Thursday, October 27, 2005

Maureen Dowd on Feminism and Women

The New York Times has now published an excerpt from Maureen Dowd's soon-to-be-published book: Are Men Necessary: When Sexes Collide. The excerpt is only available for those who pay for the access, but I'm glad to tell all my faithful readers that you are not losing much at all by not being able to read the whole thing through. Not much at all, unless you really pine for some mind-blowing stupidity.

For that is what dear Maureen offers us all. The book seems to be on the battle of the sexes, that coy term which always makes me wonder if humankind should be exterminated at this very moment for using language so badly. The excerpt that we are given is all about how feminism has failed, how women have boomeranged to 1950's values and how the only way a man can get fucked is by paying for the dinner for both of them. This terrible state of affairs came about exactly how?

Well, Maureen tells us, in great detail, what her sources are: the books about catching a man her mother gave her when she was a teenager, similar books later on in her life (such as The Rules), interviews with carefully selected contacts (those who agree to say what Maureen needs to fill in on a page) and, lo and behold, several completely discredited studies: the Sylvia Hewlet study about how uppity women don't get men (see Garance Franke-Ruta for a very good critique of that one), the recently totally discredited survey of undergraduates at Yale (see Katha Pollitt for a demolition of that one) and an equally unsound study about the kinds of pictures men and women like to look at (men like to look at pictures of secretaries, you see).

You may have noticed that I am angry at Maureen, and this is indeed the case. I'm fuming, and not because she is not a feminist. I always knew that Maureen was no sister at all, and in any case goddesses don't have sisters as such. But I am really pissed off at all those story-tellers who make up trends from whole cloth and then bemoan the existence of this trend they have just created. Listen to how Maureen does this:

When I entered college in 1969, women were bursting out of theirs 50's chrysalis, shedding girdles, padded bras and conventions. The Jazz Age spirit flared in the Age of Aquarius. Women were once again imitating men and acting all independent: smoking, drinking, wanting to earn money and thinking they had the right to be sexual, this time protected by the pill. I didn't fit in with the brazen new world of hard-charging feminists.
Today, women have gone back to hunting their quarry - in person and in cyberspace - with elaborate schemes designed to allow the deluded creatures to think they are the hunters. "Men like hunting, and we shouldn't deprive them of their chance to do their hunting and mating rituals," my 26-year-old friend Julie Bosman, a New York Times reporter, says. "As my mom says, Men don't like to be chased." Or as the Marvelettes sang, "The hunter gets captured by the game."
There are plenty of ways for me to find out if he's going to see me as an equal without disturbing the dating ritual," one young woman says. "Disturbing the dating ritual leads to chaos. Everybody knows that."
In those faraway, long-ago days of feminism, there was talk about equal pay for equal work. Now there's talk about "girl money."

When I asked a young man at my gym how he and his lawyer girlfriend were going to divide the costs on a California vacation, he looked askance. "She never offers," he replied. "And I like paying for her." It is, as one guy said, "one of the few remaining ways we can demonstrate our manhood."
It was naïve and misguided for the early feminists to tendentiously demonize Barbie and Cosmo girl, to disdain such female proclivities as shopping, applying makeup and hunting for sexy shoes and cute boyfriends and to prognosticate a world where men and women dressed alike and worked alike in navy suits and were equal in every way.

Nowhere in the excerpt do I find a single statistical quote. Nothing about how women felt and acted in the odd single second of feminism that Dowd noticed and how they act now. Nothing about actually proving that the changes she so carefully depicts have actually happened on any large scale. Nothing about whether following The Rules actually leads to a successful marriage (I doubt it), nothing about whether women actually shop more nowadays or do more sexual servicing than they used to. It's all quotes, and I could probably write a reverse article by interviewing my friends. I could even add studies, better studies than the ones Dowd uses, and still I wouldn't be published in the New York Times. Now that is a trend worth weeping over.

Returning to the less interesting topic of Dowd, notice how she paints women with extreme colors. Feminists are mean, tight-lipped harridans:

I didn't fit in with the brazen new world of hard-charging feminists.
I thought the struggle for egalitarianism was a cinch, so I could leave it to my earnest sisters in black turtlenecks and Birkenstocks.
Jurassic feminists shudder at the retro implication of a quid profiterole

But nonfeminist women are not spared ridicule, either:

Many women now do not think of domestic life as a "comfortable concentration camp," as Betty Friedan wrote in "The Feminine Mystique," where they are losing their identities and turning into "anonymous biological robots in a docile mass." Now they want to be Mrs. Anonymous Biological Robot in a Docile Mass. They dream of being rescued - to flirt, to shop, to stay home and be taken care of. They shop for "Stepford Fashions" - matching shoes and ladylike bags and the 50's-style satin, lace and chiffon party dresses featured in InStyle layouts - and spend their days at the gym trying for Wisteria Lane waistlines.
A lot of women now want to be Maxim babes as much as men want Maxim babes. So women have moved from fighting objectification to seeking it. "I have been surprised," Maxim's editor, Ed Needham, confessed to me, "to find that a lot of women would want to be somehow validated as a Maxim girl type, that they'd like to be thought of as hot and would like their boyfriends to take pictures of them or make comments about them that mirror the Maxim representation of a woman, the Pamela Anderson sort of brand. That, to me, is kind of extraordinary."

It is all crap, really. Pure, unadulterated crap. But crap is what sells when the writing is about women. The idea is to make us rear on our hindlegs and charge into the battle, to spar, handbag to handbag, over the essential feminine questions: Prada or babies?

And all the time real women have real problems in their real lives. But that isn't going to make the kind of money dear Maureen is after.

(The funniest part of the excerpt has to do with the bit about oh-how-hard it is for successful women to find men. Dowd is very taken by this idea, and I wonder why. I have always had to swat men away like flies and I'm fairly smart and independent... And yes, this is quite beneath me. Heh.)