Friday, December 26, 2008

Feminists on High Horses, pt. 1

Way back in the day, I belonged to a very rigorous political collective, which contained several Marxists. They policed everyone, as Marxists are wont to do, proclaiming themselves the keepers of Advanced Political Thought and Revolutionary Consciousness, also known as Class Consciousness. I actually bought this for awhile. I was young and stupid.

And then, I found out several of these people were rich kids. Kids of privilege. Kids who were basically slumming. I had been utterly fooled by the boho, hippie lifestyle, the fashionable thinness that I had mistaken for semi-starvation, and the gung-ho talk of overthrowing the bourgeoisie and the government. I had never met people OF the class they wanted to overthrow; it made no sense to me. I was stunned. And: Class consciousness? I asked them (during one of their interminable meetings), wasn't it impossible for rich kids to have the proper class consciousness? Aren't you irreparably tainted? After all, one of their heroes, Chairman Mao, thought so, and sent the grown children of the rich to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution.

Rather than answer me, they kicked me out of the collective for other manifestations of political incorrectness.

Why, you ask, is she telling us this?

Because it was one of the turning points of my life, the moment I Got It: The reason these people thought they could be the Best Marxists of Them All, was because they came from families who communicated to them from the time of their birth, that they were the best, always right, the people who should be in charge. Thus, when they entered the Left, they took charge of that too, not missing a beat. Of course they did. You didn't really expect them to let poor or working class people lead them, didya? They know best, they are educated, they can quote Herbert Marcuse and Antonio Gramsci at you. They looked down on me, rather as rich kids had always looked down on me. Of course they did.

I was reminded of this nasty episode recently, reading Twisty's feminist blog, I Blame the Patriarchy. Twisty is preaching, once again, about what other women should do. And this is where I start scratching my head. What does Twisty do for a living, again? Why is she the one telling the rest of us what we should be doing? Ahh, yes. Deja vu all over again.


I commented on this state of affairs briefly on Christmas Eve (comments section), when I was rushed, exhausted and sniped that Twisty lives on her dead daddy's money, and offered my handy-dandy definition of PATRIARCHY = rule of the FATHERS. In a surprisingly rapid response (PS: I want me some dedicated groupies, like Twisty has!), I got an indignant email pointedly asking me why that is your business or anyone else's?????

Ohhh, I assure you, dear reader, it ISN'T my business. As is the motherhood or nonmotherhood of other women and other feminists. That is a personal choice, or as feminists have always said, should be. That is entirely my point. And why don't you get it?

Why does Twisty think she has the right to proclaim which women are patriarchy-collaborators? We all collaborate with the Evil System in some way, don't we?

I sincerely hope I will be able to leave something to my daughter and granddaughter when I depart the planet--I don't have anything against that. But if I do, I will not kid myself--this will be dirty capitalist money, dirty patriarchal money. There is currently no way to opt out of our economic system, as Twisty acknowledges in her post; capitalism is the air we breathe and the regime we live under.

As the Apostle Paul once said, there is not one righteous, no, not one.

If one believes we live in a patriarchy, as Twisty says we do (check the name of her blog), then we are all part of it. And living on money that was accumulated by your admittedly sexist Texas daddy who hunted and acted like a typical Texas Patriarch, well... how is that not directly benefiting from the patriarchy? And why isn't anyone supposed to point that out, when she can self-righteously point her finger at mothers for breeding?

These are equally personal choices, and equally nobody's business. Twisty proclaims, in a post she claims is "pro-mothers" (!):

We want women to reject marriage and the nuclear family. We want women to not have kids in the first place.
We do? First, as in the punchline of the old joke, whatcha mean "we"?

How about a fun rewrite: We want women to reject the nuclear family, including their daddies. The possibility of inheritance unconsciously pressures daughters to behave and not rebel, so they won't offend papa and get cut out of the will. We want women not to appease their fathers.

Now, how does that sound? (NOTE: I believe someone like Julia Penelope or Marilyn Frye has actually written that before. It isn't an original feminist concept of mine.)

