Monday, June 21, 2010

Should We Wave Good-Bye to Feminism?

Its impassioned adherents claim that feminism comes in waves. I confess to not being enough of a surfer to have followed all of the waves of feminism, so I am not sure whether we are at wave three or four.

Why waves? Because it allows feminists to gloss over the contradictory positions that different feminists have taken on different issues. Some feminists have believed that sex with a man is always a form of exploitation; some feminists have seen pornography as a form of female empowerment; some feminists celebrate sexual freedom and self-expression.

These contradictions subsist because feminism is like a cult trying to attract more and more adherents. When you tell young women that they can believe whatever they believe, that they can behave however they will, and still join the ranks of feminists... then the concept of different waves is a valuable recruitment tool.

But what if contemporary feminism has fallen into a complete contradiction? Could it be that feminism is more about sacrificing your life to an ideal than about defending women in the world? What if feminism does not much care about what happens to women as long as they are feminists?

Will this realization usher in a new wave of feminism or cause the movement, the cause, and the cult to wilt under the weight of its own contradictions?

Such were my thoughts after I read Philosophy Professor Nancy Bauer's recent reflections on the state of feminism, with special reference to the crucial importance of the now ubiquitous Lady Gaga. Link here.

We should certainly have predicted that what with the monumental cultural importance of Lady Gaga, Her Gaganess would eventually be enlisted as a feminist recruiting tool. Especially for teenage girls.

You love Lady Gaga; you want to become just like her; now, you can do it by becoming a card-carrying feminist.

What does Prof. Bauer say about Lady Gaga: "Apparently, even though she loves men-- she hails them!-- she is a little bit of a feminist because she exemplifies what it looks like for a woman to say, and to believe, that there is nobody like her."

A truly remarkable philosophical jumble, this statement makes you wonder what passes for philosophy in serious universities these days.

Anyway, Bauer believes that even if a woman loves men, even hails them, she can be a little bit of a feminist. Does this mean that she can be a lot of a feminist if she does not love men, if she feels contempt for them?

What does it mean to be a feminist? Bauer says that it involves being able to say and believe that "there is nobody like her."

Now, one does understand the appeal of such statements. Women do want to be loved uniquely; they want to be seen by their lovers as so special that they can offer something that is so unique that no one can take their places.

One wonders what this has to do with feminism or Lady Gaga. It seems merely to be an aspect of femininity. Women's fashion always allows for a larger zone of creativity than does masculine attire.

I will guess that since Bauer asserts firmly that femininity is a social construct, she would not accept that interpretation of her statement.

I suspect that it means that she takes Lady Gaga as sui generis, a creature that is so unique that she has nothing in common with any other creatures. Call it a perfect expression of individuality if you like.

If we were merely talking about Lady Gaga you could say that there is something relentlessly unique in her self-creation. But if that is true, it is hard to see how she can also be a role model. Anyone who modeled herself on Lady Gaga would be adopting traits and characteristics that are not uniquely hers.

Of course, Lady Gaga is not really a role model for young women, nor should she be made into a feminist icon, because she is simply a celebrity, an entertainer. Granted she is very good at it, but there are very few people who achieve the status of unique celebrity-- a star.

If you look at this through Thomist eyes, celebrities are earthly angels... most often of the fallen variety.

What does matter is that if you are uniquely individuated like Lady Gaga then you do not really belong to a human community. You live elsewhere; in a world of your own creation. I am not going to criticize this. But you have to be willing to pay a very steep price to pull it off. And it is mostly not an example that anyone should be encouraged to emulate.

Bauer's larger point is that a celebrity like Lady Gaga can adopt all of the tropes of femininity while trying to deconstruct them at the same time. If you are not thoroughly conversant with philosophical double talk, you may think of it as self-parody.

At what point then does self-parody become a contradiction in terms, and what is the price that this exacts on the young women who have decided that they can live their lives as they please, in full defiance of social norms, but also in complete contradiction to the requirements of rational thought and self respect?

In various prior posts I have expressed my view that feminism has some considerable responsibility for the hook-up culture that prevails on college campuses. Nonetheless it is not with any real sense of satisfaction that I find a philosopher explaining and justifying hooking up on the grounds that it is liberating and empowering.

And ask yourself what these feminist grandees would have said if a man had suggested that it was empowering for women to get drunk enough to give blow jobs to strange men.

In Bauer's words: "If there's anything that feminism has bequeathed to young women of means, it's that power is their birthright. Visit an American college campus on a Monday morning and you'll find any number of amazingly ambitious and talented young women wielding their brain power, determined not to let anything-- including a relationship with some needy, dependent man-- get in their way. Come back on party night, and you'll find many of these same girls... wielding their sexual power, dressed as provocatively as they dare, matching guys drink for drink-- and then hook up for hook up."

