Thursday, April 21, 2011

How does Professor Lewin think women step up to personhood? A clue: not through heterosexual marriage

Professor Ellen Lewin
Laura Wood at The Thinking Housewife has posted an item about an American academic, Dr Ellen Lewin. Dr Lewin, a professor of women's studies, was so outraged at receiving a batch email from a Republican students group that she fired off a reply telling them to "f-off".

Anyway, I did a little search on Dr Lewin. It turns out that she is a very orthodox liberal. She has written a book titled Lesbian Mothers: Accounts of Gender in American Culture. The basic argument she runs in the book is that divorced single mothers and lesbian mothers have something significant in common: by raising children without husbands they both have achieved the good of motherhood without a loss of autonomy through dependency on men.

The message is that divorce can be good for heterosexual women because it liberates women to be autonomous.

I have to say that there's a contradiction in Professor Lewin's argument, but I'll get to that a little later.

It's interesting to see how liberal autonomy theory plays out in Professor Lewin's book. For instance, she argues that there is a difference between being a good mother in a marriage and in a divorce. Being a good mother in a marriage is not so good because it is merely a "natural attribute" (not something self-determined). But if a mother gets custody in the courts, that is a "self-conscious achievement" and "evidence of skill" in "protecting the integrity" of her family:

Mothers who face actual or potential custody challenges use strategies of appeasement, support, and autonomy in the course of protecting the integrity of their families. The claim to being a "good mother," a key element of feminine gender identity in American culture, is transformed from a natural attribute into the product of self-conscious achievement...

In this situation a competent mother is one who accedes to enough of her husband's demands to discourage a custody challenge but not so much that her concessions can be turned against her. Being a "good mother" is thus transformed from a state of being, a natural attribute, into evidence of skill, rewarded by the father's failure to gain custody or, better yet, by his failure to pursue it at all. [pp.177-178]

As for divorce being a step up for women, this is how Professor Lewin puts it:

These convergences between lesbian mothers' coming-out stories and the divorce stories of both lesbians and heterosexual mothers point to a telling contradiction in American culture. Marriage is seen as a special kind of success for women, but it also imposes a loss of autonomy and personhood that threatens to compromise the individual's quest for accomplishment and individuality. As observers of American culture have noted since Alexis de Tocqueville described his impressions in the mid-nineteenth century, individuality and the related concept of privacy are such core dimensions of American culture that conditions or behavior that might be interpreted as dependency seem questionable if not shameful...

... Both coming out and divorce shift women's status downward in the eyes of the society as a whole, yet the women who experience them view them in many respects as steps up. At the core of both coming-out and divorce stories is the theme of increasing autonomy and competence, and both kinds of accounts tend to focus on discovery of one's "true" self. In these respects, as Kath Weston has observed, they constitute odysseys of self-discovery; at the same time, they demonstrate a concern with achieving adulthood and autonomy which is a particular consequence of the infantilization that both marriage and heterosexuality can impose on women. [pp.43, 45]

The logic of the argument is that in a marriage women are dependent on a man, that this makes married heterosexual women infantile, so that divorce and/or lesbianism represent a step forward toward an adult, autonomous life.

The fact that the conclusion is so odd, that it suggests that being a lesbian or a divorced woman is more adult than being a married mother, should suggest to us that there is something wrong with the premises of the argument.

My own view is that the mistake is to think of autonomy as a single, overriding good. In practice, we don't do this. We marry despite the fact that we thereby limit our autonomy, because there are other important goods associated with marriage, including those of marital love and parenthood.

As it happens, Professor Lewin finds it difficult to maintain the consistency of her argument. She argues for divorce and lesbianism in terms of autonomy, but when it comes to justifying motherhood she is at a loss – becoming a mother does not increase a woman's autonomy, so it has to be justified on other grounds, but these same grounds could then just as easily justify a commitment to heterosexual marriage:

Lesbians who are not mothers share with other childless women a feeling of distance not only from the kinds of things "ordinary" women do but from the special relationship to the spiritual world women can derive from their connection to children. By becoming a mother, a woman can experience a moment of transcendent unity with mystical forces; by being a mother, she makes continuing contact with her inner goodness, a goodness that is activated by altruism and nurtured by participation in a child's growth and development.

By becoming a mother, a lesbian can negotiate the formation of herself: she can bring something good into her life without having to sacrifice autonomy or control. Thus the intentional single mother (whether she is lesbian or heterosexual) can achieve a central personal goal – the goodness that comes from putting the needs of a dependent being first. By becoming a mother through her own agency, she avoids the central paradox that motherhood represents to married women – a loss of autonomy and therefore of basic personhood in a culture that valorizes individualism and autonomy. Like ending a marriage, having a baby on her own allows a woman to meet her basic personal goals, and she may see it as a critical part of establishing a satisfying identity in a culture that often blocks women's efforts to be separate individuals. [p.73]

She is running with two very different sets of principles here. When it comes to motherhood, what matters to her is not autonomy but feeling connected and the good of altruistic care for another. The very close, dependent relationship of mother and child is seen as a good. But when it comes to heterosexual marriage, personhood is defined solely in terms of being a separate, autonomous individual.

