Conservatives vs. tradition
0 comment Tuesday, June 24, 2014 |
There is an interesting discussion at What's Wrong With the World of the Palin issue, centering on the question of unmarried pregnancy. The participants in the discussion talk about whether there should be a stigma on unmarried pregnancy and illegitimacy and to the credit of some, particularly Lydia, there is mention of the double standards which have traditionally been applied in situations like that of Bristol Palin.
Here is one area in which the traditional ways were not the optimum: the disproportionate stigmatizing of the mother in such a pregnancy, while in many cases allowing the father to go scot-free, no condemnation, no requirement of support for the child, no nothing. As much as I say I believe in the old ways for the most part, the old ways were much harder on women in these situations.
Zippy, in referring to the scathing criticisms and condemnation of Sarah Palin and her daughter from certain quarters on the right, asks, as I have been wondering myself:
Where is the chivalry? Where is the class? Attacking her in that manner seems self-defeating. One can make the substantive points - as you in fact have - without acting a boor in one's treatment of a lady. Traditional men treat women differently from men.''
[emphasis mine]
I think too many men have been wounded or angered by feminists and feminism and are now taking out their bitterness on women in general. This would be less objectionable if the same men did not claim to be traditional or conservative in outlook. Now, if we really want to return to the old ways between men and women, then chivalry is a part of that package. One can't disclaim belief in the equality of the sexes and yet expect to have free rein to attack women in the same way as men. In the old days, no man with any self-respect would pick a fight with a woman or challenge her to a duel, or take a swing at her, inviting her to 'fight like a man." But this is what many anti-feminist men on the right have been doing, and are doing in this Palin thing; they are saying women should be able to 'take it' like men -- as if they are in fact equal.
And do conservatives, really, after all, believe that men and women ARE equal and the same, and that thus men can take off the gloves and treat women the same as men? It sure looks that way from here.
And yes, I know exactly what some will respond: they will say 'the feminazis claim they are equal, so let them take it like men, if that's what they want.'' Sorry, no, it can't be had both ways. If a man attacks a woman as if she were a man, he is the one displaying a belief in women's equality; he is behaving as if she CAN take it like a man, and that he fully expects her to be able to duke it out on male terms, by male rules. Or does he fully know she can't, and is he thus looking to take on a weaker opponent, which is rather unchivalrous?
Chivalry was not a matter just of outward niceties, like the old story of Sir Walter Raleigh throwing his cloak down into a puddle so that a passing lady would not muddy herself. It isn't just about opening doors or pulling out a chair for a lady. It's the recognition that men and women are different and that because of the relative weakness of women, they are not to be treated as men.
Again, I hear somebody say 'well they want to be treated just like men.' And? People in Hades want ice water, too. Some women want to be treated just like men, but men insist on treating ALL women that way, with the excuse that 'the feminazis want it that way." Well, those feminazis (to use Limbaugh's rather tiresome term) don't speak for me or for a lot of women, and they weren't given power to dictate to us all. Why do men seem to capitulate easily to what 'the feminazis want'?
Some won't like my answer, but here it is: I think they want the same things as 'feminazis' want, in many cases, though for different reasons.
I think men withdrew all the little niceties because they were nursing a longtime resentment of 'having' to observe the chivalrous gestures. Men felt put-upon about opening doors or doffing their hats to ladies. That was obvious by how quickly they dropped the gestures. The phrase 'women's lib'' was barely coined before men started going on strike against chivalry. I remember way back in 1969 or so, when the "bra-burners" had just made the news (actually the bra-burnings were an urban myth, but that's another story). I was on a public bus in a big city, during rush hour, when some female workers boarded. There were many seated men, and not a few weeks before, these men would have vacated their seats for the women. This time, one man said, in a surly fashion: ''they want to be equal? Let 'em stand up!"
At that time, the prevalent belief among most men was that women had it easy, and didn't work hard as men did. Well, true enough, men did physically harder and more dangerous work then. But many of these women were not in white-collar or 'pink-collar' jobs; they were worn-looking women who worked in suitcase factories at grueling jobs, or who waited tables on their feet all day and had varicose veins. They were women who worked as seamstresses in sweatshops. These were not pampered, spoiled women. And I suspect that many of them had kids at home, and would have to cook a meal or do laundry when they got home.
