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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"People are trying to turn being a woman into a profession"

In one of my occasional forays into vintage Crimson reportage (some great day, all school papers will digitize their archives), I came across this profile of Judith Shklar from 1972. I've been struck in the past by the aversion of  some of the sharpest mid-century female minds - Arendt, Didion - to feminism, and found the same sentiment (Arendt's "zat's not serious") here:
"Maybe it's because I'm a foreigner," she jokes, "but I always take people at their word. When I was in school, the women I knew there were at the top of the class." She throws this out with a kind of proud matter-of factness. "When most of them said that they preferred married life. I believed them. Perhaps I was naive. But now people are trying to turn being a woman into a profession, which is the worst kind of tokenism." She has the distinct sense that American women are suddenly being harassed by the magazines and newspapers they read for new but still wrong reasons. "Too much empty discussion of the role of women and her family can lead to just as disastrous effects as sex-discrimination. American women are being bombarded with articles on how to run their lives and those of their families. You'll notice that the tone is always threatening and pseudo-scientific" (two pet hatreds of Dr. Shklar's). "It's going to get worse--the pressure is on everyone. A less destructive way is needed." A student's impression affirms this attitude. "Her reaction to Women's Lib is probably to stop all that snivelling about insignificant issues, take care of yourself, and get on with it."
While we're lamenting poorly-verified sources and other journalistic failings in the immediate present, it must be said that this profile has it all. It's fawning and poorly written (what is a "metic's metic"?) and the student descriptions of Shklar are inexplicably anonymous, because praising your professors is surely one of those life- and reputation-endangering ventures requiring special protection. Still, this is a pretty prescient prediction.

UPDATE: Someone on Facebook also points to this lecture by Shklar with even more on this topic in the middle.

7 comments:

Withywindle said...

"Threatening" more than "hectoring"?

Miss Self-Important said...

Both, really. I once wrote a paper on the social history of ADHD, for which I read back issues of women's magazines from the 1950s-70s, and there were many strains of "the reason your child is fidgety or vegetative ["hypoactivity" was once one of the symptoms of ADHD] is b/c you are a bad mother." Many things were couched in these terms: do X, or your child will become defective. There is a threat in that.

Withywindle said...

OK.

Phoebe said...

On "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," the only character involved in Women's Lib was Phyllis, the housewife. I feel like this is significant.

Miss Self-Important said...

Could be. Perhaps some digging will uncover a strange student-housewife coalition fueling the women's movement in the '60s and '70s, and a broader absence of the already-employed and successful? Might be an interesting project.

Phoebe said...

But... what of certain other projects I only now have some time for? ...

Miss Self-Important said...

They're rapidly becoming redundant thanks to Emily Yoffe. But do them all! All the projects!