While few people would argue that we need fewer women's stories in our public discussion, there are a few "women's issue" stories I'm tired of reading. Here are the worst of the worst:
1. The “We Don’t Need Feminism Anymore” Story
"It is males who suffer in our society. From boyhood through adulthood, the White American Male must fight his way through a litany of taunts, assumptions, and grievances about his very existence. His oppression is unlike anything American women have faced...America needs to wake up. We have swung the pendulum too far in the other direction — from a man’s world to a woman’s world." —Suzanne Venker for FOX News
Yes, for those of you, like me, who have been stuck under a rock all this time, it’s apparently a woman’s world now. I mean I’m thrilled, I’m just a little confused… because last time I checked, men made up 96% of Fortune 500 CEOs in this country, 95% of our nation's lawmakers, about 70% of the judges both on the district and federal level, and oh yeah...100% of the presidents we've ever had. If men really are the new second-class citizens, I'd love to know their secret to success.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, however, this “we don’t need feminism any more” argument is a favorite of those who seek to shut down gender discussions by insisting that feminism’s time has come and gone. It’s a notion that would be funny, if it hadn’t been published by one of the country’s most prominent news outlets. But as it stands, women still earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, one in six American women will be the victims of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, and nine out of 10 rape victims are female.
Meanwhile, as Venker points out, men have to contend with women’s-focused curricula in public schools, Title IX requirements for female sports teams, ADHD diagnoses, and my personal favorite, the Violence Against Women Act. So start burning those boxer-briefs gentlemen, because apparently that makes you the new oppressed minority.
2. The Victim-Blaming Story
"Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don't know. I'm not blaming the girl, but if you're a 16-year-old and you're drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don't take drinks from other people." —Serena Williams on the Steubenville Rape Case
According to Serena Williams, she wasn’t so much blaming the Steubenville rape on the female victim as she was blaming the girl’s parents who didn’t do a good enough job of teaching her to not get raped. But Serena Williams wasn’t the only person to suggest such a thing. She was just the last in a long line of voices (see here and here and here) to ask whether it was really the Steubenville rapists’ fault that they attacked an intoxicated girl, recorded the act on their cell phones, and bragged it about it on Facebook. I mean, everyone knows that’s what you’re asking for if you drink even a sip of alcohol while also happening to be female, right?
Unfortunately, the Steubenville case was far from the first or only case in which rapes were blamed on the perceived promiscuity or lack of street smarts on the part of the victim. As the saying goes, boys will be boys…and girls better just be smart enough to stay out of the way.
As for the Steubenville victim herself, Williams went so far as to suggest the victim was “lucky” it wasn’t much worse. That’s right — she was lucky that she was only sexually assaulted, haunted by her assailants on social media, named by a national news broadcast, and publicly shamed by an international megastar. All while the media lamented the promising football careers of her rapists that were tragically cut short when they were finally brought to justice.
All I can say is that I’m sure glad it’s a “woman’s world” now because I don’t even want to think about what a man’s world might look like.
3. The “Having It All” Stories
“I still strongly believe that women can 'have it all' (and that men can too). I believe that we can 'have it all at the same time.' But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured. —Anne-Marie Slaughter for The Atlantic.
For the past year there has been an ongoing battle of the feminist titans to decide if it really is possible for women to “have it all,” that is, raise a family (with whom they can actually spend time) and have a successful career that takes them all the way to the top of their chosen industry. Some, like Anne-Marie Slaughter, argue that it’s not possible with the all the institutional disadvantages that professional women face in the workplace. Others say it is if we change the culture around powerful women, and if women stop standing in their own way and take what they really want.
Either way, I’m tired of having this discussion, as if the reason women can’t “have it all” is because they’re women and not because there aren’t enough hours in the day for any human being to be at both every little league game and every board meeting. Men who have high-powered jobs don’t successfully make it to every dance recital or attend every bake sale with perfectly decorated cupcakes they “just whipped up.” The difference is men aren’t as socially pressured to feel guilty about those sacrifices. We can acknowledge that there are some institutional barriers to women in the workplace like short maternity leave, for example, while there are also things men sometimes to do to make it harder on their female colleagues, like making business decisions at social events to which they only invite other men (like golf trips). But we can also admit there are some things women do to make it harder on themselves, like politely deferring from sitting at the head of the table when there are seats around the side.
There are conversations we can have to increase awareness of those problems and practical steps we can take to solve many of them, but clinging to the myth that it’s possible for anyone to “have it all” erodes the credibility of those common-sense ideas. Instead of trying to find ways to have it all, let’s do what we can to help women and their families achieve more of what they want, while also stopping the shame party we throw for women who fail to achieve that impossible task in the first place.