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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
There is only one correct answer to that question: We are for MORE WOMEN.
The beginning is always today.
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.
Filed under: General | Tagged: Bob Herbert, Chris Hayes, Enlightenment, evid3nc3, James Poulos, mary Wollstencraft, Michelle Goldberg, What are women for | 17 Comments »