I try to tell people the right doesn’t hate women….

But sometimes there is only so much you can do.

“A major, underlying problem with VAWA is that the bill lacks appropriate focus.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified approximately 30 causes of domestic violence. From this, we know the factors that lead to violence in the home.  Those factors are a complete mismatch with the provisions of VAWA. Domestic violence is a problem that stems from problems in relationships, psychological or social maladjustment, anger, alcoholism, and substance abuse.  VAWA is all about restraining orders, arrests, prosecution, batterer intervention programs, fostering false allegations, re-educating judges in feminist ideology and biases, and law enforcement training that have been shown to increase, rather than decrease violence.  The vast VAWA bureaucracy is a full-employment entity for feminist lawyers and social workers and a boondoggle for feminist organizations who assume that all men are prone to violence and that any accusation a woman makes is fully truthful without question – any skeptic is labeled “anti-women.” ‘

From the website of “Concerned Women for America,” which I am not going to dignify by linking to.

Yes,  what a silly bill that focuses on arrests, prosecution, batterer intervention programs–you know, actually getting women out of danger–when it could instead help the poor socially maladjusted abusers deal with their anger issues. Those malicious feminists–actually taking the claims of victims seriously, when we all know those bitches are just out to persecute the sainted bourgeoisie male.  Next you’ll be telling me that rape isn’t preventable by wearing a longer skirt.

Luckily, we now have a toothless  house version of the Violence Against Women Act, and can sleep soundly knowing that undocumented women won’t be leeching up the protections only real upstanding American women would be entitled to, were women actually entitled to protection from domestic abuse.

Seriously though–tell me you want to coerce my Church into choosing between her responsibilities to social justice and sexual ethics, and I will knock you into next week and spend your lunch money on a new rosary. (Can you tell how much I care about civil political discourse?) As to the rest, however, I’m becoming increasingly unsympathetic to conservative insistence that the war on women is entirely a feminist invention.

There is, of course, the very real possibility that everyone has just been  listening to this song way, way too much

Everything’s Coming Up Rosen

This is the post I was telling you about–I had to take it down because  First Things magagazine offered to publish it on their website, which is super duper exciting for your correspondent.  Here’s the link:  http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2012/04/everythingrsquos-coming-up-rosen#commentContent . I already have one snippy comment, but as my favorite stay at home mom puts it “haters will hate, you know.”

****

So, unless you’ve been hiding out in a Nepalese yurt contemplating the infinite, you’ve probably paid some attention to the tempest swirling around Hilary Rosen’s recent remarks about Ann Romney’s work experience. I’m not as interested in Rosen’s actual snipes (which even she seems to acknowledge were beyond lame-brained) as in the problems surrounding contemporary American motherhood that they highlighted.

I don’t know squat from motherhood. I’m the oldest of eight children and the daughter of a stay at home mom who happens to be my best friend and general life-coach, but my personal experience in the area is nil. This makes me hesitant to write about motherhood, but it does seem a subject meriting thought, especially for a young woman entering the period of her life when one often makes Big Choices.  So if anything I say seems presumptuous, unrealistic, or stoopid (that’s how we prounounce it in my house), just chuckle. Say “What a sucker! What a maroon! I can’t wait till reality smacks her upside the head in the form of two nursing twins and a surprise pregnancy!” and pay me no mind. People who know better  tell me that motherhood changes you in ways you can’t imagine; certainly from the outside it often seems more like Navy SEAL boot camp than anything else.

The other constant caveat in discussions like this is that many mothers work, and some mothers stay at home, because they have no other choice financially.  Many women live in daily struggle for their family’s most basic needs, and they shouldn’t be dragged into the Mommy Wars (and shame on Rosen for doing just that).* They should also remind us that conversations like this can only happen among people who are already fairly privileged.

With that said, it seems to me that we do women no favors when we conflate childcare and motherhood. Motherhood isn’t a job–it’s a vocation and an identity. Stay at homes are not “full-time moms” any more than women who work outside the home–as if breadwinning fathers were “part-time dads.” Fulltime childcare, especially as it’s usually combined with housekeeping, however, is a job–is hard, demanding, work. And the sooner we stop fetishizing it as the core of what it means to be a mother and a woman, as some sort of sacred, higher, path for the female sex, the sooner we will see it for what it really is:  difficult, necessary and honorable work whose workers deserve dignified and decent working conditions.

