Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Why Feminism? (Caricatures)

The far-right likes to paint Feminists as being out-of-touch with reality by focusing on the actions of a few extremists.

A reader writes asking whether there is any truth to this "Feminazi" caricature that the far-right (e.g., Rush Limbaugh) likes to tout.   And the answer is complex.   Yes, there are extremists of every ilk out there - we'll get into that later.  And yes, the media likes to use extremism to paint everyone with broad brush - both on the Left and Right.  Today, the Left is saying all Trump supporters are neo-Nazis.   The Right says that all Democrats are Communists.   This does not bode well for a rational discussion of political issues, does it?

Feminism is the radical idea that women are people, too.   Yes, this sounds pretty self-evident, but you have to remember that until well into the 20th Century, women were basically property in the United States - not allowed to vote or hold property (in many instances) and not even allowed much in the way of free will.   From the time they were born to the time they died, they were under the control of a Father or a Husband.   Even in the few instances where they had limited freedom (widowhood) they had to act cautiously, lest they be hauled off to the sanitarium for "hysteria" which could happen if a greedy nephew decided they wanted access to the widow's cash.

And it goes without saying that in most of the world today, women are treated as they were in the US back in the 19th Century, if not far worse.   In most parts of the world today, women are still deemed to be property, if not in name, but in their treatment.  They are damaged goods to be married off with a dowry, and kept at home, under a sheet, and even killed if deemed necessary by men.  How women are treated worldwide is a scandal.

Even after the 19th amendment was passed, things didn't change too much.   And for years, it was argued that women were "biologically different" from men, and this justified a double-standard out of kindness towards them.   And yes, women are biologically different than men, which is why Bruce Jenner will never bear children.  This is the same argument that white supremacists use to justify discrimination.   If you look at standardized test scores, white people score higher than blacks, consistently, so they argue that whites are superior.

But people are not statistics, and should be treated individually.   And if you live by the statistic, you die by the statistic.   Under the logic of the white supremacists, Asians and Jews are "superior" to "Aryans" as they consistently score higher in standardized tests.  Yet few, if any, white supremacists are willing to acknowledge Asians or Jews as the "master race." - which illustrates why these sort of statistics, favored by racists and eugenicists, are a false logic.   People should be treated as individuals, not statistics.

Getting back to feminism, in the 1960's and 1970's when I grew up, women made far less money than men did, for the same job description.   And many pointed out this was unfair.   However there was a perverse logic as to why this was so.   When I was working in industry, I noticed that young single guys like me often made less money than an older married guy doing the same job, but not as well.   And a boss explained it to me that "Well, Jim has a wife and kids to support, so he needs the money more!"

So you see, even men get discriminated against, in some regards.   And at first, I thought this was kind of unfair, as it based salary not on ability and talent, but based on the life circumstances of the employee.   But as an employer, you often decide pay decisions based on what is the minimum it will take to keep employee X on the job.   Employees and other weak thinkers often think that a certain job pays so many dollars and that is how the system works.   But the reality is otherwise.

You want to keep good employees, and not have them poached by competitors.   Even in times of "high" unemployment, you want to keep skilled people on.   So you pay them enough to make it worth their while to come to work.   If you underpay them, they seek work elsewhere.   And a man with a wife (who back then, did not work) and children, will say, "I need to make more money to support my family!" and go off looking for a job.   So the logic my employers used to was offer him more money to get him to stay.

For young single guys like me, all they had to offer was enough cash to keep me in cheap beer and I was content.  They knew this and still know it as every job interview I have been on, they ask me if I am married and how many kids I have, even though this is illegal and has been for decades.

For women, the situation was the same, only worse.   Back then, women were not expected to stay in the workforce, but to eventually get married, stop working and raise children.  The dual-income family was a very rare thing in the 1960's and 1970's.   Most women did not have careers.   When women did work, it generally was until they married, or if after marriage, to make "extra income" for the family.   So employers paid a correspondingly less amount as that was what they could get away with paying and the name of the game in employment is to pay the least amount that will still keep the person on the job.

