Wednesday, February 23, 2011

good people are everywhere

I just wanted to add a little something to this great post by Jill from Feministe. One of the consistent ways in which feminist issues get undercut or marginalized is by framing them in facile, battle-of-the-sexes terms. You can find this sort of thing all the time; an issue of contentious and important feminist controversy is watered down into "hey, equal pay for equal work-- Venus and Mars, am I right? War of the Roses! Crazy." Forcing feminist issues into the terms of men vs. women, and particularly in the sense that they are all just happy battles in the sexual and romantic landscape, robs feminist critiques of their power. It suggests that these issues are not really about morality and equality but about romance, and it sets people up to view feminist controversies as the kind of argument where there is no right or wrong side, as we tend to do in the hoary old competitive view of romantic relationships.

So Jill is right to call Kay Hymowitz out for the way in which she is hiding some of the politics in her piece from the WSJ. She also does a good job of just calling Hymowitz out on her bullshit; broad generalizations about entire generations of men or women sweep away acres of complexity, and there are all sorts of reasons to disbelieve the idea that delaying the onset of marriage and "adulthood" are bad for traditional domestic roles, anyway. For example, broadly speaking, delaying marriage tends to result in less divorce. The common "starter marriage" phenomenon, where young people marry after a brief courtship and then divorce within less than five years, is often followed by long-term and permanent marriages. (Yet another reason why the divorce rate is bogus: people who marry once, divorce, then remarry and stay married until death have a personal divorce rate of 50%; could anyone reasonably call this a failure for the institution of marriage?) Clearly, marrying later is not then an impediment to successful coupling. If Hymowitz's interest is in preserving traditional domestic institutions, I'm not sure she's on track here.

We all want to look young and hot in our wedding photos, but c'mon.

Jill is also right to be frank about the power dynamics that are just below the surface of Hymowitz's piece. Marriage in a heterosexual relationship certainly doesn't have to be about the marginalization of the female partner's power and identity to the needs and desires of the male partner, but that is the traditional arrangement, and Hymowitz's desires seem to be in that spirit. Delaying marriage in that context means preserving the time period when young women are free to be independent and fully realized beings. As is typical, what is framed as a piece sympathizing with women ("poor women, no good men") is actually one that seeks to condemn them to narrow, traditional gender roles. Also, while Jill's post doesn't quite come right out and say it, I see a critique within of the attitude that success in life is a matter of working at a particular job, being a good capital producer and consumer. Traditional roles of domestic life within capitalism don't just have noxious imbalances between husbands and wives but also define life in reductive terms of capital  and material goods acquisition.

While we're on the subject, I do want to say-- there have been a lot of things lately which have provoked considerations of changing gender roles and evolutions in the "sexual marketplace." (ugh) The recession, Knocked Up, Hannah Rosin's "The End of Men," Blue Valentine, and on and on, each provoking spirited reactions about what our changing economy means for dating and relationships. I have opinions on this stuff (shocking, I know), but I do want to say that, in general, I think the stakes are dramatically overstated-- or, at least, that the difficulty in navigating these waters is overstated.

I don't doubt that the currency that really matters to people is sexual and romantic success. (In the case of many men, this is actually a matter of maintaining sexual privilege, but that's a whole other issue.) But I find that the big think articles and essays on these phenomena almost universally make it seem harder to adapt to a changing romantic landscape then it actually is "on the ground." When you take on these issues theoretically, when you're reading a magazine essay that is compelled by the usual pressure to be sensationalistic, it can seem daunting. But when you really are out there interacting in the actual social spaces, I think you'll find it much easier. Remember that people want to like members of the sex that they are attracted to. Men and women, gay and straight, people want to be attracted to other people. (I think one of the best things for straight guys who feel romantically undesirable to do is to understand that straight women like love and sex too.)

A lot of people feel like there is a conflict between their political or ethical commitments and their need to get laid or find a partner. And, sure-- on some level, it is indeed easier to be a cad or a creep than it is to try to operate in the romantic space ethically. (Since the average creep cares not about his rate or percentage of success in trying to pick up women, but rather just the number of times he is successful, it's to his numerical advantage to just keep throwing it out there and coming on to women as often as possible. It's a numbers game. If you feel resentful that creeps might be getting laid more than you, content yourself with the fact that doing the right thing is a higher order concern.) But it's always been that way, and it's not much easier for creeps. The idea that it is becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Just do the right thing, try your best, have fun, and you'll find yourself happier than you'd expect. Treat people the right way. Don't be a jackass doing magic tricks at a bar. Have fun. Seriously, the hype that it's a very tough landscape out there, or that it's newly difficult, is just the media doing what it does. Trust in evolution, your value, and our flawed but indispensable concept of romantic love.


George said...

Perfectly and eloquently expressed as always. I hope you have a comment or two on the DOMA defense decision just announced by the Administration. A small step but a vital change, I think. Patience, as WC Fields noted, is a virgin...

Lathe of Heaven said...

My, Freddie, but your normal intelligence and charity really seems to have deserted you here. Your obeisance to the feminist armature -- everything ever written, everywhere, at any time, should be examined as an attack on women -- seems to have blinded you to the plain fact that Hymowitz' piece is _primarily_ a vicious attack on men. From the title on down, she's denying the very existence of "good men," who are in fact legion, in order to deflect attention from the real story, which is not that good men are rare but that young women's demented value system can't appreciate them. Hymowitz is grounded in the same female supremacist muck -- it's never the case that women are primarily at fault for anything bad -- that you can't seem to free yourself from; so if you can't get back to the solid ground of reality the least you can do is be kind to your fellow travelers out there.

