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September 10, 2005

Whither the Feminists?

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

More on the theme of Where are they now? ...

Do you ever wonder how the fiery feminists of the '60s and '70s are spending their time these days? Ah, the good old party-hearty names: Betty Friedan. Kate Millett. Shulamith Firestone. Gloria Steinem. Germaine Greer. Susan Brownmiller. Some now dead, and the others ...

Well, what are they up to?

Thinking about how much life has changed since this crowd came on the scene, I find myself reflecting, Gosh, we've made such progress, haven't we? Thanks to them, we've been able to move from a world where young women were oppressively seen as potential Playboy bunnies to a new, fresh world where ... Well, where self-empowered young women choose to wear belly-button-baring Playboy bunny t-shirts and pull their thongs down for the "Girls Gone Wild" camera crew.

Hey, you don't think the whole "girls want to be found cute and appealing, and boys find them hot and want to impress them, and young members of both sexes are horny and wary and foolish, and very, very hormonally driven" thing could be natural, do you?

Do the '70s feminists look at our Britney/Anna K./bald-beaver state of affairs and reflect contentedly, "A job well done. We accomplished what we set out to do"? Have they concluded with satisfaction that the progress justifies three decades' worth of mistrust, antagonism, bad sex, hostility, and lies? Not that I'm bitter or anything ...

These questions sometimes make me wonder: What's Shulamith up to these days? And how about Gloria? I know that Germaine Greer wrote an all-fires-spent book not too long ago about being post-menopausal -- what she called a "crone" -- and celebrating the joys of gardening.

I just ran across a little information about one of these bigtime '70s feminists: Susan Brownmiller, the author of the very successful '70s-feminist tract "Against Our Will." In this book, Brownmiller argued that the essential basis of male-female relations has always been the threat of rape. Really. Here's a quote:

"Rape is a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear."

I remember a woman once telling me how much "Against Our Will" had meant to her. She was so fervent in her appreciation of Brownmiller's genius that she was near tears. I just listened and nodded my head. How else could I respond? The woman who was almost crying was, after all, my boss. I sure had her intimidated!

For some reason, in 1975 the masses didn't explode in giggles and tell Susan to stop being such a silly, vain girl. (They didn't tell her that she'd hit on a helluva good title for a porno novel either.) Instead, many people took her seriously. After all -- I don't know about you dudes -- but the threat of rape has always been my preferred way of keeping my women in their place. But those were the times, I guess.

So what is Susan Brownmiller channeling her righteousness and aggression into these days? Her self-authored web bio stops in 1968. Solving poverty in Kenya? Establishing microcredit lending institutions in Bangladesh? Nope. It turns out that what Brownmiller is ardent about these days is ping pong. Er, table tennis.

You can take a "What's your feminist IQ?" quiz chez la Brownmiller here.



posted by Michael at September 10, 2005


Feminists never change. They still take pleasure in smacking balls with a paddle. At least Susan is P.C. -- she's only into hitting white balls.

Posted by: Neil on September 10, 2005 2:42 PM

Feminists accomplished what they needed to when they got women the right to access credit and open checking accounts without "a man." Also, allowing women freer access to certain educational opportunities was good.

Otherwise, they were the most broken, destructive, stupid, hateful, horrid people on the planet who did great damage and should go to hell, if such a place exists. Phil Donohue and Marlo Thomas and Alan Alda must join them.

They completely forgot about happiness, trust, biology, and the fact that guys didn't "get the memo" about how the world was supposed to be...and didn't need to.

I hope the depression Betty Friedan said she suffered "trapped" in the well-heeled suburbs of Westchester County (poor baby) has been replaced a thousandfold with the depression of knowing how much they f**ked up the world and many women's lives. I hope they feel unbearably guilty. I hope it wrecks their lives. Somehow, I doubt it. People like them never seem to feel guilty. Where the hell did they get this stuff about "most men" and rape---as opposed to sick rapists and rape? I'm sure they are glad to know M Blowhard has 'fessed up to his favorite method of control!! We always suspected such...

Having said that---Britney is no great role model, either, and will have plenty to feel guilty about in terms of her own influence one day, I imagine.

Do I feel strongly about this?

Posted by: annette on September 10, 2005 3:39 PM

They all moved to Woodstock, where they fantasize endlessly about being beaten and raped.

Michael, what in the world has happened to you lately? I really do think that you need that drink. Bald eagles, crazy feminists... whew!

