Take a recent article Who needs men? We do. The heading sounds sympathetic to men and the subheading, Let’s call a ceasefire on the “battle of the sexes” — the New Macho is good for women, too, even sounds accepting of masculinity and sex differences.
Too good to be true? You betcha.
When you read the article you get something else, a blatant and arrogant assertion of the supremacy of female autonomy.
The unnamed author of the piece begins by noting how well women are doing in education and careers:
we’re tipping the scale at 51 percent of workers; we make up the majority of college graduates, M.A.s (and now even PHDs), and we are the primary or co-breadwinners in most American households.
But it's still not good enough:
we still have trouble penetrating the highest echelons of the corporate world, and no matter how many hours we spend trying to close that gap, we remain burdened by domestic life.
Burdened by domestic life. It's that pesky thing called the family getting in the way of women again. But how did the family get to be considered a negative feature of life for women, a burden, an impediment?
It's orthodox feminism. Feminism, following liberalism, declared that individual autonomy was the key good in life. Feminists then decided that the money, status and power derived from careers was the gold standard of autonomy, in comparison to motherhood which was an unchosen, biological role (and therefore not self-determined, and therefore not autonomous).
So equality meant liberating women from the family in order to compete with men for career status and pay.
Much of modern society is geared toward this pursuit of female autonomy. Men are mostly expected to fall in with it.
But the project hasn't gone exactly to plan. Women do eventually marry and have children. And then they tend to spend at least some years focusing on their own babies rather than the autonomy project. So men still end up earning a bit more over a lifetime and doing a bit better in the corporate world.
The feminist response? The orthodox position of late is to agitate for men to take over half of the motherhood "burden" so that there is no disadvantage to women pursuing the "important" part of life, namely careers. Men, too, it is thought should occupy more of the lower paid, non-corporate jobs, so that women can better compete in private industry.
But how do you sell this to men? If you really believe that the good in life is a corporate job and that motherhood is a negative role, a burden, then how do you get men to accept a "downgrade"?
The Newsweek author recognises that she somehow needs to get men onside to take the female autonomy project a step further:
women still need men to prosper. We’re not talking about Mr. Cleaver bringing home the bacon—we need men so that we can excel at work, to level the playing field at home. We need them as dads, partners, and cheerleaders—from the classroom to the boardroom.
Men prospering is defined in terms of women doing better at school and at work.
And how does she pitch her ideas to men? Here's a sample of her rhetoric:
In today’s economy, the industries that have long been female-dominated—teaching, nursing, and so on—are the ones that, in the coming years, will grow the most. Encouraging men to “man up,” as our colleagues put it—and enter these fields should be something we all push for.
I'm a school teacher myself, and am obviously not at all opposed to the idea of men teaching. But notice how ridiculous the appeal is. She wants men to "man up" to get on board a project which is aimed at creating genderless roles in society. She supports an ideology which holds that sex distinctions are oppressive social constructs and yet she still makes an appeal to men's innate sense of masculinity.
She goes on to talk about the importance of "welcoming men to underpaid professions". And this gives the game away. She's not interested in what is in men's interests. Nor is she interested in what's best for the teaching or nursing professions. What matters for her is what serves the female autonomy project (as defined by feminists). Getting men out of the corporate world and into underpaid professions is the real aim here.
Exactly why men should be keen to jump on board, if pay and status are what really matter in life, still remains a mystery.
Here's a final quote from the Newsweek article, this time on men taking paternity leave:
The same goes for parental leave. It’s no coincidence that Iceland has the most generous paternity-leave program in the modern world—three months!—and also, the smallest wage gap. These things go hand in hand. And no, it wasn’t a raging man-hating feminist who pushed the legislation through—it was a male prime minister, who recognized that Icelanders of both genders would benefit, and not just in the short term. The reasoning? As more men take time off to care for their children, the burden of parenthood no longer falls on women alone. Ultimately, employers will stop looking at young, fertile women and thinking, why bother investing? We’ll all be equally worthy of investment.
Again, if pay is the great good in life, and taking paternity leave reduces men's pay, then why would men accept the deal? It's simply wrong in that case for the Icelandic Prime Minister to claim a benefit for both genders. The paternity leave is not intended to benefit men, but to further the female autonomy project.
The only consistent argument that the feminists can make is that men should accept less pay out of a principled commitment to equality. But this then depends on men and women accepting the dubious first assumptions of feminism: that autonomy is what matters in life and that careerism is the gold standard of autonomy.
Why don't careers give us autonomy? Most jobs are not high in status or power. Most people, too, are not self-employed and so are under the direction of others when at work. Paid work also takes up most of our time and energy, leaving us less free to do the things we would otherwise choose to do.
So it's not necessarily a case of women suffering unequal autonomy if men spend more time in paid work than women over the course of a lifetime. It could in fact be argued that the husbands are sacrificing a degree of their own autonomy by working long hours in an office or factory in order to support their wives.
Nor is autonomy the one good that matters in life. Most people want to marry well, experience fatherhood and motherhood and enjoy a happy personal life.
So equality can't be measured by autonomy alone. A woman who finds it fulfilling to be at home looking after her young children is in a perfectly equal position to a man who finds it fulfilling to support a family financially through his labours. They are equal in what matters most, which is not autonomy. And, anyway, it is arguable whether the husband or the wife is more autonomous in such an arrangement (is the man who trudges off to an ordinary office job really more autonomous than the woman who is busy looking after children at home?)
And that, Newsweek, is why I won't be manning up for feminism.