Wednesday, November 2

The revolution will be televised at 3 a.m. and all the women will be naked and jiggling, apparently

Feminism gets blamed for everything, perhaps even more than The Gays get blamed for stuff. Pat Robertson has famously asserted that feminism causes women to kill their children, leave their husbands, and become capitalism-hexing lesbian witches. Leon Kass, in an excruciating three-part essay, has blamed feminism for the degeneration of the correct traditional form of courtship, which, of course, has led to the utter depravity of the modern state of our society's romantic — and thus larger cultural — affairs. (His essay deserves a post of its own, which I hope to tackle sometime this week.)

Now, Maureen Dowd, a bright and successful New York Times columnist, is bemoaning the fact that women's professional gains since second-wave feminism have made it harder for her to snag a date. She offers anecdotal evidence from her friends and family members, along with some study's findings, not to mention a few movie premises, to show that men would rather date their secretaries or maids than their bosses. Something about protecting those fragile little eggshell egos men like to carry around. (The piece linked above is an adaptation of her forthcoming novel "Are Men Necessary?: The Sexes Collide.)

Dowd, apparently, is disappointed that as women gained equality with men, men, on the whole, balked and decided they preferred women who acted more like puppes than autonomous human beings.

At a party for the Broadway opening of "Sweet Smell of Success," a top New York producer gave me a lecture on the price of female success that was anything but sweet. He confessed that he had wanted to ask me out on a date when he was between marriages but nixed the idea because my job as a Times columnist made me too intimidating. Men, he explained, prefer women who seem malleable and awed. He predicted that I would never find a mate because if there's one thing men fear, it's a woman who uses her critical faculties. Will she be critical of absolutely everything, even his manhood?

He had hit on a primal fear of single successful women: that the aroma of male power is an aphrodisiac for women, but the perfume of female power is a turnoff for men. It took women a few decades to realize that everything they were doing to advance themselves in the boardroom could be sabotaging their chances in the bedroom, that evolution was lagging behind equality.

Jesus, Maureen, why you didn't sock this fucker right in the gullet is something I'll never understand. After all, if he's going to offer up some tripe about "malleable and awed" women during his lecture to you, the least you could do is communicate with him in terms all men stereotypically understand — pure violence. I mean, really, did Dowd mean for us to discern her clear disappointment at not snagging this douche between marriages? MaDo, I can't say I feel sorry for you if you're mourning the loss of this man's companionship. Or any other man who is intimidated by your success, and the fact that you can use your hands and mouth for more lofty pursuits than making him moan and squirm.

Jessica over at Feministing has a legitimate beef with Dowd's piece: It's completely based on the reality lived by a certain brand of successful woman (the kind of city-dwelling, wealthy, cosmopolitan woman who looks at Carrie Bradshaw as a peer as opposed to some annoying caricature of impossible, neurotic womanhood).

As Jessica says: Feminism isn’t a fucking dating service.

Despite this piece's flaws, I appreciate Dowd being honest about her own personal vulnerabilities; I don't think it would be nice or necessary of me to make fun of her obvious insecurities. We've all got 'em of one variety or another. But what I don't get this pervasive mentality she seems to be halfway endorsing: That feminism somehow failed by not convincing men that successful, smart, equal women are worth the trouble and (apparent) ego deflation some men might suffer. What kind of crazy Matrix is this, anyway?

To all the men out there whose stomachs turn at the thought of an outspoken, strong, successful woman: Fuck you. Your genitals do not make you superior to anyone else, and they certainly do not give you an automatic right to feel superior to anyone else.

But not only do feminists have to struggle against men who obviously don't deserve to contribute to the gene pool, we have to struggle against women all too eager to spit on feminism because they see it as irrelevent or — perhaps most ignorantly — as a buzzkill to their raunch-loving ways, which I'll get into in a minute.

I really hope the women caught up in this apparent backlash against traditional feminism will some day (some day soon, I hope) come to their senses and realize that it's not all about them and their silly middle-class "right" to be the coy vixen and play games with men. That's not really even on the feminist radar. What the movement about is their right to act independently of a husband or brother or father. Their right to be afforded the same respect from institutions as their penised counterparts. Their right to not be forced by the government to make decisions about their bodies that they don't want to make. Their right to equal pay for equal work. Their right to adequate medical care. And, extending beyond our borders, their right to not be stoned to death for being raped. Their right to not have their genitals mutilated against their will. Their right to leave their houses unaccompanied by a man. Their right to adequate medical care. Et cetera. And many more complicated issues than these.

For so many young women, the gains of feminism, apparently, seem finite: We're there; why keep insisting on more? Sure, it's shortsighted, but it's a prevailing attitude in this country. Can't you feel it? But if the current Supreme Court battle and the ridiculous nationwide situation with the morning-after pill don't show these young women that their autonomy is constantly at risk and in need of a strong league of defenders, then I'm not sure what will get through to them. I think this is where the patriarchy comes in as having done a bang-up job of convincing women that there's a better — easier! — way to win equality than lobbying and writing letters to your congresspeople: Taking your shirt off and kissing your best female friend while the strange guys around you clutch their beer cups and shift in their shrinking shorts.

