The Double X Shuffle

1 April 2010

If only it were an April Fool’s joke.  A week after Slate’s XX Factor featured the pro-Goldman Sachs article by KJ Dell’Antonia telling working mothers to give up on a humane work schedule, now it’s got Angie Kim blaming feminists for demise of the mommy track. (In the meantime, their editor Hanna Rosin asked first and foremost on their Double X Gabfest whether The Three Weissmanns of Westport, the new book by the eminently smart and literary author Cathleen Schine, is “chick lit.”)

Of course the real question is why I keep picking this scab — why can’t I leave Double X alone, if all I get is a schizophrenic antifeminism under the guise of “what women really think”?  

When it launched on May 12, 2009, Double X posted such self-consciously provocative stories as “Why I Am Bored With Feminism” by Terry Castle (Terry, why?) and “Yes, Virginia, Feminism is Really Dead” by Susanna Breslin. Subsequent stories would state that feminists don’t understand Muslim women, while Christina Hoff Summers claims that men are now the “second sex”—propounding the newly popular line that there is a new “gender gap” for boys. As Breslin chirps about feminism, “I mean, didn’t we kill it already?” 

I think the reason I can’t leave it alone is because the Double X writers’ antifeminism indicates a particular generational malaise about the subject.  A site created by smart, educated, cosmopolitan women, many of whom are in their late 20s or 30s, seems to feel that in order to appeal to female readers, it needs a straw feminist to bash around—schizophrenically claiming that feminists are malicious, irrelevant, boring, or dead.  Apparently, the readership they anticipate looks exactly like them — coastal, highly educated, highly privileged, mostly white women who’ve already established themselves professionally and benefited as much as possible from the feminist legacy.  Now if only they could recognize that feminism might hold strong relevance to someone besides them.

There are a lot of reasons to feel exasperated by such a perspective (not least for its logical inconsistency).  I think my frustration with this perspective comes from living and teaching in Texas, a place that Molly Ivins (of course) described best. In Texas, she wrote, “the cultures are black, Chicano, Southern, freak, suburban and shitkicker. (Shitkicker is dominant.) They are all rotten for women.”

Maybe because of the rampant machismo here, Texas has long featured strong, outspoken women leaders from Ivins to Barbara Jordan to Ann Richards — and I’ve begun to see a new resurgence of feminism by young Texas women and men, as witnessed by the upcoming Feminist Action Project, among other efforts.  If Double X wants to succeed, its editors should recognize not only that feminism is relevant outside their small hothouse, but that many young people today who may not call themselves “feminists” nevertheless share frustration at the easy sexism and cheap homophobia appearing with such regularity and with so little check from media, politics, workplaces, and families.    

Take back the F word not merely from the Texas bubbas who still like the term “feminazi,” but from the women at Double X who moved up the ladder only to kick it out from the younger generation trying to move up.

Advertisements

Why does Slate’s XX Factor exist?  Initially the site told us it was “A Magazine By Women, But Not Just For Women” (the language of which is exasperating enough), and now it’s “What Women Really Think.”  Personally, I can only read it if I hold my nose.  Although its writers take on questions of interest to women, they most often embrace a shocking anti-feminism — appearing to assume on the one hand that women are fully equal to men, and dismissing with the other hand feminists who think otherwise.  

Take, for example, this post by K.J. Dell’Antonia that might as well be a big gift to so many corporations, law firms, and universities who treat their female employees as second-class citizens if they dare seek a reduced work schedule in order to bear and raise children.  Dell’Antonia writes about the female Goldman Sachs executive who was offered a “mommy track” to reduce her hours while she adopted the primary caregiving responsibilities in her family; when she wanted to return to her full-time job, she was then told by Goldman that her position had been eliminated.  Suck it up, Dell’Antonia advises — Goldman can only be expected to be compliant up to a point.

That’s right, women:  we are exactly the same as men, and are so fully equal to them in all respects that our requests for “special treatment” like serving as primary caregivers are abhorrent, full stop.  You’re in or you’re out, moms!  Employers must have their rights protected, even when they giveth a part-time job with one hand, and then with the other taketh the entire job away when it’s less convenient.

Now, I’m not saying that questions about the mommy track are simple.  In fact, the question of motherhood and involvement in the workplace have been percolating for years, punctuated by the New York Times Magazine‘s famous “Opt-Out Revolution” article by Lisa Belkin and the terrific response by Susan Douglas, first in In These Times and then her book, The Mommy Myth. 

But no matter how contentious these questions remain, I can assure Double X that taking Goldman Sachs’ perspective is not “what women really think.”  But Goldman sends you a big kiss anyway.