Friday, June 17, 2011

Profound intellectual discomfort

Deborah Orr has done a rare thing. She's written a column for a left-liberal newspaper, the Guardian, in which she discusses why so many women don't identify with feminism. She writes that many women like herself feel a "profound intellectual discomfort" when it comes to feminism.

Why would a left-liberal woman feel doubt and uncertainty about feminism? I'll quote the relevant passages in a moment. But her argument seems to be this. Women feel vulnerable in life. The feminist response is to empower women by making them autonomous careerists. But this autonomy is, first of all, illusory as it has to be propped up by the state on which women then become dependent. Second, women were ushered en masse into the workforce just as much to supply cheap labour as to make women economically independent. Third, when women have children their priorities often change and they can become less ambitious at work and more committed to caring for their children.

Here's the first relevant passage:

The archetypal feminist of the 80s and 90s had a fulfilling and dynamic career, wonderful children, a lovely home and fabulous grooming. Consensus on the impossibility of such a lifestyle for any but the wealthiest has been long-since reached. But the recession and its subsequent deficit have shown all too starkly that even the seeming achievement of more modest autonomy for women is heavily subsidised by the state.

The stock response is that the state has, and should have, a duty to support parents and their children, and that's true up to a point. But it is hard to foster dependence without fostering vulnerability as well. Feminism, in truth, is entirely concerned with limiting female vulnerability, real as well as perceived. But its rhetoric can seem instead to be all about asserting and celebrating female strength.

In the next passage she correctly notes that women were fast-tracked into the workforce for economic reasons:

The mass entry of women into the workplace in the latter half of the last century was claimed too unequivocally as a purely feminist achievement. Yet the door opened so easily when pushed because the needs of capitalism had undone the bolt. Everyone knows the Empire Windrush didn't dock at Tilbury in 1948 to promote multiculturalism. It arrived to provide cheap labour in the employment marketplace, as women did too. Likewise, the fast-burgeoning demand for professionals did as much to usher women into flashy jobs as female liberation did.

Deborah Orr then admits that the wage gap as it exists today is due more to women's preferences than to discrimination:

But equal opportunity in the workplace has not resulted in equal achievement, and not all of this is the fault of continuing chauvinism. Women bear the children and, far more often than not, they wish to be the primary carer for those children. At its most strident, feminism can be mistaken for an ideology designed to make women feel they are wrong to want that.

Worse, feminism has accidentally promoted the idea that it's pretty easy to work and have children, with the right support in place. On even an average income, it's never easy, even once children are at secondary school (though it's certainly easier then). Your priorities change. Work is no longer the most important thing, for a while anyway. Ambition can dissipate.

Finally, she criticises feminism for being unwilling to openly discuss these issues:

For many women, that's a self-evident truth. But feminism forbids women from admitting too many self-evident truths, for fear that the utterance of them will encourage discrimination.

I'll finish with a thought of my own. Deborah Orr writes about women feeling vulnerable and seeking economic and material security by being autonomous career girls. She is aware, though, that this kind of independence has to be propped up precariously by the state.

Why not seek security through marriage to a man who is committed to supporting his family? Feminism tells women that men, far from being protectors, are a threat. Men are portrayed as exploiting women and as being the perpetrators of domestic violence and rape. Feminists suggest that it is average men who are committing such acts to a threatening degree.

That's why it's important for traditionalists to continue to scrutinise the statistics that feminists throw around when it comes to family life. When feminists come up with the "1 in 3" statistics, they do so knowing the effect that it will have - that it will make women feel as if they cannot rely on a man and that being a mother at home will be too great a risk to endure.

14 comments:

  1. Deborah Orr has truly done a rare thing. Unless she continues to repeat her actions I'll just expect for this to be the "unprincipled exception" (hat tip to Lawrence Auster) just as supposedly sexually libertine Democrats have gotten crazy over Weiner.

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  2. She writes that many women like herself feel a "profound intellectual discomfort" when it comes to feminism.

    Really? Wouldn't have known from their actions or liberal/libertarian lifestyle.

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  3. Your priorities change.

    They may not. Or they may change, but in the direction of more of the same.

    Work is no longer the most important thing, for a while anyway.

    Work may indeed be the most important thing, and the women who keep it their top priority are likely to get ahead of the others.

    Ambition can dissipate.

    Or it can grow, feeding on itself. Success leads to interesting work and more opportunities to rise and enjoy power. Children neglected, failing and wailing, and husbands slighted as impediments to the time commitment needed for real success, become less reliable sources of easy, safe and reliable long term satisfaction, whereas money, power and a good reputation in the company for always putting the work first are lasting rewards.

    I've seen this repeatedly. High flying women are not necessarily good or even decent mothers or wives. And after they get divorced, which is quite likely for this type, the type that thinks feminism is plain truth and unambitious women are no more than brainless "cabbages" it gets worse.

    What doesn't get measured doesn't matter. Company performance does get measured, and there is no option to pass on the measurement or ignore the consequences. High-flying mothers do have the option to decide that they have been great mothers regardless what the kids and the ex think about it.

