In part one of this miniseries on the “sexual revolution” said to have been accomplished during the second wave of feminism, I retrieved an ad from an upscale magazine distributed to my neighborhood in Southern California (see https://clarespark.com/2012/10/03/the-sexual-revolution-1-2/, and its lookalike https://clarespark.com/2012/11/15/female-genitals-as-red-flag/.) Don’t miss this painting showing how New Women as mothers transmit their demonism to their closely held sons!). It was obviously a backlash to the “liberated women” of the 1920s, taken from a Belgian artist who viewed the new woman as creating Pierrots out of their sons, emasculated doubles of themselves. Mother became puppeteer, turning the male child into a zany figure from the Commedia d’el Arte: Pierrot was a mask for Cain, a fratricide; while some saw Pierrot as feminized, the outsider who could never escape his mother’s influence. He was in the eternal grip of Mother, revealed now as Femme Fatale. (For more on this theme see https://clarespark.com/2012/07/29/girls-or-the-new-lost-generation/. The Mother figure in Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture is no heroine.)
Yesterday, Oct. 2, 2012, the Obama campaign created an e-card directed to the female voters, depicting a flapper with the message “Vote like your lady parts depended on it.” The image was taken down before the end of the day, but it revealed the primary message of still-regnant second wave feminism: the liberation of women signified nothing but sex and the loose morals we associate with the Jazz Age, notwithstanding the recent passage of women’s voting rights. It is true that for many women, single and married alike, the need to control the timing of reproduction is not a “single issue,” but one at the forefront of consciousness, for her economic status and life chances depend on controlling the timing of reproduction. But to propose, as the Obama campaign clearly did, that a Republican victory would mean regression to the bad old days is, in my view, absurd and objectively unproven as a claim.
On the popular Fox show The Five (Oct.2, 2012), Bob Beckel chided Dana Perino and Andrea Santaros for seeing Gloria Steinem as a washed-up feminist, implying that Steinem had paved the way for the cushy jobs enjoyed by Perino and Santaros at Fox. This sent me back into my memory bank. Gloria Steinem was indeed a much publicized star of the second wave. A strikingly beautiful young woman, she was considered “a babe” and was also known for her connection to powerful male editors in journalism. It is true that second wave feminists had an enormous impact on the culture, but the takeaway was 1. sexual freedom, even promiscuity as the central demand of “women’s lib” and 2. having emerged from the civil rights movement, many of the 1960s-70s feminists soon subordinated their goal of liberating women to anti-imperialism, joining with men in the anticapitalist crusade, and of course, ignoring the subordination of women in South America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. The West was now worst, and “white male supremacy” the enemy for right-on feminists. (For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/01/sex-sex-and-less-sex/.)
But Beckel forgot a major fact of history: It was 19th century feminists of the first wave who were the original trail blazers, and their crusades on behalf of votes for women were linked to abolition, higher education for (excluded) women, entrance into the professions, temperance, and the uplift of prostitutes. Such were the “middle class puritans” decried later on by bohemians as Victorian battle axes. (Some of their number included Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Stady Stanton, Harriet Beacher Stowe, the Grimké sisters, Louisa May Alcott, Julia Ward Howe, and more.) The most important writers after the Great War fled this menacing figure, running off to the South Seas or, better, Harlem, Paris, Italy, and Spain. Gangsta rappers of today partake of the same bohemian reaction to middle-class mothers and to emancipated women in general. as all women became “bitches.” (See illustration in the first of this series.)
Herbert Marcuse was correct when he warned of “repressive desublimation.” The fashion and cosmetic industry, plastic surgeons, hair stylists, and a host of women’s magazines urged all women to cultivate their sexual attractiveness, even into old age. The sex could be dark, as fashion photographer Bruce Weber and others eroticized the submission to male fetishes, for instance, stiletto heels. (For a more extended commentary on the regnant S-M, see https://clarespark.com/2009/07/13/eros-and-the-middle-manager-s-m-with-implications-for-multiculturalism/. On the link between misogyny and antisemitism see https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/.)
What then, has been the effect on young women and girls? The Hollywood celebrities today have come out for Obama and for sex. Their innocence lies solely in their ignorance of the past. Along with the bohemian authors of the 1920s and afterwards, they have gone native, in flight from everything that the first wave feminists advocated. Can we sink any lower? (For more on the first wave feminists of the 19th Century, see https://clarespark.com/2013/06/02/hair-and-make-up-megyn-kelly-smackdown/.)