Monday, November 22, 2010

American Electra by Susan Faludi

The funniest aspect of the mass internet-responses to Susan Faludi's much-discussed HARPER'S article, is that young women already run the joint. Therefore, when blogs like Feministing authoritatively announce:

We mulled over how to respond most effectively here at Feministing, and have decided to publish a week-long series of responses from a diversity of young voices in our community
Say whaat?

Um, isn't that who ALWAYS writes for Feministing? How is this any different from business-as-usual? They write as if this week-long special event is somehow different from the norm, and of course, it isn't, which is the hilarity.

In truth, "a diversity of YOUNG voices" (emphasis mine) is the typical demographic for ALL of the Big Feminist Blogs. The fact that a tiny middle-aged squawk over at HARPER'S (a magazine you have to BUY to read; it isn't online for everyone's perusal and I still haven't read the whole damn article) can create such a fuss, is telling.

I long ago unsubscribed to HARPER'S, after their Andrea Dworkin hit-piece, which I didn't like (see comments here). However, Susan Faludi commands widespread respect, even from young feminists. She is likely the primary reason for the overarching concern this time; even Amanda Marcotte, major Youthquaker, notes that she was eager to read Faludi's account. (For my part, I have been howling non-stop about ageism within feminism since my arrival in Feminist Blogdonia in 2007... nobody cares, and in fact, I am usually shown the door for bringing it up.)

What is immediately striking is how this mass counter-attack would not happen regarding any other form of discrimination, except (as we have seen numerous times) for fat. I very much doubt that if this was an account about racism in feminism by Alice Walker (and she did write one), the response would be, "to present a diversity of white voices in our community." (Or would it?)

Yes, it is the same.

Maybe worse, since Faludi outlines the incontrovertible facts: Second Wave feminism gave birth to the Third Wave, and this feud tends to imitate the elements of a mother-daughter fracas. Since that's what it is. Basically, many Third-wavers are spitting in their feminist foremother's faces. Faludi writes: "The contemporary women’s movement seems fated to fight a war on two fronts: alongside the battle of the sexes rages the battle of the ages."

Yep. (NOTE: Sorry I can't provide "a diversity of older voices" to reply along with me, but there are EXCEEDINGLY FEW of us online... and the Third-wavers have banished even those few, in favor of young folks talking endlessly about Lady Gaga. Thus, it is very difficult for us to even find each other.)

I still can't find the entire text of Faludi's piece, so if you can find one online, please link here. But here are some excerpts from what is currently posted:
Why does so much of “new” feminist activism and scholarship spurn the work and ideas of the generation that came before? As ungracious as these attitudes may seem, they are grounded in a sad reality: while American feminism has long, and productively, concentrated on getting men to give women some of the power they used to give only to their sons, it hasn’t figured out how to pass power down from woman to woman, to bequeath authority to its progeny.
I’ve been to a feminist “mother-daughter dinner party” where the feel-good bonding degenerated into a cross fire of complaint and recrimination, with younger women declaring themselves sick to death of hearing about the glory days of Seventies feminism and older women declaring themselves sick to death of being swept into the dustbin of history. I’ve been to a feminist conclave convened to discuss the intergenerational question where no young women were invited. After the group spent hours bemoaning the younger generation’s putative preference for a sexed-up “girly girl” liberation, one participant suggested asking an actual young woman to the next meeting—and was promptly shot down. I’ve delivered speeches on the state of women’s rights to college audiences whose follow-up comments concerned mostly the liberating potential of miniskirts and stripping, their elders’ cluelessness about sex and fashion, and the need to distance themselves from an older, “stodgy” feminism.
Gee, she sighed, I wonder why no young women were invited? (I can't imagine.)

Interestingly, Faludi uses the word "handicapped"--the type of old-fashioned term that makes young women (and me too, and I am older than Faludi) wince. (I wonder how often our language-choices 'mark' us as older, online?) She writes at length about the stylistic differences in Second and Third Wave feminists, and I suddenly remember my recent post in which I exhorted women to sass back to fatophobic doctors, advice that came almost verbatim from early issues of Ms. magazine, as well as Our Bodies Our Selves. I was lambasted for expressing disgust that women so often act like victims, instead of paying customers, which we are. This is the kind of thing that got me lauded (as a writer) in the 70s, but now, I get excoriated for saying the exact same things.

How radically have our sensibilities changed, that what I say can be taken (by my generation) as a praiseworthy goal, but by the young women as somehow insulting?

Faludi writes about the recent NOW [National Organization for Women] presidential election:
The candidate who seemed to be in the lead was thirty-three-year-old Latifa Lyles, a charismatic speaker attuned to a youthful sensibility, a black woman who insisted on a more diverse constituency, a technologically savvy strategist who had doubled the organization’s Internet fund-raising and engaged the enthusiasm of a host of feminist bloggers. A feminist activist since she was sixteen—when she told her mother she was going on a “school trip” and ran off to the 1992 reproductive-rights demonstration in Washington, D.C.—Lyles had worked her way up the ranks in NOW, from chapter leader to national board member to youngest-ever national officer. She had spent the last four years as national vice president for membership under [Kim] Gandy, who championed Lyles as her successor. “It’s hard to ignore the fact there’s been a generational shift in this country, and an organization that doesn’t recognize that is living in the past,” Gandy declared. “Latifa’s youth is not a detriment but an advantage. She’ll take NOW to a different level.”

