YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

October 9, 2016

The Man of the Crowd must be a rapist

1934 image, Wikipedia

1934 image, Wikipedia

Donald J Trump now stands convicted of sexual assault and, almost as horrid, bad taste. https://clarespark.com/2014/12/18/rape-culture/.

Ask any “moderate” Republicans (i.e., closet social democrats), and they will tell you that they knew it all along. For many pundits (even on “fair and balanced” Fox), one “quasi-apology” is not enough, for the man’s essence must be rotten to the core, just like the “white working class” that he ostensibly represents in all its embarrassing  “misogyny.” (Even Charles Krauthammer, Chris Wallace, and Hillary Clinton share this liberal opinion, though they don’t mention class perspective, as I have. See https://clarespark.com/2009/08/24/the-people-is-an-ass-or-a-herd/.)

Who knew that Fox’s female anchors and featured players were such prudes, given their come-hither long eyelashes, heavy make-up, above-the-knee dresses/exposed thighs, high heels, (where possible) cleavage, and (usually) long, princess hair?

Why, one would suspect that these strong women are ardent defenders of the female sex, hence feminists, more interested in “character” and “judgment” than in policy (especially national security). If so, this would line up the Fox ladies with the most bigoted patriarchal types, accepting the stereotype that the “lower orders” (i.e., Trump supporters) are criminal by nature. https://clarespark.com/2009/08/24/the-people-is-an-ass-or-a-herd/.

trump supporters, Meme.com

trump supporters, Meme.com

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October 1, 2016

Pseudo-feminism and the Alicia Machado flap

Alicia Machado as depicted on HuffPo

Alicia Machado as depicted on HuffPo

[Ersatz “feminists” are prolonging this fight  on the grounds that Hillary was just “protecting her marriage.” So I ask, “what marriage”?]

This blog is about the political debate following Hillary Clinton’s criticism of Donald Trump’s alleged sexism at the tail end of the first debate. What is at stake here?

It is the mark of the upwardly mobile female to profess “feminism” while ignoring the facts of material existence. Many television figures, while promoting “inclusion,” ignore the controversies that have emerged since the second wave of feminism lapped at the shores in the late 1960s and 1970s. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second-wave_feminism.

For instance, it is not clear that the claims of liberal feminists that men and women are biologically “equal,” stand up to scrutiny. One need not be a George Gilder-style biological determinist (see Sexual Suicide, published in 1973 as a critique of abandoned and abandoning women) to note that women who combine the roles of mother and breadwinner (i.e., who seek a career outside the home), may experience role conflict, apart from socialization in “sexist” institutions, as many feminists claim. Are such conflicts built into our female “nature,” or are they a symptom of the incomplete transition from home-bound Mom to female leader (e.g., in the media, military, or in politics and academe)?

Or take the pseudo-feminist outrage that Trump insulted Alicia Machado by allegedly calling her “Miss Piggy”. Do not these same defenders of science lecture us about obesity and the importance of exercise and nutrition? When Michelle Obama emphasizes such issues, do liberals carry on about her sexism and “fat-shaming?” (For a liberal feminist treatment of “fat-shaming see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-reaction-to-trumps-fat-shaming-reinforces-toxic-ideas-about-fatness/2016/09/30/800fba0c-872b-11e6-92c2-14b64f3d453f_story.html?utm_term=.192c7341b412.)

(For another controversy within the dominant social democracy, see the fuss over (materialist) “male science” versus mystical “female science.” Feminist science, it is said by our betters, would prioritize Green politics as the sane corrective to bizarre male empiricism. The “posthumanist” Donna Haraways of the world are in the same bag as the female defenders of equality in all things.

Fabrizio Terranova still of Donna Haraway film

Fabrizio Terranova still of Donna Haraway film

Speaking of Hillary Clinton’s rumor mongering, how do we know when we are not fascists?

Who owns the facts?

February 13, 2016

“…a pretty face….”

WSJ March, 2016 – Women’s Style

WSJgirls002The last few days in the 2016 campaign have seen an increase in the chatter about feminism, mostly focused on the gap between Millennial young women and [relics] from the feminism as it is imagined to have existed in the second wave of “feminism” in the 1970s.

