Tuesday, July 15, 2008

START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT IT

I don’t surf so-called feminist websites. The discourse is now so predictable as to equal and even surpass the chicanery of Socialist Realism, scripted in the same old way.

But this piece I’m discussing now was on the Alternet site, which presents mostly useful and reasonable stuff. I imagine that a certain number of certain types of subjects has to be covered, though, and maybe that’s how come we’re having this discussion here now.
The article is by one Heidi Schnakenberg, “Think ‘70s Feminists Are Out of Touch? Not So Fast.” Kewl. Hip.

But I think it provides so thorough an example of the script as to be called ‘classic’ in its way.
You really can’t tell your players without a program in matters feminist these days; if the original assertions and concepts were a bit hard to connect and didn’t always cohere even back in the day, the situation – for all the time and treasure expended – has gotten even more … ummmm … complex.

Of course there’s all the numbered Waves, first, second, third – at least. And I think the Waves themselves are subdivided. I was a little perplexed to notice that she doesn’t mention Waves at all. But then I realized that the revolution’s moved into even more finely-diced distinctions.
Terminology to describe the various schools has become florid. “Intersectionalism” is now a working term, and “feminist intersectionalist” is thrown around as both concept and epithet; one cannot avoid thinking of ‘right deviationism’, ‘left deviationism’, Menshevik, Trotskyite, and half-a-hundred other terms that, whatever their conceptual weight, were arrows of death pointed at the unlucky targets of revolutionary justice.

Our author, in best feminist faux-academic style, however, sounds the proper key in which we are to play the music: she is a “unity feminist”. But, she assures us, she was not always so enlightened, and humbly (yet with a queasy prideful confidence) declares herself as one who has struggled with the complexities; she is a “reformed intersectionalist feminist”. (At this point in the article I really began to wonder if she weren’t simply satirizing the whole feminist revolutionary panoplium, but … no; although it’s really impossible to tell whether you are reading an earnest relating of the latest version of ‘truth’ or a satirical put-down of the whole thing ; the stuff satirizes itself.)

In a particularly incoherent sentence she manages to get some of the primary code words in, but in such a way that they don’t seem to make sense: “Sexism is still far behind the curve in beating the oppression game …” ‘Sexism’ of course is what ‘men’ do when they only consider women as sexual objects (or have I not gotten more recent memos?). ‘Oppression’ is what ‘men’ do to women frequently, if not always, by attacking them, hating-on them, not talking to them, talking to them, or just being men. That much, I think, is clear.

‘The game’ is a phrase to describe the core dynamics, in the feminist view, of ‘civilization’ and ‘culture’ as it has existed in the United States throughout its history, although – come to think of it – in all cultures going back to the ancient Greeks and perhaps throughout recorded history. There is some doubt as to whether one may retain one’s union card if espousing the possibility that at some point before recorded history men and women lived together in sexless harmony or even – more preferably – women ruled men (unsure about whether sexlessly or not). This of course would create the possibility of analyzing the period before recorded history, perhaps as imperial mandarins spent time and treasure studying the unicorn to learn about the horse. For this purpose, Hahvahd – its newly installed woman president having just recently assured one and all that in this complicated and darkling modern world her first priority would be ‘diversity and gender issues’ – might be able to set up an Institute. Perhaps there’s some cash left over from the delegation they sent over to the just-liberated ‘Russia’ to help that great and haunted land achieve free-market, democratic capitalism.

There is also a second complexity: a truly multicultural view must needs espouse the position that different cultures do things differently but that no other culture may judge because all ways of doing things are equal, and ‘good’ for that culture. Except for not-implementing feminist objectives, which is a universal – we’d best not say Original – sin. And perhaps we’d best not say ‘sin’ either.

As best can be discerned, the ‘intersectionalists’ are dissing the “old feminist guard” – to the extent of calling them (the horror!) “white women” – by asserting that “women have a wide variety of problems to worry about, such as class, race, and economics, and feminism must adopt many causes and facets to improve women’s lives”. As so often happens in revolutions, such a simple and common-sense observation has generated a sharp backlash … although there is some question as to whether a feminist, the vanguard of the ultimate oppressed minority (though numerically a majority) in all of human history (recorded history, anyway) can ‘backlash’ at all, since the oppressed – it has been handed down – can never oppress nor ‘backlash’. Only ‘men’ can backlash. QED, somehow.

