Thursday, November 20, 2008

The last word on Palin. I hope.

Having said some nice things about Sarah Palin when she first burst on the national political scene in a blaze of short-lived glory, I have been asked, more than once, if I've updated my view.

I have, more than once, on this blog. On top of that, here it is, my absolutely, positively (I hope) last word on Saran Palin, originally published in Newsday and then in slightly longer form on Reason.com: Ms. Wasilla goes to Washington.

By the way, my offhand remark in this article that "The notion that 'patriarchal power' exists in the United States in 2008 is only slightly less delusional than the belief, erroneously attributed to Palin, that God created the dinosaurs 5000 years ago" infuriated a blogger named Chris, who fumes:


Uh.. What? Was there a big announcement that we finally fixed sexism? Maybe it was right after we also fixed racism, which, as Cathy Young will tell you, is entirely black people’s fault these days too. Ugh. Incidentally, if Cathy Young believes patriarchal power no longer exists, what, exactly, is feminism, and what would constitute a “step forward” for it? Why is she even writing about it? It’s like she has this knee-jerk inability to admit that any institutional forces exist, and that to admit they do would be admitting some sort of personal weakness or something. It’s okay, Cathy! Institutions exist! It’s not your fault!


First of all, I find it quite amusing that Mr. Male Feminist finds it appropriate to adopt such a blatantly patronizing, smug, patting-the-little-woman-on-the-head tone toward a woman who happens to dissent from his brand of ideology. Secondly, "sexism" is not the same as "patriarchal power." Are American women (and in other areas, men) today held back by sexist cultural stereotypes, and in some cases institutional discrimination as well? Yes, they are (though I frankly doubt that institutional discrimination plays much of a role in holding women back in politics). Are American women as a group today subject to "patriarchal power," i.e. male domination and control over their lives? My answer to that is a very emphatic no.

(Oh, and my belief that "racism is black people's fault," apparently, consists of suggesting that the "culture of poverty" is partly responsible for perpetuating the problems of poor people, including those in the black community. Since I'm pretty disgusted with the right these days, I owe Chris some gratitude for reminding me why I loathe the left. Thanks, pal.)

18 comments:

Chris Wage said...


First of all, I find it quite amusing that Mr. Male Feminist finds it appropriate to adopt such a blatantly patronizing, smug, patting-the-little-woman-on-the-head tone toward a woman who happens to dissent from his brand of ideology.


I don't disagree with you because you're a woman, I disagree with you because ... I .. disagree with you. Not sure where you got that from.


Secondly, "sexism" is not the same as "patriarchal power." Are American women (and in other areas, men) today held back by sexist cultural stereotypes, and in some cases institutional discrimination as well? Yes, they are (though I frankly doubt that institutional discrimination plays much of a role in holding women back in politics). Are American women as a group today subject to "patriarchal power," i.e. male domination and control over their lives? My answer to that is a very emphatic no.


I'm still having trouble understanding your take on this. Naturally, sexism and patriarchal power aren't the same thing -- it's a matter of scale, I suppose, at a simplistic level. If you believe the former still exists, how can you ever categorically disavow the latter? Sure, patriarchal power has lessened significantly in the last half-century, but disappeared? That seems like an awfully premature victory dance, but hey.


Since I'm pretty disgusted with the right these days, I owe Chris some gratitude for reminding me why I loathe the left. Thanks, pal.


Your assumption that I represent "the left" is curious indeed .. we probably have a lot more in common ideologically than you might think.

Cathy Young said...

Chris: my issue is not that you disagree with me, it's your patronizing "really, Cathy, it's okay!" tone. Maybe you talk to everyone who disagrees with you that way, regardless of gender, but I'd say it's not a wise choice to adopt that tone when talking to a woman about sexism.

As for sexism vs. patriarchy: to reply very briefly, I think there is a huge difference, and not just of degree, between a woman not being employed outside the home because her husband has the legal (or even cultural) authority to forbid it, and a woman not being employed outside the home because she believes a mother should be with her children when they are young.

I'd like to say more on the subject, but I will probably do that in a new blogpost.

I'd still love to know how you were able to read a "racism is black people's fault" message into my column about poverty, despite my explicit statement that (1) the "culture of poverty" cuts across racial lines and (2) people who comment on the subject should not be too judgmental because if we were born into those circumstances we would not do any better.

Chris Wage said...


