The Clare Spark Blog

November 15, 2012

Female genitals as Red Flag

militant Judy Chicago

In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), the great gesture of defiance for Winston Smith is his sexual liaison with the promiscuous Julia. It was the same for Herbert Marcuse, writing to the Sixties’ generation in his Eros and Civilization (1955).  And before that publication, Harvard social psychologist Henry A. Murray and his colleague Gordon Allport suggested that an American “Leader” like FDR, the antithesis of Hitler, should embody the Eros of democracy (https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/).  A few years earlier, Wilhelm Reich, a refugee from Nazis, first published his seminal work arguing that Nazism was anchored in the German psyche through repression of the orgasm (The Mass Psychology of Fascism, 1933, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm_Reich).

So when Judy Chicago and other feminist artists took on the Woman Question in the 1960s and 70s, it is not surprising that in-your-face sexual emancipation, focused on a populist critique of “white male modernist supremacy” in the art world, would be their Red Flag. There were sturdy precedents in 20th century culture, and soon Marcuse would be warning about “repressive de-sublimation”—a move that would only impel more consumerism and false consciousness in the working class as the Frankfurt School refugees liked to argue as Marxists and pseudo-Freudians.

I have been studying the sumptuous catalog published by the University of California Press in 1996, Feminist Politics: Judy Chicago’s ‘Dinner Party’ in Feminist Art History, edited by Amelia Jones, a post-structuralist art historian, attuned to queer studies, performance art, and Da Da (!).  Jones’s Wikipedia page lauds her for her anti-elitist stance, while the catalog rehabilitates kitsch and popular culture– an accurate reflection of the populist politics she brings to her ambivalent study of the work that made Judy Chicago and feminist art a topic of heated debate within the art world and elsewhere.

Frida with cat

Frida Kahlo with cat in classic come hither position

A review of the major claims of the pseudo-revolutionary character of this populist art world move seems timely, now that the Democratic Party has highlighted the supposed War on Women launched by their ostensibly uptight, hyper-puritan adversaries on the Right.

Amelia Jones’s major essay in the catalog is a treat for those readers who define liberation as focus on female genitals.  In guilty liberal fashion, she does complain that a feminist movement that ignored women of color is problematic, but her main point is that Chicago’s representation of great women through the ages is not “essentialist” (“biological determinism” is off the table), but female identity is, rather, “socially constructed,” hence it follows that the “patriarchy” can be demolished by feminist art and criticism.

Since Chicago’s Great Genitals are a colorful and shiny mish-mash, mixing up artists, writers, and an assortment of antique heroines of various religions (many pagan), the entire conception of her mammoth piece is necessarily mystical, perhaps barbaric, which fits in with the Woman as Goddess motif that is the most lasting legacy of the Sexual Revolution. I wonder if Chicago’s fame/notoriety is as original a move as her fans imagine.

Hannah Wilke

Keith Thomas, the late British historian, argued that modernity and puritanism elevated the status of women in marriage. So-called feminist art betrays its critical promise by reducing women to their sex organs.  Men got there first. [On how the Democratic Party has co-opted feminism see https://clarespark.com/2012/10/03/the-sexual-revolution-2/]

(For a related blog that documents misogyny in some famous poets and critics, see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/23/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets/. For a partial index to all my blogs on feminism see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/04/links-to-blogs-on-feminism/.) Historian Ruth Bloch has traced the “rise of the moral mother”, whose status was improved by Lockean tabula rasa psychology and the decline of paternal authority in the family. Mothers, now the decisive instructors in religious sentiments,  could be seen as malevolently usurping the male role, as father left his castle/home for offices and factories; father was no longer the supreme authority and distributor of material resources within the household economy.

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September 8, 2012

What is a materialist?

What is a materialist? This question cannot be answered without asking what is an organic conservative.  See https://clarespark.com/2010/03/05/organic-conservatives-and-hitler/, in which I give examples taken from my book on the Melville Revival. That essay takes patience and time, so I will attempt a more accessible account below.

This blog focuses entirely on what we mean by materialists and materialism, since the meanings of this term have proliferated, and are frequently deployed in partisan propaganda, but rarely with a definition of what the term signifies.

As a term of abuse, materialism refers to the excessive consumption promoted by free market capitalism, often viewed as a self-serving innovation of “the International Jew.” Leftists, whether of the Democratic Party or of the hard Left, believe that the desire for Things has taken precedence over Love thy Neighbor, and produced a loathsome narcissism, and worse, “bourgeoisifying” what should have been a revolutionary working class. Such love of material comfort, it is alleged, has only served to place the “rootless” individual into the iron cage of materialism (Max Weber), for such a one has emptied herself of “spirituality”.

