Years ago, I was talking to an older writer friend and she said wasn’t it weird how the future they expected and anticipated, with refectories and public crèches never came to pass. I pointed out that, though they weren’t provided in a centralized manner, it had come to pass. Back then (early 2000s) we were living a rather hectic life and often stopped for take-out – along with every other family with two working parents, also stopping for takeout.
It is natural for science fiction writers to think of centralized solutions for the future they want to happen. This is natural not only because most science fiction writers older than I (and even more younger than I, but the reasons are different. The younger ones were indoctrinated rather than taught) thought that the only way to achieve brand new patterns of living would be through top down imposition, but also because it’s easier to write a government solution for something, than the myriad, lurching confused, responses of the market – no matter how much more efficient the second is, in the long run.
This is the exact same reason we often end up with our characters saving the world or something of the sort and in my case often in the space of two weeks (I like stuff to go fast) because it’s much harder to say “And then some guy in China did this, and then…” Also, makes for lousy stories. The climaxes just are no fun, if you have to show a bunch of people no one heard of before doing a tiny bit to turn the situation.
Anyway, my friend was shocked at the idea, just as she was shocked at the idea that as it was most people WERE being raised by strangers in daycares.
This brings me to a fascinating paradox. We are supposedly living in an age when feminism won and therefore we have all become… men?
Look, I know some of you – possibly because I WAS saying heretical stuff – interpreted my blowing steam post as meaning that I wanted all women to go back to the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant.
Actually, I don’t believe in broad groups and that very much includes “male and female.” No, I don’t think that those are “social constructs” – sorry – even if some of the ways the inherent tendencies express are very much a cultural thing (after all, Elizabethan men wore make up.) BUT I do think that when you talk about the statistical female and the statistical male you are not, in fact, talking about anyone who exists. You’re talking about “in general, it is this way.” Lies, damn lies and statistics. Depending on where you hang out, you might not know a single woman who is in the center of the IQ curve, who loves shopping and whose greatest ambition in life is to have babies. (I do know some women like that. It always strikes me as offensive from a writing POV, the same way my Chinese dry cleaner annoys me. I mean, shouldn’t these roles be less stereotypical? What was the Great Author thinking?)
Although there is, broadly speaking, a female brain and a male brain, very few people have a perfectly gendered one. My older son, in the few minutes before my eyes glaze completely over, has gone on about hormone baths in pregnancy and also how your hormone balance throughout life will affect your epigenetics. Pregnancy does change your brain too, if you have kids and heck, an extended period on some contraceptives changes your brain too. And one of the characteristics it changes is how well you fit your gender prototype.
Stereotypes of course got to exist for a reason. Meaning they have SOME predictive value. If you know someone who is madly craving a brood of children there’s a good chance the person will be female (though apparently once upon a time it was my dad. And the partner who didn’t want ANY was my mom. So they ended up with two.) But in your circle of acquaintance, the person who really wants kids might be Joe, and the person who is a type A career driven maniac might be Mary. And in ten years it might be reversed.
So – what do I mean by all of this? Why am I confusing you? There isn’t enough coffee for this – just this: people are not the group they belong to. Humans aren’t chips to be moved around a board. You can’t say “Group A was advantaged for centuries, so we’re going to punish their descendants.” Not only aren’t their descendants the same people who got an advantage, but the reason that advantage existed might now be completely gone. (For instance part of the reason males had an advantage in career was that, frankly, they couldn’t get knocked up. Which meant their lives were less likely to be interrupted by stopping to have have babies [and trust me, it does a number on your brain] than women were. Reliable contraceptives have stopped that.)
In fact, the ultimate definition of evil is always treating humans like things. Humans have this tendency, statistics or not, to be highly individual. Take me, for instance – for a while in my life (we were furnishing and rehabilitating a house) I hung out with the good old boys outside the hardware store, waiting for it to open. I still like carpentry. I was a tomboy until I had kids, and in some ways I still am (as you’d see, if you could glimpse me fighting the boys with nerf swords, up and down the stairs.) So you’re thinking I’m a boyish type female. I’ve certainly never had trouble competing with men intellectually or professionally. BUT I love doing crochet, I enjoy dressing up and make up and if you saw me out – in high heels – for an evening with my husband you would think I was the girliest girly who ever stepped. (The only form of shopping I like is for shoes. Deal.) I also wanted to have a dozen children. (Stoopid lack of fertility thwarted me.) And I chose a career that allowed me to work at home and raise the boys rather than the more monetarily rewarding career I could have had in translation or teaching. (The fact I really wanted to write is neither here nor there. The reason I quit my technical translation job was that I had pre-eclampsia with Robert and it does interesting things to your brain. The reason I chose not to go back was that trying to establish myself in writing, instead, allowed me to stay home and raise him myself.)
The point is, if you try to fit me in either role, you’ll get me very upset. (And trust me, no one wants me very upset.)
And I fit about as well in “the thing to do” now as I would have done when the “thing to do” was to “be a good wife and mother.” I chose to have a career AND to raise my own kids. So the career had to be one that allowed me to raise the kids, but I failed at soccer mom 101, because I was busy writing. Both were perfectly reasonable. I had to do something intellectual or I’d go batty(er) and I always wanted to write fiction. At the same time I’d seen the result of kids raised by strangers, knew there was a good chance my kids would be outliers of the type that always do worse in daycare, and I decided no, I wanted to raise them.
Yes, I spent years being looked down upon because I stayed home to raise the kids. A gentleman who BARELY escaped having his head bitten off, this only because he was too stupid to talk to, at a party for a company Dan worked for in the late nineties, asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a writer – at the time I had sold my first novel, had five stories published and WAS working 8 + hours a day on getting the career off the ground. Yes, I was normally working with the kids playing legos at my feet, or reading in my research chair. He asked what I’d had published, and when I explained, he curled his lip and said “In other words, you’re a housewife.”
