Wednesday, January 18, 2006

In Feminism's Name

In a column titled The Cultural Contradictions of Feminism, Maggie Gallagher manages to plumb new depths of misogyny, meanspiritedness, and slack-jawed stupidity.

First, she discusses a new book by Kate Michelman of NARAL, which recounts an important motivating factor for Michelman's pro-choice activism:

In 1969, Michelman, a young Catholic mother facing divorce, had to get the approval of three male experts in order to abort her own child. The experience plunged her into a life of abortion rights activism, including most recently stridently attacking Sam Alito's decision upholding a Pennsylvania law requiring a wife to notify her husband of her intention to abort.
Gallagher doesn't see fit to mention that Michelman sought an abortion after her husband knocked her up and abandoned her with three children. One can see why the notion of needing his consent might rub her the wrong way, and how this would lead her naturally to the conclusion that women should have autonomy over their reproductive organs.

Gallagher goes on to imply, obscurely, that the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court serves as some sort of rebuke to Ms. Michelman:
Sam Alito, with a public record of opposition to abortion, is about to become a Supreme Court justice despite the last-ditch, mean-spirited efforts by Senate Dems to impose a one-week delay.

Who'd have thunk it? Certainly not Kate Michelman in the heady days of her feminist youth as an abortion rights organizer.
I don't pretend to know what Kate Michelman thought in those "heady days." But if I were to guess, I'd say she probably recognized that for the foreseeable future, right-wing politicians - with the aid of opportunistic, amoral rent-a-hacks like Maggie Gallagher - would do their utmost to put women's bodies under the legal guardianship of a man (or failing that, the state), and that fighting them was a moral duty.

Perhaps I'm wrong. But if Michelman ever believed that misogyny and sexual brutality were on the wane in the United States, the last thirty years probably disabused her of the notion. The only real purpose of Gallagher's comments here is to gloat over the fact that Kate O'Beirne's book seems to be outselling Michelman's on Amazon.

Speaking of which, Gallagher - gentle soul that she is - also shows us how real women comport themselves, by pointing out that Michelman is an "aging" feminist. Harsh words, eh? Oddly enough, Kate O'Beirne's Wikipedia entry says that she graduated from high school in 1967, which would put her within spitting distance of Michelman's age. But perhaps Gallagher feels that aging is a process that's particularly humiliating for feminists. If so, that's the closest thing to a "cultural contradiction of feminism" she's managed to identify so far; the fact that it's both inaccurate and unseemly sets the stage for her next observation.
Second sign of the times: the two photos. They are oddly juxtaposed in my head: One is a New York Times photo of Gail Sheehy in a puff piece dedicated to her latest book, "Sex and the Seasoned Woman"....Sheehy is suggestively sprawled in front a fireplace, wearing a black sweater, with peek-a-boo white lace at the cleavage, a black leather skirt, and fishnet stockings. At age 68, Grandma vamps.

The second photo is a picture of a dead girl, Nixzmary Brown, age 7, laid out in bridal white at the R.G. Ortiz Funeral Home on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
"Oddly juxtaposed" is right. I'm sure you're on the edge of your seat wondering whether Gallagher's going to pull off this Knievalesque leap, so let's check in without further ado.
Nixzmary never lived to reach the age where sex-as-substitute-religion had any appeal. Her mother, Nixzaliz Santiago, eschewing older standards of bourgeois morality that once confined women's sexual choices, according to the New York Post had six children with four different men. The last one, Cesar Rodriguez, beat Nixzmary to death.

What is the connection?
Good question. Women of all ages and classes frequently get beaten or murdered by men, and always have. Traditionally, a bourgeois women's "sexual choices" might, in some cases, have been confined by moral standards (albeit brutal and one-sided standards, backed up by physical threats of one kind or another). But the sexual choices of less fortunate women are very often confined by poverty, ignorance, and the everlasting threat of violence (which suggests that they're not really choices at all, rationally speaking).

Still, we mustn't let all this hair-splitting get in the way of Ms. Gallagher's stern moral lesson:
[T]he feminist leaders of Kate Michelman's generation, still painfully peddling sexual liberation as a path to empowerment for women, have never accepted responsibility for the carnage that has been unleashed in feminism's name.
This, frankly, is as obscene a proposition as I've ever read. We're actually invited to understand that the death of this seven-year-old girl is an example of the "carnage" unleased by feminism. I suppose that Nixzaliz Santiago read a little too much Gail Sheehy, it went to her head, and the next thing you know, her daughter was getting beaten to death "in feminism's name." By a man, no less!

Let's be perfectly clear about this. According to Gallagher, Nixzmary Santiago
had no say in her mother's sexual choices but...paid the ultimate price.
There's the conservative culture of personal responsibility in a nutshell: if a man beats a woman's child to death, it's the mother's fault for being a slut.


Anonymous said...

Can't ya just feel the love?

My God, I knew conservatives are awful but they keep reaching down for new depths of awfulness. To parade that dead little girl around like that-- UGH!

Good post, Phila. Somebody has to speak up against these people.

-- Riesz Fischer

Anonymous said...

My head hurts after reading that. Not your part, Phila, but Gallagher's. How can anyone possibly think like that and still consider themselves a reasonable human being? Truly scary.

I stopped by to read this post on Echidne's recommendation, by the way. But I would have checked in anyway!

pluripotentate said...

what about the father's sexual choices? why isn't ms. republican bemoaning the notion that men are no longer bound by (oppressive) social norms that insist they stay in relationships that make them unhappy?

Anonymous said...

Her mother, Nixzaliz Santiago, eschewing older standards of bourgeois morality that once confined women's sexual choices, according to the New York Post had six children with four different men.

Sexual freedom includes being able to choose whether sex results in children.

Having 6 children with 4 different men is almost always the result of the woman moving from relationship to relationship in search of someone who won't abuse her; she has 6 children because she was abused in ways that prevented her from choosing not to have them, something I could have said with 4 letters: rape.

Her situation is the result of a lack of sexual freedom.
This tragic tale (and misogyny in general) is result of horrors that feminists tried to prevent.

Maggie Gallagher has painted the sky green, and depicted the earth as flat.

ok, everyone here seems to know that ... but sometimes I can't keep my mouth shut.

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