Revisionist Feminism

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
June 24 1997 3:30 AM

Revisionist Feminism

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       Well, Susan, I appreciate that you've finally provided specific quotes. Unfortunately, you don't seem to fully understand them. And you still insist on trying to lump me in a group in which I do not belong, and on completely misrepresenting the thesis of my book. Nevertheless, I hardly see this dialogue as a failed project. On the contrary, I hope that it has shown that feminism as a moral philosophy is alive and well; it has merely needed to be liberated from the political and personal mandates that have nearly suffocated it in the past two decades.
       Yes, a critique of those mandates--of "orthodox feminism"--is part of my book. But it's only a part. The main focus (as you well know since you say as much in your last letter) is an attempt to draw attention to an aspect of feminism--self-development--that hasn't yet succeeded, and to begin to reconcile feminism with sexual differences.
       Your attempt to again say that I am contradicting myself regarding feminism and politics shows, again, that you are either purposefully misunderstanding what I wrote or simply misunderstanding what I wrote. I'll try again: There is still work to be done in the political arena, especially regarding rape and domestic violence. But there's not one correct "feminist" way to solve the problems (hence, there can never be a "unified feminist political program"), and it's not just women who must be involved in the political process (hence, the need to retire the term "women's movement").
       Fortunately, though, most of the political work has been done--most of the legislation required for equality of rights and opportunities is in place. But feminism requires more than political work. It also requires a society able to accept the widest array of women's choices and women strong enough to make rational ones. And it is in these arenas--the social and the personal--where most of the work still needs to be done. Changing attitudes and behavior, of course, is a far slower process than enacting legislation. But the process is hardly helped by the view that all of society is intent on subverting feminism and that women have little control over their lives.
       And actually I think that is the main difference between us, Susan. You seem to think women are mindless pawns of Hollywood, the media, and the beauty and fashion industries. As such, we need government to protect us, limiting our choices in the process. I believe we must stick to the original feminist expectation--that women are rational adults. Yes, we don't always act like rational adults, often because we've been perversely influenced by our parents, bosses, boyfriends, and commercials. And that's why developing emotional strength is so crucial. But the whole point of feminism was to get government out of women's lives, to prevent all aspects of society from limiting women's choices. Women--as human beings--do live up to the expectations of others, even of feminist theorists.
       If you've gotten one thing out of this exchange, I hope it's the understanding that everybody who disagrees with you is not--necessarily--an "anti-feminist" (though they may very well be anti-orthodox feminism). Women can have philosophical differences about feminism and care just as deeply about the status of women. In many ways I think your book is as dangerous to the cause of women's liberation as you apparently think mine is. But I also understand the purpose it serves, and trust that other women will as well.

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.

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