Minimalist architecture and design addressed the froufrou of excessive ornamentation with a return to simplicity, even austerity. And neoclassical austerity is the preferred style of communism and related ideologies interested in high quality mass production that would re-spiritualize the irreligious urban masses. (One branch of feminist art addressed such austerity as typical of the male sensibility, and produced in reaction, pattern painting. Some of its leading artists have been Miriam Schapiro and Joyce Kozloff, notwithstanding their liberal or leftist sympathies. I could have added Judy Chicago to this group, in her rehabilitation of painting on china or embroidery, once considered to be crafts practiced by women, and demeaned accordingly.)

Joyce Kozloff image

Materialism as empiricism, as a route to knowledge known to some Greek philosophers, was mostly a product of the Reformation and then the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century, but even a materialist like Hobbes warned against the untrammeled search for truth as a dangerous “passion.” (Catholic scholars have pointed out that much science was developed by medieval monks, and they are right.)

The German Enlightenment of the 18th century was reactionary as it undermined “materialism” with its mystical notion of national character and Zeitgeist or “the spirit of the age.” Society was held together by mystical bonds of blood and soil, but Herder, the chief proponent of “national character” arranged his different societies in a hierarchy that favored Germans and ancient Greeks. See https://clarespark.com/2010/10/18/the-dialectic-of-multiculturalism-helvetius-herder-fichte/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/.

To conclude this short blog, a materialist historian looks at the evidence of this world, although with a skeptical eye, for we understand that we are capable of misreading primary sources, and that primary source materials are themselves sometimes wrong or distorted by diarists, the records of courts, etc. (Or primary source materials may be hidden by secretive tyrants, an ongoing problem for historians and the better journalists.) We also tend to look to similar material interests as a route to social solidarity, not to mystical bonds that are posited by the organic conservatives (e.g. populists/progressives asserting “the public interest” over the ever-selfish “individual”). And the latter mystics are found all over the political spectrum.  To see “things as they are” is no easy matter, and beware of those experts who abuse “evidence” to please a client or an institution or a political party. For more on this point, see (https://clarespark.com/2013/12/13/culture-wars-religion-and-the-neurotic-historian/.)

Note: My use of the Bauhaus and its neoclassical underpinnings (mystical) are derived from Barbara Haskell’s essay in the catalog to the recent exhibition of Lyonel Feininger’s career in Germany and America. See  http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/LyonelFeininger. Haskell explains that the Bauhaus (Feininger was a member) attempted to revive the medieval unity of arts and crafts, i.e., as a restoration of spirituality. This was a powerful insight for me.

September 4, 2012

Links to some blogs on feminism

Crone with fruit

https://clarespark.com/2016/06/09/sex-and-aggression-in-hillarys-following-in-either-gender/

https://clarespark.com/2016/05/06/the-womens-vote/

https://clarespark.com/2016/04/29/the-woman-card/

https://clarespark.com/2016/04/01/70s-feminism-and-its-bizarre-legacy/

https://clarespark.com/2015/07/26/masters-of-sex-second-wave-feminism-and-the-ratings-game/

https://clarespark.com/2015/03/21/great-goddess-feminism-the-phyllis-chesler-model/

https://clarespark.com/2015/01/10/the-case-for-feminism/

https://clarespark.com/2014/12/18/rape-culture/

https://clarespark.com/2014/06/14/is-the-us-feminized-a-fathers-day-blog/

https://clarespark.com/2014/01/23/androgyny/

https://clarespark.com/2013/10/22/masters-of-sex-and-70s-feminism/

https://clarespark.com/2013/05/02/teen-age-sex/

https://clarespark.com/2013/09/15/authenticity-and-the-bottled-up/

https://clarespark.com/2013/06/14/father-dear-father-come-home-with-me-now/ (includes material on gender roles)

https://clarespark.com/2013/06/02/hair-and-make-up-megyn-kelly-smackdown/

https://clarespark.com/2012/10/03/the-sexual-revolution-2/

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/26/martha-gellhorn-blogs/

https://clarespark.com/2012/05/10/androgyny-with-an-aside-on-edna-ferber/

https://clarespark.com/2012/03/03/sluts-and-pigs/ (retitled Limbaugh v. Fluke)

https://clarespark.com/2012/09/01/sex-sex-and-less-sex/

https://clarespark.com/2012/07/29/girls-or-the-new-lost-generation/

https://clarespark.com/2012/11/15/female-genitals-as-red-flag/

https://clarespark.com/2012/09/08/what-is-a-materialist/

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/07/feminism-and-its-publicists/

https://clarespark.com/2011/11/12/the-woman-question-in-saul-bellows-herzog/

https://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/ (retitled Film noir decoded)

https://clarespark.com/2009/12/23/she-who-gets-slapped-the-magic-of-middle-aged-boomerdom/

