I’m really tired of hearing about Electra. And individualism.

3 Oct

Where in the samhill have I been? Sorry, y’all. I have excuses, but posting them would be both narcissistic and boring, and I’ve got other things I want to talk about.

Whilst enduring a flight from Portland to Atlanta last week, I decided to read this month’s issue of Harper’s rather than watch the same three episodes of The Office that Delta has been playing on their flights for the last three months, an issue that included an article by Susan Faludi entitled “American Electra: Feminism’s Ritual Matricide.” How could I resist, right? A cover story in a tweed brigade northeastern intellectual rag intimating that young feminists — in accordance with the boring old trope derived from the progenitors of classical western misogyny — are literally (OK, fine, figuratively) killing old feminists, which explains what the (weighty pause followed by the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) Problem with the Feminist Movement is. Not only was I going to read the shit out of that, but I even got a pen out to take notes. I mean, there might be a letter to the editor in there somewhere, might there not?

I didn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that Faludi had accepted a position as the shoeshine girl of the mainstream media establishment that she had eviscerated in Backlash, but I will admit that I did start skipping in that direction. How could I not? From the title alone, I surmised that I was about to read another tired rehashing of the same old bullshit line: there’s a fundamental and inherent flaw in the feminist movement, and that flaw is women, whose very nature requires that they scratch each others’ eyes out and steal each others’ boyfriends and precludes them from accomplishing anything other than inspiring the coining of the term “fashionista.”

Well, it wasn’t quite that bad, but there were some pretty serious problems.

Faludi starts out illustrating the misunderstandings between Second and Third Wave feminists and the ways in which those misunderstandings undermine the cohesion of “the feminist movement” (whatever that is), then extrapolates the purported generational rift that characterizes the contemporary world of feminism back to previous eras. To sum it up, the First Wave earned women the right to vote, and the consumerism of the 1920s created a generation of frivolous, ungrateful young women who rejected their mothers’ idealism in favor of a new image of womanhood that advertisers had sold them. Cigarettes and mass-produced flapper fashion came to replace the ballot as the symbols of women’s freedom, and the feminist movement had been neutered by the power elite, whether intentionally or not. Then came the Second Wave, in which young feminists expressed hatred for their mothers and the stifling brand of conformist femininity they represented. Finally, we have the current round of matricide, in which Third Wavers are waxing poetic about pube waxing while pronouncing Second Wavers and their methods and ideas irrelevant in the age of the iPod.

It’s a tidy little picture, and it works well with a sleek and misogynistic cliche like the ol’ Electra parable. The problem, as is always the case with these attempts to misrepresent feminism in order to sell magazines, is reality.

The first problem is that the argument isn’t actually all that smooth, which I suspect might be the result of the fact that Faludi herself doesn’t truly believe that feminism as a movement is fucked and that it’s fucked because women hate their mothers. Faludi’s sympathies clearly lie with the Clytemnestras in her formulation, or at least with the First Wave and Second Wave Clytemnestras, but there seems to be a giant break in her cyclical progression of ritual matricide; the daughters of the First Wavers, having been duped by Edward Bernays and his disciples into believing that projecting an image of liberation by means of Lucky Strike cigarettes was good enough, eschewed further substantial feminist agitation and shat all over their mothers’ dreams, and then we jump to the current Second vs. Third Wave throwdown, in which the younger generation’s narcissism and consumerism has destroyed the unity and potential of their mothers’ movement. The picture, a few quotes from Second Wavers about hating their mothers notwithstanding, looks more like a parallel with a two-generation gap than a steady progression of generations of matricidal women. First of all, who were the Clytemnestras to the Second Wave Electras? Stereotypical 50s housewives? I thought this was a story about inter-generational squabbling within the feminist movement, but Faludi doesn’t make a single reference to the existence of feminism between the 20s and the 60s*, which is a major problem. If I’m to give any credence to a historical argument, the person making the argument needs to know something about history. She could have easily made the argument that Second Wavers jettisoned the difference-based ideology of labor feminists in favor of smashing gender roles and achieving equal legal protection for women (or at least some of them did), but I don’t know whether she even knows those labor feminists existed.

The second problem, provided that we look only at the two generational conflicts that Faludi presents as parallels, is that young women in both instances come off as lazy inheritors of a legacy they don’t deserve or make the most of. I’ve obviously got mixed feelings on the Second/Third Wave issue, being that I’m a 33-year-old radical anti-porn feminist whose activism has, until recently, consisted of writing blog posts under a pseudonym, but I do take issue with that characterization, if only on behalf of other young feminists I know, who do an awful lot more actual (as opposed to virtual) stomping around and kicking ass in the name of women’s liberation than they’re given credit for. But anyway, it’s 2010. Does anyone pay attention to groups of people in public with signs? Isn’t making use of modern communication media a more effective means by which to raise awareness of an issue? Tactics evolve with movements, and the internet has allowed more and more women to join the discussion when they might otherwise have been excluded. Until young women quit volunteering their time to support causes that they believe in, let’s quit giving them shit for writing about women’s issues on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, huh?

