The Clare Spark Blog

April 10, 2014

Women and power in the modern world

equalpay2Nothing in this blog is intended to diminish the suffering of males at the hands of more powerful males. Still, the silencing of many women propels me to comment at some length.

The Obama administration has raised the issue of wage inequality between women and men, some aver, to change the subject from ACA, which has met widespread opposition. This blog addresses why many women are blocked from high level jobs in business, technology, engineering, and other male-dominated fields.

First, there are power trade-offs. “Domestic feminists” argue that puritanism (and Protestantism in general) raised the status of women in the home. As medieval agrarian societies were replaced by capitalist industrial societies, men were no longer commanding labor and resources in the home; rather they were now absent fathers and husbands, busy with offices and factories. At the same time, Lockean psychology elevated the role of women, whose maternal duties now included the inculcation of ethics in the infant or growing child, born Locke claimed, with a tabula rasa. The historian Ruth Bloch calls this phenomenon “the rise of the moral mother.”

Understandably, males, faced with the complaint of undeserved subordination raised by both the first and second waves of feminism, were outraged: for them, women already had too much power. Her recently enhanced domestic role, plus her enthusiasm “to make the whole world homelike” in the progressive movement, combined to make the middle-class woman resented by displaced patriarchs or overly-attached “momma’s boys”. “What [more] do women want?” cried Freud, and many agreed with him, and still do.

[Added 4/16/14: a FB comment from Helen Logan Tackett: I work in a profession where my salary based on specific academic achievements, if a man in my profession makes more than me, it is due to him working more hours than me. Here is the truth; most women work two jobs. The real gender inequality is women now struggle to balance career demands and housework, laundry, shopping, meal preparation, nurse to sick children, primary caregiver for aging parents. When my son got sick at school, the school called me,mom, before they called my husband, his father. Where is government’s quick fix for the exhausted working woman due to holding down two jobs? Instead of government painting women as victims of sexist capitalism why doesn’t government provide tax deduction for work performed in the home? Paving the way for Hillary Clinton, in typical fashion, the Democrats use the victim ploy to convince women that if they don’t vote for Hillary, then GOP men will make them second class members of society by impoverishing them. In sum, vote for Hillary if you want money. Pathetic.]

Second, aside from gender differences in physical strength and longevity, heterosexual women are socialized to crave husbands; even many lesbian couples want children. In 1974, Lynda Benglis defined herself in Artforum against the vaginally-oriented feminist art movement with a tough and controversial nude self-portrait, holding what appeared to be an oversized erect penis attached to her body, asserting both androgyny and the cry that women were socialized to please men.

Lynda Benglis, Artforum 1974

Lynda Benglis, Artforum 1974

It is still a shocking image. [I showed her current work in my 1970s slide show on feminist art, and I recall lots of glitter and non-representational pieces: Here is one that I did not see from 1973, suggesting what might emerge in the advertisement.]

Lecture%209%20-%20Lynda%20Benglis,%20Omega,%201973

As I have written ad nauseum, second wave feminists defined politically correct feminist art as the empowered vagina, confronting [war-making] men and the presumably all-powerful Western patriarchy with aggressive, shocking images. Having emerged from the male left-dominated antiwar and civil rights movements, their feminism was easily co-opted. By the time I entered graduate school in the 1980s, semiotics ruled the day, and feminists were now Foucauldians and postmodernists, railing against the industrializing bourgeoisie that had once raised the status of all women. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/10/14/reality-and-the-left/, partly about Judith Butler, their superstar.)

Today, there are token women in positions of power in government, business, and in our dominant cultural institutions. In academe, they have often settled for low-status Women’s Studies programs that are laughing stocks. And heavies in educational psychology like Howard Gardner may see females as inherently narcissistic and self-absorbed, keeping their journals [and their ageless skin?]. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/arne-duncans-statism-part-two/.)