Even the Washington Post has taken notice, starting a new series on “New Wave Feminism” (http://link.washingtonpost.com/public/6095592), while right-leaning Fox News Channel invited Harvard Crimson staffer Molly Roberts to represent the Ivy Millennials in an evaluation of the same subject. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/02/hillary-clinton-2016-young-women-gender-213620. Ms. Roberts, close to scowling during the entire segment, is apparently unaware that the second wave feminists of the 1970s came out of the antiwar movement, and were equally “anti-racist” and “anti-imperialist.” (Some were right-wing social democrats, while many were communists.)

The media have been equally ignorant of 60s-70s politics. Gloria Steinem has been castigated for stating (jokingly) that the millennial girls are simply “going where the boys are.” Persons of my age will remember that the antiwar demonstrations were a magnet for protesters of both genders looking for hook-ups. Indeed Steinem got lots of publicity because of her glamour and well-known connections with powerful males in publishing.

Also making news this week was Madeline Albright, consigning non-Hillary Clinton supporters to eternal damnation in hell. What this signaled to me was the moralism of both “Left” and “Right.” Meanwhile, fashion magazine of the Wall Street Journal today has reduced to sexual objects even the “privileged” women who can afford the major designers.

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz had to pull a political ad directed against Marco Rubio because the production company failed to vet a “soft porn” actress (Amy Lindsay), whose chief line was that it was foolish to trust “a [lying] pretty face.” Nobody in the press noticed that this was a slap against an allegedly effeminate Rubio.

So much for progress in gender relations: “plus ça change….”

July 26, 2015

Masters of Sex, second wave feminism, and the ratings game

masters-and-johnson-4140196600[Update: the third season finale left me infuriated, for “Bill” cannot escape his father’s whippings so as to pursue Virginia who is running off with her new lover. As psychoanalyst Henry Murray once wisely  wrote, the variation of the myth where the hero fails to beat the monster is “unendurable for a small child to endure.” The small child in me was disappointed and agitated. But perhaps that is what season finales are designed to do: cliff hanging, but it struck an unnecessarily pessimistic note about the human capacity to ever overcome the traumas of childhood. I think that Thomas Maier is uncomfortable with this series.]

I have written about this series before, twice. (See https://clarespark.com/2014/08/16/ferguson-mi-masters-of-sex-and-the-dilemma-of-the-white-liberal/, with link to the first one.)

The second episode the third season of Masters of Sex  threw me for a loop, so, especially in light of the controversy over Planned Parenthood, I thought I should write a blog about it.

The series about Masters and Johnson’s path breaking studies of the physiology of the human sexual response (1966) takes great liberties with the facts of their lives, in my view, because of the need to appeal to an audience which is already “liberated” but which also might retain many social conservative viewers, or sadder but wiser ex-feminists.

Michelle Ashford (b. 1960), the creator of the Showtime hit series, was hip to the sexual revolution, and appears to have taken advantage of the second wave of feminism, along with the gay movement, and the early civil rights movement, but this season she seems more attuned to broadening her audience beyond aging veterans of 60s social movements.

First, a word about the character of Virginia Masters (played by Lizzy Caplan), who is constantly billed as “ahead of her time,” because as a former night club singer, she is neither frigid, nor hung up on monogamy, but participates in non-committed sleeping around. In other words, she behaves like a single heterosexual male. (This is only attributed to ‘feminism by conservatives, for many second wave feminists were indeed doormats for men, but were more often interested in breaking into male-dominated professions and businesses.)

Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan

Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan

But this season, the chickens come to roost, and the (fictionalized) children of both chief characters are teen agers, and predictably defiant and critical of their parents’ unavailability. This causes Virginia’s underage son to enlist in the military (during Viet Nam!), and leads to comfort sex with her first husband, which leaves her pregnant, just in time for the release of the Masters and Johnson book on the physiology of the human sexual response.