We’ve got a third problem: why are we always trying to figure out what’s wrong with the feminist movement? At what point will there not be something wrong with the feminist movement? When every single person who uses the word “feminist” agrees on every single issue that affects every single woman? Sorry, but that shit ain’t coming any time soon, and when it does we’ll know that the movement has been taken over by men. What is constructive about pontificating on the failings of feminism? Does it teach us how to move forward? Faludi’s piece ends on an extremely bleak note, with a professor of Women’s Studies lugubriously recounting her program being cut as a result of the fact that young women just couldn’t be bothered to learn about anything other than Lady Gaga and exclusionary Judith Butler-esque abstractions that take the focus off of real women’s lives and allow privileged, narcissistic brats to feel superior in their ability to understand what the fuck is even being discussed. I understand her concern, I truly do, but that ain’t all there is out there, and Faludi comes dangerously close to doing what she accuses the mainstream media of having done throughout the course of the history of the women’s movement: pronouncing feminism dead. Constructive criticism is one thing, but sounding the death-knell for the feminist movement and blaming it on some threadbare trope from gynophobic folklore is quite another thing for a feminist to do.

I’ve got some constructive criticism: feminist writers ought to focus on the ideas they have that are actually interesting and insightful and express them honestly rather than forcing them into a mold that will be acceptable to a bunch of old crotchety sexists who someone has mistakenly anointed the arbiters of intellectual rigorousness. I know we all have to make a living, but let’s at least try not to sell out that hard. And I say that honestly, because Faludi touched upon something far more interesting, important, and potentially revolutionary than the ridiculous Electra complex style device: the role of marketing and advertising in the co-optation and attempted destruction of feminism. It’s no surprise that she detects increasing danger in the attempts of marketers to repackage and neuter feminism, and it’s no surprise that she sees these attempts increasing in intensity in direct response to the threat posed by the progress women have made in society (she did write Backlash and all). She’s right. But how about we place the blame for that where it belongs rather than with women themselves? I realize that such an approach makes me sound like an arrogant dick who thinks she’s the only one who “sees through the bullshit” while calling young feminists in the 1920s and the 2000s dupes of the highest order, but I’m not writing this post from Jupiter a thousand years from now. I’m a dupe, too. We’re all dupes (and I mean all of us, not just women and/or feminists), and we need to face it or we’re fucked.

But what does it even mean to be a consumerist sap? What makes us susceptible to buying into watered-down commodified versions of feminism? Why and how do the powers that be rip us off and then sell our own ideas back to our kids (or little sisters) in an adulterated form? It seems to me that the cycle is fairly consistent, at least with regard to consumerist “democratic” societies since the 1920s (things tend to work out serendipitously for the power elite, I know): a group of people gets tired of being shat upon and makes their presence known, the people who sell us things freak out and worry that these people represent a threat to their continued existence and dominance, they then calm down and try to figure out how to sell things to these people, they put all their resources into analyzing and manipulating this new target market, it starts to work because buying products is far easier than sustaining a revolutionary movement over the course of years or even decades, and then the power elite regain their grip on things until the next upheaval comes to pass. (Of course, you have to believe that under capitalism the interests of government and the capitalist class dovetail in order for this to ring true, but if you don’t believe that, you should probably not be reading this blog.)

That’s where I agree with Faludi’s analysis: consumerist co-optation of feminism has become ever more insidious and effective over the course of the past half century or so. But I don’t believe the outlook is so dismal. Maybe it’s because I’m young (we’re optimists!), maybe it’s because I’m a radical (we’re idealists!), maybe it’s because I’m a fool (most likely), but I think I may have found a nugget of the solution in Faludi’s piece.

The problem is the obsession with the concept of individualism, and if we can either temper our desire to be “individuals” or find a way to actually be individuals, we may just be alright. Group movements, posing the huge threat that they did to the status quo, provoked too much retribution in the late 60s and early 70s to survive, and people turned inward, hoping that they’d foment a gradual revolution by revolutionizing themselves. Self-actualization and self-realization took the place of group action and unity, and the power elite took note of that turn and exploited it. Republican politicians encouraged identity politics and the division of the working class and along racial** and gender lines, capitalists found ways to market “lifestyles” in order to help people create and maintain the illusion of their own new-found individuality, and selfishness and self-absorption triumphed over cooperation and empathy as the world (and especially the US) made the transition from the fairly radical liberal consensus that characterized the 30s through the 60s to the conservative consensus that has dominated our lives and political culture since at least the late 70s***. Individualism has, of course, always been a part of our political culture and our foundational sense of who we are here in the US, but the fragmented, mistrustful, and generally selfish tenor of American society in the last three decades is a direct result of the purposeful manipulation of that concept by politicians and corporations in their continued effort to get greater control over and to better be able to predict our behavior as voters (subjects) and consumers****. And just think about the billions of dollars that have been made by opportunists who have capitalized on our belief that we are all special little snowflakes and that we need to express our uniqueness to the world in order to be understood by other “individuals” that, if the cult of individualism has any internal logic, have no hope of ever doing so. We’re being divided and conquered, my friends. And duped. Marketers have convinced us all that we’re discreet units, complete individuals, totally alone and unique, which precludes us getting any of our needs met by anything other than consumerism. That was at work in the 20s, but it’s been so successful since the 80s that even the attempts at thinking of “women as a class” that characterize Second Wave and Marxist feminism have been lost to “my experience.” *****

