SALON Daily Clicks: Newsreal

Ms. says take your daughters to work, but keep your sons with the nanny

By Andrew Ross

Published April 24, 1996 7:00PM (EDT)

"Take Our Daughters to Work Day" rears its smug, arrogant and discriminatory head once again this Friday, with successful, white, professional women taking their little dears to their various law offices, newsrooms and corporate towers for a rousing day of role-modeling free of doll houses, aprons and cookie-trays.

The daughters have loads of fun, their mothers and the Ms. Foundation, which established this annual "consciousness-raising" ritual, wallow in an orgy of self-righteous breast-beating and back-patting, while those unfortunate enough to be boys feel a quite understandable sense of confusion and resentment.

There are exceptions, of course. Some daughters are exposed to not-so-white-collar work experiences; and some workplaces have enough of an innate sense of fairness to throw the day open to boys as well. But for the most part, what was once a novel and necessary symbol of social change has become just another typical example of the elitism and increasing irrelevance of Ms.-style feminism. Worse, it smacks of a reverse kind of back-of-the-bus mentality. Sorry, no boys allowed, as mothers blighted to have given birth to sons are told by the female praetorian guard. But don't worry, boys, the Ms. Foundation has developed a special "curriculum" for you. Well, isn't that special?

No doubt, the message is still out there that girls' brains may be their least useful, and usable, asset. But the ones who get to skip school for "Take Our Daughters To Work Day" -- the girls at whom Ms. and its whining acolytes pitch their evangelism almost exclusively -- are the ones who need their esteem raised the least. These coddled daughters of America's privileged class are not going to have any problem in the job market of the future.

Would it be so bad for a mother to take her son to work, so that he can see a woman operate successfully outside of the home? Or how about "Take An Inner City Teen To Work"? If ever there were problems of self-esteem and lack of role models, it is in communities where the unemployment rate is simply off the scale. As the director of a girls program in a San Francisco housing project put it: "How do you find out about Take Our Daughters to Work Day? At work. Well, 80 percent of my parents don't work."

It's black boys from scarred urban neighborhoods who are most at risk today. They are the ones who need encouragement and inspiration, who need to hear from sympathetic grownups that they do indeed have a future. But there are no "Days" for them.

Until Ms. throws open the doors to all boys and girls, angry mothers -- and there are many of them -- whose sons are barred from Friday's events might take a cue from the early civil rights movement and just crash the thing, sit in, with your son's little fist raised. Now that would raise consciousness in a hurry.

Murder in their heart
Was the drive to exterminate Jews part of the German national character?

The latest book to stir the ashes of the Holocaust, the bestselling "Germany's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust" by Harvard professor Daniel Jonah Goldhagen (Knopf), has set off a firestorm of controversy. The book takes dead aim at the war guilt of the average German. According to Goldhagen, Germans killed the Jews because they wanted to, and they did it with relish. One of Goldhagen's case studies is a German police unit which was the subject of an earlier study by Christopher Browning in his book, "Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland" (HarperCollins, 1992). We asked Browning, currently researching and writing at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. to compare his findings with Goldhagen's.

Where do you differ with Goldhagen's conclusions?

We agree that a large number of "ordinary" Germans, from all walks of life, without any party affiliation, were involved as killers. And that there was a good deal of volitional activity -- that people were not coerced in the sense of that old German alibi, "If I didn't do it, I would have been put into a camp or shot." Where we disagree is on the motivation.

Goldhagen, in a nutshell, says that the genocidal impulse resulted from a society saturated with anti-Semitism from the early19th Century. That Germans were ideologically motivated and completely approving of Hitler's policy of exterminating the Jews.

My view is that while anti-Semitism had a particular streak in Germany that was stronger than say in France or England or the U.S., it was by no means the single dominant theme of Germany's intellectual life. In 1933, the Nazis could only get 37 percent of the vote, and a lot of those votes had more to do with political gridlock, economic depression and national humiliation, than with anti-Semitism. After the Nazis came to power, there is acceptance of legislation against Jews, but manifestations of violence against Jews did not receive widespread popular support.

Yet, by 1941, as your book makes clear, ordinary Germans became mass murderers.

You have to look much more at situational factors -- at the issues of wartime polarization and the anything-goes in wartime mentality. You have to look at the dynamics of the killing units in terms of peer pressure and deference to authority, at the propaganda machine and its systematic dehumanizing of a group of people cast outside the community of human obligation. You have to look at a multi-causal explanation. You can't talk about all Germans doing one thing from one motive. Goldhagen's view is much more simple, but I don't think it's the right one.

But it's on the New York Times bestseller list. How much of an impact will the book have?

His influence on popular perceptions is great. People who want an easy and simple explanation for a frightening and complex phenomenon will find it emotionally satisfying; if it's only Germans who do this, we don't have to look in the mirror in the morning and face the problems of what human nature can be.
It also fills another need. A lot of recent research has put the Holocaust in wider context -- looking at the extermination policies against the mentally ill, against Gypsies, the war of destruction against communists. Some people feel that this is diluting the Holocaust, that they are losing control of its history somehow. I think particularly in the Jewish community that there is a sense -- and I can understand it -- that Hitler selected us special victims and somehow historians are taking that away. So, this answers a certain alarm, an unease.

What about the book's impact on serious scholarship?

Most of reaction there has been quite critical, and I think it will continue to be. What it may do is nudge scholars to take a closer look at the complexities of German-Jewish relations and at Jewish life in Germany. (Goldhagen's book) will also probably bring us back to focusing on the Nazis, whom we have sort of taken for granted in recent years. Who were these hard-core ideological killers? Goldhagen says it's all Germans. What the rest of us have to do is go back and say, there's a lot of these people, maybe more than we thought.

Quote of the day

The Clinton touch

The anonymous novel "Primary Colors" is especially good on the way Clinton's bad qualities and good qualities are two sides of the same coin. His ability to deliver a moving speech on great occasions is related to his ability to talk utter baloney with seeming sincerity. His enormous hunger for approval is what has led him to chase voters and to chase women, and his enormous capacity for empathy helps explain why he is apparently so good at both. The empathy is genuine. And -- for all the mockery of "I feel your pain," for all the telling parallels between Clinton's political and personal "promiscuity" -- it is his most valuable gift as a national leader.

-- Michael Kinsley, in the April 29 issue of Time

Andrew Ross

Andrew Ross is Salon's executive vice president.

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