What is the difference between a feminist and a whore?

I am always sickened and saddened whenever I observe parents dragging their children into their marital disputes rather than resolving their conflicts like healthy adult human beings. Children are not miniature adults, neither emotionally nor intellectually mature enough to debate grown up questions, though they do learn through imitation. Monkey see, monkey do. I am stunned when irresponsible parenting poses as intellectual journalism, though it does offer a snapshot of our contemporary zeitgeist.

In the July-August issue of The Atlantic, guest editor Hanna Rosin and David Plotz, an editor from Slate, along with their two young children (with a third toddler loosely participating) debate the relative merits of femininity and masculinity at their kitchen table.

Rosin and her daughter form a team, claiming that women and girls are smarter, possess larger vocabularies, better listening skills, more versatility, provide balance, and are better at resolving arguments than men or boys, but beyond sharing their personal opinions, present no evidence to support them. Further, Rosin’s daughter insists stridently, women do all this but receive no credit for it, as men and boys usurp all the esteem.

On the opposite side of the table, Plotz and his oldest son present the same tired arguments that were debunked by feminist theory some forty years ago, if not generations earlier, indicating their ignorance of scholarship and research. He appears in the early twenty-first century as something of a hyena in trousers, white, balding, and middle-aged, a bit thin through the pectoral region to argue the superior strength of men.

“Who fixes things?” Plotz demands of his son, with an accompanying snort from Rosin. Perhaps by “fixing” he refers to things like the economy or baseball or horse racing. The arguments he describes as “analytically solid” indicate his unfamiliarity with the research of biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling or Donna Haraway or Judith Butler, to name a few, not to mention cling to the logic used by scientists in the Victorian era to support arguments for eugenics, later exploited by the Nazis.

Both parents seem oblivious to concepts I learned in Psych 101, and my heart hurts for the son whose mother despises him for something outside his ability to control or change, namely, the penis in his short pants. I ache for the daughter who craves her father’s approval, only to receive his condescension and scorn. While Rosin harps on the superiority of women because she is attuned to both the discussion and the – unmet, onscreen anyway – needs of the toddler who occasionally roams into the camera’s view, the superiority of men versus women is “resolved” when the infant dives into the arms of his father.

Rosin’s accompanying article wavers uncertainly between rage at men (read: her husband) and a celebration of women’s supposed superiority, thereby upholding and replicating the hierarchical duality that keeps her inferior in the eyes of her sons, her husband, and our culture at large.

Expect not the end of patriarchy, as the title of her article implies, but more of the same anti-feminist backlash that coincided with feminism’s Third Wave, from the early ‘eighties, through the Reagan and Bush-the-Elder years. In 1990 the image of womanhood presented was the quintessential grandmother-in-drag Barbara Bush posing in the White House in conservative dress, mid-heeled black pumps, and a triple-strand pearl choker, baking cookies, looming over sad-eyed Millie, and bemoaning how women’s lib made her feel [sic] useless and inadequate. Has the national icon of womanhood changed all that much? Two decades later we have power lawyer-turned-helpmeet Michelle Obama reminiscing for a time where men went to work and women stayed home to bake apple pies, waxing nostalgic for a past that simply did not exist for black Americans, observes writer and editor for The Atlantic Ta-Nehisi Coates in a series entitled “American Girl.”

Girl? A six-foot adult human being who has been to college, law school, and given birth to two children? I wonder if Coates has ever, in his adult years, endured the analogous experience of a white man referring to him as “boy”?

Coates neglects to mention this nostalgic era never existed for working folks of any color or nationality.

The first time I heard Coates was over the airwaves during the 2008 election celebration. I was living out in the country then, where public lecturers visit, though less frequently than in urban areas. I thought to myself, now there is an intelligent man. If ever I get a chance to hear him speak in person, I’ll be there. By lucky coincidence, that chance arrived shortly after my move to Seattle last year, at an event sponsored by the public library entitled Seattle Reads. Perhaps ten audience members were in attendance. That time I thought to myself, Seattle reads?? It’s okay, Seattle, there are eleven of us now! When I later attended another Seattle Reads event, this time to a packed auditorium (the speaker an upper middle-class, educated white woman), I wondered what that disparity in attendance might say about the so-called liberal city of Seattle?

