Friday, February 16, 2007

Against Feminism

"The fixed stars signify the angel in man. That is why man orients himself by them; and that is why women have no appreciation for the starry sky; because they have no sense of the angel in man."
~Otto Weininger
The news is enough to drive one to become a disciple of Otto Weininger [1880-1903], the Viennese author of Sex and Character who took his own life at age 23.

I have not written on feminism in this blog, first because I despise it, and second because I have not wanted to devote attention to a social phenomenon I regard as silly, conformist and pernicious. Yet now, with the election of Drew Gilpin Faust to the presidency of Harvard, it seems that the time has come for me to devote a few thoughts to it.

In 1963 I was shipped off to boarding school in Massachusetts to complete my junior and senior years of high school. In retrospect I regret leaving Birmingham at that critical time in its history. Yet being at Concord Academy was, of course, an opportunity of a different kind, although I was not much of a go-getter and Concord Academy did not prove to be the indispensable stepping-stone to Radcliffe – given my abysmal grades in math – which my father (Harvard, 1930) probably hoped would be the case.

That first fall semester I was one of the two roommates of Drewdie Gilpin, who was only a month older than me but in the year ahead. I remember Drewdie as large – tall and large-boned rather than fat – genial, outgoing, and friendly. She liked to sit on her bed with books piled high around her listening to Haydn’s trumpet concerto while doing her homework. I don’t believe we had much in common, and in later years, in what little I heard of her, I was surprised to learn of her interest and success in the field of Southern history. It was rather strange, I thought, that this refugee from the South and its history – namely myself – should have roomed with this person who was later to direct her prodigious energy to the very field which I knew in an intimate, though haphazard and non-academic, fashion.

Cut to 1990. I am living in Philadelphia, and I have been invited to a luncheon at Lucy Durr Hackney’s to honor her mother, the redoubtable Virginia Durr, who was visiting her daughter. Virginia Durr was known to me from my youth in Alabama – one of the strong influences on my life, and about whom I wrote extensively in my unpublished book, Stewards of History. Lucy had told me that Drew Faust would be attending the luncheon. I cannot remember how it came about, but when a slender (almost anorexic) woman came up to me to introduce herself, I chuckled and said something to the effect – "Don’t you remember me?" But in truth I could not fault her for not recognizing me, for if Lucy had not told me beforehand, I would not have recognized Drewdie – or Drew, as she then called herself. By then Drew was a professor of history at Penn. The only thing I remember of our conversation was Drew telling me her daughter had been a student at Friends’ Central for five or six years and was now only in second grade.

It’s a few years later, and I am in the process of writing my book, Stewards of History: The Covenant of Generations in a Southern Family, which was first called The Thoroughbred Colt: Identity and Moral Will in a Southern Family, when it enjoyed a first brief life in an Internet edition. For some reason or another I bethought myself to read something that Drew Faust had written about the South, and I chose for my task her 1982 book, John Henry Hammond: A Design for Mastery. I thought her portrait of this ambitious slave-apologist from South Carolina was a well-written and competently researched history, with certain portions of it of real philosophical interest. [1] But what brought me up short was her view of the Southern code of honor: "…the power of South Carolina’s master class depended to a great extent on symbols and display.. . A symbolism of violence made clear to all how quickly selective force would be invoked to reinforce the structure of power." It was then I realized that this author had no understanding of the human past, much less the Southern one, and that the entire edifice of competent academics represented by this book was hollow at the core.

Thus Weininger’s quote, that the woman has no understanding of the angel in man, seems to me appropriate in this context. I contradicted Faust's view of honor in my book, writing that "Honor is the mutual recognition of transcendent human possibility and worth – transcendent, that is, to merely utilitarian considerations of life. This code of honor indicated a willingness to fight (as with the duel) or to sacrifice oneself in the labor to bestow a boon, as Cocke put it. [John Hartwell Cocke, my anti-slavery ancestor, was the primary subject of my book.] That displays of violence could go to absurd lengths – in Faust’s example, two students fought a duel over a dish of trout – does not necessarily mean that violence was being used to maintain power. Rather, it indicates that the supreme principle of non-utilitarianism, of transcendent possibility, even of self-sacrifice, must be continually renewed."

Drew Faust, after leaving Penn, went on to become the Dean of the Radcliffe Institute, which, according to Heather MacDonald (City Journal, 9 February 2007) " is one of the most powerful incubators of feminist complaint and nonsensical academic theory in the country." In early May, 2005, I sent a letter to the president of Bryn Mawr College, Nancy Vickers, referencing a sadistic and pornographic play that had been produced on the Bryn Mawr College campus- "Conquest of the Universe: When Queens Collide." Drew Faust, an alumnae of that College, received a copy of my letter. I made some pointed comments about feminism – e.g.

"Bryn Mawr College certainly seems to promote alternative sexuality. I have had to ask myself whether the College offers a liberal education or if it is in actual fact a feminist indoctrination training camp."

Mentioning Gloria Steinem's visit to the campus:

"MS. Magazine, which Steinem edited for many years, was indirectly
funded by the CIA, as a part of its agenda of cultural warfare against the
citizens, institutions and values of the United States on behalf of an
international banking elite and New World Order global control."

"More than any other single factor, feminism infantilizes women by arresting their moral development and teaching a false view of Western society.
Indeed, the accusation of ‘patriarchal dominance’ is far more characteristic
of Judaism than of the society we inherited from Western Christianity, and
it is no accident that a high proportion of radical feminists have been Jewish."

