Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Proper Study For Women Is Women. Discuss.

The post below didn't cover all the thoughts I had on Trubek's article, because I wanted to leave it short enough for reading on hot and muggy days. But some of those unwritten thoughts want to be written out, so here they are:

Remember this quote from Trubek's piece? I have bolded the bits I want to talk about:

I did my own tally. From May 2007 through May 2008, Harper's published 232 men and 51 women (a ratio of about 4.5 to one) and The Atlantic published 158 men to 49 women (a ratio of about three to one). In 2008, The New Yorker has published 185 men and 51 women (about 3.5 to one). Things are not getting much better.

As disheartening as those statistics are, closer inspection of what women do publish in such magazines makes the disparity even more disturbing. Many of the women's contributions are not features. (At The New Yorker, they might be a Talk of the Town piece, a poem, a cartoon, or a dance review.) And many are about being a woman. For example, the March 2008 issue of The Atlantic contains three substantial pieces by women. One, by Eliza Griswold, is both political and reported, and it does not integrate her personal experience. But the other two use personal experiences to make claims about women's lives. And in an almost absurd twist, both argue that women should start settling for less.

I hardly know where to start unraveling the brain-knot I have developed on this topic. First, note that women very often are viewed as an interest group in political and sociological writing, sort of like unionized carpenters or like carpenter ants or like people from some tiny town in Alaska. It's important that this interest group has a voice out there -- or so I imagine the editors musing -- and thus it's necessary to employ a woman or two, to write on the topic of Women.

Because of this weird equivalence, one woman is plenty! After all, we wouldn't want more than one unionized carpenter (or carpenter ant) on the opinion pages of our largest newspapers! And of course the women writers are then expected to write about women's issues. That's what they are there for.

But notice something funny here? Now the market for women writers has shrunk to almost nothing, and the reasons are not necessarily evilly misogynist.

That's the second part of my knotted thoughts on this topic, that IF we confuse the gender of a writer with the representation of that gender we might get a very tiny market for women who write. That whole confusion is built on that sexist assumption that women are like carpenter ants, but no additional sexism is necessary to get to an astonishing conclusion (and my third point):

Once the market for women writers has been shrunk into a doll-house size, new entrants find employment hard to find. Unless what? Unless their schtick is to hate other women!

Just think about it. The editors have already filled that one job where the woman is supposed to "represent" women's points of view in her writing. But they might be very interested in someone who wants to bash those points of views, as discord is good for readership and viewership numbers. Only the basher has to be a woman, too, for diplomatic reasons.

I'm quite pleased with the story I present above. It's naturally exaggerated, for the sake of pedagogical clarity. There are women writing on other issues, too, for example. But the idea that "women" should be discussed and debated is almost universally accepted in the media, and the people who should do that discussing and debating should be women so that men don't come across as sexist assholes all the time.

Why don't we discuss and debate the topic "men"? That, my sweet readers, is a rhetorical question, but I hasten to answer it anyway: Because it's silly to assume that billions of men all have the same points of view. It's equally silly to assume that about billions of women but it's sort of easier to do if you view women from the outside as exotic carpenter ants.

My thought knot is almost unraveled. The final part has to do with the fact that women indeed are more likely to write on sexism and misogyny than men, for obvious reasons, and that if women don't bring up those issues in the media they will not be brought up very often. Sigh. It's not clean work, this feminist writing, and it's poorly paid, too. Once I fix the problems I can concentrate on my Magnum Opus on how to garden while losing pounds and having great sex, too. No carpenter ants involved, promise.