Thursday, April 24, 2014

No, Women Are Not the Problem

I have been really bothered by the recent spate of books purporting to help (already powerful and affluent) women have it all if we simply follow the advice laid out in their pages. Books like Lean In, or the Confidence Code, or Thrive, are basically high-brow versions of victim blaming. These authors essentially brush aside structural and cultural impediments to women's equality and happiness, and instead tell us that, gosh darn it, if we just learn to ask for that raise more forcefully, or pretend we know stuff we really don't, or get more sleep and increase our volunteer hours, all our lady-problems will be solved. Isn't it pretty to think so.

Feminist writer and critic Jessica Valenti had a really nice take-down of this ridiculous trend in yesterday's Guardian:
Despite an ongoing, glaring lack of equality for women in culture and in policy, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman's new book, The Confidence Code, argues that what's truly holding women back is their own self-doubt. In fact, Kay and Shipman dismiss the importance of institutional barriers upfront, writing in the introduction that, while there's truth behind concerns about sexism, the "more profound" issue is women's "lack of self-belief". Think Lean In meets The Secret.
Yet, in just the past year, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a woman can be fired if her boss finds her attractive, a New York court decidedthat unpaid interns can't sue for sexual harassment, and the Paycheck Fairness Act was defeated by Republicans who claimed women actually prefer lower-paying jobs.
So you'll have to excuse my guffaw when I hear what American women really need is more "confidence." It seems to me our insecurity is well-earned!
You know what is going to help women achieve equality with men? Creating policies that promote gender equality and don't punish women for being the ones who bear children; stopping sexual predation; and changing a culture that is rife with large and small instances of misogyny and sexism.

In support of that last goal, all of those incredibly privileged women writing those books should take a lesson from the young actress Emma Stone, who had the presence of mind and the guts to publicly call out sexism when she saw it - from her boyfriend, no less - and did it in a way that allowed him to learn from his error, rather than get defensive about it.

This is what feminism looks like.

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