Feminism Don't Pay

I'm not sure about the proper protocol for these types of things. When one defects from one political branch to another, are you supposed to send out a printed announcement? Register something with the county clerk? Get a form notarized? Call Apostates 'R' Us?I figured the easiest way to make my conversion public would be to write an open letter and explain why I have decided to defect from the camp of leftist feminist journalists to the side of anti-feminist right-winger polemicists. It's not a question of values or principles or politics. I am pretty much still a feminist at heart, despite many of the well-publicized foibles of the organized movement. And yes, I know that "progressives" have much better parties, less guilt-drenched libidos, and cooler shoes.It's simply a matter of money. The bottom line: I can no longer afford to be a leftist feminist.After almost a decade of covering progressive social issues in a book, several mainstream newspapers and various outlets of the popular press, I have decided that this type of work simply doesn't pay. The Quicken-crunched numbers very clearly corroborate the same harsh reality. If I had an accountant, he would tell me to cut my losses, swallow the sunk costs and go right wing, or at least libertarian.I know that, at least for authors, that's where the money is. You know you've found your sugar daddy when your patron is a foundation titled with vague yet staunch words like "heritage," "liberty," "enterprise," "freedom," or "concerned." Christina Hoff Sommers, author of the anti-feminist 1994 book Who Stole Feminism?, received $164,000 from three such right-wing foundations between 1991 and 1993. In the opening pages of his 1991 book Illiberal Education, Dinesh D'Souza thanks his gravy trains, the American Enterprise Institute and the John Olin Foundation, for a similar sum. Robert Bork is now writing a book on the culture wars with the help of his $167,000 post at the American Enterprise Institute. Still a university student, my sister's boyfriend's roommate, who has never published anything, applied to receive $25,000 for seven years from a libertarian foundation to pursue his writing and research. His prospects look decent.In contrast, leftists don't get squat. A scholarly friend of mine, John K. Wilson -- deeply entrenched in leftist academic networks across the country -- wrote a counterpart book to Sommers and D'Souza, The Myth of Political Correctness, and received only $1,500 from his university press publisher. While I received more to do my first book, Feminist Fatale, a journalistic documentary of young women's attitudes about feminism, I just about broke even with my living and research expenses during the six months I spent working on it. Now, older and working less maniacally, I have several months of writing yet on my second book for a bigger publisher, and the coffers are near empty.Greed isn't my only motivation for wanting to dine at the patriarchal trough. I'm now 29, and my poverty tolerance threshold is diminishing. More than ever, I am having a hard time determining the difference between what I want and what I need. At wedding showers, I no longer dismiss the Crate & Barrel registry as a frivolous bourgeois trapping; instead, while the gifts are being opened, I find myself joining in the worshipping chorus of the other women in attendance by muttering, "Will you get a load of the detail work on that crock pot?" Each night at dinnertime, I long to eat at a restaurant with multiple forks.But I should be especially attractive as a right wing convert; I come to this party bearing gifts. I have juicy insider stories, and I can't wait to dish them out. I'll scour my feminist memoirs for dirt: provocative tales of group cervical inspections on the summer solstice, nefarious replacements the word "seminar" with the word "ovular" (as Sommers likes to point out), last names gleefully hyphenated into never ending phrases and sweaty indulgences of lesbian orgies in company conference rooms. In the time-honored tradition of other anti-feminist writers, from subservient Christian wife Beverly LaHaye to the young professional D.C-insiders of the "Independent Women's Forum," I could prove how "those feminists" have become an insidious threat to the family, education, morality, free speech, and the very fabric of democracy itself.Long ago, in my foolish youth (last year), I hoped to avoid this path. I hoped to eke out a decent living as a feminist writer, especially after hearing so many conservatives describe the awesome influence wielded by the omniscient, omnipotent, omnivorous "feminist establishment." Writers such as Camille Paglia, Sommers and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese wax indignantly about its totalitarian monolithic powers for thought policing, political influence, and covert ideological warfare. Fox-Genovese builds them up in the title of recent book: Feminism is Not the Story of My Life: How Today's Feminist Elite Has Lost Touch With the Real Concerns of Women. "Elite?" I observed. "Hmmm... That means cash. There must be some money somewhere there for me."So following their cues, I embarked upon a futile journey to find this supposed mother lode, the "feminist establishment," and collect my due. First, I looked for feminist books from the library. No endowments from feminist billionaires cited in any acknowledgments. Then I started to write letters to well-known feminist writers asking if they knew how I could locate this touted feminist establishment. Did they have any clues: an address, longitude coordinates, a web site, an 800-number, a P.O. box perhaps? One famous feminist critic and author with a prestigious fellowship at an Ivy League school wrote me back and said that she couldn't help me; her own writings have yielded such meager sums that she can't afford even to have children.Next, I thought that maybe the bold conservative writers who base their careers on confronting and tearing down this legendary establishment could provide some clues. However, they often describe this feminist establishment too vaguely. Paglia, for instance, derives much of her irreverent humor blasting the "feminists" without naming names. And books like Sommers' that are bulging with footnotes and examples pointing out plenty of supposedly deranged professors and activists don't offer much help; their targets are scattered, without enough authority or deep pockets or power to give me a free ride.Since I couldn't find a centrally located feminist establishment, I decided to inquire with women's foundations, which have developed throughout the country in the '80s. Unfortunately for me, unlike the conservative and libertarian foundations, they have expensive social change to fund. They are so consumed with frittering away money on so many thousands of victim-centered activities in every city in America -- like rape treatment centers and programs that help poor women get health care and shelter and start businesses -- that they don't have the funds for the important matters, like PR. I could write reams of political dogma on the money they squander on just one women's shelter.Unlike the conservatives, feminist foundations rarely fund personal projects; the bucks go to bona fide non-profit groups. After months of searching, I have found one small foundation in Brooklyn with the specific purpose of funding feminist writers and artists. But the grants rarely top $500, and competition is fierce. Actually, they do offer a less publicized grant to lesbians, which I did consider applying for. I still wonder, though, how they would check my qualifications.Don't think that this conversion is easy for me. I do have lots of doubts and even some guilt (I'm going to get rid of the guilt before I switch over). Perhaps I don't have to defect for life; I'll just stay right-wing until I get the Visa bill and my new Body Shop card paid off. Money talks, after all, and I've finally found the strength to listen. And while my principles aren't actually for sale, I will admit that they can be leased. The terms, of course, are highly flexible, at least until I can get some new cutlery.Paula Kamen is the author of Feminist Fatale and Her Way, which will be published next year by W.W. Norton


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