Micro vs. Macro

by cacophonies

This is a post where I hope to see readers’ participation. I’ve devoted a lot of blog space lately to how I think feminism “ought to” be, but I don’t want any ensuing discussion to be yet another feminist echo chamber like so many blog posts we often see, and I also hope to avoid arguing for the sake of arguing. Hopefully we can learn something from one another and bring up some ideas for change– no matter how theoretical or utopian. Hopefully we can help elaborate on one another’s ideas and provide contructive criticism when necessary.

It seems that the majority of disagreements that occur between feminists and non-, or anti- feminists occur because the parties involved in the debate are not coming from the same place in their arguments.

One thing we all see repeated over and over in blogs, in discussions with friends and acquaintances when discussing social justice issues are situations where a discussion like the following occurs:

Woman: “Women bear the brunt of institutionalized sexism, are the majority of victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and earn, on average, less money than their male counterparts.”

Man: “But my friend Tim, who has a doctorate, was turned down for a job he was more than qualified for because a woman applied. She wasn’t as qualified as Tim; they only hired her because of Affirmative Action. That’s blatant sexism, and it is sexism with men as the victim. Sexism is not only a problem for women.”

Woman: “But that woman may not have had another opportunity for that job. Where do you expect her opportunities come from? What about the countless women who are turned down for promotions that they are qualified for, only to have an under-qualified male hired instead, because the male boss didn’t trust that a female would have the necessary drive or intellect, even though she had more than proven her intelligence and worth to the company?”

Man: “The system that you are talking about is legalized sexism toward men and toward white people, plain and simple.”

Woman: “Think about it this way. A man, Bob, and a woman, Sue, work for a company. They do the same job, they started on the same day 5 years ago, they have the same level of education, they achieve identical results on their performance reviews. One day it comes out that Bob makes $60,000 a year and Sue makes $40,000 a year. Since they both perform equally as well, are identically educated, and neither has seniority over the other, Sue is rightfully angry. She confronts her boss, who states that he has exactly $100,000 in the company budget to pay the two of them. There is not a cent more they can squeeze out. He is under obligation to make their pay equal, or he faces a battle in court that he will certainly lose. He decides to do the right thing, and make Bob and Sue’s pay equal.

In doing so, Sue got a $10,000/year raise. Bob received a $10,000/year pay cut. They continue to perform the same job with equal skill and dependency.”

Man: “That is not fair. Bob does not deserve to have his pay cut just because the boss was sexist in the first place. The boss needs to figure out a way to please everyone and make things fair for Sue, but Bob should not be penalized for it. He did nothing wrong and was not involved in the decision to pay him $20,000 more per year than a woman of equal education, skill, and experience.”

Woman: “But there is no more room in the budget. Should Sue continue to earn less than she is worth because the boss is sexist, and because it’s not Bob’s fault?”

Is this fair?

Well, that’s hard to say. The man has a point when he says that it’s not his fault that the boss made a decision rooted in sexism, and that he should not have to pay the penalty for being favored initially.

The woman has a point when she says that it is not fair that the woman not be compensated equally for equal work.

The boss, however, made it clear (and let’s assume he is being truthful) that there is no room in the budget to put them both at $60,000/year. And furthermore, where does the equality that is missing come from? It doesn’t materialize out of nowhere; it must be redistributed from existing resources.

What is fair, then?

You could argue that if Sue is not earning what she deserves, which is half of the payroll budget for half of the work, then Bob is earning more than he deserves, since he does not have more experience, education, work ethic, etc. than his female counterpart. No, it is not his fault, but he has also done nothing to deserve more compensation than what was allotted in the first place.

Focusing on the fact that most women earn less than their male peers in the workplace is what often occurs in feminist discourse, on the internet and elsewhere. Focusing on Bob’s experience, and Man’s friend Tim’s experience with Affirmative Action is what tends to occur in non- or anti-feminist (or MRA) discourse– or, more often than not, their polarized arguments are yelled back and forth at one another.

Both have valid points, as we’ve explored already. Bob doesn’t seem to deserve a pay cut; he wasn’t a part of the sexist decision-making that caused the problem in the first place. But Sue is representative of scores of women who are systematically compensated inadequately and unfairly for equal work, education, experience.

The problem with feminist discourse is that no one is willing, apart from the outspoken critics of feminism, to discuss what happens when we try to dismantle the patriarchal structure from the top and watch everyone fall down. Would we benefit from working our way up, from the bottom, instead of scrambling to put the pieces back together after everything falls to the ground? I think we would be.

