Part I, by Leslie Loftis on November 14: Can We Rebrand Feminism?
Part II, by Susan L.M. Goldberg on November 20: Feminism Doesn’t Need Re-Branding, It Needs a Revolution
Part III, by Leslie Loftis on November 27: How to Overcome the Looming Feminist Collapse
Part IV, by Susan L.M. Goldberg on December 3: Brains Not Boobs: Re-Formulating for Feminist Success
Continuing the “What To Do About Feminism” series, I’m with Susan that we should aim to secure equal education for women, to be followed by equal opportunities. To that end, the video embedded above should be what modern feminism does.
Frankly, my root point in this whole series is that women still need to fight and women of the Right will have to be the ones to do it, feminist label not withstanding. This isn’t new. Susan linked to an insightful Camille Paglia article from 2008 about how feminist history has insufficiently acknowledged how much it owes to capitalism, the industrial revolution, and religion. Until the 1970s, it was a diverse movement. Any call to embrace feminism’s powerful history, must recognize that it was effective when it was diverse, and furthermore — how it was diverse — with women on the Right.
Feminism is all but dead now because when Gloria Steinem and her acolytes took over the movement in the 70s and expelled the Right, they ironically turned modern feminists from pro-woman to pro-man. Regardless of what they say against men or for women, they implicitly accept that the man’s ways are the better ways. We can see this in the “lean in” professional pressure to keep a man’s career timeline and our preference for beat-’em-up heroines. We ape men and then claim that we do it better.
That’s what reproductive control absolutism is about, negating biology so we can live like men. Even if one doesn’t think it foolish, it can’t be done. And I worry that the alliterative “brains, not boobs” buys into a little of this biology denial. We can and should stress education and opportunity, but we will always be at the mercy of our biology. The Mary Wollstonecraft who Susan quoted for the proposition that women only seek control over themselves? She died in childbirth. Control over ourselves will only come with knowledge and acceptance of our biology. As Camille Paglia put it in a passage I can’t currently place, any higher education women’s study program should require at least a course in female endocrinology. So in Susan’s “brains, not boobs” terms, I submit a more inclusive and realistic, brains and boobs.
I also think Susan makes a common and fundamental error about the culture wars:
The moronic War on Women has nothing to do with genitalia and everything to do with quashing the threat of female intellect. Instead of driving this point home, the right’s bullhorn is monopolized with shouts about the evils of abortion.
After my post on whether we could successfully rebrand feminism, Susan L.M. Goldberg took issue with my pessimistic answer of “probably not.” Noting, correctly I think, that feminism needs to focus more on female oppression in the world and less on western women’s “penny-ante” problems, she asked for a plan to overcome the problem of women who disavow feminism because of how it is marketed. And we decided to make a back and forth series out of these feminist dilemmas.
So first a clarification from my first post: women don’t disavow feminism because of how it is marketed but because of how it acts. I claim that marketing can’t overcome what feminism actually does these days: focus on sexual hedonism and career success for western women. (It only manages the career success. The sexual hedonism is still elusive.)
A simple marketing trick won’t do, we have to actually capture the term. The plan that I’ve been testing for a few years was to have the new disillusioned feminists join with women of the right, who are experienced at disillusion with feminism. Frankly, we’ve been waiting for domestic and minority feminists to get fed up enough to rebel. I thought that a rebel alliance could change what feminism does and thereby revive the movement.
My pessimism is about that alliance forming. But alliance or no, Goldberg is right, there is much to be done.
A friend of ours, a Canadian serial expat, speaks at legal conferences. In the grand tradition of opening with a joke, he sometimes starts by telling a story about U.S. vs. Canada Olympic hockey. The last time the Canadians beat the U.S., he asked some Americans about it. The American answered, “It sucks to lose. But at least we lost to Canada. I’m happy to see Canada win.” “No, no, no!” our friend protested. “You are supposed to be spitting mad that you got beat by your mortal rival! We want a rivalry!”
In sports, this unrequited rivalry is funny. He gets laughs when he tells it. But like many funny things, the humor comes from just touching the truth. The actual truth has a bit of sting to it.
Last week I was in Toronto. I arrived just after the Toronto City Council stripped Mayor Rob Ford of his authority. In the non-stop news coverage, the local news was a little giddy that U.S. big media was covering the story. They even excerpted part of CNN’s coverage.
