Friday, February 18, 2005
The *Right* Victims
Meet the put-upon conservative coed, the prototype pushed by conservative feminists to demonstrate liberal bias on college campuses. We'll call her Claire. Claire doesn't want any part of this vulgar spectacle known as The Vagina Monologues, but her Feminine Mystique-touting, Germaine Greer-quoting friends are tying her to a chair and making her watch. She desperately wants to be chaste, but condom-peddling feminists are driving her to her knees at the frathouse next door. She really just wants to be a mom, but her mentors in the gender studies department say that's just not acceptable.
Claire may or may not exist, but there is a whole movement dedicated to setting her free. I recently watched Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, give a speech on Eve Ensler's Monologues to like-minded women. The play is performed on hundreds of campuses around Valentine's Day ever year, and Sommers is annually appalled, most deeply by what she calls "a four-letter-word that begins in c, ends in t, and is not coat."
Despite its gleefully gratuitous vulgarity, Ensler's play is a horrendous piece of theater. It's a reactionary message (women are reducible to their genitalia) wrapped in trite palaver ("My vagina is a shell, a tulip, and a destiny"). But every Valentine's Day, women like Sommers, National Review's Dawn Eden, and the Independent Women's Forum crowd vastly inflate its importance. It's dangerous, they tell us, and it's stifling young Michelle Malkins in the making.
Valentine's scaremongering is easy to dismiss, but the hype that posits the oppressively liberal campus against the victimized conservative college student is not going away. It's the subtext to the right's take on the Ward Churchill controversy, the Larry Summers flap and the Hoppe hysteria. And it's being harnessed to force change into curriculums through schemes like David Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights. Horowitz stands ready to christen the new P.C.: Intellectual Diversity.
A prominent would-be victim is Benjamin Shapiro, a former UCLA student and a conservative who has been oppressed right into Harvard Law School. His book, Brainwashed, spawned a fury of woe-is-me editorials in college newspapers, but also helped to change a discussion about difference to one about repression. Every prominent school has its articulate, active conservative groups, but now they're "captives" on hostile territory.
No one seriously doubts that the average campus is a liberal enclave or believes diversity on elite campuses extends past skin color. But is it really so poisonous? The words "brainwashing" and "indoctrination" cannot possibly be less applicable to media savvy American students, and the idea that an 18-year-old is an empty receptacle waiting to be pumped full of Marxism is its own brand of absurdity. Harvard Yard is not a totalitarian state, and after a required helping of queer lit, a student can always switch to C-Span and watch a gay escort throw softballs to President Bush for a heady dose of conservative ideology.
Keep in mind that (the unfortunately labeled) Gen Y is the antithesis of political radicalism. Like their parents, a majority of 18-29 year olds supported the war in Iraq in its early stages. These are the organization kids, not the Weathermen. Their professors may be using the classroom as an anti-capitalist soapbox (isn't that what professors are for?), but it's hard to hear when you've got an iPod permanently affixed to your head.
The urge to infantalize turns a shade darker when the focus is on women. In an L.A. Times opinion piece last Sunday, Charlotte Allen theorized that there are no female intellectuals worthy of following Susan Sontag. Every one, it seems, has been swallowed by the excesses of feminism. This is the frustrating irony of conservative feminism: As the movement rightly condemns modern feminism for being a paralyzing ideology of victimization, it leaves a bloody trail of victimhood in its wake. Whether they be Yale freshmen or Princeton professors, the weaker sex is apparently unable to withstand the excesses of Naomi Wolf. Claire doesn't stand a chance.
At the close of Sommers' dire warning about Ensler's play, a concerned mother had a question: "Where can I send my child so she's not exposed to this?" The audience obliged with suggestions of Ensler-banning, second-rate colleges; Sommers nodded gravely. When women who call themselves feminists see censorship as the way forward, we have bigger problems than bad playwriting.
Howley couldn't be more correct. The right is employing the same victim politics that they've long accused the left of using. What about personal responsibility? What about the unfettered marketplace of ideas? Are conservative student actually arrested for not being liberals? Or do they just feel bad if they don't fit in? I am so sick of hearing conservatives whine that they can't express a viewpoint without getting a dirty look from a peer. Oh no, not a dirty look! Sorry, tootse. You don't have the right to never be offended.
Furthermore, young people aren't stupid. Being exposed to a particular way of thinking isn't going to brainwash them. I could just as easily say that the College of Business is brainwashing me to be a capitalist. But that just isn't true. I can be a Marxist on my own time if I want. But while I'm in class, I better be able to explain Smith, Friedman, and Hayek. No one is forcing me to believe those ideas. I just have to know what they are and use them to solve problems (even if I think it's the wrong approach-- which I don't).
