Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The lady has a point

As I argued not long ago, I don't see the prospect of Clinton II as any sort of feminist victory. That said, Gloria Steinem's argument, that sexism is still more of a problem than racism, strikes me as plausible. This is a variant of something I've noticed before. It's not that other issues don't matter, it's just that on a truly day-to-day level, not a minute goes by when this one ceases to be important.

Leaving the questions of prejudice and victimization aside, think about college rooming assignments, bathrooms, locker rooms, schools in general... In all of these cases, segregation by sex is uncontroversial or simply the norm, whereas segregation by race is considered evidence of society's failure to right past wrongs. Someone who announces racial preferences for romantic partners is a racist; even calls among Jews to fight intermarriage on religious grounds are often interpreted as racism. Yet no one's considered a sexist on account of being gay or straight rather than open to all over-18 members of humanity. While race and sex both matter, and racism and sexism both continue to exist, it has become socially unacceptable to believe that race should matter, whereas we pretty much accept that gender will always matter, and tend to accept or fight sexism within that framework. And there's the biological fact of who can and cannot get pregnant backing all of this up.

On an anecdotal/personal/subjective level, I'd have to say that being a Jew affects me far less in terms of how I look at US politics than does being a woman. And I say this as someone far more in the Jewish Studies realm than the Gender Studies one, and as someone who is well aware of contemporary American anti-Semitism. But when I see something like this... If a socially conservative government decides to abolish birth control, for the unmarried or altogether, this would affect me as a uterus-having individual first, and as someone with a different view of Jesus's significance second.


Miss Self-Important said...

So are you being sexist by dating exclusively males?

markus said...

even calls among Jews to fight intermarriage on religious grounds are often interpreted as racism.
Uuh, that's because they are. You don't get special treatment just because you went the extra step and invented a angry sky daddy and blame he decision on him.
If anything, "less popular with god" is an even more retarded reason for rejecting someone than "inferior genes".
That said, just as with race, as a matter of personal preference it can't be argued with, but - as you were - if we're talking prescriptive, normative, directed at others stuff, sure, it's racist.

Phoebe said...


That paragraph was the one in which I was leaving aside the 'isms.' Gender simply does matter more, in our society, as it currently exists, than does race. This isn't necessarily a problem.

MSI and Markus: I don't think individual dating preferences fall under the category of 'isms.' A person can exclusively date tall blond men with blue eyes without being a white male supremacist--you like what you like. It's another story when you get to advocating what choices others should make. But in terms of an "angry sky daddy," the issue is clearly not race but religion. The problem with Judaism and intermarriage comes when secular Jews advocate that other secular Jews not intermarry, when there's no religious justification, it does begin to look racial.

Anonymous said...

RE: prejudice against women vs. prejudice against African-Americans, in politics at least. I read recently that currently there are 16 (or perhaps 13, I forget, but it is close) women in the Senate, and in all U.S. history there have been exactly three (3) black senators. Not that comparing "who has it worst" makes a lot of sense. -- JM

Phoebe said...

Is half of America black?

Andrew Stevens said...

No, but 12% is and there's only one black Senator. So, African-Americans are 8% of the way to full representation in the Senate, while women are 32% of the way (there are 16 female Senators currently), despite the fact that African-American men got to vote 60 years before women did. (I actually have very few doubts that once women make up 50% of the experienced legal profession, which they will in very short order, they will also be 50% of the legislators.)

There are, by the by, 13 Jews in the U.S. Senate, more than nine times higher than their rate in the population at large (1.4%). They're not the only overrepresented religion, of course. Presbyterians (13 Senators, 2.7% in population) and Episcopalians (10 Senators, 1.7% of population) are similarly overrepresented and Methodists (10 Senators, 6.8% of population) are nearly twice their population rate. The only major religion which is underrepresented are the Baptists (16% of the population, but only 7 Senators). Even Mormons (5 Senators, 1.9% of the population) do very well. By far, the most underrepresented are "unspecified," the irreligious (0 Senators, 13.2% of the population). It's nice to see that the bias against the irreligious is the only remaining religious bias in America, at least for Congress.

Interestingly, Baptists have done pretty well at getting one of their own elected President (Harding, Truman, Carter, and Clinton), although they're still underrepresented. Episcopalians and Presbyterians dominate the Presidential sweepstakes, of course. Even Quakers have had two Presidents (Hoover and Nixon) and the Jehovah's Witnesses have had one (Eisenhower, though he converted to Presbyterianism shortly after his election and hadn't been an active Witness since 1915). Catholics are seriously underrepresented here with only Kennedy, despite making up 29% of the population. To be fair, there weren't a ton of Catholics for the first hundred and fifty years of Presidential history and there were far more Episcopalians and Presbyterians than there are now. Lutherans are the largest segment of the U.S. population which has never had a President (followed by Mormons, Pentecostals, Jews, and Muslims).

The irreligious have even more to complain about than blacks do and far, far more than women, if we're just talking about political representation. Nevertheless, I do not consider myself, as an atheist, to be a member of an oppressed minority, no matter how much Richard Dawkins wishes to convince me otherwise. None of this disagrees with either the original post or the comments here; I just thought it would be interesting to do some factual analysis.