Friday, March 26, 2010

Re-enacting the Past to Serve the Future

The stereotypical definition of Feminists held by many is that they are frigid, miserable, depressed, angry, and obsessed with finding systemic fault in every man and under every rock. I find evidence of this sentiment no matter who I ask or where I search. In response, I will say only that every activist movement has a tendency at times to let anger at the status quo threaten to overshadow its altruistic policies predicated on compassion. However, this characterization isn't exactly justified for a variety of reasons. With the passage of time the radical, reactive voices within Feminism have been held up to highest scrutiny---the implication being that they must surely speak for the whole. The ultimate fault in why this assumption has been allowed to thrive and grow is not easily assigned, but a drop off in active involvement within the movement as a whole is regrettably a big part of the problem.

Institutional memory in American liberalism is often in short supply. We frequently forget the trailblazers and fostering mothers and fathers that guided us because so many of the rank-and-file have left or devoted their attention toward other things. Feminism once was quite fashionable, as was participation and proud membership within groups like NOW, along with the omnipresent subscription to Ms. magazine. Looking specifically at membership in a wide cross-section of left-wing movements, I note with some trepidation that we are now neither losing, neither are we gaining. As one person leaves, another springs up to take his/her place. But when this happens, the newcomers find themselves severely challenged by the ability to use the breakthroughs and lessons of the past and put them in their proper context.

Every ideological movement or group based on common identity feels a compulsion to look back into the past to find both a means of pointing to supreme authority or for help in its own discernment of ideas. As much as we embrace the future as the bellwether of the needed systemic changes to advance our agenda, we also rely heavily upon the past to grant us guidance and underscore our values. This is not a paradox in terms, but it nonetheless is a facet of Progressive thought that often times goes overlooked. Speaking specifically to the Feminist movement, this is accomplished for some by constantly alluding back to Feminist history. However, without a common memory, these names and accomplishments seem like ghostly apparitions pulled from the shadows. Without a collective sense of continuity, the most abrasive, strident voices easily rise to the top and end up dominating the entire message.

Articles like this one, penned by Dr. Louann Brizendine, who notes that she was once herself an early feminist, attempt to push back against the supposed man-haters and hair-splitters. Some points in the article itself have a facade of validity, but certain passages are especially cringe-worthy.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the male and female brain is that men have a sexual pursuit area that is 2.5 times larger than the one in the female brain. Not only that, but beginning in their teens, they produce 20 to 25-fold more testosterone than they did during pre-adolescence.

If testosterone were beer, a 9-year-old boy would be getting the equivalent of a cup a day. But a 15-year-old would be getting the equivalent of nearly two gallons a day. This fuels their sexual engines and makes it impossible for them to stop thinking about female body parts and sex.

Biological imperative has been used to excuse a variety of abhorrent behaviors. Here Brizendine runs to the "men are hormonal beasts" argument. This is a fallacy in terms for a multitude of reasons, namely that extreme sexual desire isn't purely the domain of men. Based on my informal surveys and anecdotal evidence over the years, women are just as sexually inclined as men, but have been socialized to repress it or at least to not display it openly. Speaking for myself and my own relationship, being that we are both humans, at times while out in public my attention will drift to someone attractive and at times she will do the same. In so doing, we both recognize that we feel a momentary, instant, entirely involuntary pang of jealousy as we notice this, a feeling which passes quickly and consumes perhaps five seconds total of our time. Both of us acknowledge the response as it happens and neither of us holds it against the other. But this point really is little more than a thinly-veiled dig at women who, in her mind, constantly complain about their boyfriends and husbands to no good end, feeling frigid, miserable, depressed, angry, and obsessed with finding systemic fault in every man and under every rock.

One likely wouldn't have had a need for such articles had the old coalition held together. Feminism may have a thousand mothers, but I doubt the maternity of many of them. At times I feel like they are re-enacting the past to suit their own unique understanding or their own end, since when so few of us truly understand what has come before, the historical record can easily be shaped into whichever image one wishes. This also goes for Teabaggers and Internet columnists. Without the presence of those who were there or, for that matter, those to call bullshit, the movement as a whole finds nothing solid upon which to back its claims. When a past generation of liberal thinkers stripped away much of the older canon for the sake of being radically inclusive, throwing out the baby with the bathwater in the process, it left us all without an adequate rudder and a sufficient life preserver.

If we were a faith group, we might be inclined to refer to the Bible as a means of discerning the truth and serving as a final authority. Nature abhors a vacuum, of course, and the giant sucking sound you now hear is a desperate effort to establish a new basis for trust and validation among us. The question remains---upon which do we base our claims to be Progressives? Moreover, what do Feminists cite as Gospel when questions of doctrinal authority are raised? I hardly need to note that liberalism as championship sports team or as fashion statement are ultimately short-lived endeavors (see Obama, Barack, 2008 Election). We value freedom of choice, but Progressive tourism is never going to hold together factions, keep legislation from stalemating, or redefine hateful notions of feminists and Feminism.

People have got to have a reason to want to stay and to keep coming back to the feast. The angry, radical, minority voices must be kept in check. We must encourage active, consistent participation in our own attitudes, while trying our best to reach out when informed that someone in our ranks has had enough and wants to leave. This will not be easy, but it is the only means by which to ensure that our goals and our values do not have a short shelf-life. What we say must not merely be recorded faithfully in the historical record, it must also be passed on as words of guidance and inspiration to those who will follow us. The right to hold the torch also means the right to designate a successor and facilitate an adequate transfer of power when the time arrives. Otherwise, even that which I type to you today will be long forgotten. If we do not make plans now, most of our thoughts and ideas will become the stale domain of perhaps one or two devoted archivists who have bothered to comb through a vast electronic archive, blowing off several layers of dust in the process. This does not have to be our future, but it will be if we don't start seriously addressing the problem.

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