“Startlingly Sexier” Conservative Feminists?

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Camille Paglia has published “Feminism Past and Present: Ideology, Action and Reform” in the Spring/Summer 2008 issue of Arion: A Journal of the Humanities and the Classics.    Here’s her explanation of the current state of “feminism:”

Two technological innovations:cable TV and the World Wide Web:broke the hold that American feminist leaders had had on media discourse about gender for twenty years. Suddenly, there was a riot of alternative points of view. Most unexpectedly, a new crop of outspoken conservative women arrived on the scene in the ’90s:Laura Ingraham, Barbara Olsen, Monica Crowley, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin:who blurred conventional expectations about female self-assertion. These women, who had attended elite colleges and in some cases had worked in the Republican administrations of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, were aggressive, articulate, funny, and startlingly sexier and more glamorous than their dour feminist adversaries. The old Pat Nixon stereotype of conservative women as dowdy, repressed, soft-spoken, and deferential was annihilated.  

Professor Paglia’s full article is available here.  

I think Paglia’s most useful insight is that technology has transformed the feminist discourse.  Yes, cable TV and the internet have enabled many more feminist voices to be heard. But Paglia recycles an old media stereotype in pitting “startlingly sexier and more glamorous” conservative women against “their dour feminist adversaries.”  The story of feminism in the post-Anita Hill era is much more complicated (third-wave feminism anyone?) than Paglia admits.  The goals and methodologies of feminism have changed, as some women became disenchanted with the law’s promise of equality.   Women discovered that equal access didn’t mean equal opportunity, and equal opportunity didn’t (and perhaps shouldn’t) mean equal treatment.  As feminists confront law’s limitations, they turn to ideas, methodologies and political commitments not previously identified as “feminist” per se.   That is either the failure of feminism, or its ultimate victory.  But conservative vs. liberal it is not.

-Bridget Crawford

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