An Open Letter to Erica Jong

Dear Ms. Jong:

I read with great interest your post at the Huffington Post today and I’m writing you because I feel that there’s something wrong between us, some kind of great and terrible misunderstanding, and I’m not sure how to rectify it.

I, myself, fall kind of in between second and third wave feminism.  I’m too old to be completely okay with this “I love blow jobs and snark” stuff the third-wavers do, but too young to feel much affiliation to the “We are an all powerful sisterhood of change” stuff you second-wavers seem so keen on.  I think that gives me a little perspective on what’s going on here and, I have to tell you that I think the problem is two-fold:

1.  You second-wavers who have power and cultural influence (like you and Steinem) have that power and cultural influence because you worked for the system to expand to make room for you–and by extension, us, and we are, I think it goes without saying, profoundly grateful.  But we, in general, tend to think that the system is fucked up.  So, while it’s great that we can find our place in the system, and maybe even rise to the top of that system and become President of the United States, those kinds of symbolic victories don’t have the same meaning for us as they do for you.  Yes, we’ll be thrilled with a woman president, but I just don’t think that we’re willing to believe that voting for Clinton means something about the place of women in the system, because, like I said, the system is fucked.

We would, I believe, like to completely revamp said system or do away with it all together.  Getting power within the system seems to many of us to be a way of appeasing us and not about real, substantive change.

2.  It’s kind of shitty of you to say

But it’s different this time, say the women of my daughter’s generation. We’ve won the battle. We don’t need the White House.

No young feminists say this. Which you would know if you treated young feminists as your peers and took what we had to say seriously.  There are plenty of feminist bloggers out there.  You could read us (well, not me.  I have a potty mouth, which apparently turns some folks off).  And listen to what we’re saying and consider it as coming from your peers, instead of just making some stuff up and setting yourself in opposition to us.

After all, we don’t believe we’ve won the battle.

Also, I would like to point out, if you don’t mind, one thing: you have a great deal of power.  You can complain about being “token,” but at least you’re on charitable boards and prize committees.  You get published.  You write for whoever you want to write for.  You are a queen bee.

And you are, in that very post, attempting to rally all of the little worker bees into voting your way.

The weird thing is that few of us are saying that we wouldn’t vote for Clinton if she was the nominee.

Ha, no, I take that back.  The weird thing is that one of the reasons you list for why we should not vote for Obama is

Youth has come in the person of Barack. Male? Not really. Think of his wife. Two for the price of one–like Billary in 1992. But will Ms. Obama be the prez? Not really. Power behind the throne.

And I’ll admit to being confused about what you mean about Barack not really being male, but let’s overlook that.  Look at the rest of what you’re saying.  No, Ms. Obama will not be president.  But Ms. Clinton is running a campaign based, in part, on her White House experience.  So, that experience counts for Clinton, but wouldn’t for Obama?  I don’t get it.

Here’s the thing.  Either one would be a fine candidate.  Either one would be of huge symbolic importance.  This isn’t going to be our (females) last shot at the White House and this ugly notion that you and Steinem seem to think is some kind of valid point–that in the U.S. there’s some kind of competition between blacks and women (sorry, black women, you don’t exist or need to pick a team or something) over who’s going to have their oppression salved first and we women deserve it more–needs to stop.

You keep saying that it’s not a competition, so really, stop acting like it is.

Yours in sisterhood, or whatever.

Aunt B.

18 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Erica Jong

  1. You know what I wonder, do these women not believe that we all benefit from real change? I mean, I really can’t understand why I’m supposed to feel more affinity for Clinton–just because she’s a woman–than I do for Obama.

    It’s like they can see that it would be good for some folks if Clinton were President and they can see that it would be good for some folks if Obama were president, but they can’t imagine that they’d be included in the folks who would find some good in Obama being president.

    Very strange.

  2. I think it’s great that we’re in a place, society-wise, where it’s possible for a woman to become President. A woman, in general. Hillary is a specific woman, and I don’t see how voting for her because she’s a woman in general is all that smart or feminist. I think our second-wavers are missing the difference between the general and the specific.

