This is going to be a provocative post 🙂 <dons flameproof gloves>

I just read a couple of articles, posted by friends on Facebook, both describing how women’s liberation has hurt women. (Both were posted on The Atlantic website, which may be a very conservative/biased source, although Wikipedia calls it Liberal).

I had a strong reaction to these posts, because I consider myself to be liberal, pro-choice and modernist (and perhaps slightly leftist). And these articles claim that these principles, which I hold dear, are harming women, who make up half the world’s population and for whom I have immense respect. So I can’t help but take sides in this argument. But I think the articles are wrong and misleading, promoting straw-man arguments. Here’s why.

The first article says:

The Decline of Marriage and the Rise of Unwed Mothers: An Economic Mystery… The real question here isn’t “Why so many babies?” It’s “Why so few marriages?” And we have an answer…

This is a complex economic mystery that we’ve explored often at The Atlantic, but we can take a big bite out of it by focusing on three factors: (1) The changing meaning of marriage in America; (2) declining wages for low-skill men; and (3) the declining costs of being a single person.

[1] Once upon a time, the typical marriage … involved special roles for the husband and wife. He would work. She would stay home. It was an efficient arrangement where opposites attracted. Men who wanted to be executives would marry women who wanted to be housewives … Today women expect to work much, much more than they used to. They make up the majority of new college graduates… Since 1950, hours of work by married women have increased by roughly a factor of three…

Modern marriage has changed from an arrangement where men marry for a housewife to a “hedonic” model where both partners can be the breadwinner. As marriage has shifted from opposites-attract to like-attracts-like, researchers have found that sorting has increased all along the educational scale. College graduates are more likely than ever to marry college graduates, as Charles Murray has written. High school dropouts are more likely to marry high school dropouts… We should expect marriages among low-income Americans to decline if women perceive declining gains from hitching themselves to the men around them.

[2] Low-skill men have had a rough two generations. The evaporation of manufacturing work has gutted their main source of employment, while globalization has held down their wages. Marriage has declined the most among men whose wages have declined the most… In a dating pool where poor women are more likely to be surrounded by men with low and falling fortunes, more women have ditched a union for good economic reasons: It could be a financial drain. High rates of unemployment and incarceration meant that the local dating pool was populated by unmarriageable men–and the result was that women chose to live independently.

[3] It is relatively easier to raise a child and keep up a home with modern household innovations… The development of time-saving technologies — cheap prepared foods, cheap clothes, machines to wash, dry, and vacuum … has made it relatively easier for single parents to raise a child…

[4] That women find themselves drifting “unintentionally” into parenthood with men they have no intent of marrying creates another generation of problems.

I’ll rebut this one point at a time, and try to keep it short:

[1] Everyone is only allowed to marry one person at a time. If some lose out, others gain. So some women (A) don’t get to marry a high-flying business executive (X) anymore. That business executive marries someone (B). X is happier with B than with A. B is happier with X than with anyone else. A might be unhappy being forced to marry someone less wealthy (L). But previously, what would B have done? Would she have met someone who appreciated her college degree? Or would men have found her intellect threatening? In the old system there was no room for her to get an education and a career and still get married; she had to choose one or the other.

Because liberation allows smart women to have careers and children and to marry smart men, it increases their chances of success and hapiness. Admittedly not everybody can make the most of those opportunities. But some can and will. B gets to marry someone rich and successful, have children, and give them the best chance in life. A might be unhappy that she has to marry a “low-skill man” or stay single. But I argue, without presenting evidence except communism as a counter-example, that having some extremely successful women as role models benefits all women more than “women marry up” traditionalism. X and B’s children get  better genes and more financial investment from their parents than X and A’s children would have done.

The end result: X partners with someone smarter and more his equal (B) than he could have done before (A). B partners with someone smarter and more her equal (X) than she could have done before. A loses out relatively, but has a better role models to aspire to (B). L has a partner, when previously, given point 2, he would be “unmarriageable”. Sum total human happiness: greater.

[2] This has nothing to do with womens’ liberation. The decline in production industries seems to be an inevitable consequence of globalisation and national development. If a woman chooses not to marry, that is because she has a choice, which she didn’t have before. And she thinks that marriage would not benefit her. If she acts rationally, then she’s made a better choice than she would or could have done under the old system, where she had no choice but to marry.

[3] Again, women have a choice that they did not have before. Previously, if they had chosen to have children, they would have been confined to a life of servitude in looking after them until adulthood. Now they can spend less time cooking and cleaning, and more time earning to pay someone willing to perform those tasks for them, and with money left over to invest in a better future for their children.

