Posted on | March 11, 2011 | 47 Comments
Permit me to offer a simple analogy:
Feminism is to women as Mafia is to Sicilians.
Students of organized crime know that what we call “mafia” was, during its heyday, actually known to its members as La Cosa Nostra — roughly translated, “this thing of ours.”
That wild thought occurred to me as I contemplated the various women raking me over the coals in the comments of Little Miss Attila’s post about Sarah Palin and feminism, for example Roxeanne de Luca:
A lot of left-brained, educated women are infuriated by Stacy’s line of reasoning – we know ourselves to be equal to men (Stacy’s line about equality implying interchangeability aside, because they really are not the same thing at all), and don’t see why the laws and our society should not reflect that.
The disservice to the conservative movement is two-fold: first, it turns women away from it (and we do know that young, unmarried women win elections for Democrats); second, it ignores the fact that the progressive movement is like a virus that infects many hosts. Feminism is not the first, nor will it be the last, movement that the progressives have attempted to hijack. Why on earth we would not fight for feminism, rather than letting the progressives take it, is beyond me.
Wise gentlemen comparing “Stacy’s line of reasoning” to the reaction it has generated will recognize what’s going on here: We are at that stage of the argument you have with your wife when whatever started the argument has ceased to be relevant, and the point of the argument has become: She is right, you are wrong, and your refusal to acknowledge her unquestioned rightness is regarded as an intolerable insult.
The First Rule of Holes suggests that I should stop digging now, but before I lay aside my shovel, let me explain why my writing about feminism so profoundly offends women — even many women whom you would not normally expect to defend feminism:
- I actually know what I’m talking about — Look, I’m 51 years old and have been a voracious student of history since childhood. My Donkey Cons co-author, Lynn Vincent (Sarah Palin’s collaborator on Going Rogue) has praised my “encyclopedic” knowledge of political history — a comment which is not coincidental considering that, in fact, I’d read the entire World Book encyclopedia by the age of 12. Just as I’ve read more Marx than most Marxists, I’ve read more about feminism than most feminists. Sitting on my desk right now is Susan Brownmiller’s memoir, In Our Time. If I were just some random ignoramus ranting about “feminazis,” they could shrug it off, but I’m not, so they can’t.
- I remind them of somebody they don’t like — This is an unfortunate hazard encountered by any male writer who criticizes feminism: For many women, it triggers a mental association with every dipwad chauvinist a–hole they’ve ever known in real life. Friends might cite in my defense the fact that, in real life, I’m just a happy-go-lucky goof-off, but this is irrelevant to the mental-association problem. To every woman who has ever been passed over for a promotion that instead went to a guy, or otherwise felt herself subjected to sexist discrimination, the guy who criticizes feminism is mentally associated with That Awful Creep. This isn’t necessarily my fault, or the women’s fault, it just is what it is.
- Women writers have an investment in feminism — Here is where the term La Cosa Nostra comes to mind: For women writers, feminism is “this thing of ours,” a subject on which they expect to exercise a monopoly. You will note here a distinction between women who write for a living, or at least as an amateur vocation, and women who have no ambition to be regarded as “writers.” Insofar as any woman aspires to be a writer, one of the subjects about which she can always write — and never have to worry about competing for readership with male writers — is feminism. And unless she wants to be exiled to the outer darkness occupied by women writers who are avowedly anti-feminist, what she writes about feminism will in some sense celebrate feminism as a good and worthy movement.
So you see why my writing about feminism makes me such a convenient target, even of conservative women who are despised by actual feminists. No matter how much historical evidence I cite in support of the fact that Second Wave feminism was deeply rooted in the anti-American Left — both Betty Friedan’s pro-Soviet Old Left and the radical New Left roots of the Women’s Liberation Movement — they will not concede the point, because I was born with a penis, and no one born with a penis can be permitted to write with authority as a critic of feminism.
When I made Friedan’s CPUSA-friendly past the focus of my original post, Attila’s reaction was “What about Gloria Steinem, huh? Huh, smart guy?” So I then demonstrated in the update that Steinem was a Janey-come-lately opportunist who jumped on the Women’s Liberation bandwagon nearly two years after Shulamith Firestone and others launched New York Radical Women, the seminal organization of that movement.
Next? Predictably, in the comments of Attila’s post, Cassandra takes us all the way back to Seneca Falls Convention of 1848!
It should be clear, I think, that a critique of modern feminism, a particular movement arising in the 1960s, does not obligate me to go rummaging amongst the whalebone corsets of antebellum womanhood, at a time when the ink had barely dried on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. But though this seminal “feminism” of the Victorian era has no actual relevance to my argument, Cassandra’s gesture — “See there, smart guy?” — invites a brief examination of that subject.
The most historically important women in the 19th-century women’s-rights movement were Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Anyone may Google and plow through the available online references about these women and, unless you have a “personal fantasy” of repealing the 19th Amendment, you probably won’t find anything objectionable in their biographies. We need not concern ourselves with such 19th-century feminists as Victoria Woodhull — although we well might, we won’t — merely for the sake of putting a guilt-by-association taint of radicalism on the women’s suffrage movement.
