The week feminism died?
Every movement has a not-so-secret entelechy, the seed of an imp of the perverse that reduces its core ideas to absurdity.
This week, the shrill sectaries of the online feminist flock — those who preen themselves as exquisitely plumed, beaked and taloned to retaliate in quick defense on the occasion of “taking offense” — once again ruffled their feathers at the trivial. And, thereby, proved themselves completely without sense of proportion.
The sheer silliness of “ShirtGate” is obvious to most people. Matt Taylor, a scientist, wore a home-made shirt at a press conference celebrating an important event, landing a probe upon a comet. The shirt, made by a female friend of his, depicted cartoonish voluptuous women on it. This so deeply offended one feminist journalist, a woman whose name I shall neither utter nor type, that she set Twitter all a-twitter. The usual wordplay hashtags it “#shirtstorm.” The scientist tearfully apologized, and last I saw, Richard Dawkins has defended the man in public. This is just so weird.
Or, sadly, isn’t.
Did feminists finally “go too far”? Did they demonstrate that their movement ceased being serious long ago? It is possible; maybe the tipping point for this nonsense has finally been found. There is so little of intellectual substance in feminism any longer, so filled with groupthink and ritual squawking, that one might think it must implode at some point.
It is now all umbrage theater. Or, as suggested by Glenn Reynolds in his USA Today column, it’s a stage where fainting couches must always be accessible.
It used to be that those who took offense easily were called prudish, square, or even “Mrs. Grundy.”
Now? They pretend to be hip, cool, “progressive.”
“The tyranny of Mrs. Grundy,” wrote philosopher Herbert Spencer, during the thick of the Victorian Age, “is worse than any other tyranny we suffer under.” I always thought that a bit extreme. But I understand the complaint, the frustration. Grundyist disapproval is the most likely abuse a well-mannered thinking man of Spencer’s type was likely to come across as applied to himself. And it is true today, now that the “liberal” chic have become harpies of censure.
But if the testimony of a man is unwelcome — that is, an adult of the “male gender” (idiotic term from “feminist” lingo) — try the testimony of Viroqua Daniels, a younger contemporary of Spencer who was an anarchist communist. She recognized just how dangerous Grundyist grumblings were:
Her will is law. She holds despotic sway.
Her wont has been to show the narrow way
Wherein must tread the world, the bright, the brave,
From infancy to dotard’s gloomy grave.
“Obey! Obey!” with sternness she commands
The high, the low, in great or little lands.
She folds us all within her ample gown.
A forward act is met with angry frown.
The lisping babes are taught her local speech;
Her gait to walk; her blessings to beseech.
They laugh or cry, as Mistress says they may,—
In everything the little tots obey.
The youth know naught save Mrs. Grundy’s whims.
They play her games. They sing her holy hymns.
They question not; accept both truth and fiction,
(The OLD is right, within her jurisdiction!).
Maid, matron, man unto her meekly bow.
She with contempt or ridicule may cow.
They dare not speak, or dress, or love, or hate,
At variance with the program on her slate.
Her subtle smile, e’en men to thinkers grown,
Are loath to lose; before its charm they’re prone.
With great ado, they publicly conform—
Vain, cowards, vain; revolt MUST raise a storm!
The “indiscreet,” when hidden from her sight,
Attempt to live as they consider “right.”
Lo! Walls have ears! The loyal everywhere
The searchlight turn, and loudly shout, “Beware!”
In tyranny the Mistress is supreme.
“Obedience,” that is her endless theme.
Al countries o’er, in city, town and glen,
Her aid is sought by bosses over men.
Of Greed, her brain is cunningly devised.
From Ignorance, her bulky body’s sized.
When at her ease, she acts as judge and jury.
But she’s the Mob when ’roused to fighting fury.
Dame Grundy is, by far, the fiercest foe
To ev’ry kind of progress, that we know.
So Freedom is, to her, a poison thing.
Who heralds it, he must her death knell ring.
That feminists have become moral scolds has been long known — at least since the 1980s, when one of the greatest lightbulb jokes became popular:
Q. How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A. That’s not funny!
The problem has been evident in the larger progressive movement, as well. Indeed, by the 1990s it was all too clear: the free spirits that we thought of as being “on the left” in the 1960s had mostly turned into (or had been replaced with) serioso grumps whose moralistic fervor put the conservatives and chauvinists of my youth to shame.
What happened? Out of power, the left thought they wanted freedom, and behaved with a modicum of free spiritedness. (This probably does not apply to the old New York commies, who always seemed a dour lot to me.) But once they got a taste of power, whether on city councils or college tenure, their sense of freedom and tolerance went out the window. The Marcusian ethic came to dominate, and the totalitarian instincts which are strong amongst the anti-property left burst into full flower. We got “political correctness,” which we now get to witness in its (I hope) final grasping at craziness.
The inner Stalin in every socialist soul comes out as a parody of the old censorious windbags of prudery. And that it is a new prudery is pretty obvious to all but those who speak the lingo.
Further, and let this serve as instruction for the young: the shirt was not “sexist.” Not everything you don’t like about someone else’s sexual stance is “sexist.” To think otherwise is boneheaded.
But then boneheaded misuse of language comes natural to most people, and not simply because we do, after all, have bones in our heads. Some confusions are easy to make by a natural association of ideas. Juxtaposition leads to conflation leads to the drift of lexical meaning.
Sexism used to mean something specific. It used to be about inapt discrimination — the application of statistical or normative conclusions about one sex unthinkingly or habitually or prejudicially upon an individual who does not demonstrate the average or modal or even model advantages/shortcomings of the group to which he or she belongs. However, sporting a big-busted woman on one’s attire may be less than appealing to many women — and men. It is not “sexism.” It is not inapt because of discrimination against any individual, but because of, perhaps, a certain lack of tastefulness.
Of course, nowadays feminists have moved far beyond the old definitions. To them it is all about “power,” but they are so little interested in actual transactional clarity that they indiscriminately use the concept with gestures more than than thought. Some feminist women feel particularly discriminated against — or “oppressed” — for no other reason than that most men prefer some few women for their beauty and their conformity to evolved standards over most others. But the reverse is also true, with many or most women exhibiting evolved standards of acceptability in mates that most men demonstrate in regrettably partial measure. In neither case are the evolved standards — or “culturally oppressive” standards — “sexist.” They show another “ist” entirely. Beautyist? Lookist? Or, in the case of many women’s interests, sizist? (I am thinking of bank accounts, of course.)
Oh, and finally: a man should apologize for his shirt only when it stinks, sports body fluid stains, or fails to conceal his belly.