There has probably never been a bigger threat to the foundation of our social hierarchy than the specter of women’s liberation from patriarchy and the misappropriation of our labor under capitalism. It stands to reason, then, that those with capitalistic or patriarchal leanings would put their back into sucking the qi out of any movement that posed that threat, and that they’d do it the same way they always have: by doing their best to dupe us into taking the easy way out and buying symbols of our liberation rather than sustaining the fight to actually win it. Feminism became yet another lifestyle that could be marketed to women as a means to express their individuality and power. So we got a bill of goods in place of anything substantial: Virginia Slims, shoulder pads, Playgirl, and the Pill. We got the opportunity to act like men for a price, and then the phallocrats got to blame the fact that such a facsimile of equality didn’t make us happy on feminism rather than on the fact that what we were buying was an empty package that claimed to contain personal liberation.******

That process of co-optation and chicanery has continued apace, and recognizing that and moving away from it might be the key to the future of the feminist movement, if it is decided that there needs to be one. I obviously do believe we need a feminist movement and that it’s possible for one to exist without any matricide or filicide, but you can’t work to ameliorate the conditions of women as a class if you can’t conceive of yourself as part of a class called “women” and can’t conceive of the word “feminism” without “my” preceding it.

* See Dorothy Sue Cobble, The Other Women’s Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America; Kate Weigand, Red Feminism: American Communism and the Making of Women’s Liberation; and Daniel Horowitz, Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique: The American Left, The Cold War, and Modern Feminism.

** See Hugh Davis Graham, Collision Course: The Strange Convergence of Affirmative Action and Immigration Policy in America; John David Skrentny, The Ironies of Affirmative Action: Politics, Culture, and Justice in America; and Skrentny, The Minority Rights Revolution.

*** See David Vogel, Fluctuating Fortunes: The Political Power of Business in America.

**** See Lizbeth Cohen, A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America.

***** This paragraph is the result of a combination several years of  school and a recent viewing of The Century of the Self, a super rad BBC documentary series.

****** See Susan Faludi, Backlash.

40 Responses to “I’m really tired of hearing about Electra. And individualism.”

  1. Rachael October 3, 2010 at 9:45 PM #

    Wow. I can’t really think of anything to say here except, Well done. And, good to have you back.

    And yay! A reading list!

  2. GXB October 3, 2010 at 11:08 PM #

    I had a comment but as I was editing, I realized it looked more and more like Rachael’s.

  3. berryblade October 4, 2010 at 1:58 AM #

    Yay Nine Deuce is back and on the loose! Loving the new green green GREEN layout by the way :)

    Fauldi writing for Bazaar? Holy crap.

    I’m kind of curious how she could fail to mention de Beauviour, seeing as she was writing between the 20′s and 60′s?

    Until young women quit volunteering their time to support causes that they believe in, let’s quit giving them shit for writing about women’s issues on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, huh?

    Agreed, for some young womyn and girls, communicating online is the ONLY way they know about getting their messages out there. Whether it’s wilful ignorance or not isn’t the point, I’d say even if they’re un-informed and making a dogs breakfast out of it, hey, (some) kudos for them for having the high balls to get their ideas out their in the first place.

    • Nine Deuce October 4, 2010 at 10:32 AM #

      Berryblade – It wasn’t Bazaar. There’s a fairly intellectual magazine here called Harper’s.

  4. Rainbow Riot October 4, 2010 at 2:46 AM #

    YES. Being a special snowflake may make people feel “good” (for awhile) but it doesn’t lead to true freedom or happiness. There needs to be a balance between healthy individualism (as in, “I am me. I exist outside of other people to an extent. Yay?) and social consciousness/awareness (as in, “Other people exist, too. Maybe I should care about them, because we rely on eachother and stuff. Wow, this is like, altruism. Yay!)

    I agree that the consumerist mentality is poison to any real feminism. But oh no! Capitalism is totally awesome all the time and let’s all suck dick for our right to suck dick, because this is AMERICA. WOOHOO FREEDOM!!! BUY A POLE DANCING KIT! It’s nauseating.

    My question is, how do we go about making it clear that “true” feminism is not dead? Write more blogs exposing the pornstitution industry? Tweet more about the social construct of gender? How much of a thought and media riot do we have to produce to spark a change? Is it even possible, or desirable?

  5. Mary Tracy October 4, 2010 at 7:29 AM #

    Wow. Just wow. What an amazing post. I couldn’t agree more. I too am tired of this pesimistic view of young women as ungrateful, self obsessed bitches who can’t appreciate their foremothers’ work and are therefore doomed to never be truly free. Feminism doesn’t have a monopoly over giving up the fight before it’s been won. Nowadays you don’t see many people, much less young adults, going on strikes and demanding better working conditions, but nobody goes around saying that young people can’t appreciate all these nice worker’s rights that they get to enjoy and, by the way, it’s only a matter of time before they are taken away. The newer generations are no more engaged in labour struggle than they are in feminism, yet feminism is picked on but the labour movement isn’t.

    And I second the feeling: so good to have you back.

  6. skeptifem October 4, 2010 at 10:21 AM #

    Wow, this is “Best of Nine Deuce” material, for sure.

  7. Danielle Meitiv October 4, 2010 at 10:25 AM #

    I stumbled upon your website while looking for responses to Faludi’s article. Thanks for giving me something completely different, and way more relevant to think about. Fabulous!

  8. joy October 4, 2010 at 10:37 AM #

    “the feminist movement had been neutered by the power elite, whether intentionally or not.”

    Ain’t that exactly it? Your summary of this process is pretty awesomely articulated.

    “Tactics evolve with movements”

    Heh, I dunno, have you been to an anarchist protest lately? Like, one with a black bloc? The manarchists haven’t changed their tactics since The Battle For Seattle, and they wonder why they consistently fail to do anything but get arrested.

    Maybe they’ve been subjected to the same capitalistic/individualistic forces, except they claim to hate the internet as a tool of exclusively capitalist evil in order to maintain their sense of superiority.

    “What is constructive about pontificating on the failings of feminism? Does it teach us how to move forward?”

    It pleases the patriarchy. That’s about it.

    “feminist writers ought to focus on the ideas they have that are actually interesting and insightful and express them honestly rather than forcing them into a mold that will be acceptable to a bunch of old crotchety sexists”

    A freaking men. Let’s kill capitalism so that no one ever has to decide between pleasing The Man and making a living, again.

    “buying products is far easier than sustaining a revolutionary movement over the course of years or even decades”

    I want this on all my business cards. Just kidding, I don’t have business cards.

    “people turned inward, hoping that they’d foment a gradual revolution by revolutionizing themselves”

    I struggle with this one, myself. I can’t seem to find enough other people in real life who are anticapitalist, truly antisexist, antiracist, etc.

    But I refuse to sell out. So I remain in my little separatist radical bubble and hold out for other people awesome enough to join me in the revolution.

    “the phallocrats got to blame the fact that such a facsimile of equality didn’t make us happy on feminism rather than on the fact that what we were buying was an empty package that claimed to contain personal liberation.”

    Shit. Honestly — this makes way more sense than any other summary of the phenomenon that I’ve seen.

  9. cub October 4, 2010 at 10:40 AM #

    that same 20s-60s historical gap is what is usually missing in the history books for black civil rights as well– and you called it, it was a big oppressive boot on the face of anyone who could be intimidated with the threat of being called a RED.

    here’s a buch of stuff you already know, but i feel compelled to type it out:

    women aren’t like any other group until we become literal separatists; then that theoretical Lesbos becomes our Israel, our Promised Land, our Motherland.

    while we dwell within the patriarchy we are forever divided, thus conquered. no wonder the sale of “individuality” is so appealing– when the mind is colonized by a patriarchal regime, the only escape is… escapism!

    woman is a portable penal colony for she is brainwashed into diaspora from her Motherland and submission to the Father. a car in every garage, a chicken in every pot, and a woman of your very own– commodities promised by the capitalist dream to the universal man– are how we must see ourselves through their eyes.

    deprogramming of the highest order is required to undo these wrongs, but i somehow don’t imagine the proselytism of good, old-fashioned consciousness-raising meetings happening anywhere soon.

    on the other hand, if you’ve got something cooking on that tack, i’ll put the word out.

    fight.the.power.

  10. factcheckme October 4, 2010 at 11:41 AM #

    i have been reading and posting about sheila jeffreys “the spinster and her enemies” over at my place, so for what its worth, i can add to the historical piece a bit. regarding the first wave, it apparently got to the point of being PIV-critical, and imagining a heterosexual sexuality that didnt include PIV and its attendant harms and sacrifices for women…and then male sexologists created “lesbian” as a deviant sexual category. and THAT marked the end of the movement.

    the second wave came to an end (i guess?) with the so-called “sexual revolution” which was seen as the solution for women by many people, and that feminism was therefore not needed. BUT. it also marked the end of (surprise!) anyone legitimately being PIV critical anymore, since the only “””harms””” (yes thats three sets of quotes) to women of PIV and dangerous male sexuality can be solved by taking a pill that can kill you. oh, okay! problem solved then.

    none of this was womens fault, and it had nothing to do with matricide. both times, it had everything to do with PIV, and legitimizing PIV, and stomping out and literally erasing anything PIV-critical.

    its not really a surprise i guess that the new wave is PIV-positive, is it? i mean really. its a legitimate survival tactic now, and not just for women as a class, or individually. PIV-criticism has been the death of the movement, twice. and not surprisingly, teh menz seem more OK with the third wave. DUH.

    and not that i believe that feminism is “dead” either. i dont. the new wave is just kind of bypassing the inevitable swirling sawblades at the end of that tunnel (or whatever) but in doing so, are kind of missing the entire point! and they dont even know they are doing it, or HOW or WHY the first 2 waves ultimately ended, or ended up. it pisses me off, and yes i think that “teh young people” are inexperienced and arrogant, and should get with the program a bit. but thats what old people always say about young people. thats probably because its always true.

    glad to see this today ND.

