Against Reason

Posted: April 1, 2011 in Feminism, Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

‘Human beings have a demonstrated talent for self-deception when their emotions are stirred.’ – Carl Sagan

The Minister for Universities has made a statement today, based on social trends data, and a book he has written,  about how feminism’s achievements in furthering women’s career advancement has had a detrimental effect on the opportunities and success of men from working class and socially deprived backgrounds.

‘The Government’s social mobility strategy, which will conclude that movement between the classes had “stagnated” over the past 40 years, will be published next week and Mr Willetts blamed the entry of women into the workplace and universities for the lack of progress for men.

“Feminism trumped egalitarianism,” he said, adding that women who would otherwise have been housewives had taken university places and well-paid jobs that could have gone to ambitious working-class men.

The minister set out his views during a briefing with journalists on the social mobility strategy, which will include a plan to test the population at seven ages, from birth until the age of 30, to measure whether life chances were improving for children from different backgrounds.

Figures to be published are expected to paint a grim picture of the prospects for advancement for children from the poorest backgrounds dating back to the 1960s. Asked what was to blame for the lack of social mobility, Mr Willetts said: “The feminist revolution in its first round effects was probably the key factor. Feminism trumped egalitarianism. It is not that I am against feminism, it’s just that is probably the single biggest factor.”

“One of the things that happened over that period was that the entirely admirable transformation of opportunities for women meant that with a lot of the expansion of education in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the first beneficiaries were the daughters of middle-class families who had previously been excluded from educational opportunities,” he said’.

Feminists and liberals are up in arms of course. Look at this exchange between me and Gary Younge, the journalist as an example of how they see Willets’ position as obviously ‘against reason’ and common sense:

But I think it is the feminists and liberals who are not thinking clearly here. I think Willets has made some interesting points. I feel their reactions to his article are emotional rather than intellectual. Take Josie Long, the comedian, for example, and her reaction on twitter, which has received over 100 precious ‘Retweets’…

Sometimes when I argue with the ‘common sense’ positions of feminism for example, I feel like I am going insane. And people who argue with me are keen to present me as such. But I am clinging onto a belief in questioning, and thinking about things and keeping my mind open to all possibilities. For if I don’t there lies true madness. I would like to read a more full account of Willetts’ standpoint. But so far, he seems to be making some sense.

And somebody agrees with me. Here is an FT journalist, referencing research by a professor of education and economics at LSE (Anna Vignoles):

And here is the paper which informed the position of Willetts with regards to class, gender and educational/economic attainment:

Thankfully, the marvellous Heresy Corner has blogged about this. And with more insight than me:

And as if I didn’t need any more evidence to back up my point, here is a handy venn diagram, drawn by a feminist and shared via twitter. As you can see there are two sets, ‘people who’s world view is founded on ignorance and bigotry’ which is a sub-set of  ‘anti-feminists’. But the two sets are very nearly identical, suggesting that *almost* all ‘anti-feminists’ are ‘people who’s (I think she means whose) world view is founded on ignorance and bigotry’. Clever isn’t it? There’s *almost* no room for any position other than a feminist one to be given any credence whatsoever. Oh.

  1. Tim says:

    Well, duh.

    Of course it is ‘hampering’ with progress.

    Let’s take a look at the, oh so often, cited manager positions.
    Today, the majority of manager positions are held by men. if you strive to outbalance that to a 50/50 quota between men and women, that will inevitably mean that some men will not be able to achieve as much as they want or could have. Same applies to other ‘desireable’, high-earning or high-prestige positions.

    Just because women start going for these positions does not mean that the number of positions increases also. All it does is increase the number of people wanting such a position.

    The rest is logic: If you have a majority blocking more than their 50% share of something and you want to enforce the 50/50 quota now, then you will have to ‘get rid’ of the surplus.

    So I think it does have an effect on progress, the important question here is, is this kind of ‘hampered progress’ a good thing or not ?

    • Indeed. But also it is worth acknowledging, as Willetts has, that ‘gender’ is not the only division. So it is not just ‘men’ who are losing out to women but ‘working class’ ‘socio-economically deprived’ men, who didn’t have those managerial jobs say, who are losing out to middle class women in the competition for those jobs.

  2. The problem I have with this is that it presents a false dichotomy: “either we have middle class people (regardless of gender) going to university and working class people (regardless of gender) don’t or we have men going to university (regardless of social class) and women don’t. We can’t have both women and working class/socially deprived men going to university.”

    There is a reason why I did not add the clause (regardless of social class) to “women” in the second part of the logic statement there. That reason is that prior to feminism, women were a de facto working class or even “serf” class, regardless of their social background.

    Mr. Willets says that: “it widened the gap in household incomes because you suddenly had two-earner couples, both of whom were well-educated, compared with often workless households where nobody was educated.”

    In 1978 there was scandal when unemployment figures reached 1 million for the first time. After Thatcher came to power, unemployment rose rapidly to double and then triple that number. Because of IMF restrictions, which resulted from misleading financial figures having been presented to the Labour government in 1976 by economists (who were beginning to be swayed by monetarist theories), the rise in unemployment was already beginning due to the introduction of monetarist theories such as those endorsed by Thatcher’s government. Prior to 1976, it is arguable that successive governments mismanaged the economy of Britain (and it was a managed economy based on Keynesian principles), which got it into a mess. [Sources: When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies by Andy Beckett and The Vote by Paul Foot – Beckett’s book appears to argue that monetarism was a necessary and even positive step at the end of the Seventies; Paul Foot obviously argued the opposite!]