Most of us agree that “the patriarchy” as it stands is the root of many, if not the majority, of our social problems. Do you think that the current “macro” approach to solving these problems is beneficial? Would focusing on a “micro”approach yield better, or faster, results? What are your theories? Are there lessons from personal experiences that may prove beneficial if applied across a given populace?


13 responses to “Micro vs. Macro

  1. If I were to theorize on the subject, I’d imagine that the “micro” way is the only way that has any long-term chance of success; we can take a wrecking ball to as many patriarchal systems as we please, but as long as most of everybody finds a patriarchal system desirable (or isn’t conceptually equipped to imagine anything else), there’ll always be one more, and most likely one that’s designed to stifle nonconformity even more heavily than what we’ve got now.

    • “Isn’t conceptually equipped” is a great way to describe people who would benefit from a “micro-” based form of education about social justice issues. I know that many arguments against that type of approach would claim that it is not the oppressed group’s obligation to educate the privileged, but in a situation where one cannot be reasonably expected to even be aware of the fact that they should be more educated about certain issues, this is the only way that I can see progressing to a more equal society.

  2. Your metaphor is kind of counterproductive, I think. Usually it’s when you try to dismantle something from the bottom that it all falls down. Dismantling it from the top is much safer, because you’re only moving one or two “blocks” at once.

    BTW, if the fair market value of Bob’s labor is really as high as $60k/yr, then he can find another place to work for a similar wage. If it’s not, he should be more than satisfied that he was overpaid for however long as he was. This part of the argument is strange to me, too, because it seems to say that it’s “unfair” to take away unearned privilege based on gender, race, etc., just because people are accustomed to it. A little while ago in the United States, white folks were accustomed to having cheap black labour around. I can’t imagine how long it would’ve taken to abolish slavery if they had only been allowed to do so without negatively affecting plantation owners.

    • For the record, I agree that Bob should be fine taking the pay cut, since he was overpaid to begin with. I added a counterpoint for the sake of anticipating comments about it, and also just for something else to think about.

      What I meant to convey with my metaphor was that I believe that most people who may not understand or care about feminism, for example, would be more likely to understand the problem and respond positively when faced with individual circumstances that can be easily broken down. Many people, when presented with an idea as large as a patriarchal structure and intersectionalities of oppression are not going to be able to quickly see how it affects their lives and the lives of people they care about, if the idea is not expressed to them in a relatable sense.

  3. Perhaps a greater focus on and understanding of the daily events of the lives and experiences of individual people, rather than only acknowledging the “greater good,” which is so often forgotten or left by the wayside in contemporary feminist discourse as it stands.

    I think getting an understanding of the daily events of individuals would do a lot of feminists alot of good. All to often I see them define other people by their own standards, all while strongly stating that they don’t want it done to them. I mean how much backing can you put into feminists that declare that men have no business speaking on the experiences of women but in the next breath will speak on the experiences of men? Or when they jump to conclusions about other people based on tiny bits of evidence.

    This week I was on a feminist site on a post about the new Nike football padding commercial asking if it was a racist portrayal of black men as animals. I commented that I wasn’t sure it was racist and said why. The feminist that runs the site responded by telling me as a white dude I don’t get to say what is and is not offensive to black people and women (women weren’t even the subject of the post so mentioning them was more than likely her lashing out like an angry child). I posted a comment to tell her than I’m black and she deleted it. Simply because I did not agree with her that the ad was racist I just had to be white right? As soon as feminists like that realize that being mistreated by some man at some point in their lives doesn’t give them a blank check to speak for all men we will all be better off.

    Now in this particular instance I would ask why does Bob deserves to take a pay cut when it was the sexist boss that is responsible. From what I’ve seen a lot of feminist discourse would just shout for Bob to lose 10k and Sue to gain 10k and pat themselves on the back for it. For all the “smash patriarchy” mentality they go on about they would probably not even think about dealing with the boss that caused this whole mess. If anything I would say that the boss should have to give up 10k, let Bob keep his, and Sue gain 10k.

    And speaking of looking at the big picture would answers if Bob were making 40k and Sue were making 60k? The reason I ask is because of the difference between equal opportunity and equal results. I would bet that people going for equal results would suddenly not even think about cutting Sue’s pay under the argument that it makes up for oppression or something like that whereas they would cut Bob’s in a heartbeat in your original situation here. Once again ignoring the individual.

    • Making the boss be the one to give up $10k of his own would be the ideal situation. I just can’t see that happening without a time- and money-consuming lawsuit that should need to occur.

