Feminism has been having its problems lately. What with the rise of the Mama Grizzlies, feminists have been losing power among American women.
Before launching into an analysis of why feminism is currently on the rocks, I want to begin with a few pieces of reality, a few observations about human behavior that will add to our understanding of the differences between the sexes.
Say that a man goes to a party or a function where every other man is wearing a blue or gray suit. If he is wearing a brown suit, a sports jacket, or a golf shirt, he is going to fee strangely out of place, as though he does not belong.
For a man, following the dress code is vital to his feeling like he belongs to a group.
Surely, there are exceptions, but, as they say, exceptions prove the rule.
If a woman goes to the same party, and, upon entering the room, notices three women wearing a dress that looks exactly like hers, she will be mortified, offended, and feel generally uncomfortable. If any of the women knew in advance which dress she was wearing, the discomfort will turn to anger.
A woman might well have bought a new dress for the occasion. A man will never buy a new suit to attend a party or a social function.
But, where a man seeks to wear the right uniform, a woman will aim for uniqueness and individuality, as though she is saying that she is irreplaceable.
By comparison, men are far more interchangeable. To the point where you would almost think that human cultures are organized to value women and devalue men.
As everyone knows, male dress codes derive from the military, and, by extension, athletic teams. Wearing the uniform means you belong to the group. Certain insignia show your status and stature within the group.
When women join the military, the dress code is bent, but not broken. Women wear uniforms; their uniforms bear insignia; they play according to the same rules as men.
The same applies to women on athletic teams. And it ought to apply to women who enter male-dominant professions. As an article today suggested, women who play sports do better in business than women who do not play sports. Link here.
All military organizations and all companies foster advancement. They contain ways for people to move up the status hierarchy.
And everyone aspires to advance, by promotion and by compensation.
Those who are on a lower level of the hierarchy emulate those who are above them. And those who are on a higher level of the hierarchy prepare those who will succeed them.
Mentoring is part of any executive job description.
Again, these are male-dominant status hierarchies, ones that have recently been more or less successful at integrating women.
To the point that most women who work in corporate environments would much prefer to work for male bosses than for female executives. Those who have had the experience have mostly stated that men were better mentors than women.
And this caused Susan Faludi to question what appears to her to be a general dysfunctionality in female status hierarchies. Why is it that women do not like to work for women? Why is it that women of different generations have so much difficulty cooperating? And why should feminist groups like the National Organization for Women be having so much trouble arranging for an orderly process of succession and promotion?
Faludi's article appeared in the latest Harpers. A goodly part of it-- but not all of it-- is available online. Link here. I have only read what is available to non-subscribers, but I have also read a few commentaries on it. I will not link or examine the commentaries because I found them disappointing. They did not address Faludi's argument, which I find well worth considering.
Faludi focuses on intergenerational warfare within the feminist movement. Whether at NOW or in women's studies programs, she finds a stark conflict between the generations. And she adds that if feminism is going to reproduce itself-- and not remain barren-- it will need to overcome this problem.
In Faludi's words (note the fertility analogy): "With each go-round, women make gains, but the movement never seems able to establish an enduring birthright, a secure line of descent-- to reproduce itself as a strong and sturdy force. At the core of America's most fruitful political movement resides a perpetual barrenness."
I will confess that I am not very well informed about or very interested in what is going on over at NOW. And I am hardly a supporter of most of what passes for feminism these days. Given its basis in radical leftist politics, I am not unhappy to see it imploding.
Of course, that is not the point. Faludi does identify an important organizational problem and an important issue in the way that women of one generation get along (or don't) with women of another generation.
If a young man will happily emulate an older man who has more status and authority, the same does not seem to apply to a younger woman's relationship with an older woman.
Perhaps a younger woman considers that her youth confers a competitive advantage over an older woman... in the world of relationships. If so, she would not want to dress to look much older than she is.
Where a man's increased age and status will make him a more desirable mate, a woman's advanced age will make her a less desirable mate.
But when younger women refuse to emulate older women, the older women take it as a sign of disrespect. Almost as though the younger women are showing off their advantage.
And this seems to work even within the ranks of NOW where the dynamic does not concern competing for male attention.
And yet, NOW is a gynocracy; it is largely a male-free zone. And it is dedicated to building a sisterhood of like-minded women, accompanied by a few token men.
Even if young women are not naturally driven to emulate or imitate older women, there ought to be a way to negotiate the impediment. And to do it without recruiting young women into the feminist cause.
Let's return to Sarah Palin's Mama Grizzlies. Are these older women subject to the same disrespect as the older generation of feminists is?
Don't you have the sense that Sarah Palin and Nikki Haley and Meg Whitman are more capable of inspiring young women than are the scolds who inhabit the upper regions of the feminist hierarchy? If you ask a young woman whose life she would rather have, would she answer that she would want the life of a Mama Grizzly or of a feminist leader?
Does feminism aggravate tendencies that can be negotiated?
Keep in mind: feminists are not inviting girls to become women; they are inviting girls to become feminists.
And this, in itself, will make it far more difficult for feminism to attract adherents.
Most women want career success, not ideological commitments. They want to have lives, as balanced or unbalanced as they would wish, without having to worry about conforming to the dictates of a cause.
And this is something that the Mama Grizzlies represent, along with their demonstration that you can, as a woman, have it all.