Are you a feminist?

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It happened last summer. I’m not sure what kicked in, but I became absorbed with one of those questions that stays lodged in the back of your mind until you find resolution, or until you get some answers. What ever happened to the Equal Rights Amendment? And why the hell don’t we have it yet? Come awnn-n.

It turns out that we need three more states to ratify the federal ERA, and in order for it to become law, it may have to survive a legal challenge. Thirty-five states have already ratified it, with Minnesota among them. Many states that have yet to ratify it have organized campaigns to make it happen in 2006.

The three-state strategy is based on the “Madison Amendment,” concerning Congressional pay raises, which became the 27th Amendment to the Constitution in 1992, after a ratification period of 203 years. The ERA would become the 28th Amendment, was originally introduced in 1923 after women received the right to vote, and reads as it has read since 1943: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.”

The “Ratify ERA Florida” campaign is one that has made a concerted effort to pass ERA legislation in the coming year. Its website says: “Welcome to the most important battle of the 21st century, getting the Equal Rights Amendment into our Constitution. You will at times feel discouraged, angry, scared, isolated, embattled, weary beyond hope, but at other times feel inspired, honored, grateful and ecstatic beyond belief.”

Reading those words gave me strength—against all those writers and analysts who ridiculously argue that feminism is dead. It reminded me of the musings of an old college professor of mine after the Berlin Wall fell, when Time magazine published an essay announcing the death of socialism. “How do you kill an idea?” he posed. Just like any other idea, you can malign (or even kill) the people associated with the idea of feminism (and many have tried), but you can’t kill the idea. Feminism has been here all along, and will continue—and for those who didn’t notice, you just weren’t paying close enough attention.

So when Maureen Dowd writes in her much-discussed latest book, “Are Men Necessary?”, that Hillary Clinton killed feminism when she sided with her cheating husband against young intern Monica Lewinsky, she does us a disservice. And though the U.S. Senator from New York is poised to run for president in 2008, according to many political observers, I doubt that attacking Lewinsky’s behavior will be held against her. As John McLaughlin recently noted on his news show, “The McLaughlin Report,” one big thing in Senator Clinton’s favor as a presidential candidate is that “all her negatives are on the table.” Her cumulative actions while in public service should not be expected to embody the purest form of feminism—that would be just too good to be true.

Besides, a movement doesn’t need to be pure to be effective or to gain momentum. What movement has, at least for long? Why should feminism be any different? That’s counterproductive, not to mention painstaking, unrealistic and way too time-consuming. Kind of like a really beautiful meeting where everyone gets to speak without interruption and everyone is included. If you ever been to a meeting that operates on the Quaker method of nonviolence and consensus, you known what I mean. On a national political scale, we don’t have that kind of time. Look at who’s running our country.

Be that as it may, if you’re looking for true inspiration or a utopian vision, writer Kate Millett still resonates. Millett’s book Sexual Politics is credited by many for all but launching the second wave of the women’s movement in the 1970s. Millett, many also say, has since slipped back into obscurity and poverty, whereas her peers, who include Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem, remain in the media spotlight and earn the big bucks.

Millett, who was born Katherine Murray Millett in St. Paul, wrote her 543-page Sexual Politics as her doctoral thesis at Columbia University, and never intended that it would turn into a bestseller in 1970. At the time, she was living the artist’s life as an impoverished, unknown sculptor in New York. In the book, she called for a sexual revolution that would “bring the institution of patriarchy to an end.” And like Bob Dylan was for music during the Vietnam antiwar movement, Millett became the reluctant new prophet of feminism. But unlike Dylan, she doesn’t ride around today in chauffeured limousines or swim in money. Dylan cashed in; Millett didn’t.

For all the attention she got at the time, Millett said it was against the spirit of the movement. “Microphones shoved into my mouth … [asking] ‘What is the future of the woman’s movement?’ ” she wrote. “How the hell do I know—I don’t run it … The whole thing is sordid, embarrassing, a fraud.” With the $30,000 she got from her publisher for the manuscript, she bought a farm in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., which she turned into a woman’s art colony, one still in operation. She went on to write more books, including Flying, an autobiography at age 38, and The Loony-Bin Trip, a foray into her experience with mental illness.

Though she shunned the spotlight, Millett continued her work as an artist, writer and activist. In 1973, she published The Prostitution Papers, a defense of prostitute’s rights. In 1979 she went to Iran to work for women’s rights, was kicked out, and then wrote Going to Iran. A few years ago, Millett publicly “resurfaced,” with an article for the London Guardian entitled “The Feminist Time Forgot,” where she laments her fears about growing older in a life filled with “bag-lady horrors.” She has said she can’t get a decent teaching job and that no one returns her calls. She was offered a ridiculous $1,000 to republish “Sexual Politics,” a sum she refused.

Out of respect, I would like to start a campaign to raise money for Kate Millett—to show her that we honor and support her. Send $5 or more to Kate Millett, 59 E. 4th Street, 5E, New York, New York 10003, along with a note of thanks. It’s possible to order Millett’s books from her directly as well. See her website at http://www.katemillett.com. Cool. Upward and onward

About sex and politics, and er umm…sexual politics
Why is it that sex and politics seem to go together so often? Is it about power, is it about our most basic needs and instincts and how they conflict with the needs of others? Do people who like their politics dirty also like their sex dirty? Or is it mutually exclusive?

I heard a phrase that caught my attention a few weeks ago on PBS’ The McLaughlin Report. Host John McLaughlin was discussing Hillary Clinton’s likely bid for president in 2008, and hinted (as only a shrewd political analyst can) that it may be time for a U.S. female president, since the country may be suffering from what he called “testosterone fatigue.” Citing public discontent over warmongers Bush, Rumsfeld, Rove, et al., and then later mentioning some of the world’s female heads of state (which includes those in Ireland, New Zealand, Latvia, Finland, the Phillippines, Bangladesh, Mozambique, and most recently, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany), McLaughlin made a brief case that our nation may be ready for a female president, a scenario where spoken (or unspoken) objections may be politically irrevelant.

Indeed, Senator Clinton has been acting “presidential” lately, displaying a careful, milquetoasty modus operandi that has eschewed taking strong positions on the war, among other things, so as not to have it come back to bite her later. Or so one can only imagine, as Cindy Sheehan reported back about her trip to Washington where she met with Clinton (among other Congressional leaders) and cited disappointment at Clinton’s refusal to call for an end to the war, or at least a set withdrawal of U.S. troops, while at the same time hinting that she had a good feeling about Hillary in the longer run. Democrats, as a whole, have been too quiet; one can only hope it’s because they have something up their sleeves, although that’s nothing to really count on for the rest of us.

Testosterone fatigue, according to scientists quoted in Are Men Necessary?, refers to more than just everyone tiring of Rumsfeld’s hissy fits and Bush’s global vendettas. Some data doctors predict that men could be extinct as early as the year 102,590 C.E. (A.D.) Although those findings could provide comic relief to any lingering man-haters among us, and might make some really sensitive men a little nervous, the year matters less than the social implications the study portends.

Notwithstanding that one man could ostensibly impregnate every woman in Europe with each sex act (with the release of 150 million swimming sperm cells), Dowd discusses a more negative prognosis for the Y chromosome as offered by Dr. Sykes, a science advisor to the British House of Commons who wrote Adams Curse: A Future Without Men. Of the “Y-is-falling” prediction, Dr. Sykes cites the steady fall of male fertility, predicting that nearly “all men [will be] sterile in about 125,000 years.” Dr. Sykes’ study seems to favor nature over nurture when it comes to the urge for men to sow their wild oats.

“Driven on and on by the crazed ambition of the Y chromosome to multiply without limit, wars began to enable men to annex adjacent lands and enslave their women,” he wrote. “Nothing must stand in the way of the Y chromosome. Wars, slavery, empires—all ultimately coalesce on that one mad pursuit.” That’s an oppressive description of a DNA molecule—though our bodies, male and female alike, rage over territory and purpose every living moment.

Many writers struggle over the question of sexuality; and many have become famous for it, notably Germaine Greer. More than 30 years after writing the then-outrageous The Female Eunuch, where Greer espoused that free sex was the answer to nearly everything from solving problems with your landlady to receiving better care from your doctor, it appears that Greer, now in her 60s, has changed her tune. In The Whole Woman, Greer’s most recent book, she writes that “we were sold ‘sexual freedom’ and the ‘lie of the sexual revolution’ ”—but she helped to start that revolution. As Laura Miller writes for salon.com: “Members of the media, who once found Greer’s long legs, bawdy braggadocio and paeans to group sex irresistible (Life magazine dubbed her a ‘saucy [chick] that even men like’), are crestfallen to learn that she recanted the doctrine of free love and now condemns men as brutal, lazy sperm factories incapable of offering women emotional or sexual satisfaction. The bold liberationist who once scolded women for not stepping up to the plate and claiming the professional opportunities offered to them now bemoans weekly food shopping at the supermarket as ‘exhausting’ and soul-killing work foisted upon victimized women by male authorities.”

