It shouldn’t even be at issue. The occasional chauvinistic throwbacks that deliberately pay their female employees less than their male employees for the same duties as a matter of policy should be easy enough to sue into compliance with the law. The ability of these companies (e.g., Walmart) to avoid being sued into compliance at the first sign of illegal pay discrimination is probably much more a consequence of unequal access to the courts (determined by class, not sex) and the dysfunction and moral decay of the American bar than of systemic workplace discrimination against women on the basis of sex.
For one thing, there’s an underappreciated problem of discrimination against men, not women, in the American workplace. Much of it is insidious but hard to prove. There is at least strong circumstantial evidence that many employers routinely reject male applicants in favor of equally or arguably less qualified female applicants, but without an inside whistleblower or an incriminating electronic trail, it’s impossible for a man thus scorned to make his case without sounding like a butthurt loser. There is also rampant sexual discrimination at many workplaces in the routine assignment of women to the front of the house and men to the back, although this practice isn’t ultimately all that controversial. It’s generally understood and accepted that women are posted to the front of the house in large part to sexually titillate customers. Southwest Airlines got into legal trouble in its early years for imposing overbearingly sexist physique requirements on its stewardesses in a line of work whose purpose, if memory serves, was ruled to be “not forthrightly to titillate the flying public.”
Speaking just for myself, I must say that I dig the thick bitches, too, and that one of the things that makes stewardesses so hot is that they titillate obliquely, not forthrightly. The top-heavy waitresses at the Tilted Kilt are too over-the-top and slight of bottom to be truly hawt, and their tendency to seem a bit dimwitted in a manner approved by Hugh Hefner doesn’t help their case. This may, however, be a minority opinion, given how many businesses achieve wild success by staffing the front of the house with women who are bubblier and breastier than they are bright.
There are solutions to this problem. One is to go to Denny’s. America’s Diner is Always Open (TM), and it’s often staffed by waitstaff of my festively plump physique. And of course, I’m slender by its customers standards. One often encounters Denny’s patrons who don’t look like they’re on their first skillet of the day. But at least the waitstaff know what the fuck they’re doing and aren’t histrionic freaks in word and deed.
The point is that it’s ridiculous to assert that women are systematically disadvantaged in the American workplace. Holding fast to an argument like this in the face of prolific evidence disproving it is a great way to obliterate all goodwill and legitimacy with men who know for a fact that it’s bullshit because they’ve lived the polar opposite in their own professional lives.
There’s something wrong with the American left. I know, I should run along and tell Mr. Wonka. But it’s true. Making or even merely being associated with shrill, unmoored rhetoric about a war on women is an excellent way for the Democratic Party to self-immolate in spectacular fashion. The only reason why this rhetoric is not disastrous is that prominent patriarchal revanchists on the Republican side keep making comments that are belligerent towards large cohorts of women, if not also deranged: “Uncle Sugar,” “legitimate rape,” that kind of thing. If Republican leaders can impose a message discipline redirecting the talking points from sexual resentment-mongering to intrinsically positive family values and convincingly argue that sexually inflammatory comments from the likes of Mike Huckabee, Todd Akin, and Rush Limbaugh are off the reservation, they’ll be able to fully outflank the bourgeois supremacists who have controlled the Democratic Party for two generations.
Whichever party backs down from the crazy sexual comments first wins. Akin was ensconced in too thick a fundie cocoon to realize that the pig-ignorant, sexually deranged portion of the Missouri electorate was not big enough to elect him to the US Senate or that a bigger portion of the Missouri electorate found his discussion of “legitimate rape” creepy and seriously nuts. Akin was also stubborn enough to refuse the chorus of public pleas from Republican kingmakers that he fall on his sword and let a less damaged candidate take his place. All of this is more idiocy, bigotry, and stubbornness than Democrats can reasonably expect of Republicans, even extremist Republicans. The Democratic Party has historically had much worse and less disciplined messaging than the GOP. Jimmy Carter, Paul Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry were all terrible communicators. Bill Clinton was and remains an excellent communicator, but he had to build his own party within a party to marginalize dissidents and manage talking points; the Democratic Party got with the program only after the Clintonistas had thoroughly colonized it.