“I never paid attention to a NOW election in my life until I knew Latifa was running,” Jessica Valenti, the founder of, a leading young feminist website, told the Associated Press. “This could be the moment where NOW becomes super-relevant to the feminist movement again.”
What kind of Major American Feminist isn't paying attention to the NOW election? I had no idea you could be a Big Feminist Blogger and Big Feminist Author and not care about NOW. (shows what I know)

If anyone wants to know what's wrong with modern feminism, doesn't that sum the whole thing up in a nutshell? The young women don't give a shit about NOW, unless the prez is a young hipster like themselves. Can we be forgiven for thinking they might not be too serious?
The preoccupations of the younger side of the generational divide were on rampant display the next afternoon at the young feminist workshop, which included tips on how to recruit other young women (do not use the NOW logo when advertising your event) and a prep session on Twitter marketing, led by a young woman in stiletto heels—along with tirades on the transgressions of NOW’s elders, people “so grumpy and crotchety that as a young woman, you come into that meeting, you’re like, ‘I’m never coming back here.’ ” “Many a time I’d hear, ‘Oh, why are you wearing high heels? We fought for so long not to have you wear those high heels!’ ” “I’ve been in meetings where Seventies-ish women say to me, ‘Oh, we’re so glad to have some young blood!’ It’s creepy, and we don’t like it.”
Do not use the NOW logo?!?

(They won't use the NOW logo, but I betcha they DO take those extra salaries, birth control pills and legal abortions that NOW secured for them.)

Lord have mercy, what a lousy state of affairs this is.

One young feminist I respect a great deal, because I know she heartily works for the Forces of Good, is Natalia Antonova, who wrote:
Inter-generational conflict always exists, and it affects way more than simply mainstream American feminism. Faludi’s assertion though that there is a “nightmare of dysfunction” within American feminism is, well… funny. For me, “nightmare” relates more to systemic exclusion of trans people. Or, say, how the concerns of those who are not middle-class and don’t get invited to sit on panels can easily get lost in the shuffle. Is that too much theory, perhaps? Theory, of course, is another thing that Faludi says that younger feminists are too preoccupied with.
Indeed, I have to say that bringing THEORY into the mix is something I genuinely appreciate about the youngsters. Recently, when I commented on another blog that [Bourgeois Feminist] didn't speak for me as a working class woman ... well, they heard me. They got it. I admit, older feminists often didn't, and still don't. They still don't understand why we all didn't vote for Hillary.

So maybe I wouldn't like the whole article, even as I enjoy the relatively cheap shots that I have quoted here. Maybe I'll even get to read it one of these days.

In the meantime, I am very pleased with my own daughter, as Jessica Valenti is proud of her own mother. Maybe that is key. Generalizations are one thing, and I can relate to them. But how do we really feel?

I am personally proud of young feminists when they stand up to patriarchy (pardon old-fogie terminology) and pave their own way... and that will never change.


D. said...

I read that article back in September, and then never got around to blogging about it. And now I can't find it.

I (think I) remember that her examples were largely academic women.

JoJo said...

Hey Daisy! Have a great Turkey Day! Hope you have lots of fun and good eats, and safe travels if you are dining out.

word verif: duatomp

Sarah said...

If I ever host a mother-daughter feminist dinner party, I am SO inviting you. ^_^

Sungold said...

I'm still here, Daisy, and I'm not getting any younger. I turned 47 several weeks ago, which is not all that old in the rest of the world but makes me a dinosaur in online feminism.

I've long felt that neither the second nor the third wave claims people my age. We came very late to the party started by the second-wavers, but we're too old and fusty to belong to the third wave (never mind that Naomi Wolf is actually a year or so older than I). By now I've concluded that I can draw on the best of both waves, and to heck with "belonging."

But I do share your frustrations with the underrepresentation of women over 40 (or even 35) in feminist blogdonia. Feministe included Frances Kissling among their summer guest blogger, but otherwise I can't think of another guest who was clearly over 40. Maybe I missed one ... but I know I'm not missing the mark on the overall problem.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Sungold! ((blows kisses)) I was thinking specifically of women over 50, and there are damned few, huh?

The Frances Kissling example is a good one-- older women have to be relatively well-known feminists (or blog on a specific issue they are "expert" in), to get invited/accepted by the young folks these days. Older women are pretty much banished, and I do use that loaded word very deliberately. (I've been banished just for asking where the old ladies are.)

It's really obvious. And thank you for witnessing to that fact.

It would be interesting if Naomi Wolf took on the topic also. said...

One of the things that really frustrated me about Faludi's piece was how she treated ageism as if it's a topic that can only really be discussed among a certain group of women - ignoring how other factors, such as race and class, play into conflict within American feminism.

Say you're older, working two jobs, your health is going (and no matter how hard you work - it seems that decent healthcare is always out of reach) - while a movement that's supposed to be for "all women" winds up ignoring you again and again. Isn't that kind of a big deal? A true nightmare of disfunction? For some reason, older feminists are usually portrayed as these "respectable" ladies (with boring shoes, of course), who are merely being ignored by younger women because they're so damn "respectable", when the reality, I think, is way worse. I mean, the way ageism affects women in the workplace is truly terrifying (just wait when that same woman working two jobs loses one of them, and finds she can no longer pay the bills), but I guess Susan Faludi's career is doing alright - so why would she care? She pays lip service to a feminist professor who lost her job. but that's just the tip of the iceberg.