"Conservative Feminism"

By Jim Mork

The Minneapolis paper had an interesting column today about a debate between "conservative feminist" Katherine Kersten and liberal feminist Arvonne Fraser. I put Kersten's label in quotes because it is a self-designation and because it is very hard to see *anything* that looks feminist in Kersten's philosophy. To me, it looks like an attempt to appropriate a word and combine it into an oxymoron that makes a joke out of it.

Kersten's philosophy says "woman have it made, the war is over." Like Clarence Thomas, she benefitted from such changes made during the women's movement as the opening of two all-male universities, Notre Dame and Yale, to women. And now that she *has* it made, she wants all the cries for equality quashed. She says that organizations like NOW are just a bunch of manhaters who would ruin the country if they got any real power. To quote a paragraph from the article:

She also said that if these contemporary feminists from such organizations as the National Organization for Women ran the country, it would be a mess. "It would be long on sensitivity but short on common courtesy," she said. She said that men would be in constant danger of wearing "the red letter S (for sexist)" and that they "would have to walk on eggshells." She said it would be a world filled with "women blaming their disappointments on patriarchy."
There's quite a bit more, but you get the drift. The columnist then went on to describe, much more briefly, Arvonne Fraser's response: That "conservative feminism" is great if you are in a committed marriage with a man in excellent health, that it depends upon that, that such a condition is becoming increasingly irrelevant [especially inasmuch as one-income families today would be poorer than when the women's movement began, due to the fading position of the US economy]. She pointed out that every wave of political activists for women's rights had been branded extremist. And finally, about choices: "Some are sort of like Clarence Thomas," she said. "They chose to rest on the work and accomplishments of those in the past....I like the feminists who she calls excessive. They make me look respectable, and they'll make life better for my granddaughter."

When I was reading the 75 percent of the column describing Katherine Kersten, I couldnt help wondering: Who *is* her chosen audience? Seems very unlikely that it is all the women who are making 70 percent or less of what men make. Or the women who are losing abortion rights. Or women with kids who see all programs in government that address their problems cut while there seems to be lots of money for weapons, for bailing out one business after another trashed in the 80's for personal profit by men. Who could it be? The shrinking group of white women with the luxury of staying home? Perhaps. The Phyllis Schlafly contingent. But more than anything else, her comments seemed to echo what she has heard resentful men say.

It seems clear to me that she is pandering to those sentiments with her "red S" remarks. "Walk on eggshells", indeed! I don't feel like I walk on eggshells. I speak my mind, but I *don't* create fantasies like women walking around hoping to get raped. Rather, I talk about dysfunctional behavior of abuse victims, which I feel is a lot closer to the truth because it acknowledges the heavy layers of denial built into our system. We ignore 23,000 homicides a year; a tendency to go into debt on *every* level (personal, business, government) with seemingly no thought of tomorrow; mushrooming homelessness; a narcissistic tendency to see all trouble in the world as part of a worldwide conspiracy against our system of government; and much, much more. There's always some rationalization or other, which is a symptom of most neuroses. So, it seems to me that those who walk on eggshells are *creating* the eggshells. They are struggling to protect a tissue of lies while pretending to favor progress. And that is indeed a hard act to play. Give up protecting the lies and it gets a whole lot easier, a lot less complicated. But once the lies go, then it becomes a necessity to go for wholesale reaction or take the risks of progressing. And many men base some of their self-esteem on being "democrats", that is, believing in freedom for everyone. What happens to that self-esteem when they have to admit what they want is their *own* freedom, to live well and control and abuse others when it is convenient? Hence, the walking on eggshells.

Projecting one's own responsibility on others is not exactly unusual. But hearing a woman encourage men in that projection is intriguing. But maybe not *that* unusual. Many a woman with an alcoholic husband has enabled his sickness in a similar manner. Maybe Kersten's platform is just plain old enabling/codependent behavior, with a little self-interest thrown in since she is traveling to promote a book she has written.

Go Back to Shy David's Feminism Page.