  3. Rachel, I don’t think that’s it exactly. The brand of second-wave feminism being demonstrated by Jong and Steinem (and, trust me, it’s not characteristic of all us older womens, not by a long shot) sees pretty clearly that Clinton is the only credible female candidate out there. Really, if she fails, who will move into the “woman likely to be elected president” category? Pelosi? Seems unlikely. And Clinton probably won’t get another shot. I think the thinking behind this is that Obama can wait and Clinton can’t; that if Obama fails there are a number of “African-Americans likely to be elected president” out there if he doesn’t run again, and a bit of the purely hackish she’s-waited-longer-so-it’s-her-turn that is usually more characteristic of Republicans than of Democrats.

    The expectations embodied in that last bit are why a lot of second-wave feminists agree that the first thing to be done is to get rid of the old system.

    Can I just say, though, that a lot of the current demand for identity-voting-choices reminds me of Frederick Douglass campaigning for the black vote, using the argument “if you let the Irish vote, considering what a bunch of lazy drunks they all are, you really ought to let us hardworking, sober, American-born blacks vote, too.” And I’m kind of amused, in a sad way, about how American this whole argument is.

  4. It’s funny, because it reminds me of that talk the Professor and I went to that talked about the two strands of 2nd Wave feminism–the ‘make room for us in the system’ strand and the ‘screw your system’ strand. Jong and Steinem are in the first strand and I think shocked to see the influence on us younger feminists that the second strand still has. I think they thought that, in that internal argument, they’d won.

  5. But nm, still, I’m not willing to vote for a specific woman just because some women don’t think we’ve got another shot at having a woman in general as President lined up somewhere. This is completely separate from whether I’ll vote for Hillary if she’s the nominee, because I’m sure I will. I’m happy that it’s a possibility that a woman could be President. I care whether women who want to maybe go into politics are being sufficiently encouraged mentored for future years. Do I care whether Hillary (specifically) wins just because she might be “our” last best shot for a while. No, no I do not.

  6. Rachel, I don’t think that’s it exactly. The brand of second-wave feminism being demonstrated by Jong and Steinem (and, trust me, it’s not characteristic of all us older womens, not by a long shot) sees pretty clearly that Clinton is the only credible female candidate out there. Really, if she fails, who will move into the “woman likely to be elected president” category? Pelosi? Seems unlikely. And Clinton probably won’t get another shot. I think the thinking behind this is that Obama can wait and Clinton can’t; that if Obama fails there are a number of “African-Americans likely to be elected president” out there if he doesn’t run again, and a bit of the purely hackish she’s-waited-longer-so-it’s-her-turn that is usually more characteristic of Republicans than of Democrats.

    Ohhhh. Okay. I was having the hardest time puzzling out that logic.

    That said, um … it still sticks you in a really awkward place between ‘(arguable) goals of the movement’ and ‘the (arguable) best thing to do in this particular situation.’ And yeah, some people could evaluate things and agree that Clinton fits best in both cases and there’s no conflict there, but for a lot of people that’s simply not the case.

    (I also wonder to what extent the singularity seen there – that Clinton is the only currently electable woman – isn’t a huge red flag. After all, it’s easy to make exceptions (oh, she’s so mannish, her husband’s record carried her, she’s the only blah blah blah); it’s hard to make change. While it’s possible that her election will break all kinds of ground and advance the cause of feminism and change things forevver, it’s also pretty possible that it’ll just be a hiccup.)

    And.. even if it’s true, even if all of the stuff about the practicalities of the situation is correct, and this is Clinton’s Big Chance, and Obama can wait (after all, isn’t that the big criticism, that he’s not experienced enough?), and blah blah blah… it’s still frustrating as all get-out. It’s replicating exactly what WoC feminists have been complaining about since the beginning of the feminist movement. We’re told “wait your turn.” Everything has to be sacrificed for the white spearheads of The Movement. Whether that’s our reproductive health, our lives, or the political climate of the country, it all has to be put aside when the mainstream feminist movement wants something.

    (Note: I am not saying that Obama is the answer, or that Clinton isn’t a good candidate. I’m saying that the rhetoric they’re using is evoking the same kinds of language used again and again. And if it’s true that Obama’s candidacy would be more favorable for people of color, then it becomes even more egregious, because they actually are telling us to vote against our best interests and for theirs. So we can have scraps at their table.)

  7. Rachel is cheering me up, because I’m quite depressed at the thought of anyone voting for another person because of that person’s body parts or the color of those body parts.