But the rest of the men on the bus simply kept their seats and let the women stand the whole way home. Thus it was ever after that. The women didn't complain and no man broke ranks and gave a woman a seat.
At the time, I didn't think much of it, because I was a young liberal, and I thought, fair enough. Women ARE equal. We should stand up, same as the men.
However, I questioned this a short while later, when the strike by men extended to refusing to yield seats to elderly women or women in late stages of pregnancy or women with babies or toddlers in their arms. That, I thought, was thoughtless, to let those women stand as a way of punishing the 'bra-burners.'
In those days, I would get up and give the old women or the pregnant a seat, if need be. But the men seemed to feel no shame about not doing so.
Some of you might say, 'why should they feel shame'? Because as regards old folks, male or female, we should defer to them, and pregnant women, though not infirm by definition, still have a hard time keeping their balance on a moving bus or train. A pregnant woman's center of gravity shifts, and she has a hard time staying on her feet.
I think women's lib provided an excuse for men to drop all chivalrous gestures, which it seems many found onerous or unfair.
Men were glad to be shut of chivalry and its demands, and to cite 'women's libbers' as they were then called, as their justification for doing so. And they could feel quite self-righteous about it.
So it is now; men do not want the old system of chivalry, because they no longer believe in its tenets, in the idea that a real gentleman defers to ladies, regardless of whether he deems them worthy of those considerations. The idea behind it was that of noblesse oblige, not a sense of compulsion. If you believe that women are the frailer sex, or that they should be treated with gallantry, then you don't resent giving them small considerations and gestures. It showed nobility of character. It's easy to show consideration to those whom you consider to be your lessers in some way; it was in no way a concession to 'feminazis' but it was a magnanimous thing, an 'I can afford it'' thing.
At some point, men no longer believed in those things, so the small courtesies began to be treated as impositions, and when the first pretext presented itself, the courtesies were dropped like a hot potato.
I think few would disagree with me when I say that there is little courtesy in general in our society; we all feel equally entitled and nobody wants to yield to anybody else. Few people show special courtesy to the elderly now; this is also part of the anti-chivalry fallout. Elders are 'the weak' whom knights of old were sworn to defend and protect. How many people see old folks that way now? Most, including many conservatives, see old folks as a burden and an unsightly nuisance. Conservatism, for some, is a pretext for a selfish, mean approach to life. This is what kept me from identifying with conservatism for a long time, because I saw this 'rugged individualist' every-man-is-an-island meanness. Now, I can see that much of it is part of the classic libertarian mindset, which celebrates selfishness. But that mindset has prevailed among many 'conservatives' these days.
In general, even conservatives today behave in reality like rank egalitarians/individualists, with a 'devil take the hindmost', 'look out for number one' attitude.
And this de facto egalitarian treatment of women is in effect an affirmation of feminist principles. By "conservatives."
Another point in which many men agree with 'feminazis' is on questions of sexual morality and abortion. It's facile to blame all that on feminists, when people like Hugh Hefner and other men were on board with it. Why wouldn't they be? It made for more sexual license, with women persuaded that 'liberation' meant freedom to practice casual, commitment-free sex. Abortion meant that men would have fewer 'mistakes' that they would have to pay child support for. And women's pursuit of careers in place of marriage meant that many men, who were/are marriage-averse, would be able to preserve their vaunted 'bachelor lifestyle' much longer, with women who would be sexually available with no strings attached.
So, men's interests coincided with those of feminists, in many cases. And they didn't have to be burdened with chivalry anymore. No more opening doors -- ''because the women hate it." No more expectations of commitment before sex.
I don't believe that men in general, including 'conservatives', would welcome a return to the status quo ante. Not at all.
Too much of what I see today on the right is little more than knee-jerk anti-liberalism. The leftists and liberals believe in women in high office, so let's denounce women in high office. The liberals believe in working mothers, so let's condemn working mothers across the board. The liberals promote premarital sex so let's condemn it harshly and bring back the scarlet letter. Why stop there? Bring back the stocks and the pillory.
