I was deeply disappointed by an op-ed by Joanne Lipman in this morning’s Times. And not only because I learned women–well, at least Lipman and her peers–were already feeling “post-feminist” in the early 1980s. (Really?)
I’m inclined to agree with her general assertion that although we have gained ground, attitudes about gender equality aren’t keeping pace, and in fact seem to have some sort of inverse correspondence to women’s practical gains (of course, Ms. Faludi identified this backlash in 1991).
However, her advice about remedying the situation is troubling. Nowhere does Lipman state that feminism still has a role to play. Instead, she says that the solution “isn’t about blaming men, or about embracing feminism, which remains a toxic term for some women.” (Oh, well, some women don’t like the label. So let’s just get rid of that whole “working collectively for the legal, social and financial equality of 51% of the population” thing.)
Instead, Lipman has three tips:
1. Tell girls to be more confident. No need for massive social change; it’s time for empowerfulment! Bring on the Dove campaigns!
2. Have a sense of humor. (Unlike those scowly, jowly feminists, ew.)
3. Don’t be afraid to be a girl. Now, this could go either way. Lipman might mean “don’t be ashamed of being female,” or “embrace and honor women and their experiences.” But she takes to this very weird, essentialist place where women’s worth is found in their capacity for suffering: “Women are built to withstand hardship and pain. (Anyone who has given birth knows what I’m talking about.)” Don’t fear suffering, gals! Take pleasure and pride in pain! Freedom is Slavery!
Although I’m sure we would agree (to some extent, anyway) that the personal is the political, in her piece, Lipman is doing the thing that makes me completely fucking nuts: assuming that changing social affect is sufficient to change both attitudes and policy.
After focusing for so long on better jobs and higher pay, maybe the best thing — the enduring thing — we can do is make sure respect is part of the equation too. If we can change the conversation about women, the numbers will finally add up. And that’s what real progress looks like.
Actually, “real” progress looks like more women in government and industry. More women being educated. More women able to choose their family situations, whatever those might look like. “Real” progress can be measured in multiple ways. I’ll take equal pay over girl power or discussions about “respect” any old day. “Changing the conversation” is undoubtedly part of the battle, but she seems not to realize that a whole hell of a lot of us (that would be feminists) have been working on that conversation, with our families, friends, co-workers, communities, etc., for years. Also, is she purposefully stealing the title of Carol Tavris’s book for her article? ‘Cause I don’t think it works.
I mentioned last week that I get the butt-itch when the feminist conversation is limited to “how do you FEEL about that?” or “talk about your INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCE,” divorced from any discernable action, which is why Lipman has me busting out the calamine lotion. While there’s still a place for discussion (esp. for groups who are marginalized along multiple axes), I feel like a lot of the personal stories I’ve been reading lately have been from the white and wealthy, at whose goals the feminist agenda was squarely aimed, who have profited the most from the movement’s efforts, and yet who raise some of the loudest criticisms of the F-word. And yes, we Harpies are a group of white, middle-class (give or take) women who use their personal stories, so I realize that Lipman and I are launching from the same pier, headed for the same destination. But we’re not boarding the same ship. She’s helming the SS Lipman, and I’m part of the crew for HMS Feminism.
The sea is big enough for multiple boats. But if we’re all just trimming our own sails, we’re not going to get very far. Crying “abandon ship” when it comes to seeking institutional change creates a false dichotomy (personal OR political), but also serves to undermine the real effects that collective action (legislative, activist, etc.) has had on our culture.
P.S. to writers everywhere: can we please stop it with the gratuitous OMG FASHION WAS SO HORRIBLE THEN stuff? Not clever. Especially when you’ll be wearing a slightly tweaked version of “then” in about two years.