Since Bill Masters (played to perfection by Michael Sheen) won’t leave his wife, Virginia remains unmarried. She tells Bill that she is about to have an abortion, but as the abortion is about to take place, she abruptly decides to bring the baby to term. (A hat tip to pro-lifers? Or a way to advance the plot, for Bill is now aghast at having a pregnant unmarried co-author who will come off as a slut, marring the respectability of their twelve-year endeavor?)

So Virginia and husband #1 remarry to save the book, much to George Johnson’s discomfort, for he wants a real re-marriage.

Now comes the part that shocked me. Perhaps under the influence of pregnancy hormones that have aroused her maternal instincts, Virginia has a fit of self-incrimination, as she declares that she was never there for her two children, and should have chosen devoted stay-at-home motherhood instead of her career. I don’t know an intelligent woman who has not had these same doubts.

Indeed, my own conclusion is that we, the gifted women, are doomed, should we want both children and the full development of our ambitions to achieve outside the home.

The episode ends with Bill driving off after looking at the new baby, a girl, and the first husband hangs around the nursery with Virginia, gazing at their new child. I sense a double triangle in the next episodes, or more likely Virginia will sleep with a new character played by Josh Charles, prompting Bill to finally leave a sexless, old-fashioned, marriage.

In real life, Masters and Johnson were married until 1991, when Bill left her. For author’s Thomas Maier’s comments on these characters see http://time.com/3880364/the-real-masters-of-sex-life-with-masters-and-johnson/. (Maier does not comment on the pandering in the Showtime series to the soft-porn audience along with hot button social movements, but does raise the possibility that Virginia never loved Bill.)

masters2

March 21, 2015

Great Goddess feminism: the Phyllis Chesler model

Stone Age Venus of Willendorf

Stone Age Venus of Willendorf

I have been rereading Phyllis Chesler’s Women and Madness (Doubleday 1972), and wonder if it is still relevant, and how Chesler’s Jungian, mythic approach to female sex-roles and role models fits into the second wave of feminism.

This blog will focus on the promise of sexual liberation as opposed to what experience hath shown are more realistic approaches to the demands of motherhood and the welfare of children.

Phyllis Chesler and son

Phyllis Chesler and son

First, we examine the context of second wave feminism. College-age women, active in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, deeply resented being relegated to waitresses and secretaries, serving the males coffee and typing manifestoes, while such heroes as black power advocate Stokely Carmichael relegated them to sex objects (though his intended meaning is contested by allies; in 1964 he had declared “”The position of women in the movement is prone”).

So the second wave of feminism came out of the Left, and then some argued about whether or not they should be “Marxist-feminists” or “Feminist-Marxists.” At the same time, real communists (Stalinists) were dismissing feminism as a bourgeois deviation. As I have suggested here, the intellectual ancestors of feminist stars were not 1930s leftists, so much as anti-killjoy womanizers of the 1940s social democratic “left”; i.e., anticommunist “liberals” who admired Jung, but not his mentor Freud, another killjoy with his settling for “everyday unhappiness” as opposed to the adrenalin rush of Romantic defiance. (See https://clarespark.com/2015/03/16/who-were-the-precursors-of-the-new-left-the-wasp-establishment-or-communists/. The New Deal-affiliated social psychologists I studied all identified Hitler with Romanticism,  e.g., with the arch-Romantic, Lord Byron.)

Enter numerous feminists (arguably the progenitors of the gay rights movement) who were averse to what was imagined as the humdrum life of MOM, stuck indefinitely in boring marriages and chained to motherhood. Unlike the leftist feminists, they were attracted to Goddesses and “spirituality,” and aroused the ire of the (materialist) Left. But whatever the flavor, feminists were of course reacting (indirectly?) to “attachment theory” as presented by John Bowlby in 1958. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_theory, and note that Bowlby was describing the infant’s need for object constancy, but not a jail for ambitious women that would last forever.)

Numerous activist women in the arts and humanities saw a chance for instant fame when they promoted a distinctive woman’s sensibility and the loveliness of free love, including lesbianism. Of all these book-writing young women, psychologist Phyllis Chesler remains relevant today, for she has not only offered a Goddess/Amazon book in her youth (who doesn’t enjoy the pagan, naughty Greek myths and Jungian archetypes?), but she claims expertise in the “new antisemitism” that speaks to renewed fears for the safety of Israel. But even more, Chesler saw Muslim abuse of women up close in her marriage to an Afghani (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phyllis_Chesler). So while her competitors are either mocked, deceased, or forgotten, Phyllis Chesler has developed an appreciative lay audience for the emancipation of women.

