Christina Hoff Sommers, author of the excellent book The War Against Boys as well as the book Who Stole Feminism (that I have yet to read), has written a very revealing article. She starts off by summarizing how the current recession has affected men and women in the US:
A “man-cession.” That’s what some economists are starting to call it. Of the 5.7 million jobs Americans lost between December 2007 and May 2009, nearly 80 percent had been held by men. Mark Perry, an economist at the University of Michigan, characterizes the recession as a “downturn” for women but a “catastrophe” for men.
The fact the men have been hit harder by the recession is understandable, since the private sector is more vulnerable to an economic downturn than the public sector. However, there was still some hope for all these men:
Last November, President-elect Obama addressed the devastation in the construction and manufacturing industries by proposing an ambitious New Deal-like program to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. He called for a two-year “shovel ready” stimulus program to modernize roads, bridges, schools, electrical grids, public transportation, and dams and made reinvigorating the hardest-hit sectors of the economy the goal of the legislation that would become the recovery act.
Whether you agree with Obama’s proposal or not, I think we can all agree that if he was to spend that amount of money, it would be well spent on rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. But apparently not all groups prioritized what was best for the country as a whole:
Women’s groups were appalled. Grids? Dams? Opinion pieces immediately appeared in major newspapers with titles like “Where are the New Jobs for Women?” and “The Macho Stimulus Plan.” A group of “notable feminist economists” circulated a petition that quickly garnered more than 600 signatures, calling on the president-elect to add projects in health, child care, education, and social services and to “institute apprenticeships” to train women for “at least one third” of the infrastructure jobs.
All I can say is “wow”. Even though the US desperately needs to rebuild its infrastructure, and millions of men have recently lost their jobs, feminists manage to turn it into a women’s issue. The primary issue is obviously the US economy, and the secondary issue is that men have been hit so hard by the economy – but apparently those facts don’t become feminists. This is how Sommers puts it:
The president-elect’s original plan was designed to stop the hemorrhaging in construction and manufacturing while investing in physical infrastructure that is indispensable for long-term economic growth. It was not a grab bag of gender-correct programs, nor was it a macho plan–the whole idea of economic stimulus is to use government spending to put idle factors of production back to work.
Common sense would thus dictate that Obama forge ahead with his original plan, but since he knows the power of feminist ideas in the media, he needed to take some kind of action:
The president-elect responded to the protests by sending Jason Furman, his soon-to-be deputy director at the National Economic Council, along with his senior aides to a meeting organized by Kim Gandy and Feminist Majority president Eleanor Smeal.
The meeting wasn’t only held in order to superficially appease the feminists; apparently Obama believed that they were coming from a perspective of social justices. Thus, the National Organization of Women and other feminists managed to change the proposal in quite some detail:
In her March “Below the Belt” column on the NOW website, Kim Gandy could not contain her elation over “this happily-ever-after ‘stimulus story.’ ” When she and her allies saw the final recovery package, they were amazed to find “over and over” versions of “very specific proposals that we had made.” More than that, the programs NOW had proposed had vast sums of money next to them–”numbers that started with a ‘B’ (as in billion),” Gandy said gleefully. “It’s impossible to convey just how many hours we put into this issue during December and early January and how fruitful it really turned out to be.”
This is a sad story indeed. President Obama has distanced himself from lobbyists, but apparently he doesn’t realize that feminism is one of the strongest lobby groups around.
The administration (and Congress) must have been thinking that groups such as NOW and the Feminist Majority were crusading for social justice, when in fact they were lobbying for their share of the action, to the detriment of urgent necessities.
It’s one thing to discuss the current gender discourse, and how the gender roles impact men and women. But when feminist groups are actually managing to influence public policy in the US to the extent that it can hurt the country in very tangible ways, then criticism of contemporary feminism needs to become a mainstream issue.