To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets cakes. and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness. –G.K. Chesterton

I appreciate Chesterton’s thought, but rhetoric like this frustrates me, because it seems to imply that  childcare is one long, exhausting, ecstasy of creative energy and emotional fulfillment. A woman needs no other identity or outlet: motherhood, or at least the Victorian ideal of motherhood predicated on rapt and constant communion between mother and child, is all in all.

Our cult of motherhood demands human sacrifice–hence the constant need for, and glorification of, victimhood (interestingly, in my experience especially by women privileged enough to pay me for childcare while they work neither for pay nor passion). I see women at the playground who look like zombies–completely exhausted, frazzled by the demands of their children, clad in dirty and ill-fitting clothing, constantly interrupted in what may be their only adult interactions till the Mr. gets home by the requests and complaints of their offspring. “Men just don’t understand,” they say. “It’s all part of  being a mom.”

In what other field would we accept and even romanticize these working conditions? Contrary to the sacrificial lamb aspect of the motherhood mythos, it is perfectly acceptable to say “We need to make buying clothes for me a priority in our budget, because I am a human being and a worker, and both of those facts demand a certain dignity.” It is perfectly acceptable to say “No, you’re not doing trombone camp this year, because I have interests and talents that do not involve you, and spending my life in the car prevents me from pursuing them.” It is perfectly acceptable to say “No, I will not stay up late making rice-krispie treats in the shape of ninja turtles, because who does that? Thanks for nothing, Pinterest.

Childcare and housingkeeping is usually accomplished by mothers, but it is not motherhood, and it is certainly not a primary identity. It is intense work that men, women, grandparents, et cetera undertake for the sake of children, their families, and society–important work, rewarding work, but no more and no less. The sooner we get over our obsession with domesticity as female fulfillment, the sooner we scrap this ridiculous bifurcation that simultaneously glorifies DIY martyrdom and treats work in the home as a fun little hobby.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, I think Catholic stay-at-home moms escape this trap much better than their secular counterparts. Betty Duffy, Mrs. Darwin, Pentimento, and Simcha Fisher, among others, write very frankly about the demands and rewards of domestic labor, and they’re also interesting, engaged women who provide some of the funniest, most insightful, and most challenging writing I have ever encountered. It may be the financial burden a counter-cultural lifestyle imposes–a little semi-voluntary poverty often requires both spouses to see their respective jobs as a joint endeavour to keep the whole damn ship afloat. Some of it might be comfort with the idea of vocation–that their primary vocation as a wife and mother in these particular circumstances entails this particular work. It may even be a certain level of separation from the more noxious messages popular culture sends women.

Whatever it is, I hope it’s catching. Not because stay-at-home-moms are failures if they don’t look like a million bucks and conduct the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra in their spare time (that’s just what every mom needs in her life: more guilt), but because what our culture assumes about and expects of mothers and caregivers is nonsensical and unfair. Justice, they do say, begins at home.

Possibly tangentially related, and speaking of guilt…

More Loretta Lynn, just for kicks.

*I’m not trying to make these women a footnote, but ameliorating poverty and making the workplace for women need their own posts.

The New Criterion vs. Sluts

Trigger warning for survivors of rape/sexual assault

Over at The New Criterion, James Bowman has written a piece on sluts, invective, and honor culture. The whole piece is worth reading, especially if, like me, you suffer from dangerously low blood pressure. I was particularly struck, however, by Brown’s peripheral comments at the begining. On the Slutwalkers:

“Their apparent purpose…was to stake a claim to the right of women everywhere to be indiscreet without consequences.”

First of all, sexual license brings plenty of consequences for both men and women. Disease, crisis pregnancies, social destabilization, moral and psychological damage all spring to mind. Rape, however, seems an odd thing to file under “consequences of sexual license,” given that the whole premise of rape is not consenting to sexual activity. Ah, but Brown isn’t talking about licentiousness, only the appearance of it. He is referring to the eminently sensible idea that

” If [young women] wished to avoid the occasion of sexual assault, it might be a good idea for them not to dress like sluts.”

Dressing like a slut, you see, leads to rape. To put such faith in this facile assertion–one that will surely influence how his male readers percieve women and the issue of sexual assault–he must know what he is talking about. He must have logged countless hours staffing hotlines, counselling victims, poring over police reports. He must have interviewed the women raped in knee-length skirts and hijabs, in sweatpants and scrubs, and considered their stories before making any kind of causal or correlative claims. He couldn’t simply be passing on a piece of unsubstantiated and possibly dangerous folk wisdom.

Except that’s exactly what he’s doing.