The other key thing to realize about Clinton is that he is exceptionally savvy. His savvy often manifested itself as pathetic triangulation, but at least he had an ear to the ground and knew how his rhetoric and policies would play in Peoria. Hillary is traditionally more of a back-of-the-house operator than Bill, but they’ve always been a package deal, and you can bet your Whitewater lot that the third term of the Clinton copresidency will be as robust as ever if Hillary wins in 2016.
The noisier third-wave feminists are a different kettle of fish without bicycles. Hillary is too craven to give a shit about their hobbyhorses; like her husband, she’ll do whatever coarse and degrading things she believes expedient to get elected, although they have a different appearance owing to the striking personality differences between the Big Dog and the Top Bitch. This means that she’s also craven enough to capitulate to the aggrieved you-go-girl crowd in order to get their support on the cheap or prevent a floor fight over her feminist credentials. It’s easy to envision some genuine policy dispute between Hillary and Elizabeth Warren being distorted into a catfight over standing in the girl power community, to the embarrassment of serious Democrats and serious Americans everywhere.
The obnoxious, shady women who presume to speak on behalf of all of Team Vagina truly are self-referential enough to drag the entire Democratic Party, and by extension, the entire American left wing down an inescapable rabbit hole in the interest of preening ideological purity. The key question for their nominal allies is the same one that faces any other reasonably sane faction during an infestation of zealots: that is, whether it will allow the zealots to gain a foothold and cause endless trouble or kick them out of the tent because they’re a bunch of creepy fucking kooks. As I mentioned above, the Republican kingmakers chose Door B for Todd Akin, only to have their decision vetoed by the big swinging Member of the House himself, to their burgeoning horror.
I’m by no means convinced that even the Clintonistas will be so wise and decisive if they’re forced to deal with offense-trolling third-wave pests. A great many Democrats are reflexively hesitant to tell these pseudo-Amazonian kooks to go piss up a rope because their hearts seem to be in the right place and they aren’t, for the most part, overtly hostile in their language by academic leftist standards. Adria Richards isn’t beyond the pale by the standards of the lefty community that she has colonized. Any sensible, self-preserving community would kick her to the curb as an embarrassment, a needlesss disruption, and a fundamental threat to its credibility, but Richards is a master at navigating the Byzantine, process-oriented culture of hothouse flower academic leftism. She knows the written rules, and no one in that community has the balls to enforce unwritten rules that would go without saying in practically any mainstream American community.
One way to understand Adria Richards is as the apotheosis of privileged feminist careerism. This is obviously a disturbing gloss. Richards is an exceptionally privileged woman who swears that she isn’t the least bit privileged, that she is in fact beleaguered by racist misogynists. She has a Kafkaesque, petty Stalinist ability to get people much more competent than herself fired for making innocuous jokes out of boredom. By claiming offense over utter trifles in the name of her ostentatious racial and sexual identity (Name it and claim it! Can I get amen to that, Pastor Joel?!), she has made herself a walking fount of racism, anti-Semitism, and misogyny.
What’s troubling about this attitude is that it muddies the waters for career women who signed up for legitimate careers, not for the endless cutthroat political bullshit advanced by the most treacherous bitches in their fields in the name of womankind. The worst, most incompetent, most toxic people in any field inevitably latch onto the prevailing politically correct ideology. It’s great job security: they can follow the letter of the law to a T and simultaneously run barely concealed campaigns to tortiously fuck over anyone who gets in their way. The spirit of rules against sexual harassment is to deter people from making the workplace hell for their colleagues by being skeevy, gratuitous pricks. Adria Richards is a master (mistress?) at formally working within this framework while distorting it beyond recognition to get strangers fired for inadvertently causing her offense with their semiprivate comments. Obviously, getting someone fired is a great way to make his professional life hellish, but the sexual harassment framework as it is currently understood and operated is too legalistic to make these basic judgment calls. At its worst, it allows a victim to take the same action over a juvenile comment about the Hoover Tower’s resemblance to a gigantic schlong as over an explicit rape threat or a deliberate, blantantly unwelcome groping. It covers everything from the dongle boys to Jian Ghomeshi.
