Friday, June 04, 2004

The Flanagan Circus and the New Yorker

Caitlin Flanagan is a new staff writer for the fabled New Yorker magazine. I have already written about her extensively, and those of you who have never heard of her, but are interested in knowing more should click here. The gist of that post is that Flanagan is the new darling of the East Coast literati, a writer who hates feminism and most women, who can't do proper research or make a logical argument, but who is very witty and if she's published in the Atlantic Monthly (her previous job) or the New Yorker, well, there must be something deeper in her message.

Christine Cupaiuolo in ms. musings tells us about the latest Flanagan-debate between Herself and several women who are still willing to call themselves feminists, despite Caitlin's pathbreaking work in trying to make feminism obsolete. Some Flanagan-quotes from this circus:

In her letter published in the May issue of The Atlantic, the writer and feminist Lynne Sharon Schwartz called Ms. Flanagan's essay "narrow-minded and self-serving." "Anyone who admits to never having changed a sheet should not presume to expound on those who have changed thousands," Ms. Schwartz wrote, suggesting that Ms. Flanagan's husband might pitch in with the linens as well. The debate turned even weirder when, in response, Ms. Flanagan wrote with a kind of wicked glee, "As for my husband's changing sheets—why in the world would I want him to do that? He is the head of the household, and I treat him as such. But I'm not a feminist, so there's no surprise there."


Consider that line about her husband being the "head of the household." What does she mean by that term, exactly?
"How old are you?" was Ms. Flanagan's response. "What do you think I mean?" To the suggestion that the term implies that the man of the house gets a free pass from doing domestic chores, she responds demurely, "I mean by it whatever anyone would think that I meant," adding, "if my husband pops a button, I sew it back on."
So she doesn't wash the sheets, but she does sew buttons. Does she like to sew buttons? "I do like to sew buttons. I think it's very rewarding that you can take a garment that's shabby and unwearable and in this quick way you can really transform it," she said. "It's an easy little gift for me to give him." Yet this is from the same woman who in her 2003 essay on Erma Bombeck wrote that "I have been married a total of fourteen years to a total of two men, and never once have I been asked to iron a single item of either man's clothing or to replace even one popped button, for which I suppose I have the women's movement to thank. But I realize now, late in the game, that we'd be much better off if I had a few of those skills."
But to accuse Ms. Flanagan of inconsistency misses the point entirely. Who cares that Ms. Flanagan apparently found the redemptive power of button-sewing some time between 2002 and 2004? Ms. Flanagan clearly relishes pushing buttons as much as she does sewing them.

and as a sort of concise summary of her odd logic:

"The two things I hate most are feminism and homophobia."

says she, or that hatred of others as a group is a bad thing in general, but a very good thing if it's about women. It's all very silly, of course. That's why Flanagan's presence in the New Yorker is such a conundrum.

There are, after all, many writers of her ilk, writers seeking fame and recognition by holding outrageous opinions and by changing the argument whenever they get caught for being wrong with the initial one. It isn't Flanagan's writing that causes the furor among women (and a few goddesses as well) who call themselves feminists. It is the behavior of the Atlantic Monthly and the New Yorker in choosing to portray someone like Flanagan as the Voice On Women's Matters. How utterly demeaning for women! And how utterly
callous and greedy! Just consider whether they'd employ a black member of the Ku Klux clan for similar purposes, and if they did, consider how the readers of the magazine would react to that.

But when the human rights that are debated belong to women it's perfectly acceptable to portray these rights as something ridiculous, nay, even harmful for the women themselves. It's perfectly acceptable to describe the prophet of such views as someone with "real wit" and to be "very excited to have her join in on the conversation" on family issues. Not to mention to have her single-handedly in charge of the said family issues.

What this demonstrates is how very far away we still are from a society that really believes in the equality of men and women. Women's issues are a sideshow in the big circus, and feminists are the new bearded women to be ogled at. As long as this draws enough paying customers or subscribers the Caitlin Flanagans of this world will wield the impresario's whip in the middle of this little circus ring.