The Conning of the Feminists

The Conning of the Feminists

From the Editors

The Conning of the Feminists — this edition of On the Issues Magazine — looks at feminist icons, feminist values and the cons of both the Right- wing and media variety. Faced with contradictory rhetoric and imagery that are trying to snag women’s devotion, money and voting power, an incredible array of writers and artists dig in to uncover core values of feminism and how they are being perverted.

The articles in this edition take a hard look at the conning of feminism from conservative and neo-con women –Sarah Palin is but one– now claiming feminism without a single teabag’s worth of feminist values. We look at another “con” of feminists, as well, this from a consumerist media that is encouraging women to view their feminist selves in an ever-so-convenient patriarchal package.

Icons and iconic values frame these concerns. The ideas of 1960s and ‘70s women’s liberation give context to a movement to challenge oppression and advance human rights rather than using it as a body tattoo or branding tool. Feminist icons – and the artist Judy Chicago, in this edition, is among them – also articulate loudly and clearly: feminism is, and it can be defined.

If imitation is flattery, feminist self-esteem should be at its zenith. But the Conning of the Feminists carries a warning. The use of feminism without feminist values is the 21st century’s IED (improvised explosive device) waiting to explode feminism in its tracks and blow up the path to women’s rights and human rights. Handle with care.

Three pieces in this edition set out feminist values. Carol Hanisch in Women’s Liberation: Looking Back, Looking Forward explores the 1960s women’s liberation movement and why it should stand as a framework for values. Susan J. Douglas in The Rise of Enlightened Sexism assesses the vastly conflicting messages directed at women and girls today, telling them, despite the evidence, that they have “made it,” so their real power is in voluntarily sexing-up in a way that pleases the dominant male power structure. Publisher Merle Hoffman in Feminism Is As Feminism Does finds the clear demarcation line for those who want to measure feminism: not clothes nor age nor reflections in the mirror, but a belief in women’s bodily autonomy.

The full-speed entry of conservative women in electoral politics and the onset of a two-year run-up to the presidential election is addressed by several writers. The Republican strategy of running “Mama Grizzly” candidates is merely a new manifestation of an old strategy, writes Tanya Melich in Next Chapter in the ‘Republican War Against Women, getting women with conservative views to front for the power interests that maintain control. Lu Bailey, in Republicans Aim to ‘Divide and Conquer’, agrees, and connects the old slaveowner tactics of divide-and-conquer to the current effort to get women and minorities to vote against their own interests. Abby Scher in Not-so-New Right Wing Women takes a look at the writings of the late radical feminist thinker, Andrea Dworkin, and the long history of conservative women in the U.S. that she exposed, but finds differences in the latest breed that require a shift in progressive responses.

In ‘Abortion’ as Right’s Multipurpose Scare Word, Amanda Marcotte warns that conservative strategists are using the mere word “abortion” as a code to vilify women and install reactionary views. Loretta J. Ross describes in Fighting the Black Anti-Abortion Campaign: Trusting Black Women, the collective tactics ingeniously developed by women of color to turn back a deceptive anti-abortion advertising and legislative campaign in the South this year. Eleanor J. Bader takes a close look at contrary values of the anti-abortion and anti-contraception organization that works its way onto college campuses in ‘Feminists for Life’: A built-in contradiction?.

Mainstream media, especially television, plays an important role in the “conning” of women, even when the content has no apparent political point. Jennifer Pozner discusses the anti-feminist values on shows that claim to present real-life, while the set-ups, scripting and editing have a misogynistic glaze, in Reality TV (Re)Rewrites Gender Roles. Art editor Linda Stein looks at fictional characters — from the “Dragon Tattoo’s” Lisbeth Salander to Thelma and Louise — that spark feminist fantasies, or sometimes dampen them, in Icons, Superheroes and Fantasies a Feminist Can Love?.

Nona Willis Aronowitz shakes out why Lady Gaga, only two years into her pop career, is so mesmerizing to young women who see feminist power in her gender fluidity and brazen anything-goes style in Lady Gaga: Celebrity Feminist? By contrast, book reviewer Theresa Noll points to Lady Gaga’s infamous meat dress as an example of the kind of awful objectification of women as meat, an equation that is driven home in Carol Adams’ book, The Sexual Politics of Meat.

Judy Chicago has a career stretching across decades, infusing her art, including the large-scale collaborative work, The Dinner Party, with icons of women’s history and human rights. A retrospective of Chicago’s work, narrated by the artist herself in The Art Perspective, is curated by Linda Stein, our Art Editor. The work of nine other contemporary artists can be viewed throughout our magazine.

In “Related Stories,” we take a quick look back at our archives, and some of the feminist icons and cons that streamed through them. Finally, our poetry, always a signature part of On The Issues Magazine, includes three wonderful poets — Grace Cavalieri, Elizabeth Potter and Sonya Renee Taylor – and works that imagine women who dream big and deserve more. With this selection, we welcome our new Co-Poetry Editor, Sarah Browning, Director of Split This Rock Poetry Festival in Washington, D.C.

Throughout the weeks of The Conning of the Feminists, we will continue to add new commentary in The Café. We welcome your thoughts, too, on feminist icons, feminist values and feminist cons. Write to us at: [email protected].

~The Editors