I don’t think this is really by design. There are just too many sensible, decent stakeholders (heh heh heh; hey Butthead, wanna hold my stake?) who want the rules applied equitably and reasonably for there to be a mandate for the Kafkaesque excesses. The problem is that any system that tries to deal with nebulous gray-area behavior in a legalistic fashion is easily taken over by amoral shitheads and much less easily retaken and reformed by the silent majority. The result is a piecemeal expansion of the carceral state into quasicarceral fractals. The explicit authority to fire employees or expel students over trifling outbursts of immaturity or dubious, unproven accusations of criminality puts immense power in the hands of untested petty functionaries. It’s a system ripe for abuse, and a system widely abused.
Expect blowback. Don’t expect the blowback to come from people who are sympathetic to assurances that this dysfunctional, arbitrary, excessively punitive system was designed by people who meant well.
This system, so easily commandeered by the amoral and the downright psychopathic, has a track record of chewing decent people up and spitting them out. Beyond some probably unknowable threshold, the modestly amoral people who modestly benefit from it will be unable to keep kicking the can down the road because the disaffected will be too numerous or angry to ignore.
The loudness of Lean In feminism today doesn’t bode well. It’s striking that such a daft self-help book, basically encouraging career women to maintain their careers, would have any success in a society in which career women and companies gladly employing them have been prosaic for at least two generations, and in some industries for much longer than that. Like, work hard and take promotions when possible and don’t be a slouch and stuff? Nobody is arguing the counterpoint. Sheryl Sandberg has been attacking a straw man. Her ulterior motives have been discussed at length by various writers elsewhere (the Last Psychiatrist is a good place to start), but there are other, perhaps more troubling, questions about the sort of women who would fall for her line of happy horseshit. She has an audience, after all, not just a bunch of strange women staring at her bug-eyed like she’s muttering about CIA mind-radiation programs in front of the Transbay Terminal.
What Sandberg is trafficking is self-help for Bougie. It isn’t really about women’s liberation or self-actualization. Like any proper middle-class careerist, these women aren’t supposed to give a shit about the leaning-in ability of their Guatemalan maids. And like previous strains of bourgeois feminism, this one is a reaction to rich girl problems that should be too embarrassing to articulate.
This is why the most of the women I know who carry on about feminism earn an order of magnitude more money than I made last year. I know other women in the $20-40k range who are either silent about feminist talking points or avowedly not feminist, since they want women to have the right to contend for jobs on an equal basis but are sick of all the third-wave pearl-clutching bullshit. The women I know who are involved in women’s lunches and feminist carping on the internet seem to be in the $50-100k range for the most part.
I do vineyard stoop labor, when I can find work. I picked thousands of pounds of grapes last year and crushed thousands more. Why the hell should I be worried about career women making eight, ten, or twenty times as much money as I made not being fully integrated into some professional networking racket? Why should my female colleagues on harvest or pruning crews for $9.50-12.00 an hour give a damn about the White Whines of sisters in business suits? Why should we be sympathetic to the carping of professionally well-connected women who are either merely privileged or privileged and supercilious? Bueller?
You want equal pay? Here’s some fucking equal pay. Mendota, California: 55.3% male population, median household income of $24,264, mean household size a third above the state average. This is in spite of a federal prison of the same name and not far out in the countryside, where the median pay grade is a hell of a lot higher than $12.00 an hour. It’s a plantation town, of course; the only other routes to such piss-poor median household incomes are municipal ghetto gerrymandering and screwing over coal mining families in remotest Appalachia. It ain’t just for the dark meat, you know. We have some fucked-over crackers in them-thar hills, too.
If you’re worried about sexism in the workplace, the guys in Mendota are too busy cutting our melons to note than you have a nice pair. Or maybe not. More than a few of these dudes are machismo throwbacks, and there is a serious problem with rape and quid pro quo sexual extortion in the fields in California, not that the bourgeois feminists give a shit about this. I’ve worked with and for Mexican peasants; have you? Yanqui has many constituents who have othered the wetback; I’m not the only one.
Anyone whose idea of equal pay doesn’t reach Mendota is a fucking joke. But the current furor is for rich girls, anyway. Hall and Oates must be proud. The poor we will have with us always, especially if we welsh on their pay because they’re Mexicans.