Trickle-Down Feminism
January 17, 2013 10:43 PM   Subscribe

"When the National Football League locked out its referees’ union this year, it seemed to delight in exploiting the perceived “women vs. labor” split, putting a woman on the field for the first time as one of the replacement refs. Feminists cheered, labor folks groaned, and those of us who are both buried our heads in our hands, angered by the cynical move, wanting to cheer new ground broken for women but having learned the hard lesson that not all first steps by women are progressive. Whether it’s City Council speaker Christine Quinn in New York City blocking paid sick days or Marissa Mayer taking the helm at Yahoo or Shannon Eastin taking the job of a locked-out worker for less money, we have to recognize that some first steps are taken on the backs of workers, many of whom are also women." -- Sara Jaffe writing about mainstream feminism's obsession with the glass ceiling and corresponding lack of attention for working women's issues: trickle down feminism.
posted by MartinWisse (21 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
the work that most women do will continue to be undervalued, virtually unregulated, and precarious.

see also: The Precariat
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:21 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wait, how is Marissa Mayer a step on the back of labor?
posted by pwnguin at 11:22 PM on January 17, 2013

Wait, how is Marissa Mayer a step on the back of labor?

I'm 95% sure it's a simple but oblique reference to her infamously short maternity leave.

The other 5% is the possibility it might also be a pun based on that... although on looking I see that the phrasing is yours. Intentional pun or no?
posted by jaduncan at 11:32 PM on January 17, 2013

Though the article addresses a different issue (that of "women's work" being ignored by white collar middle class feminism) the framing brought me to a different place momentarily.

There were articles written about it before, it was my baseball-loving sister who made me aware that no female umpire has called a regular season major league game. She says there is no reason for it, and there is no rational one, but it seems that one potential reason is that women are seen as an intrusion and an insult upon the field of sport. So I guess that is a reason, but it is a profoundly insecure and regressive one. The idea of hiring a woman as a replacement ref as an FU to labor is awful but not far-fetched.

The article itself hit much closer to home in many ways. My union represents janitors and this spring actively participated in protests and strikes. Many of the members are women and many of them are immigrants, some of whom would otherwise have trouble receiving living wages and healthcare.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:46 PM on January 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think the author is just pissed at Marissa Mayer for not calling herself a feminist.
posted by eugenen at 11:49 PM on January 17, 2013

Don't get me started on nurses - "of course, we desperately need the most highly trained skilled workers in these sensitive and heinously difficult positions, but we don't, y'know, want to PAY them too much or anything.

Or teachers "We have been systematically starving the public education system because it's obviously some kind of evil Commie plot, so obviously it's those lazy overpaid teachers and has nothing at all to do with overcrowded classrooms or shitty facilities so STANDARDIZED TESTS AND PUNISHMENTS."

*despairs for humanity - puts head through drywall*
posted by louche mustachio at 11:59 PM on January 17, 2013 [16 favorites]

Wait, how is Marissa Mayer a step on the back of labor?

She's also on the board of directors for Walmart. She was appointed in the middle of the whole class action suit against them for gender discrimination. Nothing to do with Yahoo!, but it is a classic example of 'Woman at the top, yay! Please don't look at the women at the bottom.'
posted by Garm at 1:12 AM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

"If you read what is popularly known as the feminist press, you’ll notice a focus on the “glass ceiling” that excludes much else."


I don't know what feminism he's talking about. Most feminist critiques I've seen recently discuss how the scaling back of the public sector is hitting women hardest, how the withdrawal of (UK) benefits such as child benefit are hitting women hardest, how women are taking the biggest share of the care burden once local services are withdrawn, how the feminisation of professions such as teaching make it easier for the government to devalue and attack them etc.

This article reminds me of all the comments you get under articles about feminism that accuse feminists of being part of some champagne drinking metropolitan elite. The same charge is made against supporters of gay marriage. It's an attempt to make proponents of equality look out of touch and irrelevant, and it's nonsense.
posted by Summer at 1:54 AM on January 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

posted by MartinWisse at 2:05 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think part of this may also be the American obsession with individuals. So, for a lot (but not all) of American feminists, the goal of feminism to to allow individual women to succeed, regardless of what is happening to women as a whole. It's the feminist take on "if you are not rich, you are lazy," although, to be fair, feminists are more likely to recognize that that "lazy" label is a smokescreen, since, for women, "lazy" and "selfish" have been tools in the bag used for keeping women from trying, since they really "ought" to be home with the kids. To be cliche for a moment, feminism;s successes are not seen when really exceptional women succeed; feminism is clearly seen when mediocre women do as well as mediocre men.

So, that's one part of it. The other part is that, for workers, the individual is never a good strategy, since no individual will ever be as strong as the bosses. Workers have to stick together, and the American obsession with individuals works against building class solidarity (which the rich don't have to worry about because society does it for them). And, so, American politics has a very uneasy time when it has to subsume the individual to the group for mutual success. (Which may be why we like narratives where "saviors" protect "helpless groups" -- the group can never succeed, only the individual. Which is, to violate Wilde, "what we mean by fiction.")
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:50 AM on January 18, 2013 [19 favorites]

Summer: "This article reminds me of all the comments you get under articles about feminism that accuse feminists of being part of some champagne drinking metropolitan elite. The same charge is made against supporters of gay marriage. It's an attempt to make proponents of equality look out of touch and irrelevant, and it's nonsense."

