Saturday, February 10, 2007

Drunken Peasant Feminism

If you'll indulge me, I want to camp out on the Gina Barreca’s The Single Majority editorial a little longer. As I said in so many words in last week's post, Barreca interprets a dubious statistic that there is 51% majority of single women to indicate that A) society has stigmatized women for remaining un-married, and that B) men have used that stigma to take their wives commitment to them for granted, and that C) the increasing singleness women into 51% is primarily to be understood as women asserting themselves against this stigma.

It is palpably undeniable from her editorial that Barreca is expressing a catharsis of released pent up rage and frustration toward men on behalf of women. The question is, is Barreca’s catharsis valid? As I said in so many words in last weeks post, the problem is that contained in Barreca's catharsis is a sweeping assessment of men that doesn't even try to sift out the cross section of men who need to stop taking their wives for granted on account of the long-on-the-wane stigma for women to be un-married from all of the other men. In this sweeping and flippant assessment of men, Barreca is not trying to deal with that cross section of men and male behavior in a way that is precise enough to truly invite men and women to better relate to each other.

Now let's assume for the sake of argument that the 51% statistic is true. In reality, there are many reasons why people are not staying in marriages, and why marriages fail, and why people never get married. In other words, there are many sundry reasons why a 51% majority of women un-married statistic may have occurred. As for the stigma of remaining unmarried, I was born a generation later than Barreca was. Most of the stigma of being non-married that I have observed among women in my generation is one that women apply to themselves for running out their biological clock. The pressure for women to measure their worth by being married was felt to a greater degree in Barreca's generation. It is clear that for Barreca the 51% majority of women un-married statistic is something that she reads as a benchmark of progress for an issue that she felt in her generation, and which she now takes as permission to publicly vent her feelings in this generation. It is also likely that Barreca's personal experiences with men and her close knowledge of her friends’ relationships have been dominated by a particular experience of men in marriage.

The question is, how much do we grant someone like Barreca the largess of having her catharsis in a public media and how much do we hold her accountable to holding her catharsis in check to seek balance? The Philadelphia Inquirer would not print something written by a man that openly and flippantly dissed all women like Barreca has openly and flippantly dissed all men. It is the province of populist media, like the editorial pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer, wherein the "You go girl!" zeitgeist has been given its voice, allowing women like Barreca to have their catharsis of pent of rage and frustration in public space.

Of course, I don't take TV to be a clear picture of the essence of real men and women, but the views on TV do provide a window into the popular gender caricatures that are reflected in many people’s attitudes. It is ironic that Barreca sees the TV as portraying a retro-grade view of women who are beholden to "Homer Simpson" men. In my view, the picture of men and women on these shows is a part of “You go girl!” but in a slightly different form than the “men need to get out the woks” feminism that Barreca discusses. In TV land, women settle for Mr. Less as an opportunity to be nagging and condescending. These comedy shows offer female viewers a reversal of the I Love Lucy riff in which the wife was the bumbling one and butt of jokes. In this TV milieu, feeling superior is the consolation prize for having a man who is chronically under-achieving in his ability to jump through the hoops that Barreca wants men to be jumping through, lest women drop them at the drop of a wish. As I observe what’s on TV, it is strong male characters like Horatio Caine (CSI Miami) and Jack Bauer (24) and Gil Grissom (CSI), etc…who are un-married and weak men like those on King of Queens and Everybody loves Raymond who are married.

In TV land, the “You go girl!” attitude is most perfectly impersonated in the character Ally McBeal. In the realm of fashion, “You go girl!” is manifested in many women partially baring intimate parts with blatant disregard for boundaries of time and place (it was Ally McBeal who jumpstarted a trend of micro-mini skirts in the mid 1990’s with a particular “You go girl!” episode in which she castigated men for criticizing her). In regard to relationships, “You go girl!” is summed up by a T-shirt that a man wore that said “When I married Ms. Right, I didn’t know that her first name was ‘Always’”.

As for Barreca and other “You go girl!” feminists, if Barreca recognizes the end of an era when many women felt socially pressured to remain married even when their husbands behaved like Homer Simpson, is Barreca happy with Promise Keepers? It is Promise Keepers that makes a serious attempt to confront Homer Simpson behavior in men and their marriages. Too often, "You go girl!" feminists are threatened and frightened by Promise Keepers, and smear it as an attempt to return to re-construct a pre-feminist gender apartheid past rather than recognize it as an attempt to take the truth of feminism to heart in regard to the behavior of lazy husbands. This part of the larger “You go girl!” attitude that has more room for the sycophant committed man and the uncommitted strong man and than it has for the strong committed man.

This "You go girl!" zeitgeist that is represented on TV and in other parts of our culture and that is influencing an attitude that many women have to one degree or another in relationships with men is the feminist aspect of a belief that I call primalism. Primalism popular is a form of postmodernism, what I call “street postmodernism”, that is based on a postmodernist rejection moral metaphysics. Primalism reduces moral questions to questions of power equilibrium among people with competing desires with the belief that the greatest social good is for people to express their feelings and desires as they operate in power equilibrium with others.

