Susan Faludi Tackles Feminist Generational Rift in Harper's -- Critic Marcotte Responds
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I was floored that these are the conclusions Faludi came to, even after she honestly notes up front that she has repeatedly seen situations where older feminists literally shut young women out of the conversation and then complain that young women don’t care. Stereotyping is a form of silencing -- she’s doing it herself, even as she criticizes it (though far more gently than she does the younger women for being impertinent). I realize that a story that claims there are major priority and aesthetic differences between the generations is sexier than a story that posits that this is just the same old power struggle between young and old, but it’s less honest. Faludi admits that there was way more diversity in the second wave than is usually talked about, but then she drops that point and instead chases after a story that pitches hard-working activist elders against navel-gazing materialist youth.
Materialism is a big theme of the article. Younger feminists are supposedly all about it, and that makes us stupid heads or something. We love our high heels and lipstick and love to defend them, and that somehow means that we’re insufficiently anti-capitalist, in supposed contrast to our elders. (Never mind that some second wave feminists defended women against black and white anti-materialist ideology that has more than a hint of misogyny to it with its focus on consumer products mainly purchased by women.) That doesn’t resemble the younger feminists that I know! Many of us have walked exactly the path that Faludi denies we even see, starting with an analysis of how women’s bodies are commodified to joining up with critiques of capitalism -- that’s why you have environmentalist feminists, animal rights feminists, etc. That some feminists are enamored of Lady Gaga doesn’t mean they’re incapable of holding BP accountable for the oil spill, you know?
As a perfect example of how Faludi’s critique is incoherent is the discussion of body image. Young feminists are obsessed with body image, and this makes us very silly and self-absorbed. We’re so worried that we’re not living up to some beauty ideal that it eats up all our mental energies we could be dedicating to overturning the capitalist patriarchy. Except, of course, that the writing about body image issues is a very specific assault on the capitalist patriarchy. Critiquing photoshopped images in magazines that make women feel like shit is a perfect encapsulation of the analysis that explains how capitalism and patriarchy work together: 1) Women are tasked with the patriarchal job of existing to please men 2) Part of our job duties is to always be striving to be better sex objects 3) Magazines set the standards impossibly high with technology to 4) Provoke anxieties that drive up sales of products. My main distaste for obsessing over this subject is that it’s kind of 101 and the realities are more complicated and nuanced that the analysis I laid out. But the feminist writers who do dwell on this subject do so in specific publications aimed at younger women for a specific purpose, which is that the appeal and immediate coherence of this analysis is the perfect gateway drug to feminism. Those on the ground doing the work of bringing young women in know from experience that this is true; nothing gets them like talking about how unfair it is that they’re bombarded with pictures of literally impossibly perfect asses, and made to feel bad because they can’t defy nature (and neither can a photoshopped Scarlett Johannson). Once they’re in the door, you can start talking about more uncomfortable stuff, like how widespread the notion is that women aren’t human beings (and therefore are suitable objects for violent torture). Needless to say, I think the fact that blogs like Jezebel take the time to hold men (and women) accountable for participating in a widespread misogynist assault on a teenager is a good example of how the younger generations are, in fact, willing to protest sexual exploitation. Even if it makes some men uncomfortable.