Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Albanian Custom Fades - Woman as Family Man -

KRUJE, Albania — Pashe Keqi recalled the day nearly 60 years ago when she decided to become a man. She chopped off her long black curls, traded in her dress for her father’s baggy trousers, armed herself with a hunting rifle and vowed to forsake marriage, children and sex. For centuries, in the closed-off and conservative society of rural northern Albania, swapping genders was considered a practical solution for a family with a shortage of men. Her father was killed in a blood feud, and there was no male heir. By custom, Ms. Keqi, now 78, took a vow of lifetime virginity. She lived as a man, the new patriarch, with all the swagger and trappings of male authority — including the obligation to avenge her father’s death.

This sounds like an excellent arrangement. It's got to be better than "sex-reassignment surgery." I wouldn't have my body chopped up and spend the rest of my life shooting up hormones to play the male social role, but think I might be willing to give up sex to get it if I had to.

[Sworn virgins] dressed like men and spent their lives in the company of other men, even though most kept their female given names. They were not ridiculed, but accepted in public life, even adulated.

The Albanians are clearly more enlightened than we are in this matter. We're all snagged up with Freudian notions about sexuality and "authenticity," and don't accept much less adulate individuals who simply want to play opposite sex social roles. They're only accepted if they can "pass." In Albania, everyone knows that sworn virgins were born as women and are biologically female. They pays their money and takes their choice: they give up the perks--sex with men and childbearing--in exchange for getting to be guys and are fully accepted as guys. They aren't in the closet: they keep their names, their identities, and don't have to deny their personal histories.

Taking an oath to become a sworn virgin should not, sociologists say, be equated with homosexuality, long taboo in rural Albania. Nor do the women have sex-change operations.

Very enlightened indeed. For all our talk about the distinction between sex and gender we still believe that they're inextricably linked so that any woman who just wants to be a guy socially is assumed to be either a lesbian or a candidate for sex-reassignment surgery. Take it from me. I've always had the distinct sense that lots of people would feel more comfortable if I were a lesbian. Not that there's anything wrong with homosexuality: I simply resent that pressure to be something other than I am so that others can be more comfortable about sexist assumptions about what "real women" are or should be like.

Known in her household as the “pasha,” Ms. Keqi said she decided to become the man of the house at age 20...Ms. Keqi lorded over her large family in her modest house in Tirana, where her nieces served her brandy while she barked out orders. She said living as a man had allowed her freedom denied other women. She worked construction jobs and prayed at the mosque with men. Even today, her nephews and nieces said, they would not dare marry without their “uncle’s” permission.

Sounds good to me. If I could have worked construction or had any of the other fall-back positions guys had, I wouldn't have been so scared: I would have made different decisions and been bolder. I made dozens of bad major decisions in my life because I was terrified of being stuck with pink-collar jobs that I couldn't handle.

Nowadays young women who regard themselves as "Third-Wave Feminists" or even more commonly "Not Feminists But..." complain that we, their mamas, espouse a feminism that restricts choice. They don't want to be told that dressing up "objectifies" them or that staying home to take care of their kids is somehow degrading. They don't believe that they should have to pay, to give up traditionally feminine behavior for equality and basic respect, or for decent jobs. They're right. Albanian women shouldn't have to pledge perpetual virginity to count as persons rather than property; American women shouldn't have to buy into man-hating to count as good feminists or behave like guys to work in management or the professions.

But the current rhetoric fails to recognize the fact that some women want to "swap gender" not because it's a cost we think we need to pay to achieve equality and respect, or to get decent work or because we believe it's part of some ideological commitment to support Sisterhood, but simply because it's what we want, because it's what we need to do to "be ourselves." Feminism is precisely about breaking the link between biological sex and gender as traditionally construed in the interests of giving everyone more choices.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Whining? Whatever...

Peter Schweizer on Liberal Whine on National Review Online

Howdy, boys and girls. Did you know there's a new word that has replaced whatever as an argument-stopper and conversational trump-card--at least for those of you who're of the conservative persuasion? Yes, indeed. The new W-word is whining.

