Dr. Dawg

I'm afraid of Naomi Wolf

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She calls herself a “third-wave feminist,” but Naomi Wolf wants memorial services for fetuses. Now she tells us that Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin are feminists, too.

Nothing like setting yet another signifier afloat: it’s already been done for “terrorist” and “anti-Semite.” But I like to give contrarian positions a shot. So why would Wolf make such a claim?

She sets out to explain why the two women, one frankly not very bright and the other unhinged, have garnered such appeal among American voters. That’s certainly a mystery worth plumbing, but Wolf doesn’t make much of a stab at it.

The nature of their attraction has to do with two strains in American thought to which the left and media establishment are truly blind.

OK, to what are we truly blind? Her first claim is that the two have mastered the art of populist demagoguery. Well, duh. They talk like editorials in the New York Daily News, or, closer to home, the Sun chain. The argument seems rather tautological. But then Wolf tosses in this gem:

Ms. Palin and Ms. Bachmann speak this highly personal or emotional language that even the most rock-ribbed male Republican finds difficult to emulate. In the past three decades, America’s male-dominated politics has become increasingly wonky, abstract and professionalized.

I had to read that one twice. Has she pushed out of her mind that far-right studmuffin Rush Limbaugh? Or the crazed Bachmann talk-alike, Glenn Beck? I could describe them in a number of ways, but “wonky, abstract and professionalized” isn’t one of them.

Could she mean male Republican presidential candidates? True, the field is currently rather small—there are no latter-day Father Coughlins or Joe McCarthys in the race at the moment. But a lot could change quickly were one of the near-fascist radio demagogues mentioned to throw his hat in the ring.

Wolf mistakes the GOP strategic calculus—the delicate dance of playing to the centre without alienating the red-meat Republican base, the latter not capable of delivering sufficient votes to win—for her essentialist view of men as in love with abstraction. Women are the feeling ones, the people who can deftly pluck at the hateful harpstrings of the Tea-Party Stürmer.

OK, I’ve Godwinned, but bear with me. Let me note first that I have little sympathy for the oxymoronic ideological position of “liberal feminism” espoused by Wolf. Talk about abstract. It’s ahistorical, essentialist and fundamentally self-contradictory, and lacking in any analytical power whatsoever.

The very notion of “feminism” turns to putty in “liberal feminist” hands. Wolf, for example, drops these clangers:

[F]eminism is philosophically as much in harmony with conservative, and especially libertarian, values - and, in some ways, even more so….The core of feminism is individual choice and freedom, and it’s these strains that are being sounded now more by the Tea Party movement than by the left.

…Many of these women are socially conservative, strongly supportive of the armed forces, and religious - and yet they crave equality as strongly as any leftist vegetarian in Birkenstocks.

Good grief. Demanding that all abortion be made illegal, and opposing same-sex marriage are merely disguised pleas for equality? Who knew? One might ask, perhaps, precisely for whom (besides themselves) these “feminists” are allegedly seeking equality. Not the poor women forced once again to seek back-alley abortions. Not loving partners denied the legal right to have a recognized celebratory ceremony.

Wolf doesn’t exactly make clear, in fact, what she means by a “feminist,” other than suggesting that any woman who is out and about rather than having her arms in the sink must be one. The flagrant contradictions between their actions and what they stand for are permitted to blur into insignificance.

For example, someone once noted that anti-Equal Rights Amendment activist Phyllis Schlafly travelled tirelessly from one end of the country to the other explaining why a woman’s place is in the home. If such people as Bachmann and Palin are now to be considered “feminists,” regardless of their pro-patriarchal messages, why not (Godwin alert!) promote the Bitch of Buchenwald to their ranks as well? None of that Kinder, Küche, Kirche nonsense for Ilse Koch!

I am she as you are she as you are me and we are all together? Not so fast.

Feminism demands nothing less than transformational social change. You don’t get the latter by including virulent enemies of that very change within your own ranks. At best, to call such people “feminists” is just playing with words; at worst, it’s a betrayal of the very cause that Wolf claims to support.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on August 6, 2011 2:26 PM.

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