  11. joy October 4, 2010 at 12:09 PM #

    “women aren’t like any other group until we become literal separatists; then that theoretical Lesbos becomes our Israel, our Promised Land, our Motherland.

    while we dwell within the patriarchy we are forever divided, thus conquered. no wonder the sale of “individuality” is so appealing– when the mind is colonized by a patriarchal regime, the only escape is… escapism!

    woman is a portable penal colony for she is brainwashed into diaspora from her Motherland and submission to the Father. a car in every garage, a chicken in every pot, and a woman of your very own– commodities promised by the capitalist dream to the universal man– are how we must see ourselves through their eyes.

    deprogramming of the highest order is required to undo these wrongs, but i somehow don’t imagine the proselytism of good, old-fashioned consciousness-raising meetings happening anywhere soon.

    on the other hand, if you’ve got something cooking on that tack, i’ll put the word out.”

    cub! That’s awesome. I wanna print it out and stick it to myself with a sticky-note.

    Also, I’ve been trying to foment revolution on various radfem blogs for some time. I’m serious. I’m ready for this shit to go down hard core. Ask ND for my email, let’s get the word out.

  12. Bluecat October 4, 2010 at 3:36 PM #

    Glad to have you back! I wish I could read your newest contribution, but the poisonous green background is literally giving me a migraine. Perhaps it’s narcissistic of me to ask, but I wonder if you would consider selecting a color that’s less likely to induce brain pain in those of us with wonky neuro-wiring. Seriously, ow.

  13. Dances With Cats October 4, 2010 at 3:46 PM #

    ZOMG A POST! My day just got better! (I am by no means trying to shame you for your absence, just wanted to express my sheer delight at seeing a new post from you.) Very incisive, as usual.

  14. cub October 4, 2010 at 9:11 PM #

    joy– the sticky sentiment is mutual– i kept your comment re. “Crazy doesn’t mean shit.” in my inbox from another thread, but i’ll go ahead and say it here: i pick up one of my copies of SCUM (extras to distribute to friends) in times of great freakoutery that will brook no logical response… seems to work so far.
    email to ND has been sent!

  15. berryblade October 4, 2010 at 10:36 PM #

    @ND

    Oh, I did not know that. When I think of Harper’s, I automatically think of “Harper’s Bazaar”, seeing as there is no Harper’s in Australia, or at least not in main stream news outlets.

    @Cub

    women aren’t like any other group until we become literal separatists; then that theoretical Lesbos becomes our Israel, our Promised Land, our Motherland.

    I love, love, love this sentence.

    deprogramming of the highest order is required to undo these wrongs, but i somehow don’t imagine the proselytism of good, old-fashioned consciousness-raising meetings happening anywhere soon.

    Do you think it’s possible to call this a conscious-raising discussion of sorts? Or, if you’ve checked out FCM’s wordpress, what do you think of the discussions that occur at her space?

    FCM,

    and not that i believe that feminism is “dead” either. i dont. the new wave is just kind of bypassing the inevitable swirling sawblades at the end of that tunnel (or whatever) but in doing so, are kind of missing the entire point! and they dont even know they are doing it, or HOW or WHY the first 2 waves ultimately ended, or ended up. it pisses me off, and yes i think that “teh young people” are inexperienced and arrogant, and should get with the program a bit. but thats what old people always say about young people. thats probably because its always true.

    Once again you’ve got it spot on. I think a problem with my peer group (womyn in their twenties) is we expect the information to all be right in front of us, on demand, and easily absorbent, which, as SheilaG mentioned over at my blog, is not something that’s really “do-able” with a complex political philosophy like feminism.

  16. Immir October 4, 2010 at 11:00 PM #

    Just good to be reading some new 9D

  17. lizor October 5, 2010 at 4:20 AM #

    I really wish that someone would comment who has actually read the whole article. Unfortunately it is subscriber-access only. Hopefully someone will post the piece in its entirety somewhere else on the web.

    I could not find Faludi “giving them shit for writing about women’s issues on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook” anywhere, nor did she seem to be blaming young feminists for the supposed generational split (as she is being accused over at xx factor and feministing – one blogger saying Faludi and older feminists were threatened by younger feminists being “too sexual” – give me strength). I read it as a report on the NOW presidential elections and a couple of other women’s conferences where one side was depicted by the writer as entitled and ignorant and the other patronizing and exclusionary.

    In fact, as I was reading I found myself wondering what she herself thought about it all.

    When she finally got to what I think is her main point: that “the shape-shifting contamination of commercialism and commercially infused relativism in feminist activism and scholarship” is pushing the legacy of feminist scholarship to the margins of academia or right out of existence, it seemed a rational perspective.
    While I am not an academic I think that sounds like a fairly legitimate concern, especially with academic MRA scrotes like Lionel Tiger taking up international airtime in an heroic attempt to save male college students from the “oppression” of rape-awareness workshops.

    Her focus on the 1920s and then post-1980 (rise of the internet) periods, both of which times saw huge inroads for marketing on the collective psyche supports the central thesis.

    The piece most certainly did not read to my mind as “pontificating on the failure of feminism”, but given the fierceness of the response to it, I am feeling very confused and I guess I don’t see how the article is doing so any more than the fantastic posts here on sexyfun feminism and all its facets.

