Last week I went dumpster diving in my own trash can. Really. I even Instagrammed it.
Someone sent me a tweet—I’m weaning myself off Twitter since their safe-space policing smothers most of its usefulness—from Naomi Schafer Riley about Gloria Steinem appearing in the Lands’ End catalogue. Incredulous, I clicked. Carrie Lukas’s article had pictures. This did not appear to be a spoof.
Lands’ End, a family clothing company that has many contracts for uniforms with Catholic and other private schools, had inexplicably partnered with Gloria Steinem. This was mere weeks after Hillary Clinton’s campaign, already bleeding young women, had to distance the candidate from the “dowager empress” of feminism, who had accused young female Bernie Sanders supporters of feeling the Bern because of the boyfriend potential. No PR department in their right mind would want to touch that!
I had to see the spread for myself, but my catalog was not with my other new catalogs. I vaguely recalled seeing it in the mail the day before. I didn’t need to order anything at the time, and I usually go straight to the website anyway, so I figured I must’ve pitched it. The chance of finding a garbage-spooged copy to photograph for an article was enough to overcome the gross-out factor of delving into my garbage. Alas, my copy was not in the garbage.
Disappointed, I drafted an “I’m so disappointed” letter to Lands’ End customer service (for featuring Steinem, not for my failure to find a garbage-juice-soaked copy). I considered publishing an extended version. Then my copy arrived, and when I set to editing my letter, I heard about their apology. Apparently, I was not alone in my shock.
Gloria Steinem Judged Women Against Men
Instead of piling on Lands’ End—who is now witness to the displeasure of Steinem supporters—I thought I’d explain the confusion. Why is Steinem such a controversial figure? The New York Times and some of the immediate reactions from the Right blame Steinem’s promotion of abortion as an unmitigated good. That certainly plays a part. But Steinem’s poison is much, much broader than abortion.
In simplest terms, Steinem sought equality for women not by building them up, but by tearing them down. She trashed traditional women and their work and insisted that we be like men. Of course, since men will always be better at being men in a being men contest, she had to kneecap men, as well. While we focused on manly standards of success, she and the other Ms.’s ripped the idea of masculinity and set up the men versus women discourse we are so familiar with today.
We have sex like men, work like men, and judge ourselves like men because that is the tone Steinem set when she ran a successful coup d’etat against Betty Friedan at the National Organization for Women (NOW) in the ’70s.
Few remember this because few read feminist origin works (see first irony) but when Friedan published “The Second Stage” in 1981, it was in reaction to Steinem’s brand of feminism. Friedan had spawned the problem herself. In “The Feminine Mystique,” her 1963 book credited with launching second-wave feminism, Friedan had thought that if she didn’t shame women out of housewifery, then women would be too fearful to leave. It was women’s version of the soft bigotry of low expectations.
The Feminist Mistake
Belatedly, Friedan realized that the all of the comfortable concentration camp housewifery rhetoric had created a backlash against motherhood and traditional women’s skills, which became the dominant trend for women within 10 years. From the opening chapter of “The Second Stage”:
The feminine mystique was obsolete. That’s why our early battles were won so easily… But the new image, which has come out of the women’s movement, cannot evade the continuing tests of real life. That uneasiness I have been sensing these past few years comes from personal truth denied and questions unmasked because they do not fit the new accepted image—the FEMINIST mystique—as our daughters live what we fought for…
I write this book to help the daughters break through the mystique I myself helped to create—and put the right name to their new problems… For women may be in new danger of falling into certain deadly traps that men are now trying to climb out of to save their own lives. We can’t traverse the next stage and reembrace the cycle of life as women alone.
Friedan at least tried to right her wrong, but Steinem forced her out of NOW leadership over these doubts and quashed them in the larger movement. Forty years and a heaving pile of unintended consequences later, and Steinem still uses the old shame tactics to get women to comply. That is the root of her comments about young female supporters of Sanders only looking for boyfriends. Tough and independent women would support Hillary. Only boy-seeking, wishy-washy women don’t. You want to be seen as tough and independent, don’t you?
Gloria Steinem’s World of Exhausted, Lonely Women
Some women in power can see the problems Friedan called the “feminist mystique.” While Lands’ End ensnarled itself in a feminist mess, the editor of Cosmopolitan wrote a much more insightful article in The Telegraph about how millennial women have it worse than their ancestors. In the full arch of history, this is laughable. But for the past three generations, who have enjoyed medical and technological advancement and more focused wars, it rings true.
Nothing stings more than being promised so much and yet the world delivering on so little. Did we, their elders, have some part to play in this? Probably.
We bolstered their self-esteem by telling them they could do or be anything if they put their minds to it. We told them a university education (which the majority of us got free) would guarantee a well-paid job.
Grandparents cannot figure out why their grown-up grandchildren don’t own a home yet, or have a partner, or indeed any other of the assets that signify adult life. They don’t understand that dating apps have created a culture of loose sex and even looser commitment.
This world we see around us, the one full of exhausted, meandering, and lonely women—it is the world that Steinem created.
Young women’s feminist grandmothers did promise they could be anything and everything, and did not mention the tradeoffs. They inflated young women’s self-esteem to the point that they are now so delicate many cannot even handle open debate. They created high demand and advocated for government subsidies that have inflated college costs and exposed young women to crushing debt.
They insisted on delayed childbearing. This has both complicated women’s lives and spawned a massive industry for Assistive Reproductive Technology. And they have so convinced young women that they do best on their own—never depend on a man; they will always hold you back, don’t you know—that young women have little idea how to form partnerships with men beyond the sex. Of sex, of course, those feminist grandmothers fully approve. Causal and often: that is the way the men do it, so that is the way liberated women should do it—always questing for the zipless fuck.
These are Steinem’s offenses, ever so much more than being a happy warrior for abortion. She is a denigrator of the family, traditional women, and an accomplished misandrist to boot. I am shocked that a company whose customers are families would associate their products with someone as destructive to the cultural landscape as Gloria Steinem.