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.