Saturday, July 21, 2012

U.S. feminist theory of history sabotages achievment of their legitimate goals

Anne-Marie Slaughter's piece in The Atlantic, about how 'women cannot have it all' captivated millions of readers. It pointed to many reasonable reforms that could and would make a woman's access to equal opportunity with men more available. However, achieving those goals will require a revised theory of history on the part of feminist leaders. (Her response to the millions of responses provoked by her piece is below.)
It is not that the access to the same options that man "enjoy" ought not to be available to women everywhere, but the feminist "framing" of the political pursuit of those options has pitted, or at least has seemed to pit, women against men.
Competition between the genders, for the same goals, using the same measuring instruments and the same criteria for "admission" has been both short-sighted and counter-productive. And that, in part, can be attributed to the depth of the American culture's dependence on competition as a social value and American feminism's willing adoption of that value, as one of the principal means of conducting their campaign.
And, by making the issue one of competition between men and women, in the American, capitalist, survivalist, Darwinian, military, athletic, win-or-lose mind-set, feminists in the U.S. have made the issue more contentious than it would have been if both men and women were equally advocating for the same goals.
Feminism, as advanced by American feminists, then, has to take responsibility for the blind spot that attaches to too many American initiatives, that it celebrates winners and "trashes" losers, in an epic, Manichean way, that leaves both people and organizations either "successful" or "losers".
Reality, including the reality of change, has a much more complex process, when "opposing" views are brought together and the talking continues and continues until the views are both accommodated and all parties continue to strive for common goals.
The indigenous people of North America, by tradition and reputation, when in serious conversation, one-on-one, never face each other, but both face a common horizon as the conversation proceeds so that the long-term perspective, available while both share a common horizon, is able to be a part of the conversation. That tradition does not deny that there might be differences between the participants, nor does it presume that either party has 'the upper hand' in the conversation. But equals talking with each other can and will accomplish much more, that combatants beating each other to the finish line, although, admittedly, the 'equals' will likely take longer to achieve mutual goals.
And one of the reasons it will take longer, using the First Nations approach, is that both parties to the dialogue will have to spend time outlining the meaning(s) of the words they are using, to attempt to reduce the conflict between meanings that people of different tribes ascribe to similar words. No assumptions about those meanings will be tolerated, and both will have to arrive at an understanding of the depth and complexity of both the words and their intent on the part of both parties.
Women, it would seem, would have better access to this complexity that men, in general, and on looking back might have been able to bring some of this complexity to the public discourse in their respective spheres of influence. Men, on the other hand, might have been a little more willing to engage in the conversation, if they had not been seen by some many early and radical and strident feminists.
It is the feminist theory of history, "that men deliberately and patronizingly conspired to construct social policy and law to abuse women and that therefore, men are, by definition, the enemy" that is so removed from historic reality as to be laughable, insulting and naive.
Men have proven in history, that unless and until they are attacked or about to be attacked, they can no more be made into a conspiracy than cats can be herded. Men, I am confident, over the last two thousand years, have not had a single conversation about how to "abuse" women by keeping them "barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen" as some European cultures cliches put it. Proud and arrogant and insensitive men have, however, had too many conversations about the number of "notches" on their belts, as if women were medals to be acquired in sexual conquest. And that, in purely sexual terms, needs to be addressed even today, because, feminism for all that it has accomplished, has not removed the sexual conquest from many male-female encounters. Too many men, also, have not learned the difference between love and respect for women, on the one hand, and "trophies" as partners they can parade at their social and political and corporate functions.
However, women, too, have too often manipulated men for their own "power" if for no other reason than to compete with another woman for the same man, or, too much like men, to prove their ability, capacity and willingness to use their female bodies, and seductive "skills" to win over the naive and unsuspecting and somewhat innocent man of their momentary choice.
Innocence, in the raising of children by parents, about the dangers of the opposite gender, is no substitute for adequate parenting. And, for the most part, men have been raised to expect women's attention and love to be authentic, just as was their mother's for their father. And women, too, have been raised to believe that men will pay attention and respect them, just as their father does their mother. When one learns the messy and far less pleasant reality that too often those parenting relationships were, to be blunt, charades, it is then and only then that the innocent glasses come off and the pain begins.
And, the capacity to cut through the charades, by both men and women, can be assessed, by most, as deferring to women, given their collective and individual commitment to the complexities of human relationships between men and women and their ability to navigate those complex eddies, and tidal waves as they develop. Men, on the other hand, are most likely too busy and too disinterested in those "complexities" like emotions and sensitivities and sensibilities, and melodrama (as they see it) to spend the kind of time and energy required to enter that arena. Our hard wiring is more focussed on earning a pay-cheque, and on keeping the furnace running and the house warm, and the grass cut and the snow plowed.
And those kind of hard-wiring differences will never be removed by centuries of political fighting by feminists for better working and social conditions in their attempt to reach better balance between work and family.
And it is the American "either-or" of family or work that is a large part of the problem. Once again, the Manichean perception, or world view, is not an agency for resolution of disputes. Most disputes get put over until some mechanism, like voting, puts one group in power until they abuse that power, and then they are replaced by another. Why would any CEO, or any board of directors, wish to implement policies that do not permit or encourage a healthy balance between work and family? And why would such debates, as does everything else in American culture, get reduced to the dollar cost, when the dollar contribution of a worker who is happy at home cannot be adequately measured.
So, if America really wants to address the issues of balancing the opportunities for men and women, they will have to openly debate moving to a different world view, to one of different assumptions and different methods, in their families, their schools, their churches (often the most competitive of corporations!) their universities and their political discourse.
And the media will have to learn to withdraw from their addiction to the 72-point headline that portrays another epic conflict, as their seductive method of selling the news. And instant gratification will have to be replaced by a much longer view of history, as will a cancerous, fear-based, insulting theory of history have to be replaced by a more realistic theory and vision of less conspiratorial motivations and more complex inter-connectedness of influences, from both men and women, starting with their respective hard wiring, in biological terms.
By Anne-Marie Slaughter, Globe and Mail, July 21, 2012
Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former director of policy planning in the U.S. State Department, is professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University.

