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Andrea Dworkin Was Right #5

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 19 years ago, in 2005, on the World Wide Web.

I’m a bit late to this party, and Jill at Feministe (2005-09-29) does a fine job of taking on the substantial claims made in Judge Posner’s latest contribution at Econo-Creep Central. So instead of a warmed-over version of Jill’s critique, I’d just like to point out how Posner begins–by drawing on a textbook example of a Backlash trend story that recently made Page One of the New York Times:

An article in the New York Times of September 20 by Louise Story, entitled “Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood,” reports the results of surveys and interviews concerning career plans of women at the nation’s most prestigious colleges, law schools, and business schools. Although not rigorously empirical, the article confirms–what everyone associated with such institutions has long known–that a vastly higher percentage of female than of male students will drop out of the work force to take care of their children.

Now, in fact, the not rigorously empirical article is a weasel-worded, anecdotal retread of the Times‘ old standby, the evidentially-empty, vaguely quantified Backlash “mommy crisis” trend story. In fact the story could just as well have been copied from a nearly identical Page One piece from 25 years ago; neither story is anything more than a grab-bag of sexist presuppositions, misrepresented anecdotes, and vague hand-waving at the “many women” who these hand-picked selection of interviewees from Yale allegedly represent. It contributes nothing to anyone’s knowledge, because it does not even rise to making any claim about reality that can be pinned down; it teaches us nothing and confirms nothing about gender and career paths at elite professional schools.

On the other hand, the story’s front-page publication in the Newspaper of Record, and Posner’s happy use of it, does confirm something else:

While gossip among women is universally ridiculed as low and trivial, gossip among men, especially if it is about women, is called theory, or idea, or fact.

–Andrea Dworkin (1978)

2 replies to Andrea Dworkin Was Right #5 Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. Otto Kerner

    Isn’t “a vastly higher percentage of female than of male students will drop out of the work force to take care of their children” a claim about reality that can be pinned down?

  2. Rad Geek

    Sure it is (in fact, for all I know, it may very well be true). So why aren’t the editors of the New York Times or Judge Posner demanding any effort to pin it down by examining reality, before they confidently feature the story on Page One of the “newspaper of record,” or happily cite it to bolster some weighty policy proposals?

    The claim would be easy enough to test, but this story, like any number of similar “trend” stories about women (many of which you can find discussed in Susan Faludi’s book, Backlash) makes no attempt to test anything; it secures prominent placement in the press and in written discussion by male professional intellectuals as evidence for their latest theory solely on the strength of anecdote, conventional wisdom, and weasel-worded non-specific quantifiers. What makes Posner or the editors of the Times feel entitled to such lazy standards when gender is the topic?

    N.B.: a point that’s strictly terminological, but also quite important. I think it’s a serious mistake to say that anyone “drops out of the work force to take care of their children.” Childcare is work; what happens is that a woman, or a man as the case may be, leaves a paid job in order to do unpaid work caring for her (or his) own children.

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