    So Mr Willets is probably wrong to point the finger at feminism as the major cause of families ending up with “often workless” members while others have two high-income earners. Successive governments, starting with either the first Wilson govt or Ted Heath’s, then Wilson, Callaghan and Thatcher in turn, all contributed by their mismanaged economic policies in far more effective ways than did feminism. (It is also worth noting that unions campaigning for percentage pay increases across the board also served to increase income gaps.)

    I would like to add that I think it is a fair criticism of a lot of feminist thought and action that it centres on the life and experience of White, middle-class women first and foremost. The challenge for feminism isn’t so much “you held back working class men” but “you held back working class women”.

  3. typhonblue says:

    “There is a reason why I did not add the clause (regardless of social class) to “women” in the second part of the logic statement there. That reason is that prior to feminism, women were a de facto working class or even “serf” class, regardless of their social background.”

    How did you come by this conclusion?

    • Women who are housewives are in effect doing unpaid labour, or labour that is paid in kind as bed and board – in other words, a serf relationship. Where households needed two incomes to survive (i.e. working class families), the women found themselves in working class roles both in and outside the home. Thus, prior to women having the ability to earn their own middle-class incomes, women were either working-class, or serfs, or both.

      • I am not sure that is quite true snowdrop, as even ‘middle class’ women in many households had servants. Class is a complex thing but feminism tends to treat women as a ‘class’ even now which I think is wrong.

      • typhonblue says:

        Except that, currently and historically, men were legally obligated for the financial upkeep of their wives, not their serfs. Women were not legally obligated to do any unpaid service in exchange for this financial obligation of their husbands.

        Hm… men legally responsible for the financial upkeep of their wives without any legal recourse should their wives decide not to give labor in exchange? (And no, cruelty and mistreatment has been illegal for many, many centuries now. At least from husband to wife.)

        That doesn’t sound like a lord-serf relationship to me.

        • Kit says:

          At some point in time, wouldn’t a wife not performing her wifely duties have been grounds for separation, divorce or anulment?

          • yes I think so Kit. but ‘wifely duties’ will have varied from class to class, household to household. Well off women were still well off and didn’t have to do ‘work’ for their husbands the way snowdrop suggested.

          • typhonblue says:

            Take a look at Blackwell’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. It outlines Victorian England’s legal concerns regarding marriage, in particular it outlines what is expected of a marriage.

            Although husbands were legally obligated for the financial upkeep of their wife, no where does it say that a wife is similarly legally obligated to labor for her husband.

  4. Nigel says:

    Would that be the same Josie Long who attended a selective school and Oxford? Yes, I think it would.

  5. 2020 says:

    You know I really wanted to get angry about this, I think I left a couple of embarrassingly peevish twitter comments about it but I really just don’t feel anything other than a sense of this is business as usual for them.

    “Hey did you hear the Tories are saying the plight of our nation has a lot to do with a movement tied to the liberation of a disenfranchised group… in other news sky blue, grass green.”

    However I do feel that his words have been twisted somewhat he doesn’t use the term Blame any ware in his statements that looks like something the Telegraph helpfully added, isn’t it great that news papers are around to interpret story’s for us?

  6. Joe Otten says:

    There is a danger here of subscribing to something like the lump of labour fallacy, which says that if you open employment opportunities to women (or more often immigrants), that takes jobs away from men. (Only in this case we are talking about well paid jobs.)

    It isn’t true – there isn’t a fixed amount of jobs, people in work create more jobs with their spending and taxes. [At least it is true where there free markets and competition. Where there is only one path to a particular kind of opportunity, one success does indeed deny another. One Eton, one civil service, one judciary.]

    I’m pretty sure Willets knows this and wasn’t saying that middle class women are taking opportunities away from working class men (and women). Rather that opportunity happened to expand in one direction rather than another. Expansion in either direction is a good thing, and there is no question of blaming either group for the way this turned out.

  7. Hi all thanks for your comments. I think it is worth noting that Willetts has written a whole book – The Pinch- about changing economic patterns, and it is in part based on social trends data as well as academic research such as the Vignoles paper I have included here.

    So he has summed up a complex position/knowledge base in a press release which was then reported in a newspaper and then jumped on by angry feminists. Now, I wonder how many of those feminists will read either Willetts’ book or any of the research it is based on?

  8. Well, my world-view is definitely “founded on ignorance and bigotry” – most people are ignorant – some of them a little of the time, far too many of them nearly all of the time. Most people have some degree of bigotry. So you need to recognise these in your world-view and (much harder) in yourself when you are afflicted. It doesn’t mean you are an ignorant bigot (most of the time, anyway.)

  9. Jess says:

    You have a peculiar idea of what feminism is.

  10. Clem the Gem says:

    However interesting “Two Brains” Willetts may be, the practical effect of his time in Government will be to leave us at the end of it with a more unequal, less socially mobile society. It is all very well to use middle-class women as some kind of scapegoat, but in the end, both the working class and “wimmin” will lose out. This Government are already doing more to secure the privileges of a tiny elite against the vast majority than their sainted Maggie ever did.

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