Thursday, May 14, 2009

Battle of the Sex

A couple of months ago, I wrote a tract on opinion and judgement, stating that it is a slippery slope we tackle when we write opinions and commentary on our blogs, or in public forums, stating that we believe our point of view to be the "correct" one. While it is possible to find a great number of people who may agree on any one salient point about a particular topic, statistics tell us there will always be groups outside the mean with differing opinions. The idea of debate is founded on this; for any subject, there is more than one side, more than one opinion, and in a proper setting, the give-and-take of ideas allows us to see all sides clearly, form value judgements, and come to a consensus.


The twin phenomena of the blog and the commenter, brought about by the rise of the Information Age, has altered the normal structure of debate and dialog to a great extent. Whereas great debate has always taken place in person, between parties capable of reacting to each other, making their vision and passion known through their actions at the podium, as well as their words, the Internet has provided us with the idea of "telepresent" debate, whereby hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people may weigh in on a topic, in a kind of whirling frenzy, punctuated by colorful metaphors and diatribes and remotely-launched character assassination. All this, from behind the cloak of anonymity, or in some cases, pseudo-anonymity. Most combatants in this game of computerized expostulation take part behind shields of their own creations, pseudonyms being the rule more than the exception. Even I find it easier to comment while shielded by a name which is part trademark, and part jest.

Most of it is harmless enough. Trading banter has always been part of the human condition. However, the relative anonymity and ease of attainment leads many to unleash inner demons, allow the darker parts of themselves to roam free. Intellect and cogent discourse are subverted by emotion and rampant gainsaying. A holier-than-thou attitude, normally checked by proximity to people, is launched onto the Internet, to wreak havoc and sow discord through narrow-mindedness and effrontery.

This was no more evident than when Linda Hirshman, of Slate's female-oriented site doubleX, went on a rambling, baseless, and self-indicting screed against a site on which I comment regularly, Jezebel. The gist of the attack was that feminism was being ruined by the editorial staff of Jezebel. Rather than reproduce any portion of the diatribe here (feel free to look it up on doubleX, under the title 'The Trouble With Jezebel'), given that I do not wish to drive any more readers to that site, it must be said you could find more coherence of thought in a Chinese restaurant menu.

I won't launch any kind of personal attack here; I will say that if Linda Hirshman is holding herself out to be a scion of feminism, then feminism is, indeed, in serious trouble. You cannot, on one hand, claim that feminism is about the liberation of women from the oppression of men that has lasted for centuries, while, on the other hand, decrying women using that hard-won freedom to do as they wish. It is especially galling that she should heap her particular brand of ill-considered scorn on the editors and staff of Jezebel, who represent what is probably one of the best staffs of any web site you care to name. Day after day, they fill Jezebel with timely and important information of interest to women (and men like myself, who care about women's issues), as well as entertainment news, providing an eclectic mix that makes for a pleasant read.

Ms. Hirshman based her opinions on a handful of posts and one video from an ill-fated discussion attended by two editors. From that scant base, she concocted a theory of how the freedom of these women and their personal choices spelled the doom of classic feminism. Apparently, being a feminist and having been freed of the patriarchy, you are free to go about your business, as long as it doesn't reflect badly on feminism. That is to say, you're not allowed to make mistakes in judgement, not allowed to determine how you will handle your own rape, not allowed to imbibe freely, not allowed to be a free-wheeling, devil-may-car, sex-enjoying woman. Once you have been labeled a feminist, you receive your ID card and handbook, and are expected to be circumspect, to follow the tenets of the movement religiously, and are allowed no variation from them.

To say that all this is laughable and ludicrous, is to put it mildly. Like so many of the "old guard" that any movement spawns, Ms. Hirshman is frightened by these women, who have taken their freedom and run with it, while she remains fettered to the movement. As any movement (feminism, civil rights, gay rights, etc.) progresses, it grows and evolves, incorporates more people, people with different viewpoints and perspectives, who take it in new directions and break new ground. Such is the way of things. This leaves the old-timers waxing nostalgic, pining for the ground-breaking days, when they could control the thing they breathed life into. But the only constant in the universe is change; those who deny it are left behind, embittered.

Eventually a thing grows beyond those who brought it into being. That is true of our country, which the Founding Fathers would know but not recognize. Or a California redwood, which has far outlived all the plants and animals that were alive when it sprouted as a seedling. It is very true of children, who last far beyond their parents, and see the world become far different than the one they first emerged into. So it is that feminism has moved beyond suffrage and "women's lib," to become a standard, something that generations of women from now to the distant future will accept as their normal birthright. True, women are still caught in an imperfect human society, portions of which have yet to see this new birth of female freedom, but no longer is it just a crazy idea, a pie-in-the-sky dream still awaiting its day. No, feminism is now a living, breathing entity, an implacable force that will shape our world in myriad ways, as it sweeps across our planet and lifts the faces of all women up to the sun.


  1. Also, didn't the interview they're talking about happen, like, a year and a half ago? Moe doesn't even work at Jezebel anymore!

    (Not that I don't love Moe, because I do. I'm just saying.)

  2. Indeed. I think going on two years now. I mean, if you really read her article, most of what she cites is older material. Something tells me she has no idea what life is like at Jezebel right now. And of course, she'd never read it on a daily basis, because she might actually start to like it.

    She's like the Dick Cheney of feminism.

  3. I think this is a problem with many "old guard" situations. They can't handle the natural evolution of things and panic when they feel their power and control slipping away. Instead of learning more about the "new guard" and adapting, they lash out and come off sounding really ridiculous and out-of-touch. (I'm looking at you, GOP.)
    It's a shame, because even if they have valid points/issues somewhere, they're lost in the sea of crazy.

  4. Well, I thought the whole idea of any movement was to get everyone to embrace it, or if not, at least tolerate it. Feminism has been making great strides, and it's only natural that the movement should change as its scope broadens.

  5. I agree that it should and it will continue to expand and move forward. I think these changes scare some "old guard" types because they fear giving up any kind of power they have, whether real or imagined, or they think the way things have always been done is the right and only way to do things. Or perhaps they see these changes as an affront to or rejection what they worked for?

  6. The problem with movements is that you want to get new people to embrace it, yes---at first. But all bureaucracies eventually exist to serve themselves; once a thing becomes a movement, and organization with its own character and methods, it naturally begins to defend itself against incursion.

    It's like inertia; the more people you get on board at the beginning, the faster you go. But after a few years, you've got so many people involved that you can't stop it, or change it, or do anything to it.