Saturday, April 01, 2006

More on Men and Women

And another:

[My worthy opponents and countless others like them:] Your points have been answered over and over again: logically, personally, wittily, angrily, smugly, self-righteously, wrong-headedly--in every way possible. The best you have been able to come up with in response is that you don't agree. You are wrong for the following reasons:

1. You say women can demand either equality or special treatment, but not both: The equality/special treatment contradiction rests on false--or, at least, patriarchal--premises. It invariably assumes that situations--jobs, public bathrooms, whatever--designed to accommodate the needs of males are gender-neutral. Any female needs not shared by men are then regarded as failings, downward departures from the norm, and any modifications to the model that need to be made to fit these needs are then seen as special treatment. Hence the bathroom problem. If we are going to provide public bathrooms in concert halls (this is where the problem is most acute) they should be designed to enable human concert-goers to make use of them during one regular-length intermission and still buy overpriced drinks. Over half the concert-going human population menstruates and sits down to pee--bathroom facilities and intermission lengths that take account of this fact are not providing special treatment; bathroom facilities and intermission lengths that don't are favoring men over women.

2. More fundamentally, your arguments all assume that the basic unit of humanity is the individual, and that male/female is a valid and useful way to sort those individuals in all circumstances. You can thus look at the world as including one group: males, and another group: females, and that it makes sense to compare these groups to each other and generalize about them as if they were real competing entities in the world rather than abstractions from the more general category human. But single humans, or uni-sex populations of humans, are not found in nature. The basic unit of human population is probably more like the extended family or clan, and even that unit cannot survive without at least one other family or clan to relate to.

It does not matter whether each of us thinks he or she is an autonomous individual surviving on his or her own brains, effort and good looks. That attitude is only possible within a modern culture including modern economic institutions and the beliefs (like the belief in the autonomous individual) that support them.

3. Because you regard the basic unit of humanity to be the person, and the division between male person and female person to be a rational way to sort humans, you believe it is valid and useful to compare the abilities of men to those of women. Viewed from a Darwinian perspective that comparison would favor women every time--women can survive without men a lot better than men can survive without women--except for the fact that men tend to be bigger, stronger and more aggressive. These qualities, however, are primarily useful in fighting off other men, so if they didn't exist they wouldn't be necessary. But if you assume the requirements of the modern workplace and ask whether the male or the female is better at meeting those requirements the answer might be that the male is more useful in that context. Which would be no surprise, because the modern workplace was designed by men to exploit the energies of men.

4. You regard feminism as a program for improving the lot of women, and to a great extent it is. But you have again and again brushed off any suggestion that the feminist program must succeed in order to end oppression for any disfavored group. As long as women can be paid less just because they are women (whether through arbitrary discrimination or "rational" discrimination based on women's "special" needs) men will also be paid less because the lower wages for women drive the whole "market" down. This is also true when some workers can be labeled "illegal" and, on that basis, paid less and treated badly. Or when workers in some locations are labeled "foreign" and made to work for pennies a day.

5. Most of the gains made by the feminist movement, as well as most of the gains made by other civil rights movements, have benefitted a relatively privileged portion of the affected population. "Equal" opportunity has enable some hard-working, talented, lucky individual black people and women (like me) to join the ranks of highly-paid white men (not, mind you, the ranks of wealthy global capitalists but their pampered servants). People can point to us and say Look, discrimination has ended, anyone can go as far as his or her diligence and merit will carry them. Because a relative few of us exist, millions of others can be blamed (and can blame themselves) for their own failure to advance, and we can be (I was for a long time) blinded to the randomness of it all. It would actually be better for the rest of the downtrodden population if no one could rise above his or her origins so that talented, energetic and lucky people identified with the less fortunate folks around them, perceived the expoitative discrimination holding everyone back, and opposed the system rather than allowing themselves to be bought off by it.

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