In addition, Twisty calls herself a "spinster aunt", which I think means someone in her family has had a child that she takes some personal delight in, doesn't it? To the extent that she actually defines herself this way, as the rest of us call ourselves mothers and grandmothers. Does she understand that many people have their own children for the same reason that she participates in Aunthood? She even has a child's photo (I assume a niece) on the header of her blog, while letting us know we shouldn't be having children. Huh?

Twisty comments:
Post-revolution, things’ll be different, but currently in our culture motherhood is not just a matter of pregnancy followed by childbirth. It is a big ole set of behaviors and expectations and consequences and connotations and allusions and obligations and dogma — what I think of as nuclear motherhood — that is so deeply entwined with patriarchal praxis it is almost impossible to see the forest for the trees.
Ya think? Can't see the forest for the trees? Guess what: I think the same about being one's father's daughter, which I renounced and rejected.

Otherwise, you know, I might have inherited a little something too. But I made a choice.

And that is my point here. We all make choices, and pay the price for those choices. As feminists, we need to talk about the numerous highly-charged, emotional reasons for these choices, while trying to understand why someone else made the opposite choice.

There is not one righteous, no, not one.

~*~

One of the axioms of second-wave feminism was "The personal is political"--a phrase credited to Carol Hanisch of the Redstockings, if memory serves. This was a statement meant to radicalize women in a particular way. Until feminism, politics was politics--elections, economics, committees, laws. Not motherhood, dishes, laundry, abortion. Feminism sought to expand this awareness, that women's lives had been circumscribed by what men had relegated to the personal sphere. A good way to sum this up is in the title of a book by Jean Bethke Elshtain: Public Man, Private Woman. Women were about the home, while men owned the public square. "The personal is political" was an expression intended to bring this situation into stark relief, and radically change it.

Unfortunately, what started as descriptive rapidly became prescriptive. Feminists in the 70s began to police each other. In the political group I described above, all of the women defined themselves as feminists, some as radical feminists and some as lesbian feminists. And yet, and yet...living off daddy's money, as several were, was never questioned as politically suspect. Why not? Why was my decision to work for an organization such as the Salvation Army considered wrong (due to their Christian base and origins), but being financially able to NOT work AT ALL, wasn't? Well, obviously, because of the intellectual and verbal acuity of the very people we are talking about; the self-evident superiority and stylistic cool of the women living that way make the rest of us (scrambling to make ends meet) look frazzled, poor, inferior and stupid.

In the Women's Movement, feminists with the ability to calmly reflect and never lose their cool (bourgeois, white yankee manners are still considered the mark of "maturity" in the political sphere) are the ones who make proclamations and announcements, while the rest of us simply react. They have set the agenda and the rest of us abide by it. Feminist theory is made by women with advanced degrees, and the considerable time and funds to attain them. And lots of these women, like Catharine MacKinnon, were the daughters of pretty important men (MacKinnon's father was a congressman and judge, for example). And they make no apologies for that, yet expect other women to apologize for their connections to men, as well as apologize for sex work, for motherhood, for stripping, for high heels, for dresses, for marriage, for religion, for rock music, for the Salvation Army, for whatever it is.

I don't get it. On the other hand, of course I do: The affluent and the privileged do not have to explain their choices, and never have. That is what classism IS. Thus, living off daddy's money, owning daddy's land, attaining highfalutin advanced degrees with daddy's money, all of that is a given. I have read so few feminist essays counseling women that they should not accept inheritance from fathers (as stated above), that I can't even remember who wrote them or the last time I read one....on the flip side: I have read hundreds of essays and posts trashing motherhood as unfeminist.

Why do you suppose that is?

If I am expected to explain my personal choices, my motherhood, my work for the Salvation Army and my fondness for the Grateful Dead or Rolling Stones, so are you. And you do not get a free ride just because you were born with bucks, just as the people who threw me out of the collective did not. I will ASK and EXPECT a reply to the pertinent question: How can someone live off their wealthy daddy's money and purport to be this big revolutionary? Do you see any contradiction here?

