Friday, November 11, 2005

The Voice Of Sanity

Katha Pollitt's new column on Maureen Dowd's new book (Are Men Necessary?) is a wonderful breeze of sanity. We all need it. Sometimes I get so tangled up in the pro- and anti-feminist struggles that I start looking for employment as an eremite. Reading Katha's column is much cheaper and more enjoyable as a way of disentangling all that stuff. And then you can keep on dating. And doing feminism.

Katha begins by stating the main problem I also had with Dowd's work: her lack of real sources:

Maureen Dowd doesn't read my column. I know this because in her new book, Are Men Necessary?, she uncritically cites virtually every fear-mongering, backlash-promoting study, survey, article and book I've debunked in this space. She falls for that 1986 Harvard-Yale study comparing women's chances of marrying after 40 to the likelihood of being killed by a terrorist, and for the half-baked theories of Sylvia Ann Hewlett (ambitious women stay single or childless), Lisa Belkin (mothers give up their careers), Louise Story (even undergraduates understand this now) and other purveyors of the view that achievement and romance/family are incompatible for women. To be fair, Dowd apparently doesn't read Susan Faludi or Susan Douglas either, or The American Prospect, Slate, Salon or even The New Republic, home of her friend Leon Wieseltier, much thanked for editorial help in her introduction--all of which have published persuasive critiques of these and other contributions to backlash lit. Still, it hurts. I read her, after all. We all do.

Yes. We all read Dowd. We all read thirstily the few female political columnists we have, and we listen to what they have to say about women. That is why what Dowd has to say about women troubled me. Not the "trends" she created or the anecdotes she told. These things do happen, I am sure. But I am fairly definite that they are not a trend in the statistical sense. Not yet at least. And here is where Katha's next message is important:

"You're always so glass-half-full in public," my editor says at this point. "But in private you're as down as Dowd." Well, not quite that down. But yes, I thought we'd be further along by now. I feel for young women today--somehow, between the irony and the knowingness and the 24/7 bath in pop celebrity culture and its repulsive values, it can be harder for them than it was for us to call a sexist spade a spade. They've been bombarded from birth with consumerism and Republicanism and hyperindividualism, and told in every possible way that feminism is deeply uncool and unhot. Dowd is such a credulous audience for backlash propaganda it doesn't occur to her that she is promoting, not reporting, the problem she describes. I'm amazed, actually, that feminism is still around, given the press it gets.

That is it, in a nutshell. Maureen promotes what she pretends to deplore. She is in the trend-making business.

This business has been around a long time. Feminism has been declared dead every two or three years since the late 1970s. It is one of those beasts that just will not die, but never mind, if the announcement is made often enough people will finally believe in it and pack away their Birkenstocks and turtlenecks (to borrow from Dowd's idea of what would be in a feminist toolkit) and run out to buy some feminine razors.

Then the next writer coming up with a feminism-is-dead article will make a killing. Or that is how I gather the trend-making logic would go. And yes, it's amazing that feminism is still around, given the press it gets.