The Clare Spark Blog

April 1, 2016

’70s feminism and its bizarre legacy

MegynKellyI have written so frequently about the “second wave” of feminism that I didn’t think another blog was merited. But this week, the media attention to Donald Trump’s alleged gaffes, supposedly indicative of his vile sexism and aggressiveness in “the war on women” made me change my mind about a feminist blog that would reveal the base media distortions directed against advocates for female equality.

First, the flap against abortion. One extreme conservative smear consists of the proposition that pro-choice feminists are “pro-abortion.” To be sure, there exist women who use legal abortions as a form of birth control, but I have never known a case where agonizing ‘soul-searching’, extreme youth, or poverty did not accompany the termination of a pregnancy. (https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/induced-abortion-united-states.)

As for Trump’s gaffe, he was plainly reacting to the necessity to conform to the rule of law. Of course, he should have refused to discuss the subject, since it was obviously a Chris Matthews trap. Indeed, the subject had never come up in the Republican debates (except for Planned Parenthood), since it is assumed that all Republicans would be “pro-life” (though I have long insisted that Republicans might better focus on the feminist question “Is there life after birth”? See https://clarespark.com/2015/10/10/is-there-life-after-birth-states-rights-and-controlling-our-children/. A more interesting question would have been regarding Trump’s view of embryonic stem cell research. See http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/pages/basics5.aspx.)

Second, the class basis of ‘70s feminism. As I have stressed over and over, the “second wave” of feminism came out of the civil rights/antiwar movement, and its chief publicists appealed to middle class educated women, resentful of male put-downs, relegating them to secretaries at the beck and call of “movement heavies.” Or, alternatively, ‘70s feminism may be seen as a revolt against domesticity (Betty Friedan was the chief instigator on this front.)

What Friedan failed to recognize was that, since John Locke’s idea of the tabula rasa and the Industrial Revolution that removed the paterfamilias from the home, domesticity gave women unprecedented influence in the home/child-rearing and also in the Progressive movement that was striving “to make the whole world home-like.” To displaced patriarchs, this was an outrageous turn of events that one might surmise helped fuel the opposition to votes for women, who already seemed to have too much power, especially in their uncanny sexual power (too reminiscent, perhaps of Mother).

Although some lesbian feminists had a different agenda, liberal heterosexual feminists mostly failed to focus on such crucial issues as the co-option of feminist demands that failed to challenge “the beauty myth”, deficiencies in women’s health, and the dumbing down of American culture owing to the growing power of mass media (including Fox News Channel), which were all too eager to promote hyper-sexuality, blondes, cosmetics, plastic surgery, fashion fetishes (such as stiletto heels), and role reversal where the dominatrices ruled.

Third, the uplifting conception of “victimology.” Enter the second Trump scandal of the week: the Michelle Fields affair. Independents, libertarians, and conservatives alone seem to be objecting to current widespread practice in the schools to enforce “safe zones” where allegedly bullying (white) males must be isolated, reformed, and punished. (Other victim groups usually get off the hook; such is the power of academic social justice warriors.)

Predictably, the glamourous female journalists (who don’t self-identify as “feminists”) promoted by Fox News Channel and mainstream television outlets generally fail to question or probe the negative aspects of 70s feminism. Why should they?

angryfeminist

May 27, 2013

SMASH: the perfect liberal backstage musical

Caravaggio: Amor Vincit Omnia

Caravaggio: Amor Vincit Omnia

SMASH had its “season finale” on March 26, 2013, but it has been cancelled. This blog tries to do two things: 1. To compare its optimism with some musical predecessors written from the Left (CABARET and CHICAGO) both of which stressed decadence and civic corruption; and 2. To note how SMASH catered to its liberal audience (feminists, gays) replicating the usual double binds that social democrats cannot escape. In this case, competition and compassion co-exist without strain; moreover it left unresolved the more controversial feminist and gay activist claims—on abortion, and whether or not all men are really gay, notwithstanding their protestations to the contrary. (For a prior blog on SMASH see ttp://clarespark.com/2012/05/18/smash-season-finales-and-the-demonic/.)

CABARET and CHICAGO, though laid in different periods, both remind us of the Weimar culture’s sardonic, mocking tone of Brecht and Weill’s THREEPENNY OPERA, a great hit in NYC when I was a teenager. I remember enjoying CABARET, but being instructed by one critic that its intertwined themes of decadence and growing support for Nazism were ahistoric and misleading, I thought about it with more skepticism. Indeed, upon reflection, one of Nazism’s appeal was to replace the corrupt, crime-ridden “jewified,” hyper-sexualized and materialist City with the wholesome simplicity of rural family values and family cohesion. Sex roles in Hitler’s Germany were clearly defined, with sharp physical and role differences posited between men and women. This was made clear enough in CABARET.

I have just described a culturalist explanation for the rise of Hitler, one that ignores his chief aims: expansion into Eastern Europe for purposes of Lebensraum, and his second but primary aim: to destroy the growing Communist Party in Germany, and by extension to destroy the Soviet Union (believed to be a “socialist” front for finance capital, which is why Nazis referred to “Jewish Bolshevism”).

[I have written before about the false belief, current among the American Right, that Hitler was a man of the Left, “proven” by the word “Socialist” in the title of the Nazi Party. But “socialism” to the Nazis meant the willingness to sacrifice one’s individuality and life for the sake of the purified racial state: “the people’s community” or Volk.]

