Monday, March 09, 2009

Privilege & resentment

What happens if you're raised to be a feminist but don't like the life aims that feminism has set for you?

Kasey Edwards is in this situation. She's a Melbourne woman in her early 30s who has written a frank account of her life in her latest book Thirty Something & Over It.

The basic scenario is straightforward: Kasey Edwards is a successful career woman who turns thirty and can no longer face the prospect of working.

Where it gets messy is that Kasey Edwards just can't let go of a feminist way of thinking in dealing with her situation.

For instance, Kasey Edwards makes it clear that she has succeeded in doing whatever she wanted to in her career, earning very large sums of money along the way. Even when she starts to give up and begins slacking off, she is still rewarded with positive work reviews, visits from corporate headhunters and large bonuses.

She opts out because she no longer believes that the grind of work is fulfilling and meaningful.

She interviews male colleagues who tell her that they don't find the work itself meaningful, but that they are committed to it to support their families and that they stay positive to make the most out of the situation.

In spite of all of this, she still writes a couple of chapters about how men have it easy in the workplace and that women are the victims of male power.

Here is some of her privilege:

I had everything I'd always wanted - a successful career and the lifestyle and assets to match ...

I equated success with money and leapfrogged from job to job with bigger and bigger pay cheques ...

In my fourth year, I was earning more than my parents combined ... People raise whole families on what I get as a bonus payment, yet I spend every cent I earn ... It isn't unusual for me to eat out all three meals in a day ... I've stopped looking at prices on the menu ... my friends are just the same. I recently went shopping with a friend who bought five handbags on impulse, which came to a grand total of $4000 ... the entire transaction took less than 15 minutes ...

Here is her presentation of the lot in life of her male colleagues:

Over a glass of wine I casually enquire, 'Jamie, do you ever feel like you don't want to work anymore? He looks at me bemused and, to my complete surprise, says, "All the time, mate."

He says he only works because he has to pay the mortgage and support his family ... he views working as a necessary part of life and therefore has resolved to make the best of it.

"There is no point in me moaning about having to go to work and making it miserable for myself and the people around me," he says. "So I make the most of it while I'm there and get fulfilment from other aspects of my life".

The difference between Jamie and me, and many of the other women I've spoken to, is that Jamie seems resigned to his fate of corporate drudgery and is just getting on with it. On the other hand, my sisters and I are not so willing to accept unfulfilling work as our lot in life. We are resisting it, resenting it and dreaming about alternatives.

You would think that all the above would be a reality check. Kasey Edwards achieved everything she wanted career-wise, was paid large sums of money but has opted out because she finds work itself unfulfilling. The men, meanwhile, buckle down to what she is opting out of in order to support their families.

But Kasey Edwards's feminism immediately springs back to life. She follows up with an attack on "male power" in the workplace, including this ugly quote from a friend:

I ask Emma why she thinks women seem more over it than men. "Because we don't have dicks," she says simply. "By the time we get to our thirties we've realised that a dick is far more valuable in the workplace than intellect, education or dedication. We'll never have the necessary equipment."

This comment is allowed to stand, despite the fact that the friend Emma thinks of her work as "high-stress, soulless and unsatisfying" and compensates by engaging in "a blur of binge drinking, all-night parties and casual sex". In her own mind, though, the problem is not with her or with the nature of work itself, but with something mysterious withheld from her as a woman by men. She refuses to give up on the belief that men are withholding something from her and that she therefore belongs to a victim class.

What's disturbing reading Kasey Edwards's book is that the men that she knows all seem prepared to support whatever it is that the women want to do, whether it involves paid work or not, but that in return she still sees men as the enemy, not at a personal level, but in terms of society.

And so you get comments like these:

If the sisterhood had the unity and loyalty of the gay movement I think we'd all be a lot better off ... if we banded together .. Why don't women realise that when we undermine each other we are hurting ourselves because the group that benefits from our actions is men? It's hard to blame men for having all the power when we give them even more of it ...

It just doesn't fit together. Kasey and her friends are opting out not because they were held back but because they got to the top and found it unfulfilling. And yet the feminist resentment survives, as does the view that men are privileged and have easy lives, as does the idea that political justice is about women banding together to fight men in the workplace.

