As we summit the tipping point between identity politics and culture war, keeping track of the psychosexualethnographic factions claiming to be microagressed is so preoccupying that even George R.R. Martin is probably saying, “Whoa. Whoa. This is getting pretty convoluted.” Most sane people can blissfully ignore the academic debates surrounding this look-at-me-I’m-the-most-special-snowflake factionalism, but there are a few notable exceptions. The current crop of feminists have become particularly shrill, perhaps in proportion to how unrepresentative they are. But they shouldn’t be ignored for one reason in particular: They are trying to ruin sex as we know it.
Where feminism once promised sexual liberation, as a social movement it’s become so birdbrained it no longer even knows what sex is or how two people have it. (It’s a foregone conclusion that the why of sex is lost on them as well.) By now, most men are accustomed to feminists railing against their tools of oppression, but these days if you don’t show due deference to a woman’s penis—well, that’s when all hell breaks loose.
Some explanation here is probably necessary. Last year, I found myself listening to an episode of NPR’s “Tell Me More,” where an assembled group of activists and writers discussed whether the Internet was ruining feminism. The discussion was occasioned by an article in The Nation, “Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars,” by Michelle Goldberg. Goldberg’s credentials as a left-leaning feminist weren’t previously in dispute, so the article’s thesis was genuinely shocking: With easy anonymity and the near instantaneous ability to whip up social media mobs, the Internet was pushing feminists to insufferable levels of stridency and infighting. When The Nation, a magazine that for most of its storied history has regarded Communism an unalloyed force for good, denigrates the current state of feminism as “Maoist hazing,” we are truly through the looking glass.
You Do Realize You’re All Crazy
As a measure of how insane things have gotten, the NPR panel discussed one of the article’s more telling anecdotes. Actress Martha Plimpton, star of the Fox sitcom “Raising Hope,” fancies herself such a serious feminist, insofar as serious feminist means incorporating a performance of Lennon and Oko’s “Woman is the N–ger of the World” into her one-woman show at the Lincoln Center. Plimpton is also co-founder of an abortion-rights charity, “A Is For,” which had the misfortune of titling a recent fundraiser “A Night of a Thousand Vaginas.”
For this thoughtcrime, Plimpton immediately came under attack online and boycotts were threatened because the event wasn’t inclusive enough because of “constant genital policing” that offends transsexual men. Plimpton stood firm in the face of criticism. “I’m not going to stop using the word ‘vagina’ for anybody, whether it’s Glenn Beck or Mike Huckabee or somebody on Twitter who feels it creates a dysphoric response,” she said, alluding to Beck and Huckabee’s allegedly well-known yet nonexistent objections to calling a vagina what it is. The mob was not appeased. An “intersectional feminist blogger” asked her why Plimpton was “committed to doubling down on using a term that you’ve been told many times is exclusionary and harmful.”
Back on NPR, Goldberg decried the reaction to Plimpton as a “recondite form of political correctness … people automatically assumed, not just that she had defended them, but that she was this terrible transphobe, that she was somebody who could no longer be taken seriously as an ally.” As for the rest of the NPR panel, they tried and failed to explain how the feminist ideal could possibly encompass both Susan B. Anthony and Anthony being Susan. Mikki Kendall of HoodFeminism.com—a feminist website which also places a special emphasis on intersectionality, “the study of intersections between different disenfranchised groups,” per Wikipedia—laid out the objection to Plimpton’s fundraiser. “With Martha Plimpton, when you say that you are speaking for all of these women in reproductive health and reproductive justice, then you need to be aware that it’s not just women that get pregnant,” she said. “You need to be aware that vaginas don’t get pregnant. Uteruses can contain a baby, but you don’t have to have a vagina in order to be pregnant.”
Forget for a moment the dumbfounding irony of casting aspersions on a “reproductive justice” fundraiser because it’s “exclusionary and harmful” to deny anyone the womanly joys of terminating the life of an unborn child. Given the Dr. Frankenstein aspects of modern medical technology, Kendall’s biologically mystifying claim, “You don’t have to have a vagina in order to be pregnant,” is true, but a more obvious explanation seems to be that Kendall and a great many of her peers have lost their minds.