In an impressively candid revelation, she notes that “women of color have responded more specifically by saying that, frankly, they feel white women don’t experience a fraction of the pain and suffering that women of color go through and it’s difficult for them to relate”. Dahlings, how dare they? Worse, the aforesaid women of color say “Hey you privileged white feminists, you don’t get it. Move out of the way with your old-fashioned white feminism”. To the mothers who invented the revolution this is gall and wormwood.

And the author – hiply but heroically – establishes her position: “I say, not so fast.” Take that, ungrateful puppies. Stalin, of course, when confronted by old Bolsheviks who told him that he was betraying the revolution, resolved the conceptual complexities with a gun. Many guns. Although Mao, no feminist himself, was the one who actually encapsulated that bit of solutionary wisdom for the ages: Political power flows from the barrel of a gun. Yet perhaps we do him – Mao – a disservice, and Stalin too, since women were known to serve in both the Soviet and Chinese armies and with distinction, and with far less complaining about harassment. But then again, complaints in either of the great Red Armies would perhaps not have been as receptively handled as they are in more sensitive eras and societies.

No doubt by merest coincidence, they also won a lot, and Stalin’s Red Army actually achieved some of the most stupendous military victories in all of human history – the recorded kind, anyway. Which does not of course preclude the possibility that just before the recording began the world was run by totally victorious all-female armies (although, they chose not to record their achievement) that were suddenly and treacherously undone by those assorted packs of chimpish cavemen with their clubs and crummy caves with the cheap cooking fire and the mastodon cutlets and all. But we digress.

As is required the author then produces not an argument but a ‘story’: there once was a bright young thing with no problems and a great future. Then suddenly she is “approaching retirement with permanent, debilitating brain damage from domestic violence”. It’s a weirdly unspecific statement: you’d expect that so significant a story would call forth something more than the generic “domestic violence”; it’s like saying that a loved one was killed by ‘motor vehicle violence’ instead of saying ‘by a car’ or ‘by an SUV on a rainy night’ or by ‘a drunk driver’ (preferably a man, no doubt). Worse, now that it has gotten out that ‘battering’, say, can now legally encompass anything from being physically assaulted to not-being-spoken-to-on-the-phone (yes, a man could be hauled in for battering even if he were 3,000 miles distant when he was doing the ‘battering’), one would feel comfortable with a few more facts. Although, of course, ‘facts don’t matter’, as is famously known.

Then the classic ‘trump’: “This woman happens to be my mother.” Sort of the thing one would get from a sibling as a final put-down in an argument over who deserves the last cupcake. But this has passed into the general culture as a form of reasoning, or rather a replacement for it, as has the whole ‘story’ gambit.

This report – and we can only assume it’s true, although it’s hard to forget that in her milieu ‘facts don’t matter’ – she considers proof positive and refutatious in the matter of this charge that “white women are too privileged and classist to understand the plight of less fortunate women”. So there. Harrrrumph.

But she doesn’t want her victory here to separate her from the sistern universal. “Like many women, I too have an eclectic and complex history of experiences”. And men, we are to presume, do not? But then she quickly goes on: she is “ethnically Caucasian, and my family is from a small rural town in Western Europe”, which should put her in the feminst Lubyanka with no further ado. But wait: “but I strongly identify with my Latino family by marriage, and my child is considered a person of color.” Ah. On the revolutionary checklist she starts to rack up some points. Further, “I’ve lived in extremely varied environments “, rattling off: a small town in West Africa, a rural farm in the Midwest, the projects in Manhattan, next to crack houses in Brooklyn, in a posh, gay neighborhood in Southern California, and “even a temporary stint on the obscure island of Malta”. Apparently she was trying to milk Malta for all it was worth as a hardship post, but unless she was there during the Luftwaffe raids, I don’t think it works. Or is accurate. But then, facts don’t matter. For the rest of it, well, the only other persons I can think of who get around like that are formally ‘homeless’. But who’s to say?

