Learning Nothing from the 2016 Election: The Entitled Woman

Hillary and the 2016 Election

In 2016, Hillary Clinton ran for the presidency, in a campaign that many, notably including prominent Democrats, have criticized for its assumption that it was “her turn.” The reasoning seemed to be that she had worked hard, had waited patiently, and above all was a woman, and was therefore entitled to become the next president.

It didn’t turn out that way. The mentality of female entitlement, for Hillary and others, was epitomized in Slate by Michelle Goldberg (December 27, 2016), a few weeks after the election. Goldberg tried to explain Clinton’s loss by saying, “In America, men have always ruled, and right now I wonder if they always will.” And why have men always ruled? Because, Goldberg said, in America, female ambition is considered “unseemly”; because a woman like Clinton was guaranteed to face “widespread male opposition”; because there are powerful cultural forces favoring “a new backlash” against feminism.

That bit about “unseemly” female ambition is false. Conservatives are as proud as liberals, when they see their doctor and dentist daughters graduate. America has female politicians, female CEOs, female PhDs. There’s plenty of rewarded female ambition out there.

But Goldberg is right about some of it. But why would there be, for instance, a “new backlash”? Goldberg herself provides the answer, in spades. And in doing so, she makes herself a microcosm of the grossly flawed Clinton campaign, a small but visible case study of what it is like to say things that sound one way to your true believers, and completely different to everyone else. Here are some quotes from Goldberg’s article, expressing her views (which I think are mostly correct) on how things were, in the years leading up to the 2016 election, and how they may be, in the years to come:

  • “On television, women went from ornaments to protagonists, starring in a slew of raunchy comedies in which men were often afterthoughts.” But how, exactly, would this appeal to male voters, or to women who don’t see men that way, or to people who don’t like raunch?
  • “Female college students demanded standards of sexual consent that were often unfathomable to their elders.” Unfathomable, indeed. Consider the Teen Vogue (Vrangalova, 2016) recommendation to “ask permission for any escalation in intimacy” (e.g., going from kissing to touching). When you read that, you might agree: the lawyers have finally won. That draconian approach, lampooned at (and ultimately blamed for the demise of) Antioch College in the 1990s, may simply have been ahead of its time: the New York Times (Rosman, 2018) now provides sympathetic coverage, complete with the usual pseudo-multicultural suppression of incompatible minority views.
  • “Young women . . . defined condescending lectures from poorly informed men as mansplaining.” Well, that was the starting point; but then young women took that useful concept and abused men with it. (See e.g., Lesley, 2012; Cookman, 2015; Coccimiglio, 2015.) More than two years before Goldberg’s article, Salon (Hart, 2014) said that “mansplaining” had “morphed from a useful descriptor of a real problem in contemporary gender dynamics to an increasingly vague catchall expression that seems to be inflaming the Internet gender wars more than clarifying them.”
  • “I never wore one of those T-shirts proclaiming ‘The Future is Female,’ but I came close to believing it.” That was a great slogan for Clinton to be associated with (and, post-election, to embrace explicitly), assuming she didn’t mind scaring post-Hecession men who were already worried about their futures. But you can see how it might appeal to people whose attitude was, “Who cares what men think?”
  • “Caldwell wrote with palpable alarm. ‘Women now constitute a class — a dominant class.’ It wasn’t true in 1996, but in 2016 the world that Caldwell warned of was just visible on the horizon.” Actually, in important ways it was already true in 1996 — but, at any time, why would female dominance over men be good? What happened to the Democratic Party as the party of equality?
  • “We can say goodbye to Department of Education pressure on colleges to address campus rape.” Hmm. Does that mean we can also say goodbye to grossly unjust inquisitions that simply assume the guilt of innocent men, taking every woman’s word as gospel truth?
  • “[M]en who’ve been stewing about political correctness will discover a pleasing new latitude in their relations with women.” Nothing sexist about that remark. Consider, among many such examples, an article written by a woman (Timpf, 2015) skewering “Ridiculously PC Moments on College Campuses.” I, myself, do believe in sensitivity to the language we use. I began using “s/he” and “his/her” after a philosophy class in 1976 alerted me to such concerns. But then I discovered that the gender police were attacking even their friends.
  • “Many women find comfort and consolation in being provided for by a man—or in the dream of being provided for by a man—and are sick of feminists making them feel guilty.” But, as a matter of practical politics, does it make sense to blame them? The standard societal assumption used to be, and in some important regards still is, that men are unequally obliged to ease women’s financial worries. If your presidential candidate wants to end that, will women vote for her?
  • “[A] woman who was the most qualified person ever to run for president lost to a man who was the least.” Trump certainly leaves a lot to be desired. And yet he trounced a score of competitors, and completely upended Republican politics. What did Hillary achieve in comparison? Eight years after Obama failed to deliver the change voters wanted in response to the Great Recession, she became the face of establishment opposition to the Bernie Sanders movement. She ran a timid and dirty campaign, hand-in-glove with Harvey Weinstein among other louts, while doing her best to alienate a variety of constituencies. She didn’t have Bill’s wonkish fascination with policy, or Reagan’s ability to connect, or Kennedy’s mastery of the public imagination — never mind the Roosevelts’ leadership, Lincoln’s character, Jefferson’s brilliance, or Washington’s love of the country. Hillary Clinton was not, by any stretch, the most qualified person ever to run for president. This assertion is not merely false; it conveys a desire to deprecate even the best men.

