Can Feminists Dialogue? ~Pt. 2

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

I continue my post whether Feminists can dialogue from yesterday, when I described, I hope fairly, Trend One, Progressive Feminists. 

Trend Two, New Feminists.  Here fall many women who have taken birth control pills, had abortions, practiced promiscuity, marched, screamed and shouted at sexist, porker pigs – and then changed their minds, reemerging as New Feminists.  Many of us are so similar to Trend One women in education, background, experience and privilege that no demographic can sort us neatly.  Trend Two includes women who did not go the route of Progressive Feminist but who have appreciated and defended many of the legal and cultural achievements of the original American feminists, and who were not side tracked by agendas to neutralize, denigrate or, now, commoditize women’s fertility and the mother-child relationship.

Some Trend Two women have reported religious conversions or experiences that resolved anger or dissonance.  Others have concluded that Mother Nature had a far greater hand in creating differences between the sexes than could fairly be blamed upon sexist, porker pigs and that the progressive feminist movement had become oddly determined to make women into better men than men.  Many Trend Two women object that girls and young women are being encouraged in lifestyles and choices that lead to emotional and physical illnesses later in life.  Trend Two women often say that they could no longer pretend that a tiny fetus with a beating heart was not a child; and that being a mother and wife brought out very powerful feminine attributes that benefit all of humanity.  

Some Trend Two women parted company with Trend One thinking to resolve a nagging discomfort with moral relativism – a relativism that seems to threaten humanity with a pre-modern domination by a superior, worthier class. This blog,, for example, is dedicated to such a Trend Two woman, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese.  Professor Fox-Genovese wrote of her own taking leave with her Trend One senses,

[M]y commitment to women’s right to develop their talents predisposed me to support the legality of abortion, at least up to a certain point. Even then, I found it impossible not to take seriously the life of the fetus that was being so casually cast aside. The emerging discussions of assisted suicide only intensified my discomfort, as I found myself worrying about one human being deciding whether another’s life is worth living. “How do we know?” I kept asking myself. “How ever can we know?”

An interesting example of a Trend Two woman is the wife of Kelly’s “Mad Man”, jerk and dinosaur, Rick Santorum.  That “wife” is actually a well educated woman whose life and background speak volumes about the assumptions still driving Trend One passions.  Subject of a recent Trend One hit piece by Nancy Hass, it turns out the Karen Garvey Santorum was once pro-choice and progressive, the live-in girlfriend of a Pittsburgh abortionist.  In a more thoughtful consideration of her rejection of both abortion and the abortionist she lived with, and her decision to embrace an orthodox Catholic lifestyle, the New York Times set Ms. Garvey’s transformation in the complex relational context that have lead many Trend One women to question, and even abandon, the basic Trend One assumption that unrestricted individualism offers the primary path of female fulfillment.  That context included meeting and falling in love with Rick Santorum who, himself, was not practicing religion at the time or asserting the conservative positions that would emerge from his partnership and marriage with Ms. Garvey.

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I can count among prominent women leadership in America today dozens of Trend Two women, running nonprofits, winning political office, writing and speaking on social issues facing women.  Steadily the voices of Trend Two women are being raised in search of policies that preserve feminine qualities, protect the unique role of women within families and regard female fertlity – and the female body – as worthy of protection as the environment itself.  

It is unsettling that the greatest opposition and scorn to women’s “new” feminism voices come from other women.

The lack of nuance and basic respect by Trend One commentators toward “Beatrices” (see yesterday’s post), non-Western (often religious) women and women who question Trend One assumptions, brings to mind a note our daughter once received from the “most popular” girl in the 6th grade class of her new school.  The note read:

You’ve been here 2 months.  It’s almost Christmas break.  You need to know that me and my friends do not like you.

The prevailing Trend One message is equally transparent:  the “Beatrices” of the world – no matter how faithful and loyal in their work and families – as well as Trend Two women – no matter how educated or accomplished – know that Trend One women do not “like” any us.  Trend Two women have been criticized, snubbed, yelled at and called rather vicious names, often on the Internet and in public – often by people who we thought once were friends.  It’s a stark fact that Trend Two women, New Feminists, often raise their questions and concerns at the cost of friendships and professional relationships they held dear. 

That, however, does not change our experiences and our wish that Trend One women would stop blaming a vast right wing conspiracy of Alpha males for opinions that are originating and resonating with other women.  Trend Two women invite Trend One women to step up to the pressing need for dialogue among women, about women.  We could start, for example, with the elimination of girls through abortion worldwide.  

So I ask again, can women with deep differences dialogue respectfully?

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