it. The people who actually defy the established sect will tend to be those who feel strongly that a different sect (or a different faith altogether, or no faith at all) is correct. Hence, the British colonies, which later became the first states of the USA, came to be populated disproportionately by people who felt strongly religious, who taught their children to be that way, who taught their children to be that way, and so forth to this day. This would apply even more if strong or weak inclination to believe in a religion is partly the result of genetic factors.

    [2] The Founders separated church and state. Hence, the USA never had a corrupt, persecuting, bloody-minded and bloody-handed established church to make the masses cynical about religion, whereas in Europe, the religious wars and persecutions, and the established churches’ consistent support of the depredations of the parasitic upper classes and their wars, in which the masses fought and died, often uselessly, did make a large proportion of the common people cynical about religion. IIRC, the European masses really began to turn away from the churches following the great pointless fratricide called the First World War.

  7. You are certainly taking Wollstonecraft seriously! So did Amartya Sen in his recent The Idea of Justice. I have compiled resources about the early feminist at A Vindication of the Rights of Mary.

    • Yes, I am taking her seriously. I only regret that feminists have gotten so far off the mark. All modern feminism starts with Wollstonecraft.

      • That’s a big claim! She is quoted in Turkey and Indonesia, I know, but I’m not sure of the founding roots of feminism there. She’s invisibly behind the scenes in many women’s rights movements n the English-speaking world, from the 1848 Seneca Falls conference to the suffragettes to second-wave feminism, but she is more read in extract than whole books (or even chapters). “Didn’t she write Frankenstein?”

  8. What did Riverdaughter’s contemporaries (not necessarily Riverdaughter herself) contribute to the decline in feminism? The divide between liberal and conservative women. The idea that feminism belongs to the left. Because historically it doesn’t. That in order for a woman to be a feminist she has to lean left in all of her politics. And this is mostly a problem of exclusion from the left, not from the right. Look at the pile-on when she who must remain nameless on this blog tried to claim that she was a feminist? As a liberal woman, I have never been made to feel unwelcome in a roomful of conservative women, but my liberal friends can ‘t handle that I belong to a book club that usually votes Republican. On work place issues, on political representation and other power issues, conservative and liberal women are closer together than most liberal men and women are. But we aren’t “allowed” to form the bonds anymore that would make that abundantly clear. Because people like r u reddy divide us into “women” and “ladies”, and Riverdaughter’s generation lets them.

    Intersectionality is an idea born in 1989 and put to words by Kimberle Crenshaw. The idea that women can’t devote themselves to working for women’s issues unless they also solve all of the other societal ills first. Can’t be a feminist unless you conquer racism first. Can’t be a feminist as long as there is global warming. Riverdaughter’s generation allowed feminism to be high-jacked by every other -ism out there. How many off topic comments do you think this blog entry will get if she doesn’t insist on keeping it on track? Because feminism isn’t important enough in and of itself to warrant a full conversation let alone a movement.

    If I didn’t have a 6 month old granddaughter, I probably wouldn’t care anymore, but she deserves better. She needs more than the right to contraception and an abortion if it fails, but that seems to be the only issues that “women” are worried about losing, and what “ladies” want doesn’t count.

    • As Colbert said, The Truth has a well known liberal bias.

      I don’t share your sympathies at all. I’m not sure where you took a different turn but I suspect that your socio economic class has something to do with it.

      As for women and ladies, each one has a proper time. For example, going out to dinner, dressing nicely, using nice manners- lady. Paying for dinner- woman.

      I’m not sure there’s a conflict here. But if you’re implying that all of the lady feminists went to the right and all of the women went to the left, I would disagree. And although I consider myself a liberal and lefty FDR democrat, there are some elements of the left that to me are as nutty as the evangelical fundies on the right. Some people have their minds so wide open their brains have fallen out.

      The former governor of Alaska has many attributes of feminism. But she also shares a lot of the crazy assed beliefs of her evangelical, libertarian, apocalyptic, gun-toting base. So much so that she has made some very foolish decisions and I, personally, no longer want to discuss her on this blog. I have nothing against her personally, but she is not a politician I wish to emulate, support or give a platform to here.
      I hope I have made myself perfectly clear.

    • So ‘ladies’ aren’t worried about contraception or abortion? I’m of a slightly different (older) generation than RD and was raised in a very traditional Catholic (my mother’s first cousin was the last Patriarch of the Indies) family. For whatever it was worth, I was raised to be a lady…. And I believe in contraception support legal abortions (you can’t really NOT believe in abortions — their kind of like weeds. They happen all over)

      I’m curious — are those Republican ‘ladies’ in your reading group REALLY against contraception and abortion? Because my experience here in Kansas is that feelings about those issues are more a matter of religion than politics. There are plenty of Republican women who believe in contraception and support choice.

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