I’m doing a three-part Post here on some aspects of feminism, prompted by three articles: one a book review by a female university prof (Modern US History is her subject area) and then an article by a contributing editor at “Reason” magazine and one about Thomas Hobbes in 'The Nation' magazine.
Let me start right off with my thought on the feminist developments of the past 40-plus years.
First, they have indeed constituted a ‘revolution’, in both content and method of achievement. Whether ‘revolution’ – in the sense of Marx, Lenin, Mao, and the French of 1789 – is compatible with a democratic politics and a Constitutional Republic is, however, another question altogether. And hardly irrelevant.
Second, I think future historians will come to see the ‘feminist revolution’ and its spin-offs (Advocacy-ism as it has evolved and Victimism, being the most significant) as one of the genuinely defining hallmarks of this age of American history – which (can anyone doubt it now?) has to be seen as an age of decline, and of profound political mismanagement of the challenges that confronted the nation.
I’ll comment on the book-review first, and then in the second and third Parts on the articles.
The professor (she is on the faculty at Bryn Mawr) is reviewing another woman’s book: Gail Collins’s “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present”. Which is indeed a topic that deserves, and has always deserved, far more in-depth attention than it has ever received.
The prof talks about what she tells her students, specifically: she points to the fact of an American president – and “a conservative white Republican from Texas” at that – creating the appointment of “a black woman from Alabama with a PhD, formerly a Stanford provost, to be his secretary of state”. Which is a genuine historical fact, or at least a factoid.
She cleverly speaks of the “appointment” and not of the tenure of Condoleeza Rice, and that cannot be an oversight here. Rice’s actual record in office is probably not something that anyone trying to be rah-rah about feminism’s* “victory” over the past almost-50 years would want to examine, and the prof here is striving manfully – sorry – to make this book look worthwhile (a task even she cannot bring herself to fulfill, but let me not get ahead of things here).
This reference to Rice raises two points.
First it is made into an ‘icon’ or even a ‘totem’, a single point which is raised up not to be examined but rather to inspire the troops. A historian never takes a single ‘point’ or ‘event’ and simply raises it up like Liberty leading The People across the barricades in Delacroix’s painting. A genuine historical examination is going to take an event and thoroughly examine it for its causes, its operating dynamics, its consequences.
But this is not what the prof does here, and I think that corresponds to a general characteristic of the ‘political’ feminism of the radical feminists: you’re not looking for ‘understanding’ or ‘comprehension’, you’re looking for results – and you’re not looking to persuade folks, you’re looking to inspire your cadres and overcome any opposition to your agenda and your plan of attack.
And that’s a revolutionary methodology, not the method of a democratic politics, where ideas and proposals are put forth for public deliberation and one sees what The People will do with it.
Revolutionaries aren’t looking to persuade because they don’t trust the masses (in America that must be the Citizens and The People) to ‘get it’ and they can’t wait for the slow and uncertain processes of public assessment and deliberation. Make the revolution, impose it, and then ‘the masses’ can be re-educated or at least cowed into acquiescence. This is the revolutionary methodology.
And while it is not at this point Correct to discuss it, I think future historians will marvel at the stupendous reality of how this nation – at the zenith of its postwar influence (and perhaps at the cusp of a possibly irreversible decline) – so largely succumbed to such an anti-democratic assault. Second, grave doubts arise in my mind as to just what students are being taught these days about ‘modern American history’.
If the mere fact of Rice’s appointment is considered a highlight, then what of the huge frakkery of the Iraq War and how it was incited by that same president and his coterie, and abetted by the Congress; what of the consequences of it; what of the profound and troubling implications of the ‘bubble-dependent’ national economy of the past quarter-century or more; and lastly, what of the profound consequences – and negative ones, and possibly now irreversible – that the radical-feminist “victory” (that military term, you recall) has set in motion? Is any of that raised and examined?
And Bryn Mawr is a predominantly women’s college, so I am going to imagine that whatever passes for ‘history’ at the nominally gender-neutral universities is even more attenuated at the avowedly ‘female’ institutions.
Nor can I take comfort from that the thought that some States (New Jersey being one) have removed the study of the Founders from the required-topics to be covered in its students’ history curriculum. Which doesn’t bode well for a Citizenry – and the university-trained ‘elites’ at that – being well-versed in the very dynamics and concepts of the American Constitutional vision.
The prof blurbs the “stunningly radical change wrought by the aligned forces of civil rights and feminism”. Yes, “stunningly radical” is surely the right way to describe it. But so is the idea of removing the keel or structural bulkheads from a vessel when it is afloat (and far at sea, and burthened with many ‘souls’) – stunningly radical but in many profound respects otherwise not advisable.