Of course, there are plenty of political/feminist contradictions in my life too--and feminists like Twisty have wasted no time in pointing them out to me. For instance, in the thread in question, Twisty comments:
As for not having children, it is a political decision I advocate based on the current state of global overpopulation and the rate at which H. sapiens is hurtling toward a major die-off due to the earth’s inability to sustain us in these numbers. The emotional fulfillment one seeks through reproduction can be found in countless other, less privilege-weilding ways. If reproduction is to be used to bolster a wobbly relationship, or to provide a sibling for the one you already have, or to create built-in caregivers for your old age, or to gift the world with your irreplacable genes, or to create an adorable mini-me to mold, or indeed for any purpose, it is an irresponsible act.
As coincidence would have it, my daughter lives in the Texas Hill Country, right in Twisty's expensive backyard. I know how much the land is worth and how much it costs to live there. The gasoline expense ALONE can be staggering, since everything is miles and miles apart. Twisty used to tell us in her blog bio that she "divided her time between Austin and the Texas Hill Country"--but has since modified this statement. (She still calls herself a "gentleman farmer"--which I assume means she is still living part-time in the Hill Country.) I have to ask--what about all that gasoline? What about maintaining two residences? Is that good for the earth and the beleaguered H. sapiens? Why is it politically acceptable to have two residences (that one must travel back and forth to, in vehicles that require oodles of gasoline)--but not two children? I figure, as far as the environment goes, it's probably a wash. But see: land-owning is a given, having children is something the low-classes do. (Except when it's your own family, and you can call yourself an aunt.)

I will not listen to affluent people, any affluent people, feminists or not, tell me shit about how I am propping up capitalism and/or the patriarchy.

However, I will ask them to please show some political consciousness--and when they donate everything they have to the poor, pick up their cross and follow the Movement, I will then grant them the sainthood they are claiming is already theirs.

(Part two picks up tomorrow.)

31 comments:

Isabel said...

I love this post a lot, even though I'm not 100% I agree with everything you've said just because I'm too busy loving this post to process it smartly. Hopefully by the time part 2 rolls around (part 2?? hurrah!) I will have calmed down and be able to respond in an intelligent manner.

bluelyon said...

Excellent post! I've come to the conclusion that it is all about class. Can't wait for Part 2.

Renegade Evolution said...

in a word, awesome, and so true.

Rachel said...

From this post, I am now a Daisy Groupie(TM).

mama morita said...

This is an awesome post, Daisy.

Octogalore said...

Yes. Way to call out all the different facets of hypocrisy here.

I responded over there as well, that I believe the use of motherhood and marriage are red herrings. The underlying problem, I believe, at least wrt gender (and of course there are many other problems) is discrepancy in economic power between men and women. Were that to exist, parenthood and marriage would not exacerbate female dependency.

thene said...

What Daisy said. Also what Octo said. Love this post.

Oliver A. FP said...

/delurks

It's amazing that you've managed to write a coherent, intelligent piece concerning all that LOGIC FAIL. Someone with less determination would just repeatedly bash their head against the keyboard.

Also, Octogalore - EXACTLY.

I don't like this idea that women all choose to have children on a whim! for fun! like they might choose to paint their nails. Bringing up a child is hardly all fun and games, is it? This hypothetical woman might have examined the situation herself, and decided that she was capable of teaching a child to be good, kind, anti-sexist, etc.... and that the hope for humanity kind of cancels out any negative impact.

But hell, that would require a woman other than this Twisty person to have her own thoughts, and she can't be having that!

Vanessa said...

Heh heh I love you Daisy.

Meowser said...

Oooh, can I peel you a grape, Daisy? Please? (One you grew and picked yourself, of course.)

I have all the respect in the world for Twisty's talent. But like you said, there are times when she is flamingly full of hypocritical BS, and this is one of them. At least OWN your BS, Twisty, like we non-trust-funders have always had to.

"There is no one righteous. Not one." Shit, if I ever learn needlepoint, that's SO going to be my first sampler.

Meowser said...

Only I'll make sure I needlepoint it correctly, gah. "There is not one righteous, no, not one."

John Powers said...

Talk about paradox: controversy at once attracts and repels me. Maybe not at once, it's a sort of oscillation and my head begins to spin.

There are lots of reasons that Twisty might not understand your point. But she probably would say that she tries to be descriptive and not prescriptive. To which you might retort: "So you say!"

Clearly that's none of my business and putting words into your mouth bad practice.

