Monday, March 19, 2012
Deconstrucing Gender Equality
And I don't mean changing Patriarchy to Kyriarchy, and leaving the ladder of the rest of society relatively unchanged, with males enjoying privilege and women suffering "benevolent sexism".
I mean changing the words with which we examine the complex interaction of society and gender roles, the oligarchical structures depending on us plebes' subservience, etc etc.
Under the feminist treatment, we talk about rights, freedoms and oppression. When we look at gender relations in this way, we get a very "women on the bottom" picture:
Men had the right to earn income and own property.
Women did not generally have a right to earn income or own property. This lack is defined as an oppression.
Men had a right to be in authority over women (and children) and money in marriage.
Women were under men's authority, and were therefore oppressed.
Men were free to bang floozies all they wanted before (and often during) marriage without social outcry.
Women had to be virgins until marriage, and faithful within marriage, and were therefore oppressed sexually.
Men had a right to sex within marriage.
Women were sexually objectified, therefore oppressed.
Men had a right to a clean house and dinner on the table.
Women were seen as domestic slaves.
Men had freedom of movement.
Women did not have similar freedom of movement, and were therefore oppressed.
But when you redefine the terms a little, and make them about obligations and entitlements rather than rights and oppression...well, when we look at the base unit of society, the family:
A man had an obligation to earn income.
A woman had no such obligation.
A man had an obligation to provide for his wife and any children of the marriage
A woman had an entitlement to a man's financial provision.
Wow! Net gain for Team Woman! Let's delve a little deeper, shall we?
A man had an obligation (social and legal) to be accountable for provision for his wife and children, and maintaining family finances (if he was a dog and all the money got spent on booze and fast women, he was the one working extra shifts to compensate).
A man therefore had an entitlement to authority over his wife, children and marital finances, including property.
A woman had no such obligation of accountability (if all the money got spent on spa treatments and subscriptions to fashion magazines, her husband was stuck working extra shifts to compensate), therefore, she had no entitlement to authority over finances.
A woman was thus obligated to defer to her husband in financial and important matters.
Huh. You mean when someone is responsible for the financial wellbeing of other people, they're the one who has the say in how the money is spent?
A woman had an obligation to provide her husband with children if she could (sex).
A man had an obligation to provide his wife with children if he could (sex).
A woman had the (biological) entitlement of knowing that her children were her genetic progeny.
A man was entitled to have all the sex he wanted before marriage, and to engage in extramarital sex without much social censure.
A man had no biological entitlement to know that the children of the marriage belonged to him, yet he had a legal obligation to provide for children born into the marriage (whosever they were).
A woman therefore had an obligation to remain faithful, so her husband would know he wasn't paying to put the milkman's babies through private school.
Um....this actually seems too close to call. Tie game!
A man had an entitlement to freedom of movement.
A woman had an entitlement to the protection of her husband.
A man had no such entitlement from his wife, but was obligated to die to protect his wife, if necessary.
A woman had an obligation to abide by her husband's restrictions on her movement, so that his safety would not be needlessly put at risk.
A woman had an entitlement to share her husband's income.
A woman had an obligation to perform domestic labor in return for sharing her husband's income.
A man had an obligation to provide his wife with a living until her death, if he could.
So, to recap, in a different way:
A man had an entitlement to freedom of movement. He also had an obligation to keep himself safe.
A man had an entitlement to authority over his wife. He also had an obligation to keep HER safe.
A man had an entitlement to domestic comfort provided by his wife. He also had an obligation to provide her with food, shelter, clothing, and all other material necessities out of his own paycheck.
A man had an entitlement to virginity in a bride and fidelity in a wife. He also had an obligation to provide for all children born into the marriage, his or not
A man had an entitlement to authority over his children. He also had an obligation to protect those children.
A man had an entitlement to earn income. He also had an obligation to earn income, whether he married or not.
A man had an entitlement to control any assets of his marriage, including those his wife brought into the marriage. He also had an obligation to keep the entire family afloat, increase their holdings (if any), and would be held solely socially accountable if he failed.
A man had an entitlement to be provided with children, if his wife could do so (sex). He also had the obligation to provide for and protect his wife until her death, even if said death occurred long after the children left home, or long after any sexual congress between them ceased, and even if there were no children.
Now let's look at how it went for women:
A woman had an entitlement to the protection of her husband. She also had an obligation to defer to his authority.
A woman had an entitlement to be provided for until her death or her husband's. She also had an obligation to provide him with domestic labor, and with children if she could (sex).
A woman had an entitlement to share in the social and financial status of her husband. She also had an obligation to hand over any of her own assets into his control.
A woman had an entitlement to be provided with children (sex) and to provision for those children. She also had an obligation to ensure her children actually belonged to her husband.
A woman had an entitlement to protection for her children. She also had an obligation to cede authority over those children to her husband.
A woman was entitled to basic provision (from society or extended family) even if she never married. She had no obligation to earn income.
A woman was entitled to basic protection (from society or extended family) even if she never married. She had an obligation to abide by societal restrictions with respect to keeping herself from endangering others by endangering herself.
Again...at this point, things aren't really looking that onerous for women, when you consider the entitlements they got in return for their obligations. While feminists have always argued that men "got more", they've never really looked at it in terms of different obligations (most importantly, personal accountability and accountability for others) that were expected of men and women, and different entitlements being derived from those obligations. Women "got less" because their obligations and accountability were less, their responsibility was less. Men "got more" because the buck stopped with them, whether that buck consisted of a sack of coins or his blood.
