Wednesday, July 1, 2009

When Will the Chauvinists Just Relax Already?

Following in the footsteps of an extremely uneducated article on male decline by Zincenko, Reihan Salam wrote an equally silly piece titled "The Death of Macho" in Foreign Policy. From the title of this article, I originally assumed that it's going to be a celebratory piece on the decline of macho mentality in a changing world that becomes more enlightened every day. For Salam, however, the death of macho is actually a bad thing.

The journalist starts out by repeating the tired statistic that claims men account for 80% of job losses in the recession, yet again refusing to ask about the men-to-women ratio of who had the jobs in the first place.

Not only is the issue economic, claims Salam. We also see it in politics: "The great shift of power from males to females is likely to be dramatically accelerated by the economic crisis, as more people realize that the aggressive, risk-seeking behavior that has enabled men to entrench their power—the cult of macho—has now proven destructive and unsustainable in a globalized world." The reasons why the journalist associates the aggressive, risk-taking behavior with men are never explained. This is precisely how chauvinism works. It makes baseless statements that support the existence of gender differences as if these differences were somehow self-evident.

Salam attempts to show that the world where women have more access to education and employment is dangerous for women too. Just think, if it's harder for men to find employment, they will not want to marry (which, apparently, should scare women out of their wits). The journalist never stops to think that the growing number of working women will easily compensate for this change in male economic status.

Equally suspect are Salam's efforts to blame the policies of the New Deal for the economic and social subjection of women in the 40ies and the 50ies. We all know what side of the political spectrum engages in a wholesale condemnation of the New Deal era and that is not the side that is very interested in supporting women's liberation.

Next, the author proceeds to analyze the situation in Russia in an attempt to warn Americans about the kind of gender relations that await the US. Salam sees Russia as a mini-US, an entity that came to existence in 1991, and that didn't have a very peculiar history of gender relations when it was part of the Soviet Union. In the XXth century, the difference between the ways gender was experienced in Russia (and the rest of the Soviet Union) and in the US were extremely different. But who cares about Russia's own history? Not Salam. Simplification is the trademark tool of this journalist's intellectual arsenal.

The problem with articles like Zincenko's piece on he-cession and Salam's article is that they promote the gender binary by analyzing the world in terms of men-against-women conflict. Binaries are, in my opinion, most pleasing to a lazy mind. Just the kind of mind that thinks it makes sense to compare gender relations in such culturally, historically, politically, and economically different places as China, Russia and the US.

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