I mention it only because I take pause when you say you won't listen when affluent people tell you shit. Okay, I recognize you are more specific in what you say, and that makes all the difference to what you mean. But the stronger version does suggest a flaw: affluent people sometimes are capable of saying things worth listening to.

For example take Allan Greenspan at the Waxman hearings earlier this fall. When pressed by Waxman about his ideology he responded something to the effect that we need to remember what an ideology is: a conceptual framework for dealing with the world. He also pointed out that an ideology isn't optional, we all have to have a framework. That's a worthwhile observation, worth listening to. It certainly doesn't excuse the mistakes of his tenure, but it's still a good point.

Privilege is such a difficult issue to discuss. As a middle-aged white guy, do I ever know it! It's good that you raise the issue of "the personal is the political." Even while there's an important history to the construct to be understood, it's still something that cuts in new and unexpected ways.

There's no mistaking that classism is something experienced personally. If I understand you, you make the point that our ideologies, our theories must take that into account.

Sorry for babbling on Daisy. But this post distresses me. Maybe part two will clear it up. Your voice is so important. And when it comes to theory, few are as adept as you are. I just don't see the point in divorcing yourself from a class of theorists when what you want is more honest dialog.

jovan b. said...

Thanks for pointing this out, Daisy. And Twisty (and some others) ever wonder why we call them out for such nonsense.

To quote James F. Byrnes High School's football team: Bamm, next!

antiprincess said...

I just don't see the point in divorcing yourself from a class of theorists when what you want is more honest dialog.

I don't get the sense that she's divorcing herself from a class of theorists. she's divorcing herself from a class of assholes.

Church Secretary said...

Chalk me up as one more Daisy groupie. Bravo.

I come for lower middle class working stock, and what you're saying makes perfect sense to me, Daisy. Rich people talking about changing the very system that privileges them reminds me of a sentiment that is rampant in the local region of my profession. If you want hilariously unwitting irony, listen to highly paid public employees (in this case firefighters) complaining about liberals, big government, and the Nanny State.

You give me much food for thought, though. Some of the very things that I abhor-- our nation's foreign policy, our flighty economy, etc.-- are all things that (directly or indirectly) afford me great material privileges. Am I willing to risk my comforts for the sake of greater global economic and social justice?

Ilyka said...

Put me down as another who can't wait for part 2, and also as someone who wants to blow this post up to poster-size, hang it on my wall, and cover it in lipstick kisses.

John Powers said...

antiprincess thank you very much for your observation that what Daisy is doing it divorcing herself from a class of assholes. As always what Daisy rites prompts me to think, which is good because too often I just don't get it.

John Powers said...

Indeed Daisy, this is a great post--both parts one and two.

I thought about part 1 today. It was strangely warm and I puttered in the garden. I know I've not put the work into thinking, so my comments are like clutter. Sorry about that. But deep thanks for your engaging posts.

Two thoughts as random as they are reflecting on your part 1:

I wonder why I always wear rose-colored glasses? Anyhow I was reminded of one of Subcomandante Marcos'communiques "I shit on all the Revolutionary Vanguards" with part 1.

It is important to be clear about oppression. It's also important that we create. It's an emphasis on creativity which take most from your posts.

I may be misunderstanding, but the way I was understanding part 1 was to defend a space for creativity for all women. I took your post as over-turning the notion of Philosopher Kings, where knowledge gives the right to legislate to others.

So intent on notions of your ideology which seem radically inclusive, I failed to appreciate the: "Bam!" take down of Twisty and other rich would be philosopher queens and kings.

The second thought was Audre Lorde's "An Open Letter to Mary Daly." Searching to find it online (found it via Google Book Search) so many of the search results included the adjective "scathing" attached. I really had to find the letter then because "scathing" was certainly not a word I'd use about the tone of that piece.

Reading Lorde's letter again today the deep empathy and kindness in it astounds me. More astounding is that the incisive and insightful criticism of Daly's work by Lorde is apparently considered caustic and uppity.

I might use the word "scathing" about your part 1. The great advantage of that is at least scathing is clear--even if I was somehow oblivious the clarity when I read it last night.

I was looking at part 1 as a debate and worrying over a strategy of ad hominem. Daly famously never responded to Lorde's letter and invitation to dialog. Your posts may not succeed in unsaddling "Feminists on High Horses" but you've made your position clear.

