Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Angel in the House

The other day I read an article, nothing particularly out-of-the-way, about "The End of the Battle of the Sexes."  It was inspired by the recent news that women are the primary or sole breadwinners in 40 percent of American households.  Of course that news set off hysteria among manly men, notably the right-wing pseudo-journalist Lou Dobbs and rightblogger Erick Erickson.  Erickson told Fox News's Megyn Kelly that "when you look at biology ... typically the male is the dominant role" and (paraphrased) wrote on his blog that "the notion that women should hold the role of caregiver, not breadwinner."  Intriguingly, Kelly and some other Fox women attacked these claims, but though Kelly asked Erickson "Who died and made you scientist-in-chief?" her criticism consisted mainly of complaining that his remarks were "offensive" rather than showing why they were unscientific.  Not surprising; it was Fox, after all.

But this passage in the Atlantic article I mentioned first jumped out at me:
Or, how about the other day when I rode Amtrak home from New York, I sat next to a pin-striped trusts and estates lawyer. When I described my business to him, he looked me dead in the eyes, grinned flirtatiously, and said, "but really, on some level don't you just want to be taken care of?" I sighed. Since my business invokes a constant dialogue around issues of women and money, examples like these are commonplace. They hardly faze me anymore.
The trope of women being taken care of by men is a familiar one to anyone who's encountered much male-supremacist discourse.  On one hand, I'm reminded of another article I read recently, whose author wrote:
When Diana Rigg spouted this nonsense – the old "I like having doors opened for me" line – I wondered where the myth comes from. Mostly I see women bumping buggies down the steps at train stations while no one helps.
But the main thing is that it's men who want, and expect, to be taken care of -- by women.  Hence the Second Shift, hence the ongoing male complaints about how Wimmin Today are not as supportive as they used to be, the ongoing male demands for emotional and other service.  (Sometimes women join in this dogpile, as shown by the Diana Rigg quotation but also by other nominally feminist writers.)  In return for which, straight men show their love for the women in their lives by having sex with them.  Not by taking out the garbage or helping with the dishes -- that would emasculate them -- but by copulation.  I'm not putting copulation down, only suggesting that it doesn't equal love; hell, men wouldn't feel loved by women who would screw them but wouldn't cook for them or pick up their laundry from the floor.

And don't forget that what men "protect" (another popular buzzword) women from is mostly other men.  Historically, rape involves men swiping other men's women from them (the word "rape" comes from the Latin for "seize, carry off, abduct" -- not a specifically sexual-erotic act), and if men didn't go to war with other men, with women, children and cattle as trophies or spoils of war, it wouldn't be necessary to protect them. Most of the remainder of male protection doesn't take into account that women are most immediately in danger from the men in their lives, especially when they're pregnant.  Talk about men as taking care of women, leaving "dominance" out of it, almost always prefers to brush aside these aspects of the care.

Not all men are dangerous to women, or expect slavish service from them; I'm not stereotyping here.  The men who are dangerous to women are the ones who are threatened by women's greater independence, and they're the ones who need to be restrained and smacked down.  Amanda Steiner, the author of the Atlantic article I began by citing, got it wrong when she wrote that the news about women as breadwinners "caused otherwise intelligent men to make some pretty absurd statements loaded with Marlboro-man-machismo": Dobbs and Erickson are not "otherwise intelligent."  But even if they were, intelligence is no guarantee that a man sees women as full human beings.