You may wonder how a verb which has fairly stringent criteria for application can take the place of "whatever," a mere flatus vocis suitable for all occasions. But don't worry: the strict-constructionist dictionary definition is passé. Nowadays "whining" covers any dissatisfaction with one's circumstances or critique of the status quo. So, as evidence of liberal whining, National Review pundit Peter Schweitzer notes:

A wide body of research shows that modern liberals are much more likely to complain about things in their lives. Conservatives are more content with their lives. When asked “How satisfied are you with life these days? Sixty-six percent of conservatives said “very satisfied” compared with only 46 percent of liberals. Conservatives are more likely to say they love their jobs (53 percent vs. 41 percent) and even enjoy their hobbies more (63 percent vs. 51 percent). When asked by the Social Capital Survey whether they were satisfied with their income, liberals were more than three times as likely to say “not at all satisfied” — even when they earned the same as conservatives.

I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that conservatives are more satisfied with their lives than liberals. After all, being conservative means wanting to conserve the status quo, so it stands to reason conservatives would be more satisfied with the way things are than others. In fact, you don't need to produce data to show that conservatives are more satisfied with the way things are than non-conservatives: that's true by definition.

I'm not sure why conservatives think that liberals' dissatisfaction reflects adversely on them. After all, dissatisfaction comes from setting high standards. What can be wrong with that? I'm dissatisfied with my weight, with my students' performance in logic and with the rudeness and incompetence of various "customer service representatives" with whom I deal. Would I be a better person if I were satisfied being a fat slob, if I didn't care whether my students could do logic problems or whether people did their jobs properly?

Conservatives however invariably make an intuitive leap from people's expressions of dissatisfaction to the charge that they are representing themselves as "victims," a habit they hold defines liberalism:

Barack Obama understands the language of victimhood and uses it effectively. And victimhood has become a central tenant of modern liberalism. As Kenneth Minogue argues in his classic book The Liberal Mind, modern liberalism is completely wrapped up in “suffering situations.”

Funny I never noticed that. Obama, preaching the audacity of hope, always seemed to me a very optimistic, up-beat guy. In fact the only people I ever hear talking about victimization are conservatives who whine about liberals' supposed proclivity for claiming to be victimized.

I guess what puzzles me, given the new latitudinarian concept of whining, is whether it is possible to express any dissatisfaction with the status quo without counting as a whiner. If not, then the conservatives' complaint that liberals, those of us who are not altogether satisfied with the way things are and work for improvement, is simply the claim that liberals are not conservatives. And being a liberal myself I don't think that's something they have any right to whine about.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Why Pro-Choice Shouldn't Be a Feminist Issue

Sex-segregation in the labor market is important issue for women; pro-choice is not.

(1) It's easy to avoid having a baby; it's difficult to avoid getting stuck doing pink-collar shit work.

To avoid having a baby all you have to do is use effective birth control. It's affordable, readily available, and the odds of contraceptive failure are minimal. It's much more difficult and expensive to avoid pink-collar shit work. You have to get at least a BA, which is time-consuming and very expensive, and even then there's still a significant risk that you could end up as a secretary or teacher. To get the level of protection against pink-collar shit work comparable to the level of protection contraceptives provide against having a baby you either have to get that BA in engineering or a hard science or else get a post-graduate professional degree, which is even more difficult and more expensive than getting a generic BA.

(2) You can easily avoid raising a baby; you can't easily avoid pink-collar shit work.

If you have an unplanned baby, you can easily get rid of it. You can leave it at the hospital, at a police station or firehouse or at a church--no questions asked. Or you can sell it. Or, best of all, you can dump the kid on the father. First stop on the way home from the hospital--the baby-daddy: "Here's your kid: take care of it. Maybe I'll pop by from time to time to see how it's doing and, if I feel like it, send you some money. Bye." Even if you give birth to an unplanned child, raising it is a free choice--you can easily avoid it. By contrast, you cannot easily avoid pink-collar shit-work. You cannot choose to get a job--getting a job depends on whether a potential employer will hire you. If you don't have one of those expensive degrees and can't get a guy job then your only option is pink-collar shit-work.