Yet one notes among the founders of that movement a distinct whiff of religious heterodoxy — Quakerism and Unitarianism — and one reads in Mrs. Stanton’s biography that, after the preaching of the famed evangelist Charles Finney quite nearly led her into a teenage nervous breakdown, she developed an attitude that some today would describe as “secular humanism.” However unobjectionable we might find the agenda of these early feminist leaders, then, it is certainly remarkable that none of them were orthodox Bible-believing Christians — not a Presbyterian or Baptist nor even any Episcopalians in their ranks.
Furthermore, Mrs. Stanton published a very interesting book, The Woman’s Bible, the full text of which is available online. What she undertook here was a critique that, as Susan B. Anthony said, “questioned the Divine inspiration of certain passages in the Bible.” What I found particularly striking, however, was one of the commendations of The Woman’s Bible:
My Dear Mrs. Stanton:—I regard the Bible as I do the other so-called sacred books of the world. They were all produced in savage times, and, of course, contain many things that shock our sense of justice. In the days of darkness women were regarded and treated as slaves. They were allowed no voice in public affairs. Neither man nor woman were civilized, and the gods were like their worshipers. It gives me pleasure to know that women are beginning to think and are becoming dissatisfied with the religion of barbarians. . . .
Eva A. Ingersoll
Christianity “the religion of barbarians”? What an interesting recommendation to be included in Mrs. Stanton’s book!
And who was the author of this singular praise? Eva A. Ingersoll (née Parker) was none other than the wife of “The Great Agnostic,” Robert G. Ingersoll. We may learn elsewhere that Ingersoll was admired by Mrs. Stanton, that on at least one occasion in 1870 he shared the stage with Susan B. Anthony, and that he once declared: “As long as woman regards the Bible as the charter of her rights, she will be the slave of man. The Bible was not written by a woman. Within its lids there is nothing but humiliation and shame for her.”
Heterodoxy, agnosticism, skepticism of the Bible’s divinely inspiration — even outright contempt for Christianity — such were the religious views we find among, and in direct proximity to, leaders of the 19th-century women’s rights movement. This may not dissuade Attila, Roxeanne or Cassandra from defending feminism against my specific criticisms, yet I think it does lend support to my contention that it is wrong to speak of “mainstream” feminism or, as Attila says, “the more universal variety.”
As a distinct movement in history, feminism has always been a species of radicalism, the irreligious views of Mrs. Stanton being as radical in the context of 19th-century American culture as any militant “progressive” agenda is today.
In a phone conversation with Attila yesterday, I said that her attempt to define and defend some sort of non-radical feminism puts her in the position of the Mensheviks in the Russian Revolution, subject to a metaphorical annihilation at the hands of the Bolsheviks of the movement. “Conservative feminism” is an oxymoron, “moderate feminism” is intellectually untenable, and if you refuse to march in lockstep with the radical feminists, you must sooner or later decide to become an anti-feminist — an apostate to the radical cause.
That the leaders of the National Organization for Women did not put an ice-ax through Tammy Bruce’s skull for her Trotsky-like “deviationism” does not change the fact that Bruce is now a renegade held in contempt by the official spokeswomen for the
Stalinist feminist cause. (In the context of all these Russian analogies, I suppose I’m an old Tsarist exile, or perhaps a Ukrainian kulak.)
What is at stake, you see, is actually something far more important than the exclusive prerogative of women to write about “feminism” and their resultant indignation at an impudent male’s intrusion on their literary turf. I would be perfectly happy to stand aside and let conservative ladies take care of this matter, if more of them would emulate such excellent examples as Carolyn Graglia’s Domestic Tranquility: A Brief Against Feminism. But it won’t do for me to stint from my labors while so many self-described conservative women (and the “recovering lefty” Attila) not only refuse to declare open warfare on feminism, but indeed try to claim the “feminist” label for themselves.
To see Roxeanne de Luca pursue the illusion that she might wrest feminism from the grasp of progressives (who have, she says, “hijacked” it) is like watching Charlie Sheen rant about “winning” while his career comes crashing down all around him. And I am doing a “disservice to the conservative movement”? Because my “line of reasoning” is allegedly offensive to “left-brained, educated women”? (Implied: Any woman who defends him is a right-brained ignoramus!)
This is a war of ideas, of course, and the injured feelings of Roxeanne or any other woman are not my responsibility. My target has always been the idea of feminism and none of these antagonists was so much as mentioned in my original post. It was only when Attila slung at me a calculated insult — “oversimplified fiddle faddle” (!) — that my defense required me to confront my accuser, only to find others endorsing her slur. Like La Cosa Nostra, it seems the feminists enforce their own sort of omerta, and this is their rule: In any argument between a man and woman, no woman can take the man’s side of the argument.
Never mind that Attila insulted me without any provocation: She is a woman, and therefore I must be wrong — so say they all. The collective solidarity of identity politics must triumph, and any woman who betrays sympathy for the Patriarchal Oppressor is doing a “disservice to the conservative cause.”
Well, the First Law of Holes requires me to stop digging while I’m still barely halfway to the fiery pit of Hell, so I’ll lay aside my shovel and beg your pardon, ladies, for having disturbed the proceedings of your coven.
“We must then make up our minds in accepting Women’s Rights to surrender our Bibles, and have an atheistic Government. . . . Adopt the infidel plan, and we shall corrupt our women without purifying our politics. What shall save us then?”
— R.L. Dabney, 1897