So I suppose I need to talk about this Susan Faludi “Electra” crap

I mean, just in case this whole Terminator 2 phase of my feminist blogging “career” is later described in children’s textbooks as merely “those months Antonova aired out her grievances regarding the writing of Camille Paglia – and posted funny pictures of cats”.

Here’s a funny picture of a cat:

Anyway, the points is, this month’s issue of Harper’s magazine features a piece by feminist author Susan Faludi, called “American Electra: Feminism’s Ritual Matricide”. You pretty much know where this one’s going the minute you read the title. Granted, even an unrepentant sterva like me, upon reading the full article, had to admit that Faludi, at the very least, tried to be as fair as she could to the subject matter and to the younger and older feminists she writes about.

“Tried” is the key word here.

I’m not a huge fan of Faludi’s writing, if only because I find her to be a bit of a dead-endist. To put it into actual English, Faludi doesn’t strike me as exceptionally constructive. The extent of my engagement with Faludi’s writing can be summed up like this: “Here are the things you should be pissed off about!” “I am indeed pissed off! What do I do now?” *crickets, etc.*

This isn’t to say that other people don’t get anything constructive out of Faludi’s writing. They do. I don’t happen to be one of them, though, which is why reading Faludi’s latest article felt a bit like having the same argument I always wind up having with those one drunk who hangs out by the kiosk where I buy beer after work: “Spare some change?” “Dude, you’re just getting enough so you can go get wasted.” “At least I’m honest!” “Yeah, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it when I walk by here again half an hour later, and you’re puking on the sidewalk!” *etc.*

Faludi’s article starts out sensibly enough – by describing the break that young American women of the 1920’s experienced with the older feminists who spearheaded the movement for women’s suffrage. I use the word “sensibly” loosely. Faludi’s sees 1920’s womanhood in starkly one-dimensional terms. Granted, she was writing an article for Harper’s, not a 400-page historical thesis, but all I could think about when I read this part of her piece was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Daisy saying she wished that her daughter would become a “beautiful little fool” – and the tragedy buried underneath that statement. You don’t need to write a 400-page thesis in order to have perspective.

Today’s young feminists ultimately fare no better in Faludi’s piece. The author actually goes as far as to note the actual stilettos of some young feminist speaker she listened to this one time. I waited for a punchline, but it never materialized. Of course, it is a well-known fact that a woman must look a certain way in order to be taken seriously – though the look itself is never clearly defined (that would allow an individual woman an out of some sort, and we can’t have that). In this context, a description of a woman wearing stilettos has the same undertone as a description of a man having “the smile of a pedophile” or whatever, coding for Suspicious Character. Of course, all of those women in their 50’s and beyond whom I know, who happen to also wear stilettos sometimes are… wait, nevermind, that would probably just introduce too much complexity into the problem of inter-generational conflict within American feminism. Let’s talk about fishnets instead – fishnets being those other things that young feminists sometimes wear. Because Faludi actual does bring them up. She also talks about Lady Gaga, of course – and talks about people who talk about Lady Gaga, and destroy the future of feminism in the process. Oh and the phrase “Barbie doll” is in there too.

We almost have bingo – almost, I say, because Faludi doesn’t bring up blow-jobs (does she? I’m not going to go back and read that article again. I’ve read it twice already, and have a perfectly good afternoon to wile away watching ships pass by the window outside, before the Moskva freezes).

Faludi’s main beef with younger feminists is that they, apparently, are not interested in activism, preferring consumerist gratification instead. Um. OK. It’s funny to me, because most young feminists I know are activists. Someone like Sarah Jaffe, whom I work with? Activist. Political organizer. Head Bitch In Charge. Etc. I bring up Sarah in particular, because it is the Sarahs of the world that Faludi appears to have a huge problem with. They’re level-headed, hard-working and intellectually curious – but they are also public about such things as emotion and desire. They don’t believe that a hint of glamour ought to ruin their public image, because they recognize the fact that there’s a purpose to every season – including being young. They want to have their cake and eat it too, clearly, and are obviously selfish. And they probably hate their mothers. Which is what this entire thing goes back to. Kids these days don’t listen to their moms. The Four Horsepeople of the Equal Opportunity Feminist Apocalypse are a-comin’.