    I’m as upset about that as I was when the RR decided that All Christians Had To Vote For Bush, “Cause He’s A Christian Like Us!”

    I really wish people would vote platforms and leave all of the biological rah-rah out of it.

  8. “it still sticks you in a really awkward place between ‘(arguable) goals of the movement’ and ‘the (arguable) best thing to do in this particular situation.’ And yeah, some people could evaluate things and agree that Clinton fits best in both cases and there’s no conflict there, but for a lot of people that’s simply not the case.” – Thank you, Mag, you are much more eloquent than I.

  9. Rachel, of course not. In case I wasn’t clear, I’m trying to explain where I think Jong and Steinem are coming from, but I’m not coming from anything like the same place myself. I think that B is probably right about their thinking that all us older feminists (at least) and most of you younger ones ought to be on their side because they hadn’t realized anyone disagreed with them. (More establishment thinking that only knows other people who are just the same.)

    Magni, yes, a terrifying red flag. Another reason we’re all being exhorted so much. And I agree with you about the effect of the wait-your-turn attitude in this case being to ask people of color to put up with the same old crap even longer, but sometimes it has other effects. That’s how David Dinkins became mayor of NYC, for one thing. And that’s how the Republicans were stupid enough to nominate Bob Dole to run against Bill Clinton. But mostly the effects are (to me) completely beside the point — why are we even going along with a system that allows for this kind of waiting one’s turn?

  10. Yes, I’m sort of an outsider looking in at all this, but let me just ask a rhetorical question.

    If it were Alan Keyes v. Clinton, would Jong and Steinem be instigating all this?

    Or Elizabeth Dole v. Obama?

    Hardly.

    Experience and positions on issues would be the dominating reasons for support, not the struggles of women v. the struggles of blacks.

    So while Obama v. Clinton may be a more intensive decision for those who lean left, it seems that the same criteria for deciding Obama/Clinton should be the same for deciding the two hypothetical ones I laid out.

  11. Lee, my fear is that what we’re seeing is how mainstream feminists goes about being racist. We like to think that we’re not, but when the stakes are high and the pressure’s on, it comes leaking out. And that’s what I think some of us see from Jong and Steinem–not that they are racists, but that they’re being racist, and that, under pressure, they have no problem turning this into a race about whose suffering has earned them the right to go first into the Presidency.

    If the opponent were Republican, feminists would either sit back and let other Lefties do the racist crap, or they’d just sit around and pen editorials about how it’s okay for us to not vote for Dole because she’s conservative. The same things would be at play; they’d just be harder to see.

    I just don’t like it, at all. It shows that they’re completely tone deaf on race, but it also shows that they’re completely tone deaf about what feminists who are not like them are talking about.

    And, like I said once upon a time, this becomes a huge problem because a lot of us white feminists are trained as feminists by reading these women and others like them. And so if our asses don’t get kicked by women who know better, we just perpetuate this crap.

  12. Like Lee, I’m an outsider on this. But, it appears to me, on the surface, to just be a good old fashioned generation gap. I’m not one for reading between the lines to figure out a person’s motivations – it may be big fun for others, I don’t know. Seems to be.

    But, as an amateur student of human behavior, I can tell you that this sort of thing is unavoidable.

    It’s kind of interesting that every single gathering of people that stays around long enough develops a generation gap.

    “These kids today!”

  13. Except that so many feminists of Jong’s and Steinem’s own generation don’t agree with them, either. It’s a change/exchange problem.

  14. “Getting power within the system seems to many of us to be a way of appeasing us and not about real, substantive change.”
    Which is what the second-wavers had to do. They just had to get the power part out of the way, so now third-wavers get the power more easily, but it’s a hollow victory. That’s what it feels like, when I think of voting for Clinton. A hollow victory for her, won in a crappy system. (When people ask me if I’m a feminist, I still don’t know what to say, precisely because I succeeded in the current, broken system. I didn’t advance any cause except my own.) I don’t know anyone, feminist or not, who thinks “we’ve won the battle. We don’t need the White House.”

    And the argument that we’ve got to vote for her (a woman) now or never (there is no other woman in her position) is not credible. Obama’s surge in popularity was amazingly quick. And now we have a new weapon: our first modern martyr. The national and world-wide outrage at the assassination of Bhutto will surely add credibility to any future women in politics.

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