The insanity started in 1969 when white, college educated women began to insist that they were "oppressed" in just the same way as blacks in the Jim Crow south. Gays made the same declaration. For the past 35 years every possible group has insisted that they are oppressed in just the same way.

Betty Friedan was a communist party organizer, supported by a wealthy publisher husband. He said she had a maid and never did housework. He also said she had a ferocious temper and beat him regularly.

So, as everybody grew tired up them, they all moved to Woodstock, where the crazy detritus of all leftist political movements ultimately crashes. Or Berkeley. Or Ann Arbor. Places where they can find guilt stricken, castrato men to beat on. Not surprisingly, these women are still almost entirely white, and they find their way to live in almost entirely white enclaves, from whence they lecture the rest of the world on racism.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on September 10, 2005 4:46 PM

I admittedly don't know much about the celebrity & academic feminists you mention and whether or not they're as kooky as they sound.

But as someone who worked as a police officer pre-& post-1970's feminism, I would say that many of the practical, "on the ground" products of feminist activism (rape crisis centers, marital rape laws, police rape training, battered women's shelters, etc.) - which in my experience were often created/campaigned for by sensible, hardheaded local feminist activists - are certainly worthy accomplishments.

Posted by: kenneth on September 10, 2005 5:36 PM

Well, it is true that women have to be conscious of the possibility of rape in quite a few situations, public and private -- and men don't. And I would imagine that, based on that awareness, a woman of a certain sensibility - fearful, prone to hysteria - could easily develop an animus to all men.
In other words, Brownmiller's wild thesis is not based on nothing; it's not a pure fantasy. It really doesn't matter what Brownmiller's motives were in writing her book; its enthusiastic reception by many non-feminist women speaks to A (not THE) factor in the man/woman equation.

Posted by: ricpic on September 10, 2005 6:39 PM

Neil -- As I was surfing around looking into pingpong, I learned that players today use a slightly larger ball than they used to. Slows down the game a bit, apparently, to everyone's satisfaction. Bigger balls, eh?

Annette -- But how do you really feel about these things? Seriously, that's a wonderful rant, as well as fascinating thoughts about credit and checking accounts. I'd love to know more. What do you think the worst disservice was that the radical feminists did?

ST -- I've seen and known those women! They live in the West Village or the Upper West Side before relocating to Woodstock. Gotta hand one thing to them: they sure have good taste in towns and neighborhoods.

Kenneth -- God bless sensible, feet-on-the-ground types of almost all kinds. Often a big contrast to the loony leader-types. You've got me wondering about something that always interests me. Are the loony leaders (and the amount of hyperpoliticization that they tend to promote) necessary? It seemed to me, even as a kid circa 1970, that changes in certain sex-role things were simply gonna happen. Demographics, economic and educational changes, contraception, expectations -- how could all these not lead to huge changes? But why did it all get turned into a cause, with a grudge and a program? Did that work out well for women generally? Or was it all for the benefit of the gals at the podium?

Ricpic -- Sure, no question. And, if I recall right, some of Brownmiller's research was pretty interesting. Too bad she turned her more general idea -- hey, rape's an issue -- into a kind of cosmological Explanation of Everything (rape is the one issue). Why do some people do that? And what kind of people are prone to that? People who don't want to offer an idea, they want to be seen as The Purveyor of The One True Idea? Is that it?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 10, 2005 9:02 PM

Michael: But why did it all get turned into a cause, with a grudge and a program?... Or was it all for the benefit of the gals at the podium?

My mother has always checked off on the "benefit of the gals at the podium" option.

She was pre-feminist, a big player in the mainframe computer biz of the early sixties. Like most women back then, she got where she got through gumption and hard work.

Then the seventies feminists came along. Gumption and hard work were replaced by blame and meshugas*, and her generation's accomplishments were belittled or ignored so that The Movement could ride in on the white horse and do its self-aggrandizing savior act.

Don't mention feminists around Mater unless you want to get an earful.

* - Aren't you sometimes grateful to politics and the academy for keeping the nutjobs cooped up away from the rest of us?

Posted by: Brian on September 11, 2005 6:02 AM

Geez, guys, you're sounding like a bunch of 95 year old codgers: "Back in my days, you young whippersnappers...."

Do you remember what it was like in the 1950s? We needed a lot more individualism and a lot fewer suits saying What's Good For General Motors Is Good For America.