    At 42, now I am feeling more than a bit uncomfortable. Obviously I am not a second-waver, but I also don’t get the assertion that stilettos and fishnets are monikers of power and liberation (a la the “What would a dude do?” posting here.) I realize that the divide on this is not cut and dried along generational lines, but it does exist and it is a contentious debate among women who define as feminists. I don’t understand, however, why Susan Faludi is now being scape-goated as another old scold who is wreaking it for everyone.

    The truth is that some people DO see Lady Gaga as the key to the revolution. I remember when Madonna was held up similarly in the 1980s (as one commenter snarkily pointed out over at feministing – that the “old” feminists were hypocrites because we were all mad for Madonna back then) and I remember feeling worried and creeped out by it. It was the beginning of the whole raft of be-your-own-pimp feminism.

    This whole deal makes me sad and confused, so this may not be the most coherent comment. My apologies in advance. I would, however love to see some discussion of the actual article here in this forum, which just so happens to be my favourite place on the web.

    It is good to have you back ND.

  18. lizor October 5, 2010 at 4:32 AM #

    I just read this comment from Dom over on feministing in response to Jennifer Baumgardner’s rejoinder to Faludi and I feel it’s worth re-posting.

    http://feministing.com/2010/10/01/electras-talk-back-jennifer-baumgardner/

    Dom
    Posted October 2, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    With everything we all have to fight together, it’s sad to separate ourselves into competing interests that emerge as rigid dividing walls instead of fluid and often ever-changing perspectives.

    There is the fact that, obviously, society isn’t what it used to be. This is something which is always true for every generation and will impact how we perceive the world.

    To me, the most visible and important negative difference is that women are oversexualized as they have never been before. The sexual stakes, demands and expectations have gotten higher and higher for (cis, hereto) women. This impacts younger women to a greater degree in two different ways: first, they are subjected, psychologically, to an increasing barrage of messages pressuring them to “conform” by being sexually available more, more often, and in more complicated ways than was the case for previous generations, so that the message and the pressure become normalized, and therefore, invisible. This occurs at a critical stage in identity formation for young women, so that they have no previous standard of comparison within their own lifetimes. Secondly, they are punished to a greater extent, through mechanisms such as ostracism or denial of various types of opportunities both social and professional, should they not conform. Again, they have no fallback reference points to tell them they genuinely have choices, or to support those choices.

    I believe this must be the case when I look around me and see and hear the culture. When I was 20, just showing up in a bikini and enjoying sex was enough to make you an incredible girlfriend and make your partner the envy of everyone around him. Today, you have to not just wear makeup and laser off most of your facial, leg and armpit hair, you also have to remove all your pubic hair to be attractive. You must be a size zero (I was never less than a size 7, and many at the time considered me too thin). You cannot have imperfections of any kind, since plastic surgery is now widely available. Twenty years ago, it was a rarity, not something offered to girls at their sweet-sixteen parties. Moreover, if sex columnist Dan Savage is to be believed, oral sex is mandatory. You cannot refuse to do it, else you risk losing your relationship and will “deserve” such an outcome. You must also consent to anal sex and learn to enjoy it.
    These changes are far from trivial. Just as greater professional opportunities and personal freedoms are becoming available to women, other constraints emerge to take their place and impose their tyranny. I believe this is no coincidence. It’s also a bigger part of younger women’s lives than ours. We have to understand this and put it in context. Younger women are not being trivial. They are fighting on a very different battlefield than the one in which we found ourselves.

  19. Andrew October 5, 2010 at 2:45 PM #

    This post is one of your best so far, at least in my opinion. You do an excellent job of consistently highlighting the ways in which women are generally treated differently in many fundamental ways. We (often) disagree about how “fair” these differences in treatment are, or even whether my idea of “fairness” is based on intrinsic privileges and hierarchies that you are displaced from. But, all that aside, you make excellent observations.

    I believe that feminism is still relevant, and a coherent feminist movement should focus on the issues you focus on. I also think your blog is a good vehicle for that, as there are not many other places where intellectual rigor and flare compliment each other as neatly as yours do, especially about such interesting topics.

    Well done.

  20. sonia October 5, 2010 at 2:55 PM #

    The article was a big fat snore. I get her basic point, and it’s probably a reality, but doesn’t she have anything else to say besides pointing out divisions between women in feminism?? I expect more, especially if it’s such a high-visibility publication. There was a lot more she could have done, at the very least layer it with some humor or a twist.

  21. sonia October 5, 2010 at 2:57 PM #

    p.s. hayyyyy! 9-deuce in the house. love the new look

  22. Bluecat October 6, 2010 at 5:30 PM #

    Bless you for changing the background. I felt bad for asking, but the thought of never being able to read your blog again without undergoing brain torture evoked far worse feelings.

    Very eloquent and thought-provoking post (as usual!), and it’s interesting that the article was published almost concurrently with Jessica Valenti’s poorly constructed take-down of 2nd wavers in The Nation (Valenti, if you’re unfamiliar with her, is a prominent 3rd wave feminist author/creator of Feministing). So it seems there’s a lot of feminists-trashing-feminists going around these days, or more publicity about it, at any rate. I believe someone once said something rather ominous about a house divided…

    This passage particularly resonated with me: So we got a bill of goods in place of anything substantial: Virginia Slims, shoulder pads, Playgirl, and the Pill. We got the opportunity to act like men for a price, and then the phallocrats got to blame the fact that such a facsimile of equality didn’t make us happy on feminism rather than on the fact that what we were buying was an empty package that claimed to contain personal liberation.

