Monday, September 15, 2008


The always-worthwhile Cathy Young has an Op-Ed in the ‘Boston Globe’about the presidential race and its significance for women. (“A great moment for women”, Sept. 12, 2008,

I’d preface this by saying that when we use the word ‘women’ nowadays, we actually mean ‘feminists’, and quite possibly the feminists of the Second Wave (hereinafter: ‘2WF’). The 2WF and its assorted visions, agendas, and philosophies has been passing itself off as the voice of all ‘women’ (who themselves are citizens and members of The People).

I’m not sure that’s entirely true, about the 2WF. They got themselves anointed spokespersons for ‘women’ somewhere along the line back there, and not without the help of the vote-desperate Democrats and a media that was looking at demographics and telegenics. The story of all that has yet to be told, but it’s important because much of what is going on among Us now, and much that has happened to Us as The People, can be rather directly traced to what the 2WF told its suitors that it wanted to see happen.

And so it came to pass.

It’s a good thing that women are securing “more representation … across the spectrum of political beliefs”, as Young says, although I don’t agree with her that “feminism” is exercising as purely valuable a role as it would like to have Us believe.

But Young points out that there is a definite “hypocrisy” in “feminist liberals who deploy sexist weapons against [Sarah Palin]”. Apparently, being a “conservative” (and I’m not really agreeing with the whole liberal-conservative definition thing as it exists these days) can get you un-woman-ed, according to those who have appointed themselves mistresses of the union card. (Or: Chairs of the membership committee …?) How quickly We see that the sacrosanct ‘identity’ of ‘women’ is attacked with a carving knife by the Praesidium of the Supreme Feminine when a particular ‘woman’ demonstrates an independence that is not ‘politically correct’, that does not conform to the ‘line’.

Our long-gone Soviet brethren and sistern would recognize immediately what is happening. And as only Nixon could go to China, so too only ‘women’ could defrock Sarah Palin. We have yet to hear her described as ‘self-hating’, but that trusty slicer-dicer is no doubt standing by. If things really get desperate (i.e. if the election really gets close) We should not be surprised to see imprecations of an other-worldly nature hurled, replete with eye of newt and various nocturnal herbs and fungi about the time of a full moon.

This is not to make light of the actual concerns of actual American women. But it reflects my sense that the 2WF’s brand of feminism – which is still the dominant brand of feminism and has achieved its most notable legislative and policy successes – has for decades played a verrrrry shrewd and procedurally violent game, while artfully presenting itself as Goody-Two-Shoes bethump’t by baaad ‘men’.

And in an acute by-the-by, Young makes a few observations about Joe Biden, the proponent of the Violence Against Women Act (actually a part of the larger omnibus crime bill for 1994). She notes that the Act “authorized some good programs addressing rape and domestic violence”, and if she refers to the monies provided for information and education of law enforcement, professional helpers, and state programs to assist women, then I’d certainly agree.

But there were some rather toxic law-enforcement policies in it as well (and the Supreme Court later found parts of them unconstitutional). Not for nothing did Biden assert publicly that “It may be bad law but it sends a great message”; what We didn’t hear was the comment to which his bloviation was a defensive answer. And We saw an awful lot of bad law – baaaad law – that was justified as ‘sending a great message’ back in those days. And since. You can judge for yourself whether We have been helped by so much ‘messaging’, by having the ‘majesty’, perhaps even the legitimacy, of the civil and criminal law steered into the political mudflats for the sake of pandering to the 2WF.

And when their turn came to run the game, the Republicans happily passed laws to ‘send a message’ – the ‘right’ message – to their friends in the Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate industries, starting with the repeal of Glass-Steagall (although, alas, while that monstrosity had a Republican daddy in the execrable Phil Gramm, its godfather was Bill Clinton). The Republicans can claim that they were just doing what the Democrats had been doing for decades.

But Young has more to say. Biden’s support was merely “another form of pseudo-feminist sexism” and the bill itself represented “a toxic mix of gender-war feminism that treats such crimes [of rape and domestic violence] as acts of patriarchal oppression rather than individual wrong-doing and paternalism that sees women as deserving of special protection”. Biff-Pow-Zang, as the 1960s ‘Batman’ illustrators might have put it.

The 2WF is hugely to blame for the “gender-war feminism”. And while they perhaps now, if they’re really pushed, might try to claim like old Bolsheviks in the late 1980s that the times demanded such measures (not so far different from the Germans who were ‘only following orders’, really), the 2WF cadres and commissars are responsible for a huge amount of injury to Our common weal. By inducing the increasingly short-haired Democrats (and not a few of them are, on paper at least, lawyers) to see certain favored crimes as instances of some overarching genre of crime, then anyone found guilty (or, increasingly, merely accused) per se demonstrates himself as a member of an outlaw ‘class’ and therefore beyond the pale of specific judicial balancing of perspective, context, proportion and – ominously – Constitutional protections.

