Leola Reis, “America’s war on women,” The Drum, June 8, 2012
Lord knows I love Americans and think Planned Parenthood — of which Reis is vice president of external affairs — does invaluable work, but this is a rather repellent and narcissistic rhetoric on display here. Omitted by the ellipsis is an entire column explicating the basic points of the “war on women” in America, and, certainly, this is something I think Australians should be interested in and informed about. But Reis’s argument doesn’t treat Australia as its own country with its own politics and its own public debates. We’re just a mass she can use to decry things she doesn’t like about her own country. Don’t emulate America on gender issues, she warns Australia, but doesn’t even consider that Australian society has its own gender issues. For instance, Reis talks about American politicians trying to restrict access to abortion, but is apparently entirely unaware of the tenuous legality of abortion in most Australian states, or that Roe v Wade has given the United States a rhetorical and legal basis for pro-choice activism that isn’t available in Australia.
I understand, too, that a writer feels compelled to relate an issue to a local audience. Telling that audience “Don’t do what we do” without reference to the concerns of that foreign audience is not how you do that. Leola Reis, we are a nation — one as complex and real and fully formed as your own. We are not a confession booth where you can atone for your country’s sins.
I think this is part of where my fellow US lefties lose sight of the forest for the trees and thus find themselves on the losing end of their own rhetorical and emotional battle. One of the things I like to beat home about the weakness of our political positions and temperament is that quite often, the rhetoric used to advocate for a position is often more about the speaker than why the policy is beneficial to a larger group.
In this context, Reis’ warning becomes a treatise to solipsism: these are the awful things my country is doing to restrict women’s rights (and they are bad, believe me!) and the good fight Planned Parenthood has against them, but completely mistakes her audience, presuming it does not have its own battle in the same arena under different circumstances. Ultimately, these “don’t be like us” missives serve only to highlight how “good” the writer or speaker is rather than expand the message to an audience distinct from one’s own — and the intended message is lost in the fake atonement.
I mean, if you can’t frame your argument in an Australian publication for the audience most likely to read it, how well are you going to do when it comes to convincing people in your own society of the utility and necessity for expanded reproductive rights, never mind throwing overboard the canard that these are simply “women’s rights”?
Let’s say I was designing a new piece of software to make my life as a writer a little easier. First, I’d program it count how many characters I’d typed out and in what amount of time, in order to document my productivity on any given day. Then I’d ask it to compare words, phrases, sentences and entire paragraphs from one draft to the next, in order to calculate how much of what I’d written had changed…or stayed the same.
Obviously, it isn’t the main thrust of the piece (which you should read in full if you have time), but I’m additionally fascinated how this problem almost always comes down to two things:
Not that this is anything more than anecdotal (also: I’m a dude), but the first real computer science class I was able to take was in college. I went to a pretty damned good high school in the Denver suburbs, and even we didn’t do this! You had to already be tapped into computing to begin with. I struggled in that class in a way that makes me think I’d have been a lot better at programming — and maybe would have really enjoyed it — had I been exposed to it earlier.
But that was the late 90s. Now, the fact that you have an entire high-paying sector of an essential component of our economy that’s viewed as largely the purview of socially inept nerds with a few out front who are presentable enough to be fetishized is kind of a bad thing because the numbers don’t bear out well for society as a whole. It’s not as if anyone in the field designed computer science to be exclusive — in fact, every prof in the department I took a class from or spoke to back in 2001-2003 had similar laments then about the way these things were likely to turn out — but the way we perceive education in general will do damage to us in ways we don’t regularly think of.
Oh, thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou, Hank Stuever. “Put-a-bird-on-it tweeness.” Perfect.
The OG MPDG, typecasting herself. What seems horrifically improbable to any rational viewer is how Zooey Deschanel is supposedly the “ugly ducking” in New Girl. No one with an ounce of suss buys that.
You guys. Isn’t objecting to a pop star whom you feel repeatedly sells the idea that getting yourself attached/married/impregnated by a nice young man is the most important goal of a woman’s life really degrading and demeaning to the young women who feel that getting yourself attached/married/impregnated by a nice young man is the most important goal of a woman’s life??? I mean, it’s not like they got that idea from somewhere! Like, say, a culture that perpetually rewards young women for enacting it and penalizes others as bitches or sluts or pathetic spinsters! They’re just that way, women! With the babies, and the wedding dresses! I swear!
(Boldface and italics my own here.)
I’m fine with letting the girls and women who believe in the italicized passage alone believe that (although I’m not wont to in any way) while telling the culture not to do the boldfaced item. Is it degraded to sell someone something they already believe, whether conditioned to or not? (We then get into really thorny questions about free will in a society the further we go.)
Generally, my issue comes when we try to pretend there aren’t people who believe in those traditional roles and that they’re wrong for promulgating them, even though I don’t particularly buy them. (Yes, I have met women — not many, but a few — who do lean toward the “finding a man/being a mother is most important model.” It bugs me, but that’s her choice to make. (Again, see the will vs. conditioning aside.) But again, I see the point of the camp opposed to Swift’s image (dare we say Swift-Boating Swift? prob not!): it’s hard to be sympathetic to that view when that’s really all you get out of the majority of pop culture in terms of what’s most commonly acceptable for female behavior*; there’s no prominent voice really saying “this isn’t your only option.”
I’ve spent way too much time thinking about Taylor Swift, whom I usually don’t listen to or watch her videos, because I’ve done a lot more of that today than I care to just to feel like I have an idea of what the hell’s going on here and I have to be at work in about 9.5 hours.
(*I would also argue that this dichotomy has bad side effects for men and what’s acceptable in male identity, but those issues aren’t nearly as severe for your trad WASP male as they are for women for obvious reasons and are for a later date. Someone please remind me to write that; I’ll forget.)