Now, the anedocte is illustrative of two things: first, he thought being a housewife was bad. In fact, he thought it was so bad that he decided I was lying about writing (I still wonder how easy he thought it was to sell five stories and a novel. Let me tell you, at the time, not easy) to cover up my condition as housewife.
He wasn’t the only one. All through my life I’ve run into people assuming that a) because I’m married; b) because I chose to have kids; c) because I chose to raise my own kids, I must have the IQ of warm milk.
Without an exception, the people making this assumption were feminists – whether male or female – and would have said that they were for female equality…
I’m fairly sure the shows showing every position of power from police captain to corporate exec as female (for double points female of color!) also think they’re striking one for equality.
My question is… If we must all be equal, why must we all be equally male? Why shouldn’t it be equality of opportunity: jobs have certain requirements, if you can fulfill them we don’t care what gender equipment you were born with. (Unless the job is prostitution, where legal, of course. Oh, wait. That falls under requirements.)
I don’t at all oppose showing women in positions of power – though I’d prefer if it were made clear there is a price in both cases. The stay-at-home, no-job mom will be paying a price in employability and also in social standing. But the career woman also pays in an often (though not always) lonely life and in childlessness. There is no perfect path. You lays your bet, you takes your earnings. BUT I do oppose showing women in EVERY position of power (or just about. Sometimes you’re allowed a minority guy in those roles.)
Why is it that from promiscuity while young (though I think that is because of the misguided late-nineteenth century idea that if we all had all the sex we wanted there would be no neurosis. We should be past that now) to single minded pursuit of career as an ideal, we are pushing women into male roles and giving male roles the high status even as we disem-power (totally a word. Deal) REAL males.
It’s as though we’ve determined the best thing possible for society is for everyone to be males or ersatz males. And ersatz males are better.
In a truly feminist society wouldn’t the female roles be more valued? Wouldn’t we have guys bragging how they stay home with the toddlers because they’re way better at it than their wives? Wouldn’t we have women embarrassed to admit that kids were put in daycare?
And you know, the puzzling thing about this, is that – no sentimentality considered – traditional female roles were of paramount importance. The raising of the next generation is not only vital, but perhaps the most vital to the continuation of the civilization.
It is also one done very badly by strangers, be they the government or private people. It is not the first time a civilization has tried this. In fact, squinting and from a distance, our pursuit of status through abandoning of the raising of our own kids is exactly what Rome did, and what the French aristocracy did, and what the British aristocracy did. And every time – mark me – every time the kids thus raised either brought the civilization that created them down, or had a d*mn good whack at it, even if saved by peripheral events.
The fact that we consider raising kids low status shows how far we’ve come to devaluing women in this supposedly woman-centered society. This is just like the promiscuity that is supposed to “liberate” women actually results in young men who never feel the need to commit to a monogamous relationship. Who is it liberating?
Look, the old model was restrictive and oppressive. No doubt about that. There were, I’m sure, excellent scientific brains that could have advanced humanity but instead were expended in the dark dankness of a cottage, rocking the cradle, because women weren’t to be taught. (For that matter, I’m sure that there are excellent brains covered by burkas in places where women are simply what’s between their legs.)
The new model is restrictive and oppressive. Young women are taught that wife and mother is not an honorable choice even if they are working at home AT THE SAME TIME. Even if their profession is demanding. For that matter, young men are taught that staying at home to raise kids is somehow wrong. (For a brief time my husband was the “kindergarten mom” and I went out to work. The sneers were WORSE.)
Are there women who would do very well in combat? Probably. And given other psychological arrangements (like, perhaps the instincts of their male colleagues cause problems, so perhaps an all-female unit, if it can be managed) if they meet the requirements men meet, let them do it. There are women (vanishingly few) who can fireman-carry a 400lb man out of a burning building. And if they pass the tests, for the love of G-d why not let them do it?
But please don’t push them into it, don’t lower requirements for them, and don’t sneer at them if they choose NOT to do it. Value what used to be called “men’s work” and “Men’s ways” and “women’s work” and “women’s ways.” It’s all human work. It all needs doing.
In the same way – I know a few couples this way – if the man is more nurturing and wants to stay home with the kids, suspend the jokes. And if the man wants to be an engineer and the woman wants to stay home and cook and sew and raise babies, what business is it anyone else’s? Why should people be made miserable to fulfill dreams of past generations?
Oh, sure, I’d prefer a future in which because of tech we have even more flexibility: a future in which most people work from home and parents can supervise their kids’ education which is mostly online. A future in which human potential is highly augmented by labor-and-time saving technologies.
But even then it won’t be universal, and the best way to GET there is to stop grouping people: by color, by gender, by … whatever.
Let each person do what they’re best at and WANT to do. You’ll find that people are best at what they like – or at least they work harder at it. And that everyone is better off, when people are allowed to do what they feel called to do.
I believe in individuals. Whether the individuals want to be barefoot (pregnant is more difficult, because some of those will be male and others will be infertile) in the kitchen, or suited up in the boardroom, or driving a truck, or exploring Mars, or teaching toddlers, or nursing the sick, or fighting wildfires, or fighting on behalf of their nation, or researching scientific puzzles, or writing a novel WHILE rocking the cradle.
I think each person should do what they want and are best suited to, and that we should stop counting heads and thinking there’s a “problem” if there’s more outies than innies here or there.
Let’s stop pounding square pegs into round holes. It ruins both the holes and the pegs.