    It seems more and more to me that what pop culture feminism represents is co-opted masculinity absent the institutional power or hierarchal supremacy that would give it any real or lasting meaning. I see scads of young women attempting to flip the power dynamic on its head by acting like little feminine men, and then getting discouraged when their efforts fail to produce the results they were hoping for. They aren’t getting that the problem is masculinity. Adopting the attitude of your oppressors isn’t going to garner your oppressors’ respect – especially not when you’re wearing 4 inch Fuck Me Heels and Engorged Labia Red lipstick while slithering seductively around a stripper pole.

  23. Rainbow Riot October 7, 2010 at 3:37 PM #

    “Adopting the attitude of your oppressors isn’t going to garner your oppressors’ respect – especially not when you’re wearing 4 inch Fuck Me Heels and Engorged Labia Red lipstick while slithering seductively around a stripper pole.”

    In other words, fun feminism is not the answer. I wish more people understood that. I realize that the current generation of women faces distinct challenges compared to previous ones, but maybe if radical feminist ideas which have been seemingly forgotten by third wavers were more widespread, they could begin to move towards workable strategies to oppose patriarchy. It’s like the anarchist movement – the kids who go around fucking shit up in the name of anarchism, thinking that will help anything, have been duped into thinking that it’s the rebellious thing to do. The problem is that this is a misrepresentation perpetuated by the status quo in order to prevent meaningful change. This is what happened to the feminist movement. IMHO, only a return to the root ideals of true feminism can produce new strategies and movements that might lead us towards freedom.

  24. Level Best October 8, 2010 at 8:40 AM #

    Finding you’re back has considerably improved my day. Brava!

  25. Lindsay October 8, 2010 at 3:53 PM #

    Wow, 9-2, what a wonderful, informative post you’ve written!

    This might be the best thing I’ve ever read on the whole generation-gaps-within-feminism issue. I especially liked your point about consumerism and individualism undermining social movements — so true, and so rarely acknowledged. Far easier to blame the current generation of activists for lacking moral fiber …

    Anyway, thank you.

  26. Natalia Antonova October 9, 2010 at 4:24 AM #

    Never liked Faludi’s writing. I hate to enter into “tone” arguments in an actual conversation, but when reading a book or an article, I pay attention to tone quite a bit – and hers is very oppressive. I suppose one could hit back with a “well, you just don’t like the IMPORTANT and SCARY arguments she wields, you twit!” But no, mostly, I think I just disagree with the way she chooses to speak to her readers.

    Generations of women in protracted, decades-long catfights! Yawn.

  27. polly October 16, 2010 at 1:15 PM #

    Ok, I set “the century of the self” for homework back on ye olde cowblog in 2008, where were you? .

    It’s simple really, cultural hegemony (and Faludi of all people should know that). Gramsci (despite being a man) was right on the money with the problems of post mid 20th century capitalism, ie it is simplicity itself to repackage and sell back oppression. And what Gramsci prescribed as a response was simple – the war of position.

    It’s not just feminism that’s suffered like this, we’re all bourgeois now – well at least white western people are. Faludi is to an extent right in that so much modern ‘feminism’ (present company excepted natch) seems to consist of empowerfullmentnessarianism, and again to an extent this is the ‘young’ rebelling against the ‘old’. Most of the empowerfullmentnessarianist blogs pride themselves on how damn young and funky they are.

    HOWEVER: Classic 70′s liberal feminism was always the friend of capitalism and look at some 70′s editions of Cosmopolitan magazine if you don’t believe me, they were twenty years ahead of their time in anticipating fun feminism. I remember we used to mock the damn thing even when were passing them round the common room at school. (We were ahead of our time too). It’s instructive to consider how many of the ‘gains’ of liberal feminism were simply tactical concessions by the capitriarchy (that’s a useful portmanteau word combining capitalism and patriarchy I invented). It’s similar to all the emphasis on gay marriage as a huge deal, what’s the fucking point – you’re fighting for the right to be absorbed into heteronormativity hoo-fucking-ray. Liberal feminism fought for the wrong things and then when its guard was down capitriarchy turned round and bit it on the arse.

    • Nine Deuce October 16, 2010 at 1:30 PM #

      I guess I missed the assignment. But I got to it nonetheless, so it’s all worked out fine.

    • Nine Deuce October 16, 2010 at 1:33 PM #

      Have you also seen The Trap?

  28. elkballet October 31, 2010 at 7:31 PM #

    Great post! I actually just (OK a month ago) wrote a post about this (second versus third wave) on my blog. The first thing that happened was some guy came swooping in making fun of my post with a Life of Brian reference, like somehow feminism is one cohesive movement and bickering among “feminists” is unhelpful. Apparently anyone who claims the title feminist (like Sarah Palin for instance) regardless of whether they actually know anything about it, is now part of some giant movement and there can be no fighting. We are supposedly now mockable. I think some people confuse feminism and being a woman. Luckily one of the original second-wave feminists came swooping in set him straight for me!