Absolutely. What's frustrating is that there always are feminists and gay activists in the media who live up to that, who make it appear with their omnipresence that feminism is only focused on the goals and problems of middle-class white women, gay activism only focused on middle-class white gay men, etc. It's not the equality movements that are out of touch, but the pundits who claim to speak on their behalf.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:06 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well, there are right-wing individuals who would self-identify as feminists and left-wing individuals who would self-identify as feminists. Right-wingers might focus on reproductive choice, access to elite institutions, and privacy and taxation concerns. Left-wingers might focus on public spending, public services used by women and children, and labour rights.

[sarcasm] The important thing, of course, is working out who is a Real Feminist Who Gets To Speak On Issues Affecting Women rather than addressing any of these issues or what these people actually say. [/sarcasm]

Also, what GenjiandProust said.
posted by alasdair at 3:47 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Al Sharpton's wonderful comment on Reagan's Trickle Down economics applies here as well:

"They got the trickle and we got the down."

And that's what you get when privileged elitists control the debate.
posted by three blind mice at 4:05 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

The factory I work at shut its doors this week, leaving female me and 70 men out of work. I got all kinds of equality going on right now - I'm exactly as unemployed as all the guys. What a milestone achievement.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 5:22 AM on January 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

I got all kinds of equality going on right now - I'm exactly as unemployed as all the guys. What a milestone achievement.

And, of course, this is an equality that that the Patriarchy actively fosters -- if we are all alike in our disadvantage, all alike in desperation or uncertainty -- we are that much less likely to band together to use what strength we have. We are far more likely to turn on each other, sell out each other by gender, race, age, etc in order to "compete" for a few jobs. And, as a result, we pay no attention to the Patriarch behind the curtain.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:14 AM on January 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


That sounds like class analysis framed in feminist terms. I've never seen that done quite the way you just laid it out, but it's a cool way of framing it.

I also think that the idea of "trickle-down feminism" is valuable and useful, another useful concept.

I feel better for having read this stuff.
posted by Stagger Lee at 6:46 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Regarding class analysis framed in feminist terms, there's a whole school of feminist socialism (or vice versa) developed in the 1960ties/1970ties which married second wave feminism to socialism, to answer more or less the same dillemmas as laid out in the original article here.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:51 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Among people of my peer group (18 - 26, I guess?) I see a very strong move by feminists towards intersectionality-- the idea that feminism has left race, class, and the 'wrong kind' of gender (i.e., transfolk) solidarity out in the cold for a long time and that it's now time to realize that all of these things are at work in systems of oppression. That we need to support struggle against patriarchy/kierarchy regardless of whether or not it's exclusively about the capitalist-success model of "white woman reaches higher management." For instance, we would never cheer Christine Lagarde's position at IMF, because we recognize that she is doing more structural harm to women by participating in that institution than she is individual good by being a totem. We have started to reject the subversion of feminism by the individualist/capitalist-driven forces, which demands that we achieve equality by participating equally in the oppression of others. It's a very encouraging trend.

And then of course I get on Facebook again and see what everyone outside of my immediate peer group thinks and am discouraged again...
posted by WidgetAlley at 7:48 AM on January 18, 2013 [9 favorites]

I generally agree with WidgetAlley - my cohort who work on / study feminism & social justice (25-30 Canada, generally white-collar/upwardly-mobile although not rich) are all big on intersectionality and wouldn't be shocked by this article.

However, it's a good article for people who don't actively work on these issues but would still be classified as feminists. We don't have much interaction with industrial workers and even less with domestic workers. So this is good.

Interestingly, I'm told that the US is the highest of the OECD countries for women in senior management positions. Need to find a cite on that, though.
posted by Lemurrhea at 10:53 AM on January 18, 2013

The topic is important, and the piece is well written, makes some cogent points, and is delivered with refreshingly little jargon. . . but why must be it be accompanied by infographics that are not only useless, but actively misleading?

The unemployment rate of adult black women bar over-represents the relative size of the increase, compared to the printed values in the same chart, by more than factor of two. The male/female unemployment comparison chart includes four independent values - female initial and final unemployment, male initial and final unemployment - which gives six pairwise comparisons. In all six cases, the result you get from the chart is factors of radically different from what the numbers say. (eg. they show an actual 5% decrease in female unemployment as a 30% change in the bar length.) In the second case, the distortions appear to undermine the article's main points, which is all the more puzzling. The other plots seem harmless - though, what on earth the fuzzy "30%" represents is anybody's guess.

Now, one might object, "Who cares about the plots? The numbers in the text are solid, and the plots are just eye-candy anyway. It's better than clip-art."

But, it's not. It's a whole lot worse than clip-art, because it undermines everything else in the article.

I can see the value in the piece, despite graphics that scream "this author can't be trusted," but then I already agree with most of it. Instead of forwarding this to friends with the comment "here's an interesting article you should read," those of us with who care about data now have to include a caveat, "and don't dismiss it after glancing at the plots, which are terrible and don't represent the actual content of the article."
posted by eotvos at 11:48 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wait, how is Marissa Mayer a step on the back of labor?

The article seems to be about the general idea that to the extent that feminism means allowing *some* women (like Mayer) to be The Man, it may have its own problems.
posted by weston at 12:12 PM on January 18, 2013

« Older Writes upside down!   |   You don't need a drop in every track Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments