Shulamith Firestone, Feminism, and the Private Life of Power

by Corey Robin on April 9, 2013

In The Reactionary Mind, I wrote:

One of the reasons the subordinate’s exercise of agency so agitates the conservative imagination is that it takes place in an intimate setting. Every great blast—the storming of the Bastille, the taking of the Winter Palace, the March on Washington—is set off by a private fuse: the contest for rights and standing in the family, the factory, and the field. Politicians and parties talk of constitution and amendment, natural rights and inherited privileges. But the real subject of their deliberations is the private life of power: “Here is the opposition to woman’s equality in the state,” Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote. “Men are not ready to recognize it in the home.” Behind the riot in the street or debate in Parliament is the maid talking back to her mistress, the worker disobeying her boss. That is why our political arguments—not only about the family but also the welfare state, civil rights, and much else—can be so explosive: they touch upon the most personal relations of power.


Feminism—and the backlash against it—is the paradigm case of the battle over the private life of power. As historians have shown, the attack on Women’s Lib gave the modern conservative movement what it needed to achieve its counterrevolution in 1980. But to understand why that was the case, we have to recall just how radical feminism truly was: it sought to disrupt concrete and tangible relationships in the most private relations of power.

In the current issue of The New Yorker, Susan Faludi has a wonderful profile of Shulamith Firestone, who died last August. Firestone was a pioneering radical feminist whose book The Dialectic of Sex did for feminism what Camus did for existentialism: it gave it a language and a shape, a fixture and a feel. But Firestone was not just the master of suspicion; she was also the master of disruption, organizing actions that confronted male power exactly where it lay: not merely in the far-off halls of Congress or the Supreme Court, but also in the office, the factory floor, the kitchen, the bedroom, the left-wing meeting. Understanding that sexist domination was above all in-your-face, she responded and agitated in kind.

By then, the groups that Firestone had founded, and a host of offshoots, were making headlines with confrontational protests and street theatre. They disrupted state abortion-law hearings in Albany; occupied restaurants that wouldn’t serve “unescorted” women; conducted a “Burial of Traditional Womanhood,” in Arlington National Cemetery (the deceased wore curlers); released dozens of white mice to wreak havoc at a bridal fair at Madison Square Garden; held an “ogle-in” on Wall Street, to dole out some payback to leering men; and, most notorious, hurled brassieres, high heels, pots and pans, copies of Playboy, and other “instruments of female torture” into a Freedom Trash Can at the Miss America pageant, in Atlantic City. When Firestone was fired from a waitressing job and her boss withheld her wages, feminists stormed the restaurant and made him pay her on the spot.

But there was perhaps no better example of the catalytic power of radical feminism, the dynamite it perpetually set off—and that set off the conservative movement, which began attracting men made uneasy and unsettled by these very personal and intimate challenges to their power—than the publication of The Dialectic of Sex itself. For, as Faludi shows in a wonderful vignette, there was back story to that publication in the back offices of the book’s publisher William Morrow.


Meanwhile, “Dialectic” was stoking a small revolution at the Morrow offices. The female employees began asking questions: Why were all the secretaries and publicists women? Why were the few female editors underpaid? “We started having lunchtime meetings behind closed doors,” Sara Pyle, an assistant in the publicity department at the time, told me. “We all stopped wearing our little heels and skirts.” What made the women at Morrow “go a bit nuts,” Pyle said, was the book’s unvarnished radicalism. “Firestone took Marx further and put women in the picture,” she said. “This was our oppression, all laid out.”



The wonder of the feminist movement is not that it provoked a backlash—any movement worth its salt will—but that it managed to achieve so much, and so fast, despite the counterrevolution that would soon arise to crush it. Now that’s something we can all truly lean into.

{ 123 comments }

1

Tiny Hermaphrodite, Esq. 04.09.13 at 3:24 pm

Shumalith in headline s/b Shulamith

2

Anderson 04.09.13 at 3:30 pm

Great, sad article. Reading Backlash was huge for me; I literally don’t think I’ve even seen a copy of Dialectic of Sex. Dorothy Dinnerstein had a similar message about social arrangements & sexism, IIRC.

3

Corey Robin 04.09.13 at 3:32 pm

1: Ugh, thanks, I fixed it.

2: Dinnerstein’s The Mermaid and the Minotaur was one of those transformative books I read in college. Wonderful.

4

Shelley 04.09.13 at 3:44 pm

The battles we thought were won must now be fought again.

Maybe history really is a circle.

5

Mr Punch 04.09.13 at 3:55 pm

I think it is too easy to miscalculate the extent to which, and the manner in which, “the personal is political.” It was and remains my impression that however disturbing conservatives may have found feminism in intimate settings, the political reaction was driven by political action – for example, attempts to ban “father-son” events.

6

Anarcissie 04.09.13 at 4:23 pm

Isn’t that an intimate-setting sort of thing?

7

pedant 04.09.13 at 4:28 pm

Heart-wrenching article. The father that she internalized killed her in the end. And the ugliness of traditional religion, in all of its patriarchal nastiness, asserts itself at her funeral.

Her “Dialectic” had a huge impact on me when I read it.

“that it managed to achieve so much, and so fast”
Yeah, it honest to god has. We can agree on that, while agreeing that there’s a lot of work left to be done.

8

bianca steele 04.09.13 at 4:30 pm

In the current issue of The New Yorker, which I should have by Friday, Monday at the very latest. Sooner if I can figure out which password I’m supposed to use, I guess.

9

JanieM 04.09.13 at 4:42 pm

bianca — Hmmm. I was just reading the article and was never prompted for a password. I don’t have a subscription. I’m using Firefox with scripts blocked.

10

Anarcissie 04.09.13 at 4:51 pm

Yes, it seems to be on this side of the paywall. I just read it now.

11

Anderson 04.09.13 at 4:54 pm

I hope the article and the interviews Faludi mentions mean that she is working on a book.

12

Barry 04.09.13 at 5:16 pm

“…the political reaction was driven by political action – for example, attempts to ban “father-son” events.”

Huh?

13

Hector_St_Clare 04.09.13 at 6:07 pm

Oh good grief. Right after a piece in which a bunch of prissy liberals discuss how Marxism is passe, we get some more navel-gazing nonsense about how feminism is just the bee’s knees.

I’ll stick with Marx as a guideline for what the left is about, before I stick with clowns like Gloria Steinem, Amanda Marcotte, or Jessica Valentie.

14

bianca steele 04.09.13 at 6:13 pm

Janie, Anarcissie, thanks. I usually end up waiting for the paper copy to show up. I have enough things to read online and I don’t really like reading on the laptop anyway. (It was good with a toddler around because I could gate it off and also read it without using my hands, though.)

Am I the only gen-X self-proclaimed feminist who couldn’t finish Backlash? Faludi’s last piece in the New Yorker was interesting except for the intrusive subtext about how feminism will fail unless it develops a tradition-i.e.-better-respect-for-elders. Which is fine in itself, all things considered, but a little metaphysical as an actual solution.

15

Anderson 04.09.13 at 6:15 pm

13: Well, thank you for exemplifying the guys described in the article. Were you actually in the crowd in 1968?

Webb was three sentences into “the mildest speech you can imagine,” she said, when men in the audience began to shout, “Take her off the stage and fuck her!” and “Fuck her down a dark alley!” All the while, she recalled, “Shulie is on my right saying, ‘Keep going!’ ” Firestone tried to speak next, but was drowned out by a howl of sexual epithets.

16

Anderson 04.09.13 at 6:22 pm

14: maybe “necessary, but not sufficient”? I don’t ask much of a magazine article.

Re: “Backlash,” I suppose I should confess being impressed by it when I was a 20something male in Mississippi. Possibly the message was less remarkable in more civilized areas.

17

Anarcissie 04.09.13 at 6:50 pm

Irritated Marxists might want to recall the Marx’s buddy Engels wrote The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State based partially on notes by the Man himself, which, regardless of its status as scripture, shows interest and concern. Apparently it really disturbed people.

18

leederick 04.09.13 at 7:11 pm

I don’t get it. What was the counter-revolution that crushed feminism? I realise they didn’t get everything they wanted – wages for housework, free childcare, etc – but the clock wasn’t rolled and women returned to peonage. Gains were maintained, weren’t they? Maybe I missing something.

19

Hector_St_Clare 04.09.13 at 7:25 pm

Re: I don’t get it. What was the counter-revolution that crushed feminism?

They’re talking about the fact that some of us are trying to ‘roll back’ the right to prenatal homici….errr, sorry, the ‘right to choose’.

And also, I suppose, that , a lot of women still like traditional complementarian gender rolls, and are attracted to thigs like money, education, status and social dominance.

And the fact, I guess, that some women are more interested in having babies than in following the script set out for them by Gloria Steinem.

20

bianca steele 04.09.13 at 7:28 pm

I can’t read the whole thing, but apparently the backlash is David Mamet said nasty things about women in his business (which Faludi apparently thinks no one would have said before feminism triggered men to be at war with women), and there are NO movies ANYWHERE with ANYTHING like a sympathetic, strong heroine, much less any movie that demonstrates anything like feminist values even for a part of the film. Two movies that you’d think had some sympathy for feminism and for women’s suffering, The War and the Roses and She-Devil–to Faludi, they’re anti-woman and anti-feminist because the women are “witches.” That’s not onscreen, that’s her personal judgment. Apparently there was no misogyny before feminism, and no sympathy for women out of narrowly defined roles after it.

21

Anderson 04.09.13 at 7:28 pm

18 – Equal pay: hasn’t happened. Rape: still the victims’ fault (Steubenville). Did you notice Sandra Fluke in the 2012 campaign? Has any magazine created controversy lately by wondering whether or not *men* can “have it all”?

Leaving aside that radical feminism wasn’t about winning the right to imitate men, it was about challenging the assumption that society should be divided into “men” and “women.” Which is a sufficiently huge task that it’s no wonder the early radical movement suffered the kinds of infighting described in Faludi’s article.

22

Anderson 04.09.13 at 7:33 pm

The table of contents for “Backlash” is on Amazon; evidently the greater part of the book is not, in fact, about pop culture.

23

leederick 04.09.13 at 7:36 pm

But feminism wasn’t crushed, right. Moderate gains have been widely accepted, what has happened is just disappointment that more radical ideas failed to gain traction.

24

bianca steele 04.09.13 at 7:39 pm

You’re going to defend Faludi like Graeber on the Apple II? Every page I turned to argued that feminism caused a backlash and the evidence is a series of individual examples of misogyny, therefore feminism is over, caput, don’t be naive. Maybe that’s not the message you got from it: you’re free to tell us what that is, instead of telling other people they’re wrong.

25

Corey Robin 04.09.13 at 7:44 pm

Bianca at 20: I’ve taught Faludi’s Backlash several times, but I never came across this idea in her text: “Apparently there was no misogyny before feminism.” Could you point out to me where you’re getting that from?

26

Hector_St_Clare 04.09.13 at 7:45 pm

Re: challenging the assumption that society should be divided into “men” and “women.”

Um, I think your problem there is with biology, not with culture. And if you’re arguing with biology, I can’t really help you.

This is always apropos:

27

Jerry Vinokurov 04.09.13 at 7:47 pm

Oh good grief. Right after a piece in which a bunch of prissy liberals discuss how Marxism is passe, we get some more navel-gazing nonsense about how feminism is just the bee’s knees.

Feminism is awesome and if you think otherwise you’re a tool.

28

Jerry Vinokurov 04.09.13 at 7:54 pm

You’re going to defend Faludi like Graeber on the Apple II? Every page I turned to argued that feminism caused a backlash and the evidence is a series of individual examples of misogyny, therefore feminism is over, caput, don’t be naive. Maybe that’s not the message you got from it: you’re free to tell us what that is, instead of telling other people they’re wrong.

Bianca, I read Backlash a long time ago and my memory of it is fuzzy, so take that into account. What I got out of it was not that feminism was over but that there was indeed a backlash, and a serious one, and that the backlash has managed to reverse some of the gains. I guess from my now-limited recollection of it, I viewed it more as a diagnosis of the backlash’s characteristics rather than any kind of final judgment on feminism itself.

29

bianca steele 04.09.13 at 7:56 pm

Corey:
Showing that there’s misogyny in the 1980s isn’t evidence of a backlash unless there’s more misogyny than before. Showing that there’s misogyny in the 1980s among people who became adults before feminism existed isn’t evidence of a backlash unless she’s shown that they’re more misogynist than they were before.

Similarly, a film about a middle-aged woman who becomes a feminist and divorces her husband, after he turns out to be less supportive than she’d expected, isn’t evidence of a backlash.

Showing that there’s political opposition to feminist proposals isn’t evidence of a backlash unless they just breezed through the legislature with no effort on anybody’s part the first time–maybe “there wasn’t any opposition to feminist political programs” is not quite the same thing as “there wasn’t any misogyny,” but it’s close.

30

Anderson 04.09.13 at 7:58 pm

Hitting minus on the “zoom” button for a moment, it occurs to me that the greatest force for putting women in the workplace, disintegrating the traditional family unit, etc., over the past 40 years in America, has been … capitalism? Even the upper middle class/lower upper class can’t manage with a single income these days.

31

LFC 04.09.13 at 8:24 pm

pedant @7:
The father she internalized killed her in the end.
The article, which I read thanks to Anderson’s link before seeing this discussion, makes clear that Firestone was mentally ill in the latter part of her life. Not at all clear her father was to blame for that, though he did dismiss her ‘Dialectic of Sex’ as “the joke book of the century.”

Corey in OP:
despite the counterrevolution that would soon arise to crush it [the feminist mvt]
It wasn’t really crushed, just challenged, ISTM.

32

LFC 04.09.13 at 8:31 pm

I see Leederick has said that already.

33

David 04.09.13 at 9:48 pm

“Oh good grief. Right after a piece in which a bunch of prissy liberals discuss how Marxism is passe, we get some more navel-gazing nonsense about how feminism is just the bee’s knees.”

I am confused. Are you doing the usual “I am a conservative who is contemptuous of everyone to the left of de Maistre” thing (in which case I will dismiss you), or are you trying to create some unholy hybrid of social conservatism and Marxism? If the latter, please get off my team.

34

Jerry Vinokurov 04.09.13 at 9:49 pm

I am confused. Are you doing the usual “I am a conservative who is contemptuous of everyone to the left of de Maistre” thing (in which case I will dismiss you), or are you trying to create some unholy hybrid of social conservatism and Marxism? If the latter, please get off my team.

It’s definitely the latter. Check out his commenting and posting history.

35

PatrickfromIowa 04.09.13 at 9:57 pm

Laura Kipnis is good on reminding us how absorbing women who were increasingly interested in working (for their own reasons) came at the same time as capitalism figured out how to stagnate wages, especially for men and women who had fewer choices. There are probably more technical and detailed explanations, but she’s also funny–at least to me.

A lot of my friends read Backlash as victim-blaming, if you will. I am unqualified to opine, but it’s definitely been out there.

I wonder if my New Yorker has downloaded yet.

36

PatrickfromIowa 04.09.13 at 10:02 pm

Oops, here’s the reference:

Kipnis, Laura, “Something’s Missing,” Women’s Studies Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 3 & 4, (Fall/Winter 2006), pp. 22–42.

37

djw 04.09.13 at 10:08 pm

Are you doing the usual “I am a conservative who is contemptuous of everyone to the left of de Maistre” thing (in which case I will dismiss you), or are you trying to create some unholy hybrid of social conservatism and Marxism?

I had the same question. It appears Hector has now decided that because he imagines the distribution of wealth in his authoritarian fantasy state will be somewhat more egalitarian than the current distribution is, he’s a “man of the left”. He’s generally out and proud as a reactionary, so this is an interesting twist for the identity he performs on the internet.

38

Anderson 04.09.13 at 10:14 pm

Thanks, Patrick. Kipnis rocks, but I hadn’t seen that article. (Google Scholar is my new favorite toy.)

39

Corey Robin 04.09.13 at 11:12 pm

Bianca at 29: I wasn’t looking to get into a debate with you about a book you’ve only skimmed. I was just wondering if you had any evidence for your claim that Faludi asserts or assumes that “there was no misogyny before feminism.” I gather from your response that you don’t.

40

John Quiggin 04.09.13 at 11:26 pm

Worth looking at experience outside the US on this (I’m thinking mainly of other developed countries). My perception is that backlash was mostly less severe and more importantly less successful.

On misogyny, we had an interesting stoush about that last year, arising from rightwing attacks on Julia Gillard, the current PM. The attacks were certainly misogynist in character, but Gillard is far from being either a feminist or a progressive – among other things, she’s cut benefits for single parents and organized the defeat of equal marriage legislation.

41

nb 04.09.13 at 11:26 pm

” White mice wreaking havoc ” … it was several minutes before I could stop laughing. An apt description of American leftism and feminism I should have thought.

42

t.gracchus 04.09.13 at 11:34 pm

I would have put Firestone with Beauviour.
On a less important level, Firestone wrote nice letters in response to inquiries about further reading.

