“If the family was the last fortress of capitalism, then let us abolish the family,” and, right or wrong, the women’s movement forces are still at it…
By JOAN DIDION
To make an omelette you need not only those broken eggs but someone “oppressed” to beat them: every revolutionist is presumed to understand that, and also every women, with either does or does not make 51 per cent of the population of the United States a potentially revolutionary class. The creation of this revolutionary class was from the virtual beginning the “idea” of the women’s movement, and the tendency for popular discussion of the movement still to center around daycare centers is yet another instance of that studied resistance to the possibility of political ideas which characterizes our national life.
“The new feminism is not just the revival of a serious political movement for social equality,” the feminist theorist Shulamith Firestone announced flatly in 1970. “It is the second wave of the most important revolution in history.” This was scarcely a statement of purpose anyone could find cryptic, and it was scarcely the only statement of its kind in the literature of the movement. Nonetheless, in 1972, in a “special issue” on women, Time was still musing genially that the movement might well succeed in bringing about “fewer diapers and more Dante.”
That was a very pretty image, the idle ladies sitting in the gazebo and murmuring lasciate ogni speranza, but it depended entirely upon the popular view of the movement as some kind of collective inchoate yearning for “fulfillment” or “self-expression,” a yearning absolutely devoid of ideas and therefore of any but the most pro forma benevolent interest. In fact there was an idea, and the idea was Marxist, and it was precisely to the extent that there was this Marxist idea that the curious historical anomaly known as the women’s movement would have seemed to have any interest at all.
Marxism in this country had even been an eccentric and quixotic passion. One oppressed class after another had seemed finally to miss the point. The have-nots, it turned out, aspired mainly to having. The minorities seemed to promise more, but finally disappointed: it developed that they actually cared about the issues, that they tended to see the integration of the luncheonette and the seat in the front of the bus as real goals, and only rarely as ploys, counters in a larger game. They resisted that essential inductive leap from the immediate reform to the social ideal, and, just as disappointingly, they failed to perceive their common cause with other minorities, continued to exhibit a self-interest disconcerting in the extreme to organizers steeped in the rhetoric of “brotherhood.”