Yet the token successful women complain of a glass ceiling, wage differentials, and segregation in such maternal occupations as nursing and primary school education. It remains to be seen if today’s feminists can bury their differences with conservative women in order to formulate a new feminist program that allows all women and girls to develop their minds and talents, not only their learned masochism of pandering to the male of the species.

Betty Grable: #1 pinup WW2

Betty Grable: #1 pinup WW2

November 15, 2012

Female genitals as Red Flag

militant Judy Chicago

In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), the great gesture of defiance for Winston Smith is his sexual liaison with the promiscuous Julia. It was the same for Herbert Marcuse, writing to the Sixties’ generation in his Eros and Civilization (1955).  And before that publication, Harvard social psychologist Henry A. Murray and his colleague Gordon Allport suggested that an American “Leader” like FDR, the antithesis of Hitler, should embody the Eros of democracy (https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/).  A few years earlier, Wilhelm Reich, a refugee from Nazis, first published his seminal work arguing that Nazism was anchored in the German psyche through repression of the orgasm (The Mass Psychology of Fascism, 1933, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm_Reich).

So when Judy Chicago and other feminist artists took on the Woman Question in the 1960s and 70s, it is not surprising that in-your-face sexual emancipation, focused on a populist critique of “white male modernist supremacy” in the art world, would be their Red Flag. There were sturdy precedents in 20th century culture, and soon Marcuse would be warning about “repressive de-sublimation”—a move that would only impel more consumerism and false consciousness in the working class as the Frankfurt School refugees liked to argue as Marxists and pseudo-Freudians.

I have been studying the sumptuous catalog published by the University of California Press in 1996, Feminist Politics: Judy Chicago’s ‘Dinner Party’ in Feminist Art History, edited by Amelia Jones, a post-structuralist art historian, attuned to queer studies, performance art, and Da Da (!).  Jones’s Wikipedia page lauds her for her anti-elitist stance, while the catalog rehabilitates kitsch and popular culture– an accurate reflection of the populist politics she brings to her ambivalent study of the work that made Judy Chicago and feminist art a topic of heated debate within the art world and elsewhere.

Frida with cat

Frida Kahlo with cat in classic come hither position

A review of the major claims of the pseudo-revolutionary character of this populist art world move seems timely, now that the Democratic Party has highlighted the supposed War on Women launched by their ostensibly uptight, hyper-puritan adversaries on the Right.

Amelia Jones’s major essay in the catalog is a treat for those readers who define liberation as focus on female genitals.  In guilty liberal fashion, she does complain that a feminist movement that ignored women of color is problematic, but her main point is that Chicago’s representation of great women through the ages is not “essentialist” (“biological determinism” is off the table), but female identity is, rather, “socially constructed,” hence it follows that the “patriarchy” can be demolished by feminist art and criticism.

Since Chicago’s Great Genitals are a colorful and shiny mish-mash, mixing up artists, writers, and an assortment of antique heroines of various religions (many pagan), the entire conception of her mammoth piece is necessarily mystical, perhaps barbaric, which fits in with the Woman as Goddess motif that is the most lasting legacy of the Sexual Revolution. I wonder if Chicago’s fame/notoriety is as original a move as her fans imagine.

Hannah Wilke

Keith Thomas, the late British historian, argued that modernity and puritanism elevated the status of women in marriage. So-called feminist art betrays its critical promise by reducing women to their sex organs.  Men got there first. [On how the Democratic Party has co-opted feminism see https://clarespark.com/2012/10/03/the-sexual-revolution-2/]

(For a related blog that documents misogyny in some famous poets and critics, see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/23/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets/. For a partial index to all my blogs on feminism see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/04/links-to-blogs-on-feminism/.) Historian Ruth Bloch has traced the “rise of the moral mother”, whose status was improved by Lockean tabula rasa psychology and the decline of paternal authority in the family. Mothers, now the decisive instructors in religious sentiments,  could be seen as malevolently usurping the male role, as father left his castle/home for offices and factories; father was no longer the supreme authority and distributor of material resources within the household economy.

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