On Valentine’s Day both The Other Charlotte and I ragged on a New York Times essay by Cristina Nehring that we thought pooh-poohed the 12th-century love story of Abelard and Heloise–especially Heloise, who had selflessly refused to marry Abelard (despite bearing his child) so as not to set back his career as a philosopher and theologian. (Read our posts here and here.) According to Nehring, Heloise wasn’t much of a feminist heroine since she had submitted to Abelard’s instruction that she enter a convent, and anyway, the whole Abelard-Heloise story of overwhelming romantic passion didn’t fit our supposedly un-romantic age.
Since this was the New York Times and all, Both Us Charlottes assumed that Nehring, like many an NYT contributor, was endorsing the feminist-ideological program she described in her essay, and that she had also bought into the current trend among intellectuals of dissing romance as an evil bourgeois innovation. The same sort of sentiment that led most reviewers of Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons to tongue-lash Wolfe for not hopping aboard the sexual-revolution train and getting with the supposedly egalitarian and guilt-free “hooking-up” culture of romance-free coupling on college campuses.
But it seems that Both Charlottes were dead wrong about Nehring. She sent us this e-mail:
“Whew! I’d like to write off the two Charlottes’ attacks on my Heloise and Abelard essay in the NY Times Feb. 13 as instances of “friendly fire” except that they are so very unfriendly. And so deeply, wholly wrong.
“Don’t these girls–and I use the word advisedly, because (it may shock you to hear) I prefer it to ‘women’–realize when someone is on their side? So far from being a ‘hit job’ on Heloise, my article is a eulogy–nay, an attempt to apotheosize her. The girl (sic) is my idol. LOVE–romantic, Valentine’s Day love–is my cause celebre. I have spent the beginning of my career defending it against rabid feminists, not attacking it. The line about “romance being just a way to work off sexual energy” is held up in my article to be RIDICULED –I quote it to MOCK and LAMENT it–so imagine my consternation when I see Charlotte Allen claim it is MY view.
“The whole point of my essay is to declare Heloise and Abelard’s SUPERIORITY to the hook-up/safe-sex culture of our day, and Heloise’s superiority to the ideological feminists of our day: It is for this reason that I say she is ‘no feminist heroine’–she is too GOOD to be a feminist heroine (at least in the conventional sense)–she is rejected by the kind of narrowminded faminist I have spilled so much ink these last few years to attack! They reject her. But I embrace her, girls–and so should you….
“So what say we band together (as far as our contrarian and upstart spirits will admit) instead of fighting each other senselessly? Let’s be part of a renaissance of female public intellectuals who love romance and men and don’t just write about our navels, victimizations, or vaginas.But let’s keep reading each other as we do so… and reading each other with CARE. Deal?”
Deal, Ms. Nehring. And my humble apologies. You’re a girl after our own hearts. Nehring also sends a link to her fine review of “Charlotte Simmons” for New York magazine. Here’s an excerpt:
“Wolfe portrays vanity, one-upmanship, and affectation with surgical precision. He is the great bard of self-consciousness. He does not, however, disdain the characters whose self-congratulations and petty envies he exposes; his eye is piercing but gentle. Charlotte may use her date, but it is not for this reason that we feel better about the way he proceeds to use her. The scene in which she loses her virginity is among the most detailed and harrowing seduction scenes ever described by a man from a woman’s point of view. If Wolfe’s book consisted only of this scene, it would disprove one of the more fashionable, and fallacious, literary consensuses of our day: that men cannot write for women, nor women for men. ‘We’re seeing the end of universality,’ novelist Michael Cunningham said to general applause at a recent literary fest. ‘A book that speaks to a 65-year-old white guy may actually have nothing to say to a 23-year-old Jamaican woman.’ It may not’but it can. Real literature proves as much’and Tom Wolfe is real literature.”
Don’t miss the rest.
Now for more comments on the Great Susan Estrich Meltdown of last week. (Click here, here, and here, for my posts about University of Southern California law professor/Fox News commentator Estrich’s bizarre battering-ram assault on Los Angles Times opinion-pages editor Michael Kinsley for running my piece “Feminist Fatale” about how feminist ideology has blocked the thinking of women thinkers. The gist of Estrich’s complaint was that Kinsley wasn’t running enough articles by women in his pages; I’m a woman of course, but since Estrich had “never heard of” me, I’m a nobody and don’t count.)