So some people got carried away. That always happens. It is very hard to name anything in the history of the world that has made life better that hasn't brought with it problems, as well as people complaining about those problems. And when 10 people have a good idea, there will be another 3 who carry it too far, and 2 or 3 who rant about what a bad idea it is. You can look it up.

My mother was depressed, literally, being a suburban housewife. She went back and got her PhD in art history, wrote some books and articles, made some money buying and selling art, and was much happier. Is there something wrong with that?

There are WAYS that teenagers are much healthier than we (I'm about Michael's age) were. There are ways they've thrown the baby with the bathwater. It's an evolving process.

As they sang in the 50s, "Why can't they be like we were, perfect in every way, What's the matter with kids, TO DAY?"

Posted by: john massengale on September 11, 2005 8:06 AM

PS: You* wanna complain about people going overboard and saying ridiculous things? How about Karl Rove, Tom DeLay, Newt Gingrich, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh ... and George Bush II?

*and I mean the whole thread, not Michael. What strikes me is how fervently this idea was picked up.

Posted by: john massengale on September 11, 2005 8:09 AM

I remember hearing somewhere that Shulamith Firestone was institutionalized, as in mentally. No links, but I'll check and see.

And of course, we know how Andrea Dworkin, another feminist sewer-of-distrust, ended up. Shouting Thomas, you've figured the type out exactly.

Having been forced in my university days to read many of the people you mention, Michael, I can say that what strikes me as their most obvious trait was their intellectual second- or third-ratedness. What a bunch of mediocrities they were! So my take on 'where are they now', is they've ended up wherever non-entities do when their fifteen minutes is over.

Nowhere important.

Posted by: PatrickH on September 11, 2005 9:34 AM

The biggest stupid lie the feminists told, which was picked up fervently in pop culture and therapy, was that a marriage, "a man", was somehow was a limitation on growth and happiness, rather than an enhancement. Those "pathetic" women who got their whole identity from being so-and-so's wife or so-and-so's mother. Those cloying, dependent, destined-to-be-left-for-a-younger-woman-and-then-suicidal-because-they'd-lived-solely-through-others women. Those women who were downright BAD mothers because they had no life of their own. What they stupidly, horridly forgot is...THOSE particular women had problems, and would have been just as unhappy in the board room as the nursery. That THEIR MARRIAGES might not have been the problem. (Or it might have been, but because of who they picked to marry in the first place...). That the fact that Betty Friedan couldn't get into the swing of it in Westchester might have been Friedan's problem, not the secret horrid repression of all women in Westchester. That not all wives and mothers were neurotic controlling vipers, not all men were horrid repressors, and that nature and biology made couplehood and motherhood a very natural thing---a life enhancing thing. Now, some of these women may very well have been married to pretty controlling and insensitive men, and men who didn't feel any particular need to change a damn thing because what was their wife gonna do? She didn't have options. I'm not saying there weren't pricks out there, and they weren't all "rapists" (what the hell was that about?). But its like they took their personal unhappiness out on the whole damn country. And TOTALLY threw the baby out with the bathwater.

I mean, really---why not have started a campaign to teach girls to systematically rebuff insensitive, selfish men in every possible way, including sexually. If a guy can't get laid with his personality---many men learn to change their personality. To get laid, if for no other reason. Problem of insensitive entitled men solved. That's what women had to stick together on. If he looks OVER YOUR SHOULDER to stare at another woman's legs right in front of you, like you weren't there---HE GETS THE TOTAL SEX BOYCOTT. By all of us. If he bitches that rare roast beef isn't on the table right on time when he gets home and she's been dealing with two kids under seven both home with the flu all day... It would very quickly have made men clean up a certain portion of their 1950's act---or at least those men who were ever behaving that way. Now, back to picking the wallpaper for the nursery...

And, yes, it WAS for the egos of the leaders of the movement. They were as repressive and ego-driven and insensitive to truly "helping" women as ANY OF THE SELFISH CORPORATE SUBURBAN HUSBANDS they bitched about. They became those men. Well...bravo. Hey, good job.

Posted by: annette on September 11, 2005 10:13 AM

Just for the record, I spotted a stray hair or two on the woman pictured in the "bald beaver" photo ... guess she missed a few while shaving :)

Posted by: Peter on September 11, 2005 10:43 AM

The only thing I can add to Annette is that, these days, we've got a crop of 20-year olds who (if they are not spoiled beyond belief) both dismiss the idea of "feminism" and take certain things in the law and workplace, as their due. So maybe it all worked out.