Amazonmom

Meanwhile, feminism seems to have adopted Chesler’s brand. The Hunger Games trilogy is a boffo success with youngsters and mothers alike (at least in my family), and the challenge of monogamous marriage and competent child-rearing is taken up all too rarely, and when it is, as in the NBC miniseries The Slap (the intelligent woman’s guide to motherhood: exhausting, negligent, over-indulgent in turn), it arouses howls of rage in television critics, who don’t want to tamper with archetypes of the Happy Mother and/or “likeable characters.”

happy-mothers-day-mothers-love-card-quotes

I helped promote the women artists’ movement on the radio, and considered myself to be one of them. I continue to believe that it is a man’s world, and bitterly resent all double standards.

It is only in retrospect that I have come to realize how intellectually and emotionally demanding motherhood (like marriage) really is. Moreover, the time frame when developing youngsters need ’round-the-clock mothering and fathering is shorter than young, single women realized in the salad days of second wave feminism.

salad-days-2343071

January 10, 2015

The case for feminism

Ad from Avant Garde "blowout sale" January 2015

Ad from Avant Garde “blowout sale” January 2015

I have written numerous blogs tracking the second wave of feminism (1960s-1970s and on).  See for example https://clarespark.com/2012/09/04/links-to-blogs-on-feminism/. This blog is part of a two-part series: https://clarespark.com/2015/01/12/what-free-speech/.

Many of my prior blogs lament the automatic alignment of second wave feminists with their New Left male “oppressors,” abandoning the situations of women who were not either pro-choice, in the civil rights movement, or against the war in Viet Nam, especially as much of the Left and even those older ex-leftists who became neoconservatives remained at best ambivalent about gender issues. Perhaps these differences between liberal and conservative women are too deep to bridge, since many conservative women deny that they are subservient to males. Some liberal males feel differently, but don’t necessarily act on it.

For instance, cultural historian David Brion Davis once gave a series of lectures at an Ivy League university on race, later published, that stated that the subject of women was as grave a matter as subjection by race, but he saved that remark for his last chapter, and has, to my knowledge, never developed it, not have his students who now dominate the profession at Yale and other prestigious venues.

When I reviewed David Horowitz’s recent book Radicals (https://clarespark.com/2012/09/22/materialist-history-and-the-idea-of-progress/), criticizing it for excessive moderation and for putting quotation marks around the word “feminist.” I send the piece to him, for David is my friend, and he welcomed the dialogue, but DH clearly doesn’t see feminism as a political priority, while I do, very vehemently.

Why do I care? For one thing I have five granddaughters and two daughters, who are coping with, or will cope with the same choices that I have done all my life: they will have to choose between stereotypes: Madonna, nymphet, femme fatale, happy mother, party girl, dominatrix, bluestocking, etc. My female descendants are all intelligent and creative, but most might not have the support network commensurate with their brains and talents. Nor are they likely to depart from the “normal” subservient posture in relationship to men, which may combine all these attributes as the illustration I have posted above:  Women as child, yet menacing in black, with short skirt inviting movement of the male hand up her thighs. (This was an ad for a sale from the boutique Avant Garde.) This teen ager is sexually provocative, yet wholesome looking with that pony tail. She will nab an upper-class mate. But will she be emancipated from the tyranny of stiletto heels for very long?

I was told by a nurse who did my blood work that there was a rule at the UCLA famed medical school and home for excellent doctors who tend to all classes of persons, that the female administrators must comply with a dress code that demands “heels”—not flat shoes, or nurse’s shoes, even though any orthopedist will warn women that high heels will inevitably lead to back, knee, and ankle problems as they age. Women must please male authority in the workplace or be fired.