The reporter’s excitement at the big U.S. coverage reminded me of my friend’s hockey story, and that bothered me. This wasn’t about rivalry, but about us noticing them. Doesn’t the northern U.S. cover Canada? Down in Texas, I’m not shocked that we don’t cover Canada. We cover Mexico. (I don’t buy the internationally ignorant American conventional wisdom. We are quite big. I can hop in a car and drive west for 15+ hours and still be in Texas. The American Resident covered this point well a while back.) Regardless, it isn’t remotely cool, for CNN or Canada, that this story was getting play outside of Toronto.
I sighed, made a mental note to discuss this with my Canadian friends later, and picked up Kay Hymowitz’s Manning Up which I was using for debate prep. (I was there to attend a debate on “The End of Men.” ) I forgot about Mayor Ford and the exceptional case of Canadian coverage for a few hours.
But at the debate, America’s treatment of Canada came up again, courtesy of Maureen Dowd.
Feminism needs a makeover, or so many feminists think. Unnerved every time some starlet, superstar, or rising professional star shuns the term, feminists wonder why all women don’t automatically claim the description.
They assume women must not know the meaning of the term. So they launch various education and rebranding campaigns. Recently, Christina Hoff Sommers tried to get “freedom feminism” to take in the pages of The Atlantic, and UK Elle launched a straight rebranding PR campaign. Hanna Rosin wondered if it was worth rebranding since it has proven so divisive. She has gotten closest to the actual problem.
If someone as smart and successful as Mayer, someone who tours the country speaking to young women, can’t comfortably call herself a feminist, then maybe we need to take her objection seriously. Maybe there is a reason why that PBS documentary was so much better on the history than it was on the modern era. Maybe feminism is a term too freighted with history and it’s time to move on.
To gain new feminists, the movement will need to do more than rebrand. The term “feminism” has bowed, as words do, to the dominate cultural practice, which despite what the rebranders think, has little to do with the hairy leg stereotypes of old. Right now feminism is defined by the old line political feminists, who have no intention of releasing their grip on the term. Any attempt to make feminism more popular will have to confront and break this hold.
Currently women who claim feminism fall into two major factions (and a host of minor factions too numerous to go into here). I call them the equal opportunity feminists and the political feminists.
The first holds that women should be free to make their own choices without external limitations. This feminism focuses upon equal opportunity and individual autonomy and enjoys broad support across the political spectrum. In almost every casual feminist discussion, someone will claim this is The One True Feminism. Some claim it with grace and passion in blog comment threads, while more popular proclamations declare we are all stupid if we don’t get it, like this helpful visual from HuffPo that I found in my Facebook feed:
It is a simple sentiment and the one that the rebranding efforts reach for, but it is not the dominate feminism today.
For the past four decades, high profile feminists have co-opted the term for specific policy positions. These are the feminists who mistook the means for the ends.
Summer blockbuster season is over, thankfully. It was rather disappointing for fans. Man of Steel gave us two hours of CGI fighting smothering 15 minutes of an attempt at a story. Star Trek: Into Darkness was so full of naive and contradictory notions of human goodness that my husband almost made us leave the theater for my eye rolling and snorting. (I’ve never been a Trekkie, but that was ridiculous.) And those were the movies that were monetarily successful. The rest of the intended blockbusters failed decisively.
But as the summer movie season ended, it produced a little gem of a movie. Relatively few watched it. More should.
As movie buffs have noted time and time again, Hollywood tries to push themes too hard. They make morals of the story overt. Then the movie comes off as preachy. Conservatives making movies tend to make this mistake with vigor, figuring among other things that they have only one shot to get the idea across so they better feature it.
The World’s End avoids that mistake (probably because it didn’t come out of Hollywood). It hits themes of friendship, loneliness, despair, aging, the necessity of free will–all and more in a story about a pub crawl. Well, not just a pub crawl. It’s a Dusk ’till Dawn like pub crawl, only set in small town England with blue-blooded robots sent by interventionist aliens. Throw in some 80’s rock and Shakespearian speeches about beer, and I grant it isn’t for everyone.
But for those of you I had at Dusk ’till Dawn set in English pubs, see the movie tonight. If it has already stooped showing, watch for it on Netflix. I’m going to catch it again then because some of those speeches are worthy of memorization and inclusion into the pop culture canon.
“Good food. Fine Ales. Total annihilation.”
A friend started a “where were you on 9/11″ thread. Of course, I remember. Everyone does. But I hadn’t looked closely at my memories in a while. I wasn’t in any position of consequence. My account didn’t seem worth examining. But today I remembered something, something I’d gotten so accustomed to I’d forgotten it was once new.