If I could be serious for a moment – it almost seems to me that Faludi believes that weird co-dependency between moms and daughters is somehow a good thing, if this piece is anything to go by. She admiringly speaks of an old school feminist from way before the gullible sluts of the 1920’s era ruined things for everyone, who lived with her mother her entire life – as if it’s an example today’s feminists can learn from. My own strange real estate situation at the moment makes sure that I have to live with my mother for half the time, which isn’t a Horrible Tragedy, but it has it’s major downsides both for her and for me. More often than not, generations share living spaces because they have to – not because they have a terrific time doing it.

Inter-generational conflict always exists, and it affects way more than simply mainstream American feminism. Faludi’s assertion though that there is a “nightmare of dysfunction” within American feminism is, well… funny. For me, “nightmare” relates more to systemic exclusion of trans people. Or, say, how the concerns of those who are not middle-class and don’t get invited to sit on panels can easily get lost in the shuffle. Is that too much theory, perhaps? Theory, of course, is another thing that Faludi says that younger feminists are too preoccupied with. In principle, I’m not a big fan of theory either. My attitude toward it is summed up by the following joke:

Two middle-aged Jewish men, lifetime residents of Odessa, are walking across town and and pass by a newly-opened sex shop. “Abram!” One man says to another, “What does THAT make you think about?” “Nothing,” replies the other drily. “What? It doesn’t make you think about sex?” “Listen, Monya, I have six children – I have no time for theory.”

Seriously speaking, theory does help us identify patterns – such as several patterns I mentioned above: mainstream feminism’s problem with trans folk, mainstream feminism’s problem with sufficiently addressing class issues, etc. I don’t know if grooming practices and stuff I adorn myself with cancel out my critical thinking on these issues, but they’re still ultimately more important to me than squabbles with some invisible parent-type figure – squabbles that, incidentally, jar horribly with my concept of the Divine Feminine.

So in the end, I’d just like to point out that Holly, who is this chick on “True Blood” who channels the Great Mother in order to help Arlene possibly get an abortion, is way more compelling from a feminist perspective than this “ritual-matricide-Becky-look-at-her-stilettos-they-are-SO-big” stuff that gets published in Big Important Magazines and has nothing to do with my life.

5 thoughts on “So I suppose I need to talk about this Susan Faludi “Electra” crap

  1. Kate Fillion’s “Lip Service: The Truth About Women’s Darker Side in Love, Sex and Friendship” was probably the best feminism-oriented book I ever read (although Nora Ephron’s “Crazy Salad” is a close second). Of course, I liked it because it shifts some of the blame from men, and part of the reason most men despise feminism and feminists is that such women often cast themselves as victims from the get-go who could have been contenders, but every man they ever met went out of his way to ruin them.

    I’m not saying that never happens, because sometimes it does. Of course, there are some men who just never get a break, either. It makes more sense to try to avoid getting pulled into that cycle of destructiveness (if you can avoid it, and that’s not always possible) than to squabble about who’s had it the roughest.

    Ms. Fillion frequently uses fictitious (maybe) scenarios to make her points, and the names of the participants are deliberately asexual. Inevitably, you think one participant must be the man based upon that character’s behavior, and are surprised when it turns out to be the woman.

    It’s well worth reading, I think – not plodding and flagellating navel-gazing like some of the genre. Occasionally when I propose this kind of reading to feminists, they tell me to shut up because I’m not a woman and couldn’t possibly understand women’s problems. The same group is full of advice to and about men, and not at all shy about sharing it. If I bring that up, they fall back on “men are simple, women are complex”.

    People who can’t get past that kind of sound-bite warfare aren’t really interested in solving the problem, in my opinion. They’re interested in the war of attrition going on and on.

  2. I am well too sleep-deprived at the moment to offer any sense-making comments but did want to thank you for a blog post that expresses a lot of my issues with feminism as it is published. I do find a lot of the same problems happen online, too. So it’s not just Big Important Magazines and the like.

  3. wow reading that was like pulling teeth just get to the point geese people enjoy simplicity not someone trying to prove how good a writer they are.

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