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September 12, 2013

PATRIARCHY DENIERS!!!11!

First comes Megan McArdle, refusing to check her unearned race and gender privileges:

... what do you do about women who freely make choices that perpetuate structural inequalities? Do you stop them from making the choices? Neither Harvard, nor Kantor, seems to have a good answer. But that is the core dilemma. Maybe women drop out because they have a deeper biological connection to their kids. Maybe they do so because they’re raised to be nurturers, or maybe because they don’t feel the same personal anguish that a man does when he gives up on the dream of a top-flight career. Maybe if men felt they had the option to stay home, more would. And maybe women find the role of breadwinner more stressful than men do -- all the women I know who are the primary earners are neurotic about it in a way that the men I know don’t seem to be. I’m not talking about the fear that your partner will resent your success; these are women married to admirably feminist men. I’m just talking about a near-constant fear that you will not be able to provide, and your family will end up horribly destitute. I’m not saying that men don’t experience that worry, but they don’t seem tormented by it the way the women I talk to are.

Or maybe it’s that women just don’t want it badly enough. In my experience, one of the reasons that women drop out of finance, and 80-hour-a-week fields more generally, is that they just don’t want it as badly as the men. In their 20s, they’re happy to work those kinds of hours, even at tasks they find boring. They do well at them, too. But a lot of these jobs aren’t actually that rewarding as work: The investment banking associates I observed seemed to spend most of their time on basically clerical tasks, tabulating data and proofreading PowerPoints. And eventually most of the women seem to say “You know, I just care more about relationships than I do about success.” There are always exceptions on both sides: women who will sacrifice anything for the career they feel called to and men who would rather be home. But on average, the women I talk to just aren’t nearly as willing to sacrifice close friendships, and family relationships, for the sake of their jobs.

We can say that they shouldn’t have to, of course, but the sad fact is that there are trade-offs in this world. In your 20s you can finesse them -- work super hard and also have a roaring social life -- because you have boundless energy and no one depending on you. This is the age at which young women write furious articles and Facebook posts denouncing anyone who suggests that women opt-out of high pressure jobs for any reason other than the rankest sexism.
As you age, your body refuses to cooperate with your plan to work from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and then hang out with friends. Your parents start to need you more, if only to lift heavy things. And of course, there are kids. You start having to make direct trade-offs, and then suddenly you look up and you haven’t seen your friends for two years and your mother is complaining that you never call. This is the age at which women write furious articles defending their decision to step back from a high-pressure job and/or demanding subsidized childcare, generous paid maternity leave and “family friendly policies,” a vague term that ultimately seems to mean that people who leave at five to pick up the kids should be entitled to the same opportunities and compensation as people who stay until 9 to finish the client presentation. These pleas usually end (or begin) by pointing to the family-friendly utopia of Northern Europe, except that women in Europe do less well at moving into high-test management positions. Whatever the government says, someone who takes several years off work is in fact less valuable to their company than someone who doesn’t.

Ouch. How's a sistah to raise awareness of the Deep Unfairness of Life with all these deniers thinking for themselves wandering off the ideological reservation?

“Can you say that word? PATRIARCHY?” This woman was not gunning for a laugh; she was dead serious, and pretty angry. She looked to be 30 or so, and from the way she spoke seemed well-educated—the type of woman I portray in the book as benefiting from the new era of female dominance, when women are better prepared for the current economy and have more independence to choose their life path.

As the woman spoke, I started to think of my own Slaughter moment, when, after the birth of my first child, I decided to work four days a week, a capitulation that sank me into a terrible depression. (If only Sheryl Sandberg had been around then to tell me to “Lean in!”) I tried to figure out who, in the series of events that led up to that decision, had played the role of the patriarch. My husband? He couldn’t care less how many days I work. My employer? Relatively benevolent and supportive— willing to let me work four days or five, willing to let me leave early. I suppose the patriarchy was lurking somewhere in my subconscious, tricking me into believing that it was more my duty to stay home with our new baby than my husband’s. But I didn’t see it as a “duty.” I wanted to stay home with her, and I also wanted to work like a fiend. It was complicated and confusing, a combination of my personal choices, the realities of a deadline-driven newsroom, and the lack of a broader infrastructure to support working parents—certainly too complicated to pin on a single enemy.
I said some version of this out loud from the stage, partly because I was looking for sympathy, and partly because I wanted to convey that the “patriarchy” was not a fixed monolith we could never get around but something shifting and changing and open to analysis. But that confessional approach only brought more ire. “Lucky for you that you have the luxury to agonize about your choices,” the young woman said. “What about the woman who picks up your trash after you leave at 5?”