I had started volunteering for Orlando Sanchez for mayor as his scheduler a few weeks earlier. My husband and I were just shy of a year married and had gotten fed up with double law firm life. We hardly saw each other. He traveled and I had a pager for weekend duty. (I was a maritime attorney. Ships collide on the same schedule that babies arrive — whenever.) I had resumes out for in-house positions but didn’t want to be unemployed while looking, hence the political campaign, which suited me well.
That day Orlando’s schedule was easy in the morning and loaded in the afternoon. So I had a leisurely walk and arrived at HQ after nine. It was quiet. Political headquarters are never that quiet.
After going though messages, I found everyone in the meeting room around a TV. The second plane had just hit.
When some left vs right American cultural battle made the news, friends abroad would either ask for an explanation from my husband and me, both known conservatives, or offer advice for our cultural wars. Almost always, the conversation was cordial but premised on an assumption that the American right held the extreme position.
Europeans made reasonable assumptions based on the tenor and headlines but rarely did the news or dinner party discussion cover the details. So few knew that American conservatives rarely held the extreme position. And American expats often endured some unexpected culture shock, especially concerning matters of race, sex, and immigration.
Abortion provides an excellent illustration of the problem. When the subject came up in the 2008 election, when Europe loved Obama (how times do change) and couldn’t stomach pro-life Palin, one friend advised that we could avoid all of our abortion drama if we allowed for reasonable rules making abortion legal during the first trimester with a committee of doctors to determine case-by-case availability of abortions in the second trimester, like they did in Denmark. Trying not to scoff at just how unreasonable those rules would sound to the American pro-choice movement, I asked for her opinion on later abortions. She was taken aback. She couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do that. Another time, Italians looked at me as if I was crazy when I asked about parental consent for minors. Of course a minor needed parental consent! Was I mad? And wasn’t I the American conservative?
Stories aside, we can easily compare the regulations.
During the Boston manhunt, while Paula Bolyard listened to the police scanner and “evolved on guns”, a few others tweeted verses of ‘this would never happen in Texas.’ Before all non-Texans dismiss this as idle boasting, there is a hidden truth worth noting, which Bolyard helpfully illustrates. In the second piece of her “evolving” series, she writes:
While I understand that many who grew up around guns accept them as a normal part of life, for me, it’s a decision that requires serious introspection and moral evaluation. Though I passionately support the Second Amendment, I confess that I had never taken the time to earnestly contemplate its practical applications.
Bolyard starts by analyzing what she is prepared to do to defend herself. But she’s not the exception, she’s the rule. Taking the time to “earnestly contemplate” self defense is the essence of the gun culture. So much so that we hardly notice it.
I didn’t until the London Riots of 2011. While friends described locking their doors and hoping for the police, Zoe Williams wrote that she had never contemplated defending her home. This shocked me. But then I thought back to the 2001 massacre in Norway, when the shooter rampaged for about an hour, taking 77 lives. They waited for the police.
Most people outside the gun culture have been conditioned to wait for the police. Unarmed, without good options for self defense, they’ve never considered it. They assume we haven’t either, hence their worry that every charged situation would collapse into a shootout at the OK Corral. But in a gun culture, we plan self defense. In a gun culture, we accept that ultimately it is our responsibility to defend ourselves. Follow Bolyard’s series. She’s asking, learning, and practicing while guided by those who have already done so. This is commonplace.
Editor’s Note: For President’s Day today we’re republishing this post from Leslie Loftis from last September, which asked a question worth pondering on a regular basis.
My children are back in school, and I am able to return to my school day routine of reading The Transom after my older set get on the bus and my twins get dressed and make their beds. Admittedly, I don’t always make it to the end of the newsletter in one sitting, but the end is the best part. After the wonky political and economic news summaries, The Transom has an interesting links section, a slightly more serious version of Debby Witt’s Odd Links at The Corner.
This gem recently greeted me: “In a Mass Knife Fight to the Death Between Every President, Who Would Win and Why?” Perhaps because I have an eight-year-old son who took to the discussion like a moth to a flame when I discussed it with his uncle and father over dinner, this struck me as a very promising history lesson plan… one that the PC/we-need-feminized-men guardians would never allow.
