Revisionist Feminism

Revisionist Feminism

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
June 17 1997 3:30 AM

Revisionist Feminism

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       Let's invoke the Hippocratic Oath of Journalism--First, do not bore--and ring down the curtain on this "debate." We're not getting off the mark. We're still arguing about basic terms. Why that's happened, I think, is inherent to the nature of the gulf between us: You want to take on modern feminists; I want to take on political and economic forces playing upon modern women. So we talk past each other.
       This also happens to be the essential difference between your book and mine, and between "revisionist feminists" and "second wave" feminists in general. Your book is largely focused on reacting against "orthodox" feminists--a sort of feminist conspiracy; mine is largely focused on the world of culture and work and media which the average woman inhabits. I would argue that such forces in women's lives--where we work, what we are paid, what we are urged to read and watch and buy--are far more powerful influences on us than anything ever said in a women's studies graduate seminar. The average woman feels a lot more burdened by a beauty standard imposed upon her by Hollywood than she does by Andrea Dworkin.
       It is striking how you and the whole new wave of "revisionists" are preoccupied with critiquing contemporary feminism instead of critiquing the world that feminism is concerned with. This is a shame not only because there's so much in that wider world begging to be investigated and confronted, but also because such an approach is indicative of a larger media shame--that of writers and journalists who, succumbing to a celebrity culture, want to write only about personality and resist analyzing on any level deeper than the personal.
       You accuse me in your last letter of personally attacking you--which I frankly don't understand. I have nothing against you, personally. I do disagree, strongly, with your contention that feminism needs to move from a political to a "personal" or "emotional" stage. Now, in your last letter, you deny you ever said that. But that's one of the main points of your book. (It's even on the dust jacket.) To pick one pertinent passage, of many, from your book, Page 36: "If the First Wave of feminism concerned itself mostly with political issues (gaining women's rights) and the Second Wave dealt mostly with economic issues (expanding women's freedom), this next wave needs to be primarily devoted to developing our emotional independence." Your book also says there should be "no unified feminist political program" (Page 192) and no political sisterhood (Page 179), and you even say we should "abolish" the very term "women's movement" (Page 192).
       I would agree with you that the line between personal and political bears looking at. But as you consider moving the line, and "depoliticizing" personal choices, you must come to grips with the attraction and destructiveness of commercialization. "Personal" improvement is being used as the opiate of the masses by the American commercial culture. The antidote to that is the political, which protects the personal from the commercial. You see the world as political versus personal. But the truth is, the modern world is political versus commercial, with the personal caught in the middle. If you divorce the personal from the political, you leave it unprotected from the commercial. So when you start out advocating "emotional autonomy," you will wind up promoting lipstick and Wonderbras, because the personal without political armor inevitably will be taken over by commercial manipulation, self-absorption, and enervative materialism, especially in this era of consumerism run amok.
       Real personal independence flourishes only when fortified by political action and analysis. Without political thought, we have no personal freedom. Please think about it.

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Sincerely,
Susan Faludi

Susan Faludi is author of Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. She is working on a book about masculinity. Her article "I'm Not a Feminist But I Play One on TV" appeared in Ms. magazine. Karen Lehrman is author ofThe Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World, released May 1. She is editor ofCivnet, a Webzine.