Monday, November 7, 2011

Sexism and neoliberal language in comments from the Wente article

Overall, most of the response I have received about the article in the Globe and Mail has been quite supportive, but not all of it. I may actually need to start screening comments, thanks to Margaret Wente. Last night, this message came in;

You got completely pwned! You're just another moron with an MA is Queer Theory...and you thought you were going to land a job in a non-profit...what a loser!

I wonder what qualifies this person to start judging others for bettering themselves and getting a degree. Not that it matters, but my MA is in sociology (or applied social research) and my main topic is access to education... I'm not sure where this queer theory stuff comes from, except that I post about it often on this blog.

Similarly, on the Globe comments, there have been people who have jumped to this assumption that I am a typical "welfare mom" without ever bothering to find out more about my individual circumstances.

I have read relatively few comments (there are about 2000 of them in total right now), and it seems as though most of the comments are about Wente's article being terrible - bad ideas and poor journalism. However, I am intrigued by some of the negative comments about me. As soon as the words "single mother" come up, certain types of comments begin.

One commenter suggested that the only way for me to earn money with a liberal arts degree is if I have a nice rack and can work at hooters. Do I even need to point out how sexist, objectifying and degrading this assumption is?

Another suggested that I go on Maury and have my kids' paternity tested so that I can collect child support. I was married, I do know who fathered my children. And the commenters do not know whether or not I receive child support at all.

And my favorite comment was along similar lines. After asking whether or not I knew the "stud" who "did the deed," this brilliant Globe reader went on to say "I am glad to know her name (and hope she does not change it) as under NO circumstances do I want such an idiot applying for a job in my company"

A reader then replied (I would love to find out who this was) informing that commenter that I am "a brainy person who won a ton of scholarships" and then said "I think you are pretty safe she would have nothing in common with your business"

These comments are sexist in many ways. If it were my ex-husband, as a single father, being retrained for an education, would his decisions be put on trial like this? Or would he be seen as a saint for taking care of his own children? But then, when he was injured and laid off, he was handed a financial package for retraining through Second Careers were he could get another degree debt-free, so I guess he would not have found himself in the same situation. I could not access second careers because being a stay-at-home-mom and a housewife is not a first career, even when done within the bounds of the nuclear family.

I have also been amazed by the ideology behind some of the comments. Even people who think that I was unfairly attacked sometimes write about how sociology used to be a viable option, but is no longer a productive way to contribute to society. Contributing to society means earning money, clearly. We should all find jobs that conform to capitalist and business needs.

Does anybody bother to question why it is that a liberal arts degree "is worth nothing?" (as so many commenters' stated)?

What sociology does, for me anyway, is make visible the social relations that are behind structures that appear to be naturally existing - such as capitalism itself. Throughout the liberal arts, we can trace out how capitalism developed and why it emerged as it did. We can see that it is not naturally existing, it is not ahistorical, and it is not the only successful option that has ever been presented. This is not good for business.

Through sociology, we can also look at the systemic forms of oppression that are being used to benefit those who are at the top of the hierarchy within neoliberal capitalism. We can look at how the moral regulation of single mothers (such as the comments I wrote about here) serve to uphold the status quo. We can look at how sexism, heterosexism, racism, ableism, and social class (among other factors) work to uphold a system where some people have everything they need (such as Wente) as they are born into wealth. Others, such as myself, are vilified for bad choices.

As long as they can pin poverty on the poor, the government can continue to funnel more and more money tax breaks for wealthy corporations. Commenters are quick to point out that a portion of my tuition comes from the government or that my subsidized childcare is paid for by their taxes. Do they realize that RRSP contributions for middle class families cost the government more than post-secondary education? Or social assistance? Or daycare? But, like wealthy corporations, the middle class are not seen as dependent on "the system". Why is that? I think that Wente, and her corporate friends, are even more dependent on "the system" than I am. And that is why they have to work so hard to get the rest of us working against our own interests, which is why her article exists in the first place.


  1. Hey, it's been fascinating following your story and the blowout over the Wente tirade. I've read all your recent posts, and I think your blog is great. I've also wasted too much time going through the frenzied responses to Wente's article on the G&M site. Fortunately, it seems most posters by a margin of 2-1 reject Wente's analysis (can we call it 'analysis'?--more like 'screed').

    I'm also a grad student, also in the social sciences, so I have some idea of where you're coming from, although I do not have the challenges you're facing i.e. mouths to feed and debt to repay. I can count my blessings....for now.

    I have one nagging complaint: I really wish you hadn't given the G&M the quote you gave them. I know you were taken out of context and clearly your blog evinces your thoughtful and serious commitment to positive change, but you can see why your words send charlatans like Wente in a tizzy. As you said "I’m here because I don’t know what kind of job I could possibly find that would allow me to pay rent, take care of these two children and pay back $600 each month in loans."

    Your motivations are obviously more altruistic and political then your words would suggest. Of course, had you said something along the lines of "fighting for systemic change" or "ending the corporatocracy" then you probably would not have been quoted in the first place. Maybe there'a a silver lining in all this fuss, if it gets people talking about the issues.

  2. Wonderful blog post Laurel. Great job. I _especially_ like your closer:

    "I think that Wente, and her corporate friends, are even more dependent on "the system" than I am. And that is why they have to work so hard to get the rest of us working against our own interests, which is why her article exists in the first place."

  3. Ms.Marx, the simple point is that you, like everyone, must be accountable and responsible for your decisions. I have some empathy for your plight but it is not the responsibility of "the system" to get you out of it. Abandon your pursuit of a degree that provides you with a completely unemployable set of ideas and seek training that will provide you with a set of skills that someone will pay you to use under their employ. Do this for the sake of your children.

