Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Lefty Feminist Echidne

I was linked to on Slate:

Fair and balanced and … public? In the latest example of backlash against the allegedly liberal news media, CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson is "pressing public television to correct what he and other conservatives consider liberal bias," reports the New York Times. Among several controversial moves, Tomlinson reportedly hired an outside consultant to keep track of guests appearing on Now With Bill Moyers and urged public broadcasting officials to air a program hosted by the editor of the Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial page.

Needless to say, lefties are outraged. "It's funeral time for PBS," writes the feminist Echidne of the Snakes. The left-leaning Phonograph notes how people who allege bias among news organizations "tend to have a bias themselves." Linkmeister has some choice snippets from a recent New York Times Magazine interview with Ken Ferree, the interim president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

It's naturally proper for my divine opinions to gain wider readership (assuming someone reads the Slate), but my reaction to being defined as a lefty feminist was very odd. I had to go out and walk in the woods to think about it for a while and to ask the trees for some advice.

This lefty feminist Echidne of the Snakes is some other goddess, someone on the barricades with one breast showing, someone quoting from Mao's Little Red Book. Or so it seemed to me. You see, I am normal. I have the right opinions on everything which means that I must be in the center and others are too right or too left.

Likewise, to be defined as a feminist implies that others are not so. I refuse to think that very many people support unequal opportunities for or worth of men and women, though of course I know that this is the optimistic view. Still, the impression I get from the quote above is that my being a feminist is somehow marking me as an oddball. It could be that I'm just oversensitive and read too much into it all.

But it's the lefty bit that really troubled me. I have never even voted for a socialist candidate in any elections! I advocate a mixed economy! I like the idea of laws that protect workers and ban discrimination, but I have never argued for any banning of capitalist activities. Yes, I am indeed a lefty in the United States, but what does this say about the way we define the political dimensions? Attila the Hun is seen to be middle-of-the-road, that's what it says.

None of this is of any interest to anyone but me. Except that it shows how self-definition is not the same thing as societal definitions. It's the societal definitions that determine how others react to us, and usually certain groups have much more power in naming than others. The political correctness debacle was all about the right to name and the content of the labels that are given. The powerful won it by using ridicule (some of it earned) and the fear of hierarchies turned upside-down. Thus, they still have the right to name, not those on the lower ladders of the hierarchy.

The hegemony is not as total as it once was, and the blogosphere is a good example of the variations now possible. Many of us call the extreme right wingnuts, for example, at least among each other. As they are in power this is kind of exhilarating, cheeky and even a little dangerous. But the term has no mainstream relevance. On the other hand, the originally quite neutral term "liberal" is widely viewed as one of the worst things a politician in the U.S. can be called. This shows how strong the power of naming can be.