Lessons from Lessing
Last week, as reported by a number of news outlets, feminist novelist Doris Lessing, author of The Golden Notebook and other works, administered a verbal flogging of feminism. “I find myself increasingly shocked at the unthinking and automatic rubbishing of men which is now so part of our culture that it is hardly even noticed,” Lessing told an assembled audience at an Edinburgh book festival. She went on to describe her experience in a classroom, where the teacher was educating a group of 9 and 10-year-olds on the evils of men’s innately violent nature. “You could see the little girls, fat with complacency and conceit while the little boys sat there crumpled, apologizing for their existence,” Lessing observed disapprovingly. Of feminism in its current state, she summed things up as follows: “It has become a kind of religion that you can’t criticize because then you become a traitor to the great cause, which I am not.” Lessing likely will learn from her former feminist supporters that her claims of loyalty notwithstanding, she is now officially a feminist heretic.
A Backlash of a Different Sort
Heretics appear to be popping up on our side of the Atlantic as well. Last week, in an essay on Salon.com, Jennifer Foote Sweeney chastised feminists for the glee with which they have been “chiseling away with righteous determination at a set of commandments, ranking the personal sins of feminists with paternalistic fervor and demanding contrition from transgressors.” Her diagnosis? “Feminists have forgotten their manners.”
Beware the Michigan Woods in August
It seems the Lyme disease-carrying tick isn’t the only menace in the woods this summer. Intrepid Washington Post reporter Teresa Wiltz went to Hart, Michigan, to see the sights at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. What she found was a festival open only to “womyn born womyn”; the male menace is such that any male over the age of 5 is prohibited from attending. Lucky girls at the festival can “learn to drum, to write memoirs, to nurture your relationships, to adopt, to get pregnant lesbian-style, to reclaim your sacred sexuality through clay pottery,” and, of course, “to raise healthy, non-sexist boys.”
A Jane for All Academic Subcultures
Manners maven, proto-feminist, or thwarted lesbian? Jane Austen has been called all this and more by literary critics in the academy. Adding yet another indignity to the Austen pantheon is Jill Heydt-Stevenson, an assistant professor of English at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who declares that Austen’s novels contain thinly-veiled accounts of sodomy and other “erotically charged allusions, puns and double entendres.” Moreover, Professor Stevenson declares in her article “Slipping Into the Ha Ha: Bawdy Humor and Body Politics in Jane Austen’s Novels,” Austen was a fine arbiter of “the female sexual gaze.” Other Austen scholars are not so sure (as one explained to the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Jill’s untenured”). Unfortunately, tolerance for inane but titillating literary theory continues to grow in academe. The Chronicle notes that Professor Heydt-Stevenson’s article was “positively received” in academic quarters.
The Egg-Man Cometh
Women’s E-News, an outlet of the National Organization for Women (NOW), weighed in on a recent cover story in Newsweek about aging and women’s fertility. Predictably, NOW decried the “fear tactics” of organizations that are seeking to educate women about the risks of delayed childbearing and declared (without a shred of evidence) that the real reason more women are delaying motherhood is that “the United States has a dismal record of family-friendly supports for working parents.” For a reasonable assessment of this issue, see IWF president Nancy Pfotenhauer’s statement on our home page.
Truth and Fiction on Campus
Finally, a note on truth in the classroom: For months, newspapers have been following the story of historian Joseph Ellis, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and teacher at Mount Holyoke College who admitted that he lied to his students about his military service during the Vietnam War; last week, many media outlets reported that Mount Holyoke has decided to suspend Ellis without pay for a year. Yet, although Ellis’ behavior was clearly wrong, the episode does suggest a double standard when it comes to truth in the classroom. Ellis lied about his personal history; and he is paying a high price for it. But what of the many women’s studies professors who teach feminist ideology as if it were fact? Or the instructors who continue to teach the fictional work of admitted fabricator Rigoberta Menchu as a true accounting of Guatemalan history? (Professor Marjorie Agosin of Wellesley said that “Whether her book is true or not, I don’t care. We should teach our students about the brutality of the Guatemalan military and the U.S. financing of it”). If a historian who lies about his personal life is subject to such swift and public punishment, why aren’t academics who are distorting history itself held accountable for their irresponsible behavior?