Those are some of the choice bits of my letter, which is reproduced in full here.

Need I add that I never received any acknowledgement of my letter from Drew Faust, the priestess of political correctness who is now Harvard’s president; and Nancy Vickers was only prodded with great difficulty to respond to it in a one-sentence e-mail. [2]

Of all the baneful ideas which the American erstwhile Republic has fallen for, feminism seems to me among the worst. Feminism is a social catastrophe which is responsible in large measure for the degradation of civilized values in Western society and for its turn to aggressive and predatory wars. I consider feminism to be the true partner of New World Order brutality, which John McMurtry calls the "male gang" mentality. Feminists, having opted out of the human race -- seeing themselves either victimized or superior, but in any case apart-- have given us over to thugs.


[1] "John Henry Hammond's ambition was unquenchable. It consumed his life, directed almost his every move, and ultimately, in its titanic calculation and rigidity, destroyed the man confined within it." From the description of the book by the publisher, University of Louisiana Press. Names are omens, and that a "Dr. Faust" would find in Hammond a fit subject for meditation upon the Southern Way of Life is in itself a subject for a type of historical meditation quickened by spiritual "dread."

[2] Priestess of political correctness: Two things in particular stand out in Sheldon Hackney's "Conversation with Drew Gilpin Faust," published in the National Endowment for the Humanities website. First, there was Faust's comment about the Southern women she studied - "I'm not meaning either to condemn or celebrate them but rather to show how difficult the circumstances they faced were and how the kinds of expectations they'd been led to have of themselves made their lives difficult." Dear Miss Faust, we are all thrown into circumstances not of our choosing, and we are all raised in an atmosphere of expectations of one kind or another. The point is, what do we do with it? Thus Faust's view seems to me both deterministic and sentimental: at one level missing the poignancy of the human situation, and at the other expecting too much of it. The second remark that caught my attention was this: "I've been studying unpleasant people or politically incorrect people for my whole academic career. " True, history and life are mostly comprised of people who are disappointing in one way or another. Unlike the ancients, we do not cast admiring glances behind us. But we might also ask ourselves whether our inability to esteem is so much the fault of our ancestors as of ourselves. As an expression of Puritan-Protestant self-righteous judgmentalism, Faust's comment is truly astonishing.


Old Peculier said...

Doesn't it rather depend what you mean by feminism? Are you in favour of women having the vote and equal pay, for example? Those rights, now taken for granted, were once seen as radical goals.

Caryl said...

Dear Old Peculier,
Thanks for reading and commenting. I have much less trouble with the original feminism which was directed to the vote, than with the later versions of it, which primarily seem to me a manifestation of the souls of spoiled Westerners. But it never fails to happen to me, that when I express anti-feminist views, someone always brings up the issue of the vote. I think there is a difference between a liberalization which was in the course of happening more or less normally and naturally, and a forced draught of ideological brew based upon the corruption of reason through envy and power-seeking. It is this latter that I wholeheartedly reject.

Andrew said...

I enjoyed the post, Caryl. But could you say a little more about how feminism is responsible for Western society's "turn to aggressive and predatory wars"?

Also, one minor correction. Drew Faust is an "alumna" of Bryn Mawr, not an "alumnae".

Caryl said...

Dear Andrew –
If you have started reading these posts again, I see I will have to mind my p’s and q’s and not think I can get away with making careless sweeping statements!

I think that in a sense all human civilization has the character “war+booty+plunder” – perhaps what F. Nietzsche called the “will to power.” Thus “predatory and aggressive wars” have characterized all periods of history. Nevertheless, given this default position of the human species, there are great differences in what men, women and societies have gone on to create in this context. This difference decides whether the primitive “war+booty+plunder” model remains primitive, or whether it can be “raised” (almost in the sense of a poker game) to encompass traditions, epic, songs, myths, histories and religious ideals. It depends upon man’s honor, and man who succeeds in creating a civilization succeeds in bluffing himself that his soul has eternal value, his deeds are of momentous moral consequences, and his calling is to spurn treachery, triviality and baseness. Well, the rabid secularists amongst us would call it a bluff; I call it perceiving the truth, because to me the nobility of the soul depends upon decisions and actions that weigh no more than a passing feather. I take the epic view! But whatever you want to call it, in my opinion whether human beings succeed in creating a civilization that possesses nobility has depended, may depend, will depend, greatly (though not of course exclusively) upon the quality of its women and whether they remain true to the ideal of the particular excellence fostered by the civilization.

In this sense, feminism – all feminism – is merely a dilution from the astringent of excellence and a melding, melting and running-together of the ‘base’ human qualities of likeness over difference, commonality over distinction, envy over admiration, resentment over appreciation, relationality over distinction, reproduction over originality. The civilization that gives way to feminism will decline in excellence and in the appreciation and estimation for character. Mind you I do not say that “women” are not capable of such excellences. It is feminist ideology I say is incapable of it. So what I should have said in my post was not that feminism fosters “predatory and aggressive war” but that the human condition of predatory and aggressive war in a feminist age is not redeemed by the creation of epic poetry, the consolations of higher religion, or the appearance of great works of art.

It is possible I will continue the thread in a later post, especially if you keep prodding me. Stay tuned.

Tom Blair said...

Terrific analysis and terrific writing Caryl. You rock.

Feminism of course is just another ideology aimed at traditional social structure. To your first commenter - yeah I suppose women should get the same pay for the same work - but before feminism women were much more valuable and precious than the economic unit to which they have been reduced today.