UPDATE: Here's Justin's response.
UPDATE II: See bottom of post.
This feminism 101 post by Melissa McEwan is (genuinely) interesting, and I imagine for many people it could actually be quite useful. Given that it's by McEwan, and thus written from her usual mainstream liberal feminist perspective, I have many disagreements with it, but regardless: interesting, useful.
I would like to, more respectfully than my usual, disagree with this aspect of its analysis in particular:
All of which happens inside an environment which is coded masculine to begin with—which is why corporate work is considered serious and important, while the arts, which are coded feminine, are considered unserious and superfluous.McEwan then goes off of a tangent about Democrats and Republicans, my objection to which I'm sure I don't need to state. But regarding the quoted section: I agree that "the arts" are generally coded feminine, while the military is coded masculine. But the straightforward cause and effect McEwan imputes (i.e., the gender coding is the reason for the difference in funding/support) is, at best, oversimplified.
Which, in turn, is why the National Endowment for the Arts (feminine) is constantly in threat of being defunded, but solemn discussion about reducing the budget for the Defense Department (masculine) is considered a hilarious suggestion
My immediate reaction on reading it was to say to myself, "No, that's exactly backwards," but it's not. If I were to say that McEwan had it backwards, I'd be saying that the military is coded masculine so that it could be funded better, etc. Which is not the case. Rather, it's an example of the evolution of social norms under the pressures of power, as I've written about before*. McEwan's pairing of the military with the arts is a wonderful opportunity to point this out.
*Re-reading that post, hah, I certainly know more about Naomi Wolf now than I did then, yugh.
There are many ways to determine or define or describe the lineage of our current society, but however you do it, military activities have been coded masculine at pretty much every point in that lineage. The same cannot be said of the feminine coding of the arts; in fact, that coding is extremely recent (think of warrior poets, the machoism of the Romantics, etc.), and even at this point I would suggest that it is not nearly so pervasive as the masculine coding of the military--drumming or electric guitar playing, say, is coded extremely masculine, and think about how many of the last 100 movies you saw were directed by women.
What is the reason for this difference in the vintage and strength of the gender coding of these two pursuits?
Military pursuits are perhaps the most important function of civilization; if not, they are certainly the main mechanism by which civilization maintains itself. For a detailed explanation of this, pick up anything with the name "Derrick Jensen" on it, but briefly: civilization, being the organization of people into cities, means that large numbers of people live on land that cannot itself provide the resources that those people need to live; therefore, civilization must import resources from outside, which requires a constant process of expansion, which inevitably leads to violent conflict. So, for as long as there has been civilization, military activities have been essential for that civilization's survival. As long as there has been civilization, the masculine has been privileged (the reasons for this are hazy, as far as I know, and I'm sure it's not so linear as I'm making it sound, but for now let's accept it as a first principle), and so we see why the masculine coding of the military has been so long-lived and pervasive. And, considering that all of this stuff continues to be true for contemporary society and in addition we've now got the immensely profitable military-industrial complex goin' on, it's easy to see that the selective pressures on the society will keep its evolution proceeding along those lines for the foreseeable future.
Art, though. What's the deal with that? I'm not going to pretend like I know a lot about the history of art's social role, because my understanding is much more of a vague outlines thing than any kind of expert knowledge. So, frankly, I'm going to gloss over the long-view historic thing a bit by saying that, in various ways, for most of civilization's history art has played at best a neutral role as regards the interests of power, but more often and in general has served those interests more than not. Court patronage, nation-building culture, that sort of thing. To a large extent the same is true today.
But things have been changing, and, keeping in mind the admitted vagueness of my knowledge on this subject, I would tentatively place the beginning of the change with (what else?) the industrial revolution, gradual at first but with, as with everything associated with the industrial revolution, a kind of bewildering acceleration in the past hundred years or so. Art, to a certain extent, resists the commodification, the mass-production that comes along with industrial capitalism. Of course, to a much greater extent, it is subsumed within it, I'm not naïve enough to not see that, but at least in concept, the idea of the artist is the idea of the individual, the idea of the art-object is the idea of the idiosyncratic.
Or maybe it's not the difference between concept (artist as individual) versus common reality (artist as producer, or content provider) so much as the idea that art contains within it the possibility of resisting industrial capitalism. As the Situationists would not put it but to use their terms, art, stripped of its official structures, has in it the possibility of détournement--subversion--and of the dérive--spontaneity of a type unusable by power.
So, as capitalism advances, increasingly colonizing all areas of life and the world, art increasingly has to either rebel against it, in which case it is opposed to the interests of power, or serve it, which does not require a recalibration of priorities but does require a huge recalibration of methods (serving the power of a king's court is very different from serving the power of CEOs and part owners). In particular, art that serves the phase of capitalism we currently find ourselves in has to be amenable either to mass production, to marketing, to fashion, to being chintzy, planned-obsolescent, and interchangeable, or to being a trophy for rich people, reflecting back to them their best conception of themselves (in which case it is basically serving the old-fashioned purpose of art, but this is a niche in an expanding market).
At this point I think we can see why a feminine coding of art has been becoming more and more prevalent. On the one hand, art that actually is opposed to power's interests can be dismissed as irrational and meaningless, or even dangerously hysterical. On the other hand, art that serves the needs of production can be treated as subservient and submissive.
To be continued....? You decide.
UPDATE II: Picador says in comments what I think I was trying to say all along, and is hilarious to boot:
...Power can redefine activities and groups as masculine/feminine, thereby modulating their social status, depending on whether they serve or oppose the interests of Power.
E.g.: if the Pentagon were to determine that US military supremacy could only be assured by deploying legions of pregnant women dressed in pink leotards quoting Andrea Dworkin and blowing soap bubbles, 1) the Pentagon would deploy such forces, and 2) our culture would immediately redefine pregnant women in pink leotards quoting Andrea Dworkin and blowing soap bubbles as supremely masculine and kick-ass.
[Hilarious case-in-point examples elided; see comments.]
...it can be done deliberately, and selectively, by those who control the media discourse regardless of any inherent "masculine" or "feminine" traits of the target... It's not that Group A is demeaned because they are feminine; they are demeaned because they are a threat to power, and power demeans them by deliberately classifying them as feminine.