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/20/news-from-the-social-justice-front/

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/23/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets/

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/24/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets-2/

Hecate Crone

September 1, 2012

Sex, sex, and less sex

Shulamith Firestone

[For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/23/she-who-gets-slapped-the-magic-of-middle-aged-boomerdom/.]

I have written before about the second wave of feminism, reminding my readers that it was civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s that generated the revolt of young movement women who wanted respect from the emerging male stars, particularly after such notorious remarks as “A woman’s place is on her back.” (Huey Newton) In other words, young women who insisted that “the personal is political” were already anti-imperialists, and had imbibed histories of the U.S. that painted their country as hopelessly opposed to Nature, to native Americans, to (racial) minorities, to gay men and lesbians, to all women, and to the labor movement. But it was sexuality that became the focus of much of their activism, for sex talk sells, and many a new feminist wrote best sellers cursing out men, including those in the white male canon of literary heroes.  Today their ideological offspring are tenured professors in Women’s Studies, in cultural anthropology, in film studies, in the history of science, and in related fields. I don’t know if any of them compares the 1960s-70s culture to the 1920s, when anticapitalism, primitivism and promiscuity were all the rage among expatriates and artists in general, all of whom were in revolt against “the genteel tradition” and their (“Hebraic”) puritan forebears.

Return to my life after I started the radio broadcasts on Pacifica. I did my best to publicize female artists, designers, and writers when I had my radio program. Thanks to the material collected at CalArts, I was able to mount a slide show on sex and violence in the imagery of women artists and photographers that was delivered in numerous prestigious venues during the 1970s. Thoroughly immersed in the writing of the Frankfurt School of critical theory in those days (e.g. Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization), I did not think of the large audiences I was drawing as an audience for pornography, but rather as a symptom of emancipation from old excessively prudish taboos that were better overthrown. I did notice, however, that the New Left men I had met were womanizers, or, if they were New York writers, had numerous failed marriages, and were not faithful to the wife of the moment.

In retrospect, this obliviousness to the value of traditional marriage was widespread among New Age liberals as well as leftists. I remember one psychologist telling me with great confidence that sexual jealously was unhealthy: that the jealous wife was “giving away her power” to the faithless husband and his consorts. That was Gestalt therapy in the late 1960s-early 1970s as practiced in West Los Angeles.

Alexandra Kollontai and comrade

The leftists and liberals mentioned above were no doubt exponents of Alexandra Kollontai’s famous claim that “sex was a drink of water.” I should have recalled Marcuse’s theory of “repressive desublimation”: that sexuality run amok would serve the aims of capitalists selling goods and services. Today, the cult of Beauty is dominant, and woman expend much of their time and resources defending themselves against bad hair, sartorial dowdiness and aging, at the expense of child-rearing, expanding their minds and their general socio-political-economic awareness.

But the second wave feminists were politically aware and media savvy, all right, and many of the artists I championed during my delayed adolescence were exhibitionists defining their “feminist sensibility” as a presentation of female genitalia.  Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party brought her fame, stimulating a cottage industry of feminist art historians who meditate upon her gestures and her contemporaries, some pro, some con. Personally, I rejected her mystical linking of famous women through the ages as pandering, ahistoric, and reactionary.

