Feminism re-mystified?

Maureen Dowd’s article in NYT What’s a Modern Girl to Do? came to me through Aditya’s blog. Meanwhile it’s moved off to NYT archives which are not free, so this is the link from LJ for those who want to read it. Not too sure, the exercise is worth it, but then curiosity is such a bitch.

For instance, what made me curious is:

Maybe we should have known that the story of women’s progress would be more of a zigzag than a superhighway, that the triumph of feminism would last a nanosecond while the backlash lasted 40 years.

First, when did feminism really find its triumph? More about that later, though.

After all, sometime in the 1960’s flirting went out of fashion, as did ironing boards, makeup and the idea that men needed to be “trapped” or “landed.” The way to approach men, we reasoned, was forthrightly and without games, artifice or frills. Unfortunately, history has shown this to be a misguided notion.

Which men? Is this reverse objectifying — men as objects worth hooking up with?

And what is a misguided notion? That men, at least some men, are worth not trapping or not landing, whatever that means? That for some women, the men that have to be trapped by playing games just aren’t worth a long-term relationship? That there can be more to relationships than the surface stuff?

I knew things were changing because a succession of my single girlfriends had called, sounding sheepish, to ask if they could borrow my out-of-print copy of “How to Catch and Hold a Man.”

I guess bollywood knows this very well too. For Shahrukh Khan’s character in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai needs a pallu-drop or something equivalent to fall for the Kajol’s character — even in his mid-thirties. The tomboyish Kajol is not women enough. But surely there are men out there who don’t let their libido decide who they choose to have long-term relationships with? No?

Decades after the feminist movement promised equality with men, it was becoming increasingly apparent that many women would have to brush up on the venerable tricks of the trade: an absurdly charming little laugh, a pert toss of the head, an air of saucy triumph, dewy eyes and a full knowledge of music, drawing, elegant note writing and geography. It would once more be considered captivating to lie on a chaise longue, pass a lacy handkerchief across the eyelids and complain of a case of springtime giddiness.

Promised equality? You’re only as equal as you feel. No one can promise any equality. The very sign that some women have to pick up the “tricks of the trade” tells that they don’t feel equal. A conditioning that’s around for thousands of years cannot be wished away easily. I haven’t read a lot of feminist literature but “promising equality” seems pretty foolish thing to do. Equality is an ideal that one fights for, never knowing if one reaches there, especially in the eyes of the rest. But any movement strives to reach there. That’s not same as promising it. It’s not a magic wand that would overnight turn all the emaciated women in the world into emancipated individuals.

Helen Fisher, a Rutgers anthropologist, concurs with Julie: “What our grandmothers told us about playing hard to get is true. The whole point of the game is to impress and capture. It’s not about honesty. Many men and women, when they’re playing the courtship game, deceive so they can win. Novelty, excitement and danger drive up dopamine in the brain. And both sexes brag.”

Call me an idealist (and you would not be the first), but this is beyond me. If it’s not about honesty, then what will this relationship stand on? More and more this article made me realize why I think of feminism in a very positive light — at least it’s an ideology that’s based on the the assumptions that women and men can be human beings qua human being — thinking, feeling individuals. It at least appeals to the best in women, and men and not the worst.

Women might dye their hair, apply makeup and spend hours finding a hip-slimming dress, she said, while men may drive a nice car or wear a fancy suit that makes them seem richer than they are. In this retro world, a woman must play hard to get but stay soft as a kitten. And avoid sarcasm.
Altogether.

Men have soft egos, women have soft skin? This is journalism? Even in India, which never really had a organized feminist movement to speak of, these stereotypes stand discredited.

In the first flush of feminism, women offered to pay half the check with “woman money” as a way to show that these crass calculations – that a woman’s worth in society was determined by her looks, that she was an ornament up for sale to the highest bidder – no longer applied.

Are we anything more than social animals at all? How about wanting to split a check because in the new world order where both men and women earn, it’s unnatural for only one to pick it up always?

Now dating etiquette has reverted. Young women no longer care about using the check to assert their equality. They care about using it to assess their sexuality. Going Dutch is an archaic feminist relic. Young women talk about it with disbelief and disdain. “It’s a scuzzy 70’s thing, like platform shoes on men,” one told me.

Asserting equality? How about being a responsible adult? If young women talk about it with disbelief and disdain, then they are as much part of this skewed system as the men who insist on picking up the check for it hurts their egos when the females pick them up.

“Feminists in the 70’s went overboard,” Anne Schroeder, a 26-year-old magazine editor in Washington, agrees. “Paying is like opening a car door. It’s nice. I appreciate it. But he doesn’t have to.”

