Saturday, May 31, 2014

In Praise of Intelligent Women

There she is: bright, vivacious, gifted, rebellious, coy, untamed. Impossible to fit into any stereotype, including the modern feminist one. How does a women's studies scholar begin to assess a woman who says she wants her lover to be "handsome, ruthless, and stupid" ?  Of course the prof  can identify with the "stupid", and even "handsome" if she hails from the scholarly minority which does not consider heterosex to be a federal crime. But "ruthless" ?  How can any woman joke about violence against women ?  Well, evidently Dorothy Parker did not know about that since that terminus technicus was only born after she left the bar for good. (Best as I could track it, the abominable, ubiquitous libel on men comes from the coterie around Andrea Dworkin, the foul-mouthed former prostitute and dick-hater, who joined NYRF cca 1972). No, Dorothy was not a real feminist, unless of course you are a fan of the femme fatale version of the creed, pioneered by Germaine Greer (whose professed taste in men similar to Dorothy Parker, and to that of Diane Houpfle, a dominatrix character from Thomas Mann's Confessions of Felix Krull...).  In the featured quip above which which belongs to a collection that made Dorothy immortal, she even waxes lyrical about about being date-raped on account of her diminished capacity to resist.

         Times sure have changed from the days of Margaret Mead, who noted that "our species are distinguished by the possibility of a sexual congress with a relatively unexcited female", and Simone de Beauvoir who shrugged off sexual violence, such as it was, as mostly known "in the country and where manners are rough".
       "A man and a woman",  she wrote in The Second Sex, "are intimidated by the fact they are different: he feels pity and concern for her, he feels bound to treat her with courtesy, indulgence, restraint; she respects him and fears him somewhat; each is careful to spare the mysterious other, being uncertain of his or her feelings and reactions. Seems right to me, but then of course, Margaret, Dorothy and Simone lived in an age when we in the West had a sense of identity in which fairness, justice and civility were the defining elements. They would defeat any sort of exaggerated sense of grievance, or reading of history in which some defining characteristic of one human group, be it professed beliefs, class, race or sex, would triumph over the highest categorical imperative that has guided us through history, namely the necessity to be, and act, human.      

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