43

Substance McGravitas 04.09.13 at 11:36 pm

The attacks were certainly misogynist in character, but Gillard is far from being either a feminist or a progressive – among other things, she’s cut benefits for single parents and organized the defeat of equal marriage legislation.

And so you get this guy I guess…

44

js. 04.10.13 at 1:19 am

Kipnis, Laura, “Something’s Missing,”

This looks brilliant; look forward to reading it very soon. Cheers!

45

Anarcissie 04.10.13 at 2:09 am

I think one wants to keep in mind that there is the feminism of East 5th Street, Lower East Side, 1970, and the feminism of the 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling preventing a woman from getting to be in charge of the next oil war. And many in between or off to the side.

46

Main Street Muse 04.10.13 at 2:15 am

What’s fascinating about the Faludi New Yorker article is how suspicious and unsupportive the women are of each other. And also that schizophrenia is a condition of “social defeat.”

I am thankful to be the beneficiary of the work done by the midcentury feminists. I cannot imagine a life where a woman’s only role was to be a Mrs. and a mom. The feminists moved the curve in ways that were truly revolutionary.

From the New Yorker article: “The liberator for Firestone was the right to be loved for oneself, not as part of a patronage system ‘to pass on power and privilege.'”

In this quote above, Firestone echoes the brilliance of another writer from another century – Jane Austen, whose seminal character, Elizabeth Bennet, celebrates her 200th birthday this year, and who in the end, was loved for herself, not for her dowry or her family or her connections, all of which would have doomed her to the life of a spinster that her creator knew so well.

47

Maggie 04.10.13 at 3:01 am

And also, I suppose, that , a lot of women still like traditional complementarian gender rolls, and are attracted to thigs like money, education, status and social dominance.

And the fact, I guess, that some women are more interested in having babies than in following the script set out for them by Gloria Steinem.

BTW Hector how’s that been working out for you lately? Any progress hunting down the status-worshiping babymaker of your dreams?

48

Hector_St_Clare 04.10.13 at 5:27 am

Re: Are you doing the usual “I am a conservative who is contemptuous of everyone to the left of de Maistre” thing (in which case I will dismiss you), or are you trying to create some unholy hybrid of social conservatism and Marxism?

You evidently haven’t read my comments in the past (I used to comment on Yglesias’ old blog in its various iterations), but I’m a Christian socialist. Not quite a Marxist, but heavily influenced by Marx: and yes, culturally conservative. This isn’t exactly unusual- you may want to, uh, actually look at some places outside the United States sometime. I’d venture to suggest that the base of Chavez support in Venezuela (and Humala’s support in Peru) doesn’t exactly share your views about sex, gender or abortion rights.

I do think it’s interesting that you seem to suggest that the ‘cultural issues’ (which I consider fairly trivial, really, other than abortion rights which I’m generally on the opposite side from you) are more important to you than economic socialism, and I think that suggests something deep about the intellectual and moral vacuity of modern cultural liberalism.

Re: BTW Hector how’s that been working out for you lately? Any progress hunting down the status-worshiping babymaker of your dreams?

Still looking, Maggie, but thanks for the concern. The right choice is seldom the easy one, as we know.

49

David 04.10.13 at 5:35 am

“You evidently haven’t read my comments in the past”

Yes, well, somehow I will live.

“I think that suggests something deep about the intellectual and moral vacuity of modern cultural liberalism.”

Hardly. I am an anti-authoritarian first and foremost. My support for socialist policies is contingent upon non-hierarchical (and secular) social organization. I am a Stirnerian first and foremost.

50

Maggie 04.10.13 at 7:08 am

“The right choice is seldom the easy one, as we know.”

Hector you call yourself a Christian but you think it’s “the right choice” to seek to attract a soulmate based on money, status, and social dominance? (I’ll give you “education.” But true education rarely coincides with much of those other three.)

Not to put too fine a point on it…… but do you actually have any of those things, anyway?

51

ptl 04.10.13 at 9:20 am

Thank you, Corey. A good post. And Faludi’s piece is well worth reading, indeed.

I haven’t read Backlash, but then, I’m a curmudgeonly old Second Wave feminist who already knew there was one. I don’t know what world Bianca lives in… .

John Quiggin: I used to think the greater backlash in the US reflected American feminism’s greater gains. But I’m less sure now.

52

bianca steele 04.10.13 at 1:39 pm

Corey Robin @ 39
I’ve been around these here intertubes for long enough to know that “I don’t want to get into a debate with you” means “get off my thread.” So.

53

JanieM 04.10.13 at 2:01 pm

I’ve been around these here intertubes for long enough to know that “I don’t want to get into a debate with you” means “get off my thread.” So.

If bianca steele has to pipe down while Hector_St_Clare gets to continue spewing sneering inanities in all directions, CT is, to put it mildly, a poorer place.

54

Harold 04.10.13 at 2:11 pm

The “backlash” was nothing compared to the co-optation by Madison Ave and mainstream media that almost immediately occurred.

55

tomslee 04.10.13 at 2:58 pm

What JanieM said at #53.

On the backlash, though. Continued sexism and misogyny is not evidence of a backlash, agreed; but widespread anti-feminist propaganda (the feminazi thing for example) and anti-feminist actions (anti-affirmative action campaigns) could not, by definition, have happened before a feminist movement, and were/are surely some kind of backlash.

Materially, progress has been maintained, but culturally, I think much has been lost since the early ’90s (to draw an arbitrary line). The entrenchment and extension of gender roles for children — right down to age zero — and the retreat in terms of women keeping their own names on marriage, are just two areas where gender equality efforts seems to have lost ground.

56

Anderson 04.10.13 at 3:23 pm

“What JanieM said at #53.”

True; I disagreed with Bianca as to “Backlash,” but if you can’t disagree on the internet, then where?

(I also tend to wince slightly, sometimes too late, when I or other males explain to females the exact scope of their oppression, etc. I think they have a word for that now.)

57

Harold 04.10.13 at 3:55 pm

Nevertheless, the incredible, blatant and shameless misogyny of the 1950s was an expression of the backlash against the feminism of the 30s. (An earlier co-optation had occurred with the “flapper” movement of the 1920s.) Ruth Hershberger’s brilliant book, Adams Rib (1948) was an early reaction to what would become a growing trend. Twenty years later, Mary Ellman diagnosed the problem in her devastating and prescient Thinking About Women (1968).

Why don’t people talk about these timeless, classic books?

58

Cian 04.10.13 at 4:23 pm

Corey said two things:
1) Not interested in debating a book with someone who admit she has only skimmed it.
2) Can you please provide an example to back up your critique of Faludi.

I’m pretty sympathetic to (1). (2) seems beyond reasonable.

Bianca’s reaction to these seems a little OTT, as do the statements of support.

59

Hector_St_Clare 04.10.13 at 5:46 pm

Re: Hardly. I am an anti-authoritarian first and foremost.

Great. I’m more of an authoritarian, so I doubt we are going to find much to agree on here.

I’d also suggest, without even bringing up my own preferences, that the most *likely* scenario for socialism happening in the future isn’t likely to be one that matches your preferences. If socialism happens at all, it will most likely come about as a result of late capitalism running out of natural resources and energy, society becoming increasingly unequal/immiserated/chaotic, and people turning to vanguardist parties of the far left in order to ration goods and keep the elites from hoarding increasingly scarce resources. The socialism of scarcity may be many things, but ‘non hierarchical’ and ‘anti-authoritarian’ aren’t likely to be among them.

60

Hector_St_Clare 04.10.13 at 5:53 pm

Re: The entrenchment and extension of gender roles for children — right down to age zero — and the retreat in terms of women keeping their own names on marriage,

I’m not even a fan of women taking their husband’s names (not for feminist reasons, but because I think names are key to personal identity), but for a political movement that’s supposed to be about ‘individual liberty’, this is pretty amusing.

Apparently, cultural liberals are fans of people making their own lifestyle choices, except when those choices include a woman choosing to take her husband’s name, to promise to ‘love, honour and obey’, to have more than the politically correct number of children, to choose a lower-paying or lower-status profession in order to have more time with the kids, and to date/marry ‘up’ in terms of social status/income/education. When that happens, suddenly the love of individual lifestyle choice goes out the window.

61

Harold 04.10.13 at 6:10 pm

I thought the OP was about Faludi’s NYker article about Firestone, which was very good, not Faludi’s book “Backlash.”

62

MPAVictoria 04.10.13 at 6:33 pm

“Apparently, cultural liberals are fans of people making their own lifestyle choices, except when those choices include a woman choosing to take her husband’s name, to promise to ‘love, honour and obey’, to have more than the politically correct number of children, to choose a lower-paying or lower-status profession in order to have more time with the kids, and to date/marry ‘up’ in terms of social status/income/education. When that happens, suddenly the love of individual lifestyle choice goes out the window.”