This is when I knew I was dealing with some irrational attachment to the concept of unfair. For my book I’d interviewed plenty of women who might find themselves picking up the trash, likely as a second job after a full day of school or another job, or both, because their husbands—or, more likely, the fathers of their children—were out of work. My young interrogator might be annoyed to learn that many of those women who pick up the trash yearn to bring back at least some aspects of the patriarchy. They generally appreciate their new economic independence and feel pride at holding their families together, at working and studying and doing things on their own, but sometimes they long to have a man around who would pay the bills and take care of them and make a life for them in which they could work less. And they want the men in their lives to be happy. It’s elite feminists like my questioner and me who cling to the dreaded patriarchy just as he is walking out of our lives.

This bean counting and monitoring—an outdated compulsion to keep your guard up, because sexism lurks everywhere—has found new life online, where feminist websites (including our own) and the Twitter police are always on the lookout for the next slight.

Sometimes the critical eye is useful, such as this week when outrage over sexist and racists tweets got Business Insider exec Pax Dickinson pushed out. (Though this is not a sign of THE PATRIARCHY—this is relatively easy victory.) Sometimes it’s just petty, like when Jennifer Weiner recently complained about a critic calling her “strident.” As a form of blogging or tweeting, pointing fingers is endlessly satisfying. But as a form of political expression, it’s pretty hollow and out of tune with reality.

This strain of feminism assumes an exquisite vulnerability, an image of women as “creatures too ‘tender’ for the abrasiveness of daily life,” as Joan Didion put it in her 1972 essay “The Women’s Movement.” (Is this why we now put “trigger warnings” on stories that mention rape or sexual harassment?) Maybe now we pay such close attention to words like “strident” because they are all we have, the only way to access the outrage of darker days. If so, we should treasure them as tokens of how far we’ve come. After all, if the most obnoxious members of the patriarchy can be brought down by a few tweets, how powerful can they really be?

Both these women's observations match my experience in the workplace.

The life of the Editorial Staff has been lived backwards by feminist standards. We married and had children early, giving up education and career prospects to follow the spousal unit from state to state as he pursued a career in the Marine Corps. His job was to earn a decent salary and map out our long term financial strategy. Mine was to raise our sons, run our home, pay the bills, and support his command whether he was in a B billet or a deployable unit. Never for one moment did he or I assume this was the way it would always be, or that there weren't alternatives.

It's just that when we crunched the numbers, this was the plan that made sense to us and reflected our joint priorities. Someone needed to stay home and focus on raising our children, keeping our home running smoothly in an environment of near-constant change and frequent moves. Someone needed to be there to unpack 300-something boxes every time we moved, to find new doctors and dentists and schools, to pay the bills, to squeeze every last drop of value out of his salary. To make an endless parade of bland temporary dwellings feel like "home".

And even when there are no children to consider, two career households simply aren't as efficient as those run by someone who has made it their career to manage the home full time. What's true in the workplace is equally true at home: if you want a job to be done well, someone needs to be put in charge of it (and to be held accountable when things don't go well). Ad hockery is just amateurism, writ large.

To believe that somehow, the same quality work can be done by a person working 1-2 hours as by a person working 8-12 hours a day is a gross insult to the hundreds of talented, smart, and hard working women I've known over the past 3 decades; women who could have done well in the job market but instead made an conscious decision to prioritize their marriages and families over monetary gain and intellectual stimulation.