Goldberg’s article thus captured the mentality of Clinton’s campaign. Goldberg may be right: that campaign may ultimately stand as the high-water mark of a sorry era in American history, when second-wave feminism dominated the liberal establishment, and used its power to abuse men across the board, as well as women who didn’t share feminist priorities. Epitomizing that regrettable time, the world’s most visible woman didn’t have a vision, a personality, or a track record that commanded respect. Ultimately, she believed she was entitled to victory due to gender and mere stamina, such as it was.

There have been many great women. Hillary Clinton started on the road to join them, when she courageously put forth Hillarycare in 1993. But she got badly burned; that made her cautious to a fault; and she never recovered. I think the political culture has lost a lot, from being so incredibly hard on people who might make good presidents, and Hillary may be an example. But Goldberg is not exactly contributing to a more fair and thoughtful future.

A More Recent Example

In light of Clinton’s beliefs and behaviors, as mirrored in Goldberg’s remarks, one might assume that intelligent and motivated women would think seriously about the 2016 campaign, instead of just getting mad and shouting slogans. The important question is, what really prevents women from being fully represented in places of power, influence, and reputation? Some women, with their eye on the ball, are indeed working on that question. Unfortunately, at influential places like the New York Times, the discussion is still fixated upon preserving the establishment. As documented in other posts in this blog, the Times is still milking the tale of female victimization at the hand of unfair males and sexist culture.

Not to deny sexism and unfairness altogether. We can expect some of that to persist. On a battlefield, the troops in one area may be advancing at the very moment when the troops in another area are being routed. But as a blanket explanation for everything that goes wrong, that old narrative is worn out.

Consider, as today’s illustration, a Times article by Assia Labbas (February 23, 2018), on the victimization of female chefs by the world-famous Michelin organization.

Labbas was aggrieved that, as usual, Michelin awarded stars to only a small minority of female chefs in various countries. Labbas simply assumed there should be more women, as if they were somehow entitled to recognition by their mere existence. But in response to her complaint of gender imbalance, Michelin said no, “Gender is ‘not something we take into account . . . . Our inspectors are there to check the quality of the cuisine.'” And Labbas essentially admitted that might be true:

Some who study France’s culinary tradition explain the absence of women from professional kitchens by pointing to physical demands, like the ability to wield a heavy cooking pot or wrestle an animal carcass. Having children is also cited as a reason, since combining a family life with a restaurant schedule is challenging. “Today in cuisine, we hardly see a woman take a chief position because the rhythm is extremely tough,” Mr. Pinay-Rabaroust said.

