Chelsea's rant control
Old-school sisterhood is powerful, up to a point.
Maybe you were privy to an e-mail that was circulated, perhaps, by Chelsea Clinton this week. According to a post Tuesday by Emily Bazelon of the online magazine Slate, the e-mail's subject heading was "a must read ... send to every woman you know." The body of the e-mail was a pro-Hillary screed by the famous 1960s- and 1970s-era feminist Robin Morgan (author of the iconic "Sisterhood Is Powerful" anthologies) called, "Goodbye To All That (#2)." The essay was dated Feb. 2 and appeared (and can still be read) on the website for the Women's Media Center, a nonprofit feminist media watchdog organization that Morgan helped found.
"Goodbye To All That (#2)" is an addendum to Morgan's 1970 essay, "Goodbye To All That," an exuberant all-points bulletin on what she saw as the inherent sexism of the counterculture. That piece (not to be confused with Joan Didion's 1967 essay of the same name) appeared in a left-wing-turned-radical-feminist magazine called Rat and inveighed against the "male-dominated peace movement" and suggested, among other things, that Charles Manson was the "logical extreme of the normal American male's fantasy." Maybe it helps to know Morgan was a founding member of Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell, or W.I.T.C.H.
As in the original essay, many of Morgan's ideas are as emotionally stirring as they are intellectually sloppy, and her "goodbye" mantra sounds like a diurnal, anarchist version of "Goodnight Moon."
"Goodbye to news coverage target practice," Morgan intones. "Goodbye to "sociopathic woman-hating. ... Goodbye to some women letting history pass by while wringing their hands, because Hillary isn't as 'likeable" as they've been warned they must be."
There's much that's fatuous here (such as Morgan's notion that a Hillary Clinton presidency would make "news coverage target practice" a thing of the past; would it not increase tenfold?), and at least a point or two that isn't. And that's exactly how it was introduced to hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of people this week. As Bazelon explains, it appears that the e-mail she received originated with Chelsea Clinton's friend, Nicole Davison Fox (who likely wrote the subject heading), and that Chelsea forwarded it to others with the following remarks: "I echo Nickie though would also add to please forward this to all the men you know too. ... I don't agree with all the points Robin Morgan makes but I do believe her thesis is important for us all to confront."
Morgan's "thesis" speaks to the way mainstream culture has become so tone-deaf to sexism that, to cite just one example, a U.S. senator can be heckled with "iron my shirt" (as was the case at a Hillary Clinton rally in New Hampshire) and the media barely raise an eyebrow. Chelsea is right; this bears our attention. But Morgan's piece is also so undermined by its own reactionary brio that it's a wonder Chelsea, an exceptionally bright and educated person, put her (qualified) stamp of approval on it.
Personally, I think there are better and more interesting ways to talk about this stuff. Yes, the sexism lobbed at Hillary Clinton has been insidious and astonishing, but can we really only absorb that message when it's utterly stripped of nuance, when its commitment to the conventions of political ranting supersedes its commitment to logic? And does Generation Y (and X for that matter) need to rely on a 1970s feminist to do our ranting for us?
Still, I'm giving Chelsea big kudos this week, if indeed she forwarded the e-mail. By refusing to shun somebody as far out as Morgan (she makes Gloria Steinem seem like a vanilla bundt cake by comparison), by respecting history while also challenging its interpretations, Chelsea demonstrated a willingness to grapple with ideas that her mother won't (or can't) touch with a 10-foot pole. By saying something as simple as "I don't agree with all [these] points ... but I do believe [this] is important for all of us to confront," she made an earnest attempt to bridge the gap between the supposed militancy of her mother's generation of feminists and the supposed apathy of her own.
Of course, that's a subtle point, which is the kiss of death on the campaign trail. Let's hope she won't get sent to her room.