She immediately wields the authority she has accorded herself by the foregoing recitation: “I tell you this: Women have as much, if not more, in common with each other than they do with the men in their respective communities, countries and demographics.” So there it is. The rarely-spoken assumption of feminist thought is that gender is the trumping identity. How can any national society cohere if half (more than half) of its citizens are exhorted to see themselves as members of a wider society, and that the other half (less than half) of the society’s citizens are their oppressors and – how can it be avoided? – enemies?

Did the Democrats actually read any of their stuff 40 years ago before throwing the institutional weight of their Party behind this philosophy? In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking that what they did was not only to support a revolution against democratic politics, but a weird but real civil war, weird because it was one-sided, but a war nonetheless, in their own eyes. There’s nothing of Martin Luther King’s vision – so fully and vividly limned in his speech on the Mall in August of 1963 – around which all Americans of good will could unite. Nor can JFK’s assasination that November be burdened with any sort of responsibility for having ‘changed everything’, as if it dissolved in a stroke the ideal of a spiritually grounded national unity for a wider and deeper common weal. It didn’t. Something else did that.

She’s also a victim herself, having “come under fire" from “intersectionalist feminists” for making such statements as she has just made. But she’s nailed her flag to the mast: “I say no, all those other problems [that women of varied backgrounds face] diminish the unique plight of women, who all exist under male power and oppression”. In case we didn’t know where she stands. Or where feminism stands. Or where the rest of us stand.

She then introduces another story: Her sister-in-law, a Puerto Rican woman, who has experienced violence and crime in New York and Puerto Rico, feels that “while racism is always a peripheral concern, her most depressing problems continue to be with men”. Specically, she fears her husband philanders, and she “doesn’t like the misogyny and disrespect she sees in her teenage boys”. Whether these problems can be attributed to ‘men’ or to their ‘oppression’ in whole or in part, we can’t but wonder – incorrect as it is – whether the sister-in-law herself has a part in it. And who isn’t worried about boys in teenage years? Or teenaged girls, if they have them?

But no. And we are then informed that the author is a screenwriter. And has “rubbed shoulders with some of the most famous people in the entertainment industry and hung out in glamorous parties with glamourous white people”. Why is it that this sounds so … unliberated? Woman-ish? But she presses on without ado to the revolutionary point: “And wouldn’t you know it – even rich, famous white women in Hollywood are consistently degraded, humiliated, and abused by the men in their lives.” The referenced women don’t ‘report’ they are thus treated; they simply “are”. Who isn’t treated like bad yogurt by the ‘suits’ in Hollywood? And the advent of female ‘suits’ doesn’t seem to have made things kinder and gentler. Or is it that ‘women’ aren’t going to bring us to a better society, as we had sort of hoped to believe would be the justification for all the brouhaha, but that they just wanted a bigger piece of the pie, which is understandable, but not quite so luminous a reason to have one half of the citizenry warring on the other half.

She notes, by way of being scientific, that “there were only three confirmed hate-related homicides nationwide in 2004”. But immediately: “Gender-based crime – not included in the U.S. description of hate crimes – continues to plague women in the United States and all over the world at alarming levels.” No statistics or numbers. And of course, there’s the domestic violence registry and all the special courts and automatic restraining Orders, and then there’s the sex-offender registry and all the rest of that panoply, each with its own still-burgeoning legislation, each with its suspiciously elastic definitions and vague figures and insistent sensationalism.

It is, as I said, a ‘classic’ exemplar of the state of affairs. One can hope that the newer feminist cadres are growing beyond the really whacky stuff, but still, no matter how the conceptual ‘development’ of feminism plays out, it was that earlier ‘Wave’s’ loonier and societally lethal ideology that formed the basis of the movement and Identity that the Democrats first embraced, and upon which wave after wave of laws were passed, many in defiance of the best available scientific knowledge and method, and in ignorance (we have to hope) of the consequences of such assumptions, and in stunning disregard for the truth. But of course, in any good revolution, truth doesn’t matter.

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