Not that being a homemaker is necessarily stultifying to the mind. Some of the most thorny problems I've considered over the years were issues related to raising our two sons. I read widely from both the classics and modern works, and played an active role in our children's education and reading lists. It's a shame that the leadership functions inherent in motherhood and homemaking are so rarely acknowledge or appreciated. Being a military wife offers many leadership opportunities: mentoring of younger wives, community activities, helping senior wives with the myriad family issues that crop up during deployments.

These are functions the military has largely outsourced now, and the federal government is paying real money for services they used to get for free from civic minded military spouses. Surprise: jobs performed voluntarily by mostly stay-at-home wives and mothers who saw a need and filled it turned out to be indispensable services with real monetary value (they are, to use an overworked cliché, "force multipliers").

Having finished my education in my late thirties and entered the full time career arena in my forties has given me a different perspective on many things. Conservatives seem just as prone to idealize the motives of those who adhere to traditional gender roles as liberals are to lampoon them. In our world, female homemakers are described as selfless givers who generously sacrifice career and personal fulfillment For The Children. Male breadwinners are unappreciated, selfless protectors who cheerfully trudge off to work to provide for their families; sometimes enduring soul crushing drudgery and hardship.

And the thing is, many of these things are true. That's how traditional gender roles are supposed to work.

But I've also observed the polar opposites of these stereotypes: women who stay at home but don't actively manage their homes, nurture and teach their children, or support their husband's careers or their marriages. Men who use work to escape the demands of maintaining personal relationships; who aren't involved in their own marriages and who don't take an active role as fathers. Entering the work force as an adult, I've often observed the same egotism and destructive behaviors in men that I observed in women who turned volunteerism into a white knuckle demolition derby. Because we're human, our motivations are often an odd mix of nobility and self centeredness. We are driven by duty, but also by our own selfish desires.

If one truly sees women as intelligent beings with agency, it seems patronizing to assume that we are helpless bits of flotsam drifting aimlessly in a flood tide of patriarchal oppression. Why not give women some credit for having enough smarts to figure out what matters most to us and go after it. I suspect that's what most men do, too.

And if they don't (or we don't), shame on us.

Posted by Cassandra at September 12, 2013 06:18 AM

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Comments

Must... get... to... duct... tape.

Posted by: spd rdr at September 12, 2013 10:31 AM

I hear WD-40 can also be useful in these situations ;p

Posted by: Uppity Womyn at September 12, 2013 11:11 AM

There are, apparently, no bounds to female complaints and feminine angst. I have no proof of it, of course, but I believe purgatory more than a concept. It's where the impulse is purged from women so there would be no complaints about heaven.

Posted by: George Pal at September 12, 2013 11:21 AM

There are, apparently, no bounds to female complaints and feminine angst.

So, I link to two essays by women who aren't complaining (and in fact have gone to considerable trouble to point out that some of these complaints are essentially meritless), add my opinion that they're meritless, and somehow this shows that there is no limit to female complaints?

Oddly, I have not noticed any shortage of men complaining about various things they think are deeply unfair. How do the complaints of a vocal minority of women come to be representative of "femininity", while the plentiful complaints of male pundits mysteriously say nothing about "masculinity"?

More importantly, where have we seen this type of thinking before? Oh yeah - in the context of faux racism, where the acts of some whites speak volumes about white racism while the acts of some blacks say nothing about black racism :p

Part of the reason I write these posts is that I'm constantly amazed at how we all amplify some things and ignore/minimize others, and how our skewed perceptions drive the generalizations we make about others. I do it, though I try hard not to.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 12, 2013 11:34 AM

"Must... get... to... duct... tape"

Ahhh, duct tape...the Force manifest for it has a light side and a dark side, and it holds the universe together. (Not to mention the cookie jar lid in place.)
Remember, spd, silence is golden.
Duct tape is silver.

And the Uppity Womyn has a crappy throwing arm.
heh

Posted by: Evil Twin at September 12, 2013 01:25 PM

And the Uppity Womyn has a crappy throwing arm.

That's because I throw like a girl.

Or possibly it's the duct tape George swiped from spd's garage and liberally applied to my faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace :)

This is why no one wins the battle of the sexes. We spend too much time fraternizing with the "enemy".

