Thursday, November 03, 2005

"Some men are intimidated by accomplished and successful women"

A lot of people have been asking us to comment on Maureen Dowd's recent NYTimes article. "What's a Modern Girl to Do?" is a look at "the state of feminism." The data Dowd uses: dating norms, fashion, other girly stuff. Oh, and Louise Story's article.

First off: I agree with Dowd that many women have taken for granted the gains of feminism, and have stopped challenging the persisting social norms that are harmful to them. She is right that we are all complicit in these harmful norms. But in her urge for awareness, Dowd draws on an extremely limited range of experience and ignores some important critiques of feminism itself. Her analysis
suffers, as does Story's article, from a complete lack of awareness of the diversity of "women" (and men!) and of the broader implications of gender discrimination.

This great post at feministing points out the narrowness of Dowd's argument and its ultimate superficiality.

Loren Krywanczyk's YDN editorial yesterday draws together these issues beautifully as well, arguing that "no style of feminism that remains stagnant could suffice to carry a unified movement." We can't forget that changing things involves a look at how we want to change them, and not just at what's wrong.

What does everyone else think?


Maggie said...

Although I generally find Dowd to be bitter and whiny and unproductive in her commentary, I usually think there is some truth to what she says. In this case, I don't agree with many of her points, but I do agree that as a rule, men are intimidated by strong, intelligent, accomplished women. Of course, such a statement certainly doesn't apply to all men, but I've seen this dynamic too many times to completely discount it. I'm not sure why this is . . . but I think it's a question worth exploring, perhaps in a more thorough way than Dowd does.

On a related note, I agree that Dowd's definitions of "feminine" and "feminism" are extremely narrow, and I applaud Loren for highlighting the need to have broad, inclusive conceptions of these terms. Readings Loren's article, however, got me thinking about whether this inclusive perception was really all-inclusive. I was somewhat unsettling by the negative portrayal of the women at the Louise Story panel, who were described as wearing skirts and crossing their legs, as if somehow this "feminine" appearance detracted from their "feminist" perspective. Dowd mentions this denigration of "the feminine" at the beginning of the 1970s in her article, and I think that this perception still exists, although in a lesser degree. I sometimes feel that because I'm heterosexual, or because I like to wear skirts, that my feminist voice is perceptive as less authentic or less credible than that of a woman who defies gender norms in a more overt way. It troubles me that my experience as a woman limits me within the feminist community simply because I seem to conform, in a superficial way, to a more traditional model of women. I don't know if I'm making sense . . . anyone else have thoughts on this predicament?

Adda said...

No, Maggie I totally agree. I think that as women we really need to work on not breaking each other down. Plain and simple. I also think that we shouldn't model our feminist movement in opposition to the masculinist/misogynist model in place. That is to say, becoming a high powered career woman/chief justice of the supreme court/president etc. etc. are NOT the only way to be a feminist. Just because those are the positions of power in our culture, doesn't mean they should be the positions revered by feminists. Although I am surprised to hear other Yale women express their desire to be mothers, I think its important that we don't deride their choices. I think that women need to find careers that give them something and are not simply about serving others. But its as easy to fall into that trap at a law firm as in the house.

I do agree with a lot of what Maureen Dowd said. And when I spoke with two close guy friends about how disparaging the tone of the article was about men, they both said that they thought that Dowd's assessment of men was sad, but mostly true. Many men are terribly threatened by intelligent women. The only thing that gets me about this article (and a lot of the feminist discussion that has been going on in the mainstream press) is that Dowd doesn't really talk about how things could be better. How can they be better? My problem is that to a large extent it makes me feel sort of disempowered, because I feel like the problem is men and on the other hand, I feel incredibly defensive, like I need to make sure that no man ever gets in the way of me accomplishing anything. But I don't really think either of those responses are healthy nor do they lead to a productive, functional way to lead my life.

In other words, how can we carve out a space for ourselves where we feel like we can thrive and follow our hearts and dreams, and not end up 50 angry and bitter like Dowd. I guess, the main thing that also bothered me about the article is that she totally ellided from the discussion any recognition of her own agency and hand in this. She obviously made the choice not to date certain people because she didn't have time at the moment to devote to a relationship or they were assholes (both valid reasons). She sort of portrayed herself as this big victim, who was never chosen by some equally intelligent man, but instead passed over for a secretary or a maid. I mean, Dowd, give yourself a little more credit please. Obviously, none of these men were worth being with if those are the choices they make.

In conclusion (sorry for the train of thought rambling going on), I just think its imperative that women think of themselves as enough on their own, but also find ways to engage in loving relationships without sacrificing all.