Mostly. Anyone remember the episode of Sex and the City where Miranda's loan officer kept asking questions about co-signers and gift letters and assuming men would be paying for the apartment, and poor Miranda had to say "just me" about 46 times. Because every single woman I know had the same ordeal. Also when you buy a car.

Mostly. The "housewives" I know don't actually do anything - they don't cook or clean or even hire and pay the lawn crew. They live like sullen teenagers with a tremendous sense of entitlement and no real responsibilities. I would wonder what will happen when these Lolitas get a little long in tooth, but none of them were all that much in the hottie department.

Mostly. Most of the married women I know are still working that dreaded "second shift," even when they are the primary.

So maybe it all worked out.

If you want somebody to mock, there are still plenty of lifestyle coaches and whathaveyou.

Posted by: j.c. on September 11, 2005 12:23 PM

I've said more than once on my site that I love the word suffragette and prefer it to feminist. The women who marched to get the vote, the first women doctors and lawyers and scientists. Those were some tough old broads. And then came the sixties feminists. Hmmm. Well, I dunno, I love men even if some of them are a bunch of righteous old b*astards. So what? Aren't some of them just gorgeous? I'll just never be able to see it any other way.

Posted by: MD on September 11, 2005 1:52 PM

Ok, I meant not to actually spell out the word b*stard, because nice girls like me don't use such language. And yet, it ended up spelled out with the asterisk in place. Oh well. I'm sure Gloria would say: 'well, you go girl.' So, I'm going with that.

Did I mention that I think men are just wonderful? Even when they're not? Can't help it. Probably the hormones or something.

Posted by: MD on September 11, 2005 1:55 PM

Although to be fair, while Brownmiller's book may have been no good (never read it), a woman who is raped doesn't have to fear being socially ostracized in the way that she was in the past, and don't we have some feminists (men and women both) to thank for that? I read the Indian papers, and goodness, life is still awful hard for some women out there. I guess it makes the kind of cauterwauling some women do over, say, Larry Brown's remarks seem especially clueless. You have it pretty good here in the US, men and women. Not perfect, because utopia is a pipe dream (well, duh), but you have it pretty darn good all right.

Posted by: MD on September 11, 2005 2:13 PM

Last comment, I promise.

I've just been reading some excerpts from the Brownmiller rape book, just the beginning. She says she has never been raped, and then she goes on to talk about 'our victimization.' It sounds like she feels she is in the exact same boat, literally, as a woman who actually was raped. Isn't that a bit, well, presumptuous? Isn't that a bit insensitive to the women who have actually been through such an awful experience? Is the whole book like that?

Posted by: MD on September 11, 2005 2:21 PM

Do you get a small jolt of nostalgia when you think about feminism nowadays? I do. I always think "I remember feminism, ... whatever happened to that, didn't people take it seriuosly once, ... gosh I must be getting old, I can remember when feminism was important."

Feminism's death as a serious part of political discourse can be dated rather precisely I think. It was the week that Juanita Broadrick came forward about being raped by Bill Clinton (complete with multiple corroborating witnessess), and there was dead silence from virtually every feminist on the planet. Not a peep. All that jazz about rape, feminism's crown jewel, its rallying cry and its central fury was, well, ..., ahem, heh-heh, no big deal, ..., dum-dee-dum, how about the weather we been havin' huh? How can you possibly work up a lather about an off color joke by Clarence Thomas when you have stonily ignored an actual rape? It Turned out that feminism was profoundly unserious.

Also, for an individual woman, feminism usually dies when that woman has children. Guess what, men and women and boys and girls really are different. Every mother learns this. (It often comes as a shock because we often pretend otherwise, but it is obvious to every mother of a four year old.) And maybe those differences aren't bad. And maybe, just maybe, raising children is important. Maybe raising children isn't a horrible plot to keep you miserable in Westchester. Maybe survival of the species (oh what a dangerous thought) matters! All surviving cultures take child bearing and child raising seriuosly. Feminism does not and so it has not survived.

When I have a flashback to the time when feminism was important, I am amazed at how so many people could have professed to believe so much obvious nonsense. It makes me a little more forgiving of people who wore leisure suits in the 70s.

Posted by: Terry on September 11, 2005 8:40 PM

A lot of feminism has been absorbed into the culture. Very few people blinked an eye when NZ got a second female PM in a row. No one in the US is bothered by women being Secretary of State or whatever the exact job title is. (They may object to the particular woman, but then even if it was a white man in that position some people would always object to that particular man).
No one, including on the internet, has told me that I shouldn't do an engineering degree.