While I hate to agree with Hector about anything I have to say I am pretty much on board with women doing what ever they want with their names for any reason that seems sensible to them.

63

David 04.10.13 at 6:56 pm

“When that happens, suddenly the love of individual lifestyle choice goes out the window.”

Nonsense. “Cultural liberals” believe that people should be given a choice – but they also cannot help but have subjective opinions regarding the worth of choices.

“Cultural liberals” aren’t in favor of people being rich layabout drunks either, but that doesn’t mean they want to start locking them up.

64

roger gathman 04.10.13 at 7:27 pm

I can’t imagine anybody not thinking that the years of Reagan were years of backlash against feminism, as well as against organized labor and civil rights. To say this isn’t to say that feminism, organized labor, or civil rights went ‘too far’ – it is simply stating the way the impression management of the right worked. To go from the title of the book to the statement that Faludi is endorsing the idea that feminism created the backlash is well a sad case of misprision. The Reagan era seemed to encourage that. I remember the right adopting born in the u.s.a. as Bruce Springsteen’s Morning in America song without bothering to listen to the words. It is best, however, to listen to the words, whether of a song or a book.

65

marthe raymond 04.10.13 at 7:50 pm

It’s hard for me to get very excited over most of these topics, as they are not the center of the current global problem, which is that neoliberalism, as it is finally going under from its own vices, is not doing so gently, but is lashing its dragon’s tail furiously and doesn’t seem to care who takes it in the shorts.

The current hoohah over US presence in Asia having inexhorably led to the threat of nuclear war by North Korea is all about either protecting US control of Asian markets that are falling to China or destroying them with the petulantly infantile bellicosity for which the US is famous.

The current economic disaster(s) in the Eurozone are not idiopathic outbreaks–they were caused by Goldman Sachs, the creator of US foreign and domestic policy.

In this week’s run-up to presidential elections in Venezuela, the usual old suspects are at work with their dirty tricks: Otto Reich, Roger Noriega, Luis Posada–the gang that includes in its curriculum such stellar foreign policy events as the Bay of Pigs fiasco of 1961, the blowing up of the Cuban airliner in 1976, the Iran-Contra caper, the attempt against Castro in Panama in 2000, the 47-hour unsuccessful coup against Chávez in 2002 and so forth ad nauseum. And the usual deployer, right wingers in El Salvador, are back in the saddle again sending mercenaries to Venezuela to cause power outages, street violence, and with the mission to assassinate PSUV candidate and current acting president, Nicolás Maduro. Why? In the name of the US-claimed manifest destiny to control the planet’s largest petroleum reserves.

For me–and let me say that I am a feminist–the issues of feminism are secondary to survival of our species on the planet in the face of the US bully’s swan song: “Endless War”.

66

Harold 04.10.13 at 7:52 pm

The 80s were the decade of “dress for success” co-optation of feminism, in which women were told they could “have it all” if they adopted male values and competed with men on mens’ terms. Meanwhile, they were hired at lower salaries and at the same time salaries for men were slashed because men presumably had a second income — that of their wives.

The “backlash” came in the 90s and oughts in which women wrote widely publicized contrarian books about how it was really boys and not girls who were being discriminated against and railing against those advocates of breast feeding and natural childbirth who it was said were impinging women’s right to buy industrial formula made by large corporations without feeling guilty (something like Hector saying that feminists are trying to take away women’s freedom of choice to be humble and subservient).

67

roger nowosielski 04.10.13 at 8:20 pm

@ Anarcissie 04.09.13 at 6:50 pm, #17

A relevant quote from the New Yorker piece:

“Marx was on to something more profound than he knew,” Firestone wrote in “Dialectic,” “when he observed that the family contained within itself in embryo all the antagonisms that later develop on a wide scale within the society and state.”

As addendum to Engels’ work, the following MS offers a brief summary.

This isn’t a popular view, of course. As per the famous Thatcher quote, “Who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families…” (as per this CT article, “The Lady’s not for turning.”

Even conservative scholars (no surprise there), Heilbroner, for instance, find Marx’s analysis of the family defective, and I quote:

In his sympathetic but critical summary of Marx’s view of man, Bertell Ollman vividly describes this process:

People acquire most of their personal and class characteristics in childhood. It is the conditions operating then, transmitted primarily by the family, which makes them what they are, at least as regards basic responses; and, in most cases, what they are will vary very little over their lives. Thus, even where the conditions people have been brought up in change by the time they reach maturity, their characters still reflect the situation which has passed on. If Marx had studied the family more closely, surely he would have noticed that as a factory for producing character it is invariably a generation or more behind the times, producing people who, tomorrow, will be able to deal with yesterday’s problems.

(An Inquiry Into The Human Prospect)

My only reservation, is a communal setting from the get-go as good a crucible for learning how to love? Have there been any studies on this, e.g., on the hippie communes in the sixties?

68

Suzanne 04.10.13 at 10:50 pm

@65: Off topic, but those advocates of breast feeding were/are in fact quite adept at making women feel guilty, regardless of one’s opinion of the value of breastfeeding or the formula manufacturers’ marketing tactics. I had a friend who had twins, had trouble breast feeding, and did not want to continue. Hospital staff brought great pressure to bear, upsetting her greatly, and finally her husband told them to shove it. Not a pleasant experience and I gather not an isolated one. You would think new mothers had enough challenges ahead without having breast feeding guilt trips laid on them, but you’d be wrong.

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Anarcissie 04.11.13 at 12:34 am

‘(I also tend to wince slightly, sometimes too late, when I or other males explain to females the exact scope of their oppression, etc. I think they have a word for that now.)’

I’ve seen a picture of a middle-class Russian intellectual talking to a crowd of working-class Russian non-intellectuals, telling them what’s what and what to do about it. I suppose that had some unwanted outcomes, too. Alas, what are the Enlightened to do, besides be damned if they do and damned if they don’t?

70

js. 04.11.13 at 4:35 am

For me–and let me say that I am a feminist–the issues of feminism are secondary to survival of our species on the planet in the face of the US bully’s swan song: “Endless War”.

Well, as a feminist, you might consider that endless war would maybe possibly also be a feminist issue? I mean, it’s not as if feminists over the last couple of centuries have exactly been quiet about it.

I pick on this because it’s exactly relevant to the point CR is making in the OP. Which is that feminism is radically disruptive of the received social order—in the best possible of ways! (And I think that someone like the hectoring Mr. St. Clare gets this quite well. At some level anyway.) So to relegate it to something like “just a women’s issue”, as the quoted bit seems to imply, is a total disaster.

There’s an even more general point here, about how it’s fairly normal to divide liberal-left concerns into on the one hand questions of basic economic justice and non-aggression against other sovereign states, and on the other hand into “social” issues (that all end up having to do with the women, and the browns, and the gays, etc.) Again, total disaster! Ellen Willis, e.g., is great on this; also some stuff by Barbara Ehrenreich (too tired to look up references right now, sorry).

71

Hector_St_Clare 04.11.13 at 5:21 am

Re: something like Hector saying that feminists are trying to take away women’s freedom of choice to be humble and subservient).

They aren’t?

Re: And the usual deployer, right wingers in El Salvador, are back in the saddle again sending mercenaries to Venezuela to cause power outages, street violence, and with the mission to assassinate PSUV candidate and current acting president, Nicolás Maduro. Why? In the name of the US-claimed manifest destiny to control the planet’s largest petroleum reserves.

Marthe Raymond,

You are *so* right. Unfortunately, the cultural liberals in this country care a great deal about ‘condoms’n’abortions forever’, and not at all about our war against the Venezuelan government. Identity politics issues like feminism and multiculturalism, not socialism, are the hills they have chosen to die on.

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Chingona 04.11.13 at 7:01 am

Unfortunately, the cultural liberals in this country care a great deal about ‘condoms’n’abortions forever’, and not at all about our war against the Venezuelan government. Identity politics issues like feminism and multiculturalism, not socialism, are the hills they have chosen to die on.

I don’t know that imperialism is not a feature of identity politics, when you get right down to it. The white male ego seems to depend a lot on the ability to subjugate, without question or criticism, the far-away brown people. But I imagine that’s the sort of “identity” considered by a self-professed socialist to be the default neutral. How curiously unimaginative…

73

Fu Ko 04.11.13 at 8:24 am

@45

The pants-suit feminism that teaches women to seek fulfillment in corporate careers is really an extension of neo-liberalism, part of its ideology of work (which denies the existence of alienation). Perhaps part of the reason we hear way too much about it is that paid writers are all (at least they are required to think) non-alienated workers whose soul’s deepest mission in life is just the thing they happen to get paid for. They’re prone to imagining (if not simply required to believe) that work can mean that for everyone.