I look forward to Coates’s contemplation of his mother’s contributions to his selfhood, and trust that his writing will be as raw, as vulnerable, and as strong as his reflections on his relationship with his father.

Is it too soon to speculate on the possibility of another multi-generational family dynasty in the White House? Obama 2030. Is it too farfetched to hope to see in my lifetime a black woman U.S. President? If so, one of those girls will need to look to her opposite-sex parent for a role model.

Meanwhile, Rosin opines, “…the men’s-rights groups that do exist in the U.S. are taking on an angry, antiwoman edge…Far from being celebrated, women’s rising power is perceived as a threat.” She seems confused as to why vast numbers of unemployed men would not join her in celebrating women on the rise.

In an era of unemployment eclipsed only by the Great Depression, irresponsible journalism like Rosin’s adds fuel to a rising fire, desperation and fear seeking a scapegoat ripe for the sacrificial slitting against that angry edge. She delivers up “other” women, not herself, of course. In the patriarchal disorder, there is always an Other.

“Indeed, the U.S. economy is in some ways becoming a kind of traveling sisterhood: upper-class women leave home and enter the workforce, creating domestic jobs for other women to fill.”

Cleaning house for a man equals oppression, but cleaning house for another woman is some form of “sisterhood”? Sisters are created equal. But some sisters are more equal than others, so that logic goes.

Now where have I heard that before? With the rise of American feminism’s Second Wave, when upper middle-class white women rebelled against the tyranny of their husbands and the patriarchy of their culture. Sisterhood is powerful, so the slogan went…or there is no sisterhood here. A wave that came crashing onto the shore with a thorough critique of this class and race bigotry by multicultural feminists bell hooks, Gayatri Spivak, and Trinh Minh-ha, to name a few.

Where else have I heard this? From a certain breed of academic women whose attitude toward feminism seems to be: I got mine, therefore the revolution is over. Or, I got mine in the workplace, but I resent not being able to figure out how to apply the theory on the home front. Or, I got mine, screw all them lower-class women or educated women still trying to find employment in the midst of the Great Recession.

Sister, unpack your bags. Or learn to pack light enough to travel on your own. I’m tired of hauling around your baggage for you.

In Anthr 101 I learned that males want access to females, and females want access to resources. If you truly want to change your culture, consider restricting access. While Plotz makes no effort to argue men’s superior intelligence, I suspect that, if women as a class would decide to restrict access, men would be smart enough to figure it out. That means, to coin another phrase from the women’s movement, making the political personal or the personal political.

Consider unpacking your suitcases so your daughter does not have to carry your bags for you.

Educated middle-class white women sell themselves short and sell out their sisters not to mention their cousins, their nieces, their daughters, and their eventual granddaughters, oh, and did I mention their sons, every time they allow access to men who consider them to be their inferiors. While I deeply empathize with Rosin’s predicament spending her life with a man who regards himself as her superior, having narrowly escaped that same fate myself, the way out is not to sell out your sisters and your children. It is time to recognize nostalgia for what it is, nothing more than a sickness for a past that never was.

You’re selling yourself short and cheap.

You’re selling out.

Both the video and the accompanying article remind me of a time I hitched up the team to my pickup and drove into a neighboring town to pick up some supplies. On the street corner outside an old-fashioned drugstore-cum-toyshop, a small boy wailed to his mother:

“B-b-but I w-wanted a boy toy, n-not a d-d-doll!”

To which his exasperated mother responded, “But, honey, a pirate is a boy toy!”

No doubt, as the child grows, he will spend the rest of his life searching the world over for booty.

To answer the question with which I titled this essay, the difference between a feminist and a whore?

None. They all smell the same in the dark.

_______________

28 March 2011 update. As I feared, the article is feeding the flames of misogyny at the Chronicle of Higher Education, which apparently does not edit its blog comments for misogyny, misanthropy, or racism.

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