Employee pay gets a lot more complicated than that, of course, and dissertations and scholarly articles have been written about it.   For example, if you overpay someone, you would think they would work harder and value their job more.   But no, for some psychological reason, if you pay people more than they expect to be paid, they seem to value their job less and work less hard.   And that explains what happened in the assembly plants of GM, Ford, and Chrysler in the 1970's, when people making 2-4 times the  prevailing wages did shittier work for the money and were willing to strike at the drop of a hat.

But I digress...

Since that time, things have changed.   Women demanded the right to also have careers outside the home, if they chose, and we started to re-think employment.   This necessarily mean re-thinking how we pay people - having flat pay scales instead of paying what we think we can get away with.   But an employer in a non-union plant should be able to pay more productive employees more than less productive employees, so there are variations within pay scales.   And since people expect raises from year to year, older employees may make more money over time (which can backfire as they price themselves out of the market).

And many women do take time off from work to raise families, or interrupt their careers, and this does cause difficulties all around.   And for this and other reasons (plain old discrimination) women still make only 78 cents for every dollar a man makes "doing the same job" (how this is calculated is hard to figure).

And black folks are still over-represented in the poverty and crime statistics - and also make less money on average them white folks.   Life is not even-Steven and maybe never will be.   And as I noted, looking at statistics often negates personal choice.   But the question is (and I'll let you fill in your own answer here) is statistical evidence about pay differences between women and men, blacks and whites, and so forth, prima facie evidence of system-wide discrimination?   Or are other factors at work?  Discuss.

We should have equal opportunities, but outcomes should be based on personal ability, not guaranteed.   People should be evaluated on an individual basis, not on their gender or race or whatever - and they certainly should not be considered statistics - which is what "affirmative action" in effect does - treating people based on historic prejudices or what the success rate of people in their same statistical group is.   It is a flawed notion, and I think people are just starting to figure this out.

The basic tenets of feminism - that women should be treated equally and not as property are not really disputed by anyone of merit.  Yes, there are a few religious wackos out there and some misogynists who think otherwise.  They are wrong and they are in the minority.

The media, particularly the right-wing media loves to focus on a small minority of feminists who have taken a good thing too far.   Just as Black Lives Matters has some good points to make, some folks in the movement want to turn it into an anti-white, anti-police, pro-rioting, and pro-looting organization.   And these are the folks who make headlines and get interviewed on television, because on television, controversy sells.  The media never interviews the rational people, but likes to harp on the crazies on the fringe, as that generates eyeballs and clicks.

Like I said, I've gotten not one but two invitations to appear on Reality Television, but what they were looking for was an annoying Dad who was so stingy it caused him and his family to argue and fight - the staple of reality television.   They don't want someone who sits down with a calculator and figures out the expense ratios in his mutual funds.   Boring!  Change the channel!

So when you read the paper and hear that a Vietnamese student (who was actually born in the USA) complains that a sandwich in the cafeteria is "cultural appropriation"  - don't take it too seriously.   The wild opinions of a sophomore in college should never be taken too literally, nor should they be used to paint all college students - and colleges - with a broad brush.  And the far-Right has been aggressive about this in recent years - trying to paint colleges, professors, and college students as a bunch of out-of-touch wacky liberals who don't know hard we have it here in "Real America".

And this has been going on for decades.   And sadly, some on the far-Left help the far-Right in this regard.   In the 1960's, the hippie movement was presented on television as representing the thoughts and actions of all young people in America.   This was not the case.   There were a core group of Leftist hippies, and a lot of "hangers on" who adopted the styles and the drugs and free sex.   And then probably half the young people wanted nothing to do with it.   Like I said, a friend of mine at Kent State had no idea there was a protest or shooting until he read about it in the paper the next day.

But when you see hippies rioting at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, you might think that maybe things are going too far, the Democrats have their head up their ass, and Richard Nixon, who promises "Law and Order" is a better choice.   A lot of people thought so, at the time.  The far left gave us President Nixon.   Thanks, guys!