Unless he wants another date.

OR

“If you offer, and they accept, then it’s over.”

In other words, chivalry is a birthright of women?

But it doesn’t matter if the woman is making as much money as the man, or more, she expects him to pay, both to prove her desirability and as a way of signaling romance – something that’s more confusing in a dating culture rife with casual hookups and group activities. (Once beyond the initial testing phase and settled in a relationship, of course, she can pony up more.)

To prove her desirability? That’s of course what it’s all about at the end of the day. Only females that don’t assert themselves in any way that could potentially offend fragile egos are desirable.

“There are plenty of ways for me to find out if he’s going to see me as an equal without disturbing the dating ritual,” one young woman says. “Disturbing the dating ritual leads to chaos. Everybody knows that.”

At this point I went rotfl. And then they laugh about arranged marriages? Aren’t they just dating rituals ;-). Seriously, the east and the west is much closer than one could have ever thought.

When I asked a young man at my gym how he and his lawyer girlfriend were going to divide the costs on a California vacation, he looked askance. “She never offers,” he replied. “And I like paying for her.” It is, as one guy said, “one of the few remaining ways we can demonstrate our manhood.”

Yeah I guess when size doesn’t matter, the purse does? And since when did lawyers started offering any money anyways :D. Fun apart, at this rate, men are as much at the receiving end of the system as the women are.

At a party for the Broadway opening of “Sweet Smell of Success,” a top New York producer gave me a lecture on the price of female success that was anything but sweet. He confessed that he had wanted to ask me out on a date when he was between marriages but nixed the idea because my job as a Times columnist made me too intimidating. Men, he explained, prefer women who seem malleable and awed. He predicted that I would never find a mate because if there’s one thing men fear, it’s a woman who uses her critical faculties. Will she be critical of absolutely everything, even his manhood?

The world, I realize is governed by one thing alone — manhood. This selective, anecdotal reporting coming from NYT isn’t a surprise at all, but still it’s pretty painful. The worst thing is, you cannot fight anecdotal evidence.

He had hit on a primal fear of single successful women: that the aroma of male power is an aphrodisiac for women, but the perfume of female power is a turnoff for men. It took women a few decades to realize that everything they were doing to advance themselves in the boardroom could be sabotaging their chances in the bedroom, that evolution was lagging behind equality. (Bold emphasis mine)

The words — to realize — as if it’s uncontested, proven fact, are worth noting. Evolution or culture? Evolution moves very slowly, for it’s based on genetical information, but cultures can move much faster for they can tap the extra-genetic information, concepts, precepts, philosophies, attitudes… But even cultural biases don’t change on their own. When those who are hurt by them imbibe them instead of fighting them, they win. When an emancipated women, a columnist for NYT, one of the most powerful entity in today’s world, starts talking matter-of-factly about attitudes that need to be fought, things are bleak.

So was the feminist movement some sort of cruel hoax? Do women get less desirable as they get more successful?

I just hope this article was a cruel hoax!

“Women get in relationships because they want somebody to talk to. Men want women to shut up.”

I don’t know why I’m even bothering to refute something as idiotic as this.

Women moving up still strive to marry up. Men moving up still tend to marry down. The two sexes’ going in opposite directions has led to an epidemic of professional women missing out on husbands and kids.

In the absence of suitable partners, is it better to live alone or compromise and pick up an insecure partner and cut-down oneself to the fit his level of insecurity? I don’t see why the above is necessarily bad or epidemic? (I assume that epidemic is necessarily negative, for I’ve never heard of epidemic of happiness or epidemic of health)

A 2005 report by researchers at four British universities indicated that a high I.Q. hampers a woman’s chance to marry, while it is a plus for men. The prospect for marriage increased by 35 percent for guys for each 16-point increase in I.Q.; for women, there is a 40 percent drop for each 16-point rise.

Maybe because IQ is itself a very skewed indicator of human potential? Also, even though I come from Indian culture, where marriage is everything, I still don’t see why it is everything.

Men, apparently, learn early to protect their eggshell egos from high-achieving women. The girls said they hid the fact that they went to Harvard from guys they met because it was the kiss of death. “The H-bomb,” they dubbed it. “As soon as you say Harvard Business School . . . that’s the end of the conversation,” Ani Vartanian said. “As soon as the guys say, ‘Oh, I go to Harvard Business School,’ all the girls start falling into them.”

I guess Ms. Dowd would not stop disparaging the male community. I mean how fragile egos are we supposed to have? Is there any limit? Even John Grey sounds serious when compared to this.

