Twenty-two years ago, when I was working for a cultural center in Los Angeles, it was decided to invite Betty Friedan to present a lecture. Friedan had been vaunted for years as one of the founders of the modern feminist movement and her book, The Feminist Mystique, paved the way for a host of successive feminists, younger and more rabidly determined to shake up gender bias around the country.
During that visit I spent considerable time with Friedan, driving her from location to location and learned much about her ideas on feminism.
By 1988, already in her late 60s, Friedan was in no mood to reflect on the great achievements of the feminist movement over the preceding 25 years. She had authored The Second Stage in 1981, in which she had critiqued what she saw as the extremist excesses of some of her colleagues who could be broadly classified as gender feminists. (Gender feminists typically criticize contemporary gender roles and aim to eliminate them altogether.) She fulminated against them as I drove her back to her hotel in Santa Monica:
” They’ve stripped us of everything. Any real legtimacy. The feminist movement is in ruins!”
I believe she was right. By the late 80’s, the entire feminist movement was moving beyond its traditional role of seeking equal rights for women and fast embracing far left wing ideologies and lesbian and transgender advocacy as its primary focus.
In took only another four years before the feminist movement was upended when Christina Hoffs Sommer published Who Stole Feminism? in which the author identified gender feminism as characterizing most modern feminist theory and serving as its prevailing ideology in academia.
Because she had identified some of these excesses, Friedan progressively saw her leadership eclisped by Gloria Steinem, who knew how to coddle the radicals without necessarily embracing their ideologies.
But it has become fairly clear from Steinem’s rule of the roost, that women’s issues are not nearly as important as subscribing the movement to left wing causes. From the anti- War movement, to Black victimhood politics to gay rights, Steinem has been involved in almost every left wing cause of the past 50 years trailing the obliging feminist movement behind her.
Perhaps that is why so many women regard “feminist” as a dead term these days, restricted to hard core man haters who have no patience nor respect for a woman’s expression of femininity.
So I had to laugh when Steinem was asked in this interview in the Los Angeles Times on Saturday, why so many women shrink from the term feminist today? She answered:
“Because it has been demonized by the right wing. Every time I can bear to turn on Rush Limbaugh he’s talkling about femi-Nazis. It has been distorted, just like liberal has. “
What a poor excuse for an argument. Feminism long ago painted itself into a radical corner and needed nothing from Rush Limbaugh or any other right wing commentator to characterize it as out of touch with the needs of most modern women.
The feminist movement’s myriad failures are on par with many other left wing causes that have lost sight of their original goals. For instance, where is the National Organization of Women, Independent Women’s Forum, Feminists for Life and Feminist Majority Foundation in condemning through international campaigns the grave indignities suffered by women in Muslim countries from stoning, wife beating, genital mutilation and denial of civil rights? Where is the feminist movement in addressing the way young women, particularly on our college campuses, debase themselves through casual sexual encounters ( the hooking up culture!) and exploitative relationships?
Where are the feminists in praising a woman with the strength of character of a Sarah Palin who, no matter what you think of her politics, has demonstrated that women can rise from almost nowhere and play a very signficant role in national politics, competing with men on almost every level.
Palin is not lauded , of course, because her politics puts her beyond the pale of feminist acceptability. In fact, the feminists barely regard her as female at all. Steinem famously declared as much in this Los Angeles piece in September, 2008, when she said that “Palin shares nothing but a chromosome in common with Hilary Clinton.”
Tomorrow will mark International Women’s Day, the 99th time it will be celebrated. Given what we have seen from the feminist movement in the years following its inauguration, perhaps it won’t surprise anyone that that first auspicious date in March, 1911 was observed following a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. The IWD was its brainchild.