In fact, Goldberg had previously reported that Kendall was notorious for her unhinged attacks on other feminists. When the organizers of an academic conference to promote funding for the “online feminist movement” ran afoul of Kendall for not promoting feminist efforts for people who don’t have Internet access, she attacked them—yes, on the Internet—by comparing them to “Rebecca Latimer Felton, a viciously racist Southern suffragist who supported lynching because she said it protected white women from rape.” The fact that Goldberg would bother furthering a discussion with Kendall, and that Kendall would be invited to spout nonsense in the dulcet tones of an NPR studio, is a testament to how influential this unsettling new breed of feminists has become.
Let Me Check Under Your Hood
They’re at least influential enough that redefining womanhood from the physical to metaphysical is starting to have practical consequences. Women’s college Bryn Mawr announced earlier this week that they would accept male students “‘who live and identify as women,” but since they have to draw the line somewhere, they won’t accept biological women who live and identify as men. According to the Bryn Mawr’s statement on the new policy, “the College may request additional information, which could include verifiable legal or medical steps taken to affirm gender.” In other words, forcing college students to strip naked, be groped by a doctor, or have a psych evaluation is a victory for intersectional feminist equality, whereas asking people to simply check a box labeled M or F amounts to “constant genital policing.” To paraphrase Orwell, to see what is under one’s bellybutton now needs a constant struggle.
Now given how loaded a word “feminism” has become, I had long associated at least one positive thing with it. Feminists, we were told, were crusaders against the gratuitous sexualization and exploitation of women. But feminists have come a long way, baby. Even when they do manage to sort out the plumbing issues, feminists now seem more to regard sex less as a fun and fulfilling activity, and more as a transactional way of climbing a few rungs in this crazy foucauldian power structure we call life. You might also recall last year a young woman at Duke University was outed as being a porn star to cover her student loans. Everyone seemed to be totally conflicted about the kinda, sorta, maybe questionable choices of this strong independent, yes, feminist young woman.
The kindest reading of this situation is that she was forced into prostitution—she literally googled “how to be a porn star”—to pay for an overrated and absurdly expensive liberal arts education. Of course, the subsequent media attention was a huge boost to this young woman’s, ahem, career. So the less-kind reading of the situation is that we live in a society that sends a lot of conflicting messages to young women about “empowerment” such that we’ve basically erased the distinction between “attention whore” and “whore.” (See also Kardashian, Kim.)
Enter the Patriarchy—By Invitation Only
Naturally, the number of feminist think pieces on all this was inversely proportional to the amount of moral clarity. Thankfully, The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan cut right to the heart of the matter with this saucy, since deleted, tweet: “I’m having a hard time understanding everything Duke porn star is saying about feminism. Maybe it’s because of that d–k in her mouth.”
Like all women who tell the truth, Flanagan had to be put back in her place by her male boss at The Atlantic:
Just informed by a purchaser of my work that I need to delete one of my tweets. Bad taste. Will do. #NewEconomy
— Caitlin Flanagan (@CaitlinPacific) April 2, 2014
— Caitlin Flanagan (@CaitlinPacific) April 3, 2014
In a way, I am like the plucky sex worker of Durham: employer asked me to do something that made me uncomfortable – and I did it! Sexy!
— Caitlin Flanagan (@CaitlinPacific) April 3, 2014
I feel like Duke porn star. Can I have 2 identities? High brow writer AND crass jester? Apparently not.— Caitlin Flanagan (@CaitlinPacific) April 2, 2014
I have this in common with Duke porn star: respect for the men who correct, discipline me.
— Caitlin Flanagan (@CaitlinPacific) April 3, 2014
Look, maybe this is me waving my male privilege all over the place, but there’s only one word for a woman who can simultaneously defend feminine virtue, upset the patriarchy, and clean out the Augean stables of third-wave feminism with a single d–k joke: Hawt. (Don’t worry, Flanagan need not worry about my intentions. It turns out I’m already married to a very attractive female journalist with balls bigger than mine. I guess I have a type?)
Anyway, silly me, I once thought that smart, funny, and opinionated women—to be clear, I’m talking about the people with vaginas—were the feminist ideal. Further, I mistakenly thought that possessing penises and pushing pornography were, in fact, antithetical to feminism. These days I know better. By making sex at once something that is purely transactional and impossible to define physically, feminists are effectively extending the definition of pornography to all of sex: You’ll know it when they see it. The intersectional montagnards would just have you lie back and think of feminism, and if they succeed in their oddly asexual revolution, don’t expect them to bother asking, “Was it good for you?”