I'd still love to know how you were able to read a "racism is black people's fault" message into my column about poverty, despite my explicit statement that (1) the "culture of poverty" cuts across racial lines and

I'll concede a point here, but I need to do so delicately, since I could write pages on the topic (other people already have). It's fair to say that the target demographic that "culture of poverty" proponents target cuts across race lines. But, it's not a hard and fast line. Historically, there are segments of our population who were poor because they were black. In addition, there were segments of our po pulation who were poor for other reasons. The former has admittedly lessened in its magnitude as race relations have improved. The segments impacted overlap in various ways. But to say that the racial issue of poverty in this country is gone completely is naive. (Like our debate about "the patriarchy", this is probably yet another area where perhaps you see black/white where I see grey.) I suppose this is a moot distinction if you don't believe there are institutional forces impacting systemic poverty at all.. I chose to paraphrase the "culture of poverty" angle as focusing on "black people" because this particular theory has been tremendously powerful in its impact on race relations in this country, as much as the broader issue of poverty.


(2) people who comment on the subject should not be too judgmental because if we were born into those circumstances we would not do any better.


Being sympathetic is not the same as not assigning blame or fault, which is still what the "culture of poverty" argument seeks to do. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but what I am reading here is that instead of the traditional culture of poverty line: "These poor people wouldn't be so poor if they didn't exist in a culture that promotes it as a good thing", you're adding the qualifier ", but we'd have a hard time in that culture too!"

Neither view, softened or not, does anything to acknowledge the possibility that perhaps poor people don't, in fact, want to be poor. Or that they aren't complete idiots that are too trapped by their "culture" not to be poor. I realize there are subtleties that manifest in class cultures that are indeed very interesting and can impact a lot of things, but I find it troubling that you can't see how "we can't help poor people because they want to be poor" is an infuriating stance on its face. And, I'm not saying that this is even what you're saying, but it *is* an accurate paraphrasal of a strong element in the debate over race/poverty/class issues in this country over the last half century.

I don't know if you accept it, or if you're being willfully ignorant of it, but "culture of poverty" is a weighty phrase with some pretty heavy implications/ideas -- many of which culminated in Murray's book. And, if you'll allow me an obvious appeal to authority: his ideas have been ... roundly debunked in the last few decades of social science.

Kaldari said...

First off, I would like to state that your suggestion that men cannot be Feminists is deeply offensive and ignorant. Some of the most dedicated Feminists I know are men. I'm a male Feminist myself. I read Naomi Wolf and Donna Haraway. I know feminist history and theory backwards and forwards. I contribute annually to Planned Parenthood. I attended the March for Women's Lives (and not with a wife or girlfriend). I speak out against the pervasive exploitation of women in the media. To imply that men cannot be Feminists is a cheap attack that exhibits the same type of gender stereotypes that Feminists oppose, but maybe you wouldn't know anything about that.

Secondly, the notion that institutional discrimination against women is not a form of patriarchal power is ridiculous. Yes, things are improving, but as Chris rightfully pointed out, patriachal power in the US is still alive and well. If anything, I think Chris was being generous in his criticism.

colagirl said...

Kaldari:

a.) I do not recall Cathy Young ever saying that men cannot be feminist and am mystified as to where you got that from.

b.) I'm genuinely curious, and would like to hear your answer: What institutional discrimination do you feel remains in force against women in this country?

Kaldari said...

1. I can't think of any other possible explanation for her using the phrase "Mr. Male Feminist" other than to sarcastically imply that Chris is not qualified to talk about feminist issues because he is Male.

2. How about rape victims being charged for rape-test kits by police in, among other places, Wasilla Alaska.

Cathy Young said...

I can't think of any other possible explanation for her using the phrase "Mr. Male Feminist" other than to sarcastically imply that Chris is not qualified to talk about feminist issues because he is Male.

Actually, the other possible explanation is that I was sarcastically highlighting what I find to be the contradiction between Chris's status as a male feminist, and his insufferably patronizing, "let me explain to you how oppressed you are, little girl," tone toward a woman who happens to disagree with him.

As for the rape-kit policy: as far as I know, not a single victim was actually charged for a rape kit (the charges were to insurance companies). And even if she was, while that would be a bad and insensitive policy, to say that it represents "patriarchal power" over women is absurd. Are male crime victims always treated fairly? Statistics actually indicate that overall, male victims of violent crime are less likely to receive compensation than female victims. And how about the fairly pervasive evidence of greater leniency toward female offenders in the justice system? Is that "matriarchal power" at work?

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