Women on Top



The Salisbury Review





Women on Top



publication date: Jun 4, 2010


author/source: Stephen Baskerville

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Gender politics is becoming too conspicuous to ignore. Triumphalist proclamations of female political dominance now appear in ostensibly detached scholarly journals. The trend is real, but it represents much more than ‘the macho men’s club’ getting its just comeuppance for causing the financial crisis, as Reihan Salam writes in the prestigious journal Foreign Policy. On the cover of the august Wilson Quarterly, Sara Sklaroff sees fresher salads and smaller bus seats as evidence that ‘women are taking over.’ That journals with pretensions to serious scholarship address on this frivolous level what may be the most profound power shift since the fall of the Roman Empire demonstrates that important questions are not being asked. Salam, Sklaroff, and other prophets of a feminine future are quick with predictions, but they ignore the trends already well advanced in the present. The sexualisation of politics — and the politicization of sex — is the most profound social trend of the last forty years, with roots going back at least a century. In importance it far exceeds (though is also connected to) the challenge radical Islam presents to Western society. The emergence of women into top positions of power is only the tip of the iceberg. More far-reaching are the vast shifts in political power at all levels from the family to the United Nations.

‘Sexual politics’ (the term was popularized in a book title by feminist Kate Millett) has never become a subject of focused critical or scholarly attention, except by its proponents. Its impact thus goes largely unperceived and unexamined. Yet it now dominates national and international agendas. Overtly sexual issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage are only the most obvious. Every item in modern politics is presented in terms of its implications for women. The economic collapse is said to bring special hardships for women, though as Salam points out, the resulting unemployed are about 80 per cent men. War too is said to fall disproportionately on women, though obviously most casualties are men. In a foreign policy where war aims are already promiscuous and undefined, women’s liberation is thrown into the grab-bag of justifications.

For years, an assortment of otherwise unrelated issues have been promoted by sexual activists in sexual terms. The vanguard of this trend is in the United States, where gun control is advocated by the Million Mom March (and opposed by the mostly male National Rifle Association), drinking laws are changed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and Code Pink dominates the war opposition. The militant Moms Rising is another variation on the theme. ‘Some commentators argue that the whole agenda in the US is shifting towards ‘the politics of maternity’,’ observes The Guardian.

The impact transcends current events and has altered our understanding of the very scope and purpose of the state. Salam quotes historian Stephanie Coontz arguing that the welfare state benefited men because it created jobs. In fact, the welfare state throughout the West was overwhelmingly a feminine and feminist initiative. John Lott has documented how the welfare state grew up following the enfranchisement of women, who have consistently voted for its provisions far more than men. As a result, the traditional state roles of defending borders and internal protection have given way to a government apparatus extensively involved in childrearing and caring for the sick and elderly. Government itself has thus become feminized. ‘The annexation by government of most of the key responsibilities of life — child-raising, taking care of your elderly parents — has profoundly changed the relationship between the citizen and the state,’ writes Mark Steyn. These are responsibilities governments have assumed because they are precisely the ones women have renounced. Conversely, the traditional military and police roles increasingly abdicated by the state are traditionally masculine.

This feminization of state machinery points to another trend with direct consequences today. For as Salam obliquely reveals, the welfare state functions are overwhelmingly female-dominated: education, child care, care of the elderly, and health. These are also the fields now being expanded by the Brown and Obama governments’ massive expenditures for economic stimulation. Whether or not this spending will stimulate the private sector where most masculine employment occurs, it will certainly expand public sector female employment.

The consequences extend well beyond the economic. For what the welfare state represents, beyond huge government expenditure, is the politicization and bureaucratization of roles traditionally performed privately within the household. Expanding female employment into traditionally male occupations has taken place largely among the elite. Many more women have entered the workforce in jobs that reflected the domestic roles with which they felt comfortable. Rather than caring for their own children within their own families, women began leaving the home to work in government offices where they care for other people’s children as part of the public economy: day-care, early education, and ‘social services’. This transformed childrearing and other family functions from private into public and taxable occupations, expanding the tax base and with it the size and power of the state. Meanwhile, their sisters entering traditional male occupations were driving down male wages, turning female employment from a luxury into a necessity. Soon, a political class paid from those taxes took command positions in vastly expanded public education and social services bureaucracies, where they supervise other women who look after other people’s children, further expanding the size and reach of the state into what had been private life. This has had profound effects blurring the distinction between private and public. For as feminists correctly point out, the traditional feminine roles were mostly private. Politicizing the feminine and shifting feminine roles from the home to the state has therefore meant politicizing and bureaucratizing private life.