But only for women, of course. Apparently, women get pregnant by parthenogenesis, without a male playing a part in it, these days.
This latter-day anti-feminism would have us be more traditionalist than tradition itself. There has been a long tradition of women taking an active role in this society, long, long, before 'feminazis' came along, and long before the abominated 1960s. If you want to go way back, Tacitus, the Roman historian, described the high status of women among the Germanic tribes. Women were in prominent positions in Celtic societies in ancient times.
More recently, Alexis de Tocqueville described the high status of women in America. It is not a product of Rush Limbaugh's 'feminazis' or of 'hippies' or of Hillary Clinton. It's a longstanding feature of our Western civilization, like it or not.
So what 'tradition' are we harking back to in trying to put women back into their 'proper' roles? Cite me chapter and verse. What tradition? Where? When? Or are some conservatives confusing Moslem tradition with Christian tradition?
Generally I believe that mothers should stay at home and care for their young children. When the children are of school age, however, I don't see why a woman cannot or should not work, as long as her mothering duties are not neglected and her children not shortchanged, and as long as her husband does not object.
Full disclosure: I have been both a working mother and a stay-at-home. Given my preference, I would have stayed at home permanently. But we don't always get what we want in life. Conservative or no, we cannot always control our life's circumstances. It is an ideal but it is not always reality.
Conservatives, above all, should be the ones who can differentiate between an ideal, to which it is good to aspire, and the realizable, which is often what we can realistically manage in an imperfect world.
It grieved me to leave and go to work every day; I can honestly say I shed tears over it. But one does what is necessary sometimes.
Many working mothers feel bad enough about leaving their children without being castigated and called bad mothers or bad Christians for it.
By the way: those of you who object to working mothers will, I am sure, support some kind of welfare payments for widowed or divorced women who would otherwise have to leave their children to go to work.
What's that you say? No? Then I see a contradiction here. Is staying at home only reserved for some?
Not everybody has family they can rely on for childcare, remember, in this day and age of mobility and family disintegration. And curiously, many 'conservative' men are opposed, somehow, to paying child support or alimony, so leave their ex-wives to support or partially support the child(ren). I could cite many instances of this.
One more thing: 'conservatives' have often very vocal in demanding that many divorced or widowed women on assistance get up off their lazy behinds and go to work, placing their kids in daycare. Is this not inconsistent with the idea that all children deserve to have their mothers at home? Or are only wealthy women allowed to raise their own children? It seems to me that conservatives who believe in full-time mothering have not thought this question through.
I remember Newt Gingrich's proposal to bring back orphanages as an alternative to welfare.
So where were Gingrich's family values there, if all children need their mothers?
I am not calling for taxpayers to support all women who want to stay at home with their kids, but maybe if we can afford trillions for war in Iraq, we could afford to subsidize stay-at-home moms --- IF we truly believe it is a must for mothers to be at home. But actually I am not convinced that we really believe this. I think the attacks on working mothers have ulterior motives; it isn't about keeping moms at home at all, but about making political points, or it's a feeble kind of striking back at the faceless 'feminazis.'
But either we believe in the ideal of women caring for their own children, or we don't. There should be no double standards, one for women in intact marriages or women with plenty of money, and a second for women who are alone due to divorce or death, or women whose husbands earn too little to support the family. Maybe there is some truth to the liberal stereotype that conservatives are out-of-touch people who are wealthy and insulated from reality.
Believe it or not, I am about as traditional as you get on these things. But I see no reason to try to establish some kind of pre-'feminazi' Golden Age which never was, and punish all the women who don't conform to the ideal. That is not what tradition means. Tradition means
1 a: an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom) b: a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable 2: the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction 3: cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions''
It does not mean some mythical ideal which never existed in reality.
Cultural continuity means that we are bound to what actually existed, not what we wish had existed, and not what ideally would exist in some perfect world.
I think conservatives need to seriously re-examine where they stand, because they are all over the map on these things.

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