Labbas did not try to refute that — providing evidence that, for instance, female chefs work longer hours than their male competitors, or that they win more awards from other rating organizations, or that most of them actually don’t have children. Nothing of that nature appeared in this article. It did appear that Michelin may indeed be identifying the best chefs, and that there may be good reasons why most are male.

Lacking hard fact, Abbas fell back on the usual technique of telling one woman’s story, as if that woman were somehow more important than the many male chefs who have their own stories of hard work, deep sacrifice, and yet — in no doubt the majority of cases — failure to achieve Michelin recognition. The woman in question, Coline Faulquier, owns a restaurant in Marseille. According to Labbas, Faulquier “does everything a male chef does except she has one more person to manage, her four-year-old son.”

And that’s really it. For Faulquier, Labbass said, “juggling motherhood with the demands of running a restaurant is a daily ‘race against time.’ She closes her restaurant at night from Monday to Thursday, and crosses town every day to pick her son up at school before serving the lunch to patrons at noon.”

I don’t know why this would be hard to grasp. However heartwarming or sorrowful a woman’s story may be, its emotional content simply does not overrule the probability that her most successful male competitors have partners who handle the domestic duties, freeing the men to focus on their work. Those male competitors are just as smart as Faulquier, just as motivated, just as hardworking — and they have more time, more freedom to get everything exactly right.

Now, Faulquier could do that too. The article says she has a male partner. She could have chosen one who would play the role of Mr. Mom, picking up the child and so forth. But maybe he can’t; maybe his income makes it possible for her to “have it all,” in the sense of having both her son and a restaurant that she closes during dinner hours. Or maybe he wouldn’t abandon his career and thereby risk losing his woman — given that, for such women, “having it all” also tends to mean having a man with a good income. There, again, Faulquier may be seeking something different from the formula that works for her male competitors.

Writers like Labbas can keep talking about women who are “shocked and angry because it’s been years . . . [and yet still] there are no or very few women.” Shock and anger are the Goldberg method, the complaints of unfairness and victimization. And, again, those complaints may have some merit. But if they do, you wouldn’t know it from this article, because the New York Times editor did not require Labbas to marshal hard facts in support. It was sufficient to observe that a woman is speaking, and the truth must therefore follow.

What appears to be the case among French chefs (and what Goldberg seems to realize many Americans believe) is that sexism is not, ultimately, a very good explanation for the way things are. Complaints of sexism had real power, a half-century ago. They brought many insights and changes in the ensuing decades. But at present, in cuisine as in STEM fields, there are just too many factors that these articles are overlooking. As Maureen Dowd (2008) pointed out, in a Times opinion piece, “[W]hen you use sexism as an across-the-board shield for any legitimate question, you only hurt women. And that’s just another splash of reality.”

In this moment of the #MeToo movement, it may seem that female awareness is at a peak. And it is, for purposes of exposing how powerful men and ambitious women trade career advancement for sex. Exposure of that fact will surely benefit women who desire to be less victimized in their subordinate roles. But it does not have much to do with ending that subordination. For whatever combination of reasons, good and/or bad, women remain more likely to value dominance in a man than to seek it competently themselves. Goldberg is right: Hillary nearly won. But in a campaign that initially appeared impossible to lose, against an opponent as bizarre as Trump, those words damn her with faint praise.

If a writer like Labbas wants to persuade readers that more female chefs deserve a Michelin star, I suggest she lose the idea that women are entitled merely because, as she says, majorities of students in one chef-training program are female. Student majorities are irrelevant if, as her article suggests, only a minority will display the determination to compete for top honors and, of that minority, most will divide their energies among multiple priorities within a well-rounded life. As many men have found, a well-rounded life is not necessarily conducive to career success. In many fields, apparently including cuisine, what makes for success is often a potentially sick prioritization of work and one’s own success over all else.

If women want real equality, they can make a start by rejecting the focus, of people like Goldberg and Labbas, on achieving the highest success. The rare opportunity to join the elite, be it in the worlds of cuisine or of politics, does not logically result in a better life for the rest of us. It doesn’t even translate into support for those less-educated, lower-income women whom Hillary labeled “deplorable.” To achieve equality, one may have to look for actual inequality, not for who is complaining the most.

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