If the corporate grind really is unfulfilling and meaningless, then why would Kasey Edwards call on women to band together to commit their lives to it, particularly when she and her friends have themselves decided to opt out? And why would she regard the men she leaves behind to shoulder the grind as living easy, privileged, lives?


  1. "It isn't unusual for me to eat out all three meals in a day ... I've stopped looking at prices on the menu ... my friends are just the same."

    It is not uncommon for single women (as opposed to men and married women) to rack up debts or not save money they earn. Here is a recent study

    On the other hand, my sisters and I are not so willing to accept unfulfilling work as our lot in life.

    And here we get into the problem of feminism being a movement of elitist women, essentially. Most poor or lower class women had to work outside the home for money in some capacity. It had nothing to do with fulfillment. Today, poor and lower class women, still have to take less than enjoyable jobs. the same has always been true for poor and lower class men as well. These feminists just sound very spoiled work and career are all about how the job makes them feel.

    At some point, they've got to ask themselves, what exactly is it that would make them happy?

    "Because we don't have dicks,"

    Was Freud right after all?

    Why don't women realise that when we undermine each other we are hurting ourselves because the group that benefits from our actions is men?

    As a woman, I find no common cause with this mindset. The interest of my family, and therefore husband, trump the "sisterhood" every time. Also, as a woman I know very well the penchant for back stabbing and disloyalty that many other women harbor and would never be able to trust these people. These are the type of people that would sleep with someone else's husband in the name of her personal fulfillment.

    how you have a common movement based on a bunch of independent notions of "personal fulfillment"? Isn't it, by definition, not possible to subvert individualism to group will and have it be personal?

  2. Sorry to double post but I found an interview with the author. She states ""It helped me realise I actually need structure in my life and I need people to need me and expect things from me as well.""

    Instead of religion or God, her purpose in life comes from what she does with her time. Perhaps trusting in such ephemeral, worldly things leads to this anxiety?,23739,25143158-7642,00.html

  3. The problem is that these women are deceived in thinking that corporate work should be inherently fulfilling. Work is fulfilling only if it has a purpose in line with your nature. For women purposeful work means having and nurturing childen, and managing home and hearth. And how does corporate drudgery measure up? EPIC FAIL. In essence, they're just doing corporate work for the money, and doing something just for the money cannot be fulfilling for a healthy human. Chesterton said, "To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it" which I might say is another way of saying, "you need to be warped to want a lot of money, or just money." So maybe these women aren't completely far gone, because they're not fulfilled with just the money.

    For men, fulfilling work means providing for and protecting their family, so corporate drudgery is doable. We could say to these women, "just suck it up and tough it out, like a real man does."

  4. This message will never get out though. On the contrary, girls are taught now even more than before to have separate careers.
    I've met and dated women in the their early 30s at work. Without exception they are focused on their jobs, childless, interested in casual flings, have no religious upbringing and simply live for the day. If you speak to them about marriage / kids, they will say "I want to do this in my time with the right person"
    Sorry sister, it's not just up to you, there's biological realities at play here you ignore at your peril. Not that you should ever settle down with the 'wrong' person, just that you should accord marriage a higher priority.

    I also work with women in their late 30s / early 40s who are single and DESPERATELY trying to meet a bloke. They have played the corporate game and now realise (too late) that for women, it's not fulfilling. (Of course, for a tiny minority of women it is - but they are a tiny minority.)

    But ladies, let me be blunt. Why would I as a successful high achieving male want to be with a woman who has devoted her time and energy to her job? Why would I want to be with a woman who has slept around in her mid 30s when I can be with a maternal girl much younger than that?

    If I marry a career woman, I won't get a wife - I'll get a career woman. I'll get someone who won't be there to help with the house, who'll show little or no interest in kids, who prioritises her career over everything else. Then these women wonder why their marriages fail.

    No way jose - give me a traditional, maternal girl any day of the week.

  5. Male power imbues female adoration, obviously her female power is not being reciprocated with male attention.

    Burgeoning spinsterhood and a lack of male suitors might be an issue.

    Have to admit I've seen a fair bit of this lately.

  6. I've 'been there and done that' - I used to earn more than double what my husband probably ever will but am now a stay-at-home mother with far greater job satisfaction than could ever have been possible in my corporate career. While I agree that many (perhaps most) women are rather deluded when it comes to this issue, I don't think it's simply a matter of women waking up to reality and realising that they'd prefer to be at home having children.

