Thursday, May 3, 2007

Women and Children Last, pt. 2 - As it pertains to feminism's lack of appeal to younger women, I would also submit that of all of liberalism's strains of belief, second-wave feminism is the most elitist in both theory and in practice. When thoughtfully considered, this statement surprises no one. If Dr. Barbara Epstein's perspective is correct, as articulated in her Monthly Review article (discussed elsewhere), it appears that this is a trait that second-wave feminists inherited from their first-wave predecessors.

The first feminist movement in the United States originated in the abolitionist movement. In its early years feminism's alliance with the anti-slavery movement, and its association with other protest movements of the pre-Civil War decades, gave it a radical cast. But when the Civil War ended and suffrage was extended to former slaves but not to women, much of the women's movement abandoned its alliance with blacks. In the decades between the Civil War and the turn of the twentieth century, racist and anti-immigrant sentiment spread within the middle class. In the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth the women's movement narrowed its focus to winning women's suffrage, and leading feminists turned to racist and anti-immigrant arguments on behalf of that goal.
Perhaps the incongruity between the struggles for racial and gender equality was to be expected. Feminism's call for women having the right to work must have sounded absurd to African American women of the 1800s, as the one "right" that black women (or for that matter, any woman who lacked the economic means to do otherwise) have had since the country's founding was the right to work. For its part, modern feminism came of age in parallel with the Civil Rights Movement, but it never completely made the leap to fully embrace women of color during its formative years, and to this day, it is riven with divisions based on race, social class and economic status.

We need not rely on our own sense of things; we need only listen to one of the leading lights of feminism herself articulate the gaps in feminist thinking vis-a-vis race. When asked her thoughts on Condoleezza Rice in a September 3, 2006 interview in the New York Times Magazine, none other than Gloria Steinem herself commented that she wished someone would write an article called "How Did Condoleezza Rice Get That Way?" Ms. Steinem added that Secretary Rice was "so separate from the welfare of the majority of Americans and especially the female and African-American communities to which she belongs."

As is made evident, for the rock-ribbed feminist, all things are reducible to gender and race. Ms. Steinem never stops along her path of condescension to reflect on the fact that some of Ms. Rice's behaviors may be a result of her allegiances to the former university provost or the concert-level pianist communities. Or more importantly, that Condoleezza Rice "got that way" through the routinous application of manifestly abundant gifts. Evidently, Ms. Steinem does not appreciate any of Ms. Rice's endowments of intellect, or her obvious gift for communication or her abundant leadership skills.

Indeed, by way of liberalism's twin obsessions - race and gender, all that the most powerful woman in the world embodies for Ms. Steinem is a poor, benighted black woman. (We will dispense with Steinem's "African-American" fig leaf, as it is merely a gratingly patronizing bow to political correctness.) Interestingly enough, the interviewer herself seemed to find nothing unusual about Steinem's comments about Ms. Rice; evidently, this was a shared opinion, and Ms. Steinem's comments were entirely non-controversial and beyond dispute.

Virtually from its beginnings in Betty Friedan's dirty living room, second-wave feminism was a movement designed with the needs of privileged, well-educated, white women in mind. The historical account of our times will record that the entire second-wave feminist enterprise, its literature and speechifying, its academic heights and its puerile depths, the full scope of its pageantry on the stage of history, came about because a well-educated and otherwise well-cared for woman decided that she did not want to clean the house that she herself lived in, and that to do such a thing would be beneath her station as a thinking woman. (One imagines that Steinem can scarcely distinguish Secretary Rice from one of the domestics that may have cleaned Ms. Steinem's fashionable bachelorette pad at some point.)

One could understand and empathize with the feminist cause if it were founded to protest female genital mutilation in parts of Africa, or abortion of female fetuses and ritual foot binding in Asia. But all of these causes had to be considered later, as they were secondary to the liberation of middle-class American women from the "shackles" of domesticity. The distain that feminism displays for the equally tedious and necessary requirements of family life is reflective of a detachment from the realities of ordinary folk outside of the elite class.

That such continues to be the case is made evident by the commentary of lawyer and retired philosophy professor Linda R. Hirshman in "Homeward Bound" as published in the December 2005 issue of American Prospect. In this article, Ms. Hirshman discusses her thoughts on why the feminist movement has up to been unable to affect the distribution of labor performed in the household, and how accomplished women can select a spouse, taking into account their desire to maintain a life that is worthy of them.
You can either find a spouse with less social power than you or find one with an ideological commitment to gender equality. Taking the easier path first, marry down. Don't think of this as brutality strategic. If you are devoted to your career goals and would like a man who will support that, you’re just doing what men throughout the ages have done: placing a safe bet.

Because money is such a marker of status and power, it's hard to persuade women to marry poorer. So here's an easy rule: Marry young or marry much older. Younger men are potential high-status companions. Much older men are sufficiently established so that they don’t have to work so hard, and they often have enough money to provide unlimited household help. By contrast, slightly older men with bigger incomes are the most dangerous, but even a pure counterpart is risky.
In her Prospect article, as well as in her book "Get To Work: a Manifesto for Women of the World," Hirshman makes a problematic argument against "choice feminism," which she describes as that strain of feminism which tells women that their choices to stay at home or work outside the home equivalent choices. To her way of thinking, women who stay at home "aren't using their capacities fully," and she appears thoroughly preoccupied with the fates of Ivy-league educated women "who should have a vision and wish to shape the future to it." Consistent with the Left's results orientation, Hirshman seems all too ready to assume that almost any job outside the home is better than any role in the home.

As her pieces make clear however, only certain jobs would truly meet her criteria. But since every female Harvard Law graduate can't be an attorney for Greenpeace, is it O.K. for some of them to serve as den mothers for their son's Boy Scout troop? Or should a well educated lawyer "settle" for a job as corporate counsel for a cigarette manufacturer or an oil company? This leads to the real challenge to her argument, that being the absence of "clean" choices as necessitated by an interdependent society. Actually staying home to take care of a special needs child may indeed manifest a greater good than serving, for example, as a state legislator yammering on about pending legislation addressing special needs children. In any event, Ms. Hirshman places herself in the uncharacteristic position (at least for a liberal) of arguing for absolutes. It is unfortunate that she has chosen to do so in a situation where absolutes must be decided by each individual.

But what is feminism's claim on the allegiance of women such that they would seek to implement Ms. Hirshman's prescriptions? In great measure, feminism has forsaken those on whose behalf it would seem to be most bound to labor. In abandoning ordinary women and impressionable young girls to their own devices in order to further the illusory goals of sexual equality between genders, consequence-free sexual activity and empowerment of feminist elites, the second-wave feminist Left neglects its most obvious constituency.

And in so doing, modern feminism contributes to the corrupting of the greater culture, which in turn continues to make its piggish demands on the everywoman. Feminism offers no protection of virtue for either males or females; it can only establish friendly bureaucracies to impose its will. And so as bureaucracy attempts to replace the patriarchy, six year-old boys can be labeled harassers and removed from their schools. So to, teen girls and college coeds can engage in unfulfilling, and potentially unsafe behavior, as long as they "choose" to so.

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