  4. Another great post! I wish I had the interwebs so I could support you better. But keep up the great work!

  5. Anonymous (1), that quote was completely taken out of context. I was asked to describe my personal situation, as part of the 99%, I gave a lot of information on systemic and structural inequality, and, more importantly, she should have called or emailed me to get a quote to use. But let’s hope your “silver lining” thing works out.

    Anonymous (2), thank you very much!

    Anonymous (3), you want me to abandon a degree that I have already paid for and only have a few months left in so I can get training for what exactly? Hairdressing? A trade of some sort that I might not be capable of doing for reasons not mentioned in Wente’s article? I love when people think they know what is best for me (and my children) based on a few paragraphs written by someone who has never spoken to me!

    Gina, thanks, and how dare you feel entitled to be able to wish that you could afford the interweb! We are merely grad students, afterall, and should therefore live in a cardboard box and eat Mr. Noodles and Kraft Dinner (but not the name brand stuff).

  6. Also, anonymous 3, were the banks responsible for their decisions when they were bailed out?

  7. I'm getting pretty tired of ill-informed comments like this one by anonymous (3):

    "Abandon your pursuit of a degree that provides you with a completely unemployable set of ideas and seek training that will provide you with a set of skills that someone will pay you to use under their employ."

    Where do these bizarre ideas come from, I ask rhetorically. I know this is just a repeat of Wente's hastily-written, absolutely UN-researched newspaper column, but even Wente once wrote (see her column on Oct. 22) that her columns eventually end up lining the litter box -- what purpose in the corporate or business world does that serve? More to the point, what 'social good' does it serve?

    The truth is that there are in fact jobs for sociologists and others in the social sciences. If anonymous (3) had some sociological research skills, they'd know better! These jobs are often in government (Wente's complaint), as well as in businesses that realize they actually need to hire people who know how to read documents analytically, think independently, conduct exemplary research, write coherently, etc.

    I'd wager a guess that those few corporate or business idiots who wrote that they'd never hire a sociology graduate _in all probability_ haven't a clue what a sociologist can do for them.

    The fact that there's an imploding labour market and financial system in the western world isn't a testament to the failure of sociology or the social sciences, but rather a result of NOT listening to social scientists and sociologists.

  8. I found a blog you may find interesting:

    She completely destroys patriarchy theory.


  9. When you said, "it is not ahistorical"...did you really mean, "it is ahistorical"?

    Just curious.

  10. Yes, there are jobs for sociologists, but they are becoming more and more sparse. I, like many others, was hoping to get into teaching/research at the university level, but tenure positions don’t seem to exist anymore so I may end up working as a sessional while trying to find post-docs or something. Despite being strong in statistics, working at Stats Can is out, now that the long form census no longer exists. I completely agree with your statement about how the imploding labour market being a result of not listening to social scientists! Anyone who has taken a first year sociology course can probably name some of the theorists that have been predicting this for a long time!

    Harvey, I have actually seen that blog a few times before, but I will check out this post too!

    And no, I meant what I said. Capitalism is not ahistorical (that is kind of a double negative, saying it is historical would make more sense) in that it is not some naturally existing entity that we don’t have to question. It exists because it was brought about my people in a specific historical context – not that long ago, if you really think about it. And capitalism has been changed into what is often referred to as neoliberalism, which is like welfare state capitalism, only instead of using tax money to help the victims of capitalism, it is used to further finance wealthy individuals and corporations!

  11. I live in Vancouver and I don't even know what you look like, but I think I love you. I love your mind. You are a beautiful person.

  12. So many Anonymouses on this string... it is confusing to keep them straight. I really like how Anonymous[3] simply repeats the entire bourgeois "get a job and work hard" bullshit line that you attacked in your article: I really love people who refuse to read arguments so that they can keep repeating their banal opinions.

    Also Anonymous[3]: the people who work the hardest in this world make the least, and the people whose work is heavily subsidized by the labour of those who work the hardest (a group that also includes people who come from privileged backgrounds like Wente). What does "accountability" for decisions mean in this context, Anonymous[3]: the whole personal responsibility, suck-it-up way of seeing the world is an abdication of critical thought.

  13. JMP, I think that you should get a job and work hard. It would pay off. Who needs your PhD, and it doesn't matter that you might just be the smartest person I know... You should just quit this academic thing and go work as a mechanic or a car salesman or something.

    I always find it funny how I can spend 18+ hours a day childrearing and doing housework and schoolwork, sometimes without taking more than a few minutes to myself in the entire day, but I am not working. However, wealthy people earn money in their sleep, and so few people question whether or not they are hard working (with the possible exception of trust fund kids, who are still more deserving of their wealth than I am of a free post-secondary education).

  14. I was also going to comment that I love your closer. It's something to keep in mind as pundits bash "welfare moms" and other self-justifying categories.

  15. The only problem with fixing a price to domestic work is that it no longer becomes an activity one volunteers to do, and thus removes agency from the lives of women. It removes the cost/benefit analysis from daily life, in other words.

  16. Thanks Nathaniel!

    Harvey, I'm not sure I would advocate for fixing a price to domestic work. I am quite familiar with the wages for housework movement and I quote Selma James and Mariarosa Della Costa in my thesis... I just think that attaching a wage could conceivably make women the employee of their husband. I do think there are possibilities in a guaranteed income for everyone. I'm not sure a cost/benefit analysis is the way to go, however, because we don't always see the costs and benefits or the hidden social relations that influence our decisions, or the ideologies that make us work against our own interests.