This is an excellent example of the type of discussion that would engage young boys (and old ones based on the comment threads) but send experts and some moms into frets of whether it promotes aggression. Boys can’t even talk about theoretical fighting. When the boys get bored, rather than face that boredom is one of aggression’s main fuel sources, we drug them and congratulate ourselves that the little girls are doing so well.
I will grant that a knife fight is a bit harsh for a school lesson, but the game is easily modified to a survival island scenario, like Christ White posted. Both posts and comments are chock full of intriguing — and highly memorable — assertions. Think of the research possibilities!
Befitting Camille Paglia’s firebrand reputation, the publication of her latest book, Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars, has pressed cultural debates. Peruse any of the many interviews and reviews and find topics as diverse as the poor state of public education, feminism, and Democratic ideals to the hidden “gems” of pop culture. Excellent topics and needed discussions all, but the brilliance of Glittering Images is often missed. It is simply a short, and welcome, book on how to study art.
In her concise chapters, Paglia models what all of us can do to study any art we encounter: learn about the time, the artist, and the method. She intended for children to happen upon her book on a rainy afternoon, thumb through it, and be inspired to learn more.
If that simple how-to sounds obvious to you, then you are not likely part of the art world. According to the guardians of art conventional wisdom, it is supposed to be difficult. They do not countenance Paglia’s assertion that it isn’t.
With pitch perfect smugness, the New York Times review illustrates:
Written with the proverbial common reader in mind, “Glittering Images” comprises a historical sequence from the ancient Egyptian funerary images of Queen Nefertari to George Lucas’s “Revenge of the Sith” episode of “Star Wars.” Each work is located in its historical and stylistic context and then subjected to Paglia’s “reading.” …
The book’s premise is to chart the history of Western art in “an attempt to reach a general audience for whom art is not a daily presence.” There is humility and sincerity in such a goal, and one is reminded of the work of Carl Sagan, or Bertrand Russell’s layman’s introduction to relativity, or Aaron Copland’s “What to Listen for in Music,” books intended to demystify important subjects in science and art for those who might otherwise be too intimidated to engage with them. But Paglia’s choice of examples, coupled with her frequent broadsides on everything from New York gallery pricing to feminist politics to “the in-group of hip cognoscenti” and those wickedly subversive post-structuralists, damages her argument and leaves one wondering exactly to whom she is talking.
This is classic hip cognoscenti condescension.
I still lived in Austin, Texas in 1999. That summer, against all odds, Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor, new husband, father-to-be, won his first Tour de France in an impressive display of athleticism.
He was a hero, an inspiration. When he returned to Austin, the city held a victory rally, in which park I can’t recall as Austin is loaded with large and picturesque gathering spots. A couple of friends and I went to the rally early to grab a patch of ground close enough to see Armstrong and his miracle-pregnant wife. It wasn’t all about Lance. Austinites need only the flimsiest of reasons to gather outside for a couple of beers. But we did love him. We were so proud of him. Even now, when the whole truth has outed, I can still remember the energy and joy at that rally. And the yellow. Everyone wore yellow.
A few months later, his wife gave birth to their son. The following summer he repeated his Tour victory. Soon, he welcomed twin daughters and claimed another Tour de France victory. Our pride in Armstrong overflowed. He could have done anything.
But then Lance Armstrong took off his hero mask. Sometime after his twins arrived, he left his family. I can’t remember if he already had Sheryl Crow waiting for him. It doesn’t matter really. His marriage didn’t have high conflict, at least not on her part. He might have been cheating or she might have left him due to his doping habit. But in hindsight-enhanced scenarios, he was the culpable party.
My shock at the truth about Lance Armstrong came with the split. I have a few girlfriends who spilled tears over the news. The kind of guy who can abruptly walk away from his wife and his children is capable of almost anything in service of self. So current shock at the truth surprises me. We learned that Lance Armstrong lacked honor back in 2003. The doping simply provides more details and removes any pretense for keeping that scar in the heart of Austin.
Recently, I argued that we like heroines who act like men and so writers construct stories enabling women to physically compete. So what about the female characters that don’t act like men?
If writers don’t have a female character fight for herself and by herself, then we typically ignore them. Sometimes we ridicule them. If given the opportunity, we rewrite them. Then, we complain that there aren’t enough of them. There are many, and the comment thread on the last article mentioned a few. These are my favorite five.
5. Princess Buttercup, The Ignored Heroine
In The Princess Bride, Buttercup lives on a farm and falls in love with a quiet and dedicated farm boy. The boy, Wesley, goes off to seek his fortune so he may marry Buttercup, but his ship is attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts. Buttercup despairs for Wesley’s death. Years later, the prince of the land choses her as his bride. Powerless to refuse him, she agrees. Soon, Wesley returns and rescues her and the land.