      No one is paid what they deserve here. Sue is paid less than what she deserves, and Bob is paid more than what he deserves. Asking him to sacrifice income that he’s accustomed to and may not realize that he doesn’t deserve is unfortunate, but it’s also the only realistic option available.

      As far as your experience with the Nike ad on the blog… I’m pretty surprised that they wouldn’t let your follow-up comment about how you’re black through. It’s very, very obvious that the only reason the moderator would delete that comment is because it disagrees with her overall thesis. Ridiculous. What happened to transparency and honesty?

  4. Woman: “Women bear the brunt of institutionalized sexism, are the majority of victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and earn, on average, less money than their male counterparts.”

    Man: “But my friend Tim, who has a doctorate, was turned down for a job he was more than qualified for because a woman applied. She wasn’t as qualified as Tim; they only hired her because of Affirmative Action. That’s blatant sexism, and it is sexism with men as the victim. Sexism is not only a problem for women.”

    My reaction to this is that the “man” has chosen the weakest possible topic upon which to tackle the “woman”‘s position, and made the weakest possible argument on that topic.

    I think there are powerful arguments against the use of Afirmative Action programs to remedy systemic sexism (or racism, etc.) Simply declaring it to be sexism without any supporting argument is weak. But I won’t make those arguments here, because I wouldn’t talk about AA at all. Here’s how I’d respond:

    Women bear the brunt of institutionalized sexism…

    To say that women “bear the brunt” implies a comparison. You are claiming that harms of institutional sexism are worse for women than for men. It is very common for feminists to make claims of this nature which are either:

    1. Baseless, or
    2. Framed in such a way as to minimise or dismiss the harms suffered by men.

    In this case, I would argue that your claim is baseless. Feminists have undertaken a detailed and exhaustive survay of the scope of sexism against women. I disagree that they’ve got the quantitive aspect right. In my experience, it is not the epistemological rigour of a figure which determines whether or not it is widely promulgated and accepted, but how well it fits the narrative of the ideology.

    What feminists have not done is evaluate sexism against men in any meaningful way. They’ve examined closely (and inflated) the contents of one of the pans on the scales, and simply declared it to be heavier, with scarcely a glance at the other pan.

    if you disagree, please point to the detailed and exhaustive quantitative evaluation of institutional sexism against men that would provides a basis for the comparison implicit in your claim.

    …are the majority of victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and earn, on average, less money than their male counterparts.”

    All these purported facts are disputable. There is a huge body of research into domestic violence which shows that women and men are about equal perpetrators and victims of domestic violence. Given that children are not an insignificant class of victims, that would mean that men and children together are a clear majority of victims. Women are a minority.

    As best I can tell, women are more often sexually victimised than men. The problem is that many surveys into sexual victimisation don’t survey men, and many of those that do operationalise sexual victimisation in such a way as to exclude types of victimisation which are perpetrated against men.

    For example, if I had gotten into bed with an unwilling women, used my body weight to hold her down, and refused to stop stimulating her, despite her protests, until she first acquiesced, then cooperated in order to get the attack over with, then survey instruments such as the National Violence Against Women survey would record this. In fact, the above was done to me by a woman. Had I been surveyed using the NVAWS instrument, I could answer none of the sexual assault screening questions affirmatively.

    Finally it is highly questionable whether discrimination against women is a net contributor to the wage-gap. Much of it is due to the differing choices that women make, which in turn is due to institutional sexism that denies men the choice to do anything other than single-mindedly pursuing their career. This is not one of my specialist topics, so I can’t discuss it in detail.

    But even accepting, for the sake of argument, that your facts are correct, they just illustrate my point made earlier. You’ve adduced three facts which you think weigh more heavily in your pan, while ignoring many others which lie in the other pan. In fact, you’ve taken one fact, and chopped off the bits that you don’t want. Men are by far and away the majority of victims of violence. All you’ve done by selecting sexual assault and domestic violence, is select precisely those kinds of violence which you think weigh more heavily in your pan.

    This is discoursive gerrymandering.

    • Daran, it often seems like you intentionally frame your responses to what I write in such a way that is nearly impossible to respond thoroughly to.

      What you’re not seeing, or not acknowledging, is that I am speaking about issues related to women and the unequal treatment of women. Sometimes I discuss issues where men are treated unequally, but it’s obvious when I am doing either of those things. I don’t deny the fact that men are by far the majority of the victims of physical violence– what I was discussing was domestic violence, which, while also a form of violence, is something that women are more often victims of. Because I am a woman and have experienced instances of domestic assault, I feel strongly about the issue and therefore come from a place where I can speak about it. I cannot do the same for the violence that men experience in areas other than their home and their intimate relationship. So I rarely do.