“[M]y problem is the utter lack of maturity replete through all her missives. I see her with fists clenched, eyes shut, cheeks at maximum inflation refusing to breathe until Michael Kinsley gives in to her demands. She needs to be sent to bed without dinner. And this from a law prof no less? She proves that even though the Left has hit rock-bottom in the ideas arena…they refuse to quit digging. To bastardize Menken: No one would ever go broke overestimating just how silly liberals will get.”
But M.E., age 17, deems me the tortfeasor, not Estrich:
“[Y]es, Charlotte Allen, you ARE ‘a nobody,’ very different from ‘the great Susan Estrich,’ a professor at USC and author of numerous books. I, a young feminist of the 21st century, am both disgusted and appalled by your sick attempt to attack great women of our time. Susan Estrich is a person who has devoted her life to the worldwide struggle of counteracting men’s oppression of women. You, on the other hand, only move this work backwards by putting other women down instead of recognizing the reasons so many women have decided to focus on feminism….When you verbally attack feminists of our time, you are helping men stay in power and succumbing to the role of the pushover woman they want you to be.”
Meanwhile, Heather Mac Donald has a must-read take on the Estrich-Kinsley flap in City Journal.
Now for my post on Kerry Howley’s article in Reason Online claiming that any criticism of the hundreds of annual campus productions of the godawful (and Stalinistically propadandistic) Vagina Monologues is tantamount to a call for censorship, and that colleges that dare to ban the play are “second-rate” (see my It’s Censorship to Dump on “The Vagina Monologues?, Feb. 21–and also TOC’s critique of “Vagina” victimology today below.) I wrote:
“I urged no form of censorship–although frankly, I don’t see what’s wrong with upholding public standards of decency and good taste. One of our InkWell readers informed us that Uganda has just banned ‘The Vagina Monologues,’ and I say: Yay for Uganda! Here in the U.S. we have the spectacle of hundreds of college campuses staging ‘The Vagina Monologues’ once per year and Shakespeare and Sophocles zero times per year.”
Reader “Justine” writes:
“By banning, you mean censorship, right? Because not allowing it to be performed is not allowing it to be heard or said which is censorship, which you are most definitely cheering on here. Please, continue ‘dumping on’ the Vagina Monologues; it really is one awful play. But draw the line at banning it. They have every right to be idiots, even if it offends you.”
And here’s blogger Redneck Feminist (click here for her own post on the subject):
“No, it is not censorship to criticize ‘The Vagina Monologues.’…I believe Howley is referring to the censorship done by the colleges that ban the VM. Of course, a college that bans the play isn’t necessarily second-rate, and I don’t think Howley said that it was. But by only considering colleges that ban the play, people are certainly limiting their options (which is their own prerogative, of course).
“What bothers me about the conservative viewpoint here is that the VM seems to be unfairly singled out. Sure, the play’s message can be interpreted as women being reduced to their body parts. But then again, is it the ONLY thing on a college campus that does so? If parents really want to shield their daughters (and why not their sons?) from the message that women aren’t just sex objects, perhaps they should look into whether the campus bookstore is selling magazines such as Maxim. Better yet, they better make sure their daughters never turn on a TV set–because that message is there too….This anti-VM campaign is just a new form of political correctness.”
My response: Colleges and universities have limited budgets, and I think it’s perfectly fair for students, parents, administrators, donors, and in the case of state-funded institutions, lawmakers to put pressure on the schools to devote their resources to something more uplifting than tastelessly graphic soliloquies and the repeated shouting of four-letter words. Furthermore, “The Vagina Monologues” is propaganda, not art, and it’s not the business of any university, much less one subsidized by taxpayers, to underwrite propaganda. As for Uganda’s ban, even here in the United States, obscenity laws are perfectly constitutional, as long as they reflect “prevailing community standards” regarding what’s obscene. The difference between freewheeling us and Uganda is that our “prevailing community standards” are nonexistent these days (they didn’t use to be), whereas Ugandan society still has a clear idea about what’s acceptable and what’s not.