I sense here the radical-feminist need to “celebrate” whatever aspects could possibly support their declaration of “victory” yet clearly omitting any mention (let alone examination) of those elements of their campaign that do not support such a happy-face excuse to swill Chardonnay, declare victory, and go anywhere but ‘home’.
The consequences of radical feminism’s “victory” to poor females of any race or age; to the fundamental family and societal structures and institutions that support any culture and any civilization; to the very ethos of a democratic, deliberative politics; to the ability of the American People and their government to deal effectively with the awesome challenges of the world situation as it has been evolving since 1960 or 1970 … any and all of these matrices of consequences deserve very careful examination indeed. Although perhaps this will only be done post-mortem by bemused historians of a future era. Surely, I don’t see much hope for such examination from the likes of what I read in this review.
And again, I can say Yes But No when the prof asserts that “with the exception of the Civil War, it’s hard to imagine anything that has so permanently altered the course of American history for the better”.
Well, the alteration has indeed been profound, and perhaps irreversible. But “for the better” is, as inferred above, grossly premature, if not groundless. And to assert such a claim, given the absence of serious consideration of the consequences of the “alteration” is evidence either of historical incompetence or of historical bad-faith – and profoundly so.
And I would most certainly exercise extreme caution in burbling about the strategic propaganda and operational ploy of piggy-backing the feminist (radical feminist) agenda onto the Civil Rights movement, especially that halcyon first phase from 1956 to early July, 1965.
The nation – with the exception of many Southrons - largely approved the need to end Jim Crow as being the final phase of the Civil War effort to eradicate race-slavery and bring the Negroes (as they were called then) into the full panoply of civil rights so that they might participate in the American Experiment. And the nation was largely united in Dr. King’s call for all Americans to participate in this national spiritual renewal and a new birth not only of freedom but of national integrity. **
But in the late Sixties the demands of the even-then radically defined ‘feminist’ agenda – so early locked into such divisive issues as abortion-rights and the equating of the newly-minted ‘patriarchy’ with ‘slavery’ or greater than slavery as a national sin and disgrace – enjoyed no such pre-existing popular approval and consensus. (And still do not, as evidenced by on-going and increasing popular disapproval of abortion-rights; “in thirty years”, I recall radical-feminists burbling after Griswold and Roe, folks would be completely reconciled to abortion-rights … a prediction that has not borne fruit, and that fact alone should give any sober and competent historian pause. )
Thus too the prof’s breezy presumption that “the vanquished” (‘men’, the American People, the ‘conservatives and backlashers’?) “still don’t even acknowledge they were beaten, so fully have they internalized the core values of the winners”. Once again, the assaultive, calculated, military, and altogether revolutionary Modus Operandi of the radical-feminist Adovocacy are revealed – no doubt unthinkingly – by this bit of feminist-macho (there’s isn’t a word for this phenomenon yet, that I know of) crowing that – you also have to imagine – constitutes a significant chunk of her ‘teaching’ to the young minds of Bryn Mawr.
This raises the now-substantial specter of Identity Politics in its not-so-happy-face aspect: there are no longer ‘Americans’, there are ‘women’ (and female-identified males and male-identified females) and there are ‘the enemy’. This cannot but have had a profoundly corrosive effect on the concept of The People, which itself cannot but have profoundly corrosive effects on that Constitutional ethos and balance and vision in which The People both ground and ultimately judge the course and policies of their government***.
And again, as with Condoleeza Rice, the prof ‘justifies’ this assertion with a cutesy quip: “Sarah Palin for president anyone? Hello?”. Which is as stunningly self-defeating a comment in support of her assertion as it is an indicator of the low quality of her analysis. And if this is what passes for teaching nowadays ...
“Focusing on the drama of the past 50 years, Collins zeroes in on the women and events that kicked the can over completely”.
Again that queasy feminist-macho imagery – that it’s all been about “kicking over the can”. I think there’s been a hell of a lot more to it all than merely “kicking over the can”. If you want to stay on the level of metaphor, then I’d have to go with something like my ‘keel-ship’ metaphor above, or the idea of the cocky crew trying to alter the shape of the airframe while the aircraft – burthened with ‘souls’ – is flying at 37,000 feet.
The prof’s next example reveals here assessment of a crucial era in national history: “’Mad Men’, the brilliant TV series … actually portraying the closing moments of America’s gender and racial hierarchies”. If this is her essential take on the period of the early 1960s, then you can see how things have gone where they have in the national saga.
The early 1960s faced the awesome challenge of the evaporation of America’s postwar economic hegemony – by the mid-Sixties, and by 1970 at the very latest – the nation would be faced with the challenge of re-adjusting itself to a world increasingly recovering or developing rival economic potentials, thereby inciting a competition for resources and industrial productive capability.