Then there is the issue of androgyny, and the continued preference for hyper-masculine males and “girly” females. This combination of good father and apron-wearing mother, both God-fearing, will lift minority children out of poverty—a common viewpoint among conservatives. The same faction will go to the mat to prevent reproductive rights for women, and will oppose all but heterosexual love and marriage. Behind the opposition to gay marriage, I sense that there is a fear of effeminacy and subjection to the influence of mother, now embodied in the so-called “nanny state.”

I will not belabor the rise of “the moral mother,” or the diminution of paternal authority in the household after the Industrial Revolution, culminating in the welfare state as a bulwark against socialism, for I have written at length about the progressive movement on this website.

But I have no doubt that hierarchies, such as the domination of most women by males, “breed deceit, terror and catharsis” as I stated in passing here: https://clarespark.com/2010/08/15/nazis-exhibit-der-ewige-jude-1937/. Men will never know what their female mates are really thinking, as long as the extreme difference in sex roles persists, no more than did the slaveholder know what his slaves really had on their minds, nor does the employer know what his employees are really thinking about his conduct and their jobs.

Perhaps Nietzsche, and not Marx had the correct solution to the organization of advanced societies. But I would hate to think that the battle of the sexes, though insoluble owing to biological differences, cannot be more flexible in what men and women (or homosexual couples) expect from each other.

September 16, 2012

Thought Crimes

During the High Holy Days, Jews are supposed to engage in strenuous self-examination. Even as a secular Jew, the solemnity and moral obligation of this time impels me to look inside and make reparations to those I may have neglected or lied to or otherwise misled as to my deep inner beliefs or opinions.

My thought crimes that everyone already knows about:

a. The subject of antisemitism is only partly understood, even by Jews and their friends;

b. The exact techniques of populist demagoguery always rely on an underlying antisemitic set of assumptions about “the money power.” If we knew even the basics of finance and economic history, the bogey man of Wall Street would disintegrate;

c. I enjoy Ayn Rand’s novels with some reservations (masochistic sex), but given her particular history, I brush them aside;

d. Even if there was “school choice” there is no guarantee that students would be prepared for citizenship, given the curricula in vogue, which do not begin to teach freedom of thought, dominated as they are by authoritarian, under-educated, or wimpy progressives;

e. Progressivism and communism are now so interpenetrating that it is hard to tell where Democrats leave off and hard leftists begin. Those scholars who have studied communist influence in the US and who think that the Reds are no longer relevant are mistaken;

f. Although left-wing anarchists and right-wing anarchists would appear to be immiscible, they are both counter-culture and probably acting out rebellion against the rules set by their parents. Anti-capitalism vs. anarcho-capitalism may not be as significant as enjoyment in prolonged tantrums;

g. Much of what passes for high art is primitivist, or at times, expresses nostalgia for an agrarian past that lacked cities, machines, and annoying Jews who make you think too much;

h. The sexual revolution of the 1960s on has been a disaster for most women, who have bought into the regnant masochism and degradation of our gender;

i. Freud is more relevant than ever, yet rarely understood: though a professed atheist, he is still too Jewish;

j. Many workers continue to be exploited and/or have boring, even dangerous jobs.

Thought crimes that nobody knows about:

a. People should not have children if they can’t support them. If marriages break down, the couples should stay together in most cases for the sake of family stability: children hate change and often are caught between parents, with bad life-long after-effects;

b. Some of the authors and artists I most admire are turning out to be either romantic rebels or reactionaries or downright offensive and I don’t care: I will defend their freedom of expression as long as I am breathing;

c. Being at odds with most of the world is downright fun. John Dos Passos admitted this in his old age (see Century’s Ebb), and I recognized my own proclivities. Call me joyfully alienated; (One relative through marriage rightly suspects me of these contrarian tendencies.)

d. As long as I am on hot on the trail of a new (for me) miscreant or set of ‘em, I am happy;

e. Nothing more exciting than changing my mind or reconfiguring a picture of the world: to see with fresh eyes. While I was making radio documentaries, was heard to say that a good edit was way better than sex. Collage will do that for you;

f. I was invited to submit a proposal for a class I would teach in the Los Angeles Woman’s Building. I submitted this title and nothing else: “PUNS KEY TO SECRET ORDER IN THE UNIVERSE.” No one signed up and I didn’t care.

