Kathrine Switzer running the Boston Marathon in 1967
Hey, what about that 3-hour documentary on PBS the other night? I’m talking about “Makers: Women Who Make America
,” a short history of the women’s movement in the US. Despite the title, during the station break a voiceover described the doc’s subject as “women who ‘helped’ shape America.” Women are helpers
, yo, just in case this film causes you to forget that for a moment.
Here, Voiceover, let me “help” you kiss my entire ass.
However clunky the commercial breaks were, the film itself is a success, and I recommend it. Amanda Marcotte gives it a tidy going-over in Slate, so I don’t have to. As she points out, the filmmakers do a pretty good job during the first 2 hours chronicling the feminist movement of the 60s and 70s. There are interviews with the likes of Brownmiller, Steinem and of course the redoubtable Oprah, grainy footage of disobedience, biographies of influential feminists of the day, etc. The wrenching defeat of the ERA by reactionary antifeminist villain Phyllis Schlafly and her gang of unisex-bathroom-o-phobic right-wing ladies is particularly gripping. I agree with Amanda, however, that the film’s last hour gives short shrift to contemporary feminism, instead obsessing on the hoary old bezoar “having it all,” and completely ignoring what she calls “the explosion of online feminism.”
As part of that explosion, I naturally would have preferred a more critical analysis of the “choice feminism” phenomenon; that is, feminism as a lifestyle tool for personal gratification (I choose to get a boob job for me, therefore getting a boob job is feminist, etc), but putting that topic over is a pretty tough sell. And I can explain why in two words. Zooey Deschanel. From The Week:
Zooey Deschanel isn’t ashamed to be “adorkable,’’ said Logan Hill in Glamour. The quirky star of TV’s New Girl has become a controversial figure for many feminists, who’ve attacked everything from her bangs and childish dress sense—she favors polka dot dresses and tiaras—to her habit of tweeting about puppies, kittens, and cupcakes. This cutesy behavior, they argue, infantilizes women. “I’m just being myself,” says Deschanel, 33. “There is not an ounce of me that believes any of that crap they say. We can’t be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a f—ing feminist and wear a f—ing Peter Pan collar. So what?”
Deschanel apparently believes that “choosing” to align her public persona precisely according to misogynist male fantasy is a “choice” and a feminist act. But I digress.
“Makers,” in sum, is an energizing romp down memory lane what got me thinking about maybe getting back into the Internet feminism game. Two things specifically triggered my blogging response.
One was the heartbreaking scene wherein a woman who, while isolated by her abusive husband in the 70′s, secreted away copies of Ms. magazine and devoured them on the sly when the abuser wasn’t looking. Ms. was her lifeline, the only way she could know she wasn’t alone. Dang. My antiquated 2nd-wavism notwithstanding, throwing my voice back into the explosion might not help anyone feel a little less alone, but then again, it might. I used to get emails all the time from women who say IBTP helped them. And I suppose there’s always room for a little more feminist awareness, as I will reveal via personal anecdote in a moment.
But first, I can’t go another second without blaming out a really hide-chapping thing.
Marcotte’s aforementioned piece on “Makers” is ghettoized on the Slate site in a section called “XXfactor: What Women Really Think.” The “XX” is in hot pink, of course, to distinguish this content as NSFD (not safe for dudes), as well as to remind readers that “XX” is only one X away from XXX, which as modern dudes and the funfeminists who love them know, succinctly describes the hot-pink essence of women. But come on. “What women really think”? Really?
So all the other
shit women write — the stuff that isn’t under the XX heading — is — what? What men
think? Is “What women really think” really still considered so weird and niche-y that it cannot be quietly assimilated with the regular content?
Pretty much. Regular content is what dudes think. Dudethink is what drives all media that are not specifically feminist.
The vagina sections maintained by mainstream publications are insulting. It’s insulting that human rights issues pertaining to women’s oppression are not considered human rights issues at all, but instead are devalued as women’s issues. Millions of people can and do ignore women’s issues and live their entire lives not giving them a second thought. I suspect this because (and this is the second thing that motivates me to start blogging again) –
Anecdote Begins Here
– my 78-year-old mother called me during the “Makers” broadcast and said, “Are you watching this? I had no idea any of this was going on.”
There was a rustling in the air as a herd of pigs flew by. My mother, a lifelong patriarchy-denier who has lived her whole life not giving women’s issues a second thought, was actually watching a film about the women’s movement. And, incredibly, she was eating it up with a spoon. It was, she said, a real eye-opener for her.
“I had no idea this was going on,” she kept saying. “I’ve had my head in the sand!”
By “this” she meant that she’d had no inkling about the extent of sexism, no awareness of the 2nd-wavers’ extraordinary feats of activism. My mother lived the insular life of a businessman’s wife. She raised me and Tidy, cooked, schlepped, laundered, chauffered, and kept the homefires burning. My father would enthrone himself at the head of the dinner table and expect to be waited on. “Is there any more bread?” he’d say, and my mother would spring out of her chair. This apparently felt completely reasonable to her.
“Pop, why don’t you get your own bread already?” I’d begun to snipe feministically in my teens. I was pretty self-involved back then, but even I could tell that my father’s sense of dudely entitlement was demeaning to my mother. I sorely wanted them both to realize this — for chrissake, wasn’t it obvious? — and to knock it the fuck off. However, my revolutionary attitude was routinely ignored by my mother and consistently mocked by my father. Neither my mother, whose entire identity was invested in feminine subservience and the patriarchal vision of the nuclear family, nor my father, who was the oblivious beneficiary of her servility, were interested in feminist revolt. And so it stayed that way for the next 40 years. Until two days ago, when my mother watched that film.
It was with mixed emotions that I listened to her wax incredulous about the women’s marches and the Miss America sheep and the pervasiveness of sexual harassment, and to hear her laugh about Pat Schroeder claiming to have made more meals at home than Phyllis Schlafly ever did, and to watch her wrap her mind around the completely new-to-her concept that a woman’s uterus is the property of the state. On one hand, I was absolutely thrilled that she was finally coming around to the idea that maybe patriarchy does exist. On the other hand, I was kind of pissed that, for my entire life, whenever I’d tried to mention any of this, she’d dismissed my crazy leftist gibberish with the “here we go again” eye-roll.
“Maybe I should start reading your blog,” she joked the other night.
Just in case she does, I guess there oughtta be something for her to read. So here ya go, Mom. Enjoy!
On a final note, the PBS airing of “Makers” was sponsored by a subsidiary of Unilever, a global cosmetics conglomerate. Plus ça change. Le sigh.