The article drags on an on and on. But I have to stop somewhere. Those who have patience, please read till the end and tell me what is the point that the article is trying to make. I’d be glad. And if an intelligent girl ends up understanding it when I didn’t, I swear I’d not feel offended.

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10 thoughts on “Feminism re-mystified?

  1. anonymous says:

    had to comment, am one of the person who scoffs at those rules of dating and mostly prefer to either go dutch or pick up the tab. It really does not get received well. Might be easy on the guys wallet, but, the ego ,I guess, does take a beating. And as A is for aunties, said to me once, ” dumb down a bit. ” Am still trying to understand that one. Had read this article some days back. Don’t remember reading it in its entirity. Not really worth the bother though
    Bilbo

  2. anonymous says:

    … to spend so much energy & words on ms. dowd. if you’ve been reading her (and now you can’t anyway, unless you cough up enough dimes for the new Times-Select pay-to-read gimmick – now that bit of idiocy on the NYT’s part is worth a blog on its own), she’s sorta OK at political caricature but pure TOI-class when it comes to other things.

    thing is – she’s plugging her recent book on gender wars, and this op-ed piece was like a teaser, i think.

    ssm

  3. anonymous says:

    Asuph,

    While we may or may not agree with Maureen on everything she says, she is an interesting writer and tries to be provocative! But the the ‘discomfort’ she causes- also tells me something..many who belong to your (20s?) generation, seem to have taken ‘much for granted’- and do not realize how much has been accomplished feminist activists (especially in legal terms) and without whose efforts, struggles and sacrifices none of us women would enjoy the rights we do!

    *And if we are not careful, much of what we strived for will be at stake- including the fundamental reproductive rights of a woman.. we will have 8 men/9 on the Supreme Court of the US soon, who will make these decisions.

    “First, when did feminism really find its triumph? More about that later, though.”

    Oh wow! Absolutely in legal terms it has triumphed.
    And we still have a long way to go! In social terms- it is complicated.
    *As I have always said- ‘social feminism’ has to be defined by every woman according to her own life circumstances. Culture, Race, Religion, Class- are all factors, which may affect how one may chose to define it. But the ‘disparities’ still exist.

    A 50+ old, single white woman like Ms.Dowd with no children may define ‘feminism’ today- differently from a brown Indian woman who is 30+ and has children…Both may wish for the fundamental feminist ideals (which are my view is treat me with respect and let me have the same rights and opportunities)…but,
    we view life through the prisms of our life experiences..and just because an Indian woman can wear a ‘white woman’s suit’ to work, or blue jeans and party all night…we can’t automatically ‘de-mystify’ our own feminism- the same way they do! So, it would be rather ‘naive’ for men to think we all do it the same way.

    As for dating and marriage- let us be honest…they are mating games with dating rituals (in love marriages)… and without them- (in arranged marriages). One can debate the rituals, but I think the bottom line is trying to mate/pair up with someone who ‘has certain things- one is looking for- usually not an object, but if it makes you feel better a ‘package’(!)- of good looks, money, education, status, etc.

    So, everyone plays games- puts on a mask, to get what they want- some to a lesser extent than others!
    Please let me know where these men with ‘no/less libidos’ exist..I will send a couple of hundred women that way! I am curious, what will they do when they meet? Talk about world peace or discuss philosophy? How many times can they take those long walks and endlessly gaze into eyes over food and drinks..and end it with ‘abstinence’ vows?

    And for women- even that seems to be getting harder and not easier. And Maureen is right to ask the question “what’s a modern woman to do?” It is a confusing time for women and we are often confused!

    *But she is not right- when she asks (for fun, perhaps) “are men necessary?”
    We do need you’all -with your huge egos and libidos. And men and women were created for each other- to love and drive each other crazy!

    Maria

  4. asuph says:

    Maria,

    Thanks for the detailed comment.

    ….your (20s?) generation, seem to have taken ‘much for granted’- and do not realize how much has been accomplished feminist activists (especially in legal terms) …

    I agree. I am not take anything for granted. Legal rights don’t change ground realities per se. It’s when individual women/men fight for those rights that things may change. I, like I said before also, have a next to nothing knowledge of history of feminism. But I do have a deep resepect for it as an *ideology*, and I have never questioned its relevance to the present times.

    *And if we are not careful, much of what we strived for will be at stake- … we will have 8 men/9 on the Supreme Court of the US soon…

    Okay, one minor crib I have: it’s not the man/women ratio on the body that guarantees/negates women empowerment. But I see your point. However, I do not see how Mr. Dowd’s article help in this respect? No?

    Oh wow! Absolutely in legal terms it has triumphed. And we still have a long way to go! In social terms- it is complicated….

    I think you’ve misread my blog. I think the article was centered around social aspects so in that context I raised the question. In that sense, the very fact that the burning issues before feminist movement are still burning hot, is a sign that there is a long way to go. And that’s what I mean. I don’t want to discredit the movement at all.

    we view life through the prisms of our life experiences..and just because an Indian woman can wear a ‘white woman’s suit’ to work, or blue jeans and party all night…we can’t automatically ‘de-mystify’ our own feminism- the same way they do! So, it would be rather ‘naive’ for men to think we all do it the same way.

    Precisely. That’s probably my number one crib against the article that it just talks in such stereotypes, that the discussion becomes irrelevant for women — most women — who’re fighting out their in their own ways. There is life outside the corporate top brass, right? And outside NYT too…

    As for dating and marriage- let us be honest…they are mating games with dating rituals (in love marriages)… and without them- (in arranged marriages). One can debate the rituals ….

    I don’t think I know what you mean here. Playing games is destructive. Yes, I’m an idealist, perfectionist… When you play games, it’s not love. Social bonding? Yes. That’s how most of the world works? Maybe, I don’t know. But that still doesn’t make it right. Fundamentally, when you play games, you’re insecure. Then why blame the poor insecure men with their punny egos?

    Please let me know where these men with ‘no/less libidos’ exist..I will send a couple of hundred women that way! I am curious, what will they do when they meet? Talk about world peace or discuss philosophy?…

    Maria, the issue is making libidos the “decision engine”… Talk about world peace and discuss philosophy sounds good to me. Talking about mutual carrer expectations, deepest fears, strong passions, literature, movies, music, outlook towards society… Anyways, I don’t want to dictate what people should do on dates. Let them play games if they have to. I just don’t buy that’s a receip for long term releationships.

    And for women- even that seems to be getting harder and not easier. And Maureen is right to ask the question “what’s a modern woman to do?” It is a confusing time for women and we are often confused!

    Yes, she’s right to ask the question. I’m just bothered by single-sided portrayal, with selective exmaples and dubious statistics. There are no simple answers to the questions yes. For that matter what’s a modern man to do? When women insist on equality and men picking up check at the same time ;-). Don’t tell me you agree with the tone and the message of the article?

    We do need you’all -with your huge egos and libidos. And men and women were created for each other- to love and drive each other crazy!

    Oh that’s a relief. Huge egos? Or punny? Let’s settle on that one. Huge libidos for sure, right?

    regards,
    asuph.

  5. anonymous says:

    “Yes, she’s right to ask the question. I’m just bothered by single-sided portrayal, with selective exmaples and dubious statistics. There are no simple answers to the questions yes. For that matter what’s a modern man to do? When women insist on equality and men picking up check at the same time ;-). Don’t tell me you agree with the tone and the message of the article?”

    Asuph,

    Thanks for your response and agree with your comments above.

    Did not like Maureen’s message (if there was one-think it was meant to be be provocative, than preachy) and the tone- was rather sad.

    And nice to know that you are an idealist and like to be honest when it comes to relationships. Don’t ever change and please clone yourself as many times as possible;-)

    best,
    Maria

  6. asuph says:

    is the terror keeping you from naming yourself, anon?
    don’t worry, come out of the closet :p. I’ll save you from those evil feminists..

    cheers,
    asuph.

  7. yosso says:

    asuph,
    I did not go through the article but by the sound of it, I dont think its very hard to figure.
    Well, growing up in the generation I did , feminism is like a chapter in history textbook.It had a purpose and was achieved,in the sense that whatever discrimination based on gender wassnt acceptable and we all as indivuduals have equal rights.and equal freedom to choose.But if people choose to cling on to it and use it as a refuge for every other argument its a pity.Its understandable if women from a generation earlier have a nostalgic attachment to it. Most of the women,around my age that I know find feminism redundant esp for the fact that its a negative definition i.e. by claiming one as a feminist one already gives that she/he is oppressed which isnt anywhere near being a hard fact in the postmodern world.Feminism is dead and buried. Going by some views here, I think its mistaken for matrirachy which is more anthropological than political with its own virtues and vices just like any other system.
    So ask them to catch up.
    And if people find hard still let me share with you a tip that we figured in the college for such attitudes. start the conversation/ article stating ”this presupposes a basic understanding of schopenhaeur”.
    cheers
    Yosso
    PS: if you know any lesbians, kindly direct them to me, am totally neck deep in its research.

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