Dinner Party postcards

But then there were those New York women (Redstockings) influenced by Friedrich Engels and other materialists from the wild male Left. Here is one example from a book that became a must-read for hip women everywhere:

[An excerpt from Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex:]

“So that just as to assure elimination of economic classes requires the revolt of the underclass (the proletariat) and, in a temporary dictatorship, their seizure of the means of production, so to assure the elimination of sexual classes requires the revolt of the underclass (women) and the seizure of control of reproduction: not only the full restoration to women of ownership of their own bodies, but also their (temporary) seizure of control of human fertility – the new population biology as well as all the social institutions of child-bearing and child-rearing. And just as the end goal of socialist revolution was not only the elimination of the economic class privilege but of the economic class distinction itself, so the end goal of feminist revolution must be, unlike that of the first feminist movement, not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally. (A reversion to an unobstructed pansexuality Freud’s ‘polymorphous perversity’ – would probably supersede hetero/homo/bi-sexuality.) The reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of both would be replaced by (at least the option of) artificial reproduction: children would born to both sexes equally, or independently of. either, however one chooses to look at it; the dependence of the child on the mother (and vice versa) would give way to a greatly shortened dependence on a small group of others in general, and any remaining inferiority to adults in physical strength would be compensated for culturally. The division of labour would be ended by the elimination of labour altogether (through cybernetics). The tyranny of the biological family would be broken.”

Sadly, Firestone’s body was found on August 28, 2012, possibly a week after her death in her book-lined East Village apartment in New York City. One report states that she owned many works of the Greek classics. Though she was born into a Canadian Orthodox Jewish family, her rebellion against a religion that supports strong families may have taken her into a paganism that was notoriously misogynistic and revolted by female genitals, despite its proliferation of goddesses. And her obituaries state that she was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. The latter is a mental illness that presents itself usually in the early 20s. Firestone was twenty-five when she wrote her famous book. R.I.P. Shulamith Firestone, dead at 67.

March 19, 2012

Links to feminist blogs

Bocklin’s Medusa

https://clarespark.com/2009/07/13/eros-and-the-middle-manager-s-m-with-implications-for-multiculturalism/.

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/23/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets/

https://clarespark.com/2009/12/13/klara-hitlers-son-and-jewish-blood/.

https://clarespark.com/2009/12/23/she-who-gets-slapped-the-magic-of-middle-aged-boomerdom/

Feminist in love series (3 collages): https://clarespark.com/2011/01/06/feminist-in-love-1/,

https://clarespark.com/2011/01/06/feminist-in-love-2/,

https://clarespark.com/2011/01/06/feminist-in-love-3/.

https://clarespark.com/2011/11/12/the-woman-question-in-saul-bellows-herzog/

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/07/feminism-and-its-publicists/.

https://clarespark.com/2012/02/13/feminism-on-the-docket-2/.

https://clarespark.com/2012/03/18/history-as-trauma-2-rosebud-version/.

https://clarespark.com/2012/09/01/sex-sex-and-less-sex/ (On Shulamith Firestone and second wave feminism)

https://clarespark.com/2012/11/15/female-genitals-as-red-flag/

https://clarespark.com/2012/03/31/nell-painters-history-of-white-people/.

https://clarespark.com/2012/03/22/3760/ (on the Great Dumbing Down)

https://clarespark.com/2013/06/02/hair-and-make-up-megyn-kelly-smackdown/

January 7, 2012

Feminism and its publicists

Naomi Wolf, 2008

{See a related blog https://clarespark.com/2012/03/03/sluts-and-pigs/, retitled Limbaugh v. Fluke.]

Naomi Wolf is purported to be the founder of “third wave feminism” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naomi_Wolf. I have no idea what that means. I have tried to read The Beauty Myth (William Morrow, 1991), an international best seller. It is heavily derivative of Betty Friedan’s The Feminist Mystique in that Wolf is clearly aiming her arrows at domesticity, a situation that makes many daughters of professional parents uncomfortable, for they have competed with men to enter the best private and public schools, then perhaps Ivy League or Seven Sister colleges, only to find themselves saddled with the same job that lower-class women perform as wives and mothers. Indeed, when I married in 1959 (after attending two Ivy League schools) and looked around at the wives of my  husband’s lawyer friends or the wives of other graduates of Harvard Law, I shook my head and wondered how elite women would adjust to lives as consumers, thrown into the same pot as the women thought to have been left behind in the great race of life.

I knew very little about feminism until the late 1960s, when everyone was reading Kate Millett or Germaine Greer or Phyllis Chesler. I thought that young mothers who were fleeing their children were unnatural, and remember saying that to our friends. At that time, my three children were very young, and I felt that the duties of marriage and child-rearing were exhausting. I had not yet read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, and have often thought that had I read her work, or even that of Doris Lessing in The Golden Notebook, that I would have been a stronger woman, more ambitious, and less docile in my marriage. But having chosen motherhood and marriage in my early 20s, I didn’t think it was a demeaning or unchallenging set of roles; quite the contrary. And now that I have become acquainted with attachment theory (as promoted by psychologists Bowlby, Mahler, and Winnicott), as well as discoveries regarding the crucial first five years in laying down brain connections that would affect intellectual performance throughout the life span, I am more committed than ever to the significance of parenting, with special attention to the full range of family relationships as they affect marriage and child development.