“What would once have seemed nothing more than common-sense advice, such as generations of mothers have given to their daughters, was now officially to be designated as an instance of ‘blaming the victim’ and was strictly verboten….”

The problem with this folk wisdom is that there seem to be three ways to unpack it. The first, and I think most prevalent, is that women who dress in a provocative manner can reasonably be assumed to desire sexual activity. Sexual assault falls somewhere between an understandable if self-interested mistake, and a frustrated attempt to accept the strongest of a woman’s two contradictory signals.

Of course, a woman may decide to dress “sluttishly” for any number of reasons: fashion, social acceptance, sexual attention, even–get this–sexual activity with someone who is not her rapist.

Clothing is not consent. Period. Your reading of a woman is not necessarily correct, and is not consent. Period. Men do not own women’s bodies. They do not have the right to decide what a woman’s presentation means, to presume that consent has been given, or is not needed, or that its refusal is invalid. Men, if you fail to internalize this, it is your fault, and our collective fault for not drilling it into your heads. This is such a simple point that I’m surprised I have to keep making it.

I can already hear the chorus of “Well, this is the way the world is, we just have to live with it.” Utter nonsense. Men* are rapists because they choose to be–either because they do not care about consent or because they rationalize their behavior with the poisonous bromides Bowman and his ilk spew under the guise of common sense–bromides suggesting that men’s perceptions of women are more valid than women’s actual choices. If this is the world we live in, it is because this is the world we choose.

And to all the “nice girls” out there–don’t think that if you watch your hemlines this doesn’t affect you. Men’s unspoken entitlement to construct a woman’s sexuality and choices based on externals extends to race, class, how large your breasts are, how loudly you laugh, the way you walk–a host of other traits and behaviors whose only common factor is their inequivalence to actual consent. There is nothing new about this (read Tess of the D’Urbervilles for an easy crash course)–only that women are now in a position to challenge this entitlement, to the disgust of self-appointed champions of female virtue. So unless you are the skinny, white, demure, middle-class virgin who seems to be the only truly blameless victim of sexual assault, I suggest you take notice.

The second possible rationale is even more disturbing. It lies in Bowman’s discussion of the Slutwalkers’ misguided “claim on behalf of women everywhere to be indiscreet without consequences.” Women who engage in illicit sex, or even appear sexually aggressive, are transgressing social and moral behavioral codes. Therefore, they are the acceptable receptacles of men’s most aggressive sexual urges. These women have forfeited the protections and privileges of the “nice girls” who respect their sexual boundaries: in polite society no one will go so far as to say that sluts should be raped, but to deny that they will be deprives both men of their legitimate prey and society of a necessary corrective. Rape, in this case, actually performs an important social function.

This is so wicked and sickening that I doubt it needs much comment–I sincerely hope and expect that Bowman would repudiate this explanation. There seems to be some truth to it, however, at least regarding how we think about rape on a collective level. Certainly this hierarchy of women is very real, and incorporates much more basic and pre-decided divions than the virtuous and the vicious. So pay attention, my fellow chasteniks, as there’s no particular reason you shouldn’t be It.

The third possible explanation is probably the least dangerous, because the most obviously idiotic, if its proponents would only articulate it more clearly. It’s the old equation you probably learned in Algebra II: (X) (exposed female flesh)=Y, where Y is both uncontrollable male lust and its natural consequence, rape. Women’s bodies, especially in public, are inherently dangerous, volatile, and violence inducing. For their own protection, quite apart from any other social and personal value to modesty, women must be kept covered and hidden. As long as one minimizes the value of X as much as possible, one is reasonably safe. This explains why women are never raped in Saudi Arabia, although not why male prisoners are one of the largest victim demographics in the U.S.

As proof of his regard for women, Bowman offers us this: “Equating a woman’s virtue with her honor was once a way of ensuring her privacy.” Yes, and locking her up in a bronze tower was one way of ensuring Danae’s. Bowman’s honor codes are part and parcel of what the Slutwalkers walked against: this idea that freedom from rape and assault is one end of a negotiable socio-sexual contract rather than one of the most basic requirements of a just society. Their aims were two-fold: to invade public space with their sexual bodies in defiance of those who insinuated that the existence of those bodies is an incitement to violence, and to upend hierachical distinctions among women that rationalize assault. As long as you say it’s sluts who get raped, they said, I’m with the sluts.