In primalism, since nothing is ever transcendently morally true beyond power equilibrium, things are merely temporarily correct so that social codes can be continually adjusted to advance the “expression privileges” of “underdog” groups that have had less power from a historical perspective. As such, primalist social codes are organized around the need for "underdogs" to have their catharsis of overcoming their “underdog-ness”. Here, underdogs are given the “expression privileges” so that they are allowed to "burn the wick", to express their rage until it is burnt out and they are ready to move on. It is the application of primalism within postmodernism that is the basis for many things that are politically correct. To illustrate the relationship between primalism and PC, often what is politically correct in our society is merely the bright, visible area of a moon, while primalism is the whole rest of the moon.

It is the ethic of primalist PC that “You go girl!” catharsis privileges are granted to women coming out from under various oppressive social structures. While the feminist movement is more than a century old, and modern feminism began in the late ‘60’s, the primalist PC “you go girl” attitude of feminism entered the zeitgeist in full form about 20 years ago. By a primalist PC ethic of power equilibrium, the past 20 years is a drop in the bucket compared to the long history wherein women were socially pressured to find worth by being married. By a PC ethic, women who want to express their outrage for this history will be granted "catharsis privileges" for a long time to come.

Darby Crash of the Germs once sang that “…evolution is a process too slow to save my soul”, and primalist PC feminism left to its own devices does not offer me a process that will result in any gender reconciliation in my lifetime. In fact, primalist PC feminism is leading the opposite way. There is a certain point at which a catharsis of rage needs to be reigned in, and if it doesn't it only begets destruction. A conflict resolution counselor will encourage an individual person in a confrontation to be accountable to being as balanced and as reasonable as possible so that the ultimate goal is not to vent rage but to advance the relationship. An individual who vents his/her anger without having the serious goal of advancing a relationship with another person will merely instigate a fight that will go back and forth. And what is true on a small scale is also true on a large scale. The lack of disciplined conflict resolution between large groups of people not only affects the relationships between groups, it leaches into the attitudes of people on the small scale and affects individual relationships.

Twenty some years and counting is a long time to pollute the waters of gender relationships a great deal by promoting confrontation is that is more interested in fighting/one-upping than in truly reconciling. It is the wisdom of Proverbs that confronts the un-fettered id that primalist ethics allows by saying "only a fool gives full voice to his anger". The wisdom of Proverbs can be amplified specifically to the realm of gender politics by saying, “only a fool allows his/her anger to be the basis of promoting destructive caricatures of men and women”. To explain the same principle with a different metaphor, Martin Luther spoke of the drunken peasant who gets on one side of the horse only to fall off the other side. One way that this imbalance occurs is when one does not make any effort to harness one’s hurt feelings into a sound course of action for reconciling with another, but rather allows the anger to completely dominate the dialogue.

The "You go girl!" form of feminism that has made it onto editorial pages, that has made no attempt to sort out caricatures and reality, and that has flippantly dissed men has become the "drunken peasant" version of feminism that only offers undisciplined euphorias of rage and new double standards to replace the old double standards. This “You go girl!” feminism has its compliment in men who express their misogyny by sexually objectifying women and who advance “You go stud!” attitudes as the blow-back to the prevailing “You go girl!” attitudes, and so the hatred and mistrust and cynicism between men and women grows. It is the deviant strength of men like radios hosts Howard Stern and Tom Leykis who operate in the wedge that the "You go girl!" attitude has helped to promote in our society between male strength and male commitment and respect toward women.

Feminism has been, and will continue to be, an important social movement. Feminism needs to be held to the standard of promoting good relationships between men and women as its goal, and the valid critiques of society that are contained in feminism need to be brought increasingly into the fold of a greater understanding of men and women. To the extent that feminism is infected with a “You go girl!” attitude, feminism needs to be saved from itself. We've long reached a point where drunken peasant feminism that is not interested in what is actually best for men and women to get along is polluting the bloodstreams of people's attitudes with bile. We've reached the point where "You go girl!" shoot from the hip feminism needs to be accountable when it shoots from the hip.

And as for the "You go girl!" excuse that men are supposed to be "tough enough to handle it", this is the part of the "You go girl!" idea that traffics in the inclinations of men to be chivalrous. Here, chivalry is mutated from a social code on the part of men to physically protect women into a social code to protect women from being openly criticized and confronted by men. It is a social code that has conflated the protection of women with primalist PC ethic that values the unreconstructed and unchallenged comfort of women to express their id. This idea that men are supposed to be strong enough to "handle it" is an intellectually lazy way of approaching relationships that works backward from a caricature of male strength. The long and short of it is that all of the various form of “You go girl!” male bashing are, in the end, relationship bashing, and that's bad.


Steve Blackwelder said...

I like it when people confront a destructive cultural force "on its own turf" rather than from the less-well-informed outside.

I'm a personal friend of Greg.

Anonymous said...

Greg - glad to find your blog. I'm a friend of your uncle CW in VA.