Friday, July 27, 2012

Anne-Marie Slaughter on “having it all” (References to Feminism)

I was fascinated by a line in Dr. Slaughter’s article:

“…for the remainder of my stint in Washington, I was increasingly aware that the feminist beliefs on which I had built my entire career were shifting under my feet.  I had always assumed that if I could get a foreign-policy job in the State Department or the White House while my party was in power, I would stay the course as long as I had the opportunity to do work I loved.” 

Dr. Slaughter doesn’t really elaborate on what “feminist beliefs” she is referencing.  If you think about it, that omission is kind of insightful in and of itself.  She apparently assumes all readers are on the same page and everyone is versant in feminist theory.   From my perspective, that is rather a fascinating assumption.

Dr. Slaughter has spent a lot of time in Blue jurisdictions, e.g., the District of Columbia and New Jersey.  So, I suppose she may not realize that in the Red States (where I’ve spent my adulthood) plenty of folks would have absolutely no idea what she is referencing when she writes of her “feminist beliefs.”  Perhaps even worse, many folks may think they understand what she means, but in reality it may be a very skewed, stereotypical notion that Dr. Slaughter may not actually intend. 

As a result of this issue of jargon, people from a different cultural or ideological background may misunderstand Dr. Slaughter’s words or may be immediately turned off to her ideas.  In my opinion, she has imprudently relied on a loaded term and not adequately explained herself.  That omission is to the detriment of the ideas she actually espouses.  There are people who might have been open to her ideas, but would be alienated by her embrace of the term “feminist.”

Feminism is sort of a fascinating topic for me.  I was raised in the post-feminist era.  I’m a native Texan and now live in Arizona.  Not exactly hotbeds of the women’s movement.  In my culture and in the circles I’ve frequented, feminism has been a four letter word at worst and just plain irrelevant at best.  To many, the term “feminist” conjures up notions of communist, atheistic, anti-fetus, anti-male, un-American subversives.  If you are from Dr. Slaughter’s culture, such notions may make you laugh and/or roll your eyes.  But if you have lived in Red States like me, you are likely nodding your head in agreement.

Despite my background, in recent years—particularly as I’ve become a mom—I’ve become more interested in feminism.   I’m fascinated by the concept of “red state feminism.”  (See the post on this topic from last spring:

As I’ve come to understand, at root, the core value of “feminism” is simply equality to men.  To me, that seems like a pretty modest goal.  However, I sense Dr. Slaughter means much more than just that.  But I’m not clear what the term “feminism” means to her.  She seems to assume that readers understand that term.  But I think that is an indication of how out of touch she is with the 99%.  The “F” word is not one to be tossed around so lightly.  Jerry Falwell and others famously blamed 9/11 in part on feminists.   That is an indication of how toxic that term is in some circles. 

I’d love to know in greater detail what Dr. Slaughter means when referring to the term.  Frankly, I’m disappointed that someone of her above average intelligence couldn’t write in a manner that is more digestible to a broader cross section of our nation.  Presumably, Dr. Slaughter’s goal was not simply to engage fellow Blue State liberals.  To effect change, one needs to do more than just preach to the choir.  One must persuade people from other perspectives to work for the same goals you advocate.

However, intellectuals can’t engage the wider society if they use terms unfamiliar or misunderstood by a large segment of the population.   I always remind my law students that as attorneys we cannot persuade an audience who doesn’t understand what the heck we’re telling them.  An elite educator like Dr. Slaughter should know better.

Psalm 49:3

My mouth will speak words of wisdom;
the utterance from my heart will give understanding.

No comments:

Post a Comment