A Fringe of One's Own

By Stephanie Herman

Originally published in Conservative Generation X
December, 1996

A ten-point gender gap is credited as one of the larger factors influencing Clinton's re-election last month, but are Generation X women contributing to this gender gap? Liberal feminism, historically the major drawing card of women into the liberal mindset, is failing to spark interest among younger women. Last year, for example, the National Organization for Women (NOW) held a Rally for Women's Lives in Washington D.C., with 250,000 feminist activists in attendance. That same day, however, only 2,000 young women participated in NOW's second annual Young Feminist Summit, also held in Washington D.C.

"It has been said of recent," quotes an article published by Third Wave, a young feminist collective founded by Rebecca Walker (daughter of Alice Walker), "that many [young feminist activists] feel as if they are sitting on top of a social movement that is trembling and ready to explode... So if we all feel the motion -- where's the explosion?"

That's a good question. As noted in my earlier essay published in _CGX_, "Feminism's Generation Gap," only 16% of college women participating in the 1989 Brushkin poll definitely considered themselves feminists, and since then the numbers haven't been growing. Compared with the much higher percentage of Baby Boomer women ascribing to feminism, these numbers would suggest that if the election were held 20 years from now, Clinton could certainly *not* rely on a ten-point gender gap from the X generation.

But the question remains: just who is this 16 percent minority of young women? An anthology published last year entitled, "Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation," provides a peek at a cross-section. With a few coherent exceptions, the anthology presents a selection of first-person and amusingly self-absorbed essays written by up-and-coming young feminists who embrace much of the movement's extreme fringe: an odd melange of outspoken victims and their eating disorders, their abortions, their vulnerability to male attention and flirtation, their alternative body piercings, and their "bad hair days."

Gone are discussions of the glass ceiling or the lack of more female legislators that somewhat legitimized previous feminist discourse. Instead, these young ladies complain about their bills: "I growled nastily about the unfairness of paying rent: 'Housing should be an inalienable fuckin' right!'" (Aisha Hakim-Dyce); passionately defend single-parent households: "I also wasn't exposed to family violence or incest, which are more likely to occur with males in the house," (Amelia Richards); criticize efforts to curb teen sex and pregnancy: "Judgments like 'right' and 'wrong' only build barriers between people and encourage shame," (Rebecca Walker); and concoct ridiculous affirmations of the Stuart Smalley variety: "For now the revolution takes place in my head when I know how fucking brilliant my girlfriends and I are," (Nomy Lamm).

But what stands out as striking in this anthology is the positioning of both abortion and lesbianism not as acceptable alternative "choices" but as superior, almost obligatory experiences. Although only 1 in 33 Americans are reportedly homosexual, 1 in 3 of these young feminists, as well as the anthology's editor, Barbara Findlen, places strong emphasis on their homosexual or bisexual orientation, many exhibiting a bias against heterosexuality and men, in general. Their disproportionate numbers and biased rhetoric support liberal feminist Rene Denfeld's argument that feminism has become more a lesbian movement than one supporting gender equality: "...the feminist promotion of lesbianism is more prevalent today than it was in the mid-seventies through the eighties... It is difficult to argue that feminism can represent all women when leading activists make it clear that one must call oneself a lesbian to join the club."

What is not surprising is the perpetuation of the political motivation for becoming a lesbian. While many Americans are willing to accept homosexuality as a physiological phenomenon and as such believe it wrong to discriminate against homosexuals, feminists circumvent the issue of homosexual physiology entirely, blatantly approaching homosexuality from a purely political standpoint. "Sleeping with women... is also something I aspired to as a die-hard advocate for women," writes Anastasia Higginbotham in her essay, "Chicks Goin' At It." She goes on to write: "I worried (and still do occasionally) that I was taking on lesbianism out of loyalty to a cause, fearful that my capacity to sleep with the bad guys was bad for PR."

What *is* surprising in this anthology is the newly regarded superiority of abortion -- a procedure essayist Inga Muscio elevates to a spiritual experience. Having a third, and this time spontaneous, abortion in her bathroom was an event she credits as "one of the top ten learning experiences in my life," and she wants to see the abortion experience evolve from a sterile and clinical vacuum-sucking procedure into a "personal, intimate thing among friends."

And yet, for all the glorious inner peace abortion brings Muscio, she exhibits some frighteningly immature and destructive attitudes regarding the abortion debate: "Whenever I saw those [pro-life] people out there, I'd see myself... turning into a walking killing machine, kicking in faces, stomping on hands." She describes a latent feminist hostility against anti-abortion forces (which is rarely made public) in her "desire to physically mutilate individuals whose convictions were in direct opposition to mine." While such sentiments are flatly condemned when expressed by such criminal sociopaths as John Salvi or Michael Griffin, they are no doubt hailed as honest and courageous when uttered by an enlightened young feminist.

Time will tell if this new feminism is successful at drawing in strong, enthusiastic young women on the basis of these tiresome, paranoid claims about a systemic, patriarchal environment. If they hope to increase their numbers, this misguided 16 percent has quite a job on their hands.