The Whole Woman has been a bestseller in England, and Greer’s reputation lingers in the United States as well, though some think of her as a female misogynist with no real claims to second-wave feminist status. Greer, however, doesn’t think she’s changed too much since Eunuch, but that she’s taken her ideas to their logical conclusion. She has said that it’s time for women to stop being grateful and to start getting angry again. In 2002, she called on the women of Australia to don a sea of black veils to protest the war in Iraq, explaining: “When I was a young hippy I thought marching naked would be a strong protest but I don’t think it would be as effective now.”

What is effective now? What is right for right now? While there are many more female doctors, lawyers and politicians than they were in 1970, confusion around dating, sex and marriage still abounds.

In Listen Up: Voices From the Next Feminist Generation, younger women are featured in a collection of essays sharing what’s important to them right now. Christine Doza’s “Bloodlove” offers some of the most compelling commentary in the collection. “I put myself through tests to make sure I’m strong. If I need to call, I don’t, and if it’s cold outside I don’t shiver. It was a long time before I would call myself a feminist, a long time before I thought I was strong enough to deserve that name. But I still have doubts: Can I call myself a feminist if I say mean things about other girls, even if they were mean to me first? If I don’t always explain myself, if I don’t correct everyone who calls a girl a bitch?”

Doza says girls/women automatically start judging themselves by the group of men they happen to find themselves surrounded by every day. She wonders if the long-haired, hip boys she hangs with even have a clue. “How ‘liberal’ can those oh-so-rebellious liberal boys be if they don’t realize that patriarchy is the meat-eating, xenophobic, wife-beating system we must all impale if we want to bring the white male capitalistic fucks down to spitting level? [It’s] Even worse, if they think that male supremacy does not exist, or it does and is justified,” she writes. Back in 1971, when Germaine Greer was interviewed in Rolling Stone, she said we really needed a bunch of girl bands to rock out like Hendrix or Led Zeppelin. Well, now we’ve got that, and Doza muses: “This is what it means to be an intelligent girl? Listening to bands with female members and wearing a more natural shade of lipstick?” Good question. Do intelligent wimmin wear thongs or get boob jobs? Does it matter? Personally, I don’t care. Women should do whatever they want.

Out of necessity, some of what women may want to do is spend some time figuring out men. I’ve spent a fair amount of sparetime trying to do that. I’ve decided that men are Romantic creatures, in a grandiose, Capital R kind of way, not in the little r, roses and thoughtfulness kind of way. When men still wore capes, that’s when their outsides matched their insides. “THIS Is WHAT I’m GOING to DO!” swinging their cape, turning on their heels and heading off to their next adventure.

And they get their feelings hurt real easily. That’s why it upsets them so much when their universe isn’t unfolding the way they envisioned. They’re under tremendous pressure to show they are masters of their universe, to borrow a line from Wall Street, even if they don’t identify with guys who run the military-industrial complex. It takes a lot of courage to buck the system, and I think they want to be rewarded by women with unwavering adoration and support. It rarely occurs to them that women may not be aware or care about the universe men live in, since they have their own set of problems, as well as a sexist history to overcome.

When it comes to dating, I’ve been underwhelmed lately. So I haven’t been dating lately, on purpose. Are the men I’m attracted to so beat down by the system (or survival) that they have no more time or energy left for anything more than a six-pack? That reminds me of a joke I heard—or did I make it up? I can’t remember. A good date in Minnesota is sex and a six-pack. A casual date in Minnesota is just sex. Of course, there are notable exceptions.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I became fond of saying that, unlike the rest of the country, the sexual revolution never stopped there, and that’s why the sex was so good in that town. They practiced, they refined their techniques, and asked about ways to improve. Somehow, they seemed to understand that seduction begins LONG before sex, and LONG before you’ve already had four beers. Shouldn’t that be obvious? Perhaps the 28th amendment could include a clause or two about limiting boring dates involving six-packs and unskilled sex. I think that’s too much to ask right now.

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