Given the relatively lesser body mass of women compared with that of men, matching men drink for drink is a fool's errand. Anyone who glorifies such behavior has completely lost touch with reality.

And why should Bauer be in awe of the fact that these girls can match men, hook up for hook up? If these women are so desirous of becoming unique individual self-creations, why should they be trying to imitate male behavior?

And let's not overlook the piece of undisguised contempt for "some needy, dependent man" with whom these women might have relationships. The latest wave of feminism prefers hooking up to relationships.

According to Bauer, the party ends with said liberated empowered inebriated woman down on her knees. As Bauer so nicely expresses it: "When they're on their knees in front of a worked-up guy they just met at a party, they genuinely feel powerful-- sadistic even."

As I said, if a man had called this an empowering experience he would have been run out of town.

These new wave feminists have learned to hold men in contempt but then get so drunk that they feel obligated to offer them oral relief when said men get "worked up."

If you think that this is a sign of emancipation, well then, I am not very encouraged about the current state of academic philosophy.

These women have been convinced by their philosophy professors to allow themselves to be used for someone else's sexual pleasure. They have been so thoroughly indoctrinated, even brainwashed, by their teachers that they actually believe that falling to their knees in front of the mighty phallus is empowering.

As for whether or not these girls are free to say No, well, after they have been matching these guys shot for shot, their freedom, I would say, becomes more compromised. And if they have learned in their courses of advanced theory that they themselves have elicited said erectile response, then they have probably also been taught that they now have a fundamental moral obligation to service what they provoked. Some might call it: taking responsibility.

Bauer wants to explain this away by telling us that these women are strong enough, free enough, and powerful enough to live out these contradictions.

If we were talking about adults, I would say that if they are fool enough to believe her then they are free to do as they please. We are, I would say, somewhat more concerned that young women, those who are vulnerable to the siren song of this form of pseudo-philosophizing, are more often than not its victims. And that, I will say for my part, I find very, very sad.


Ralph said...

Somehow the word dignified doesn't seem to apply to the picture the professor describes. Just because we have become too enlightened to use the phase "respectable woman", it seems respect of one's self should never go out of style.

It sounds like being a feminist today means the question of "will he respect me in the morning" doesn't need to be asked. Today's feminists doesn't care, unless, of course, he doesn't.

I R A Darth Aggie said...

Inebriated women providing oral pleasure? the State of Florida calls that sexual assault and gets the reciever of such attention a stretch in prison and a spot of the sex offenders registry.

Potentially, any way.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I was frankly amazed that a professor could be so explicit about what she expected from young women.

And we aren't even talking about some opinionated blogger-- this woman is chair of a philosophy department in an important university, Tufts.

So, she is what passes for academic respectability. As you say, she is using her position to teach young women how not to respect themselves.

And then they wonder why these young women have low self-esteem.

I am even more amazed that it all finds its way onto the New York Times site, though I am happy that the Times did publish it. How else would we all know how the other side is thinking.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

And thanks to I R A Darth Aggie for putting Bauer's suggestion into the proper legal context.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Schneiderman,

The June 16 piece by Robin of Berkeley titled "The Left's Sexual Terrorism" over @ American Thinker might be considered an addendum to yours & is worth a look. Coming of age in the 70/80s, I always thought that titling the 'movement' as 'feminist' was a perfect description as it (no pun intended) engendered traits usually attributed to females of a certain immaturity level, & all the years of observing it since then have only served to validate that initial assessment. The sad part is that it was, according to its advertising, supposed to about removing artificial limits on employment/educational opportunities for women & giving them some legal independence but rapidly became a breeding ground for Leftists w/ the adoption of the tactic of making personal matters into political ones. Pity.

Cassandra (of Troy)

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I just read Robin of Berkeley's piece and it is very powerful indeed. So I'm going to link it in a post, just to help people recall or learn about the way radical leftists have treated women.

FiKaLo said...

Thank you so much for this note of sanity in a world where women students like myself are bombarded with these confusing messages.

Duncan Idaho said...

Heh, I would respect these "philosophers" more if they use logic in their assertion. Aping the worst of the stereotypical male traits, such as promiscuity, then wonder why no one paid them any mind. When such behavior produced misery rather than fulfillment, they rationalized such by accusing the "others", you know, people who ain't in their intellectual cliques, as unenlightened oafs.

Now they have to modify their philosophy to attract new members to their pathetic ideology, all the while ignoring the obvious that their original premise is flawed.

No wonder why they are such miserable creatures.

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Donald Sensing said...

Among other things, you have demonstrated a convincing reason for a college student, male or female, not to major in philosophy (or any of the other humanities, which are generally just as intellectually voided and corrupt.

BTW, i do have a degree in philosophy. But that was back in the day when we studied Aristotle, not Lady GaGa.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I remember the days well. It's very sad that the humanities have gotten to the point today where more and more college students avoid them like the plague.