The suggestion that abortion is an important feminist issue assumes that it is not feasible for women who have unwanted children to avoid raising them. And the assumption behind this is that women "bond" with their babies and that giving a baby up to be raised by someone else is just too, too, traumatic. That's plain old sexism. Men regularly abandon their children. There's no reason why women shouldn't do that too. Raising a baby is a choice; doing pink-collar shit-work isn't a choice. Women are forced to do that work because they can't get male-identified jobs. The aim of feminism is to see to it that women have a wider range of options--not to see to it that they aren't penalized for making "feminine" choices.

"Why can't a woman be more like a man?" Henry Higgins asked. Because women aren't treated like men, because they don't have the same options and, in particular, because they can't get the same jobs. Women don't do blue-collar jobs because they can't get them, don't apply for these jobs because they know they'll feel like fools for applying and not get them anyway, and don't train for skilled blue-collar jobs because they know that they won't be hired and so their time and money will be wasted. De facto, most women have no choice when it comes to jobs and the aim of feminism should be to fix that. They do have a choice when it comes to raising children and if they choose not to behave like men in this regard they don't deserve any sympathy.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Feminist "Intersectionality"

Looking to the Future, Feminism Has to Focus -

[F]aced with criticism that the movement was too white and middle-class, many influential feminist thinkers conceded that issues affecting mostly white middle-class women -- such as the corporate glass ceiling or the high cost of day care -- should not significantly concern the feminist movement. Particularly in academic circles, only issues that invoked the "intersectionality" of many overlapping oppressions were deemed worthy. Moreover, that concern must include the whole weight of those oppressions. In other words, since racism hurts black women, feminists must fight not only racist misogyny but racism in any form; not only rape as an instrument of war, but war itself. The National Organization for Women (NOW) eventually amended its mission statement to include interrelated oppressions.

Although other organizations work on women's issues when appropriate, none of the other social movements were much interested in making intersectionality their mission. The nation's oldest civil rights organization, the NAACP, which co-sponsored the 2004 march in alliance with women's groups, says nothing about feminism or homophobia or intersectionality in its mission statement. The largest Hispanic rights organization, National Council of La Raza, unembarrassedly proclaims that it "works to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans."

Why did feminists get caught up in "intersectionality"? I suspect was a consequence of the ingrained idea that women have a special obligation to be altruistic, to "do for" others, which historically lumbered activist women with a broad "maternalist" agenda. From the Temperance Movement to Moms for Peace, women acting in the public sphere played the "civilizing" role that they were supposed to play in the home. This was justification for leaving the home to engage in political action. "See, we're not neglecting our domestic responsibilities--we're doing our womanly duty on a grand scale. We're not just taking care of our own children--we're working to take care of all children and, by extension, the poor, the oppressed and all people who can't take care of themselves. We're not just concerned with harmony in the home: we're concerned with peace in the world and with the creation of a kinder, gentler society."

When women campaigned for women's rights as such they were slapped down.
In 1964, when Ruby Doris Smith Robinson presented an indignant assault on the treatment of women civil rights workers in a paper entitled "The Position of Women in SNCC," to a SNCC staff meeting. Stokely Carmichael reputedly responded, "The only position for women in SNCC is prone."

Things improved over the years but there was still sense that feminists who focused exclusively on issues that benefited women were frivolous and selfish: frivolous because white, middle class women, the chief beneficiaries of feminist activism, weren't as badly off as racial minorities, the poor or other disadvantaged groups and selfish because women were not supposed to focus on their own problems--they were supposed to do for others. Women who suggested that they were unfairly disadvantaged and that this should be fixed were cast as whiners and complainers, or embittered man-haters--unless of course they could show that their feminism was "really" a larger agenda that promoted peace in the world and solidarity with all the oppressed.

Unlike the NAACP and other civil rights organizations that promoted the interests of ethnic minorities, NOW and other feminist organizations were pressed to prove their legitimacy by making the case their mission was to combat all "
interrelated oppressions." No one chided civil rights activists for being "selfish" if they concerned themselves with advancing the interests of ethnic minorities: the NAACP was, after all, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. That was the job they did. And that certainly wasn't to say that they wouldn't cooperate with other organizations in mutually beneficial projects or that members weren't concerned with other social problems. No one suggested that with the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s and the progress black Americans made since then the civil rights movement was passé or that the NAACP should concern itself with the plight of starving people around the world who were much worse off. The NAACP was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People--it was not a foreign aid organization.

Feminists by contrast were pressed to prove that they weren't fighting some battle of the sexes for their own selfish ends (women were not supposed to be selfish) and once "intersectionality" became the official theology it was futile to kick against the goads. As the author notes, this was certainly true in "academic circles." I've been there. And it is very difficult to have a discussion of the disadvantages women still face or how to fix things without having it veer off into a discussion of various other social injustices and a rousing call for the Solidarity of the Oppressed.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

1968 Again

White voters and the Democratic primary | Salon News

Teixeira: [T]he Democratic Party has a sort of image in certain areas of the country among certain voters, particularly downscale voters, that's somewhat unfavorable. There's a certain cultural distance there, a sense of an elitism in the national party that Obama probably connects to in their minds...

Wilentz: And it also goes back to the split in the Democratic Party. Which is also historical, it goes back 40 years. And we all know about this. It goes back to '68 in some ways, and it's been aggravated ever since. It's the old division between the "new politics" wing of the party and the "traditional working class" base of the party. We see that every four years and I think we may be seeing that again. But that's not strictly correlated to race by any means.

Schaller: [E]very four years, the candidate who is the new politics, new left darling, whether it's Howard Dean or whether it's Bill Bradley or whether it's Gene McCarthy, has historically fallen on the shoals of the white working-class vote because that candidate had, to put it as bluntly as possible, people like me, college-educated white people who live in urban areas with Ph.Ds, right. I'm sort of your quintessential -- and probably other people on the call, I don't want to speak for them, are quintessential Deaniac or Clean for Gene kind of voters...Of course, the media is drawn from this community.

I'm just perverse. I suspect that for several weeks if not longer the whole primary campaign has been staged, like pro-wrestling, to get publicity and get Democrats registered to vote. Now as the last act opens it will be interesting to see what Clinton's play will be.

If my hypothesis is correct, she will not concede outright but make some gracious gesture, affirm her commitment to do anything it takes to beat McCain in November, and ask for time to reflect. An immediate concession wouldn't be plausible, and wouldn't give supporters a chance to wind down emotionally--she'd lose them. And the Democratic Party might lose them too. It has to be carefully orchestrated and timed.

I'm also perverse because I'm one of those "college-educated white people who live in urban areas with Ph.Ds"--though I don't think my urban area has a Ph.D.--but just can't stand Obama or his supporters. I couldn't stand Gene McCarthy either. And I must be really perverse. I didn't much like Hillary at first--I'd still rather have Edwards. It was her street-fighting and dirty politics that really won me over. I don't trust the "new politics"--the idiot idealism of a privileged class who never really felt the shoe pinch, the prissiness of an elite who can afford to be virtuous, who can afford to worry about "process," who can afford to see visions and dream dreams.

What happened in 1968? For the first time, colleges were flooded with large groups of students who shouldn't have been there. They had no academic interests or professional ambitions and should have been doing honest manual labor. They were dissatisfied because they didn't belong in college but interpreted their malaise as the insight that times were out of joint. They had no ambition and regarded that as a virtuous rejection of the Establishment. They marched in the streets because they had nothing better to do.