Friday, September 08, 2017

Salut, Kate Millett

We owe a lot to Kate Millett. She was, in a sense, "all over" the seventies, and she burned the notion of "patriarchy" into feminism, and via the national press's fascination with "women's lib", into the national consciousness. But there, I feel, it faded. What was a call to overturn patriarchy and its values became a call to find places in patriarchy. Instead of a critique of the whole value system around the "strong" and the "tough" - these blind, violent impulses - the critique softened to a search for "Strong, tough" women. Understandably - the patriarchy didn't after all fall, but strengthened in the seventies. And it wasn't clear how the politics of sexual politics would actually proceed. Still, the goal set by Millett early on seems to me ultimately the more worthy one: in the 47 years from 1970, the degradation of the environment and the incredible stress that is now normal for most working lives has become worse. That strong and tough are bullshit words, delegating pain hierarchically to subordinate factotums - it isn't the tough president who is out on the frontline, but the soldier, the civilian, the insurgent, who are "inspired" by the strong leader to ever greater feats of barbarism - needs continually to be repeated.

There was an interesting dialogue that prefigured these issues that occurred in 1975 in L.A. at a forum featuring Marcuse and Millett, where the issue was how socialism connected to feminism. Marcuse was never the burning boy of the Frankfurt School, never Mr. Negative Dialectic. So it is good to see him take babysteps towards acknowledging the obvious: that the socialist left, in the name of class struggle, has long subordinated feminist struggle, or distorted it in terms consonant with patriarchy. What that means to me is the need for a double transformation, on the one hand of socialism, and on the other of feminism. Easier said than done! The one piece of good news from the debacle of American politics is that these transformations seem to have become real everyday issues.

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