When I wrote the cover article of the July-August issue of The Atlantic, titled Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, I expected a hostile reaction from many American career women of my generation and older and positive reactions from women aged roughly 25 to 35. I expected that many men of that younger generation would also have strong reactions, given how many of them are trying to figure out how to be with their children, support their wives’ careers and pursue their own plans.

I also expected to hear from business representatives about whether my proposed solutions – greater workplace flexibility, ending the culture of face-time and “time machismo” and allowing parents who have been out of the work force or working part-time to compete equally for top jobs once they re-enter – were feasible or utopian.
What I did not expect was the speed and scale of the reaction – almost a million readers within a week and far too many written responses and TV, radio and blog debates for me to follow – and its global scope. I have done interviews with journalists in Britain, Germany, Norway, India, Australia, Japan, the Netherlands and Brazil; and articles about the piece have been published in Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, Bolivia, Jamaica, Vietnam, Israel, Lebanon and many other countries.
In many ways, reaction has been a litmus test of where individual countries are in their own evolution toward full equality for men and women. India and Britain, for example, have had strong women prime ministers but now grapple with the “woman-as-man” archetype of female success.
The Scandinavian countries know that women around the world look to them as pioneers of social and economic policies that enable women to be mothers and successful career professionals and that encourage and expect men to play an equal parenting role. But they are not producing as many women managers in the private sector as the United States is, much less at the top ranks.
The Germans are deeply conflicted. One major German magazine decided to frame my contribution to the debate as “career woman admits that it’s better to be home.” Another (more accurately) highlighted my emphasis on the need for deep social and economic change to allow women to have equal choices.
The French remain studiously aloof, even a little disdainful, as befits a nation that rejects “feminism” as an American creation and yet manages to produce a leader who is simultaneously as accomplished and elegant as Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund. Of course, the example of her predecessor, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and other stories about French male behaviour suggest that perhaps a bit more féminisme à la française is in order.
Japanese women lament how far they must still go in a relentlessly male and sexist culture. The Chinese now have a generation of educated, empowered young women who are not sure whether they want to marry at all.
Brazilian women point with pride to President Dilma Rousseff but also underscore how much discrimination remains. In Australia, with its robust work-life debate, women point to the success of Julia Gillard, the first woman prime minister, but note that she has no children.
The global debate demonstrates at least three important lessons. First, if “soft power” means exercising influence because “others want what you want,” as Joseph Nye puts it, then women the world over want what feminists in the United States and elsewhere began fighting for three generations ago.
Second, Americans have much to learn from other countries’ debates, laws and cultural norms. After all, women have ascended the political ladder faster in many other countries. The United States has never had a woman president, Senate majority leader, treasury secretary or defence secretary.
Finally, these are not “women’s issues,” but social and economic ones. Societies that discover how to use the education and talent of half their populations, while allowing women and their partners to invest in their families, will have a competitive edge in the global knowledge and innovation economy.
Of course, hundreds of millions of women around the world can only wish that they had the problems I wrote about. Worldwide, more than a billion women confront physical violence and overt gender discrimination in education, nutrition, health care and salaries.
Women’s rights are a global issue of the highest importance, and it is necessary to focus on the worst violations. Still, consider a recent report from a sober and respected American magazine. The National Journal observed that women working in Washington have come a long way, but “still face career barriers, and often the biggest one is having a family.”
If “having a family” is still a career barrier for women but not men, then that, too, is a matter of women’s rights (and thus of human rights). In the global debate about work, family and the promise of gender equality, no society is exempt.

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