The distractions incited by radical-feminism’s (successful) revolutionary agendas, so hugely divisive in so many respects, and buttressed by political Multiculturalism’s insistence that there was no ‘American ethos’ and no ‘American people’ anyway – all coagulated into Identity Politics by inadvertence or design – lethally (and perhaps fatally … We shall see) weakened the national consensus and the national identity precisely at the moment when the nation needed to focus its attentions and its energies in crafting a new position for itself among the world community of nations.
When the USSR dissolved itself peaceably and willingly in 1991, the US was faced with a second huge challenge: on top of its increasingly precarious economy and the ongoing dissipation of its industrial and productive capacity, it had attempted to spin itself as the world’s financial clearing-house, generating paper transactions and ‘ideas’ for the rest of the world. But it had also relied on its military prowess to provide the world’s primary protection against the Soviet military threat (such as it ever was). But in 1991 that second US ‘purpose’ also disappeared.
Which left open huge challenges, but also large opportunities for crafting and implementing a new national self-definition and new economic strategies, buttressed by a robust and competent diplomacy, in order to take fruitful advantage of that truly world-historical event, i.e. the peaceful dissolution of a monstrous and heavily armed State – an event never really seen before in recorded history.
But the US was distracted, and more by its internal politics than by the international scene. With the arrival of the Clinton administration the country was beset by a genuine orgy of “expressive” legislation designed to hasten the coming of the radical-feminist vision, including not a few ominously punitive measures against ‘men’, that 49% of the population which had become the ‘designated villain’ so necessary to the radical-feminist script.
By the Bush 2 era – even without 9/11 – the position of the US as hegemon was gravely precarious: its economy kept ‘alive’ by vast purchases of its Bonds by foreign governments, its ‘wealth’ increasingly phantasmagoric and generated by a series of ‘bubbles’, it now faced the daunting lack of sufficient natural resources – especially in the energy sector – to fuel its bloated life-style (its industrial capacity now hugely diminished and requiring less energy than it had ever needed before).
Indeed, the entire resource-control element of Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy and the stunning frakkery of the Iraq War and the efforts to impose what I would call the Greater Southwest Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in the resource-heartlands of the planet can be seen as a convulsive, too-late, and purely military lunge at grasping an opportunity that demanded diplomatic solutions decades before 2003. But We were otherwise distracted, and are now “vanquished”, as the prof doth crow.
It is precisely in this awesome context – over and above a judgment as to the conceptual coherence, essential accuracy, and practical workability of its ‘visions’ – that the “victory” of the radical-feminist Advocacy’s agenda has to be judged.
And yet Collins – and the prof who is reviewing her here – gives Us a long collection of ‘stories’, the anecdotal ‘evidence’ meant to function not as elements of a sober analysis but as icons to fortify the cadres and – what the hey? – provide the firewood that will give off a warm and cozy aura at assorted well-heeled Chardonnay klatsches among the radical-feminist elites who are – they are certain – “victors” in a war with no ill-consequences, a bloodless revolution (which, as Shylock discovered, is impossible to pull off, taking the desired pound-of-flesh without otherwise creating any problems).
Phooey. Phooey and baloney.
The prof tries to pull in “African American women” as victors in this sustained assault. It is inconceivable how the prof or the author could justify such assertions. With the destruction of such institutions as marriage, family, a robust religious affiliation, and the prudent deployment of one’s sexual capabilities – all essential to the radical-feminist programme – black females, with the exception of Condoleeza Rice and her ilk, have become mired in single-motherhood and poverty.
Nor can this be ascribed to ‘racism’ or ‘genderism’ – the consequences I note are the hugely predictable results – intended or not – of the radical-feminist agenda.
“The central idea – that women needed equal access to achieve their greatest potential and that they should be the ones to define that potential – found a home in many quarters”.
“Equal access” is a portmanteau phrase, a suitcase that contains abortion rights and the elimination of any obstructive societal institutions. That suitcase has remained closed to inspection, although it shall prove – if you will – a Pandora’s Box from that hell where declining nations go when they have failed to truly rise to the actual challenges facing them.
And was it not evident decades ago that there would be far fewer well-paying jobs in a country now facing intensifying rivalry over production capacity and resources? Who would pay for all this ‘liberation’, if such it truly was? Of course, back then, even as the slide was beginning, there was still enough cash to solve that ‘problem’ by government largesse.
Although as the Eighties proceeded from dawn to later afternoon, the government was forced to resort to huge international borrowing (it was on Reagan’s watch that the country quietly slipped from ‘creditor’ to ‘debtor’ status on the world stage). And then ‘bubbles’, in order to keep up the government’s ability to plaster over the profound cracks in the plan with cash (or credit).