This kind of activism is nine tenths performance art, and the fact that so many mistook the Slutwalks as an endorsement of any particular sexual ethic (or lack thereof), tells me that the movement failed. I still think that marching up the streets in long Talbot’s dresses with the placard “I Am A Slut” hanging from their necks would have been more effective. However, Bowman would do well to take the Slutwalkers seriously if he is at all interested in discussions of sexual virtue moving beyond the conservative and religious enclaves they currently inhabit.  The sexual free-for-all in which most men and women currently participate has wreaked havoc on our society, especially its most vulnerable members. Unfortunately, women will continue to dismiss and resist any call for change as long as they sense, rightly, that the Limbaughs and Bowmans of the world are more interested in reinvigorating repressive and violent structures and codes than any genuine mutual flourishing.

Mirror of Justice, ora pro nobis.

Further reading.

*I understand that women can be rapists, but the dynamics are usually different and not relevant to this discussion

Empowerment!

Celebrate Female Empowerment by Becoming a Sugar Baby

“Sugar Daddy Website Celebrates Women’s Month with an Empowering 2-For-1 Sugar Baby Offer

March is the National Women’s Month in the United States and the United Kingdom. This year, the focus of the National Women’s History Month will be on “Women’s Education and Women’s Empowerment”. As the only Sugar Daddy dating website that encourages Women’s Education and Women’s Empowerment through their dating relationships, SeekingArrangement.com is celebrating this year’s Women’s History Month by offering all female members 2-for-1 discounts on any Sugar Baby or Sugar Mommy membership package.”

This is right up there with the argument that strippers and burlesque dancers* are empowered because they’re owning their feminity and sexuality.  Oh wait.  They are?

 

*What makes burlesque dancers classier than strippers? Is there something I’m missing? The only difference I can see is that burlesque is what it’s called when it’s done by chic alt-grrrls and involves better costumes.

An Open Letter to Conservatives and Chastity Educators

[Warning: may be triggering for survivors of sexual assault/rape]

Dear Aforementioned,

This week is V-Week at Dartmouth. And no, the V in V-Week and V-Day does not refer to vagina. It refers to violence: violence against women and girls, structural and individual, domestic and sexual, and the horrendous repercussions it has on the entire community. And so, in honor of V-week, and like any good student of new media, I decided to post an article about the evils of victim-blaming on my facebook.

I found several articles–on Feministe.com, Salon.com, Jezebel.com, various blogs with various degree of  radical feminist leanings. Each time I tried to post, a helpful thumbnail declared the link courtesy of Planned Parenthood. Yippee.

Surely, I thought, I could find a more friendly source. Surely the Love and Fidelity Network, whose mission is proclaiming the sexual dignity of all, would have something helpful. This is what I found.

http://www.city-journal.org/2008/18_1_campus_rape.html

and this.

http://www.loveandfidelity.org/blog/index.php/2011/05/17/take-back-the-slut-by-cassandra-hough/

I found a piece about how rape statistics are the inventions of angry feminists coupled with the mistakes of libidinous coeds, and a tour de force of rape-excusing, victim-blaming pablum couched in terms of gentle admonishment to stricter sexual mores.

I wish I could say this abysmal dearth of any remotely helpful treatment of rape is the exception. Unfortunately, it is the rule. It is the rule to treat sexual assault as a soapbox to decry the sexual revolution, to casually appropriate the sufferings of sexual assault survivors as cannon-fodder in the culture war, with only minimal evidence of real concern or thoughtfulness. It is the rule to buffer assumptions and attitudes that normalize sexual assault with blithe unconcern for any damage done except to ideological lockstep within the conservative community.

I have had enough. If you are reading this, someone you know, very probably someone you care for deeply, has survived at least attempted sexual assault. One in four college women will experience attempted rape at some point in her life. And so might the men you love. One of my best friends  was drugged, raped, and murdered one month ago–and in case you were wondering, no, he wasn’t showing any cleavage. To Love and Fidelity Network and the entire movement you spearhead: until this changes, you get not one dime of my money, not one word of my support, not one minute of my time at your conferences and clubs.

Until you show that you have thought long and hard about sexual violence without subordinating it to your agenda, until you privilege women and men over ideology; until you cease to be a part of the problem of rape culture– I want nothing to do with you.

Sincerely,

Clare

The Wisdom of Downton

We must have a care for feminine sensibilities. They are finer and more fragile than our own.”

-Lord Grantham

Since we’re doing quote analysis… This line is actually a bit ironic in the context of the episode, but I tend to agree with it on face value. Reflexively, it seems a bit anti-feminist. Discuss?

Also if you aren’t watching Downton Abbey,  START. IT IS AMAZING.

[imported this mini-post from my personal blog