Friday, July 23, 2004

"Self-indulgent" feminism?

Oh great. The Dallas News (a far-flung correspondent informs) spills ink excerpting Barbara Ehrenreich's commencement speech this spring at Barnard. I don't understand how someone who gets so much so right can be so wrong. She looks at Pfc. Lynndie England's pictures at Abu Ghraib and says, "a certain kind of feminism . . . of feminist naivete . . . died" for her with those images.

It was a kind of feminism that saw men as the perpetual perpetrators, women as the perpetual victims, and male sexual violence against women as the root of all injustice.

Out of this theory, in Ehrenreich's understanding, came something deeply troubling: "the assumption, implicit or stated outright, that women were morally superior to men."

This seems to be a bad misunderstanding of Carol Gilligan or more likely it's Catherine MacKinnon and/or Andrea Dworkin straight up.

The conclusion, the new revelation, that Ehrenreich brings us, is that "We need a kind of woman who doesn't want to be one of the boys when the boys are acting like sadists or fools. And we need a kind of woman who isn't trying to assimilate, but to infiltrate and subvert the institutions she goes into."

There is nothing new here. Adrienne Rich said it better 25 years ago in a commencement speech at Smith College. (For that matter, Virginia Woolf said it even earlier when in Three Guineas she proposed an "outsiders society.") Rich urged these young women to resist "female tokenism": "the false power which masculine society offers to a few women, on condition that they use it to maintain things as they are, and that they essentially 'think like men.'"

Women will never change any profession unless they "refuse to be made into token insiders, unless they zealously preserve the outsider's view and the outsider's consciousness," Rich says. "For no woman is really an insider in the institutions fathered by masculine consciousness."

There's nothing here about the moral superiority of women (nor in Virginia Woolf, who was too worldly wise to go for that). Rather, it's remarkably similar to a certain male "outsider's" call for a radical revolution of values. It has to do with maintaining critical distance.

Meanwhile today's news brings an Army report concluding that the "abuses" at Abu Ghraib were not systemic (a very different picture from the one outlined by Gen. Taguba and, separately, by the Red Cross). Just a few bad apples, after all.

No comments: