Just the other day, Grad Student and I had a talk about mentoring. He said that one of the problems today was that men simply didn’t have male figures who would take a young man aside and set him straight. I said that’s the same of women in general, too — that in a culture of youth, where an older woman is expected to compete with a younger one for sexual and economic favours, older women simply don’t view younger women as protégés, but as competition. And so mentorship, which was a key part of navigating society not so long ago (in the age of guilds and apprenticeships), has fallen away. And the world, in my opinion, has become just a little meaner, a little harder, for everyone. Old people deserve a soft place to land. And they deserve to be listened to, after a lifetime of hard knocks. Why does the next generation always think we can do things better if we don’t listen to the previous one?
My students insist that an embracing of sexual access is a demonstration of female empowerment. It’s Third-Wave Feminism, they say; it’s New Age Feminism. I remain increasingly skeptical. If a woman is able to make a lot of money by using her body, that’s fine; but we are definitely not in an age where that kind of work is considered generally socially acceptable. No one introduces themselves as a “stripper” or “prostitute” or “escort” to someone else’s parents, or friends, or strangers, with the same kind of pride as someone who says that they are a CEO or an executive VP, or a financial analyst. Until we get to that point, saying we are living in an age of Third Wave Feminism or post-feminism is so much wishful thinking.
I also had a conversation with my roommate yesterday, and he was talking about corporate greed. He remarked on that familiar statement that Corporations, and thus, CEOs and Boards of Directors, are sociopaths. And he stated, “you know, people need to understand that buying into the American dream of making money, regardless of consequence, negatively impacts everyone. People need to make this kind of behaviour unacceptable: this outsourcing of labour and creation of new slavery, raping of the environment, and generally that sense of entitlement: ‘I’m getting mine, so I must be good, and screw you guys’ is what is screwing us all over.”
I’d like to agree with him, but I pointed out that if I were honest with myself, I would most likely grab the brass ring too, given the opportunity, and figure my karma could be worked out later. Greed and self-interest are powerful motivators, and unless there are absolutely no rewards for monetary gain, I don’t see how we can avoid having people who exploit, manipulate, and capitalize (pun intended) on the system in place.
And I think that’s why I love Michelle Obama’s statement: it doesn’t chastise or restrict, but encourages what could be a concurrent practice — you can be greedy, but you also have a responsibility to pull up the next person behind you. Not a bad idea for thinking about how to practice ethics.