We began looking at the development of 2nd Wave feminism in these two posts here and here, not only from printed “official” materials but also from the perspective of inter-personal rivalries and alignments; and statements and treatment in the popular press. We continue now with an contribution from Reader Dani:
In preparation for rising along with 999,999,999 others for Eve Ensler’s V-Day, I gave The Vagina Monologues a fresh reading. In the foreword, Gloria Steinem asks the reader: If men had something like a clitoris, “could you imagine how much we would hear about it–and what it would be used to justify?”
A provocative hypothetical. Being no dummy, I assume it would lead to more male dominance and women would never get a break from men’s demands for attention. Is that the right answer?
It turns out Steinem said more about it in a 1978 essay published in Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions titled, “If Men Could Menstruate.”
Steinem posited, “Whatever a ‘superior’ group has will be used to justify its superiority, and whatever an ‘inferior’ group has will be used to justify its plight.” Freud’s concept of penis envy is cited. (Ginkgo: Ahem – see Golden Uterus and the fetishization of preganancy and motherhood in Anglosphere culture. This goes way back before 1978, so Steinem has no excuse here.)
It’s a presupposition that society is organized around male sexuality, male empowerment and the penis. What follows then are two and a half pages of ironic satire.
“Clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event.” A series of juxtapositions in culture, politics and entertainment have men-struation as a focal point–basically, furthering men’s “power justifications.”
“Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea…some men would still pay for the prestige of such commercial brands as Paul Newman Tampons… John Wayne Maxi Pads… Richie and Potsie try to convince Fonzie that he is still ‘the Fonz,’ though he has missed two periods…”
The current blurb on Amazon says this is hilarious.
Fast forward to last year, a piece on The Next Web informed: “Women account for $7 trillion in consumer and business spending… account for 85% of all consumer purchases… control more than 60% of all personal wealth in the U.S.” (Evidence of female-centeredness.)
Also in the jokes list, Steinem said “menopause would be celebrated.”
Last weekend, the top grossing movie was Identity Thief. It’s about a middle-aged (near menopausal) version of Honey Boo Boo on a comedic romp. The advertised trailer shows her punching a guy in the throat. Justin Craig called the performance hilarious on FoxNews.com.
National Retail Foundation projects $18.6 billion in Valentine’s spending for 2013, with men spending an average of $175.61 and women spending $88.78. Valentine’s Day is a consumer holiday predicated on chivalry, and is arguably centered on women’s (hetero) sexual value. Freudian psychology aside, this doesn’t quantify men’s sexual “superiority.”
1978 predates the Oprah Winfrey Network, HBO’s Girls, Women’s History Month, Luna bars–and Hanna Rosin was eight years old. Lena Dunham is quoted on BuzzFeed saying she hopes Girls “contributes to a continuance of a feminist dialogue.” Season one had a majority male audience.
In the essay, Steinem envisioned the opposite sex “agreeing to all these arguments with a staunch and smiling masochism.” It may have been more prophecy than parody.
Commenters, please explore the ways in which Steinem was prophetic, even in her own day – in other words, just mistaken and happy to spread a falsehood.
Think of the way menstruation, or rather pre-menstruation, has been celebrated in law as a get-out-of-jail-free card, the whole Golden Uterus thing around pregnancy and childbirth and the loving treatment women’s mid-life crises and the paion and chaos they can cause are handled in the culture.
- The Woman Card - May 2, 2016
- Frat boy bachelorettes and the invasion of gay bars - April 15, 2016
- “Not my kid….” - February 22, 2016