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.

December 23, 2009

She Who Gets Slapped: the magic of middle-aged Boomerdom

from the sadomasochism collection of S.T.

[Racy song from World War I:]

Mademoiselle from Armentieres, Parley-voo?
Mademoiselle from Armentieres, Parley-voo?
Mademoiselle from Armentieres,
She hasn’t been kissed in forty years,
Hinky, dinky, parley-voo….

“Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms,” by Thomas Moore

Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,
Which I gaze on so fondly to-day
Were to change by to-morrow, and flee in my arms,
Like fairy-gifts fading away,
Thou wouldst still be adored, as this moment thou art,
Let thy loveliness fade as it will,
And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart
Would entwine itself verdantly still.

It is not while beauty and youth are thine own,
And thy cheeks unprofaned by a tear,
That the fervor and faith of a soul can be known,
To which time will but make thee more dear;
No, the heart that has truly loved never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close,
As the sun-flower turns on her god, when he sets,
The same look which she turned when he rose.

Here are numerous excerpts from Daphne Merkin’s long article on movie director Nancy Meyers: “Can Anybody Make a Movie for Women?” NYT Dec.15, 2009. My reminiscence of one feature of second-wave feminism follows.

[Merkin:] With her black-framed glasses and penchant for wearing clothes that seem like a softer variant of a man’s business suit — white blouse, yellow cardigan over slacks, low-heeled patent-leather pumps — the petite and attractive Meyers might pass for a lawyer or professor; there’s nothing about her that shouts V.I.P. She looks, rather, like the kind of woman who has always been cute and has always conveyed a certain approachability to men. Her jewelry is equally understated, as unblingy as can be, consisting of two gold rings and a gold bracelet. Everything about her suggests an innate tastefulness and the kind of self-image that isn’t based on making a grand impression. Goldie Hawn, whose relationship with Meyers also goes back to the ’70s, puts it this way: “Nancy has the clout. She doesn’t have to own the clout.”

…Part and parcel of that uniqueness is Meyers’s focus on making films that both feature and speak to middle-aged women, a demographic that studios traditionally ignore for fear of not bringing in the all-important opening-weekend numbers by which a movie’s position is assessed and its future success seemingly foretold. The simple truth is that any movie that is not aimed at 15-year-old boys, who come out in droves on Friday night for movies like “Transformers,” is seen as something of a risk. Movies like “It’s Complicated” unfold at the box office in a different pattern than movies that are skewed younger; their success is based more on long-range playability and word of mouth than on instant impact. Still, in a movie culture consumed by youth and its trappings — vampires, werewolves, stoners and superheroes — Meyers’s decision to pay attention to a part of the population that is often construed (and often construes itself) to be invisible stands out in bold relief. The fact that this decision has proved to be commercially shrewd says something about her instincts as a moviemaker but also says something about a previously unsatisfied hunger, composed of two parts daydream and one part hope, that is finally being addressed. “She’s a pioneer with regard to representing older women,” Diane Keaton said over lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel. “She’s the only one delivering the fantasy for women over 55. You’re beautiful, charming and you get two guys instead of one.”

…Meyers, then, has rushed in where angels fear to tread to rescue the middle-aged and manless woman from her lonely plight. She has taken this sorry creature, who is bombarded with reminders of her vanished youthfulness everywhere she turns, and placed her in an alternate universe, where she is not only visible but desirable just the way she is. (It helps, of course, if she looks like Diane Keaton or Meryl Streep, and if she gets to wear a carefully chosen wardrobe of flattering clothes.) “Feminism didn’t admit the longing for romance,” Barbara Probst Solomon, a writer and critic, says. “And it also didn’t admit that romance often didn’t go with success. Her movies give women their reward — you feel nourished, the way you used to feel about old-time Hollywood movies. You’re not just an old bag sitting with your laptop at the beach — you’ve got your prince. It permits you to have your fantasy.” It is not unique, of course, that Meyers’s vision of life is unabashedly romantic — call it retro or call it postfeminist — but what sets it apart is that she is putting it at the disposal not of unformed 18-year-old girls but of accomplished 50-something women for whom romance is generally no longer considered an option, either because they are too old or because they are too threatening.