    Ultimately, doesn't one have the right to define for oneself what success is?

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  4. Daybreaker:
    "High flying women are not necessarily good or even decent mothers or wives. And after they get divorced, which is quite likely for this type"

    Yeah, men should be wary of marrying career women.

    "whereas money, power and a good reputation in the company for always putting the work first are lasting rewards"

    Money, power and career success can be enjoyable in the moment and such success can provide the resources to pursue a better life, but they are not themselves a source of lasting rewards.

    A pitiable man is he that on his death bed wishes he had risen higher in an organisational chart.

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  5. At this point we're all screwed because I don't know a single man who can support a family on his one income.

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  6. The mass entry of women into the workplace in the latter half of the last century was claimed too unequivocally as a purely feminist achievement. Yet the door opened so easily when pushed because the needs of capitalism had undone the bolt. Everyone knows the Empire Windrush didn't dock at Tilbury in 1948 to promote multiculturalism. It arrived to provide cheap labour in the employment marketplace, as women did too. Likewise, the fast-burgeoning demand for professionals did as much to usher women into flashy jobs as female liberation did.

    I find this argument to be the most useful with under thirty year olds and university students who are political dilettantes but want to appear to have the 'correct' modern morals. Explaining to them that the supposed advances of the last half century attributed to liberalism (multiracialism, feminism, anti-discrimination .etc.) are not part of some teleological drive towards a utopian society, but are designed to make more money for capital, simultaneously attacks their system of morals whilst challenging their credentials of being opposed to the white, patriarchal ruling class. Many young liberals like to appear avant-garde, liberated and counter culture, but in reality they are foot soldiers for ruling class ideology.

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  7. This was in The Guardian?

    RLY?

    Wow.

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  8. "whereas money, power and a good reputation in the company for always putting the work first are lasting rewards"

    Yeah I am sure that will comfort childless Career-women on their death beds.

    Some might think the career rewards worth the sacrifice, but not many. Life is like that sadly.

    "Ultimately, doesn't one have the right to define for oneself what success is?"

    Yup, but a traditionalist and a left-liberal both consider some choices to be better for society than others.

    So each side tries to get their arguments out there to convince the people who will be making up their minds on the strength of these arguments.

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  9. IVF is not only discomforting but sinful as well (in most circumstances save for sterile heterosexual couples trying to conceive).

    http://www.thinkinghousewife.com/wp/2011/06/the-sex-less-scandal/

    I will try to push for my sister or my brother to marry either someone like my father or my mother to preserve the racial heritage in the family. I am praying for that.

    Even if I go overboard and do go with IVF the child will be known as "adopted" (unknown parents, family) rather than be raised in a dysfunctional fatherless or motherless broken family.

    http://www.thinkinghousewife.com/wp/2011/06/the-fatherless-hell/

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  10. "The stock response is that the state has, and should have, a duty to support parents and their children, and that's true up to a point."

    In my view that's not true at all.

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  11. Laura Wood has commented on this story here.

    She points out that it's not enough for Deborah Orr to state that feminism is flawed:

    I have seen so many articles like this, articles saying, “Well gee, feminism is not perfect. It has not taken into consideration all of women’s needs and that makes us uncomfortable.” This is a long way from speaking the truth.

    Which is true. I can think of cases of women who took big swipes at feminism without clearly renouncing it and they were back defending feminist positions within a year or two.

    Even so, it's interesting to observe the unfolding of Deborah Orr's attitudes. A couple of years ago she seemed to realise that the working-class family in the UK was unravelling. But her solution back then was still an orthodox feminist one, namely that men had to accept a new androgynous parenting role within the family.

    But in this more recent article, she has gone a lot further. She has admitted to the existence of sex distinctions in family life - that many women wish to be the primary caregivers and will often reprioritise their life ambitions when they have children.

    That's something of a break with orthodoxy. As is her argument that feminism is serving the needs of capital - that's a provocative thing to say to a left-liberal audience.

    We'll have to see if Deborah Orr is one of the women who goes back to the fold after her moment of being bold or whether her break with orthodoxy continues on.

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  12. http://life.bitchbuzz.com/housewife-envy-women-recessions.html

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  13. "At this point we're all screwed because I don't know a single man who can support a family on his one income."

    My experiences are quite different. I know a lot of men who support their families on one, sometimes working class income. I also know many more who could do it too, but they and their wives choose to live highly materialistic lifestyle, described by owning the houses too big for them, buying cars which are too expensive, going on vacation 3 times a year and in general trying to recreate upper class lifestyle on 2 working class salaries.

    It's difficult to feel any sympathy for people who sacrifice the well-being of their children for material stuff, have the delusions of grandeur and can't live according to their means and real, not perceived social standing.

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  14. The idea that the enemy now isn't men but "capital" seems to me to be weak. Do we need lots of female capitalist barons, ie many Oprah's, before the feminists will feel satisfied? What do they want? To work, to not work? Time to stop looking for others to blame and to throw off the mantle of the weak and the oppressed.

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