I don’t think you can argue that this situation is worse for women in any way, except that they feel more pressure to return to work and pay someone else to look after their children rather than do so themselves. Less parental attention might harm their children, but more opportunities in life might benefit them too. Given the choice which they never had before, and assuming that women act rationally, we have to conclude that they will make the choice that benefits their children most.

[4] I doubt very much that women in a progressive society are unaware of the consequences of intercourse, or are unable to choose whether or not to have children. If they choose to have children, that is their right and their choice, and they alone are responsible for the consequences. Before liberation, as is currently true in many parts of the world, married women are indentured slaves to their husbands, and unmarried women are dangerous pariahs. It’s hard to see how liberation has harmed women by offering them the choice, and freedom to plan and create their own futures as they wish.

The second article says:

The girls of the counterculture Left were wrong; not about civil rights or the Viet Nam War or imperial Amerika, but about sex and men. It is fair to say that the silence of the mothers hid a real, tough, unsentimental knowledge of men and intercourse, and that the noisy sexuality of the daughters hid romantic ignorance.That passage from Andrea Dworkin’s 1983 book Right Wing Women: The Politics of Domesticated Females could almost serve as an epigraph for Sally Potter’s new British Cold War coming-of-age film Ginger & Rosa. The book, is Dworkin’s effort to understand the position and commitments of anti-feminist conservative women. Her conclusion is that conservatives, correctly, view the sexual revolution for women as in many ways a scam, and that free love is not so much an escape from the inequities of domesticity as an intensification of them.

I haven’t read Dworkin’s book or seen Potter’s film. But the sentiment riles me.

I agree that “free love” ideas, as promulgated by many men in the 1960s, tried to take advantage of womens’ new-found control over their fertility, by encouraging them to sleep with as many men as possible. Of course, that was in the interests of men and not beneficial or helpful to women. People still have the same biological urges and imperatives despite changes in technology.

But the situation today is far removed from the 1960s. Anyone who says that women have not learned from 50 years of living in this scientific world, insults women massively. Of course Roland saying “I am free and autonomous!” as an excuse to break his marriage vows and sleep with whoever he wants is evidence that he’s a liar and a cheat. But to taint all men with the same brush is pure libel, and I won’t accept it.

The film seems to portray women failing to stand up to men in several ways, at least according to the article (I haven’t seen the film):

  • Roland is, as far as his family is concerned, a giant, selfish prick.
  • When confronted, he starts babbling about autonomy and how he can’t be held to the man’s rules, man, and how he suffered when he was in prison.
  • When his wife gets upset because he’s treating her like dirt, he tells her that her tears are “emotional blackmail,” designed to impinge on his freedom and drag him into stultifying normalcy.
  • His political commitments are both a justification and a form of bullying, and his radical rejection of domesticity doesn’t free his wife, but simply means that he can take her cooking and her service without any return of fidelity or affection.
  • Even his principled pacifism ends up as an emotional bludgeon.
  • In the confrontation at the end of the film, when Roland justifies himself through his usual “I am free and autonomous!” spiel, Bella doesn’t put forward any kind of feminist alternative to the boilerplate hippie leftism.
  • In fact, when she starts to argue, Roland tells her she has no right to judge him because she doesn’t know him.
  • Ginger’s politics are not just a way to separate herself from her mom, though. They’re also a way to separate herself from herself.

And a brilliant non-sequitur:

  • Feminism’s insistence that the private experiences of women are political and public…

The article is mainly a review of a film that fails to advance the feminist cause. It’s only mildly critical of that fact. Which is a shame, and a disappointment in my view, because so much needs to be done to achieve equal rights and opportunities for men and women. It seems that this film actually, subtly, undermines womens’ rights: by portraying an outdated stereotype of the way that men and women once behaved, with implied applicability to the present, it may encourage men and women to behave that way today. And that is not to be encouraged at all.

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This post is not really about International Development, or developing regions, or technology. It’s about my interest in all these things. It’s a kind of confession. I hope that others will stumble upon it, and gain something from it.

If you think I’m crazy or lying, please write a comment! I want to know if these words strike you as truth or not!

What just happened?

I’ve been doing some work on myself (personal development) recently, including attending the ISA Experience. One thing they asked us to do, before we arrived, was to write a personal statement about what we hoped to gain from the Experience. I had no idea what to expect, or what was possible. But I remember reading in the brochure:

What if you could not fail? How would you approach every day? What would you achieve? You could be anything, couldn’t you?

