Recently published at AWID.org
September 13, 2012
dr. zillah eisenstein
prof. of political theory and anti-racist feminisms
ithaca new york 14850
Hanna Rosin titles her book : The End of Men. David Brooks of the New York Times agrees. I wonder, really? Exactly what supposedly has ended here, and which men are they thinking of? What might their color, race, sexual identity and class be? The last I heard we have two men running for President and two men for VP as well. Three are white and wealthy and all are heterosexual as far as we know.
To me, if it really is the demise of men, then their power and privilege should be lessened—at least in relationship to women–and this does not easily seem to be the case. Most men still enjoy their masculinist privileges, even if there is inequality amongst them in doing so. As for women, some have more power than they used to, others have less—that is, in relation to men. Even though there have been extra-ordinary changes in women’s lives too many women have not gained much, or enough. The old stuff still burdens us: too much labor of every sort is expected alongside the lack of day care, the low waged jobs, and the unequal pay.
Interesting that amidst the so-called demise of men there is also an organized assault on women. This “war on women” is led by the Republican right wing which is largely made up of white men. Maybe the two—the demise of men and the war on women— are connected. As traditional forms of men’s lives begin to shift and white working class and middle class men find it harder to find good paying jobs, women need to be better controlled in traditional “mommy” form. This strategy actually makes little sense but not much of misogyny does. There is more to think about here.
Attacks on women’s rights to her reproductive body are commonplace today. Thousands of initiatives on the state level have attempted to make abortion impossible to get, or just simply unavailable. Todd Akin and Rush Limbaugh, and Paul Ryan seem to think that women are not really “legitimately” raped nor should they get to decide about needing an abortion no matter what the context.
I wonder about this particular need to curtail women’s rights at this moment. Women have simply done what they always do which is to work extremely hard in both the home and now more readily in the workplace. Maybe the particular assault is against young sexually active girls and women as they move into new arenas of the labor force, sometimes more readily or handily than men.
Let me connect another development here, a new kind of epi-genetics that alerts us to “Why Fathers Really Matter”, September, 2012, NYT. The study discussed suggests that the male—what he eats, his age, his income, his health habits, can affect the baby, like a mother. It is noted here that the health of the potential father matters to the fetus. Maybe this new “man” with his new “gender” will look more like a mom, and less like the usual male worker. Gender construction shifts yet again but its power-filled meanings remain more unchanging.
I still ponder how if men are in major transition, or “ending” so-to-speak, why more is not said about “women ending”. Gender is relational, more than it is biological. Genders do not exist in a vacuum from each other. The choices are not biology or culture? Or nature vs. nurture? Or environment before genetics. It is always a bit of both. Gender is “man”made—and therefore can be changed in any which way. None of this is static and pre-given. Historical and economic needs define gender as much as the sexed body does. Given the new structures of cyber labor across the globe, traditional gender divides obviously matter less. There is a power grab in order to control these new flows and morphings.
There is much that has changed today among all kinds of men and women. At the recent Olympics there was lots of talk about women’s successes and even their dominance. Hillary is the U.S. secretary of state, although, actually not President. And 100s of thousands of women fill our military. But exactly what is changed? The power and privilege of men or their particular place in the public/private gender divide? It is still 77 cents to the dollar the last I heard. Women in the military suffer sex harassment and rape at outrageous levels.
Women have never been slouches. They have been recognized as the movers and shakers of their families and nations, more than men. The World Bank has for decades said that investing in women means you are investing in the country in a way that does not compute with men. As well, supposedly women are more adaptable, men more traditional and conservative and slow to make change. Rosin says that women will thrive better in this new global economy. I wonder if they will just be working harder.
The more power you have, the less adaptable you are. Supposedly women are better at adapting, and doing with less, and changing their trajectory—they are more flexible and therefore more viable in an economy that changes a lot. Women are said to be doing better everywhere—in Rwanda post-genocide and in China as well. Forget for the moment that infanticide is often practiced in China to rid the parent of a girl-child.
Maria Shriver has called the U.S. a woman’s nation because for the first time in history there are a majority of women in the U.S. labor force. Women are then said to be the new men. But most of the jobs waiting for women are nursing home health assistants, child care workers, and jobs in the food preparation industry. Many of these jobs do not have a living wage. Women do not seem to be in charge of much of anything given these opportunities. They simply become responsible for both domestic and public labor.
I do not see a power shift here although I do see genders morphing and re-aligning. In part this is a rethreading of patriarchal and misogynistic gender in new form. As long as these newly complex gender structures exist as part of the privatized global capitalist market benefiting a few, these changes can hardly be seen as libratory. Patriarchies—and there are several forms—are brilliantly flexible and are changing according to the demands of the global economy. These are unsettled times—new anti-woman stances, and new misogynies—and, yet new genders, and new anti-racist feminisms can become promissory of progress.
Men and women are coming in new forms today. Yet, Michelle remains “mom in chief” and Ann Romney embraces all women who are first and foremost “mothers” as an attempt to assure the nation that not too much is changing. And although black women in slavery were hardly seen as any kind of mother by their master, but rather a breeder with no rights, there is a harkening back to traditional life that does not compute enough for most people trying to get by today. Single parents dominate the familial landscape. And moms in the labor force also do.
Let us be clear. Nothing is ending here…not men or women although an end to the gender divide would be great. Instead, gender is doing what it does best: shifting and changing in the hopes of keeping the power structure and those privileged in it agile and protected. Those of us who are not benefiting from the old and new regimes of polarized/homogenized gender must push for a destabilizing of global capital by mobilizing a full multiplicity of sexes, genders, and races for democratic practices.