And this isn't even going into what men owed society. The obligation women owed society consisted of the obligation they owed their husbands--to be wives, mothers, housekeepers, etc, or to be as small a burden on society or family as they could manage. What men owed? Economic output. Military service. Often financial provision for extended family--unmarried or widowed sisters, aging parents, etc, before the days of national pensions, health insurance, 401Ks, income assistance, and unisex office jobs.
Was it restrictive? For sure! Did history miss out on some serious contributions women might have made if they were not crammed into this very strict, very confined little box? Oh yes. Does this model remotely fit the world we live in now--a world of safe public transit, a social safety net, daycare subsidies, service industry jobs galore, birth control, formula, and a multitude of modern conveniences? Fuck no. Was any of it a cakewalk of privilege for men? I don't fucking think so.
But the impossibility of a different kind of bargain for the majority of women and their children until very recently made it very, very important to society to uphold this system of obligation/entitlement, and uphold it for everyone. The truth is, until the last 100 years or so, most women could not have lived a life of children and public sphere work, independent of a man (and not all can today, realistically). Because of this, men's obligation to provide for women and their children had to be ruthlessly enforced. And the only meaningful way to enforce those obligations in men was to not allow them to become entitlements for women.
And then the nature of work--both in the home and outside of it--changed, feminism descended, and where are we now?
Women have no real obligations--neither to society nor to men. They have no obligation to remain faithful in marriage, no obligation to remain married if they don't want to, no obligation to provide a man with sex or children within marriage, no obligation to bear any children conceived therein, no obligation to become fully self-supporting afterward. No obligation to maintain their children's relationship with their fathers if it becomes inconvenient or annoying.
Only entitlements. The entitlement to share in a husband's social and financial status, and to a share in his income--even after a marriage ends. The entitlement to not have to earn income if she chooses.
And there are NEW entitlements for women that never existed under patriarchy. The entitlement to not be expected to be a virgin on her wedding day. The entitlement to stray without penalty, the entitlement to divorce without penalty, the entitlement to abort a fetus without even informing her husband or partner, the entitlement to child support and alimony, and the entitlement to move with the kids out of state if that's where the new boyfriend wants to live. The entitlement of an unmarried woman to a man's financial support for an illegitimate child (back in the day, that entitlement came with a corresponding obligation of marriage or it didn't come at all). An entitlement to demand her husband help with domestic labor and child care, even if she doesn't work outside the home.
Still socially obligated to be the primary breadwinner, still socially obligated to share his social and financial status and any assets with his wife, still obligated to share those assets and provide for a woman even after she's no longer his wife, in many jurisdictions still obligated to provide for children DNA testing proves were conceived through his wife's infidelity, still obligated to earn income or be called a deadbeat, and apparently still obligated to provide sex to his wife or he's gonna pay out of pocket.
In the US, he is still obligated to serve in the military if his government sees fit, and still obligated to be self-sufficient or end up in the gutter. He still has a socially enforced obligation to generate more income and economic activity than he requires to meet his basic needs.
And what about what women owe society?
No obligation to serve in the military, no obligation to put more (or even as much) into the economy than she takes out. No obligation to the taxpayer who subsidizes her education as a doctor or lawyer by actually, you know, remaining in the workforce full time over the long haul to help pay back the cost of her training and serve society. No obligation to earn a self-supporting income if she's unable, or can find a man who'll do it for her.
Yet she is still entitled to society's provision (through a multitude of women-targeted income and social assistance programs), and still entitled to society's protection no matter how foolishly she behaves (VAWA, the new sexual assault rules on campus), or how badly she behaves (google any female offender and you'll find criminal accountability for women is at patriarchal levels and not going anywhere).
Women have a "right" to serve in the military (while for men in the US it remains an obligation that hangs over their heads the moment they turn 18), a right to earn income and spend it as they see fit (and then become burdens on the system in their old age), an entitlement to an education whether they're going to do anything with it or not, an entitlement to disproportionate government assistance with their health care needs.
Women now have no obligation to do anything that is not in their own interest. You do what's right for YOU, sister! And yet all of society--including any men they've been more than tangentially involved with--has an obligation to them. An obligation of protection, provision, acceptance and tolerance, no matter how poor women's choices might be, no matter how badly they fuck up, no matter how selfish they are, no matter how much they harm others. The good women and the bad, the productive and the burdensome, all enjoy these entitlements if they so choose. Feminism has done nothing more than free women from any obligation, while simultaneously expanding their tally of entitlements.
And yet feminism seems to have no interest in freeing men from their obligations, does it? Financial abortion for men is pooh-poohed the moment anyone mentions it, even though this option is fully open to women through unilateral abortion, adoption or abandonment. There are giant, free, government agencies whose only purpose is to extract men's (patriarchal) financial obligations to the mother/child unit, while no similar agencies exist to enforce any obligation on the part of women to maintain a father/child relationship.
200 years ago, we could not grant women an entitlement to earn income without removing the income-earning role as a male obligation--and without that male obligation, perhaps 2% of wealthy, educated women would have found work in a barrister's office, while the other 98% would have been mining coal with babies strapped to their backs. But now? The world has changed just enough to free women from any obligation toward anyone but themselves, while keeping their entitlements virtually untouched and actually increasing them.
And who pays? I mean, entitlements aren't free, right? So who's paying for all this?
Well, all of us. And if these entitlements were equally available to anyone, regardless of their gender, this would be just peachy, wouldn't it? But they aren't. And those to whom none of these patriarchal and more modern entitlements apply are now paying for them through a disproportionate cost of obligation.
The more I look at it, the more I realize women have never had it as bad as feminists believe they did, and no one has EVER had it as good as women in the west do today. They receive left right and center, from society, from government, from men. And the only person they owe any obligation to is themselves. Pretty sweet deal.