      On the other hand, I absolutely think that the issues that men face are equally as important, and not necessarily through a feminist lens. But that’s not what I was talking about in this post; I was talking about domestic violence and sexual assault. I understand that as a man, your options in the West are limited as far as even being considered a victim of sexual assault; but what I was talking about were women’s experiences with sexual assault, and the overwhelming majority of sexual assaults where women are the victims. This is not said to discredit male victims of sexual assault, whether at the hands of a woman or another man. This is said simply to speak to and about the experiences of women in regards to sexual assault.

      It comes down to this: I am not going to be able to speak authoritatively on behalf of men and their experiences in oppression, violence, or other forms of victimization or oppression. I can be an ally and do my best to raise awareness, but since I am a woman, I am (understandably, I am sure you’d agree) concerned primarily with the concepts of oppression and victimization that are tangible to me: my experiences as a woman, my experiences with sexism as it pertains to women.

      Because there are many men in my life that I care for, I am obviously concerned with issues pertaining to them and the issues they face, as I am sure you are with the women in your life that you care about. But I certainly cannot be expected to raise awareness of violence against men and the unfairness of who is considered to be a victim of sexual assault every time I want to talk about things that women go through on a daily basis that are unfair and unjust. I wouldn’t ask, or expect, that of you when you discuss what is wrong with the way that our societies treat men.

      –Oh, by the way, I see that the majority of my response to your comment was in response to the part where you quote me about domestic violence and sexual assault. Obviously my original post was about more than that, but that was the part I was responding to then. Let’s see if I can muster the energy for the rest of your comment 😛

  5. Sue: but what I want to know is: how the fuck did you end up paying him 20K a year more than me in the first place?
    Boss: Well you see, every year I offered you the same pay rise, and you always accepted my offer, where as Bob always asked for more, and because he’s a good worker, talented salesman, has lots of good contacts I was afraid I’d loose him….
    Sue: 20K worth of afraid you’d loose him? but what about me? I’m a great worker! I made $$$ in sales for you last year! OK maybe I don’t have a load of frat mates who could give me jobs in their own company but…
    Boss: Ah, well you see there you go, you don’t have an old boy network to help you – plus if you leave to get more money, it’s not going to look ambitious and go-getting, it’s gonna look greedy, and you’d piss me off so I’d give you a bad reference. But subtly bad, so you couldn’t sue me over it.
    Sue: Just because I’m a woman, people will think I’m greedy for asking for more money when I deserve it, but for a man it’s fine?
    Boss: Possibly – but remember who’s telling you this.

    It’s exactly these kind of situations that you need Pay Audits and Trades Unions for.

    I do think that we are entering a new phase, where the law and legalistic routes to gender equality are almost completed – the great reserve of sexism in society is in culture and expectations, which since they exist in individuals are probably best tackled on the micro level. What strategies there need to be now, it’s harder to say.

    • Sue: 20K worth of afraid you’d loose him? but what about me? I’m a great worker! I made $$$ in sales for you last year! OK maybe I don’t have a load of frat mates who could give me jobs in their own company but…
      And exactly how do we know that Bob has frat mates that can hook up him up with a job? Unless its now safe to just presume that all white males have frat mates like that.

      And as for Sue settling for the usual raise and Bob asking for more how do we know that Bob isn’t taking a chance by asking for more?

      • Well Danny what’s his opportunity cost?
        My inspiration for that line was here:

        And exactly how do we know that Bob has frat mates that can hook up him up with a job
        we don’t, that was pure rhetoric, but taking the population as a whole, we know that by virtue of being male (and white, apparently)and assuming he went to university, he IS more likely to know someone who knows someone ect…

        • And this is what I’m talking about when people take “for the most part” and “more than likely” and try to apply it to the individual with nothing more than those suppositions. I’m not willing to leave Bob hanging because he MIGHT have more connections than Sue.

          Now I can get with this part:
          Sue: 20K worth of afraid you’d loose him? but what about me? I’m a great worker! I made $$$ in sales for you last year!
          This is Sue talking up her case about how good of an employee she is.

          But this part:
          OK maybe I don’t have a load of frat mates who could give me jobs in their own company but…
          This is nothing but Sue trying to play on presumptions based on Bob’s gender (and race if he is white). If the situation were reversed would Bob be allowed to make such a presumption against Sue?

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