Sunday, July 13, 2008

G-L-O-R-I-A! Gloria!

Have you ever wondered why the books on the sidebar widget, Tenured Radical Is Reading, stay up so long? No, it's not because moving my lips while I read is so tiring. It's because I am reading other things at the same time. Keeping three or four books going simultaneously is one of the few advantages of ADD.

Anyway, when I was at at history camp a few weeks back, about six or seven people asked me if I had read Amy Erdman Farrell's fabulous book Yours in Sisterhood: Ms. Magazine and the Promise of Popular Feminism (Durham: University of North Carolina Press, 1998). And after a while I just said yes -- why? Because a) Amy was actually at history camp, and I was afraid she would find out; and b) it was clear by the third time I said "no" that I should have read it ten years ago when it first came out; that it was a problem that could be easily corrected when no one was looking; and that having not read it portrayed me (falsely) as a profoundly ignorant person.

OK -- so I just finished reading Yours In Sisterhood. And you should read it too if you haven't, if only because you will teach second wave feminism better -- whether in a whole course or in a single lecture -- if you do. By focusing on Ms., Farrell is able to address the apparent "fragmentation" of feminism in the 1970's as an effect of its success; as well as an effect of the difficulty of creating a distinctively "feminist" media presence in a patriarchal commercial environment. Farrell helped me, in particular, figure out why it might be OK to jettison all the labels that describe different strands of the movement in the 1970's, and look instead at what people did on the ground, as opposed to what they claimed as their theory or ideology. As she shows, not only did multiple feminist constituencies discover "feminisms" that were useful to them, they were able to debate them with each other -- and with dominant voices in the movement, in the pages of Ms. As Farrell shows, the magazine became an arena for conflict, as well as for imaginative identification, among feminists -- and she does it without being too heavy-handed with her theoretical framework (this is a compliment that becomes significant later in the post.)

But why the Patty Smith headline? (Yeah Baby, just hit play while you read the rest of the post):

Because on p. 125 Farrell reproduces an utterly priceless quote from a Gloria Steinem interview, in which Gloria trashes academic feminists who were, Farrell tells us, sending all kinds of irrelevant articles in over the transom that no one wanted to read, much less edit into colloquial English. As Steinem said to journalist Cynthia Gorney of Mother Jones in 1995:

Nobody cares about [feminist scholars.] That's careerism. These poor women in academia have to talk this silly language that nobody can understand in order to be accepted, they think. If I read the word "problematize" one more time I'm going to vomit....But I recognize the fact that we have this ridiculous system of tenure, that the whole thrust of academia is one that values education, in my opinion, in inverse ration to its usefulness.

So think of that the next time you want to use the word problematize, friends. Or the next time someone suggests to your women's studies program that you might want to invite Gloria Steinem to campus to get an honorary degree or be a distinguished speaker.

Crossposted at Cliopatria


Lesboprof said...

I am glad that you sometimes fib about having read a book. I have done that myself, for similar reasons.

I will look for the book. I am still smarting over the column about sexism in the election which basically said racism is not as bad as sexism, so I am not gonna be getting Steinem's back anytime soon. That said, one of my favorite quotes I recall from my grad days was from Steinem; someone told me that Steinem said it took women 3-5 years to recover from every year they spent in grad school.

GayProf said...

Huh -- I wonder what academic ate her birthday cake.

Susan said...

You know, thinking about the 70s, I'd just add one word: CETA. It enabled people to get paid for all sorts of things that were good. I'd bet that half the social service institutions that started in the 1970s used CETA money for staff. It made creating institutions easier, and kept institutions closer to people because there was less time on fundraising.