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 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.)