“Maggot Lace”

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A few weeks ago I read a piece by Caitlin Flanagan in the September issue of The Atlantic, entitled: Sex and the Married Man. Like about everything Flanagan writes it was awful, full of lurid and venemous speculation about the lives of people she doesn’t seem to actually know. In this case those people included Helen Gurley Brown and Elizabeth and John Edwards. Here are the opening paragraphs:

She’s 87, still kicking, and almost certainly still dieting, and the old bird has earned herself a scholarly biography the hard way; if Helen Gurley Brown’s journey from the outhouses and tent revivals of the Ozarks into the cocktail parties and four-color closings of the Hearst Corporation can’t make a corker of a story, nothing can. Bad Girls Go Everywhere, by Jennifer Scanlon, a gender and women’s-studies professor at Bowdoin, is a comprehensive report on HGB theory, which is in a revisionist phase. It rejects the earlier view, long held by giants of the women’s movement such as Gloria Steinem, who believed (per Scanlon) that Brown was a scourge who”enhanced men’s rather than women’s lives by turning women into sexually available playmates.”Instead, we are asked to consider Brown”a pioneer, a founder of the second wave.”Brown”has largely been left out of established histories of postwar feminism’s emergence and ascendance,”and this book purports to correct the record, telling the true story behind her”very particular and still-relevant brand of feminism.”

The central argument, in précis: second-wave feminism:with its endless reading lists and casually divorced breadwinners, its stridently unshaven armpits and Crock-Pots of greasy coq au vin:was fine for the educated set, the B.A.-in-anthropology, little-bit-of-money-put-aside women who could get themselves master’s degrees in library science, peel off the Playtex 18-Hour Living Girdle one last time, and divest themselves of the whole maddening, saddening, 24-Hour Living Death of mid-century housewifery. But the movement wasn’t much of a starter for the young women of the American steno pool:call them the Seven Thousand Sisters:who barely made it all the way through Doctor Zhivago, let alone The Second Sex, and who, moreover, had no desire to go through life looking like Sasquatch and feeling angry all the time.

Because “Seven Thousand Sisters” didn’t have any interest in access to birth control, equal pay for equal work, or being able to take out a mortgage without having to have their fathers co-sign the loan? Flanagan hates feminists, so she lies. And this kind of dishonest stupidity deserves to be called out. But the prospect of unpacking and addressing all the ridiculous and insulting crap she put in the article for this blog was daunting, because I’m slammed with work, and the thought of giving Flanagan a careful second reading was highly unappealing. Happily, Echidne of the Snakes has done a good take down of the essay here, in a post entitled “Maggot Lace.” Below is an excerpt:

The Gurley Brownish single women don’t have the power to get promoted at work, Flanagan reminds us, but they have the power to claw their way up along a hairy male leg. At least until its owner shakes the struggling single woman off, as he will, in due time, because mistresses are for sex, long-suffering wives at home for real life.

Home-wrecking is not like other blue-collar industries, in Flanagan’s world. It’s totally staffed by women. Men are apathetic victims, led around by their penises, and cannot be held responsible for their urges to bed-hop even while married. This is something women should just accept as the framework for their lives.

That, according to Flanagan, leaves them with three options: either marry one of those bastards and stay long-suffering in the kitchen, refuse the rigged game altogether and become a lonely spinster with cats or wreck the homes of godly married women. What juicy choices we are offered in her world!

What’s ultimately weirder is the great contempt towards all men Flanagan demonstrates, without seeming to notice it. That this contempt is associated with complete acceptance of male dominance in all paths of life makes me wonder how she sees her life in general. Isn’t it dreadful to be in that position of always justifying one’s own internalized misogyny? How does she cope with the cognitive dissonance that certainly would bother me if I was a woman telling other women that housewives are the only Good Women and that house-cleaning is the epitome of spiritual enlightenment, while all the time carrying on a nice little writing career with paid help at home? Or is it all just a game, something for laughs while tossing back a beer or two with the guys at the bar?

Echidne’s post also generated some good comments, one by The Bewilderness which says in pertinent part: “… I think this sort of irrational othering of your own group is about exceptionalism. When you’ve grown up with the “girls can’t” song echoing through your life. When you find that you actually can. You either see through the myth to the reality, or decide that you are one very special snowflake, and not at all like any of those others.

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