Freddie said...

Now, now. Listen I just think that Hymowitz is wrong. That happens to include that there are no good men, and the piece I linked to asserts just that. I would ask what possible force Hymowitz's piece has that could cause men any particular pain. Part of the point is that these kind of battle of the sexes arguments are ultimately of little value because people couple, and will go on coupling, despite them.

Lathe of Heaven said...

"I would ask what possible force Hymowitz's piece has that could cause men any particular pain."

My God, are you serious? How can you ask such a thing? Here, try these statements on for size and see if you can imagine how they would cause any person any particular pain:

"There were no blacks who were kept out of jobs or schools unfairly under Jim Crow; it was all their own fault that they were lazy and stupid."

"No woman was ever really raped against her will; either she invited it by wearing the wrong clothes, or she really wanted it anyway."

In deference to Godwin's Law I'll omit the traditional third example. But I'm sure you get the point. Now see how Hymowitz' version runs on exactly the same rails:

"There are no good single men in the world; if a man's been passed over by women it must be that he can't really be good, since women always looking for good as a high priority."

Do you begin to grasp that Hymowitz' piece effectively erases an entire category of men, scrubbing them out of existence? Do you really maintain that that doesn't constitute a deplorable act of violence?

The rest is just the same. When you say "these kind[s] of ... arguments are ultimately of little value because people ... will go on coupling" you might just as well say "arguments about having the Pinkertons kill striking coal miners are of little value, because the coal will get dug out anyway."

You're trying to brush off a vast injustice that has literally ruined the lives of millions of young, decent and deserving men. I'm really shocked that you can be so callous -- but perhaps I haven't been reading your column long enough....

Josh K-sky said...

Freddie, thanks for linking to my Blue Valentine piece. I happen to think that your and Jill's pieces are good takes on how it feels to live in the world, but as a critic it's worth trying to name what is different about today from yesterday. I like that Jill's piece roots it in economics, but I think there's something blithe about her piece that tries to get around whether there's a spiritual dimension to it -- the stoic/tragic elements that I linked to in that Traister interview.

I think Hymowitz and in a similar way Millman in his review are coming at this from a reactionary, contemptuous standpoint, and letting dudgeon outweigh critical thinking and empathy. But we're all responding to the same things. I don't think it's worth appealing to a mythic masculine past to figure it out. And it is worth treating with a grain of salt. But women are very different in the world today than they were two generations ago, and it makes sense that men will be as well.

Freddie said...

I don't disagree that gender roles are changing. I celebrate it! I just want to tell people not to worry so much and to look around at all of the examples of people happily coupling and doing all of the things that we want to do as romantic and sexual beings. I believe in the enduring power of human attraction, and that it will win the day.

Lathe of Heaven said...

Just do the right thing, try your best, have fun, and you'll find yourself happier than you'd expect.

content yourself with the fact that doing the right thing is a higher order concern

look around at all of the examples of people happily coupling

I dare you to try unloading this tripe while sitting across from a 25-year-old virgin, and see how he reacts. If you go home with all your teeth it'll be more than you deserve.

I'm clearly not getting through here, so I won't darken your blog again. But, seriously Freddie, if you ever want to actually visit the planet Earth, let me know; I can get you a good deal on tickets.

Freddie said...

Would it satisfy you if I told you that I have sympathy and concern for the 25 year old virgin which springs from a personal and individual perspective, and not from a consideration of broad, vague, and ill-defined social phenomena? I would submit to you that what such a person needs is precisely not to be treated as a member of a generation or a victim of a zeitgeist. I would say that what such a person needs is the kind of genuine human connection that can only arise from the dedication to understanding him in the particular. You're free to call that sophistry. You're free to call it insufficient. But it's the only way I know how to treat a person like a human being.

Lathe of Heaven said...

Ah, Freddie, I really should be paying you; the laughs just keep coming. Imagine the scene down at the Civil Rights Division:

"That's the fifteenth straight Muslim candidate they've rejected this month! Shouldn't we identify this as a case of illegal discrimination?"

"Wait! The evidence may be incontrovertible, but ace philosopher Freddie de Boer has said that it's wrong to treat anyone as the victim of a zeitgeist. Each of those people must be understood as an individual! independent of what happened to all the others."

"Wow, I'm glad you told me, otherwise I would have gone ahead and identified a pattern of injustice and started tracing its root causes. I agree that it's better we not identify the perpetrators; that's the only way Freddie knows to treat the victims as human beings!"

Remind me again: what favor, exactly, are you doing a man by refusing to see that his victimization is part of a pattern?

As you can tell, I think your conception of "the only way ... to treat a person like a human being" needs a little work. But, I'm here to help! So here's my advice, which you may call obvious (but apparently not obvious enough): before you dispense advice to someone who's been grossly mistreated, it's only human to first acknowledge and appreciate the scale of what the person has been through. And, I'm afraid your anodyne recommendations to "Come on, get happy!" are just the opposite: facile and insulting, showing a complete lack of awareness.

Freddie visits Devil's Island: "Don't despair, Captain Dreyfus! All these arguments about who was or wasn't wrongfully convicted are ultimately of little value, since there are plenty of people happily strolling the streets of Paris! (even as your own life burns away on this hellish rock)."

So, what would satisfy me? The obvious, of course: that you admit that Hymowitz's WSJ piece was _primarily_ a vicious and disgusting attack on a whole class of men, and men who deserve better. In short, you should condemn Hymowitz for the important reason, which is not that she's a subtle misogynist but that she's a blatant misandrist. Really, is that so hard?

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