The other 99% of us, whose paid work is alienated dead time, and whose *real* work is unpaid, understand what feminism was really about: money for women. The reason to put women in the workplace was entirely so that they would have money. Because money is freedom. Work is not — quite the opposite.

Of course you can’t “have it all” when 50 hours a week of your life is wasted on serving some capitalist’s bottom line. You have to delude yourself into thinking that that isn’t so. Having it all is having both kids and a delusion that you’re not giving them away for strangers to raise, all so you can make some rich asshole that much richer. Of course women would be better not having to work — the whole point of getting work for women was to get them money, remember. It’s a compromise with conservative forces to make it conditional on a job. It was because husbands can’t be trusted with financial power over wives (and unmarried women should have money). It was about reducing women’s financial dependence. It certainly wasn’t about work for the sake of work.

Raising kids is still more valuable and rewarding than 99% of work — let’s not get hoodwinked here. A woman who “gives up her job” to have kids isn’t actually losing her job (that’s no loss) — she’s losing her income stream.

/rant

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Lynne 04.11.13 at 9:28 am

@Suzanne, I’m sorry to hear about your friend’s lousy experience in the hospital when she had twins. I have the impression that most women need more help than they get after they have a baby (much less twins!), both in hospital and out. Caring for a newborn is a learned experience. Breast-feeding is definitely a learned experience. Did anyone in the hospital help her with this? It is so painful when the baby latches on incorrectly.

Hospitals still seem to be the last bastion of the patriarchy, where staff know and do, and patients don’t know, and are done to. So it isn’t a surprise that your friend wasn’t well-treated, but it’s disappointing that it’s still happening.

That said, breast milk is the best possible food for babies. (And alcohol is deadly for fetuses). To urge wide-spread education of these facts isn’t “guilt-tripping”. That so many mothers don’t breastfeed, or do so for only a very short time, is a triumph of the formula-makers working hand in hand with social norms that make returning to work inimical to feeding a baby.

Of course, there are rare women who really cannot produce enough milk (there’s no body part that can’t malfunction) but most can, with support. It’s sad that support is so often lacking.

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MPAVictoria 04.11.13 at 1:51 pm

@Suzanne, I’m sorry to hear about your friend’s lousy experience in the hospital when she had twins. I have the impression that most women need more help than they get after they have a baby (much less twins!), both in hospital and out. Caring for a newborn is a learned experience. Breast-feeding is definitely a learned experience. Did anyone in the hospital help her with this? It is so painful when the baby latches on incorrectly.

Hospitals still seem to be the last bastion of the patriarchy, where staff know and do, and patients don’t know, and are done to. So it isn’t a surprise that your friend wasn’t well-treated, but it’s disappointing that it’s still happening.

That said, breast milk is the best possible food for babies. (And alcohol is deadly for fetuses). To urge wide-spread education of these facts isn’t “guilt-tripping”. That so many mothers don’t breastfeed, or do so for only a very short time, is a triumph of the formula-makers working hand in hand with social norms that make returning to work inimical to feeding a baby.

Of course, there are rare women who really cannot produce enough milk (there’s no body part that can’t malfunction) but most can, with support. It’s sad that support is so often lacking.”

Just want to say that this was a really thoughtful comment Lynne.

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rf 04.11.13 at 2:28 pm

“You are *so* right. Unfortunately, the cultural liberals in this country care a great deal about ‘condoms’n’abortions forever’, and not at all about our war against the Venezuelan government.”

So what are we saying here, Hector? That ‘western feminism’ is responsible for both the behaviour of the North Korean regime, as marthe argues, and internal politics in Venezuela?
You could also argue it’s as equally responsible for the decrease in global inequality, or the decrease in deaths in conflict, or the decrease in crime in the US..It’d be kinda stoopid to do so, but you could

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Jerry Vinokurov 04.11.13 at 3:08 pm

Hector doesn’t think women’s agency matters. Why is anyone even engaging with him? He’s a first-rate example of that whole “types of people we can’t have moral projects with” category, because even if you think he’s “on your side” when it comes to redistribution, he’s really not if you happen to not be male.

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rf 04.11.13 at 3:10 pm

“Why is anyone even engaging with him? “

You’re right, I’m sorry. That comment was just so stupid though I couldn’t resist

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Barry 04.11.13 at 3:18 pm

rf: “So what are we saying here, Hector? That ‘western feminism’ is responsible for both the behaviour of the North Korean regime, as marthe argues, and internal politics in Venezuela?”

There seems to be a group of men who react allergically to the term ‘feminism’; I suspect that they must have had something horrible done to them by Evul Feminazis. Perhaps they got caught by a ‘Take Back the Night’ march and were, ah, ‘informally surgically adjusted’ or something. Nothing less would explain the reaction.

80

Anarcissie 04.11.13 at 3:56 pm

Chingona 04.11.13 at 7:01 am @ 72:
‘ I don’t know that imperialism is not a feature of identity politics, when you get right down to it. The white male ego seems to depend a lot on the ability to subjugate, without question or criticism, the far-away brown people. …’

So why didn’t feminism work? (‘Work’ in this case meaning ‘bring about radical effects.’) Looking back now it seems like yet another victim of the liberal-capitalist Blob.

81

Anderson 04.11.13 at 4:14 pm

“So why didn’t feminism work?”

As Faludi’s description of the infighting suggests, radical feminism is about as radical as you can get. I suppose most people (of the kind to comment at CT, anyway) have had that eerie, sublime moment of wondering just what in the world *isn’t* based on masculinist presuppositions. Do we differently value female qualities? Reject the idea of gendered qualities? Is our thinking always already based on the ideas we’re trying to reject? Etc.

In short, it’s no wonder if feminism’s been co-opted. It’s got a long way to go.

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Rich Puchalsky 04.11.13 at 4:32 pm

“because even if you think he’s “on your side” when it comes to redistribution, he’s really not if you happen to not be male.”

Object to the “if you happen to not be male” part.. I’m male, and even without bringing abstract reasons into consideration I have a daughter, spouse, female family members etc etc so Hector certainly is not on my side or speaking for the kind of society that I want.

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roger nowosielski 04.11.13 at 5:10 pm

Poor Hector (#71) catching the full brunt from the commentariat here. And for what? Simply for agreeing with the gist of Marthe Raymonds rather innocuous remark (#65), and he’s not even a female. If anything, the so-called do-gooders here, masquerading as feminists (mostly males, of course, out of “collective guilt” perhaps) should confront Marthe Raymond with their wrath, not only because she’s been the cause of this little storm in the teacup but also because she is a woman and a feminist too.

Identity politics has its time and place but mostly as a strategy, a tactics in a far larger and more comprehensive game. While it’s certainly important to regain one’s sense of wellness and importance that has been crushed by an inhumane capitalist/imperialist system, it’s time to start identifying with all the oppressed peoples, not just in the stinking U.S. but all over the world. It’s one of the reasons that OWS had proved thus far such an abject failure, for failing to embrace all whole of the America’s oppressed society.

Of course, it’s much easier to applaud the virtues of feminism or any other movement that’s based on identity politics (which is quite in accord with our liberal/democratic dogma) than to fight the real monster. Meanwhile, the powers that be couldn’t be happier for once again, we’re falling for their divide and conquer ploy.

Get real!

84

Anderson 04.11.13 at 5:21 pm

Shorter Roger: look you, *I* will tell you who’s really oppressed (and who isn’t).

85

rf 04.11.13 at 5:25 pm

Get outa here roger. If anything identity politics would lead to a decline in US imperialism, as the US state becomes more concentrated on satisfying all these new domestic interest groups and less interested in invading other countries. Indeed, you could probably find a pretty neat correlation between the rise in identity politics and US relative decline. (Not really though)
The problem with marthe and Hector’s argument is it makes no sense. US imperialism isn’t going to end if Jessica Valentia stops writing about topics that interest her, and concentrates instead on Hector and marthe’s hobby horses.
Anyway it’s a bit much to be complaining about western imperialism while also calling for westerners to start inserting themselves into other countries business..and to take such a western centric perspective that you wouldn’t even leave the western hemisphere, or the canons of western political thought, to make your argument..or even accept these countries/regions/societies on their own terms, rather than through the prism of western leftist dissatisfaction
There are any number of conflicts Hector et al coul be getting worked up about, and any number of non western societies to emulate, but doing so would actually mean prioritising those poisitons over your personal local beef with modern feminism, and that’s always more important

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Jerry Vinokurov 04.11.13 at 5:27 pm

Object to the “if you happen to not be male” part.. I’m male, and even without bringing abstract reasons into consideration I have a daughter, spouse, female family members etc etc so Hector certainly is not on my side or speaking for the kind of society that I want.