The same is true today - political correctness may be all the rave at Williams college - but probably not such as big thing at my old Alma Mater, General Motors Institute.   And I'll bet few in the Engineering programs at MIT or Cal Tech are wasting time on protests or political correctness - they want to get their degrees, get jobs, and make money - like the rest of us.

Most people in this world are pretty middle-of-the-road.  Most folks are compassionate and decry injustice.  They also believe in hard work and the rewards therefrom.  They want economic security.  And they want criminals to go to jail.   Pretty basic stuff, really, but if you want a winning platform to win elections, I would concentrate on those core issues as they resonate with most people.

And believe it or not, both political parties actually believe in these things.   But each paints the other as a caricature of itself - aided and abetted by the more radical wings of each respective party.   On the Left, we are told that Republicans are "Nazis" and right-wing extremists who want prayer in school, abortion outlawed, and the US turned into a "Christian Nation" - and cut the taxes of Billionaires.   And yes, some Republicans are like this, but not all.

On the Right, we are told that the Democrats want to let all the criminals out of jail, force your son or daughter to accept their "transgender" identity in grade school, and hand out welfare to all the undeserving people in the country who are too lazy to work - and raise taxes to do it.

We have created these puppets which we use to represent opposing views to our own.   Straw Men, who postulate ridiculous things that no rational person could believe in.  And we set up these scarecrows and say, "Look, this is what the other side believes!  They are out of touch!  How could you support them?"

And when we view opposing viewpoints in this extremist fashion, it is really hard to have a real rational discussion about the issues at hand.

Because, yes, we should be compassionate and not let people die from lack of medical treatment or children suffer from lack of medical care.   On the other hand, there has to be a rational way of controlling costs - and no, we can't have everything we'd like just because we'd like to.   We can negotiate and compromise and come up with a solution - but neither side chooses to.  Rather, they want to control the Congress and the White House and then ram through their one-sided solutions.   This is how we ended up with Obamacare - a flawed solution and why no one wanted to fix it.   Now we have a radical change in another direction, with the citizens of the USA being whipsawed between polarized political viewpoints.

Now, you might say I've digressed a long way from Feminism, but not really, as it is, at the core, the same discussion, just a different topic.   On the Right, we have people like Rush Limbaugh whining about "Feminazis" who are trying to ram an anti-male agenda down our throats.  On the Left, we have people saying Republicans are "anti-women" (the theme of the last election).   Neither is a good vantage point to discuss issues with the other.

The reality is, of course, that "Feminazis" are hardly controlling anything in the world or forcing anyone to do anything.  Women still are largely weak and powerless in this world.   All the talk on college campuses really doesn't amount to much in the real world, despite the howls of protest from the far right.   On the other hand, we have made huge progress in equality of rights for women in the United States - and compared to the rest of the world, we are head and shoulder above.   We live in an era where women cannot even drive a car in Saudi Arabia.  A world where women are raped and set on fire in India and nothing is done about it.  We need to acknowledge that things in the United States are far from perfect, but then again, far from horrible, either.

Sure, some other Western countries do things differently and maybe better.  I have a friend in England, and over there, if you take time off from work to have a child (like a year or so) they have to hold your job open for you when you return.   This is certainly a better situation for working women than we have here in the United States.   On the other hand, what works in England doesn't always work in America, and expecting such solutions here isn't very realistic.   Politics is the art of the possible.

When I was a kid, hardly any women worked, other than perhaps secretarial jobs after they got out of college and before hey got married.  That was the norm.   I still recall the jokes that Johnny Carson (who in retrospect, was a real jerk) used to tell about "One of them lady doctors" because having a woman doctor was considered odd, unusual, or even perverse.   Today, medical schools and law schools graduate more women than men.   And oddly enough, wages are dropping in both career fields.   Discrimination at work?   Perhaps.

The point is, and I did have one, there is nothing wrong with Feminism, and in fact, there is everything right about it.  Don't let the far-right use these caricatures of the Left to paint half the population as a bunch of man-hating extremists.   Basic human rights and equal opportunities are not "radical" propositions.