Hope my comment didn't offend, George. It honestly wasn't meant to. I realize you were kidding, but we womynfolk are notoriously humorless :p

/running away before he finds that duct tape and clobbers me with it

Posted by: Cassandra at September 12, 2013 01:58 PM

"Or possibly it's the duct tape George swiped from spd's garage and liberally applied to my faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace :)"

Aw, man, why does HE get all the fun? All these years, all those times of fantasizing about just such a moment, he shows up just a few months or so ago and HE gets the big Lebowski?
Not fucking fair.

Posted by: DL Sly at September 12, 2013 02:06 PM

The Spousal Unit often has similar fantasies, God help him.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 12, 2013 02:37 PM

Hooo-boy! I now know what a hornet's nest in a cannibal's pot feels like.

Had I not made it known that I am one of the 1%; the few, the proud, the unperturbed. The next time I am offended, for myself, will be the first.

In the battle of the sexes, one need not always fight; reconnoitering can be fun.

DL Sly.
The spot must be rubbed in just the right way – no higgledy-piggledy.

Posted by: George Pal at September 12, 2013 02:44 PM

If one truly sees women as intelligent beings with agency, it seems patronizing to assume that we are helpless bits of flotsam drifting aimlessly in a flood tide of patriarchal oppression. Why not give women some credit for having enough smarts to figure out what matters most to us and go after it.

Yup. I didn't become a feminist to spend 40+ years hearing about how women are incapable of figuring out and managing their own lives.

I contemplated a long comment on how real life is always about trade-offs, working within constraints, disappointments (as well as joys), not always getting just what we want. And about how real life is the day to day stuff, not the manning the barricades stuff. Then I clicked through to the Joan Didion piece linked in the Slate article and realized she said it all - 41 years ago. How depressing is that? (Okay, not too depressing because her question about doughnuts and room service cracked me up.)

What is depressing is that now men are complaining about being oppressed, put upon, warred against, treated badly - while women are still doing the same. Stereo whining - ugh! I don't get why people want to be seen as the biggest victim. I find victim-hood embarrassing rather than empowering.

Posted by: Elise at September 12, 2013 02:51 PM

"The Spousal Unit often has similar fantasies, God help him."

Well, if He won't, I know where a volunteer or three can be found.
heh

And, George, the only spot I rub on the Princess is the one that goes the "wrong way". It's a natural talent that I cultivate every time she presents the opportunity.
And, she loves me anyway.
Double-heh
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at September 12, 2013 03:06 PM

What is depressing is that now men are complaining about being oppressed, put upon, warred against, treated badly - while women are still doing the same. Stereo whining - ugh! I don't get why people want to be seen as the biggest victim. I find victim-hood embarrassing rather than empowering.

Amen. That whole "war on..." meme from both sides is cringe inducing. I would be ashamed to seriously make that argument from either viewpoint, but that's just me.

It's funny - one of the things I said most often to my sons was, "Life isn't fair and I wasn't put on this earth to make it so."

Usually followed by... "Figure it out", or words to that effect. That may be one of the few things I did right as a parent.


Posted by: Cassandra at September 12, 2013 03:23 PM

The spot must be rubbed in just the right way – no higgledy-piggledy.

I see what you did there, George.

WHAP WHAP WHAP!!!! :)

Posted by: Sister Mary Bag O'Metaphors at September 12, 2013 03:25 PM

I've always been the primary breadwinner, but I can't say I felt a lot of angst about it. The main difference I saw between myself and my male colleagues was that I never complained about how my husband wanted to spend all my money and how I had to stay on the treadmill just to keep up with his demands. It was amazing how that theme preoccupied my richer (male) clients' thoughts. It wasn't quite as prevalent among my male colleagues, who tended to be younger and a bit more politically correct.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 12, 2013 03:36 PM

The main difference I saw between myself and my male colleagues was that I never complained about how my husband wanted to spend all my money and how I had to stay on the treadmill just to keep up with his demands. It was amazing how that theme preoccupied my richer (male) clients' thoughts.

I've noticed the same thing - guys mainly seem to complain about their wives or girlfriends (or just about women in general. Except for non-American women, who apparently are A Different Breed :p). I have often wondered whether other men don't interpret that sort of thing as "complaining", though it clearly is, because they understand where it comes from and can sympathize. While women don't hear interpret some complaints from other women as "complaints" because it's easy for us to understand and sympathize.