So I thought about what I wanted to do with my life, and wrote the following (other parts I might share another day :-):

If I could do anything I wanted, I would:

  • Reduce unfairness and unhappiness in the world
  • Make a noticeable positive impact on the human condition

The question was one that we participants discussed often during those days. Someone on the course asked me why I was there. I said that I wanted to make the world a better place, that I couldn’t imagine anything better to do with my limited time on Earth. And she told me that she had once wanted the same thing, and she’d learned that we, who desire to change the world, often need to change ourselves first.

And she told me about Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest, psychotherapist, spiritual guide, writer and public speaker. When she told me that de Mello’s work had been banned by the Catholic Church, I was hooked. I’m not a fan of religious institutions, and a natural rebel. She told me that his work was available online, and I found a recording of a 1986 conference (lecture series). I highly recommend these lectures to you.

I also want to point out that I am not religious or spiritual. I will quote from religious and spiritual people, because they are wise gurus, not because I follow the religions started in their names.

Development 2.0

I learned much from ISA, De Mello and Don Miguel Ruiz, and I will list some of these learnings here, in the hope that they may inspire others to follow these same paths, at least for the journey, and that they will share their experience with others. In particular, I now think that:

  • Improving the human condition depends on awakening or self-discovery.
  • There are gurus whose wise words deserve attention and deep thought.
  • This knowledge is not new, but thousands of years old, and yet few understand it even today.
  • Our society offers us convenient, empty distractions from the truth: consumer goods, entertainment, news, gossip, wealth, therapy, etc.
  • We must awaken ourselves, encourage others, and spread knowledge of the truth.
  • This is the real development: personal, national, international and human.

My understanding of development has changed completely since I entered this sector with a desire to do good and relieve suffering. I thought that we in the West did not suffer, while the starving in Africa do. I have learned that this idea was wrong:

  • Many people in Africa are happy despite material problems (money does not buy happiness);
  • “Development” based on copying our society is a lie, a trap;
  • We are not more developed, just differently;
  • Let us not forget that “developing” nations are the oldest on Earth, and have had the most time to develop themselves.
  • Let us not judge who is “developed” or not.
  • Let us explore and share the truth and enlightenment instead.

On Happiness

I learned some keys to being happy in my own life:

  • I choose whether to enjoy or to hate, to be happy or miserable, every moment of every day.
  • That choice is usually made automatically by my programming (conditioning).
  • It’s really hard to override the conditioning and reinterpret my world.
  • It’s even harder to remember to do it all the time!
  • Suffering is caused by our desire or craving for something.

Many wise people have said these things, and yet most of us are still asleep:

“I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.” – Martha Washington

“Happiness is not a matter of good fortune or worldly possessions. It’s a mental attitude. It comes from appreciating what we have, instead of being miserable about what we don’t have. It’s so simple, yet so hard for the human mind to comprehend.” – Bits and Pieces

A Cherokee elder was teaching his children about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to them. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandchildren thought about it and after a minute one of them asked, “Which wolf will win?”

The elder simply replied, “The one you feed.” – Unfolding Leadership

On Others

I used to think that it was important to please others. I still think that my parents gave me this name, Christopher, for a reason, not just because it started with the letter C. They wanted me to be a good boy and to help others. I struggle every day to decide whether I am helping others for my own sake or for theirs. I struggle every day not to take personally the insults and compliments that others give me, and to do what I feel is right, to be authentic.

My personal development has given me some insights that help me when I remember them:

  • Other people do not really know us.
  • They think they do, but they observe us filtered through their own values.
  • They assign these filtered, judged attributes to our character in their own life story.
  • When they talk to us, they are really talking to that character in their own story.
  • Who is talking is not them, but their character in their own story, not necessarily the same, unless they are authentic
  • If we derive happiness or unhappiness from the words of others, we set ourselves up to be manipulated by them.
  • If we hate them, we poison ourselves and our lives with hate.
  • If we deny or condemn them, we give them power over us.
  • Let us confront our demons, observe and appreciate their strengths and weaknesses.

(Edit) After listening to a little more Anthony de Mello, I will quote him directly:

Any time you have a negative feeling towards anyone, you’re living in an illusion. There’s something seriously wrong with you. You’re not seeing reality. Something inside of you has to change.

But what do we generally do when we have a negative feeling? We’re saying “He is to blame, she is to blame, she’s got to change”. No, no. The world is all right. The one who’s got to change is you.

I have much more to write, but this article is already too long. I hope to write a second part soon.