Part 2 - continued from the March 1996 issue
All of which makes Steinem's presentation of Francis as some sort of feminist role model extremely strange. For, as the essay goes on to describe, winning in the field of bodybuilding has nothing whatsoever to do with ability but is all about being chosen based on one's "body display." Steinem describes in great detail the kind of physical regimen Francis goes through to get ready for a bodybuilding competition, which even Steinem admits "much ... resembled ... a traditional beauty contest." To "achieve muscle development and physical definition," Steinem says, "women have to drop far below their normal 20 to 25 percent body fat," the result of which may even interfere with a woman's natural menstrual cycle (a result which Steinem views as positive, rather than negative). Is this really a healthy message for feminism to be sending to young women? Basically, Francis is a woman who spends her entire life trying to look a certain way, to achieve a certain body image, by starving and putting herself through a grueling exercise routine. How is she any different, then, from the average anorexic fashion model? Is this really the kind of woman feminism wants to hold up as a role model?
Steinem's underlying message in all this is that "belief in great strength differences between women and men (is) itself part of the gender mind-game." But whether Steinem wants to admit it or not, men on average are physically stronger than women and always will be, not because of sexism but because of testosterone, and spotlighting one particular woman who happens to be physically stronger than most men doesn't change that fact, just as spotlighting "the tallest woman in the world" wouldn't prove that women have the ability to be taller than men. Of course, there are exceptions, some women are stronger than some men. All of which pretty much puts the lie to the whole "domestic violence against males doesn't matter because women can't physically overpower men" argument.
The next essay in Steinem's book, "Sex, Lies and Advertising," describes the difficulty which she encountered trying to find advertisers in the early days of Ms. magazine, a difficulty she attributes largely to sexism. [editor's note: That explains why The Backlash! has the same problem -- we're members of the power elite, the oppressor class.] Of course, any non-traditional magazine is going to encounter the same sort of resistance from advertisers, regardless of the gender of its readership. Somehow, whining about it for over forty pages seems more than a tad self-indulgent to me. Curiously, Steinem seems to blame only the men she encounters in the publishing and advertising industries, not the women, whom she seems to think are "only doing their jobs." Steinem also insists that most women don't really want traditional women's magazines, nor the kinds of products advertised therein, though why Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan outsell Ms. month after month and why women continually buy the products she claims they don't want is never explained. And though Steinem doesn't want women to be judged by the contents of traditional women's magazines, she never seemed to have any problem when feminists judge men by the contents of magazines like Hustler.
But perhaps the most exasperating essay in the collection is "The Masculinization of Wealth," in which Steinem suggests that middle- and upper-class women are oppressed because, although they may be supported by wealthy husbands or fathers, they do not actually control the source of their income. Of course, these women could earn their own money if they chose to. Who really has more freedom: a woman who has the option of working but doesn't have to because her father or husband would otherwise support her, or a man who has the obligation to work? Who really has the harder lot in life: the man who heads a major corporation, works sixty-hour weeks, is under constant stress, suffers from bleeding ulcers, and drops dead from a massive coronary at the age of fifty-five, or his wife who has complete freedom to choose how she spends every moment of her day and lives to a ripe old age on the money he leaves her when he dies?
And if those last two questions didn't throw you, try this pop quiz: Who's more oppressed, the wealthy white woman who presides over a large manor or the immigrant male groundskeeper who works for her? Right, the woman. Never mind the fact that she's eating filet mignon, sleeping on silk sheets, and vacationing in the French Riviera for six months out of the year while he's desperately trying to scrape together enough money to feed his children each week. She's actually more oppressed because she's totally dependent on her husband for her livelihood and, therefore, her self-esteem is lower. Got it? (Of course, the groundskeeper is probably totally dependent on the woman and her husband for his livelihood and the woman could probably have him fired with a mere wave of her hand, but best not to examine the situation too closely.)
Steinem even goes so far as to suggest that middle- and upper-class white women may be more oppressed than lower-class minority women because "Young women born into African-American or white working-class families see less male/female power differences around them and behave accordingly." Lower-class minorities should be absolutely outraged by this suggestion. And it's interesting to note that Steinem feels the most oppressed class in society is precisely the class to which she belongs. What an amazing coincidence.
