Paul Sheehan‘s had a busy week of Feminism! He’s had an unfunny email forward (yes, we all know about them), read a new feminist book, and attended the Feminism Matters symposium at the university of Sydney. And he can’t wait to
mansplain tell us all about how, of course, we’re Doing it Wrong!
Of course, this is another deliberate troll by Fairfax (this time) to get us all annoyed and get more eyeballs on the advertisements. But OK. I’ll ask the obvious: Why print an article which seems to just be recycling the same old tropes we see over and over again in the comments threads of online tabloid articles?
Tropes such as: Women do it to women . That is, Natasha Walter’s new book, Living Dolls, is all wrong because some women are employed in the fashion and glossy media industries. Of course this is just the usual failure to distinguish between patriarchy and maleness. The phenomena of high-status women seeking to maintain a status quo which benefits them here and now, and lower-status women desperately maintaining a hold on financial stability by using the limited pathways available to them, is not exactly news to us.
Trope two: Feminists in the West have failed to fix the world for women in other countries. Which, of course, is exclusively the responsibility of feminists. Female ones. This, of course, conveniently allows the Sheehans to criticise without offering any kind of “fix” themselves, that is, ways of helping that don’t involve invasion or other forms of coercion. I don’t think western women ignore the terrible things that are done to women in other countries. That’s not my experience. But for most of us, our traction to achieve change is limited, and where it is possible, it goes ignored by the Sheehans of this world.
As always, I’m curious about the article image and the process by which certain illustrators are associated specifically with this or that writer. This time it’s Michael Mucci. Does Fairfax have a little black book of rightwing illustrators for hire? or will impecunious artists simply do anything they’re told to do, for a commission? For the benefit of those who can’t see it, a female hand, with beautifully manicured and polished nails, is disappearing into dark swirling water. Someone is throwing her a lifebuoy, but it won’t save her, because the lifebuoy is miniature – it’s tiny! The lifebuoy is the usual round red-and-white shape, but with a cross on one side. You know, the old feminist symbol, but without the fist.
The artist has his woman-hating memes a bit mixed there, because it’s usually references such as “well-manicured” that are used to suggest that Western feminists, or women in general, are all effete and inconsequential and spoiled. So it doesn’t quite fit Sheehan’s accusation that Western feminism is failing to fix things for less privileged women in other countries. As opposed, for example, to the critics of feminism, who are… erm… not fixing anything much either.
But back to the rant. Some of his bald assertions just don’t make sense. For instance, he quotes some remarks from Professor Karen Beckwith about women parliamentarians in Muslim countries to “prove” that Western feminists aren’t talking about the darker side of Muslim society. But we didn’t hear the rest of the conference. Do I detect a piece of cherry picking or out-of-context quoting by someone who isn’t known for his careful source checking but who is known for being relentlessly anti-Muslim and anti-immigration?
For me the low point was provided by Dr Sue Goodwin, a senior lecturer in the faculty of education and social work at the University of Sydney, who said: ”We’ve just come through a very conservative, repressive 15 years in Australia.”
To someone like Sheehan this seems positively offensive. (“You’ve never had it so good!”) To many of us, it’s simply a statement of the bleeding obvious. To describe it as the “low point” is simply outing yourself as a trogdolyte who is not going to understand anything anyone says at such a gathering.
Then there’s the “The glass ceiling is only natural, after all” argument. He claims a young veterinarian at the Symposium proved this for him:
Another young woman complained that while 75 per cent of veterinary science graduates were women, male graduates average $10,000 a year more than women. ”We are pissed off,” she said. She then answered her own question: in large animal practices strength is required and men are stronger than women; country people respond better to male vets; women are perceived as future maternity leave candidates.
The old “stronger than women” argument. So, vets are paid by body type? I’ve never heard this one. Do small, weedy male vets get assessed against large and muscular female vets? Since most large herbivores are all stronger than Arnie Schwartzenegger and need restraint devices for treatment, how bloody meaningless is this statement, and how insulting for the legions of women all over the world who are quietly going about their business working with animals?
Country people respond better to male vets. Yes, what Tigtog refers to as the Klein Bottle argument. Sexism isn’t to blame, it’s just that country people prefer men! And this can never change, because, because… well, it just can’t, that’s all!
And…women are perceived as future maternity leave candidates. (Do you get the impression you’d like to know what the young vet actually said, without Sheehan’s filtering?) But faaark! This is why feminism is necessary. If you’re presenting “perceived as future maternity leave candidate” as a reasonable excuse to underpay someone to the tune of $10,000, you’re part of the problem.
and the last paragraph:
Or, as one of the panelists offered, ”Children are the glass ceiling.” Yes they are. It is one of the conundrums between the theory of equality and the complexity of daily reality.
Really. You’d think that a man who claims to do more than half of the domestic load in his household (and forgive me if I take that one with a shitload of salt), would have some inkling of the fact that that bit of handwaving about “daily reality” would go right to the core of what many feminists are trying to say about work and family and the glass ceiling, and the changes they’d like to help bring about?
Sheehan’s writing is so circuitous and confusing, it’s not completely clear whether, towards the end of the article, he’s saying (a) feminism has failed because the selfish Western women are all obsessed with unnecessary fripperies like equal pay, and they’ll just leave to have babies anyway; and they should stop complaining about the “glass ceiling” because it’s just impossible that things could be any other way; or (b) that he’s saying feminism has failed because it hasn’t fixed all this for us. I think the former, because the thrust of the article seems to be that Western feminists are all selfish and not helping the rest of the world out of the water, despite having come as far as our weak, biologically determined ladybrains (and lady bodies) will allow us to.
Not having been at the Feminism Matters symposium myself, I have a rather low confidence in a report from a hidebound conservative as to what actually went down there. Did anyone reading this attend? Leave a comment if you can!
Notice how the “failure of feminism” meme is mentioned in news article headings again and again. Feminism, fail, Feminism, failure, Feminism. Fail. How can this not be hammered into Western readers’ subconscious, and what effect is it having on people brought up reading it? Do we say Western medicine has failed because it hasn’t eliminated death yet?
One of the ways in which Sheehan could help all women would be to support feminism instead of pulling it down. And that doesn’t just go for Sheehan, who after all is a sad clown of the rightwing shock journo pantheon, but the editors who are continually running this sort of thing, because it gets a reaction.
Which I suppose it did. My bad. But I’m not going to click on any of the ads. So there!