But the intellectual, emotional, and moral challenge of motherhood was not the focus of either second wave feminism or the Naomi Wolf variant (which seems to be no more than the ridiculous statement that the beauty myth is a backlash against the 1960s-70s feminist movement). I remember one famous artist’s wife handing out leaflets telling women that housework (and baby-tending?) was demeaning. While teaching part time at California Institute of the Arts, I recall the Feminist Art program run by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro. One of their students came into my office, weeping, because a rule had been laid down that women artists could not represent phalluses or their symbolic representations; females did vaginas and focused on male cruelty, a sadism that was literally binding them to the home, a home that was a prison. Their creation Womanhouse was very clever and creative in expressing this theme, for instance the fried eggs that climbed up and down the walls of the kitchen (meant to represent breasts) and the bedroom that was devoted to makeup as imperative and mask. I myself did a slide show on “sex and violence in the art and photography of women artists and photographers,” and got large audiences for this demonstration of female rage, mockery of males, and the celebration of the female orgasm or other bodily functions (i.e., menstruation). (This was in the 1970s.)

To return to Naomi Wolf’s first book, a book that was as repetitious and as hard to read as Friedan’s earlier one, the feminists of the second wave did not respond to Betty Friedan as much as they responded to their treatment by New Left males, whose bohemianism and womanizing needs no elaboration here. Educated antiwar women had been consigned, as usual, to demeaning tasks, and to sexual promiscuity. (This was before the AIDS outbreak in the 1980s). Here was the source of second wave feminism, and women in the movement soon either subordinated their feminism to left-wing politics (especially anti-imperialism) in general, or took to writing about the oppression of women, attaining notoriety and fame in the process (for example Gloria Steinem).

The overriding theoretical construct was the term “patriarchy.” That implied, as both Wolf and Judy Chicago maintained in The Dinner Party, that all men victimized all women from time out of mind. With gender oppression the mighty variable, it was logical that separate Women’s Studies departments be established to accommodate growing female demands to be written back into history. Indeed, when I took Katherine Kish Sklar’s course on 19th century female reformers during my doctorate preparation at UCLA in the early 1980s, I was called on the carpet for separating working class women from upper-class women, and for objecting to an influential article Barbara Welter’s “The Cult of Domesticity.” [Background: we did learn in Sklar’s course that there was a big debate among feminists as to whether the status of women changed after men left the home to participate in industrial society. When women’s labor was visible to men, did they enjoy higher status? The point I am making is that some feminists are motivated by status politics and fame, and seem uninterested in the material condition of less privileged females, unless these are addressed within the protocols of the Democratic Party. I.e., these feminists were treating the woman question as a problem of caste, whereas a case can be made that it is a class problem, with women, as such, a subordinated class similar to that of chattel slavery in the earlier America. David Brion Davis made exactly that claim in a recent book of essays, Created in the Image of God. So a case can be made for Women’s Studies, but even so, it would have to be integrated into a larger historical picture and set of determinations.]

Of course what these particular feminists overlooked was the perception by many men that women had too much power as it was (including sexual power), a widespread belief motivating many of the Symbolist poets and other authors I had read, some of whom were misogynists. See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/23/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets/. Also https://clarespark.com/2009/10/24/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets-2/. In my view, the key was the clinging mother, who not only demanded that she be idealized, but set impossibly high moral standards on her sons, sometimes inflicting double binds on her children. (As described throughout my book on Herman Melville and the source of his prison imagery; e.g. the conflict between truth and order, or local loyalties with concern for the faraway. One was supposed to reconcile the irreconcilable without fuss or choosing sides.)

There are things taken up by Naomi Wolf that every woman knows: that too much time is taken up with make-up and the losing battle with aging; that successful men are relatively free to dump their aging wives for younger models; that many men are disgusted by women’s bodies and functions, that women’s magazines are retrograde, and so on. What she does not harp upon is the lingering fear that many women have of treading on male turf, for instance, the study of political, diplomatic and military history, of city planning, architecture, economics or of all the sciences. But that too is changing.

