February 15 2017
Movement feminism is back--and it's beginning to look a lot like the sixties.
Unfortunately, this is not a feminism based on equity and opportunity but rather a throwback to the victimhood and anger of an earlier feminism.
A New Yorker piece, by Jia Tolentino, a regular contributor to the magazine and a former editor at Jezebel, the feminist blog, sets forth a lot of markers of this new old feminism. This comes in the form of Tolentino's analysis of a book on feminism by Jessa Crispin, founder of Bookslut, a literary magazine, and a former Planned Parenthood worker in Texas.
First off, this feminism is theoretical and esoteric:
It seemed, at points, as though anyone who understands the terms of Crispin’s argument would already agree with her.
Crispin's book is entitled Why I Am Not a Feminist. The main reason is that Crispin sees contemporary feminism before the defeat of Hillary Clinton as having been co-opted by mainstream values:
The most vital strain of thought in “Why I Am Not a Feminist” is Crispin’s unforgiving indictment of individualism and capitalism, value systems that she argues have severely warped feminism, encouraging women to think of the movement only insofar as it leads to individual gains. We have misinterpreted the old adage that the personal is political, she writes—inflecting our personal desires and decisions with political righteousness while neatly avoiding political accountability. We may understand that “the corporations we work for poison the earth, fleece the poor, make the super rich more rich, but hey. Fuck it,” Crispin writes. “We like our apartments, we can subscribe to both Netflix and Hulu, the health insurance covers my SSRI prescription, and the white noise machine I just bought helps me sleep at night.”
That this line of argument seems like a plausible next step for contemporary feminism reflects the recent and rapid leftward turn of liberal politics. Socialism and anti-capitalism, as foils to Donald Trump’s me-first ideology, have taken an accelerated path into the mainstream. “Why I Am Not a Feminist” comes at a time when some portion of liberal women in America might be ready for a major shift—inclined, suddenly, toward a belief system that does not hallow the “markers of success in patriarchal capitalism . . . money and power,” as Crispin puts it. There is, it seems, a growing hunger for a feminism concerned more with the lives of low-income women than with the number of female C.E.O.s.
The opposing view—that feminism is not just broadly compatible with capitalism but actually served by it—has certainly enjoyed its share of prominence. This is the message that has been passed down by the vast majority of self-styled feminist role models over the past ten years: that feminism is what you call it when an individual woman gets enough money to do whatever she wants. Crispin is ruthless in dissecting this brand of feminism. It means simply buying one’s way out of oppression and then perpetuating it, she argues; it embraces the patriarchal model of happiness, which depends on “having someone else subject to your will.” Women, exploited for centuries, have grown subconsciously eager to exploit others, Crispin believes. “Once we are a part of the system and benefiting from it on the same level that men are, we won’t care, as a group, about whose turn it is to get hurt.”
The electoral defeat of Hillary Clinton is important in giving impetus of Crispin-style feminism, not that Clinton was sufficiently radical. Tolentino muses:
I also wondered how the book might land if Hillary Clinton had won—if the insufficiently radical feminism Crispin rails against had triumphed rather than absorbed a staggering blow. Instead, her book arrives at a useful and perhaps unexpected cultural inflection point: a time when political accommodation appears fruitless, and when, as Amanda Hess noted in the Times Magazine this week, many middle-class white women have marched in closer proximity to far-left ideas than perhaps they ever would have guessed. Exhortations to “transform culture, not just respond to it” are what many of us want to hear.
Clinton’s loss on Nov. 8 was a pivotal, identity-shifting moment in the course of the American women’s movement. In an evening, the would-be first female president was shoved to the side by what a sizable chunk of the nation saw as that classic historical figure: the male chauvinist pig. In parts of the popular imagination, it wasn’t just a loss for Clinton or for the Democratic Party. It was a repudiation of feminism itself.
Hess' article is headlined "How a Fractious Women's March Came to Lead the Left."
In light of these two articles, I am wondering if I might suggest that Hillary Clinton's failure to shatter a largely imaginary glass ceiling gave rise to a new old feminism that (we're going for cliches this morning) turned back the hands of the clock.
This is not your mother's feminism. It is your grandmother's feminism.