She could just as easily have defined the good of marriage in the way she defined the good of motherhood: in terms of the closeness of the relationship, of finding inner goodness in the giving of oneself altruistically to one's spouse, of the spiritual fulfilment of marital love, and of the completion of a feminine identity in being a wife.

I'll finish with one more inconsistency in Professor Lewin's position. She justifies motherhood in terms of participating in a child's growth and development. But what if that child is a boy? What is that boy growing and developing toward?

If Professor Lewin had her way, that boy would not have much of a future role in society. He would grow up in a society in which women aimed either at intentional single motherhood or else at divorce as a pathway to autonomy, adulthood and self-discovery.

It's not much for a boy to grow and develop toward. So what would be the point of a woman committing herself to participating in his development? What mothers need to justify their role are young women in society who are willing to make a life together with their sons. Professor Lewin doesn't like the idea of this life together and so is no true friend of motherhood.

29 comments:

  1. "Mothers who face actual or potential custody challenges use strategies of appeasement, support, and autonomy in the course of protecting the integrity of their families. "

    If you are divorced, you CANNOT prtect the integrity of your family, because your family has disintegrated. If you want to protect the integrity of your family, STAY MARRIED!

    Seems her assumption is a "family" equals "woman plus kids" but the man was never part of it, even when he was married to the woman.

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  2. Seems her assumption is a "family" equals "woman plus kids" but the man was never part of it, even when he was married to the woman.

    Yes, that appears to be the assumption.

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  3. "If Professor Lewin had her way, that boy would not have much of a future role in society. He would grow up in a society in which women aimed either at intentional single motherhood or else at divorce as a pathway to autonomy, adulthood and self-discovery."

    Thereby achieving the society of "World Without Men" --- www.thinkinghousewife.com/wp/2010/08/world-without-men/

    Sad, isn't it?

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  4. Is there any projected date when these intellectually stunted Baby Boomer relics are set to die off? Anything we could to to get rid of them quicker?

    No generation in history has ever given society so many bad "theories" and concepts.

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  5. Vox Popoli ("Vox Day") has said somewhere between 2010-2025 when the American economic system collapses will be also the time when the boomer generation dies off. Right now the "greatest generation" is dying off. Shortly after the boomer generation dies off so will the cold war generation. So the "slate" will be cleaned of both boomers and cold war generations somewhere around 2040-2060.

    voxday.blogspot.com/

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  6. If autonomy is so important to her, how can she possibly justify alimony, child support, property division in divorce, or "palimony"? A woman who profits at a man's expense is not autonomous by any sane definition.

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. Days of Broken Arrow said,

    "Anything we could to get rid of them quicker?"

    Allow Euthanasia, which is what they want anyway.

    Randian said,

    "A woman who profits at a man's expense is not autonomous by any sane definition."

    Good argument.

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  9. Is there any projected date when these intellectually stunted Baby Boomer relics are set to die off?

    Well, they are set to retire. At my workplace, the teachers who graduated in the early 70s are the true believer types - the ones who most aggressively and moralistically push a left-wing politics. Some have retired already; others plan to do so in the next year or so.

    That just leaves a couple of younger lesbians to push a politically correct politics.

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  10. The Spearhead finally comes out saying that "Game" was created by feminism --- www.the-spearhead.com/2011/04/21/how-the-liberated-feminist-slut-created-the-pick-up-artist/

    The problem with the comments is that they still blame Christian traditional conservatives as "feminists".

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  11. Elizabeth,

    I went and had a look at that Spearhead writer's homepage. Like quite a few of these men, he's intelligent but an out and out nihilist. Nihilism continues to be a major stumbling block for Western culture.

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  12. The problem with the comments is that they still blame Christian traditional conservatives as "feminists".

    They contend that so-called traditional conservatives do not oppose no-fault divorce and do not oppose the feminist assertion that women are morally superior to men. They are probably right on that score.

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  13. "They contend that so-called traditional conservatives do not oppose no-fault divorce and do not oppose the feminist assertion that women are morally superior to men. They are probably right on that score."

    You see? Here we go again *argh*

    Traditional conservatives are not doing any of those things you have mentioned. Have you seen the demographics of "MRA's"? You do know that a majority of them are far-left or left-wing? Or libertarian? There are plenty of discussions at this website from 2010, 2009 and other times where Mark Richardson has debated "MRA's". Perhaps he can offer links for some of the best posts on it.