I'm almost done with Female Chauvinist Pigs, and I've got to say that, so far, I'm impressed with Levy's arguments about the rauncification of the culture and women's role in such a "revolution." Levy's main argument is that much of what comes packaged as "empowering" for women these days —stripping, watching strippers, being hyper-sexual and hyper-sexualized, etc. — is actually, once you look beneath the crinkly cellophane wrapping, no more than a commercialized type of degradation in which women's sexuality is still just a spectacle to be consumed, and not for the pleasure of the women themselves. Sure, there are women who say they get off on getting other people off, and this is no doubt the case for a lot of people. But keep in mind the power dynamics here for the vast majority who say that stripping or drunkenly groping their friends on Girls Gone Wild videos is empowering. A poster at Feministing said this, way back during the discussion for this book back in September:

Any "power" that derives from presenting yourself in such a manner as to make someone else feel powerful OVER you is not power.

The only reason strippers et al are "empowered" is because they make men feel like the King Shit. By giving men power, do they become empowered? Sounds sort of Taoist-y on the surface, but why don't men ever have to give up power to get power?

Pretty simple to me: it's not actually power. If someone else chooses to grant it to you or not, based on what you do for them or how you make them feel, it's not power in any sense of the word.

I think this is really the crux of the issue for me, and why I'm so torn between wanting to have a very open-minded, free-wheeling, laissez-faire attitude toward the raunching of the culture and wanting to point out how bad I think it is for women at every turn. And it's further complicated by the notion that women are now consuming the raunch at a bigger rate than ever before.

Levy's findings in this area are so intriguing to me. She talks to a lot of women who espouse the view that being one of the guys — a woman who is very laid back, who likes porn and strippers and "The Man Show" and (non-ironic) sexist humor — is far preferable to being just a regular ol' woman, one of those strange creatures subsceptible to disdain from the male community for her reliance on emotion, preoccupation with beauty and appearance (which is ironic since it is only the most beautiful, primped women who get traditional men's attention), etc. When you're one of the guys, you're cool. You're not other, like women have always been. You get the joke. Women are to be ridiculed and scoffed at unless they are offering you sexual tittilation or they can demonstrate that they are one of the guys and want to objectify other women in similar ways as their male counterparts.

But these women are kidding themselves if they think being one of the guys is empowering, or anything more than barely coded misogyny parading as a pandering ego boost. There's a telling bit in the book, when Levy sits down for dinner with Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carrolla, of "The Man Show."

"What kind of women do you hang out with?" I asked them.

Kimmel looked at me like I was insane. "For the most part," he said, "women don't even want to hang out with their friends."

And there it is. The reason that being Robin Quivers or Jen Heftler or me, for that moment when I got it, is an ego boost but not a solution. It can be fun to feel exceptional—to be the loophole woman, to have a whole power thing, to be an honorary man. But if you are the exception that proves the rule, and the rule is that women are inferior, you haven't made any progress.

I've got more to say on this, but it's 2:40 in the a.m. and I'm spent.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the commute to Murfreesboro this morning I was stewing over finding so many online profiles yesterday in which females listed "sex" as an interest or hobby; like between "watercolors" and "spelunking." I was thinking, are they really so desperate to be considered liberated? They have to wave a big red flag with a dildo on it and scream, "Look at me! I'm one of you, guys! I'm cool like that!"

Of course, the way you put it, it sounds a little better coming from you. :)

Wed Nov 02, 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger theogeo said...

It's really a confounding issue, because I want women to really enjoy sex and feel comfortable expressing their interest in sex, but there's a fine line you cross when your "love of sex" becomes a show to put on for the boys. When it crosses that line, it's no longer yours; it's for other people. And if you're OK with that, fine, whatever, but I think once that becomes the dominant socially acceptable way to express female sexuality, we're all in trouble, because it sets up a rigid standard the rest of us have to work around.

If we don't shout our love of sex from the cyber rooftops and espouse a fascination with strippers and pin-up girls and Pam Anderson, etc., we must be prudes. There's a pervasive either/or mentality that clearly values women who play the part of the raunchy adolescent boy over women who question how, exactly, making an object of yourself is an empowering act.

And I'm so torn because I don't want to be preachy and insist that all women subscribe to my idea of appropriate sexual expression; that's just as bad an impulse as the shit I hate so much. But I think raising these questions to try to get at the root of this cultural phenomenon is a worthy exercise, and I hope I don't come across as judgmental and hypocritical.

Wed Nov 02, 01:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You don't. :)

Wed Nov 02, 01:30:00 PM  

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