Feminism: Five minutes ago?

Or are the rumors -- once again -- greatly exaggerated? (Or just poorly edited?)


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Lynn Harris
January 30, 2008 10:43PM (UTC)

What I want to know is, who are the editors who keep saying, "A piece about feminism being 'over'? There's a take I haven't heard! RUN with that!!!" One, apparently, is at the Globe and Mail, where columnist Karen Von Hahn has declared feminism officially "out of style." That's good to know, because we were just about to pair it with this season's must-have pant.

"We are living in a new era of post-feminism," declares Von Hahn, whose research took her to the farthest reaches of her living room, where it was revealed during a board game that neither her "hip, literate" 26-year-old niece nor her 18-year-old daughter recognizes the name Gloria Steinem. ("Yes," Von Hahn later writes, "she is still alive." Here it is revealed that Von Hahn has herself confused Gloria Steinem with Abe Vigoda.)

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Does this prove that feminism is "out"? (Was feminism ever "in"?) If her daughter doesn't recognize Julia Child, does that mean we are living in a new era of post-food?

Von Hahn's other evidence includes: 1) Ms. magazine is uncool, and 2) today's girls "consider it 'lame' to align themselves with a woman candidate on the sole ground of sisterhood."

"That the young women I know see no great victory in Hillary Clinton's run for the U.S. presidency is proof enough," writes Von Hahn. "That they also see Barack Obama as the one candidate who represents 'change' is nothing less than astounding."

That is astounding. And that is -- even in the background -- feminism at work. Judging a female candidate on her merits? Glass looks half-full to me.

Von Hahn also takes -- Feminism? Feminists? Women? "Us"? Unclear! -- to task for hating Hillary Clinton only until she cried, this "mean girl" model being evidence of feminism's "failure to create true sisterhood." By the same argument, I think, every single woman in America would be dutybound not only to vote for Ann Coulter but also to hug her. Or ... huh? Trenchant commentary it's not. And is that's feminism's fault, too?

Actually, in this case, it's editing's fault. Because this article actually is not entirely the article I expected it to be, or that I've made it out to be so far; it may not entirely deserve the drubbing it's gotten in the comments at Jezebel.com. Von Hahn, it should be noted, is hardly underestimating feminism's relevance, nor dancing gleefully on its (empty) grave. If she is saying it's done, she is by no means saying it should be.

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"We've been told by everyone from the cheerleading women's business networks to Virginia Slims that we've made it. Turning our backs on conventional feminism and its grinding focus on women's oppression" -- I assume she means "grinding" ironically -- "we empowered our daughters to embrace the more upbeat Girl Power movement. Candy-coating the world in Spice Girls tunes, pink-feathered purses and 'Sex and the City,' we sold them a bill of goods: that women are as free and unencumbered as men, that they can achieve any goal they might dream of -- even that the odds are in their favor," she writes. Meanwhile, "we have outperformed our male colleagues at school only to be slapped hard in the real world." Women, she notes, earn less than male peers, run only 12 of the Fortune 500, do the brunt of the housework (to say nothing, I might add, of the even more "grinding" types of oppression).

Where is feminism when we (still) need it? I don't know. Where are parents teaching their kids about Gloria Steinem and buying them subscriptions to Bitch?

Von Hahn, to her credit, answers that question herself: "The hard truth is that we have failed to impress upon our own daughters that women's issues still matter."

But that point -- the point, and a provocative one -- is utterly buried, buried in an article that may ultimately be more rhetorically sloppy than it is politically clueless. Take a red pen to it, do some trimming, restructuring, reporting and fine-tuning of language ("Are you blaming feminism, or are you blaming 'us'? Pls. clarify"), and instead of a weird, wandering "trend piece," you have a stirring call to arms. Would feminism be perceived as quite so "lame" if fewer articles -- in this case, lazily and needlessly -- left us with that impression?

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Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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