Very few people state that rape victims were asking for it, or should lie back and enjoy it. In NZ both genders do cooking, sewing, metalwork and woodwork at school - which is a help in future life when you don't necessarily have someone of the opposite sex around to do the other bits. Kiwi and American men don't think it's a threat to their masculinity if I argue with them.

The far-out people, the all sex is rape and all men are bastards get the media attention and managed to grab the title of feminist. Furthermore, we can see in any movement that as its goals are achieved, the leaders have an incentive to set new goals and proclaim new crisises in order to keep the funds rolling in. So there are a lot of bizarre, ridiculous strands in feminism. But a large chunk of what second-wave feminists wanted has been achieved.

Posted by: Tracy on September 12, 2005 12:39 AM

Strikes me that Michael is really complaining about academia and pseudo-intellectualism, not feminism.

Posted by: jult52 on September 12, 2005 2:42 PM

I agree with tracy. Feminism has been remarkably successful. In 1968, women couldn't go to schools like Princeton. Is that defensible?

Posted by: Joe O on September 12, 2005 3:34 PM

I think that's assuming that these changes wouldn't have happened without Official Feminism leading the charge, isn't it? My memory of the era is that huge demographic/educational/economic changes were clearly underway, and that most people had no trouble with the idea that some tweaking was going to need to be done. A few battles would have to be fought, but then life could be got on with.

I think it's also forgetting just how extreme the feminism of the early '70s was -- how conspiracy-enthralled and utopia-driven. Susan Brownmiller's "Against Our Will" wasn't unusual -- there were lots of books, leaders, and arguments around in those days essentially contending that the penis was the cause of all evil, and demonizing anything and everything that was traditional, including childraising, motherhood and fatherhood. Annette's right: there are millions of women around who were brainwashed by this crowd into thinking that careers would pay off in deeply rewarding ways, and that having families was a horrible thing to do. Have a kid and you'd be letting down the team. Weird people who did hardly anyone any favors.

FWIW, I always found it handy to think of Feminism One and Feminism Two. Feminism One was the day-to-day, fair's-fair acquiescence with the idea that no one should be denied an opportunity simply because of their sex. I never found there were too many people who had trouble with this. Feminism Two was what later became the nutty PC Sexual Correctness crowd -- the conviction that root causes needed to be addressed, that fires need always to be lit, and that all of life would have to be turned topsy-turvy so that someone's idea of "equality" could prevail. So I was very happy when I ran across Christina Hoff Sommers, who made a similar distinction between Equity Feminism (essentially the fair's-fair crowd, very much like the suffragettes of the early 20th century) and Gender Feminsm (the nutty '70s PC Stalinists). Made sense to me anyway, and jibed with my experience. Has anyone else tried her books? She's always struck me as very sensible ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 12, 2005 5:24 PM

There isn't anything wrong with ping pong.

I browsed through the "against our will" book on Amazon. The parts I read seemed reasonable enough.

"Rape is a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear."

I do disagree with that. But it is a process where some men keep some women in a state of fear. Rapes as punishment, such as during wartime, do exist. And, it is easy to see something like prison rape as a conscious process of intimidation even if it is not all directed at women.

This kind of thing is barbaric. Societies that treat women like this are going to become increasingly irrelevant.

Posted by: joe o on September 13, 2005 3:22 AM

Some of the details in the book "against our will", as opposed to the misguided framework indicated by that quote, seem pretty conservative. Much of the representation of rape in "Hell's Angels", "clockwork orange", "soul on ice", and "midnight rambler" does seem weirdly sympathetic to rape and rapists. Critics did seem to have a blindspot for this issue. Nobody wanted to look old fashioned.

Posted by: Joe O on September 13, 2005 12:04 PM

Terry said:

I agree wholeheartedly. For me, the final tap of the hammer, was when some prominent member of NOW stated that she would gladly give Bill Clinton oral sex if only he would keep abortion legal. I laughed and thought, 'Feminism is forever changed by that statement'. That was so anti-feminism and exposed it as a gimmick.

Posted by: Sam Boogliodemus on September 21, 2005 12:20 AM

Sorry Terry. Those are my statements. My way of delineating quotes must come across as some type of html. Your statement was concerning Juanita Broadrick.

Posted by: Sam Boogliodemus on September 21, 2005 12:24 AM

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