This is not the way that the American legal system was envisioned by the Founders. It was set up to provide the best possible chance for a fair adjudication of a particular individual’s case, with an ever-watchful eye on the awefull police power of the government. It does not work well – and certainly not with any integrity as the justicial arm of the Constitution – as a ‘party’ court designed to ‘send messages’ by its implacable convictings of what amounts in practice to a ‘kulak’ class.

And as Young astutely notes, the Act’s (successful) attempt to “discourage dual arrests in domestic assaults” was a baldfaced shoe-horning of the ideological presumptions of the Dems’ favored constituency into the incredibly complex and dangerous dynamics of ‘family trouble calls’, the bane of all police officers. Because, as she accurately goes on, it is a “false assumption that women in such cases are wrongly arrested for defending themselves”. Neither I nor she is saying that every single woman in a domestic violence call is the assailant or a co-assailant, but such a possibility is far too strong to legitimately impose a presumption of utter and pure victimhood upon every instance.

In short – and in a profoundly disturbing similarity to military justice – the Act puts Law into the posture of ‘the law at war’ (the JAGs and neocon apparatchiks of the present Administration refer to it jocularly and not without a cocky pride as ‘lawfare’); the only difference is that the Act of 1994 (and all its subsequent rippling throughout the federal and state law enforcement and judicial systems) subordinated the law to the service of what can only be called an ‘ideology’ or an ‘ideological agenda’, while the current Administration has subordinated Law – including the already treacherous military justice system – to an actual war (which can hardly be called an improvement on things).

None of this is good for Us, for the Constitution, for Our common weal as shaped by the Constitution.

But – in an irony so precise that no fiction-writer would dare deploy it – Young notes that Biden’s own justification for his support of the Act is “pseudo-sexist”. “Biden proudly reported that he and his brothers were forbidden to lay a hand on their sister even in self-defense, while she enjoyed ‘absolute impunity’ – and added, apparently not as a joke, that he had the bruises to prove it.” Tee hee, I guess.

This kind of stuns. That Biden – or any lawmaker, especially on the national level – would justify support for so hugely dubious a law on the basis of his own childhood experiences around the family breakfast table. And this also poses the problem in such a way that the sovereign power of the government (of which the Founders were duly and scrupulously careful, if not also suspicious) is put into the place of parent around the most intimate settings – the hearth, the table, even the bed – of the citizens’ lives. You will have to look long and hard to find any Founder suggesting that the government that they were creating would be a ‘parent’ to its citizens. Washington? Adams? Madison? Monroe? Franklin? Jefferson? Hamilton? Or – moving on – Lincoln, even in the depths of the Civil War during which he had to stretch the Constitution in the face of ‘civil insurrection’?

And this poses the citizens – The People – as squabbling children, in need of the adult supervision that only a government can provide. Again, you’re going to have the devil’s own time finding support for that in 1776 or 1788 or 1862. As We are not ‘civilians’ but rather ‘citizens’, so We are not ‘children’ but rather The People. (And living up to that role is not a bad trellis upon which to structure Our days.)

Young calls Biden’s position (though he’s probably not alone in holding it) as “chivalry masquerading as feminism”. So that was the best that the Dem party honchos could come up with when trying to ‘relate to’ women. ‘Shucks, boys, let’s give the little ladies a little more pertection – it’ll be alright; after all, we’re Congress. We cain’t screw things up and there ain’t nobody who wants to stay in the game who’ll say it if we did.’ Beltway wisdom.

But when you think that the Dems didn’t really have what it took to rise to the actual appreciation of women’s situation, you have to move on to the realization that they didn’t realize what the 2WF really had on its menu. Individual rights, privacy, the very concept of the individual as a subject independent of any ‘identity’ – none of these fundamental Constitutional and (why mince words?) American concepts was legitimate to the 2WF, since they were all deployed in the service of a masculinist domination. The ‘dream’ was to embrace and pressure the government in order to get it to de-establish those concepts.

Now just what would be left of the American form of government if those foundational concepts were quaint-ified, replaced with group-identity and a government that would enforce it … ? Is it too much to say that if the 2WF’s vision were even modestly realized, then Our politics and Our ethos would not be ‘radical democratic’ but rather something far different, and far worse?

And that to the extent that the 2WF vision has so far been implemented, thus far are We experiencing a queasy slippage of Constitutional government?

This is not a veiled or coded commercial for American women to return to Kids, Church, and Kitchen. Far more profoundly – and urgently – this is a call to consider just how dangerously far along the path of anti-Constitutional government this country and this People have been waltzed over the past few decades. The habit of calling "feminism" "liberal" is hugely inaccurate; feminism is at best "radical" and at worst - and many leading 2WF thinkers espouse this - it is anti-Liberal. Indeed, since the Republic and the Constitution were constructed by 'males' - and dead white ones at that - how could We expect that those marvelous constructions are safe under a 2WF ascendancy?

