Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Battle of the Sexes Goes Retro

"Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote."
~ Grover Cleveland, 1905

Gentlemen, it's time to round up the womenfolk and put them back in the kitchen. Don't forget to take their shoes. Because if you believe what you read in the newspapers — or science journals — the feminist movement was just a big misunderstanding.

Exhibit A: Monkey on a Stick. A few days ago, a report in the journal Current Biology claimed "Young Female Chimps Treat Sticks Like Dolls." That headline was inspired by a research study of play behavior among young chimps by Harvard's Richard Wrangham.

The study's old-school gender bias is revealed in the first paragraph, which includes this statement: "Chimpanzee youngsters in the wild may tend to play differently depending on their sex, just as human children around the world do." Well, excuse me, but when human boys and girls choose different toys, it is not the result of a biological or neurological imperative.

"The emotional, sexual and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, 'It's a girl.'"
~ Shirley Chisholm

Other, better research involving actual human children has shown that even two-year-olds are aware of social expectations about gender. Because of those expectations, boys play with trucks and girls play with dolls, and children who deviate from the rules are corrected — by other children. Change the rules — for example, tell the children that both boys and girls play with trucks — and guess what? Everybody wants to play with trucks.

But back to the Harvard study. "Wrangham said they had seen stick-carrying from time to time over the years and suspected that females were doing it more than males. Their detailed behavioral investigation has now confirmed that suspicion. 'We thought that if the sticks are being treated like dolls, females would carry sticks more than males do and should stop carrying sticks when they have their own babies,' Wrangham said. 'We now know that both of these points are correct.'"

I'd like to offer a different interpretation: Once females have babies, they are too damn busy to carry sticks around. Before that, they carry sticks in case they run into gender-biased Harvard researchers and want to smack them upside the head.

"There are very few jobs that actually require a penis or vagina. All other jobs should be open to everybody."
~ Florynce Kennedy

Exhibit B: Gold Diggers of 2011. In its pink-hued "Femail" section, Britain's Daily Mail boldly reports that "women want rich husbands, not careers." The paper cites a study by Catherine Hakim of the London School of Economics, who claims, "The idea of most women wanting to be financially independent is a myth." Said another way, most women want to luxuriate in the insecurity of financial dependence. Sure they do.

Hakim continues, "Women’s aspiration to marry up, if they can, to a man who is better-educated and higher-earning persists in most European countries...Women thereby continue to use marriage as an alternative or supplement to their employment careers." So, to sum up, most women want to go from being daddy's little girl to sugar daddy's little girl. The typical European woman has no interest in being able to support herself; instead she prefers to depend on the devotion of a guy she married for his money — a guy who will never divorce her, replace her with a younger model or demand a prenup agreement. Yep. Sounds like a plan.

"Woman will always be dependent until she holds a purse of her own."
~ Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Reinforcing the case for women staying the hell out of the workplace, the article links to another Daily Mail story with this curious headline: "Equality Drive Harms Women's Chances in the Workplace." The point of the story: "Critics argue that generous maternity provisions make employers wary of taking on women of childbearing age." Those of us who were in the workforce before the feminist movement forced changes in the mid- to late 1970s — a time when maternity provisions were virtually nonexistent — can tell you employers in those days were also wary of women of childbearing age. In fact, many companies routinely refused to hire them. Cognitive dissonance much?

The research that inspired both articles was sponsored by the Centre for Policy Studies, a center-right think tank founded by that famous anti-feminist Margaret Thatcher, who once said, "I owe nothing to Women's Lib."

I want to be clear here: Staying home to raise one's children is a valid choice, whether the stay-at-home parent is a woman or a man. But it is a choice that exacts a financial penalty. Pretending otherwise is a lie.

"There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women."
~ Madeleine Albright

I wonder what Catherine Hakim would make of this article in Salon by a journalist who opted to stay home with her kids and work part-time and now finds herself divorced and miles behind the career curve.

At least these gold diggers could sing in Pig Latin.


  1. Great post, Michele. I have always suggested to my women friends that they have their own source of income and access their own money. And I had to watch to of them struggle back up to their feet when exactly what you describe happened. They were left. One at her request, which was a tremendous risk on her part, and I count her among the brave; the other for that younger model you mentioned.

  2. Michele,

    I had hundreds of dolls--except they were called toy soldiers. Since I constantly was killing them, I can't say that I was particularly maternal--unless your standard is Medea.

    Considering this puerile militarism, it is surprising that I didn't become a Republican. I did become a history major, however.


  3. Thanks, Andrea. There must be some women who actually want to be helpless and dependent, but I don't know them. I've also noticed that none of these so-called studies suggest that men plan their lives around getting rich women to take care of them.

  4. Hi, Eugene. I'm not sure how many girls have maternal relationships with their dolls, either. Barbie is obviously all about outfits and fantasy. Some of the dolls that were around when I was a child were more baby-like, but that just made them boring. People like this guy at Harvard only see what they want to see.

    As for being a history major, I think that probably explains why you are not a Republican.

  5. This is hilarious, and so true. I do confess to preferring women barefoot, but only because I prefer milieus in which barefoot is the appropriate way for both genders to be.

    "The research that inspired both articles was sponsored by the Centre for Policy Studies, a center-right think tank founded by that famous anti-feminist Margaret Thatcher, who once said, "I owe nothing to Women's Lib." This is a crux for me - that we sometimes pay too much attention to which institution or media outlet is talking, and don't follow the breadcrumbs back to whomever it was that sponsored the study. Media and academia are both rife with people willing to say whatever if the payday is high enough.

    Absolutely brilliant post.

  6. Thank you so much, Michael. It is always important to know the agendas of organizations that fund studies, and in this case it was easy to find out.