Jill Filipovic's nonsensical attacks on feminist policy
Why can't Jill stop attacking women?
Jill Filipovic has posted a bizarre critique on her Substack of paying parents to raise their children. I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time picking it apart here, first because I’ve put in that work plenty of times with her in the past, and second because I think most fair critics can see what she’s doing without help from me. So let’s get that out of the way and move on to the actual problem. Here’s Jill’s argument:
An opinion piece in the NYT argues that the US “should pay parents to stay home with their children.” This is not my summary, it’s Jill’s.1
However, Jill thinks that the author is using “parents” as “weasel language” when in fact “we’re talking about mothers.” ¹
With that in mind, even though the article says parents, what it “is really advocating for is pushing women out of the labor force.” ¹
In counterpoint, then, Jill argues that “You don't solve that problem…by paying mothers a small stipend. You solve it by giving poor people enough money to live, period.”2
There are really only two ways to read this. The first is to say that Jill actually agrees with the author, perhaps without quite realizing it, and has simply stipulated that he doesn’t mean what she says that he wrote. The second is to say that Jill actually disagrees with the article, but added the comment in point four because she knows she is taking an extremely unpopular position and needs to distance herself from it. So either what she’s saying is petty and trivial or it’s misleading and dishonest; take your pick.
Ordinarily my response to Jill would end here because I really do prefer to stick to the merits of arguments; but I’ve had to respond to this kind of nonsense with her so much over the years that I think it’s fair to add some additional commentary.
Jill did not write this article because she cares about women. Certainly not because she cares about poor women. This is clear either way you read it. If you read it the first way, then she only wrote the article because she wanted to attack the author — who happens to be Matt Bruenig, someone she has attacked constantly over the years — as dishonest. She actually agrees with what he is saying, but simply does not want people to believe that he’s saying it; she agrees with it, but she cares about it (and the women it would support) so little that she’s actually willing to wreck consensus around it for the sake of yet another personal jab.
If you read her article the second way, of course, it’s even worse. For some reason, Jill is looking at women living in the misery and oppression of poverty and is coming up with rationalizations for why the status quo of workfare and austerity that has kept them there is actually good. And then, to make this even crazier, she decides at the last moment to pretend that she doesn’t believe this since she knows how people will receive her monstrous position. This is one of the only explanations I can come up with for Jill attacking the proposal to give parents money, only to turn around and suggest that she actually wants to do so.
Personally, my take is that Jill is an utterly ordinary wealthy conservative Democrat. She has spent most of her life in extremely blue cities, got a humanities degree at NYU, and her professional milieu is a crowd of Democratic loyalist journalists, so she has learned to profess the standard egalitarian politics that you’ll hear from everyone left of Joe Manchin (and many people on his right). But being a wealthy Democrat also means, of course, that she has all the usual suspicion of welfare and of socialists, along with the fetish for using economic nudges as a lever for social engineering. On top of that, her undergrad minor in gender and sexuality studies means that she is vaguely familiar with radical feminist critiques of the way that capitalism oppresses women; but being a wealthy Democrat means that she has had a powerful incentive to misunderstand those critiques in a way that exonerates capitalism.
(Finally, it can’t be overstated how much of Filipovic’s antipathy towards the Bruenigs in particular and the left in general just goes back to our opposition to Hillary Clinton in 2016. This was clearly the first encounter that a lot of well-off media types had with the left, and it’s impossible to miss the lasting impression that made.)
The standard pseudo-materialist move here would be to suggest that Jill simply attacks socialism with pseudo-feminist critiques in order to protect her wealth and the system that has created it, and in compliance with the financial and professional incentives surrounding a Democratic journalist enmeshed in liberal media — but as I’ve argued before, you can’t just casually leap from class analysis to individual analysis like that. And we should always bear in mind that most polipsych punditry is complete bullshit, anyway. For all we know, Jill’s harebrained criticism of policy that would be good for women may very well just express some internalized hatred of women, including herself; perhaps these economic debates are just a flimsy pretext. Not sure how likely that is either, but it is, after all, precisely the kind of attack that Jill constantly makes on socialists.