And you know, I used to really hate The Vagina Monologues. I'm one of those macho kind of feminists who thinks that talking about the coochie in an emotional way is lame. But I, being the ultimate businesswoman, thought it would be profitable to sell feminist t-shirts outside the auditorium last year during the VM. (I made a killing!) I couldn't believe all the flower-feminist types who showed up to this thing. You know, the kind who listen to sensitive folkish coffeeshop music.
After the intermission, I was invited to sit in on the second half of the play. I didn't want to be rude, so I accepted the offer. I figured it would also give me something to make fun of to all my alpha-male buddies.
You know what? I laughed my ass off. One of the actors (a medical student) demonstrated all these different kinds of orgasms. I know, it doesn't sound funny. But this woman made such hilarious-yet-realistic noises and faces, that my bad machissmo attitude soon wore off. I couldn't believe it. I, of all people, fell for the coochie.
When I left the play, I was even inspired to purchase a huge chocolate coochie candy. I was blushing the entire time. The next day I gave it to one of my buddies. First time I ever saw him blush! He broke off a piece, gave it to me, and finished the rest. I joked to my fiancee that it was my first time eating pussy. Of course, he said I was doing it WRONG.
UPDATE: I am confused as to why so-called conservatives who watch Desperate Housewives and other trash TV (as many of them do) would be offended by a play like The Vagina Monologues. Don't they think the "immorality" of DH is brainwashing us impressionable young women? Or does just feminism have the power to brainwash? Hmmm...
Lighten up, righties! You're getting all P.C. on me!
And campus Conservatives arrested for their views? Oh please. Hell, they have both Houses of Congress and the White House what more do they want?!
And eating chocolate pussy?! Oh Red ;-)
I am completely reformed of my anti-VM ways. But even back when I thought the play was dumb (you know, before I saw it), I still didn't support censoring it.
Intelligent female "libertarians" rock! Would that there were more.
...Ayn Rand would likely not have opposed this play.
Also, being a former 80's era "punker" (a rare breed) from Atlanta, GA, I wonder if your definition of "redneck" differs from my southern preconception.
Nevertheless, I'm enjoying your irreverent individualistic take on various issues.
Thanks for visiting my blog. There are several ways to interpret the VM. One of the stated goals is to promote V-Day-- "a global movement to stop violence against women and girls" as quoted from http://www.vday.org/contents/vday/aboutvday.
I think it is also intended to celebrate the vagina and female sexuality. I personally don't look that deep into it. And honestly, I would be uncomfortable participating in one of those vagina workshops where, in a group setting, you look at your crotch in a mirror and talk about it. That's just not my thing-- then again, I did go to a Catholic high school. But I don't think you have to be into that kind of thing in order to enjoy the play. And if someone else IS into that kind of thing, it's not any of my business. They can do what they want.
Furthermore, if we ban the VM, we should also ban Cosmo and Maxim magazines from campus bookstores, since they're "brainwashing" us into being sexual objects. Of course, I think women can *and should be expected to* think for themselves.
I'm probably not really a redneck either. In Iowa, we use that term loosely. I call myself a redneck basically to make fun of myself-- I live on an acreage, own guns, and have worked a blue collar job. I'm a bit of a hick in that respect. I've lived in Iowa my whole life, and I realize I'm sheltered and fairly ignorant. I don't find ignorance to be an excuse for anything. But I think recognizing one's own ignorance is the first step to becoming more enlightened.
As for feminism, I am a feminist in the classical definition. I believe in political, social, and economic freedom for women (and all people). I have always felt confined by rigid gender roles. I know many men who feel the same way. Growing up in a socially conservative household, I tried hard to fit the traditional female role. But no matter how hard I tried, I always failed.
I am also ignorant of all the different kinds of feminism. I've never taken a women's studies class, nor have I read much feminist theory. I just know that I believe strongly in individual freedom. And for me, my biggest obstacle to that has been rigid gender roles and the attempts of others to put them upon me. That is not to say all women should try to act "masculine". Rather, we should treat people as individuals and see what path that leads them to. Let them develop their natural strengths and abilities. Surely, many women will still turn out to be "feminine".
If feminism means recognizing the inherent value and rights of women as individuals, then I'm fer' it; if it means relegating women to a special interest group, (the group having rights) then I'm agin' it.
Since my earliest realization of self-identity, I have rejected conformity for comformities sake. To the extent that each person is unique in the universe, I reserve the right to completely customize my life with respect to all things subjective, with logic and reason informing my choices; objective reality, of course is ignored at one's peril.
I look forward to future posts and dicussions.