Fair point and poorly phrased on my part. However, I believe I can make my statement correct my appending “chauvinist” to the end.

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Jerry Vinokurov 04.11.13 at 5:33 pm

Roger, seriously, dude?

Here’s the thing: all these things are interconnected. It’s not like there’s a separate box called “women’s issues/feminism” and that stuff is all sequestered away from “the real issues” (whatever you think they are). It’s all part and parcel of the same system, and correcting injustices in one place is a good start to correcting them everywhere. I strongly suspect that if you polled a bunch of feminists, the majority would share the opinion expressed by Marthe and yourself that the problems you outline are serious. What they would not do is concede that other serious problems must somehow take precedence over the question of whether women are full human beings with agency. And rightly so, because what you’re in essence telling them is: your humanity is unimportant by comparison with the things I care about, instead of saying, your humanity is important to me and in addition to that I want to also work with you on projects X, Y, and Z.

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Substance McGravitas 04.11.13 at 5:37 pm

Half the people in my party are always talking about the things THEY find important. How rude.

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roger nowosielski 04.11.13 at 5:56 pm

@ rf, 85

“Get outa here roger.”

That’s a good one, rf. So now you’re telling me to quit this forum just ’cause I may have ruffled some of your feathers. You didn’t mean it literally, though, or have you?

90

chris 04.11.13 at 5:59 pm

Hospitals still seem to be the last bastion of the patriarchy, where staff know and do, and patients don’t know, and are done to.

Is that really patriarchy? I think it’s more driven by the fact that hospitals deal with an area where expertise is fairly rare and very important, the staff are defined by the fact that they have it, and many of the patients don’t.

I would assume most people don’t tell their plumbers how to plumb, either, but because they’re less emotionally invested in plumbing, they don’t notice the one-sidedness as much. Hairdressing allows the client to drive the agenda more because the stakes are lower and there is no objectively better outcome anyway.

Maybe I’m just young enough or foolish enough to have no internalized assumptions about which sex the doctor is likely to be, but it really doesn’t seem to me that an expertise-driven system, even if it sometimes shades into arrogance, has much to do with gender lines.

Although, if your particular doctor happens to also be a man and a patriarchalist, then he may well have a double helping of arrogance when interacting with a female patient. But I don’t think it’s right to tar all doctors with that.

91

rf 04.11.13 at 6:01 pm

No I don’t mean it literally..It’s a playful, good humoured response. If I meant it seriously I would have said GET OUT OF HERE!!

But just adding on to the reply, it seems pretty unfair to define identity politics so narrowly. Working class is an identity, and the way it manifests itself politically (in unions etc) could be said to hurt the worlds poor (to a greater extent than feminism aswell)..so why not call for the the impoverishment of the western working class?

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roger nowosielski 04.11.13 at 6:11 pm

I replied in the same vein, rf. As to the more substantive matters, give me some time to respond.

93

Purple Platypus 04.11.13 at 6:20 pm

Corey @39, presumably the evidence that Faludi “asserts or assumes” that (please circle “assumes” before moving on) is that the WHOLE ARGUMENT OF HER BOOK makes no freaking sense *without* that assumption, or at least something like it. Otherwise she hasn’t made a case that there’s a backlash at all. The mere fact that there was sexism in the late 80s isn’t evidence of a backlash, it is only that if there was MORE sexism in the 80s than in, say, the 50s. In other words, either she makes something akin to the assumption Bianca attributes to her, or her whole book is one big base rate fallacy.

tomslee @55
“…widespread anti-feminist propaganda (the feminazi thing for example) and anti-feminist actions (anti-affirmative action campaigns) could not, by definition, have happened before a feminist movement, and were/are surely some kind of backlash.”

That’s a much better point, but still not terribly responsive to Bianca. It still hasn’t been demonstrated that these things represent an increase in the amount, rather than just a relatively superficial change in the form, of sentiment innimical to feminist ideas.

(I say these things as someone more sympathetic than not to feminist ideas in general, but who tried to read Backlash when it was fairly new and didn’t make it to the midpoint before concluding that it was shit and returning it. If it makes anyone feel better I had almost exactly the same reaction to Iron John.)

Also, MPV@62:
“While I hate to agree with Hector about anything I have to say I am pretty much on board with women doing what ever they want with their names for any reason that seems sensible to them.”

+1, and the same regarding the rest of his list too. Just because I’m not crazy about how often women make some of those choices, doesn’t mean I think the state should ban or tax them or anything like that. Presumably the same goes for nearly all commentators here, and for all but the most extreme people in the feminist movement generally, so Hector’s annoyance is at best misplaced.

94

Purple Platypus 04.11.13 at 6:34 pm

chris @90, good points but I still can’t help but notice that, when I question something that my doctor is doing, I get treated a lot more respectfully than my female friends report getting treated. Sometimes they even change their minds, while female friends often report clearly mistaken doctors sticking to their guns even in the face of pretty compelling evidence that they’re in error. I suppose it’s possible that I’m just that reasonable a platypus, or that lucky in my choice of doctors, but I can’t help but notice how consistently the difference seems to follow gender lines.

The existence of female doctors isn’t an argument to the contrary. When I lived in Houston, the most noticable thing about the racism I observed was that blacks were as guilty of it as anyone – a black retailer or whatever would consistently treat me better than a black customer, especially a black customer who didn’t look like s/he had a lot of money. It seems to be the same way with certain kinds of sexism.

95

Lynne 04.11.13 at 6:45 pm

Chris @ 90,
“Is that really patriarchy? I think it’s more driven by the fact that hospitals deal with an area where expertise is fairly rare and very important, the staff are defined by the fact that they have it, and many of the patients don’t.”

“but it really doesn’t seem to me that an expertise-driven system, even if it sometimes shades into arrogance, has much to do with gender lines.”

To take your second point first: agreed.

About the first point, it’s not the expertise of medical staff that is the problem, it is the use of power. Typically, patriarchy understands power as “power over” something or someone. Consider “man’s” (I use the word advisedly) relationship to the environment. Under patriarchy this relationship has been one of ruinous exploitation. A feminist alternative is to understand power as being “power with” someone or something. The fallout from this difference is huge. Medical staff tend to keep knowledge to themselves, for example, even when it is easily communicated. The _system_ works to this end, too, keeping patients’ charts secret from them.

MPA Victoria @ 75 , Thank you.

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Harold 04.11.13 at 6:47 pm

Hospitals, like the military and universities, are run according to strict hierarchical principles. No one likes to be corrected — But doctors especially don’t like to be corrected by a lower status person (like say, a patient), particularly by someone not in their field (and that goes double if it is a woman). The same thing is true of some academics, I have noticed. After all, they are only human.

On the other hand, it used to be thought that someone who understood something better than other people had a certain ethical obligation to explain it to them, though we don’t hear this aspect of the question as often as we once did.

97

Lynne 04.11.13 at 6:55 pm

Purple Platypus @ 94,

When I was seven months’ pregnant I had to see a consultant (specialist) for the first time. I brought my husband with me and the consultant talked to him the whole time. I don’t know whether he even made eye contact with me.

98

Anarcissie 04.11.13 at 7:10 pm

‘One is not born a woman, but becomes’ (is made into) ‘a woman.’ If so, identity is not intrinsic but a social construction — subject, therefore, to politics. Noticing and preserving, changing, or eliminating identities (as categories of oppression) is a political choice. Since political things are interconnected (@87), action along any dimension of them is valid, but at the same time, those outside an identity can’t reasonably be excluded from the thought and struggle of those within it (@56) — since each is the concern of all in dealing with our human predicament (‘We have met the enemy, and he is us.’)

99

Anderson 04.11.13 at 7:32 pm

Doctors prefer their patients to be unconscious, or failing that, to act unconscious.

My wife had a horrible time breastfeeding child # 1, but on # 2, she got counseling from a breastfeeding expert which helped enormously. It’s luck of the draw whether you find someone who cares & can explain.

100

subdoxastic 04.11.13 at 8:05 pm

Disclaimer: I am not a trained health care provider, nor am I woman, and consequently, my perspective lacks the immediacy and nuance that informs the experiences of the aforementioned groups. Furthermore, I do not intend any ‘should’ or ‘ought to’ be taken from the following experience.

In the lead up to welcoming our first little one to the family, my wife and I had many discussions regarding her wishes regarding her experience of pregnancy and, eventually, delivery.