Targeted by an evil prince for her beauty, but with no physical way to resist him — no superpowers — Buttercup relies on her courage and wits to keep the prince and his henchmen at bay until help arrives. With Wesley’s help she escapes and together they save the kingdom from a needless war. But she got rescued and does not physically fight. She engages in elegant verbal sparring, of which I’d provide a video clip, but I can’t find any of those scenes online. They aren’t popular enough that anyone thought to upload them. I’ve rarely seen Buttercup mentioned as a feminist favorite even though The Princess Bride‘s cult following rivals Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s. Strong-willed and spirited she might be, but she’s just not manly enough to merit much attention.
Even while women devour the Twilight books and flock to the recent release of Breaking Dawn 2 most revile the series’ heroine Bella Swan. The savvy modern woman prefers the vampire-slaying Buffy Summers. As a fan of both the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight franchises, I think that we have this partially backward and that the Buffy v. Bella arguments common on the web underscore dangerous assumptions about women. Feminists have co-opted Buffy and the female superheroes for the gender wars in order to perpetuate their illusion of no differences between men and women.
Conventional wisdom tells us that women can do anything men can. With rare exception owing to strength or stature, this is true. But we don’t always want to do what men do, and even if and when we do we have to account for our biology. Sometimes it is the strength and stature deficit, sometimes it is our heavier role in reproduction. The feminist intelligentsia thinks this unfair, so, couching their advice in terms of equality, they tell us to ignore biology. Accordingly, the female heroes who we admire today are the ones who work around reality.
It is great that we have heroes who happen to be women, but we mistake them as role models for womanhood. Five pop culture heroines to illustrate my point:
5. Hermione Granger, The Maligned Hero
Hermione helps Harry Potter figure out how to defeat the evil wizard Voldemort and, at great personal sacrifice, she accompanies Harry on his final quest.
As a role model for womanhood she is the best of this list. She shouldn’t even appear but for what we like about her. The oft-cited favorite Hermione part in the movies: when she punches Draco Malfoy.
Over eight films loaded with powerful women defying evil—Luna Lovegood, Molly Weasley, Lily Potter, Narcissa Malfoy—that inconsequential punch makes number six of the 50 greatest moments. What was a slap in the book was rewritten as the crowd-pleasing punch because we like it when a woman acts like a man, which is ironic considering the next most overrated heroine, Wonder Woman.
Bridget Jones will write a third diary for a movie. This diary will start 13 years after Bridget Jones, The Edge of Reason. The Telegraph speculates about what this fortysomething diary might involve:
In the first diary, Bridget was in her thirties, so the new material should make her in at least her late forties. We can only speculate then how Bridget’s new diary – or more likely blog – would start: Inappropriate tweets 10, followers 95 (down five following yesterday’s said inappropriateness), hours wasted on match.com 7. 2012′s Bridget would surely be an avid Internet dater, going after the younger men. She’d be sniping about ex-boyfriends – perhaps ex-husbands – not over cocktails, but on Facebook, and debating the trials of parenthood on a Mumsnet forum. Yep, Fielding can have a lot of fun with 4G-enabled Bridget, but you can bet the bits that will stay the same.
Sally Newell has good instincts. While the naive antics and mishaps of this ditzy single woman in her thirties entertained in part because she was only a little bit pathetic, if fortysomething Bridget still hasn’t gotten her act together, then there will be no entertainment, just pity. But Newell’s conclusion caught my eye. Bridget Jones first appeared in a running column in The Independent in 1995. From one of those first columns:
Bridget’s friend Jude said: “We women are only vulnerable because we are a pioneer generation. In 20 years’ time, men won’t even dare start with F***wittage because we will just laugh in their faces.”
Well, here we are, almost 20 years on, and according to the dispatches from the hook up culture, men regularly dare to start not with just sex wittage but straight up propositions. Women don’t laugh at them but sleep with them. Women are still vulnerable, but you are a patronizing jerk if you say so. And according to the feminist orthodoxy, this is progress.
On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of 1918, the guns of Europe fell silent. We in the US know of November 11th as Veterans’ Day, a holiday to honor those who have served in our military forces.