    Society as a whole does not accommodate women who primarily have domestic and maternal aspirations. We do not have fathers who are willing to support their daughters until they are married, and we do not have men who expect/want to marry a woman who has never worked outside of the home. After high school, women are expected to go on to uni and/or find a job, and once they have embarked on this endeavour it is very difficult to maintain a mindset that values the domestic life.

    Feminism is also so entrenched that there are few men, let alone women, who consider the man the head of the family. I can testify as a woman who holds such values that my views are seen not only as archaic but offensive by most people, even self-confessed conservatives.

    For career women to see their folly will require a social revolution the likes of which I am afraid I am too cynical to hope for....

  7. "how you have a common movement based on a bunch of independent notions of "personal fulfillment"? Isn't it, by definition, not possible to subvert individualism to group will and have it be personal?" --Liesel Libertarian

    Those questions remind me of a recent statement I saw on a gun rights forum:

    I'm in favor of liberty above all else, in all subject matters: guns, sex, drugs, media, speech, etc. I hope that some day freedom will be the foundation of ALL political beliefs.

    Both of these viewpoints, the former being left-liberal, and the latter, supposedly of the right(-liberal) are disturbingly similar.

    No meaningful connection between two people, or multiple people, or a society can be based on such philosophy. Can you imagine a man justifying a relationship with a woman merely on the basis that they are both single, autonomous, rights-exercising individuals, free to engage in any recreational and economic activity without moral judgment or government interference?

    It's the same philosophy that tries to posit America or Australia as proposition nations. And this is a misnomer, as nationhood requires more than a proposition; something natural. Proposition state would be more accurate.

  8. "Society as a whole does not accommodate women who primarily have domestic and maternal aspirations." old hat said...

    That is so true! Trying to find someone to marry is harder than getting a job!
    In their quest to find fulfillment feminists have made it so much harder for the women who don't share their goals.

  9. Maternal and domestic aspirations are an upper class fantasy.

    For the bulk of human history the majority of females worked and maintained families.

  10. "Maternal and domestic aspirations are an upper class fantasy. For the bulk of human history the majority of females worked and maintained families."

    Working women throughout history have not, however, put their children in impersonal child care centres for large chunks of time or earned more than their husbands. Women often worked in the/a home and combined work with child care (often with the assistance of other mothers). Many children were taken care of by grandmothers, elder siblings, or neighbours. These working women still had a domestic and maternal sphere. The women who did work outside of the home, e.g. in domestic service, were often not allowed to be married or even have boyfriends for the very reason that work and family were incompatible for a woman.

    Historically, married women did not go OUT to work but usually stayed in the home doing things like weaving in addition to domestic tasks, often with the help of their unmarried daughters/sisters. Married women would generally have a succession of pregnancies through the bulk of their adulthood and could not go out to work in the way that they do now. Regardless, they put their husbands' work first and acted primarily in a domestic capacity. You would be very hard put to find more than a miniscule percentage of women throughout history who put their work before their family and home life. Such women would have been considered an abomination for neglecting their primary role as wife and mother.

    Furthermore, it is no fantasy to want one's primary work to involve keeping a home for one's husband and raising children. It is a full-time job in itself and society does not benefit from having this role shrunk into a minor consideration. There is seldom a real material need to have more than one breadwinner (though often it is perceived to be necessary), and I believe that the majority of women who have jettisoned this so-called fantasy of domesticity are in fact from the upper echelons of society. From my observation, it is the lower classes who have more stay-at-home mothers and the upper classes who have women who aspire to be "supermums" and combine careers with motherhood. If there is an upper-class fantasy in this regard, it is that women can have it all!

  11. The problem with career-successful women are not that they've spent so much time with their work but that they have not been targeting the right pool of men. Don't ever try to convince me that all men are job-oriented. There must be quite a few of men, giving them the opportunity, that would like to stay at home taking care of the babies and housework.

    The only thing that does matter is biology. However, I don't think this will be a problem if well-handled. Either the women can get married early in their life and let the husband stay at home or they could freeze their eggs when they are young. They are not ruined if they are just repelling the traditional female role. They are only ruined if they consider that taking the traditional female role is the only chance that they could have a family.