In researching the various options presented to us for the birth, it became clear that
a) modern health care approaches performed by trained professionals have been critical in reducing mother and infant mortality rates, as well as improved outcomes for both mother and child in those situations where, while death was avoided, other injuries/emergencies occured.
b) the majority of births are not so classified.

My wife was clear that she wished to avoid what she deemed ‘medicalisation’ of her condition as much as possible. She explained that the ‘traditional’ approach to labour and delivery overseen by an og/gyn might not be so traditional afterall. Her points regarding the fact that ob/gyn is a surgical specialty made an impact, as did the research she provided outlining the facts surrounding the use of medical interventions during the delivery process(long story short: allowing the first intervention, for example heart beat monitors, is likely to lead to the imposition of a second intervention which then leads to a third and so on, with a caesarean section increasing in likelihood exponentially at each step of the process). Her concerns regarding what can at times be too quick a move to the injection of pitocin by ob/gyns and the consequent triggering of labour before natural pain killing hormones are produced by the labouring woman were uppermost in mind, being typically squeamishly male about observing her in pain, as were concerns about the effects of the subsequently administered painkillers on both wife and newborn. Her overall point (I’m paraphrasing here) was that it was her pregnancy, and barring emergency, she was not willing to cede her agency to the doctor by allowing them to dictate the grounds on which her pregnancy would be evaluated. Ob/gyn are trained certainly, and that expertise is important, but not in every case, not even in most cases. The deference accorded expertise can sometimes mean that the interests of the expert supercede others; historical accounts of women’s hospital delivery experiences as well as studies detailing the rates of caesarean sections seem to bear this out.

Thankfully, her pregnancy was not considered problematic ( this sounds rather anodyne, I’m sure if she was asked she would be able to provide at least a few examples of ‘problems’ she encountered during pregnancy!)and without major incident. This meant that she was free to employ a midwife during her pregnancy and delivery in accordance with her values. The midwifery collective we chose had priveleges at one of our local hospitals and that is where we decided to deliver ( a compromise that meant her concerns and those of her overly anxious husband were both addressed– I can’t say how grateful we were that this approach was allowed by the authorities where we were living). After what I’m told was a relative short labour and delivery under the supervision of our excellent midwifery team and an observation period of 3 hours we took our baby home that same evening.

Should our little girl choose at some point to have children of our own, I fully expect her to be as informed and determined as her mother in choosing what is right for her, and if a partner is present that he or she will not be a complete dolt and let her decide for herself how she wants things to go. Hopefully trends towards priveleging the wishes of the mother will have continued and she will deliver under the supervision of a supportive and accommodating professional, whether she chooses a midwife or ob/gyn.

101

Mao Cheng Ji 04.11.13 at 8:08 pm

98 “If so, identity is not intrinsic but a social construction — subject, therefore, to politics.”

Is this true? Or are they, rather, manifestations of some objective material facts, and some (but not necessarily all) of those are subject to politics? I don’t think you can deal with social constructions directly. They will not budge.

102

Suzanne 04.11.13 at 8:14 pm

@ 73:
As I said, Lynne, it has nothing to do with your opinion of the innate value of breast feeding or your opinion of the formula manufacturers. It remains a slippery slope from “urging wide-spread education” to making women feel bad about themselves for circumstances and feelings they can’t help.

Bringing social and othe pressures to bear on mothers to nurse or not nurse is nothing new, of course, particularly in the United States. Mothers are forever being told what to do and what not to do, by men and women alike, with dire warnings about the consequences to their offspring if they don’t do whatever is the currently socially approved X or Y. At least they’re not getting blamed for autism any more.

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Anderson 04.11.13 at 8:15 pm

I don’t think you can deal with social constructions directly. They will not budge.

They’re slow to change, but the social construction of homosexuality, for instance, has been undergoing a sea change. The Pill also bears mention. Lenin was not altogether wrong however in predicting that a couple of generations have to go by.

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marthe raymond 04.11.13 at 8:21 pm

I would like to make a few brief comments to several of you:

1) Roger–I noticed when I was applying family systems therapy to families in crisis that in our workplace, as well as in the society at large, we tend to replicate family systems. Since the vast majority of us come from dysfunctional families, the implications are relatively obvious. And Thatcher was wrong, as we are not simply individuals, but bits and pieces of many family systems and our societies represent in the main patriarchal models–top-heavy with authoritarian figures that we call leaders. Every leader is authoritarian, in the sense that no one can be a leader when no one gives him or her a tacit authority to be one. Thatcher was not a feminist, but a wannabe Pinochet-style dictator, which is why they were friends; the photo of her driving a tank in Germany says it all.

2) js:– As a feminist AND indigenist, I am unwilling to limit myself to a feminist analysis of the current geopolitical disaster, as unfortunately feminist is all too often only synonymous with white middle class woman demanding an equal slab of bacon as a white middle class man. My analysis proceeds from the indigenous vision, as that’s how I was raised, and I do believe that if folks were to hop on any bandwagon, it should be that promoted by indigenous folks, as we stand in opposition to the white dominance that neoliberalism promotes, and as a group we are not out to beat the natural world into submission but consider ourselves part of that natural world, and therefore its protectors. Of course indigenous issues do include the struggle for women in non-matriarchal indigenous groups against patriarchy, as well. But that struggle is a subset which actually supports our view of the need to steward the planet, not rape and pillage it.

3)Hector– The sticking point on this thread, as I see it, is that although folks understand that all the problems we face as a planet are related, the majority of folks either have all their priorities on the horizon line–which completely impedes taking any action towards the important changes that must be made if we are to survive–or else their priorities are skewed and even inverted using the yardstick of what they feel they can actually confront or DO. With all the neoliberal propaganda battering people 24/7, the first meaningful act any of us can take is to make our priorities both clear and congruent. That also applies on threads like these where it is important to put one’s need to one-up others and to demonstrate that those student loans for higher education (sic) were not just money tossed in the gutter by compulsively trotting out a long line of white, largely male, western “experts” whose major claim to fame is sustaining the manifest right to dominate the planet, on a far back burner. You don’t create functional plurality by replicating the situation that Orwell described in Animal Farm, where “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”. If you cannot spend time in dominantly non-white countries–which DO make up the majority on this planet–at least go back and dig through Fanon again, and do what your avowed enemy in the Pentagon does: watch Pontecorvo’s films “The Battle of Algiers” and “Burn” over and over until you understand how colonialism operates, as it is still steaming ahead under the neoliberal flag as I write this, and what are the reactions to it on the part of colonized people or people who are now targeted for colonization. Hugo Chávez understood what the primary problems facing the beings on this planet are–and now that universities in Latin America are setting up programs to study his thoughts and work, all I can say is, too bad that didn´t happen while he was still alive to contribute and critique those programs.

4) rf– If you are going to claim that my argument(s) make no sense, you had better be prepared to demonstrate where they don’t make sense–otherwise you are just presenting yourself as a bully. Considering that the stereotype of whites from the US as formulated in most of the non-white world, including the batustans you folks call Indian reservations, is that they are arrogant bullies who think they know everything and that everyone should immediately do things and see things from their perspective, you appear to be tossing gasoline on the fire here. Of course it is your perfect right to throw gasoline on the fire if you want to, but perhaps your motives for doing so could benefit from an analysis.

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rf 04.11.13 at 8:27 pm

You’re right,my reaction was to Hector’s claims specifically and your comment got mixed up in that. So I apologise, though stand over the reaction to hector

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Lynne 04.11.13 at 8:53 pm

Suzanne @ 102,

“Mothers are forever being told what to do and what not to do, by men and women alike, with dire warnings about the consequences to their offspring if they don’t do whatever is the currently socially approved X or Y”

You are absolutely right there. And because of that, it is difficult to discuss childcare without opening the discussion to the interpretation of blaming the mother for something else. Mothers are accorded very little respect, and the hospital tends to infantilize them while at the same time leaving them utterly alone to cope with the newborn. Quite a feat.

Do you think breastfeeding is just a fad, then? I don’t. I think it really is best for the health of babies, and I see it primarily as a health issue for them.

“As I said, Lynne, it has nothing to do with your opinion of the innate value of breast feeding or your opinion of the formula manufacturers. It remains a slippery slope from “urging wide-spread education” to making women feel bad about themselves for circumstances and feelings they can’t help. “

That’s pretty broad, but sure, women can find themselves in circumstances they can’t change and they have bad feelings they can’t help. But I disagree that education is a slippery slope. It’s information, vital information for new mothers who need to decide right away, if they haven’t already, how they are going to feed their babies. Unfortunately, given the toxic environment around motherhood _anything_ can be used against women, including information about breastfeeding.