    In all "MRA's" are a bunch of liberals spreading lies and memes about traditional conservatives. They blame liberal causes and consequences on reactionaries. It's baffling.

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  14. Where are your protests against no fault divorce? Against women denying fathers visitation? Against false rape accusations and false sexual harassment accusations? Against the drugging and feminization of boys in schools?

    Answer: Nowhere. Tradcons obviously have no problem with any of these things because if you did you would attempt to fight back instead of attacking those who do fight back (MRAs).

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  15. "Where are your protests against no fault divorce? Against women denying fathers visitation? Against false rape accusations and false sexual harassment accusations? Against the drugging and feminization of boys in schools?

    Answer: Nowhere. Tradcons obviously have no problem with any of these things because if you did you would attempt to fight back instead of attacking those who do fight back (MRAs)."

    We are quietly protesting and slowly building our communities and our movement. We can't do it overnight and expect a quick, swift reaction. Take it easy. You are far too typical of the "MRA" )=

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  16. Elizabeth Smith - "We are quietly protesting and slowly building our communities and our movement. We can't do it overnight and expect a quick, swift reaction."

    Is there some sort of award handed out for the biggest "cop-out"?

    If there is, we might have found our winner.

    It would take next-to-nothing to express support against injustices and inequities. Saying that you can't yet do so because you're too "busy" is really quite pathetic.

    Sounds more like what you really mean is:

    "I don't want to publicly protest things which I'm only pretending to be against"

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  17. "It would take next-to-nothing to express support against injustices and inequities. Saying that you can't yet do so because you're too "busy" is really quite pathetic!"

    I never said that we are "too busy". If we were too occupied we wouldn't even have blogs or websites dedicated to our cause. I responded that we are building our movement and moving slowly. We are expressing disapproval of the current winds and are opposing the liberal regime bit by bit.

    "Is there some sort of award handed out for the biggest "cop-out"? If there is, we might have found our winner."

    I gladly accept the recognition and the prize.

    "Sounds more like what you really mean is: "I don't want to publicly protest things which I'm only pretending to be against"

    Why yes I'm secretly an arrogant scheeming "conservative" female supremacist.

    I'm not influenced by "Victorian ideals". Only God is only and both men and women are sinful in their nature.

    Demographics of "MRM" --- ozconservative.blogspot.com/2010/05/revealing-political-profiles.html

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  18. Quite sorry I meant to say that "Only God is holy".

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  19. We are quietly protesting and slowly building our communities and our movement.

    I think we have a winner in the "World's Quietest Protest" category.

    I consider myself a realistic tradcon; sympathetic to many tradcon views, but aware that laws matter, and that the current laws can make mincemeat out of any man who attempts to live according to tradcon principles and who is only slightly unlucky. The tradcon acquiescence (qui tacet consentire vidétur) to unilateral no-fault, default mother custody, etc., is shameful, especially since they're more than capable of kicking up a hullabaloo about, e.g., gay marriage.

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  20. "especially since they're more than capable of kicking up a hullabaloo about, e.g., gay marriage."

    In my mind there is no major protesting going on while in your mind there is. This isn't accurate because most mainstream "conservatives" are social liberals. Few are opposing the current liberal regime. It seems almost a delusion of the Left that the big evil fascistic "Religious Right" is out there trying to get them and is amassing forces to do so. Boo!

    I've also noticed of late how some liberals go around on blogs with claims that conservatives support this or that in hope that conservatives will drop support for another position. It usually goes like this "Oh I believe this is more of a threat so forget that. Look at this!"

    You do know how countertuitive this is? It won't persuade people. For example at OneSTDV (a blog that concentrates on racial politics) there was a post where a guy said that the problem with minority dysfunction lies only at the feet of liberal whites so forget criticizing minorities (by the way the guy who said this was black).

    Did anybody listen to him? No. Why? Because he only wanted to trick the people there to fall into a liberal position and how minority dysfunction isn't the problem. Now there was another man who had a better idea. He said that while minority dysfunction is a grave problem we also need to focus at how they are tied at the hip to liberal whites. Now that received praise and much more support. Now they talk of SWPL (or DWL) and minorities together.

    "The tradcon acquiescence (qui tacet consentire vidétur)"

    It smells something like the "MRM" saying we are a bunch of "feminist white knights". Oh la la. What a lovely liberal French philosopher. Bravo!

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  21. "Where are your protests against no fault divorce? Against women denying fathers visitation? Against false rape accusations and false sexual harassment accusations? Against the drugging and feminization of boys in schools?

    We've been through this before. I was a men's rights activist way back in the 1990s. I distributed thousands of copies of magazines on campus dealing with these types of issues and others. Since then I've continued to spread the message via this website.

    And traditionalists in general have taken action in support of men. Think of Phyllis Schlafly in the US or the Endeavour Forum here in Australia - members of the Endeavour Forum have often been the sole public opposition, writing columns for newspapers, submissions for public enquiries, attending UN conferences as delegates, holding public meetings etc.

