Culture

How to Overcome the Looming Feminist Collapse

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banner on May 18, 2013, in Warsaw, Poland at a “Slut walk.”

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.The Bush Center Women's Initiative

So what do we do?  We lead by example. For oppression and abuse of women internationally, we just get to work. In fact we already are at work, it just isn’t well publicized, possibly because the effort involves women like Former First Lady Laura Bush, not exactly the type of woman with whom declared feminists are willing to associate.

With more publicity and more involvement, then women who want to see more global outreach might stop wasting time looking to feminists to act, and might start joining us to act. The Bush Center Women’s Initiative is a good place to start.

But we need change at home too. I was troubled to see some comments on my original post wondering why we should care about feminism’s woes. Feminism, the term, or the Marxist influences hidden inside it, true, those will not be missed by the right. But despite its modern reputation as a leftist faction, most modern women’s lives are guided by feminism. As Danielle Crittenden explained in her 1999 book, What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us:

Few of these students had read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique or other feminist classics. Only a handful had joined the campus women’s groups. It didn’t matter. Their generation had provided the laboratory mice for the social experiments of the past twenty-five years. They had grown up with working mothers, day care, and no-fault divorce. Their primary school textbooks were illustrated with little girls flying planes and little boys mopping the floors. They took coed classes in shop and metalworking instead of home economics. They’d participated in frank discussions about birth control and sexuality with their grade-school teachers. Their developing intellects had been bombarded by feminist cultural messages: the proudly menstruating heroines of Judy Blume novels, the supportive articles about single mothers in the lifestyle sections of newspapers, the applause on daytime talk shows for women who divorce their husbands in order to “realize themselves.” The students I interviewed had neither adopted nor rejected feminism. Rather, it had seeped into their minds like intravenous saline into the arm of an unconscious patient. They were feminists without knowing it.

Crittenden was right, as are the feminists who complain that the women who shun the label are really feminists. The lives of modern women are built upon feminist ideas. As feminism collapses, we need to worry about what comes after.

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Some of us got pushed out or left the feminist fold and got on with life. But for the women who thought, who hoped, the movement worthy to follow, as it crumbles, they seek. What do they find?

I know what they want to find. They want to find that whole life, one without assumptions artificially limiting what women can do and without assumptions relentlessly pushing women to do everything. And as a relative matter, excepting perhaps some lingering cultural housewife self-consciousness and assumptions of incompetent men, women of the right—the women shunned by feminists—we have figured out how to do this whole life largely by ignoring modern feminist advice. Yet we tend to leave others to try to figure it out.

Back in the summer as the #solidarityisforwhitewomen meme gained momentum, a demographic of minority women was screaming at their feminist minders in complete exasperation. How many of us reached out to them?  If they happened to search for fresh ideas, did they find them or I-told-you-so’s?

Abroad we need action. At home we need to bury the hatchet.

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images courtesy Tomasz Bidermann / swissmacky / Shutterstock.com