Oct 12, 2017
Two Faces of Sexism: Exclusion and Exploitation
Not this again.
Vice President Mike Pence won’t meet alone with women.
Meanwhile, guys like Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein won’t keep their hands off them.
2017 is the year of the strict binary. Women’s roles are no exception.
Pence’s camp would have women kept in some sort of professional purdah, where important avenues to public influence and power are cut off because it is just too morally dangerous to interact with women on equal terms. Trump and Weinstein would have women brought front and center—as long as they’re showing off a lot of cleavage and getting groped—but only as signals of their masculine power and success.
Which role do you want, women of 2017? You get to pick one. No. You have to pick one. That’s how 2017 works.
I’m not saying anything complicated here. There’s hardly anything to analyze. Pointing out the nature of this problem isn’t even Feminism 101—it’s remedial Feminism for people who still aren’t sure women should have the vote or learn to read.
We can tell it’s remedial because observations that classical liberals have been making about women for centuries seem up to date again.
In Harriet Taylor’s 1851 essay on “The Enfranchisement of Women” she writes, “When, however, we ask why the existence of one half the species should be merely ancillary to that of the other—why each woman should be a mere appendage to a man…the only reason which can be given is, that men like it. It is agreeable to them that men should live for their own sake, women for the sake of men: and the qualities and conduct in subjects which are agreeable to rulers, they succeed for a long time in making the subjects themselves consider as their appropriate virtues.”
This is as neatly descriptive of the trap that is closing on 21st century women as anything published yesterday. [For those of you reading this and noting #notallmen or preparing to write a cranky comment noting that men can be and are sexually harassed and objectified as well, please simply replace “men” in Taylor’s comment with the phrase “people with power” and replace “women” with the phrase “people with less power.”] Those who think women must be secluded from men because they offer too many dangerous temptations, or too much potential for rumor and those who think that women are just great as long as they can be be treated like amusement parks may appear to be treating women differently. But they’re really both doing what Taylor said almost 170 years ago—treating women as ancillary to men.
It matters, of course, that guys like Weinstein are sexually predatory, while guys like Pence are just exclusionary. One is illegal. The other is merely obnoxious.
Happily, there’s a solution to both, formulated by Mary Wollstonecraft in 1792. “[C]onsider women in the grand light of human creatures, who, in common with men, are placed on this earth to unfold their faculties.”
Don’t isolate them behind locked doors. And don’t grope them there either.
Treat them like human creatures who have their own faculties to unfold and their own ends to pursue.
Surely we should have gotten this right by now. It’s 2017, after all.