Monday, August 28, 2006

The Myth of Male Power............And Other Bogeys!

Seeing as Camille Paglia recommends it I have been intending to read this book.

It is about time we get some perspective on the issue and face up to the world as it is in the 21st century. As Fay Weldon pointed out a few years ago, the original aim of the women's movement was justice, not revenge. Those who truly believe in justice and equality should take into account the arguments of this man.

It is not engaging in 'Backlash' - it is simply being reasonable. Farell does not claim that women are oppressing men - simply that modern men have problems, are not in the powerful position of oppressors that feminists assume, and that much of feminist belief is mistaken and wrong.

I will take one of the most common feminist grievances - which is the pay gap. Some of this can be accounted for by the fact that mothers often take part time work, which tends to pay less per hour anyway. This is a legitimate issue. But the answer is not to force mothers into full time work. Not all mothers may wish to work full time. Part time work should pay as well per hour as the full time equivalent of the same work. This is also why I support the 'Wages for Housework' campaign in it's aim to establish a financial reward for caring, and to recognise it as work.

If we take aside part time work, the pay gap does narrow. Much of the remaining gap can be accounted for by the low waged status of other caring work, such as nursing. Nurses work hard, what they do is essential and the pittance they earn is a disgrace. Women are, of course, highly represented in nursing, and I don't deny the low waged status of the work is partly due to the fact that women have traditionally done it - but there is also the fact that nurses cannot go on strike, or at least not without giving themselves bad publicity.

Let's imagine that both these issues were dealt with - stay at home or mothers in part time work were better rewarded financially. Nurses and other carers were given a more equitable wage. I think we would see the pay gap decline significantly, perhaps to a point where it became virtually non existent.

These are points that Farrell neglects. It's a shame because it would make his case stronger if he did. Instead he points to the fact that men take on more physically dangerous jobs, which tend to pay more than the female dominated service sector. A point worth taking into account, but please don't forget the long hours and the sacrifices put in by our overworked nurses! He mentions firefighters, but they are not the most highly paid of male workers. At least not in this country, I cannot speak for the United States.

The committed feminist Lynne Segal admitted a few years ago that female professionals in their early to mid 20s actually earn about 105% MORE than their male counterparts. So it seems the 'glass ceiling' may have been smashed by our modern female yuppies. Interestingly she let this gap in pay pass without a murmer of complaint, whereas I doubt she would have done was the shoe on the other foot.

I believe in a movement where men and women work together for both social justice and equality, and can tackle discrimination where it does occur. This should not involve creating non existent oppressions, or demonising men as being potential abusers. The obsession with pornography, and the inherent oppressiveness of the male gaze, is really a cover for neo puritanism and a case of privileged women looking for reasons why they are 'oppressed'. Not all women find the male gaze to be oppressive anyway, and these grievances pale into comparison besides those suffered by women in Afghanistan or many other third world countries, women there I am sure would happily exchange their very real oppression for these non sequiters.

Women are supposedly oppressed by a bogeyman called 'objectification' namely sexual objectification by men. But hold on! Sexual objectification is something we all do to each other, such are the rules of attraction. What about the 'objectification' of men by women in the form of Hollywood actors? I'm sure Brad Pitt must feel very oppressed under the gaze of the female! And I objectify men myself, be they be models or someone sexually attractive I see on the street. I don't see how I am oppressing anyone by doing this. But fortunately white middle class men are not creating for themselves a grievance by claiming that I am.

The left has a slightly more sophisticated version of this doctrine. It claims that it is capitalism and consumer culture that does the 'objectification' or sexual 'commodification' of women. But it fails to account for the fact that women have always decorated themselves, in tribal (pre capitalist) culture women adorn themselves with face paint. All the modern cosmetics industry is doing is trading on an age old practice and one that is quite natural to the human. It may be distorting it and selling it back to us in a packaged and artificial form, but it is the nature of capital to do that with all natural human desires and practices. And an industrialised and urban society to a degree means that people demand mass produce by number, so mass production and packaging like this is inevitable of all products to some extent. As for porn and prostitution being in any way the 'commodification of women by capitalism' that is another empty non sequiter, and dry rot besides.

Prostitution is not called 'the oldest profession' for no reason (i.e it existed long before capitalism). So, for that matter, did porn. It was abundant in ancient Greece and Rome, as Camille Paglia will go to great lengths to show you. Porn may have taken on the forms of capitalism in that it is mass produced, likewise prostitution may have taken on some of the forms appropriate to the modern age, but they are in no way unique or even a product of capitalism. The only truth may be that their presence has increased post-industrialisation due to greater alienation of men from their work and the breakdown of extended family structures.

Leaving this aside all these critiques say nothing about the 'objectification and commodification of men by capitalism' - in the form of the Brad Pitts and the Calvin Klein ads. When it comes down to it we are all to some extent commodities in a capitalist culture. That is the nature of the market.

Susan Faludi, in her recent book 'Stiffed' (much better than that atrocious piece 'Backlash'), did go as far as to draw the conclusion that men are in fact now oppressed as women have been by what she calls 'decorative' culture, partly due to being let down by the decline of manufacturing. While she did make some interesting points about the largely decorative and celebrity based culture of late capitalism, she fails to take account of the natural human tendency to 'objectify'. Perhaps it is a result of the liberation of women that we can view men sex objects as openly and as unashamedly as they have always done to us.
Providing that nobody is being hurt I can't see any problem in doing what is natural as far as attraction and sex go. Only a killjoy puritan would object - but this is a tendency reserved for the femintern. So I can rest being assured that few men will bizarrely accuse me of oppressing them.

Do any feminists have any comments here?


belledame222 said...

Only that in college I had a roommate who was an assistant to Farrell; she said he was a right bastard, patronizing and sexist as hell.

then again she was a piece of work in her own right. still, i believed her in that regard.

and i have very little truck with Paglia.

Liz said...

I like Paglia, although I can see why she gets some people's back up at times! I think often she likes to revel in her contrary stance, and may sometimes like to be provocative just for the sake of it. But I like a lot of what she has to say.