Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Feminism, Folly and Lorelei

I was reading Hilary's latest denunciation of feminism, by which I think she must mean second and third wave feminism, for Mary Wollstonecraft wrote "Vindication of the Rights of Women" in 1792 and John Stuart Mill wrote "The Subjection of Women" in 1869, and I don't think Hilary was thinking of the 18th and 19th centuries as much as the past sixty years.

Her reference to "simpering, murderous manipulativeness" did not remind me much of modern femininity because simpering, murdering and manipulation sound rather old school to me. I spent my youth in reading girls' adventure stories, ballet class, girls' ice hockey, the Girl Guide movement and what remained of a convent school, and it seems to me that when women are doing stuff we are interested in, especially when no men are watching, there isn't much room for simpering and manipulation. Simpering and manipulation belonged to the bad old days of elementary school where the girls didn't seem to have much to do but gossip about who liked whom.

And that's the thing about Hilary's daydream about going to the South Pole with Shackleton. Shackleton wouldn't have let her on board ship in a zillion years. It is feminism that says he ought to have.

For all their faults, first and second wave feminism were not about manipulating men. First wave feminism was about protecting women and children from men's lousy habits or abuse, and second wave feminism was about getting women better jobs, better job conditions and, admittedly, better sex with fewer strings attached. There was some dignity in both these movements. If shrill, they were (apart from the 'clump of cells' crap from the latter) honest (if naive) with a bit of starchiness that people find funny now. First wave feminism was anti-booze and second wave feminism was anti-porn, and third wave feminism kicked such starchiness to the kerb.

If we are going to blame feminism for feminine manipulation, then I think we can blame only third wave feminism for that. Only third wave feminism would stick women in spike heels and leotard costumes and call it empowering, or think it fine to be a walking incubator for a couple of men, and think that empowering, too. It's like the suffragettes, about to do a 180 on the subject of ab*rtion, shook hands with the Father of Lies and found themselves in bondage gear. It would be ridiculous if it weren't so sad. And I have to see examples of these women on MTV every time I go to the gym.

So it is refreshing to read about adventuresses who aren't at all high-minded about their adventurousness and exploit their feminine charms to get as much as they can out of men without the men ever feeling the slightest bit of resentment for it. Lorelei Lee of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes serenely navigates a world that preaches virtue while practicing vice; one wonders how she would have coped in a world (e.g. ours) in which vice was held to be virtue. But as it is, Lorelei flatters and seduces her way through the world, valuing men (American men in particular) for their habit of giving her things. And--mark you--she does it all wearing a pretty dress.

A sad fact of life is that unless you work very hard in your youth and are also lucky, you are not going to have the career of your dreams but a sometimes boring job. (Maybe this where third wave feminism came from. Working for a living--it can be boring!) I had quite a good boring job when I was 26--good money, pension--but the middle-aged women around me hated it and said they were only sticking with it because of their mortgages.

I imagine some of them would have traded places with Lorelei Lee, who took money and jewellery from men in exchange for making them feel good about themselves. Generally she seemed to make them feel good about themselves by appearing helpless in a world of wicked men and earnestly grateful for any help, not to mention jewellery, they could provide. Granted, she was also beautiful enough that when Howard Hawks thought about someone to play her in the movies, he decided on Marilyn Monroe.

I do not think Lorelei's gold-digging ways are consistent with either first or second wave feminism, for they represent nothing more than how to get as much as you can out of the patriarchy, when the patriarchy has most of the money. Those elements of third wave feminism, who think they can use their sexual charms to do the same thing even as they condemn the patriarchy, are rather pathetic compared to Lorelei. And although you would certainly never behave like Lorelei yourselves,* I think you would all enjoy reading her adventures.

Update: I refer to making men feel good about themselves to get stuff. There is nothing inherently wrong with making men feel good about themselves for their own sake. I think this should be done on a regular basis, generally by finding things for them to do that are easy for them but harder for you, like removing the lid from the jam jar. It makes them feel good, and you get jam without spraining your wrist. If somehow a diamond bracelet comes your way thereby, I would be astonished, given these days of impoverishment, and you should give it back unless you want to marry the man.


Grad in a big city said...

Seraphic, you are awesome.

Seraphic said...

Thank you! I am not feeling so awesome today, so it is nice to be told I am awesome.