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LFC 04.11.13 at 9:01 pm

marthe raymond @65:
The current hoohah over US presence in Asia having inexorably led to the threat of nuclear war by North Korea is all about either protecting US control of Asian markets that are falling to China or destroying them with the petulantly infantile bellicosity for which the US is famous.
The US has been ‘in Asia’ since at least the late 19th c. and its seizure of the Philippines as a result of the Sp-Am war. So whatever N Korea is doing, the explanation is not simply that it is a reaction to the US presence in Asia generally or on the Korean peninsula specifically. Also, the US’s Asian markets are not “falling to” China or, if they are, it’s a relatively minor concern; most US exports, iirc, go to its neighbors Canada and Mexico and to Europe.

r. nowosielski @67: pls note that Robert Heilbroner was not a conservative. Not even close.

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Anarcissie 04.11.13 at 9:10 pm

@104: What would prevent the liberal-capitalist Blob from doing to the indigenes what it has done to labor organizations, racial minorities, feminists, hippies, the New Left, the Old Left, etc. etc.? Is there a plan? I’m not trying to one-up anybody.

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LFC 04.11.13 at 9:31 pm

p.s. to 107
though the US wants to export more to Asia, hence FTA w Korea, Trans-Pacific Partnership negs. etc.

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Harold 04.11.13 at 9:40 pm

Breast feeding is information with a time factor — hence the urgency.

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Suzanne 04.11.13 at 9:54 pm

@106:
I think the overall benefits of breast feeding have been proven. And tainted water supplies make the use of formula very risky in many underdeveloped parts of the world.

I would hope that an informed woman’s choice would be her own in consultation with her pediatrician (although somehow I get the impression that you’re not one to accept too many excuses from the slackers), without incurring oppobrium or reproach, and that breast feeding should be regarded as a right (better conditions at work for nursing women, etc., and generally making it easier for women who choose to nurse to do so) but not an obligation.

As for being left alone to make her choice, that was all my friend wanted, actually.

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Corey Robin 04.12.13 at 12:19 am

Platypus at 93: “Corey @39, presumably the evidence that Faludi “asserts or assumes” that (please circle “assumes” before moving on) is that the WHOLE ARGUMENT OF HER BOOK makes no freaking sense *without* that assumption, or at least something like it. Otherwise she hasn’t made a case that there’s a backlash at all. The mere fact that there was sexism in the late 80s isn’t evidence of a backlash, it is only that if there was MORE sexism in the 80s than in, say, the 50s. In other words, either she makes something akin to the assumption Bianca attributes to her, or her whole book is one big base rate fallacy.”

Two problems with this. First, Bianca did not say that Faludi assumed there was more misogyny/sexism in the 1980s than there was in the 1950s. Bianca said that Faludi assumed “there was no misogyny before feminism.” That’s a very different claim, and of course there is zero evidence for it, which is why Bianca couldn’t produce any.

But, second, and more important, you’re simply wrong to say that there must be an increase in sexism in the 1980s over the 1950s to prove there was a backlash. Take an analogy: the backlash against Reconstruction. There’s no evidence that racism or white supremacist violence increased — relative to slavery — during or after Reconstruction. What there is evidence of is tremendous violence and racism against blacks after Reconstruction that was in fact an effort to curtail Reconstruction and roll it back. And it succeeded.

Unless you just want to posit some simple primordial force — hatred of blacks, hatred of women — that has no political purpose or object, the question is to examine what is going on in a particular era. Faludi has tremendous evidence — for example her chapters on the Christian Right, which was in fact a movement that arose *in part* in reaction to feminism — showing that the sexism and misogyny you see in the 1970s and 1980s is not free-floating hatred, no different from the 1950s, but is in fact directed at a particular phenomenon: the feminist movement.

If you want to dispute her thesis, you have to show that that sexism she is examining (and again, those chapters on the Christian Right are a good place to start, though she has many others; look at the legal backlash on workplace regulations and litigation that she talks about toward the end of the book), has nothing to do with feminism. Saying that there was no more sexism in the 1980s than in the 1950s (she doesn’t claim there was, and how would you prove it either way?) has zippo to do with her argument.

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marthe raymond 04.12.13 at 1:15 am

Anarcisse: I am afraid I simply do not understand your questions.

In fact, given that genocide was pretty effective at reducing the indigenous population of what is now the US and Canada–by about 97%–and continues to this moment, I find your placing possible acts against us in the future quite mysterious, to say the least.

As for a plan, adopting the indigenous view of living on the planet is not enough for you?

It never fails to amaze me that white folks always want someone to tell them how to proceed, yet they present themselves as having all the answers.

Give me a break.

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roger nowosielski 04.12.13 at 2:07 am

@ LFC 04.11.13 at 9:01 pm, #107

Perhaps he wasn’t by the mid-seventies standards, and politically speaking, in that he was equally critical of capitalism and socialism, and equally complimentary. But he certainly was a conservative along the social spectrum, especially as regards almost a deterministic view of the early upbringing and the conditioning process when it came to defining human character — the trait of obedience figuring among the most telling of human characteristics.

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Harold 04.12.13 at 2:15 am

Nutritionists who have studied the matter say that the average age of weaning is 14 mos. Our society is in no way set up to accomodate this – the whole stressful apparatus of breast pumping from work, for example, militates against it. Hence the discomfort (guilt) women feel when information about the health benefits of breast feeding is presented to them.

The sexism and misogyny we saw in the 1980s and 90s was a fringe phenomenon, as is that of the Christian right. That of the 1950s — going back to the first feminist movements of the 1880s — was quite overt and mainstream. That is a victory, I suppose, though structural societal anti-feminism is still present.

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Lynne 04.12.13 at 3:16 pm

@111

“I would hope that an informed woman’s choice would be her own in consultation with her pediatrician (although somehow I get the impression that you’re not one to accept too many excuses from the slackers”

No need to be snarky. In your original post you said your friend had trouble breastfeeding which I took to mean she wanted to (why else was she trying and having trouble?), and I asked if she had help or support from the hospital. Trying to breastfeed twins she’d need it. But enough. Peace.

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MPAVictoria 04.12.13 at 4:28 pm

“I would hope that an informed woman’s choice would be her own in consultation with her pediatrician (although somehow I get the impression that you’re not one to accept too many excuses from the slackers)”

I think you are reading your own anger into Lynne’s comments here.

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Suzanne 04.13.13 at 1:22 am

@116: That was the impression I garnered from your posts overall. Delighted to hear it was a mistaken one, and sorry for misinterpreting your stance.

No, after an initial attempt my friend had no great desire to breast feed twins and wasn’t terribly interested in the “encouragement” on offer. The kids are doing great, BTW. Peace to you, as well.

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Harold 04.13.13 at 6:27 am

“I had a friend who had twins, had trouble breast feeding, and did not want to continue. ” is not the same as “after an initial attempt had no great desire to breast feed twins and wasn’t terribly interested in the ‘encouragement’ on offer.”

It sounds like she didn’t want to breast feed from the get-go and resented being encouraged to by the staff who felt they were acting according to what is now considered best practice. Boo, hoo. If your doctor tells you to cut down on salt, exercise more, and eat more fish, and you don’t feel like doing it, you are hardly in a position to complain of being persecuted and made to feel guilty by the medical profession.

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lupita 04.13.13 at 2:38 pm

Fu Ko@73

Your rant did not generate you any income stream and, just like raising kids, it was much more valuable than 99% of paid work. So was reading it.

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Meredith 04.14.13 at 4:42 am

I am not a lesbian, and I see many limits in LGBT discourse. But. A lot in this whole conversation explains why serious feminist discourse shifted to discussions of same-sex in the 1980’s, gender (rather than sex) in the 80’s and 90’s, and, since, transgender and queering and the whole bit. That’s where the energy and honesty of Firestone now is. Her Dialectic of Sex had a big impact on me a million years ago, however much I discounted whole swathes of it at the time. The part I most remember: let the kids go play in the streets! I always liked that. (The vision of mechanical wombs — am I remembering correctly? — that’s where I found and find myself getting sympathetic with the breast-feeding-obsessed, though I can never really join them. Geeze, just give the baby your teat, if you don’t have to be at work at feeding time. Hey, there’s a real problem for all but a few women.)

I’ve been so busy with other things lately that the New Yorkers have really piled up, but I am eager to find the Faludi article. Not least in the suggestion that feminists need to investigate and construct a history, to stop denying. Boy (!), does that sound right.

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Harold 04.14.13 at 5:56 am

Someone I knew went to a meeting of the red-stockings in 1969, and they were saying “leave child raising to the professionals” and my friend asked, “Where are you going to find these professionals?”

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Anarcissie 04.15.13 at 5:09 am

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