Sort of a "My complaints are completely understandable, yours are a bunch of whiny nonsense" sort of thing :p

Posted by: Cassandra at September 12, 2013 04:10 PM

"Sort of a "My complaints are completely understandable, yours are a bunch of whiny nonsense" sort of thing :p"

So, it's political humor redux...it's only funny if it's *your* guy in office.
Either way, I say, "Blech."

Posted by: DL Sly at September 12, 2013 04:15 PM

This probably doesn't apply to Tex's case, in which male clients were complaining to her about their wives. In my experience, though, men who complain about their wives or girlfriends are often trying to sympathize with another man who is suffering difficulties with his wife or girlfriend. It's often the only way to discuss the matter without creating offense.

The first man knows that if he were to criticize his friend's own wife or girlfriend, that second man would feel obligated to defend her against the intrusion. That won't help his friend deal with his troubles, and it might cause a fight that could wreck the friendship. By framing the criticism as a criticism of his own wife, the first man allows his friend to express his troubles without it feeling to the second man that he's letting somebody from outside the relationship beat up on his wife (metaphorically).

It's of a piece with how men rarely respond to another man's problems by saying, "Wow, that is awful, I feel so bad for you." What they will do instead is say, "Wow, that's like the time when..." and then tell a story of one of their own troubles. That keeps things even between them: one isn't pathetic and the other pitying him, but rather, both of them have problems that they have had to deal with at different times.

It may seem disloyal -- perhaps you shouldn't criticize your wife to another man -- but I don't think it's usually meant that way. Again, though, I don't know how well it applies to Tex's case.

Posted by: Grim at September 12, 2013 05:23 PM

The main difference I saw between myself and my male colleagues was that I never complained about how my husband wanted to spend all my money and how I had to stay on the treadmill just to keep up with his demands.

I think of this as the kind of complaining that's really bragging; like complaining about how much it costs to keep up the pool or moor the yacht in the marina or pay taxes on the ski lodge in Vail. The point is not really to complain about how expensive these things are; it's really to make clear that the speaker is so successful he can afford them.

To me, that's what a trophy wife really is. Not a wife who is unusually young or beautiful or desirable but a wife who is unusually expensive. And besides, the statement "I'm so successful I can afford a wife with expensive tastes who demands I provide everything she wants" sounds a lot better than the statement "I'm so stupid I married a woman who has no concept of a budget."

Posted by: Elise at September 12, 2013 05:51 PM

Gosh; back to basics!

Duct tape, WD-40, tie-wire and a Leatherman.

"Oddly, I have not noticed any shortage of men complaining about various things they think are deeply unfair."
> Males, or 'Men?'
(Real) Men don't whine. Life ain't fair, tough sh*t, get over it and do you d*mn job. Wanna whine? go talk to Alan Alda & Jimmy Carter. No one else wants to hear it.

. . . plus the current POTUS throws like a girl . . . ;)

Posted by: CAPT Mike at September 12, 2013 06:04 PM

I think there's a difference between privately commiserating with someone (what Grim describes) and public complaining. The first, to me, is understandable so long as it doesn't devolve into airing private things. That's a betrayal of trust.

But the fact that I've heard so many men running down their wives/girlfriends/women in general pretty much suggests that the motivation for these folks isn't commiserating with a friend who has just confided in you. I imagine people have different motivations. On the rare occasions where I've heard a bitter woman running men down (I don't associate with people like that voluntarily), I have been extremely uncomfortable and have not been inclined to agree with them.

Complaining, to me, is when everything is framed as, "Women always..." or "men always...", and you find yourself thinking, "Gee - I don't know anyone like that. So surely 'all men' can't be insensitive jerks. And 'all women' can't be mercenary users"?


Posted by: Cassandra at September 12, 2013 09:18 PM

"And 'all women' can't be mercenary users"?"

Wait...some women get paid to use people?
How did I miss that memo? Dammnit.
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at September 13, 2013 12:13 PM

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