…she is proposing the somewhat radical notion that there are second acts in women’s lives and that they don’t necessarily hinge on being a desperate housewife in search of the next “It” bag or a cougar on the prowl. Far from it. The interesting thing about “Something’s Gotta Give” and “It’s Complicated” is that the women in them aren’t remotely on the hunt, seeking proof of their sexual appeal in the form of studly younger men — or men their own age, for that matter. These women are self-sufficient and notably energetic. They may not have men, at least when we first meet them, but they make do with friends and children and siblings, for whom they whip up tasty dinners and homemade pies and laugh over their own situations.

…Her love of seductive surfaces — of rooms graciously adorned with bowls of flowers, glowing lamplight, color-coordinated pillows on the couch, pieces of art, books and touches of pleasing texture in the way of curtains, cashmere throws and rugs — is undoubtedly part of the allure of the upscale world she creates. (That world is also almost pre-ethnic — with the exception of the Asian actor B. D. Wong, who appears in “Father of the Bride” and its sequel, few non-Caucasian faces appear in Meyers’s movies.)

…What is clear is that Meyers doesn’t like shadows — metaphorical or real ones. So it is that on a Tuesday morning she is to be found in the editing room with Joe Hutshing, making like a one-woman clean-up squad. “Can you get rid of this dot, this dot and this dot,” she instructed an assistant editor, pointing out infinitesimal, invisible-to-the-human-eye blurs on the screen. A little later, as she and Hutshing went over shots of the backyard view of Streep’s house (they created a water view where none existed), she wanted all the dead trees edited out. Then it was on to the spiky plants. “Every plant that is spiky is removed from this movie,” she announced, a note of hard-won triumph in her voice. “You have no idea. Keep it all soft.”

…The more I talked to Meyers the more I realize that she prefers for her movies — for life itself — to have a rosy, unconflicted presentation. My sense is that whatever warts exist, she airbrushes out, the better to come away with a happy ending. (Her friends warn her off films that are too bleak. “People are always protective of me when they give me movies to see,” she said. “They think I’m going to break.”) At worst, her films can give off an air of tidy unreality — and it is this unexamined aspect, I think, this failure to even hint at darkness, that most fuels critical ire. Richard Schickel condemns Meyers with faint praise, hinting that she and the studios have struck a devil’s pact of sorts. “Clearly there is an audience for sweet little middle-class romances of the kind she makes, and it pleases the studios to indulge a woman, whom they would not trust with more vigorous projects. It’s as if they’re trying to say: ‘Hey, we’re not sexists. We make Nancy Meyers movies.’ ”

…As part of the audience for whom these “sweet little middle-class romances” are intended, I must say I find this assessment, whatever its kernel of truth, a bit harsh. For one thing, romantic comedies are harder to write than they appear. Sherry Lansing, former chairwoman and chief executive of Paramount Pictures, who championed “The First Wives Club” and tried for years to develop a script called “The Older Woman” without much success, says it is a genre that is “unbelievably difficult to get right.” For another, what’s wrong with a little wish fulfillment? It might be said that Meyers, who has not remarried and is currently involved with, as she puts it, “my movie,” has spun gold from the hay of her own losses, turning the painful aftermath of divorce into comedies where she, in the form of her characters, gets to call all the shots.

…The middle-aged woman as dream icon: lovable, desirable, unleavable. What’s not to warm to about that? I would love to be able to reshoot some of my own life and relationships — and it wouldn’t be half-bad if Alec Baldwin played the role of my ex-husband. We all run what-if scenarios over in our head, and part of the pleasure of this kind of entertainment is the way it lets us roam through our own imaginations as we follow the retakes Meyers’s movies offer us. Given the high divorce rate and the equally high failure rate of second marriages, I’m guessing her latest movie will bring in crowds of grown-ups eager to see their own miscalculations and missteps played out on the large screen against a backdrop anyone would be proud to call home. “It’s Complicated” may not be entirely believable — nor “Something’s Gotta Give” particularly persuasive — but they offer their creator and all the women who relate to her stand-in self, in the form of Keaton or Streep, a good deal of laughter to help get them through the night. And that’s no small piece of magic. [end, Daphne Merkin excerpts]