Sara said...

I read your post "Brute heart of a brute like you" which you linked to in this post.

As someone who's transitioned, and is at least considered transsexual by the medical establishment (and people who happen to know), I'd say I appreciate your deconstructing of the attitude of transphobia, especially as it is still well-accepted.

I don't really have an intention to go to MichFest, though I did post on their forums for just about a year and a half (then got tired of the toxic levels it would sometimes attain, and left quietly). I'm hopeful those kinds of attitude (which are actually harsher than mainstream I think) eventually go away.

Lauren said...

Delurking to say thank you. ('Scuse me, to say, "JESUS EFFIN' CHRIST FINALLY THANK YOU.") I kept trying to write a response myself, but I was so irritated and angry I kept sputtering.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. Your analysis is spot on and you saved my head from exploding. Methinks Twisty is turning into a tongue clucking Sunday school teacher exhorting girls to keep a nickel between their knees lest they get what they deserve. I live in a part of the country filled with hippycrits who lecture you on how you're destroying the earth by not recycling while they live off oil and gas and mining trust funds. Sometimes it's just too much.

Isis the Scientist said...

I've been thinking a lot about Twisty as I consider my own role as a feminist role model. One of my reders suggested this posst to me. Thank you for this.

matttbastard said...

You have outdone yourself, Daisy. :-)

FeministGal said...

Well saidm Daisy. This is a really important post because if nothing else, we as feminists should take each other to task and be able to challenge our notions of what's important and what's progressive. The movement only strengthens in this way and broadens, otherwise we get stuck in a narrow definition of feminism, much like Twisty is. I stopped reading her blog a long time ago because of this (and because of her bashing sex positive feminists but that's another rant in itself...) Good work, Daisy :) and thanks!!

AndyButtercluck said...

I'm kind of surprised anyone needed to read another word after the magical flying accident-proof cars that allowed all the babies to crawl directly from their mother's wombs into the safe streets and fields in order to just hang out freely with whoever they felt like hanging with to get the hint that Twisty Faster is quite batty. Did it really take MORE than that to convince anyone?

La Lubu said...

Daisy, this was fabulous!!

It's a tired as hell meme, but it happens every year---some more-progressive-than-thou sort posts on how Women Who Are Mothers Are Ruining It For The Rest Of Us. And how Women Are Fucking Up The Planet.

One thing I've noticed in my days, is that those who claim to be so damn revolutionary, have actually internalized the values of the parties they claim to resist so thoroughly, that "Stockholm Syndrome" isn't an exaggeration. The folks almost guaranteed to froth at the mouth over my decidedly non-June-Cleaver parenting style? Hipsters. They're worse than the evangelicals when it comes to mother-monitoring.

Remember, Twisty thinks we shouldn't be having sex with men, either. Easy for the lesbians and asexuals among us, but I'll be giving up sex with men about the same time I give up breathing.

ZoBabe said...

Great posts these, Daisy. Count me in a Daisy Groupie. Glad I stopped by today!

Tom Nolan said...

Easy for the lesbians and asexuals among us, but I'll be giving up sex with men about the same time I give up breathing

A death-bed scene worthy of Greuze!

Trinity said...

*joins the groupiedom*

The hilarious thing is that if one actually reads the Communist Manifesto, Marx is for *killing* the bourgeoisie. He actually calls out other socialist movements for not doing this.

So what's that make those kids, eh?

belledame222 said...

Ah yes, dear old Twisty: never change. The sad thing is how many not just radical feminists/"revolutionaries" (PLEASE, Mary), but radical ummm whatever it is, zero population growth/militantly childfree and so forth, I guess, people I've known are similarly completely impervious to their own -very- conspicuous consumption.

I mean, so do I no doubt; but I'm not a frickin' "revolutionary," never claimed to be. And really--well, I've ranted enough about TF for several incarnations' worth, not worth it.

belledame222 said...

I'm kind of surprised anyone needed to read another word after the magical flying accident-proof cars that allowed all the babies to crawl directly from their mother's wombs into the safe streets and fields in order to just hang out freely with whoever they felt like hanging with to get the hint that Twisty Faster is quite batty.

...Wait. What was this?