To conclude: nothing in this blog should be construed to mean that I am not a feminist. Far from it. Our society is largely hypersexualized and dumbed down. I am simply unqualified to make grand statements about women from antiquity to the present, or even women from the 1960s onward. That would require a lifetime of close study and more critical tools than I have at hand. For more see https://clarespark.com/2012/03/18/history-as-trauma-2-rosebud-version/. Also the first segment of this two-part series, see https://clarespark.com/2012/03/14/history-as-trauma/.

June 8, 2010

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s love letter to the world

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

This is a meditation upon Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s third book, NOMAD: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through The Clash of Civilizations (Free Press, 2010).  I was there during the late 60s-1970s feminist movement, both as a reporter and facilitator of women in the arts. To understand why Hirsi Ali is not the toast of that closely knit movement (though she should be), one must look at the evolution of the “second wave” feminists.

The leading lights were either primarily leftists, the children of leftists, or dissatisfied participants in the civil rights-antiwar movement that defined 1960s politics. In the late 1960s, certain movement “heavies” emerged, all male, and they were hogging the media’s attention. Women meanwhile, were used as traditional women always had been —as sexual objects, cheerleaders, and cooks. In this aspect, the antiwar and counter-culture hippie movements fused in the figure of Woman as Earth Mother.

Some of these young women weren’t pleased with their lack of access to fame or notoriety, and almost overnight came a flood of books about “the patriarchy” authored by Betty Friedan, Kate Millett, and Germaine Greer, to name a few. In the art world, Judy Chicago (née Gerowitz) became the most celebrated luminary.  The Feminist Art program at California Institute of the Arts, run by Judy and Miriam Schapiro, laid down the new law: women were defined by their vaginas, men by their phalluses: hence, women artists who painted circular forms were right on; glorification of the male organ was taboo, unless as an object of derision, or terror to the “white male supremacist.”

I myself, fascinated by these developments, put together a poetical montage/slide show of sex and violence in the work of female artists and photographers, historically important and/or new to the scene, presenting the slides accompanied by recitations from Simone de Beauvoir and other European writers. My provocation was widely shown around the country and generally appreciated, with one exception: When I gave the show at Judy Chicago’s class at the Women’s Building in downtown Los Angeles, the audience of student feminists under the tutelage of Judy were cold and unresponsive. When I invited comments, Sheila de Bretteville (then associated with Cal Arts, then the Women’s Building, and later Dean of the Design School at Yale), asked me if I was disappointed at the stone wall of disapproval that we both sensed. She lamented on my behalf that I had usually gotten “love” back from the audience for my efforts.

I quote my former buddy Sheila because it is hard to imagine that Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote her three books expecting love and appreciation from the world that had attempted to socialize her into the nightmarish world of Islam, and for some time had succeeded in that effort, until she gradually and painfully extricated herself through an epic journey. Nor do I expect the 60s-70s feminists to appreciate her current affiliation with the American Enterprise Institute; indeed she is the classical liberal enemy to the feminist army of leftists and social democratic super-statists, despite her firm adherence to the right of all women to protect and control their reproductive organs, not to speak of embracing their sexuality.

No, the 1960s feminists and their male allies now populate the humanities departments of the elite universities and their academic presses, having graduated from antiwar demonstrations and art shows to “postcolonial” literary theory, postmodernism, and the multiculturalism that Hirsi Ali so persuasively discredits in her work.  (See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/, for an account of the transformation of an integrationist movement to a separatist authoritarian one that mirrored Leninist ideology.) But she does adhere to one practice of post60s feminism: the giving of personal testimony that awakens the conscience and informs the intellect of the reader. To accompany her on this autobiographical journey is to be transformed, partly through the revelations of graphic and shocking details that political scientists and other academics cannot know about, or will not discuss. It is simply life-changing to encounter this woman of fortitude and compelling insight into a Muslim “civilization” that is unremittingly backward, barbaric, and deeply threatening to the West, especially now with the deliberately Obama-inflicted weakness of the American superpower that has given her shelter (although with the need for bodyguards, so thoroughly have we been infiltrated).

But Hirsi Ali’s book is, from top to bottom, a love letter to all the world: love for the Enlightenment, for Reason, for the capacity of even the most backward of peoples, with our assistance, to throw off their hellish imaginations, and to join those of us lucky enough not to have consumed a brain-deadening culture of terror from infancy on. And she understands what probably every woman of accomplishment has experienced: the importance of a father’s example (no matter how idealized) to the aspirations of the daughters, struggling against the odds to declare and embody their independence and unique value. In Ayaan Hirsi Ali, we have in our midst a woman for the ages.

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