Babe feminism

January 20, 1994|By Anna Quindlen

WHEN YOU don't want to write about something as badly as I don't want to write about the Bobbitt case, it's nature's way of telling you to figure out why.

Too easy to say that there's nothing more to say. Not good enough to note that the case of the woman who cut off her husband's penis has evoked more bad double entendres than anything in recent memory.

No, none of that is why I've avoided the Bobbitts. It's because of feminism. It's because, three decades after the movement for women's equality began, the Bobbitt case is what naysayers truly believe it is all about: cutting it off.

But never fear, gentlemen; castration was really not the point of feminism, and we women are too busy eviscerating one another to take you on.

Witness an article in Esquire magazine about a group of young women characterized as "do me feminists" because of an agenda heavy on sex when and how they want it, with no guilt, no regrets.

One of them even shows up for an interview with a consensual spanking video called "Blame It on Bambi."

While the feminist theorists Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin normally get slammed for their views on pornography, in the Esquire article one is trashed for her lack of sex appeal and the other for her heft.

It's a little like turnabout on the bad old "Can a feminist wear mascara?" days when Gloria Steinem's politics were overshadowed by her streaked hair. It's certainly just as stupid.

"A lot of us just want to go spray-paint and make out with our boyfriends and not worry about oppression," Lois Maffeo, 29, a singer, says in Esquire. Cool -- that'll make it a lot easier when you get a straight job and get paid a whole lot less than the guy you work next to.

Men who have grown tired of complaints about equal pay and violence against women will find the ideas here more cheering, especially the idea that Good Feminism Equals Great Sex.

And anyone who has been suspicious of the movement heretofore can have his fears confirmed: we're angry because we're ugly.

"There are a lot of homely women in women's studies," Christina Hoff Sommers, a professor at Clark University in Massachusetts, is quoted as saying. "Preaching these anti-male, anti-sex sermons is a way for them to compensate for various heartaches -- they're just mad at the beautiful girls."

Nonsense. Professor Sommers might not be doing what she's doing today if many women, some attractive, some not, had not fomented social change over the last three decades because of much more than heartaches.

That change is far from over; there's still plenty to do, and much of it will be working with our male friends.

But seeing sexual aggression as the solution is as reductive as seeing pornography as the problem. And it has precious little to do with much of real life, with raising children, making a living, or learning about yourself.

It's babe feminism -- we're young, we're fun, we do what we want in bed -- and it has a shorter shelf life than the feminism of sisterhood.

I've been a babe, and I've been a sister. Sister lasts longer.

In her new book, "Fire With Fire," the feminist Naomi Wolf writes, "The male body is home to me." I like guys, but my body is home to me. That was the point of feminism: I got custody of myself.

Esquire also published a survey of 1,000 young women in this issue. Asked if they'd rather be brilliant but plain or sexy but dumb, 74 percent went for brains. (Maybe they'll all teach women's studies.)

While a do me feminist editor was describing proactive sex -- "pretend you're a burglar and you've broken in here . . ." -- the women in the poll were asked to choose between hugging without sex and sex without hugging. Hugging won by a landslide.

And 65 percent of the respondents said they'd rather win the Pulitzer Prize than be Miss America. That's far more representative of what the women's movement has done than Lorena Bobbitt's do-it-yourself surgery or somebody's in-your-face burglary/bustier fantasies.

Because it's important to remember that feminism is no longer a group of organizations or leaders.

It's the expectations that parents have for their daughters, and their sons, too.

It's the way we talk about and treat one another.

It's who makes the money and who makes the compromises and who makes the dinner. It's a state of mind. It's the way we live now. Our Bambi, ourselves? Oh, please.

Anna Quindlen is a columnist for the New York Times.

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