Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Swim in the Treacherous Waters of Feminism . . .

A Feminist Triumvirate: Fallaci, Valenti and Huffington
Three recent events -- the death of journalist provocateur Oriana Fallaci, the publication of Arianna Huffington's new book and the blogospheric kerfuffle over whether writer Jessica Valenti was intentionally showing off her bod in a group photograph with former President Clinton -- have prompted me to take a gingerly swim into the treacherous waters of feminism.
Let me say from the jump that most of my closest friends are women and my mother was one. I have been unhappy in marriage but lucky in love.

I read Kate Millet, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Djuna Barnes and Anais Nin when most men wouldn't be caught dead doing so (although I have to say that Barnes is probably one of the most overrated writers in English literature, while Mademoiselle Nin was posthumously outted as a plagarist.)

I've gone out of my way to hire women and put extra effort into mentoring them when I was in supervisory positions in journalism, a profession that only recently has begun to level the playing field for women. Although I don't know the identities of most of the visitors to Kiko's House, I'm pretty sure the vast majority are men, and I'm working to try to bring more balance to my readership.
My belief that I've got the bona fides to qualify as a gal guy doesn't give me any particular insight to blog about feminism. All it does is guarantee that it will get me into trouble for any number of reasons, including the fact that all three of the feminists I focus on here are white heterosexuals and I'm being politically incorrect by not including a token black and/or lesbian. So sue me.
Face it, feminism is a third-rail issue and no matter what one says, they're going to catch grief from one quarter or another.
Orianna Fallaci was the first feminist writer with whom I could make popular political cause. She leaned hard to the left, was anti-establishmentarian and questioned authority in her wickedly iconoclastic intereviews with the high and mighty.

Age mellowed Fallaci -- but only to a point. Her career went into eclipse until the rude awakening of the 9/11 attacks. She emerged re-energized and wrote three books that not only attacked Islamic extremism but Islam itself. I didn't always agree with her in the 1960s or the 2000s, for that matter, but I always respected her. As the Belmont Club's Wretchard wrote upon her death at age 77:
"In her youth she did not bow to Hitler; and in her old age she hurled defiance at yet another tyranny. The darkness came and yet the darkness claimed her not."
Arianna Huffington is 55. For many years she was a Newt Gingrich Republican, a millionaire and a Washington, D.C., hostess with the mostess. Age has mellowed Huffington -- but only to a point. She still is filthy rich, but has morphed into a Bush-bashing liberal Democrat and runs The Huffington Post, a blog that seemed headed for the vanity blog graveyard when it was launched but now draws over two million visitors a day.

Huffington has written a new feminist treatise, "On Becoming Fearless in Love, Work and Life," in which she scolds women (with some self criticism) for internalizing their fears and being afraid of taking chances in the workplace in particular and life in general.
Although I once heard Fallaci speak and hope to meet Jessica Valenti some day, Huffington is the only one of the feminist triumvirate whom I've actually chatted up. She is a class act, funnier than a barrel of monkeys and would be one of the first people that I'd invited to a party.
Jessica Valenti is a 27 year old feminist writer, activist and academic who has gotten her ticket punched at Planned Parenthood, the National Organization for Woman and the National Abortion Rights Action League, among other places. She is executive editor of Feministing, a very good blog about . . . well, it's pretty obvious what it's about.

Valenti was pretty much minding her own business until Ann Althouse, a law prof at the University of Wisconsin and equal opportunity wise ass, pounced on her earlier this month in a mostly tongue-in-cheek post at her eponymous blog. Althouse suggested that only Valenti of a group of a dozen or so bloggers standing with the former president had intentionally posed for the camera because she wanted to show off her physical assets.
This sent Valenti into a tiz. She harrumphed at Feministing that real feminists don't pose, which was certifiably silly and akin to saying that real men don't wear plaid. She was widely ridiculed for the statement and deservedly so.
You're probably wondering where the heck I'm headed at this point. Me too.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that all three of these women, all feminists but all distinctively themselves, are to be admired.

Fallaci and Huffington got around over the years, got written up in the Wikipedia, changed their minds about some things and learned to chill when the situation called for it. But they never lost the passion of their convictions.

Valenti is a work in progress and has yet to make the Wikipedia, but surely will. It is also unlikely that she will lose the passion of her convictions, but she has yet to learn when to chill. Whether she will be best remembered for sticking her chest out at a photo op or breaking new feminist ground remains to be seen.
Feminism came of age with the advent of the women's movement in the 1960s. We are now four decades on. But if you have the slightest doubt about whether the world still needs women like my feminist triumvirate, read the story below.


Frank Partisan said...

I read Camille Paglia for laughs.

Anonymous said...

"She harrumphed at Feministing that real feminists don't pose, which was certifiably silly and akin to saying that real men don't wear plaid. She was widely ridiculed for the statement and deservedly so."

You do realize the post title, "feminists don't pose" was sarcastic, no? And I think if you did a technorati search, you'd see it wasn't feministing that was "deservedly" ridculed, but althouse. just and fyi.