But to me the most offensive comment in the entire essay is when Steinem suggests that "rich young men seemed quite comfortable with ... dating and marrying women who were not as rich as they were. ... If the women's motives included something other than pure love, so what? These men, unlike their sisters, were not dependent on love for their sense of themselves, and buying a suitable wife wasn't that different from acquiring other things appropriate to their station." Of course, the fact that many a woman chooses her partner based on how much money he makes, and the fact that men have simply had to get used to this fact, says a lot more about women than it does about men. And the comment seems doubly outrageous given that Steinem herself only dates men who are wealthier and more powerful than she.
In "Revaluing Economics," Steinem once again trots out the argument for comparable worth, noting that "Child care attendants were paid less than parking lot attendants, and nurses' aides often got less than the men who picked up garbage at their hospitals ... categories of work are less likely to be paid by the expertise they require ... than the sex, race, and class of most of their workers." What Steinem ignores is that less desirable jobs (as well as more dangerous ones) must frequently pay higher wages simply to attract workers. Hence, sanitation workers are paid more not because of any special skills they possess, but because if the job did not guarantee a certain level of pay, no one would choose to do it. Further, any woman who chooses to take one of these less desirable but higher paying jobs is certainly free to do so. Virtually all businesses are bending over backwards to bring in more women employees in the name of affirmative action, though Steinem seems wholly unaware of this. (For a more complete discussion of comparable worth, see Michael Levin's Feminism and Freedom.)
Steinem doesn't stop there. She claims that much of the unpaid work that women do is undervalued, which is "a reality of patriarchal economic systems ... where the invisibility of homemaking leads to employed women having two jobs ..." Of course, in this sense, men have at least two jobs as well, a point which Steinem briefly concedes and then quickly drops. Imagine for a moment if a woman had to pay her husband for serving as auto mechanic, carpenter, electrician, plumber, house painter, furniture mover, chauffeur, groundskeeper, and (as Fredric Hayward, Executive Director of Men's Rights, Inc., has pointed out) personal bodyguard. Further, even in relationships where the woman is employed, it is usually the man who makes the mortgage payments and the house is usually in his name. If we are going to pay women for performing "homemaking" tasks, shall we first deduct their rent?
But Steinem really slips over the edge when she gets around to the subject of reproduction. "Reproductive labor," she complains, "is not imputed positively ... none of the above calculations include pregnancy, birth, lactation, and the reality of women's share in reproducing and nurturing the next generation." Further, she states that there is a "still losing battle to define women on welfare who care for young children as working" and that there is a "fear of women's power to control and profit from our natural monopolies and thus achieve a balance of power with men." Now, aside from the bizarre reference to women's reproductive capabilities as a "monopoly" (surely men are involved in the process somehow), is Steinem suggesting that society actually pay women to have children? (In fact, there are some critics of the welfare system who would claim that it already is.)
The flaw in Steinem's economic arguments is that she doesn't distinguish between labor which one performs to benefit one's own life, and labor which one "sells" to another. For example, women don't bear and raise children to "reproduce and nurture the next generation," but for their own personal fulfillment. Surely there is significant "work" involved in child-rearing for both women and men, but it is work which they choose to perform for their own benefit, no one else's. It makes no sense to pay someone to do something which she is intent on doing for her own fulfillment anyway. Likewise, if a woman performs "homemaking" duties, she does so to maintain the environment in which she lives. The service therefore benefits herself and she would probably perform these same tasks whether she were living as part of a family or alone. As a single man, I'm in the habit of regularly making my own meals, buying my own food, and washing my own clothes. I suppose this does constitute "work" of a sort, but it would be ridiculous of me to suggest that such tasks be allotted some sort of economic value or that society in some way reimburse me for my efforts.
Steinem's collection concludes with a personal memoir titled "Doing Sixty," which contains the following passage: "I'm not sure feminism should require an adjective. ... But if I had to choose only one adjective, I still would opt for radical feminist." (italics hers) Masculists should find this statement a personal vindication of sorts. For years feminists have been pointing to Gloria Steinem as "the mainstream feminist" in order to distinguish her from radical misandrists like Andrea Dworkin. It's nice to know that, after all these years, Steinem is finally dropping her mask and revealing her true colors. After all, as the movement slips further into dogmatism and divisiveness, all that's left is radical feminism. Increasingly, "moderate" feminism is becoming an oxymoron.
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