A couple of days ago The Other Charlotte asked me to write something “witty” about Maureen Dowd’s denunciation in the New York Times magazine of today’s young women’s rejection of the feminist ideals that Maureen and her pals who were in college during the 1960s held and still hold so dear. But I didn’t quite know what to say. For one thing, TOC’s own InkWell post on MoDo’s article scoops me out in the “witty” department. (Read it here if you haven’t already.)
But the real problem is that MoDo, usually so easy to lampoon for her strings of non-sequiturs and predictable cliches, seemed in this article to be too pitiable to mock. As she rehearses all her gripes–that today’s women shave their legs, think Gloria Steinem’s old hat, and would rather plan wedding showers (and take their husbands’ surnames: Call me “Mrs.,” please!) than burn their lingerie and natter about “equality”–I sensed an undercurrent of anger underneath the attempts at jokes. Who doesn’t cringe reading this:
“To the extent that young women are rejecting the old idea of copying men and reshaping the world around their desires, it’s exhilarating progress. But to the extent that a pampered class of females is walking away from the problem and just planning to marry rich enough to cosset themselves in a narrow world of dependence on men, it’s an irritating setback. If the new ethos is ‘a woman needs a career like a fish needs a bicycle,’ it won’t be healthy.
“‘In James Brooks’s movie ‘Spanglish,’ Adam Sandler, playing a sensitive Los Angeles chef, falls for his hot Mexican maid, just as in ‘Maid in Manhattan,’ Ralph Fiennes, playing a sensitive New York pol, falls for the hot Latino maid at his hotel, played by Jennifer Lopez. Sandler’s maid, who cleans up for him without being able to speak English, is presented as the ideal woman, in looks and character. His wife, played by Téa Leoni, is repellent: a jangly, yakking, overachieving, overexercised, unfaithful, shallow she-monster who has just lost her job with a commercial design firm and fears she has lost her identity.
“In 2003, we had ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring,’ in which Colin Firth’s Vermeer erotically paints Scarlett Johansson’s Dutch maid, and Richard Curtis’s ‘Love Actually’, about the attraction of unequals. The witty and sophisticated British prime minister, played by Hugh Grant, falls for the chubby girl who wheels the tea and scones into his office. A businessman married to the substantial Emma Thompson, the sister of the prime minister, falls for his sultry secretary. A novelist played by Colin Firth falls for his maid, who speaks only Portuguese.
“Art is imitating life, turning women who seek equality into selfish narcissists and objects of rejection rather than of affection.
“It’s funny. I come from a family of Irish domestics – statuesque, 6-foot-tall women who cooked, kept house and acted as nannies for some of America’s first families. I was always so proud of achieving more – succeeding in a high-powered career that would have been closed to my great-aunts. How odd, then, to find out now that being a maid would have enhanced my chances with men.
“An upstairs maid, of course.”
Obviously something has gone very wrong in Dowd’s love life, and her article seethes with resentment of the men who haven’t married her and the women–all younger than she–whose non-obsession with “equality” (that is, hatred of and competition with men) and traditionalist approach to marriage seem to winning the day.
At the end of her article Maureen predicts this:
“What I didn’t like at the start of the feminist movement was that young women were dressing alike, looking alike and thinking alike. They were supposed to be liberated, but it just seemed like stifling conformity.
“What I don’t like now is that the young women rejecting the feminist movement are dressing alike, looking alike and thinking alike. The plumage is more colorful, the shapes are more curvy, the look is more plastic, the message is diametrically opposite – before it was don’t be a sex object; now it’s be a sex object – but the conformity is just as stifling.
“Having boomeranged once, will women do it again in a couple of decades? If we flash forward to 2030, will we see all those young women who thought trying to Have It All was a pointless slog, now middle-aged and stranded in suburbia, popping Ativan, struggling with rebellious teenagers, deserted by husbands for younger babes, unable to get back into a work force they never tried to be part of?
“It’s easy to picture a surreally familiar scene when women realize they bought into a raw deal and old trap. With no power or money or independence, they’ll be mere domestic robots, lasering their legs and waxing their floors – or vice versa – and desperately seeking a new Betty Friedan.”
Actually, Maureen, I predict something different: that 25 years from now the ideology that you and your friends from the 1960s and 1970s espouse will be regarded as a historical curiosity, a bizarre utopian experiment never to be repeated, like Chairman Mao’s requiring everyone to wear a Mao suit. Wanna bet? We’ll both be very old ladies in 2030, but lunch at your favorite Manhattan restaurant is on me, Maureen, if I’m wrong.