Saturday, July 26, 2008

Double Standards and Gender Inequality

I want to point out a few more articles on gender equality (or inequality) I have read while on vacation this past week. I'm always interested in debates between those looking for fairness for women and those who seek fairness for men. If I can't find common ground, I at least hope to get a little closer to the Truth by paying close attention to the gender dialectic.

First, I recently read the following article by Jed Hresko, Deputy Director of Fathers & Families, UK Equality Commission Chief: Maternity Leave Hurts Women in the Workplace, from the Fathers & Families Blog. It discusses the inequality of granting maternity leave, but not paternity leave, and the negative policy impacts, on women and men, of such policies of gender inequality. The article discusses current circumstances in the UK, but also alludes to the recent Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination pronouncement that our own Maternity Leave Act would be held to apply to men, despite the discriminatory text that remains in the written law. (I have already discussed this MCAD news here.) Hresko's article is insightful, and in my view, its message is spot on.

Also I came upon the following book review in the New York Times: Endangered Species or Still the Enemy? by Liesl Schillinger, in the July 13, 2008 New York Times. The article discusses both Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care, by Kathleen Parker, and He's a Stud, She's a Slut And 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know, by Jessica Valenti.

I have read earlier writings by both of these very different social commentators, and have found much of great value in each. I will definitely be looking for these books the next time I find myself in a bookstore.

AT last: Dan Quayle has a defender. In “Save the Males,” a scorching jeremiad against the forces that have demoralized the American male over the last 20 years, the conservative columnist Kathleen Parker writes that Dan Quayle “was right” to blame the TV show “Murphy Brown” for injuring family values. In 1992, when the show’s title character (played by Candice Bergen) decided to have a baby on her own, Ms. Parker writes, she “attractively delivered the message that men are not essential for family.”

The result of our society’s absorption of this message? “A new generation of child-men, perpetual adolescents who see no point in growing up.” Judd Apatow... got any quibble with that?

Sharp, silver-tongued and greatly exercised, Ms. Parker identifies many other agents of male distress as well — from “pole-dancing moms and prostitots decked in baby hookerware” to films and music that portray men as “dolts, bullies, brutes, deadbeats, rapists, sexual predators, and wife beaters.”

Ms. Parker was raised by her father and by four stepmothers (her mother died when she was little). Today, she is the mother (and stepmother) of sons only.

As a result of her “total immersion in maledom,” she understandably feels great sympathy for the troubles that boys and men have in building a secure, reputable identity in go-girl America. She makes the charge that our society discounts the importance of men as fathers and husbands, and does too little to make men feel self-assured in schools, in the workplace, the family and even the military.

Judging by a plethora of recent magazine articles, books and even presidential campaign speeches, this may be true. But if it is, who’s to blame? While the author doesn’t let Hollywood and the intelligentsia off scot-free, the chief offenders in her mind are the people in push-up bras ... liberated women.

As she sees it, an entire generation of men have lost their moral compass because women decided to flash skin instead of flashing behavioral cue cards that say: Respect. Protect. Marry. Provide.

If empowered women choose to look out for themselves, she asks, what are men to do? She raises the specter of “fake wombs,” which would allow men “weary of being used as sperm donors and human A.T.M.’s” to at last “enjoy a level playing field.”

“Save the Males” is one of two new books, each of them arresting, entertaining and serious in its own way, that inspect the battlefield of the sexes in America, and come to opposing conclusions about the nature of the conflict. The disparity would almost be funny if the outcome didn’t matter so much.

THE other book, “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut,” was written by Jessica Valenti, a gutsy young third-wave feminist. (As Ms. Parker vividly puts it, first-wave feminists “got women the vote,” the second wave “got them employed and divorced,” and the third wave “is busy making them porn stars.”)

Ms. Valenti is the founder of the blog, and published a book called “Full Frontal Feminism.” Her new book tracks 50 double standards that punish female assertiveness (for instance, “He’s Angry, She’s PMSing,” “He’s Dating a Younger Woman, She’s a Cougar,” “He’s Childless, She’s Selfish.”)Eerily, both Ms. Parker and Ms. Valenti single out some of the same signs of change for comment. Both are freaked out by Bratz dolls. To Ms. Valenti, they show that, when toymakersaren’t telling little girls that they should grow up to be happy homemakers, they’re telling them to be sexual.” To Ms. Parker, the dolls prove that little girls are “in training to drive boys wild,” inculcating sluttish dress habits that booby trap the workplace when they grow up to wear “provocative clothes that get men’s mind off their business.”


For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the divorce and family law page of my law firm website.

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