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Sexism, the weirdness

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, April 21, 2011 13:17 EDT
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Okay, most aspects of sexism make sense to me.  I don't agree with professional sexist bloviators, but I get it.  I get why they come up with facetious arguments claiming that women don't actually get paid less (ignore those statistics!), or why they blame rape victims, or why they want to force women to bear children against their will.  But I really don't get the disconnect with the basic structures of our society, the language we use and the customs we observe.  The weirdo contingent at Bloggingheads, unable to quarrel with any actual points I made during my most recent video debate with Daniel Foster, decided to start whining that I laugh and smirk too much.  (I am very unladylike—the internets agree.)  In my defense, I have to point out that he kept saying words like "mate" and "courtship", though he refrained, thankfully, from using "female" as a noun.  You try to having someone say "courtship" to you without cracking up.  I dare you.

Exhibit #1 in the I-just-don't-get-it department (via Feministe):

One night at a dinner table at a wedding, I got into an argument with a female guest about terminology I was using. She was asking about my dating escapades and I kept calling females "girls". After a while, she took offense:

"We are not girls, we are women."

I said: "No, I call most females girls. Women are different than girls."

She asked me to explain my terminology for females. I responded:

"Girls are girls until they have a baby. Then they become women."

She asked: "And what do they become after they are moms?"

I said: "Well eventually they become ladies."

Louis CK said the same thing in a much funnier way:  "To me when you become a woman is when people come out of your vagina and step on your dreams."  Also, he was kidding.  I don't think Rich-from-Marie-Claire is kidding. 

Do you get this?  Because I really don't.  I mean, I get that Rich's cluelessness is a result of male privilege and being able to blithely move through life without ever really worrying that he's going to have to answer for this kind of assholery towards women.  But I don't get why he thinks that this girls vs. women thing makes sense.  I think it stems from reducing women to their reproductive organs (which is how it differs dramatically from Louis CK's act, which is more a commentary on marriage and motherhood and gender roles, and again is actually funny).  If you assume women are just walking uteruses with attached vaginas, and that the uterus is kind of like a flower, then this makes sense.  The uterus-female turns from a flower-girl to woman when she converts to fruit.  I think that's the mentality here.

My problem with it is that you can see with your own eyes that women aren't flowers that turn to fruit and then to "ladies", which is Rich's cutesy way of suggesting women who have kids are post-sexual.  (Which is weird, since he then spends the rest of the essay assuring mothers that someone might still want to fuck them, so they shouldn't consider suicide or anything.)  The urge to reduce "females" (as he calls us) to our sexual organs has overriden empirical evidence that we aren't flowering plants. 

Exhibit #2 is Kay Hymowitz's irritating link-grabbing "concern" that education will make women unmarriageable:

Still, the biggest reason we probably won’t see a lot more college-educated women walking down the aisle with their plumber is one we don’t like to say out loud: they want to have smart kids. Educated men and women are drawn to spouses they think will help them produce the children likely to thrive in the contemporary knowledge-based economy. That means high IQ, ambitious, and organized kids who will do their homework and take a lot of AP courses. The preference for alpha kids is the reason there is a luxury market for Ivy League egg and sperm donors. It also explains why, though we don’t have solid research distinguishing between elite and State U mating choices, Ms. Harvard will probably not accept a proposal from Mr. Florida State.

You definitely see this kind of logic from conservatives a lot—the assumption that people approach marriage like you do dog breeding.  Thus the use of terms like "mate" that are never used by most people talking about their actual romantic choices.  I don't know about you, but I actually don't know anyone who approaches dating like Hymowitz is imagining, where they take in some resumes, eliminate the people who don't have the job qualifications, take a few interviews, and then hire/marry the person who most closely fits the job description.  Nor do I know a single person who chooses their "mate" because of the assumptions they hold about their genetics. 

Matt Y. makes fun:

Not only does the conclusion here not fit the premise, the argument points in the opposite direction. Colleges aren’t genetic engineering facilities. Women may well be motivated to enter into relationships with men who have “smart genes” but shifts in the relative share of the population who go to college don’t change the underlying genetic factors. If the median man doesn’t go to college and the median woman does, but Median Man still wants to signal to Median Woman that he’s smarter than Twentieth Percentile Man he’ll just have to find some other way of doing so. Given that Median Woman is unlikely to marry anyone sight unseen irrespective of where he went to college, Median Man ought to have ample opportunity to achieve this by (for example) engaging Median Woman in conversation.

Silly Matt.  Next he'll be arguing that people's "mating" decisions are based on totally strange factors, like "love" or "passion".  I would offer a counter-theory to Hymowitz's contention that people marry people like them because they're coldly assessing how to get the best genes to mingle with their own.  I'm going to suggest people are attracted to people they have a lot in common with, especially since they have to engage in these conversation things while they're doing that dating thing that Hymowitz seems unaware plays a role in mate choice. 

Of course, one reason more women are going to college than men isn't that women are over-represented at Harvard, but more at State U., where women are getting business degrees to get lower middle class administrative jobs.  Perhaps class more than education is what people have in common that pushes them into situations where they date each other.  If so, it's not inconceivable that large numbers of lower middle class women with college education will pair off with lower middle class men who have jobs that don't require a college education.  Hymowitz imagines all college-educated women are upper or upper middle class professionals, but I don't have trouble imagining lots of college-educated women working as office managers and bureaucrats marrying plumbers.  In fact, I'm guessing that's happening quite a bit.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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