Moving on to SMASH: this expensively funded television show was originally to be a backstage look at the business of theater in NYC. Though funding a Broadway show was one dominant theme of the series (money causes havoc with writers and casting), the writers never brought up craft unions as a factor in driving up the cost of Broadway shows and discouraging innovation and originality because of union rules. (This point applies to Broadway, films, and television. Producers are seen as the bad guys, with formulaic story lines a function of marketing to the great unwashed and unlettered. In SMASH, there is rivalry between two divorced producers: the competitive, evil and vindictive Michael Cristofer, with the good producer who elicits our sympathy, the compassionate Angelica Huston, who is so unblemished by class snobbery that she falls in love with a scruffy fellow from the lower orders.)

The theme of competition versus teamwork ran throughout the series: Katherine MacPhee competes with Megan Hilty for the role of Marilyn Monroe in a musical called BOMBSHELL. At the very end of the second season, the two rivals mimic the end of CHICAGO, where the once competitive Katherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger join in a raunchy “sister act” that celebrates sex and gangster gun violence, with wild audience applause. Similarly, in SMASH, the two actresses wear burlesque-type costumes, swing their booties, and go off as friends: the audience can love both of them, especially as “Ivy” (though impregnated by the womanizing director played by Jack Davenport), rehabilitates their relationship and we don’t know if she will have his baby and jeopardize her promising career as a Broadway Tony-winning star or not. Amor Vincit Omnia. Indeed, all relationships that were threatened with dissolution are reinstated in the two-hour finale, but without resolving the most sensitive subjects: abortion and gayness (or bisexuality) as normative.

On the gay front: Christian Borle’s character, overtly gay and a sensitive collaborator with his writer and lyricist Debra Messing, meets a “straight” Hollywood star who is kissed by Borle, and the two collaborators go off to Hollywood where their once-threatened partnership will flower again, presumably with romantic love interest for Borle with a straight man who is really gay.

Another evasion: in season one, Debra Messing had an affair with Will Chase, an affair that broke up her marriage. Yet in the finale, she is pictured at her lover’s door, ready to resume their affair, yet Chase had a wife and a family in season one. But not to worry, for Amor Vincit Omnia.

Progressive optimism rules in this television tribute to the magical world of “live theater” (!!!!) and we learn once more that the world of the theater, on Broadway or Off, is enclosed within its tight little relationships, in which all wars end, magically.

Caravaggio: Resurrection

Caravaggio: Resurrection

May 2, 2013

Teen-age sex

Zefirrelli Romeo and Juliet 1968

Zefirrelli Romeo and Juliet 1968

The ruling that the morning-after pill is to be made available over the counter and to girls of only fifteen years of age has caused some conservatives to fret and oppose the move. This blog will surprise some of my readers because I will take a feminist  (?) position on it, and one that is also aware of changes in life expectancy. Some of it will be autobiographical.

Although teen-agers often perform Romeo and Juliet, Franco Zefirrelli’s film of 1968 reminded us of how young the star-crossed lovers were. It is often forgotten that until modern public health measures were taken, and the discovery of the germ theory of disease, plus developments in surgery and antisepsis, the life span of homo sapiens was shockingly short. Even as a teen ager I recall that life expectancy for women was 65, while men could expect to live to 62. In pre-modern times, those who made it past thirty-five were lucky.

Not withstanding our longer life-expectancy today, biology continues to prepare pubescent boys and girls for sexuality and reproduction. A general hyper-sexualization promoted by mass media and modern contraception, plus an unfortunate reading of the feminist movement (aided and abetted by ambitious pseudo-feminists), has resulted in premature experimentation with sexuality in the teen-age population.

When I was in high school in the 1950s, it was not expected that love-making would go much beyond necking and petting. To be pregnant was scandalous, and abortion was confined to back alley butchery. Even in college, girls who indulged the general animal eagerness of college age young men, kept it to themselves, for there were curfews, and the sexes were confined to separate dormitories. Many of my classmates, if they did have premarital sex, married their boyfriends. We didn’t talk about sex much at all. In those days, we might be husband shopping, but we were also intent on our education, then as now, the route to upward mobility, even if that meant marrying an engineer or pre-med or pre-law student, achieving vicariously through our husbands’ accomplishments.

After my divorce in the early 1970s, I met several men of European extraction who confessed that they never any sex whatsoever until they were roughly twenty-one years of age. They were intellectuals of middle-class parentage, and I thought nothing of their late initiation into sex.

As the feminist movement proceeded, along with my immersion in the daring life styles of the counter-culture, I had plenty of opportunity to see how differently men and women experienced the new libertine excess. Women, I concluded, took sex very seriously, and did not expect to be treated like toys, used once and then discarded. Leftist men, however, not unlike some prominent lesbian feminists, were proudly promiscuous and indifferent to the feelings of their “liberated” “community of women” and insisted that it was politically correct to sleep around, and to relate to sex as men did, not as mothers-to-be did, expecting at least serial monogamy and suffering from feelings of abandonment when their sex partners were indifferent or hostile to feminine responses.

There is no rational reason for not teaching middle school children about such matters. They should not only learn about the difference between boys and girls and how they relate to sexuality, but girls should learn to stand up for themselves and not to be doormats for predatory males (and as the comment below reminds us, women can be predatory too). The pressure on girls to conform to male demands is appalling.

Some religious parents may hide like ostriches from these facts of life and pretend that their children will be persuaded by demands for abstinence, and some children probably will conform out of religious commitments and fears. But I think that these parents are deluded at best, and wrong at least. For they are up against the most powerful impulse in the years of  adolescence.

We need a  national conversation on this sensitive matter. Personally, I surprise myself by a renewed interest in separate education for teen age boys and girls. Girls can then focus on their education, and not their clothes, make-up, and sex appeal. The teen age years are dangerous for the emotional and physical health of all children, for they are susceptible to the appeals of forces and social movements that do not have their best interests at heart.

teenage_2135455c

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