Now for a wonderful letter from reader C.J. about The Other Charlotte’s acerbic posts (here and here) on Judith Warner’s Pefect Madness: Motherhood in an Age of Anxiety (also a Newsweek cover story), in which Warner says we need government programs to deal with the social pressure that upscale moms feel to throw $25,000 birthday parties for their kids:
“When my older daughter was on a basketball team at the local YMCA, she was invited to several birthday parties. The first one was at the girl’s home, and the parents had rented a large bouncy-thing (inflatable trampoline/tent/cage thing) and had a huge BBQ. The next one was at Chuck E. Cheese, which was probably less expensive, but still quite the deal….The last one before the season’s end was at the girl’s home, but her parents had hired a clown who did a puppet show and face painting and balloon animals! Holy cow! These kids were turning 5 and 6!!
“Well, we didn’t have the money to hire a clown, for goodness’ sake, and so, when my daughter’s fifth birthday rolled around, I was determined that I wouldn’t even TRY to compete with that kind of thing. We invited all the same children to a party in my backyard. I bought pizzas at Sam’s Club (no catering like the clown party), baked cupcakes, and bought some plastic gold medals at the party store. My daughter had an Olympics birthday party at which children ate doughnuts off ribbons, looked for cherries buried in whipped cream (no hands), ran relay races with both batons (pool sticks borrowed from my mother) and clothing (teams racing to dress and undress in old shorts and T-shirts from my husband–great for a laugh as they tried to run), and we played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. Oh, we also got a pinata (reusable) and filled it with sweets. At the end of the party, our friends who had catered and hired the clown commented that the party was SO much fun and so simple. I nearly did a victory dance right there. (I waited for everyone to leave first, though.)
“I don’t understand people who think they need to go all out for their kids’ birthdays! Really, all they want is time with Mommy and Daddy and to play in the yard with their friends. Simple games and crafts will do–no need to rent the bouncy thing or have a magician! (Oh, yes, the clown did magic tricks, too.)”
My sentiments exactly–and wonderful coming from a voice of experience. Moms (and dads): Break the mold and be the first in your ‘hood to throw a simple, fun party for your kids. Believe me, the other parents will follow suit fast!
Another reader alerts us to this wonderful post on Tightly Wound telling the high-income moms in Warner’s book who think they have it so hard that they don’t need government programs; they need to get a grip:
“Let me take a moment to feel the pain of my sisters…wait. I feel no pain. None. Nada. Zilch. Because I have a hard time getting on the pity train with a bunch of educated, middle-class women in their mid-30s who are just now figuring out that life is not the freaking Brady Bunch. That maybe there’s more to life than getting your kid into a preschool–PRESCHOOL–with tougher admissions requirements than Dartmouth. That the world will not come to a screeching halt if you feed your kid chicken nuggets more than once a week. That dust mites are not the same as E. coli in terms of health hazards. And that your toddler does not give s— one about the color-coordination factor of the art supplies at his enrichment program….
“My grandmother, she of the sixth-grade education and the 14 hour days in the cotton mill and mother of three happy middle-class kids, would laugh in your face for complaining and tell you that these things are NOT HARD. Of course, if you’re a status-conscious twit who can’t unclench enough to understand that dashing off to K-Mart in your sweatpants is not a sign of abject failure in motherhood, then I imagine things get a lot harder for you.”
Finally, reader L.M. comments on IWF regular Cathy Seipp’s article (shorter version in the L.A. Times, longer version on the IWF home-page), arguing, contra the Larry Summers-baiters, that one reason few women go into science may be that few women wanna go into science:
“I have an engineering degree, but I am no longer an engineer. The main reason: too many layoffs, resulting in too little pay and too much stress. Nevertheless, I still think science, math, and engineering are good, rigorous degree programs. They were free of politics when I studied them 10 years ago, and my education has kept me from swallowing all the junk science that’s out there today. I think it’s a little like actors studying Shakespeare: They don’t necessarily plan to make a career of it, but it makes them better actors.”
Wise thoughts. I myself am math-impaired, but I’d recommend pursuing a science degree to everyone who isn’t–even if you never use the degree. As L.M. points out, the hard sciences are the last domain in academia that still requires core courses that guarantee that you’ll know something solid about something when you graduate, takes grading seriously, and isn’t tainted with useless, quasi-Marxist postmodern faddism.