In last weekend’s New York Times, feminist writer Jessica Valenti argued that conservatives can’t be feminists, and that any claim to the contrary boils down to an empty charade. Conservatives, she wrote, actively undermine the key tenets of feminism, no matter what label they attempt to “co-opt” or claim: “The truth,” she continued, “is that while feminism need not be complicated — it’s a movement for social, economic and political justice — it is not for everyone.”
I don’t often agree with the louder voices in the modern feminist movement — and by “don’t often,” I mean “almost never” — and so it is with a sense of bemused amazement that I type the following words: Amen, sister. Right on.
Today’s feminism is clearly not for everyone, and it hasn’t been for a long time. You can’t really be a conservative and a “feminist,” at least not these days. This is because the modern feminist movement is no longer focused on empowering women for women’s sake. Instead, “feminism” stands as a not-so-subtle code word for over-the-top progressivism, served with a hefty side order of shaming.
“Now that feminism is more culturally and politically powerful than it has been in decades . . . conservatives are eager to capitalize on its cachet,” Valenti wrote in the Times. The task of the modern-day feminist, she concludes, is “protecting the movement against conservative appropriation.”
As a quick aside, I deeply and sincerely wish that the word “appropriation” — you know, as in “cultural appropriation,” that supposed oppressive phenomenon through which people on the Internet blow their tops and yell swear words at complete strangers about things like high-school prom dresses—would go ahead and jump the shark. Sadly, we’re not that lucky. Appropriation is quite hot right now, and as such, the egregious appropriation of the concept of appropriation will likely spread, like kudzu or cold-shoulder tops, whether this appropriation is appropriate or not.
Who in their right mind would want to “appropriate” today’s brand of feminism, given that it is a total mess?
Anywho, back to our topic, where a far more important question lies in wait, like Don Draper from Mad Men loitering near a conference room bar cart. That question is this: Who in their right mind would want to “appropriate” today’s brand of feminism, given that it is a total mess? If it were a ship, today’s feminism would be driven by a proverbial clench-jawed and obsessive Captain Ahab, steering the doomed vessel into the clutches of various ideological drag-you-down whales.
I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true. Sure, you might think women and men deserve equal rights and opportunities, but that alone is terribly old-fashioned. Do you doubt that women are constant victims of a sinister overarching patriarchy? Sayonara, lady! Do you think that abortion is about a life, not a right? Be gone! Do you largely appreciate free markets and capitalism? Oh, dear. Do you think the vast majority of university Women’s Studies departments have largely run out of things to do, sometimes cooking up ridiculous theories simply because they’re bored? Skedaddle! Do you vote for Republicans? How dare you? You are not, at least according to the movement’s current leading lights, a feminist.
The weirdest element of today’s progressive feminism is also its most ironic: The movement is obsessed—and here we are back to old Captain Ahab—with a dreadfully tired script.
When my own mother was growing up, she thought she could be only one of three things: a teacher, a nurse, or a farmer’s wife. By the time I was a kid in the 80s, thanks to earlier renditions of feminism, we’d come a long way: I wanted to be an archeologist or a Supreme Court justice or, on my crazier days, a writer. Today, young women, repeatedly told they can do and be anything they might dream, are dominating on college campuses, the workforce, and beyond.
That’s why it was puzzling to see this year’s commencement address at Barnard College, given by soccer star Abby Wambach. “Women are feared as a threat to our system,” she declared, arguing that girls in our society are told to “stay on the path. Don’t talk to anybody. Keep your head down hiding underneath your Handmaid’s Tale cape. . . . Don’t be curious, don’t make trouble, don’t say too much or bad things will happen.” Really? In America today? Or even in 1996, when many of the Barnard graduates were born? Perhaps I am living on Earth 2, and this speech took place on Earth 1, which is still stuck in the 1950s; then it would make sense. (Well, except for the Handmaid’s Tale part, but that never really makes sense anyway.)
Unfortunately, this leads us to one of the most enduring themes of modern feminism: victimhood. An interesting foil to all of this appeared, oddly enough, in the New York Times, just days after Valenti’s op-ed ran. Titled “Why Being A Foster Child Made Me a Conservative,” it was written by Rob Henderson, a recent Yale graduate who served in the Air Force. His childhood was, to put it mildly, not easy.
“Last year, a fellow student told me I was a victim. Yale is the only place where someone has said this to me,” Henderson wrote. “I responded that if someone had told me I was a victim when I was a kid, I would never have made it to the Air Force, where I served for eight years, or to Yale. I would have given up. When I was 10, a teacher told me that if I applied myself, I could alter my future. This advice changed my life.”
There’s a lesson here, if feminists care to see it. Perhaps constantly telling people they’re victims isn’t so empowering after all. It’s at least worth some thought, even though it was written by—gasp, behold, the patriarchy!—a man.
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