[Clarespeak:]   What is remarkable about Merkin’s generally positive essay on Nancy Meyer’s oeuvre in film, is that no matter what little qualifications are pumped in to give the piece an air of critical distance, she presents a woman who precisely matches the fantasies of shoppers at the better clothiers, manicurists, hair salons, and plastic surgeons, and whose idea of feminism is that of “role reversal”: “[Meyers], in the form of her characters, gets to call all the shots.”  In so doing, Merkin reiterates one of the class-bound moves of 1960s-70s feminism, in which masters and slaves trade places. I have seen this behavior in the feminist art world, in academic Women’s Studies, and in the conduct of individual women of my acquaintance. But what else would we expect from a periodical (the NYT) whose advertisers cater to exactly this class of urban women, trained from childhood to maintain themselves as “hot” decorative objects (also capable of amusing banter) appealing to good male providers?

Sadly, this was not the way the second-wave of feminism started out. Everyone of my age remembers the almost overnight transformation of the culture, as young women who had been humiliated and thwarted in the road to fame by male New Left “heavies” took to their typewriters and churned out instant best-sellers about male domination, exposing misogyny in literature and the other arts, rediscovering first-wave feminist heroines, and in general, attempting to formulate an “alternative” female culture that would encompass the needs of women in all classes and climes. And an intrinsic part of this project was the assertion of a unique “feminine” sensibility that men didn’t get, hence would not support the efforts of right-on women in the arts. In academe, there were even women who thought that their attention to the women airbrushed from history would cause all of history to be rewritten with “gender” the analytic category par excellence. (Joan Wallach Scott, for instance, now at the top of her profession.)

Those were heady, thoughtless, stupid days, and many a conventional marriage broke up as women took upon themselves the freedom they imagined men enjoyed, while many a professional man became enamored of hippies and New Age escapism, changing spouses accordingly. I knew this cohort well, and almost every one of the feminists I then knew and promoted on my radio programs and elsewhere either had a red family of origin or newly attached herself to some fraction of the left, whether it be Marxist-feminism or New Left feminism, which was odd, because “patriarchy” (the social division that is primary to a feminist) is an ahistoric notion and couldn’t be farther from the complex historical analysis that a proper Marxist (or non-Marxist historian) should exemplify. But rules were laid down by the new dominatrices, and compliant guilty males and ambitious females acquiesced, with nary a murmur or moral qualm. And part of this explosion of P.C. animosity took the form of exposing the inadequacies of their ex-husbands or lovers, naming names, the more famous the better.   Another task was the feminist demolition of Freud (see the passage in  https://clarespark.com/2009/11/08/is-the-history-of-psychiatry-a-big-mess-2/ where I mention the attack on Freud as a sell-out to his gender by covering up real sexual abuse of his female patients with the invention of the Oedipus Complex, female variant).

Role-reversal was a losing strategy, not to speak of its intrinsic immorality in a movement that appealed to “equality.” The Battle of the Sexes has not been terminated; rather, new wine has been poured into old bottles. Escapist “magic” makes money as the Boomer generation swells the prospective movie and television audience, and Daphne Merkin struggles with “chronic depression” that she appears not to understand (see an earlier NYT article in which she darkly exhibits her mental states).  The second-wave feminists (a few of them) are now installed in academe and related venues, though their youth has fled, while the masses of women continue to struggle with the same issues that beset them before the 60s-70s feminists made the scene: e.g. women are terrified of aging for good reason.  Here is just one example, from experience, not from formal studies: Discarded women who loved their ex-husbands may continue to feel protective toward them, finally discovering that their concern was never reciprocated in a similar lifelong commitment. And to add to the insult, the older woman may find that she is expected to dress herself as if she were an anorexic adolescent girl. But wait! There is the “understated” Nancy Meyers uniform, as described by Daphne Merkin above. Such are the ways of “liberal” feminism in the time of Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton. Mamma Mia!

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