Monday, March 31, 2008

Of course women are people. Was that really a question?

Tyler showed me this op-ed by Marjorie Dannenfelser in National Review. Dannenfelser espouses feelings that I have found quite common in conversation lately, feelings about how Women's History Month, Black History Month, and the like, are nearly discriminatory because of the way that they single out the accomplishments of certain members of certain segments of the population. In conversation, I also heard the opinion that such months were completely unfair because there is no such thing as "White Men's History Month," and, you know, white men built America.

Dannenfelser seems very adamant about trying to come off as being pro-woman, but in some large ways, I would have to say that she falls short because she is missing some things in her evaluation of Women's History Month.

"Of course there are accomplished women who came before and are all around us. Do we have to keep bragging about it? The proof of our accomplishments is in the pudding, and when we succeed, it isn’t solely a 'woman’s success,' it’s a human one. Are women so weak and fearful that they need constant reassurance, like a first grader struggling to read? It should be assumed that women have unique talents and are capable of greatness. Why do feminists think we don’t know that?

Sometime after its beginnings in the organized suffrage movement, the American women’s movement lost its way. Somewhere along the path to Roe v. Wade, The Vagina Monologues, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the hierarchy of values inverted: The anatomy of the person serving the cause became more important than the cause itself." (emphasis mine)

There is an inherent problem in believing that women's accomplishments are the same as "human ones" because to believe that means that one must also believe that gender is an inconsequential aspect of life since being human does not specify a gender. That is not true.

Women in America do enjoy more rights than many women in the world, but that does not automatically translate to "women have the same opportunities as men," and it is in this difference that make the idea of "women's accomplishments" and "Women's History Month" seem reasonable to me.

If women had the same chance for promotion as men, were not limited in their career choices by the burden of parenthood (which still largely falls on women), and had equal representation in the highest levels of the government that rules this country, maybe I could sympathize with the idea that a Women's History Month was condescending to women. But that is not the present state of American society.

If Dannenfelser was really as pro-woman as she claims to be, she would be better able to understand women's experiences, and how they are still sometimes adversely effected by American society.

I also feel that Dannenfelser is wrong in her presumption that "The anatomy of the person serving the cause became more important than the cause itself." The causes undertaken by more modern feminists have retained their importance, and feminists have struggled for them with enduring vigor. Reminding people that women who have accomplished something in a society that still does not afford women the same opportunities as men is not something to shy away from, because gender still matters in American life.


Colt said...

I got a question. What in America do women not have the opportunity to do that men have? I know that it is still harder for women to get better paying jobs and promotions, but what privileges are denied to them? I'm not trying to be sarcastic. I would just like to know. Because this is America, land of the free and home of the brave. So if someone has been denied there right to pursue there own happiness. I would like to know about it.

Michael said...

Every other frickin' month besides Black History Month and Womens' History Month is White Men's History Month.


Tyler said...

No, every other month is just a month. When we have a month of special displays for the achievement of whites and males, then I will agree it is fair. It just happens that the U.S. has been historically most influenced by white males, and yes there are some bad reasons for it, but most of US history is white males. nobody alive today is responsible for slavery, there are very few people even old enough to remember women being denied voting rights. How about our generation just agrees everyone is even and stops having a month to glorify one kind of person over another. Lets teach all people's contributions every month.

meg said...

We celebrate these months to remember. Because if we don't remember our past we don't have a future. Plain and simple.

judgesnineteen said...

Good question, Colt. Since this is about history, I'll by saying we still learn more about white men in history than others. I, for instance, have known about Voltaire forever, but JUST learned about his brilliant lover, the Marquise du Chatelet, who, among other things, figured out that KE = 1/2(mv^2), which Newton and Voltaire didn't realize. In physics, I was taught about what Newton did, but not about what she did that he missed, even though I used her formula all the time. My high school history teacher made us learn about the women's rights movement and the civil rights movement on our own over a break because he didn't want to bother teaching them in class, in which he mostly talked about white men. (History isn't the only subject that ignores us - it's only been about ten years since someone found out how big the clitoris actually is.) But to more directly answer your question, while *most* of the de jure inequalities have been fixed in the US, there are plenty of de facto inequalities, and there are legal inequalities regarding issues that aren't quite the same for men and women (reproductive rights especially). Then, there's the rest of the world, and they matter too. If you look at a feminist news site/blog like, you'll see a lot of this stuff.

Amelia said...

Like I tried to make clear in this post, Tyler, I do not feel as if women don't have any rights in America (there are a few that I think are missing, but that's not the point here). You saying that White Men's History Month is a good idea because well, the white men shouldn't be punished since they didn't enslave human beings, and hardly anyone alive was around when women couldn't vote, ignores one of the main tenets of the post: that American society is still unequal because women still do not have the same opportunities as men. White men are still the most privileged group in America. It just IS. So I don't see the point in giving them a month to go over how their many privileges have allowed them to contribute more and more easily to American society. But that's just me. And maybe if you come up with a really good argument, I'll reconsider.

Kate said...

If I am a white male:

1. My odds of being hired for a job, when competing against female applicants, are probably skewed in my favor. The more prestigious the job, the larger the odds are skewed.

2. I can be confident that my co-workers won’t think I got my job because of my sex - even though that might be true.

35. The decision to hire me will never be based on assumptions about whether or not I might choose to have a family sometime soon.

The list is pretty interesting, and it definitely highlights many of the opportunities women are still lacking.

Also, why we still need a Black History Month: