Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Is financial independence the ultimate scapegoat for compromising on feminism?

So I recently read the book Female Chauvinist Pigs. It had some gratingly problematic uses of transphobic, gender-essentialist, & objectifying rhetoric but oh, did it ever get my ears pricked for instances of women spouting gendered oppression.

I wanted to share a depressing instance of what female chauvinism looks like to me. This progressively intentioned project wants to "help" get women into the tech industry and specifically into professional coding field. The problem of course is that much of the advice given and projects proposed enforce gendered stereotypes that do nothing for women as a whole. This approach would only serve to (maybe!) garner success for the individual woman who make those compromises.

Small example : "it’s our job (for now) to be easily integrated into an all-male team, nonthreatening, and hyperskilled"

This might just be lazy or "hip" rhetoric employed by their copy writers which bores me. I really hope they don't mean it. Because this is not feminism or if it is, it's a twisted sort of feminism. And it's a great example of why I have issues with "financial independence" being a feminist goal (identified as such in bell hooks' Feminism is for Everybody). It is not surprising to me that when the goals of feminism try to mix with the goals of capitalism it invariably ends up looking like female chauvinism. But this point seems to fall through the cracks (even in Female Chauvinist Pigs) when it comes to other self-professed (successful) feminists.

Am I nuts, or is bowing to capitalism in order to gain financial independence becoming the ultimate scapegoat for compromising on feminist goals? Case and point:
many of the responses to the kerfuffle this project has caused decry that the compromises the Lady Coders project is promoting are necessary and that those dissenting are merely being ideological purists. So I guess personal success is more important than standing for your own boundaries & beliefs about sexism?

To be clear, I acknowledge that compromising on one's boundaries & beliefs in order to survive is often a valid and unfortunate necessity. I would not fault anyone for doing something like identifying with a previous and inaccurate gender/name in order to receive unemployment/social services. Their subsistence depends on that compromise. This is fucked up because folks in such situations are at the actual mercy of the social services system. And is completely different from compromising on your boundaries & beliefs to accrue a higher financial and professional status. If you have a skill/attribute that is valued and sought by an industry that you choose you have power. You are not at the mercy of that industry/system in the way that others are.

And, oh yeah, for all those folks defending the project as looking to be "effective" in their compromise and that this will (slowly) make the environment more diverse:

This whole Lady Coders mess comes to me via my partner who is a (cis-male) web dev. He is furious because this means that even though this project will get more women in the room, the level of diversity of ideas and experiences will be discouraged and disparaged by its approach. And coding (by his account) is a creative, knowledge based work. In such work you NEED a diversity of ideas in order to approach the incredibly diverse of problems with appropriate solutions.

It would actually behoove the tech (and other knowledge-based) industries to welcome diversity with open arms. It is risky, but in the long run it stands to make them more successful, competitive, and flexible. The idea that (potential) workers must compromise their identity in order to work in certain places is the oppression of capitalism at work. It alienates workers from their labor & progress which depletes recourses of experience and ideas that business will have to call upon.

This mandated compromise also creates a system of shaming in which women who have compromised and gained success/status express disdain for women who did not. Often saying that if women don't trade on things like their appearance or novelty that they are just "not trying hard enough". 
The Lady Coders project offers no challenge to this status quo & appears to be a great project for getting big tech companies those token female techies who'll help them look progressive while publicly excoriating those who refuse to compromise their feminist values. 

Not radical ladies, really, just not...


  1. Thank you so much for this. You put into words exactly what I was thinking, but was unable to articulate well between my bouts of radical feminist crankiness. :)

  2. It isn't even risky. It's not as though we're doing a good job of producing software *that actually works* (and is secure) with the current lack of diversity among programmers and designers.

    -- David-Sarah Hopwood

  3. There's also the point that, eventually, a bunch of those women might get sick of pretending and leave. Making it so they don't have to pretend might make them want to stick around longer!

  4. Personally, I find it frustrating that you assume the choice is between compromise your feminist values / live off benefits.

    Financial independence is a feminist goal because if you do not have your own money, you are dependent on whether or not someone else will be 'nice' to you; which usually (and in the case of my own parents) means placating a man to support you, regardless of his behaviour.

    I am a manager in an internet company. I wear smart-casual clothing and makeup if I want, or not if I don't. I am attaining, rather than compromising, my feminist values, because if my partner left me tomorrow, I could survive easily. This makes our relationship more equal and makes me feel safer.

    I have found, that women who do not work, or are able to work part time, are *far* more likely to shame women who want / have to work full time. I think this is a class issue.

    1. Two of my previous articles detail my feelings about dependence & specifically gendered dependence shaming:

      The work I've chosen to devote my life to (writing & activism) rarely pays the bills. It sometimes pays for coffee. I work side jobs when/if I can get them. I am all-but-entirely financially dependent on my partner. This might make you think I am a lazy freeloader (I hope not). But does this make me less feminist? or less likely to leave my partner? I don't think so. I don't placate my partner to gain his support, he pays for us because we are a family. It is TOUGH not to feel pressured or guilty about this. I try very hard to keep my sense of independence from being defined by my economic status.

      Sounds like you do tie your feelings of independence to your economic status. I don't agree with this but I don't think it's a bad thing. I am glad that you are able to find & maintain empowerment in this way (WOOT). But for women who are straight up denied access financial independence (like say teen/very young mothers, disabled women) other nontraditional/non-capitalist avenues to empowerment & independence are needed. It belittles their efforts to tell such women that they will never be truly powerful unless they attain financial independence. (which I don't think you're saying, but is often the implication if women are told to sacrifice their identities to "get ahead" as I see Lady Coders doing)

      I don't assume that the choice that you identify as so frustrating is the choice all women must make, but I think it IS the reality for many women (& other oppressed folks). My experience is not everybody's, but I chose to accept the financial benefits my partner offers & do work I find most important, instead of working 40hrs in a shit pay job that fails to nourish my passions. It heartens me so much to hear that you didn't have to make that choice. I am, to be fully honest, actually a bit jealous of that because it was a choice I wish I didn't have to make, but based on my chosen profession, one that was necessary. Also semantics: The choice I meant to draw out & identify as false was the choice between professional success & feminism. Which I think you & I are on the same page about already. (apologies if I was unclear or insinuating otherwise)

      I totally agree that many women (& others, namely male partners & churches) DO disparage women who choose to work long days outside of the home. They're shamed for being terrible mothers or not being invested enough in their families or femininity. This IS a class issue because the overarching goal of this shame is to keep women less economically powerful.

      In that vein I am thrilled to hear that you (a woman & feminist!) have financial success (despite all the horrific shit described above). But you, one woman, earning the privilege of financial success personally does nothing to ensure that other women will find it any easier/doable than you did. Your personal success is not inherently feminist; personal success is not revolution.

      Now I bet, as a feminist, you want more women & women's ideas in your field. I bet you encourage other women in your profession. These are feminist actions/ideas; They are helping other women gain more power. Without goals framed towards furthering women as a whole, women who do find success are often easily tokenized & even disdain the kind of work & success other women attain or fail to attain. Without feminist action/ideas successes of individual women play right into misogyny's hands. (ugh, didn't mean for that so sound so spooky-scary)

      This is a messy complex issue. Thanks for voicing your frustration. It inspired me to to slog through & solidify a bunch of things I was previously unclear about.

    2. Also I am using your comment and my response to it as my next blogpost. Please let me know if this is a problem for you or if you want your name ascribed to it.

      I will take down the post if you wish. I would prefer not to but as I said, you really did help me come to some more clarity about things.

      Thank you.

    3. I will say I have not met a female chauvinist, but I have met sexist women.
      I have met women that would assume: if a girl punched a guy in the balls in public, he must have deserved it. There are cops out there that would assume that.
      There are women at my university that believe women are inherently weaker than men, and that men should protect them.
      It is still completely legal in the eyes of the law, for a woman to rape a man.

      Wendy, your points aren't wrong, but they aren't foreign ideas to me; try practicing brevity between point. (A wise man once said, "It's impolite to waste the readers time.")

  5. Financial independence is a feminist goal because if you do not have your own money, you ... I am attaining, rather than compromising, my feminist values....

    financial independence & first impressions

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