And all with the assistance of a Congress that had become indentured – for votes or simply to avoid the bad PR of being labeled ‘oppressive’ and ‘insensitive’ – to the agenda. On and on this Ponzi scheme, this smoke-and-mirrors show, rolled along, until the financial interests themselves figured that what’s been good for the goose would be good for the gander, and promised Congress that they could keep the ‘cash’ flowing if they were simply less-regulated.
And here We are now.
But the ‘stories’ are “so deeply moving”. Emotion trumps – another dubious blessing of this great “victory”.
This is soooo not-good.
The prof finishes up by trying to put the best face on the book’s drawbacks. “The rest, to be sure, is well-trod territory.” There are a lot of far more substantive analyses (granted the verrrry selective parameters of happy-face feminist analysis, of course) and the author does list them in her “exhaustive” bibliography.
“So why read this volume instead of one of the many books she lists?” Because the author “is certainly a zippier writer than most upon whose work she so heavily relies”. Zippy is one of those characteristics which delivers the razzmatazz to the cadres – especially the impatient and distracted young – a lot more efficiently.
But now to balance what may be a damaging assessment, the prof admits: the author “seems oddly housebroken here, sobered perhaps by the extent and gravity of her task”. This is one Party member trying hard not to embarrass another Party member in print while still retaining any professional credibility at all.
And clearly neither the author nor any of this type of Movement-Party, for-the-cadres, happy-face radical feminist self-analysis qualifies as a wide-ranging, serious and sober analysis of so admittedly huge a “success”. But if this thing is going to wind up on a Reading List or a Syllabus, then there has to be some justification. And parents and students will shell out $27.99 and an additional 50K-a-year to purchase the benefits of the prof’s and the author’s wisdom.
Good luck with that.
Having run a stupendously complicated Idea ( the vision of radical-feminist paradise) as merely a political game-plan, according to an explanatory justification inappropriately piggy-backed on an altogether different phenomenon (the first Civil Rights phase), and having squelched through the assorted mechanisms of Political Correctness all serious analysis and criticism, and now reaching a point where both the baaad consequences are starting to become unavoidably obvious and they themselves are now reaching the end of their productive years, a generation of well-heeled radical-feminists are looking to their ‘legacy’. And much like Teddy Kennedy, they want to declare victory before they get out of town – one last phantasm, and a self-serving one, of course – as their parting shot, to spin themselves as they’d like to be seen. Truly a revealing ‘legacy’.
Having run the same old bad play long past its sell-by date, to Our great and lasting detriment, they and their fellow-and-sister travelers and their useful-idiots would now like to ‘declare victory’ and go to that Valhalla of the elites, loaded with honor and honors and a lot of good Chardonnay and vegetarian canapés.
Phooey and baloney.
As their grip starts to loosen, We had best get in and start to see what can be repaired and restored.
Although their “victory” has indeed taken deep root, and much is probably beyond recall.
In that sense they have indeed “won” and We have indeed been “vanquished”.
How does it feel?
*When I use this term I am not equating ‘feminism’ with ‘all women’, nor am I presuming that ‘feminism’ is monolithic: there are moderate feminists and radical feminists, the former more inclined to create conceptual space; the latter given to achieving ‘results on the ground’ because they are political activists with an agenda and they are and have always been willing to ‘do whatever it takes’ to achieve their version of victory, and they have read a great deal of Marx, Lenin, and Mao.
I would add that, predictably, it has been the activists – so often radicals – who have gone out and organized the lobbying and pressure campaigns at the highest levels of national government and inside the Beltway. The more sober, careful, and acute ‘thinkers’ have written books and articles but have been much more often under-reported in the national discourse as mediated by the media.
Similarly, I do not consider ‘women’ or ‘American women’ to be a monolithic group: there are vast differences in economic class and in age and in temperament; and there are correspondingly vastly different challenges to those various sub-groups of ‘women’. Lastly, none of this Post is intended with any disrespect to anybody or to the particular challenges they face in this Vale of Tears.
**The ensuing second phase – government-imposed race preferences and urban revolutionary race-ideology – represented something else altogether, and there was no such pre-existing national consensus and unity of opinion. But thereby hangs another tale.
***And of course in the mid-Seventies Multiculturalism in its daunting political aspect would raise to the level of a philosophy and a philosophical ‘good’ the brute assertion that there is no ‘American People’ anyway, no American ethos, nor should there be – but instead that the officially government-erected ‘Races’ – which would later come to include ‘gender’ (I call them Identities) – are each radically and incorrigibly ‘different’ from one another (except that they are all ‘oppressed’) and that they should remain so. Michael Walzer even insisted that immigration had to be “kept up” precisely to avoid any natural ‘melting pot’ effect which would start to forge a common ‘American’ sense of identity.