    The "you haven't done anything" is flat out wrong. It keeps getting repeated, despite the evidence, because some in the men's movement want to believe, against all evidence and probability, that it is we traditionalists who are to blame for the problems facing men rather than the liberals who dominate the political class.

    It's not surprising the accusation is made as there is a section of the men's movement that is clearly liberal (not just liberal but sometimes very radically liberal).

    Traditionalists will continue to be part of the antifeminist movement and will continue to give support to the mainstream of the men's movement. But if I think it appropriate to point out radically anti-traditionalist politics within a section of the men's movement, then I'll do so.

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  22. Who doesn't like the way history is taught, or not taught, in schools? Who doesn't like the way we feel we can't assert our culture in our own countries? Who doesn't like the way we’re told there are no legitimate arguments against high immigration rates? Who doesn't like feeling like a subject rather than a free, proud and protected citizen? Who doesn't like feeling they're better off not talking to women at all rather than possibly risking saying something that might be regarded as inappropriate and used against you?

    There is no shortage of issues that tradcons or conservatives are interested in, concerned about and supporting. Femminism is obviously on the list but part of a broader social issue of attack against the west, of which men are a substantial part. If you look at it in its entirety you'll see how men's rights issues are part of a larger phenomenon.

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  23. @Elizabeth Smith

    "In my mind there is no major protesting going on while in your mind there is."

    Actually, no. The hullabaloo I referred to (which you redefined as "major protesting" for reasons best known to yourself) takes place not in my mind, but in the real world.

    For instance, there's the National Organization for Marriage, which (despite its name) is all about (stopping) gay marriage. There's CA's Prop 8, which defines marriage in CA as only between a man and a woman. There's DOMA, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman at the federal level. Etc.

    See? In the real world. Not in my mind. Feel free to cite your own (real-world) examples of equivalently prominent organizations and equally significant legislation aimed at correcting the legal climate of marriage as an institution, and let's leave what goes on in our minds out of it. There's no need for this to be a matter of opinion. (I'll make it easier for you: Proposed legislation will be accepted as evidence. Not all good ideas can make it into law.)

    The rest of your post appears to be an ad hominem smear implying that I am a liberal agent provocateur who's infiltrated your tradcon sanctuary in an attempt to undermine your fierce opposition to … whatever it is you're opposed to. In the first place, that's not an argument. In the second place, that's not true. In the third place, my complaint is not about what you're fighting against, it's that you're completely neglecting problems with the legal regime that make the sort of marriage that I would like to have a virtual impossibility in the West. Are you so busy that you can't spare a moment for the legal state of heterosexual marriage?

    "Qui tacet consentire vidétur" is Latin, not French. I thought it would be recognized (it's hardly an obscure maxim) in a tradcon redoubt.

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  24. Traditionalists will continue to be part of the antifeminist movement

    Continue? You traditionalists aren't part of the anti-feminist movement now.

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  25. ""Continue? You traditionalists aren't part of the anti-feminist movement now.""

    I will be sure to dispute this at the next big anti-feminist meeting.

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  26. Continue? You traditionalists aren't part of the anti-feminist movement now.

    I don't like the sneakiness of comments like these. Obviously traditionalists are part of an antifeminist movement. That's not the reason you dislike us. The reason you dislike us is that we continue to uphold traditional marriage. So, if you think our position on traditional marriage is wrong, come out and say so openly and explain why. Don't dodge the issues of principle - confront them.

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  27. Ms. Lewin playing a team sport:

    She gets the ball, but instead of playing by the rules...She proceeds to Beat The Shit out of her Opponent.

    Then she wins the game. Of course the other child is comatose, but that's ok. Because Ms. Lewin has accomplished the greatest personal good by by Winning---thus accomplishing her own goals at the expense of another.

    Of course, I doubt she says any of this bullshit in her own family. This type of attitude is the same attitude of Ayn Rand justifying the killing of Palestinians. Seriously, it all fits together. This type of hyper-individualism goes beyond personal autonomy and quite literally into the justification of hurting other people as long as you benefit. No surprise this attitude came from this *cough* woman.

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  28. Here’s an interview with University of Iowa Professors Timothy Hagle and Kembrew McLeod, Matt Sowada, the conservative co-host of the political talk radio show American Reason on KRUI, and Rod Sullivan from the Johnson County Board of Supervisors about Professor Ellen Lewin’s “F— You, Republicans!” email response to the University of Iowa College Republicans campus-wide invite for people to participate in “Conservative Coming Out Week.”


    http://www.patv.tv/blog/2011/04/27/talking-with-yale-cohn-discussing-professor-ellen-lewins-f-you-email-response-to-the-university-of-iowa-college-republicans/

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