Monday, March 18, 2013

Your to-read list for the day

-Flavia's post on some not-useful new-pope commentary.

-Stephen Metcalf on the brand that is Brooklyn.

-Robert Huber on race in Philadelphia, and responses from Ta-Nehisi Coates and Conor Friedersdorf.

-Lisa Miller's NYMag story on feminist housewives.

-Dina Kraft on how women's desire to be thin is greater than whatever it is that divides Jew and Muslim. Although I don't think that's what one was supposed to take away from the piece.


Flavia said...

Thanks, P!

Though no-thanks for the Miller link. It made me feel too many feelings.

Phoebe said...

You're welcome!

The plus of a links roundup is, get more in. The minus, no holding-forth in my usual longwinded way about each. Re: Miller, though, maybe I'll hold forth here. I thought (and seems commenters did as well) there was one real plus to her article and a couple real minuses.

First the plus: It really isn't pointed out often enough that not all women (or all men, for that matter) are fabulously ambitious. What prevents the average women, even the average woman, from being CEO of Yahoo isn't sexism but the same factors that prevent the average man from doing so - sexism enters into why a certain handful of would-be female executives get held back. Meanwhile, probably a great many men would prefer to stay home or work part-time if this were socially acceptable.

Yet feminism is too often presented as being about why women, rather than being housewives, should have amazing careers. This is not just class-specific but limited to the concerns of very few women within the well-educated classes. It's what I call a "second after Sartre" problem, as in Simone de Beauvoir's plight. Not a non-problem, but a dangerous one to conflate with the problems of all women, even all (for lack of a better word) privileged ones. This gets frustrating, because you get all these treatises that assume women are either this great them of struggling working-class or poor single mothers, or Slaughter/Sandberg types. For all the talk of feminism's focus on the problems of upper-middle-class women, it can, paradoxically, ignore those if the focus is so squarely on a hyper-elite, a hyper-elite that somehow misses the difference between its position and that of women like the social worker/SAHM in the article.

The minuses:

1) Feminism is traditionally big on women working outside the home not just because that work is always so exciting, but also because financial independence is key if a husband leaves, dies, loses his job, or unilaterally decides to return to school to study tapestries. This angle Miller gets at only in passing, at the very end, but seems central.

2) Given how tough it is to suss out what's nature vs social construction, writing an article in 2013 about gender and just kind of tossing it out there that women are like so because Science seems... designed to get a publication more furious comments than usual? Otherwise I didn't see why that had to be there.

Flavia said...

Yes, I basically agree with you on both the pluses and minuses. I'm almost done with Sandberg's book (impulse buy on Amazon!), and actually think she does a good job of emphasizing that not all women need to aspire to leadership, that full-time motherhood is also labor and also rewarding (etc., etc.)--but that all women benefit from having more women in positions of power, so we should help as many succeed as possible. I really don't think that most of her critics have actually read the book (or they want the book to do all things for all women).

But you're right that the public debate about women and work often devolves into one side saying, "work is so fulfilling! it's the only thing that allows a woman to use all her talents!" and the other side saying "staying at home is the most meaningful thing ever! No career can compare!" When, eh. Some people prefer one, some the other--and both have major downsides.

Phoebe said...


I was talking about the general conversation - I've read Anne-Marie Slaughter's article (and review of Sandberg's book) but not (yet! I'm curious!) Sandberg's book itself. But I think there's something structurally flawed about these discussions being led by women who are, well, leaders, exceptional individuals. As it's going to be, as all conversations are, but it leaves a certain gap. In everything I have read on this topic, aside from Miller's article, we hear of on the one hand elite women whose backup plan is tenure at Princeton, and on the other, the huddled, suffering masses.

I think it might just be difficult for the immensely ambitious to empathize... not with women who've had fewer opportunities, but with women who've had plenty of opportunities, but who just lack that drive. With women who get in the door at elite colleges, then go and major in something humanities-ish and pursue relatively low-status careers. With women who may want there to be more female CEOs, but who have no interest in going that route, and who don't at all feel as though sexism is what keeps them from taking that path (even if, on some level, it sometimes is.) So I suppose I'll need to see if Sandberg's book addresses that angle.

(I'm up for reading it regardless, after the Slate DoubleX podcast described it as something of a pep talk for women who need more career confidence and what-have-you.)