Sadly, the day isn’t thought of much outside the military. The President lays a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. As it is not usually a day off of work, most department stores don’t even bother with announcing a sale. A news story about Obama’s plans for Veterans’ Day 2011 sums up the lack of gravitas our culture gives to the day. After quoting the news release that Obama would attend the ceremonies at Arlington and then fly to San Diego to watch a football game with the crew of the USS Carl Vinson, the report concluded:
Will you be tuning in to watch the historic event? If nothing else it will be cool to watch a game on a war machine that can literally wipe out an entire city.
I didn’t know much about Veterans’ Day until we moved to London. From the beginning of November to the 11th or the second Sunday, Remberance Sunday, people wear commemorative poppies on their lapels. The British Legion sells the pins as a fund raiser for wounded veterans. (The American Legion does as well, but on a small scale.) On both days, people observe a moment of silence at 11 am. Why two days? During WWII, the moment of silence was moved to the closest Sunday so as not to interfere with wartime production. After WWII ended, the double observance remained, perhaps as a reminder as to why the ceremony had to move.
PJ Lifestyle is quiet today. We have a grim, nauseous writers block, at least for light pieces. Today we reassess, adjust. I took a walk to clear my head. I’ve been writing about The Killers, so had most of their album in my ‘recently played’ playlist. I had planned a short post at my place about the patriotic anthem, “Battle Born,” but after yesterday I find the song holds more fire than I thought. Whether you like the sound of indie rock or not, read the lyrics:
You lost faith in the human spirit
You walk around like a ghost
Your star-spangled heart
Took a train for the coast
When you shine you’re a hilltop mansion
So how’d you lose the light?
Was it blown by the wind
In the still of the night?
I always saw you as a kind of keeper
A mother to a child
But your boys have grown soft
And your girls have gone wild
From the Blue Ridge to the Black Hills
To the Redwood sky
The season may pass
But the dream doesn’t die
Now don’t you drop the ball
Up against the wall
There’s something dying on the street
When they knock you down
You’re gonna get back on your feet
Cause you can’t stop now
When they break your heart
When they cause your soul to mourn
Remember what I said
Boy, you was battle born
When the night falls on the land
Are you haunted by the sound?
It’s gonna take more than a hand
To turn this thing around
Won’t you lean it on me?
Rescue, set me free
Up against the wall
There’s something dying on the street
When they knock you down
You’re gonna get back on your feet
Cause you can’t stop now
Did they break your heart?
And did they cause your soul to mourn?
Remember what I said
Boy, you was battle born
Cause you can’t stop now
Come on show your face
Come on give us one more spark
Sing a song of fire
Lest we fall into the dark
Cause you can’t stop now
In a recent interview in Sweden, Brandon Flowers, frontman for the band The Killers was ambushed about his faith. Flowers has been dragged into religious or political discussions in the past because he is a Mormon. Now, with fellow Mormon Mitt Romney running for President, interviews with The Killers often focus on religion and politics and occasionally discuss the music.
This time, Flowers was on Skavlan to promote The Killer’s recent album Battle Born. After a few cursory questions about the album, the lead interviewer (it looks like a panel discussion show) started asking Flowers about religion and politics. As one of the panelists put it, people don’t expect to find a religious person fronting a popular rock band and “wearing a leather jacket.” That this might be the result of narrow-minded stereotyping of Christians on her part does not seem to occur to the woman. Flowers dealt with the questions well, explaining that he understands the interest. This is all rather typical for a Brandon Flowers or The Killers interview, but this time, it was just the setup.
Both the Lady Parts and Periods items were pulled within hours of posting, and Julia had launched quite a backlash meme, so one might think that the Obama campaign would be cautious about patronizing women again.
Alas, no. The Obama campaign has plenty more patronizing to do, this time in a plucky commercial. Thursday afternoon the Obama campaign released this spot, “Your First Time.”
In case you are not familiar with the young woman telling voting virgins to have their first time be with Barack Obama, that is Lena Dunham, creator and star of HBO’s Girls. It is Sex in the City for millennials — all the sex and the single girl drama but without the cushy jobs to support the Manolo Blahnik fetishes.
