The news has been dominated this week by conflicting opinions on NFL star Ray Rice’s knockout punch to his then fiancée Janay Palmer. This blog is about the shallow coverage of a widespread and subtle problem: the generalized abuse of women, married or single. [For a related illustrated blog see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/25/the-ultimate-s-m-humiliation/.%5D
On Fox News Channel, only Dagen McDowell has appropriately addressed the issue of why abused women don’t leave their marriages or violent lovers. Look for the financial considerations, she cried, almost in an unplanned and exasperated outburst on Hannity. There is more to this story than even the Fox Business personality imagined.
Before I launch into the blog, let me clarify my own position: I take the battle of the sexes for granted. Generally, men are stronger than women, and their much vaunted “protection” is offered only as long as the “girls” don’t cross the line into some version of egalitarianism grounded in rationalism. That line is constantly moving (especially with the revitalization of one version of feminism (see https://clarespark.com/2012/11/15/female-genitals-as-red-flag/), but some features of misogyny and sexism remain invisible to mass media, which generally cater to men (in sports coverage), but must pull in women viewers as well.
Take the terror of aging for one example. We stigmatize pedophiles, while promoting the beauty ideal in very young girls (or boys!), with perfect skin and little body fat, for breasts and bellies remind men of their mothers, from whom separation has never been achieved, or is at best, ambivalent. The mother-son dyad is probably the key to misogyny and few will talk about “attachment theory” for John Bowlby and his followers in psychiatry don’t sit well with feminists on the lam from the boredom of early child-rearing (see https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/).
Take the mandatory wearing of high heels for another. The Foxy ladies on Fox News Channel are not only heavily made up and “lookers” but invariably wear high heels, which orthopedists agree lead to ankle, feet, knee and back problems later in life. But what does the young hip woman care? She is competing with other women for the favors of powerful men with jobs and/or prospects, and will humiliate her body to cater to male fetishism that finds high heels sexy, signifying the inability to run away from [male] predators. And yet many Western women look down on Chinese foot binding from another era as hopelessly stupid and retrograde. Nothing so undesirable as the little old ladies from Pasadena wearing white sneakers.
When I first came to Los Angeles in 1959, I discovered that the wives of my husband’s local friends were able to talk ONLY about children, nursery schools, home decor, and vacations. I am not exaggerating. Those subjects encompassed their worlds, and the fact that I joined the men in discussing public affairs was awesome, but also a big freaky (did I even know what I was talking about? No, but I had a strong mother).
Has feminism changed all that? Do conservative advocates for two parent households emphasize the need for educated, outspoken, book-reading wives, or are they silent on matters of enormous import? (A reminder here that religion has long been the province of females in the home, as Ann Douglas complained long ago in The Feminization of American Culture. She was contradicted by “domestic feminists” who claimed that the rise of the “moral mother” since industrialism removed the paterfamilias from the home, thus empowered women to make the whole world home-like, i.e. to support the welfare state.) No one in academe will argue against the claim that paternal authority has been weakened over the last few centuries. Perhaps conservative initiatives to reinstate the two parent family aims to correct this imbalance. But will pater help with the labor of housekeeping, cooking, and child-rearing? Not so fast: the vagueness of this call to papa-led families is silent on this crucial subject.
Finally, many couples make a trade-off: men will meekly acquiesce to many female demands in the home, but she had better not depart from stereotyped female roles, including the supplying of sex on demand.
Is it any wonder that most women, even those in the Western world, are obsessed with plastic surgery, hair, make-up, and the exact amount of muscle “toning” to please the ever-dominant male? The silence on this subject of female powerlessness is deafening. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/03/27/power-in-gay-andor-heterosexual-attachments/.)