  29. EDB January 28, 2011 at 4:58 AM #

    Superb. I agree with this post completely. Within the past three decades especially, liberation movements have become severed from the class consciousness and social welfare frameworks that were so important to them in the past. You can’t even call them liberation movements anymore if you want to be ‘taken seriously’ and not be like, utterly demonized in the mainstream. If we can’t talk liberation and can’t criticize consumption unless we’re saying “buy Bust* instead of Cosmo,” it’s no fucking wonder that funfeminism and expressing your own unique individual personal self is considered the pinnacle (and perhaps only indication) of feminist empowerfulment by many young women now. I’m 25; I was there three years ago. Fortunately the internet was also here to introduce me to ideas that have been around for 200 years.

    “that same 20s-60s historical gap is what is usually missing in the history books for black civil rights as well– and you called it, it was a big oppressive boot on the face of anyone who could be intimidated with the threat of being called a RED.”
    -cub

    Yeah. I’m thinking about it, and the only 20s-60s social history I was taught anything about was China’s (along with all of seven other people taking the elective). K-12 education just left a void–except for the part about there being some wars–and if you’re able to go to college, you still have to know about those issues in order to seek out courses on them. In most cases, everything about labor and social movements is just… gone.

    factcheckme – If you haven’t read it, and you want to projectile vomit, Margaret Jackson’s “‘Facts of life’ or the eroticization of women’s oppression? Sexology and the social construction of heterosexuality” addresses the beginning of sexology to around WWII. Havelock Ellis was the embodiment of shit.

    The supposed second/third wave divide is really muddling. There are many useful concepts that have come out of the last six decades (of course excluding all of funfeminism lol). Women as a class and liberation from ‘traditional’ binary gender roles (rather than the neo?liberal ‘equality’ business lots of people are raving about) are of course invaluable, but intersectionality and more recent Global South critiques of globalization are pretty damned useful additions for understanding what our fucked up systems do to the women who are most marginalized. It’s difficult to synthesize and discuss all of these ideas without succumbing to “this is what I, personally, not attempting to speak for all women, think feminism is about.” All that said,
    “you can’t work to ameliorate the conditions of women as a class if you can’t conceive of yourself as part of a class called ‘women’ and can’t conceive of the word ‘feminism’ without ‘my’ preceding it.”
    A thousand times, yes. “There are as many feminisms as there are feminists,” as they say, which suits the one big patriarchy just fine.

    I agree with those who have said that tactics and methods evolve, and so we shouldn’t discount what feminists are doing on the internet. I gotta admit, I don’t really have friends anymore, because I suddenly became unable to tolerate sexist, racist, queerphobic, speciesist, religious, capitalist bullshit. It’s a fucking lonely and disappointing world if you care about shit. Just knowing that blogs like this one and the people behind them exist can seriously mitigate that alienation (and sometimes we even learn something!). It’s a bit idealist, yeah, but I believe that activist blogging can be a seriously powerful thing when it bleeds into the analog world. Unfortunately, one of the biggest problems with internet activism is access–we’re pretty privileged just to be here, compared with most of the world. I wish I could mail all the internet minutes I’ve spent watching cat youtubes to RAWA. Until that spacetime can be ripped and materialized, though, smashing capitalism would help.

    Thanks for the post, ND, and sorry I’m so late to it.

    *The current issue of which, if anyone was wondering, has “we <3 sex" on the cover, and such scintillating headlines as "WOMEN BEHAVING BADLY A raucous roundup of the Top 10 Adulteresses of All Time" and "PILLOW TALK Scandinavian songstress Lykke Li wears it well (in bed)." Wasn't this called a feminist magazine at one point? (For comparison's sake, Cosmo asks, "Does your hair make you look fat?")

    • Nereida Filomena November 15, 2013 at 9:21 PM #

      Disagree that intersectionality has been a useful concept. It hasn’t. It is 3rd wave funfem bullshit. It is always used to draw attention away from female oppression globally. I see some supposed RFs saying some white women have more privilege than native american men. Which is bullshit. RFs already established that all men have privilege over all women. That native guy still has the ability to commit bio terror against the woman and that is the root of our oppression. Mens sadism and violence. Intersectionality is men saying racism exists therefore sexism doesn’t matter. Sexism is the original oppression, it preceded everything else.

  30. Catherine November 6, 2013 at 9:57 PM #

    It seems as if women being pitted against each other truly is prevalent. I often take issue with that. “We’ve come a long way baby”. Not.
    F’ing Brilliant post. (I know I’m way late to the party!)

    • Sugarpuss November 7, 2013 at 10:25 AM #

      What a faker. Just because I called her out on her use of woman-hating language, I’m “pitting women against each other”. Truly sickening.

      • Nine Deuce November 10, 2013 at 11:16 PM #

        Sorry for the delay in approval. Was out of internet access for a few days.

      • Nereida Filomena November 15, 2013 at 8:23 PM #

        You’re right misogynist language is not acceptable no matter what your sex because it hurts women as a class. It extends beyond you.

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