A major manifestation is the politicization of children. Hardly an issue is raised today without being presented in terms of its impact on children. Whether the matter is healthcare, environmental protection, gun control, seat belts, or war, the imperative is made more urgent by what it will do ‘for the children’. Concurrent with the emancipation of women, a huge machinery has arisen over child welfare. Few journalists or scholars scrutinize it, and few people understand it until its extensive regulatory requirements affect their decisions about their own children. It is the world of ‘social services’: social work, child psychology, child and family counselling, childcare, public education, child protection, child support enforcement, and juvenile and family courts.

The US also led this trend, despite being regarded as among the less extensive welfare states. It is institutionalized in the $50 billion federal Administration for Children and Families, itself part of the gargantuan $900 billion Department of Health and Human Services. HHS dispenses over $200 billion in grants (‘larger than all other federal agencies combined’) funding local ‘human services’ or ‘social services’ bureaucracies — by far the largest patronage network ever created in the Western world, reaching into every household in the land, and one that makes the former Soviet nomenklatura look ramshackle. Britain and Europe have followed suit with cabinet-level ministries devoted to women and children. This machinery caters largely to needs created by the sexual revolution. For the problems it addresses have arisen principally through welfare expansion itself, unwed childbearing, and divorce. Here too the vanguard has been British and American women.

As women dominate politics and paid employment, they have less time for children and families. But the result is not that men share in these spheres, as we once assumed. Instead childbearing simply declines, and childrearing is taken over by state functionaries, while men are marginalized and even criminalized, as Salam recognizes. The most obvious consequence is the decline in fertility throughout the West and beyond.

Just as welfare was a feminine initiative, so the resulting societies have become literally matriarchal, dominated not simply by women but by single-mother households. These communities are characterized by poverty, crime, substance abuse, and other social ills, all of which correlate to fatherlessness much more than to race, class, or any other factor. Contrary to the widespread assumption, nothing suggests that paternal abandonment is responsible. On the contrary, the evidence is clear that it results from feminine choice. This is documented as fatherlessness spreads to the middle class through divorce, where the overwhelming preponderance of filings are by women. Few involve grounds such as abuse, desertion, or adultery. Instead most women divorce for reasons such as ‘growing apart’ or ‘not feeling loved or appreciated’. Because this marginalization of fathers accounts for social pathologies such as substance abuse and crime, it also serves to justify almost every expansion of state power — from additional welfare provisions, to education and health expenditures, to expanded law enforcement and incarceration.

The most serious consequence of the feminization of politics proceeds from what is after all the most basic internal government function: punishing criminals. For the marginalization of men and fathers has increased not only criminality but also criminalization. If there is an elephant standing in the halls of power today it is the proliferation or redefinition of sexual crimes — crimes labelled and defined so that only males can be guilty: rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, child abuse, non-payment of child support, human trafficking. These offences blur the distinction between private conflict and violent crime, bypassing the due process procedures and protections of standard criminal law.

Sklaroff predicts that in a female-dominated world ‘there will be more police’ than ever before so that women can feel safe. When it is no longer ideologically acceptable to suggest that women be protected by husbands, fathers, or other men in their families, the need is filled by gendarmes. Sklaroff’s prediction has already been fulfilled. In The Prison and Gallows (Cambridge, 2006), feminist scholar Marie Gottschalk documents how the massive increase in incarceration since the 1970s results from campaigns not by law-and-order traditionalists (who were hardly new) but by newly vocal ‘interest groups and social movements not usually associated with penal conservatism’. Yet she names only one: ‘the women’s movement’. As Gottschalk shows, the principal pressure group lobbying for more arrests and incarcerations for at least two centuries has been politicized women. ‘It is striking what an uncritical stance earlier women reformers took toward the state,’ she observes. ‘They have played central roles in… uncritically pushing for more enhanced policing powers.’

The feminization of politics and law enforcement is global. Quasi-governmental organizations like the United Nations and the European Union were created to prevent armed aggression and war. As they prove themselves either incapable for that task or irrelevant, they have found new missions for themselves, creating their own social work bureaucracies similar to those found in Western governments, which they also propagate among less developed countries. Most of these emphasize the politics of women and children. Here too we see, on several fronts, attempts to criminalize ideologically incorrect behaviour, even matters not previously considered crimes and even when beyond the reach of any effective judiciary. Innovations like the International Criminal Court, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and measures against human trafficking are all efforts to take complex political, economic, and social problems such as underdevelopment, poverty, and war and reclassify them as crimes whereby alleged malefactors can be prosecuted by politicized tribunals that lack the detachment and due process protections found in developed judiciaries.

‘The axis of global conflict in this century will not be warring ideologies, or competing geopolitics, or clashing civilizations,’ writes Salam. ‘It won’t be race or ethnicity. It will be gender.’ He may well be right. But cheerleading for political trends is seldom a constructive substitute for unbiased inquiry. If we are to avoid the ‘very violent’ future Salam predicts as a result, we should stop gloating and start understanding.