Is it just me? Why do certain epithets remain attached to the term feminist, no matter how erroneous or out of date? Bra-burning, man-hating, angry, strident, and thanks to the twentieth anniversary of Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon, resentful is back.
In the Bookends section of the NYTBR this week (I confess that the Times supplies great material for resentments), two male authors revisit Bloom’s manifesto. Both find Bloom’s complaints about literary studies and the responses to them “very quaint in 2014,” and “dated.”
Classicist Daniel Mendelsohn lumps “feminists, deconstructionist and Marxist critics” under the overarching Bloomian “school of resentment” as participants in a debate that is (his word) passé (a pox on both their houses, let’s hear it for Aristophanes). Pankaj Mishra, for his part, makes a critique of Bloom’s grievance on its own terms, but his final point, sympathetic to the feminist project though it is, oddly recycles the characterization: “Aesthetic connoisseurship in the gardens of the West is menaced not so much by resentful feminists as by the hard-nosed accountants of an insecure commercial society―the same one that in its moment of supreme power had allowed a few men to revive and deepen a fantasy of Western Civilization” (emphasis added).
Yes, all true, but it’s discouraging, when your intellectual comrades let clichés slip by.
Gail Collins’s celebration of another commemoration–Gloria Steinem’s 80th birthday–is so positive that it’s hard to know what quotes to pull. But here’s one that seems a good counter to the cliché-ridden media discourse on feminism: “There are two reasons that Steinem turned out to be the image of the women’s liberation movement. One did indeed have to do with her spectacular physical appearance. For young women who were hoping to stand up for their rights without being called man-haters, she was evidence that it was possible to be true to your sisters while also being really, really attractive to the opposite sex” (emphasis added).
For this and Steinem’s unfailing wit, we are all grateful―or should be! We don’t even resent her for being beautiful.