This week Tom Wolfe, iconic American author in the white suit, reenters our cultural scene with his new book, Back to Blood. His return at the same time as Camille Paglia is a happy coincidence. Two of our sharpest culture critics both think that art and literature should mean something. (As they are both atheists, they need art to mean something, but that is one of Paglia’s arguments and so I will address it in my Glittering Images review, hopefully later this month.) Established fans of Wolfe know of his reputation as a cultural critic, but for younger readers for whom Back to Blood is their first knowledge of the author, a brief introduction to Wolfe’s massive influence:
Wolfe started out writing news as stories. He used a narrative, historical fiction style but, since he wrote on current events, he could interview the players and observe the events rather than creatively fill in gaps in the historical record. His first books were news stories about cultural phenomenon such as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test about the hippie culture and The Right Stuff on NASA culture. He expected that those true stories would inspire related fiction. They didn’t.
So in 1987 he penned an explosive essay for Harpers, “Stalking the Billion Footed Beast.” He argued that if modern American authors insisted on writing novels about nothing, then they would cede American literature to realist authors like himself. His first fiction novel, Bonfire of the Vanities, was his proof. A story about wild New York City financial life in the ’80s, Bonfire was a fabulous success. By the time he published his next novel, A Man in Full, the old guard authors were annoyed — and ready to strike back.
Last night, Obama supporters again proved that they will hear what they want to hear. As the “binders full of women” comment gave Democratic women a hook for their assumption that Romney is bad for women in government, Obama’s comment about horses and bayonets launched an instant meme in which his supporters see what they want to see. This time, however, they are making fools of themselves.
If you were watching football or anything enjoyable last night, Romney was talking about the importance of maintaining our forces and lamented that we now had the smallest navy since 1916. Obama countered that Romney didn’t know much about the military, that this wasn’t a game of Battleship, that we had more than horses and bayonets these days. The left saw this as a zinger. Tweets about the obsoleteness of bayonets and horses started to flow. The left relished the idea that they were more military savvy than Romney. Alas, they were mistaken.
We still use bayonets. And horses. Remember when it seemed to take forever before we went into Afghanistan after 9/11? Special Forces had already gone in—on horseback—to ID and paint the targets for our attack. There is a lovely memorial going in at Ground Zero to commemorate these heroes. Bayonets can be seen in stock photos of the Tomb of the Unknown Solider and in the Few, The Proud, The Marines commercials. In Great Britain one can still earn medals for proper use of a bayonet. (h/t @tobyharnden) In contention for the best comment of the night started by a mother of 2 Marines to Mona Charen: “Ambassador Stevens would have loved a horse or a bayonet or a Marine with either one.”
Obama was probably trying to say that in the modern era the number of ships isn’t as important as the kind of ships. If Obama hadn’t been aiming for a petty zinger, he might have been able to articulate that point. He didn’t, and his supporters ran with the horses and bayonets meme which exposes them as not only ignorant, but willfully ignorant of the military.
Throughout this election cycle, ever since that Halftime in America commercial during the Super Bowl, I have worried about how much people, especially women, want to vote for Obama despite their disappointment. They want to believe him. They want to have hope. And they certainly don’t want to be lumped in with those cruel-hearted women of the Right. Giving up on Obama is a potential political Dark Night of the Soul.
In their resistance, I’ve seen and heard much twisted reasoning in the past months. They look for any ray of light in Obama’s abstract musings. They recoil from any concrete good done by Romney. So it is with the “binders full of women” meme. They are punning to avoid a positive fact about Romney: he has a standout record of seeking and appointing women to his Massachusetts administration.
To illustrate: if Romney had said “stacks of applications from women,” there would be no meme. The press and defensive women, afraid of the polling data that women are breaking for Romney, have seized upon the omission of the word “application” and the connotations of “binder”—not just the plastic-ringed notebook but also the notion of restraining—to pretend that a Romney administration bodes ill for women in government.
In truth, the binder meme says the opposite. Romney’s choice of words illustrates a concrete memory. He remembers someone bringing him a binder full of applications from women. Romney went through that binder and appointed many of those women to office. It all happened. It is all part of his record. Not only does he remember the physical binder, but he also remembers the women, not merely the applications on paper. But for silly wordplay, we would be talking about Romney’s impressive record for women in government.
Of course, if we did that, then we might need to talk about Obama’s history of women in government, and that’s complicated. Obama answered Romney’s memory of appointing women to his administration with an abstract and off-point thought about his future hopes for his daughters: may they have the same opportunities as men. Obama often answers in abstracts because the facts are not in his favor. Obama’s record with women in his administration is dark and murky. Just this week, he threw Hillary Clinton under the bus as damage control for the debacle in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack. Last summer, in Ron Suskind’s book Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President, Obama faced criticism that his administration was a hostile work environment for women. When the book came out, the women who were quoted accusing the administration claimed that they were misquoted, and women’s groups, usually quick to pounce upon any allegations of hostile work environment, refused to comment.