Lincoln said that “we cannot escape history”. Today We cannot even allow Ourselves to try.

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Blogger David said...

Biden is still around of course and up to his old demagogic tricks (cf. the 'Protect Our Children Act' S.1738 Biden-Hatch) and there's still some momentum left to old experiments such as disparate treatment of men in domestic violence complaints, women in theaters of combat, sex offense penology etc. but I think, on the whole, you're beating a dead mare with your exclusive focus on second wave feminism.

You seem stuck in an early 80's 'post feminist' backlash to gynocentric, misandrist 2WF. This is fine as an historical focus on corrosion of our constitutional protections etc. but I've become anxious to see you move on :~)) Most of the perps you target have long since left public life.

The Third Wave of feminism has been cresting now for roughly twenty years as a response to the post feminist critique and presenting a whole series of new questions to the culture which it would be most interesting to address should you choose to take a whack at them. They have moved beyond victimology & claims for preference but there are some strange continuities and discontinuities to explore at the very least.

8:05 AM  
Blogger publion said...

I understand what you mean here. My concern however is not ‘feminism’ per se. It is the Second-Wave feminism because it was during the era of that Wave’s influence that most of the media imagery and the legislative ‘gains’ were registered. And it is precisely therein that one finds deeply troubling concepts and assertions. Yes, many of those ‘thinkers’ are now past their prime and their thoughts have either been countered or shrewdly allowed to fall into the abyss; but those were the folks whose agendas or thoughts created problems for which Our present troubles seem in many ways to be but consequences. I have heard of a Third Wave, and I did a Post during the summer about one disgruntled Second-Wavers who was trying to refute the accusations of ‘young’ and ‘black’ feminists and other non-Chardonnay feminists.

Sheldon Wolin was writing some remarkable diagnoses as early as the Bicentennial, and his 1989 collection of essays “The Presence of the State” is acute and – ach! – disturbing for what it reveals, and revealed to him as far back as 20-30 years ago. In the light of his analyses, the continued distraction of the Second Wave agitprop assumes the proportions of a treacherous stupidity on the part of the Dems, no matter how ‘tactically shrewd’ their assorted political maneuverings and deals. I am reminded that the Kennedy clan – including the sainted Bobby – were known for an impulsive tactical shrewdness, but not for any sense of a Big Picture nor – I would say – for the gravitas and grounding inextricably bound up with Big-Picture work.

And my study has been showing me that in this Second Wave stuff as in the sex-offense mania, from the very beginning, serious and competent professionals clearly and painstakingly expressed their objections, doubts, concerns, and foreboding as to consequences in many – alas unread by the pols and the media – articles and journals. Oy.

I am not so much interested in feminism per se (except in an academic sort of way), but rather in the political consequences to the Republic and to Our democratic politics posed by the ‘successful’ agitations of that Second Wave. I am not anti-‘woman’ and I very much want their experience to be part of the national dialogue. But it must be a dialogue and a deliberative dialogue, and not the too truly ‘revolutionary’ schemings of the cadres of the Second Wave. In those areas where I’m concerned that feminism’s pressuring have done and are doing more harm than good, I try to explain just why I am concerned and how I reach my conclusions.

7:47 AM  
Blogger David said...

Sheldon Wolin wrote a library of good books and mentored a generation of political theorists (including Cornel West) at Princeton.

As in the case of West, Wolin has hard left credentials but his cultural critique can sound quite conservative when faced with the evolution of the liberal megastate into the outrageous excesses of the current Preznit's 'unitary executive'. Facile categories can get confusing at times - especially with original thinkers :~))

Let me suggest that the same might be true with some 2WF thinkers. No doubt, some hysteria there in the ranks - as in the early stages of any movement (cf. Obamania).

The important thing is not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Sane people looking for a response to the cooptation of 3WF by corporate culture are 'returning to the sources' and finding a lot of overlooked wisdom there.

9:50 AM  
Blogger publion said...

In my previous Comment, I forgot to add one point: I find myself recognizing much of what Wolin observes, and I concur heartily in his concern that the role of the citizens be restored, and that it is necessary to decide whether corporatism and technology govern Our priorities, or respect for a genuine common weal and governance by The People (my phrasing, not his).

But he does have a Vidalian take on feminism (Second Wave when he was writing): like the ever-interesting Mr. Vidal, he sees feminism only through the lens of a ‘50s-‘60s fear of corporate and individual conformity and mediocrity; thus he sees feminism only as a breath of liberating fresh air, another voice to oppose the increasing miasm spread by and cloaking the corporate state. I can’t help but wonder if he actually considered the impact of feminist ‘thought’ of the era, that era when the Second Wave swept over the Dems and the media, bearing a lethal load of hostile ideology wrapped in the red cap of revolutionary liberation.

3:02 AM  

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