Women of the left are so well-trained by the conventional wisdom that they reflexively reject promising evidence on the right and prop up weak evidence on the left. They will believe what they want to believe, regardless of the evidence. Hopefully independent women are more astute.
The quality of discourse for women today is poor. The many and varied reasons for this will make a post for another day, but for the moment, note that the Mommy Wars and hookup culture discussions might be heartfelt but rarely resolve anything.
Notable recent examples of unproductive chattering: Naomi Wolf has created a new range of vagina puns with her anecdotal account of her technicolor orgasms in her latest book Vagina. The Life of Julia is a left-looking faceless cartoon claiming that women need government to take care of them. (I linked to Iowahawk’s parody because the original is too depressing.) Hanna Rosin seeks to convince us that replacing domineering men with domineering women amounts to positive progress. And a fan fiction author addicted to “shouty capitals,” E.L. James, captured the imagination of women across the English-speaking world with a poor specimen of a bondage novel that has since spun off a line of sex toys with little Fifty Shades of Grey logo tags. (British comment threads are always informative. Why pay for trademarked logo pleasure balls when limes work just as well?)
Missing has been someone to show how absurd this all is. We, the most privileged and independent women in history, find those discussions compelling? Sure, the Right has been pointing out the absurdities in such discussions for a while, but we are written off as the bigoted and biased Other. Feminist thought needs some honest criticism from the inside.
Re-enter Camille Paglia, the “pro-sex, pro-porn, pro-art, pro-beauty, pro-pop” sixties feminist and heavily published art and culture critic, quiet for the past few years while writing her latest book due out on October 16th, Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars. Our debates suffered from her absence.
After Hanna Rosin’s glowing praise for promiscuity in her new book The End of Men, articles about the hookup culture are popping up all over the web. Is it really good for women? Do they actually like it? Is replacing forward men with on-the-prowl women really progress?
Intentional or not, many of this summer’s pop rock music releases offer songs about the truth and consequences of the hookup culture. Three of these artists in particular boldly sing about love; as products of their generations, their songs can teach us about the hookup culture. The early songs of Alanis Morissette, P!nk, and Katy Perry provide a window into how these ideas progressed from Gen X women to Millennial women. The rockers’ latest works (Alanis’ havoc and bright lights, P!nk’s The Truth About Love, and Perry’s “Wide Awake”) are about how they are coping, or not, with marriage and, in the case of Alanis and P!nk, motherhood. What truths about love and happiness do their songs tell us?
The results are counterintuitive for the Rosin types who think that the hookup culture empowers women. Surely the eyes-wide-open, independent Millennial Perry is the one who has it all together? According to her songs, she is not. The truth-teller P!nk, perhaps? She is holding together if only because she hates goodbyes. No, it is angry Alanis who seems to have found peace in spite of all the havoc and bright lights. And her relative lack of experience with the hookup culture can explain why.
In yesterday’s Daily Briefing about the dreadful media coverage of the attacks in Benghazi, Erick Erickson coined the term “conventional wisdom machine” to describe the mainstream media. The conventional wisdom machine efficiently turns out flimsy facts, sometimes with a flourish.
Vying for a spot on the list of the top 10 most ill-timed political stories, on September 12, 2012, First Lady Michelle Obama appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, and when he posited, “The greatest threat to national security that we have is obesity,” she said, “Absolutely.” Yes, on the day after the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, when we awoke to learn of our Libyan ambassador’s murder and embassies burning, both reminding us that we continue to face dire national security threats, the first lady appeared on television declaring body fat our #1 concern.
What threat did the first lady imagine? Obese people aren’t accepted into the military. True, insufficient military personnel threatens national security, but the size of our military force means nothing if we do not send them to the right place. It was just such an egregious error that cost Ambassador Stevens his life the previous day.
In addition, the interview contained some inappropriate elements. While the administration twists itself into knots not to offend Islam, the interview is titled “First Lady Michelle Obama’s Health Crusade.” And for a final flourish of cluelessness, Mrs. Obama taught Dr. Oz how to “Dougie,” which, according to the lyrics of the song, is a dance meant to blow off mean “niggas” and attract hook-ups with “bitches.”
Any single one of those items would be cause enough for raised eyebrows. Taken together, they are dumbfounding. And they all come before the substance of the interview, an obesity epidemic. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, we don’t have one.