Feminism Killed All The Grownups

19 Sep

The patriarchy is dead, adulthood is in steep decline and A.O. Scott feels Some Type Of Way.

At least, that’s my takeaway from Scott’s rambling 4,500 word essay in this week’s New York Times Magazine. Of course the piece has its supporters (since, after all, Scott is a well-known film critic and noted Man of Words), and some of the folks tweeting about this essay in earnest adulation are people that I typically agree with. But I’ve read Scott’s piece in its entirety three times now, and I can’t seem to get anything out of it other than one lone white dude raging (and raging, and raging) against the dying of the light.

Scott starts out by using the upcoming second half of the final season of Mad Men as proof of the death of the patriarchy. The speculated death Don Draper, he argues, as well as the deaths of Tony Soprano and Walter White, mark a sort of “end stage reckoning” of a certain type of television masculinity. This masculinity is, according to Scott, pretty complicated – after all these men aren’t exactly nice or good (in fact, Scott at one point refers to them as “monstrous”) – but they’re undeniably charismatic and quite often sympathetic. Are we supposed to cheer for them or hate them or just feel sorry for them? The answer, for most viewers, seems to be a strange combination of all three, and their deaths apparently mark a watershed moment in our culture. Scott writes that “Tony, Walter and Don are the last of the patriarchs.”

He then hastens to point out that, although he believes the patriarchy to be dead, that doesn’t mean that he’s denying the existence of sexism or misogyny. No, not at all. In fact, he believes that “in the world of politics, work and family, misogyny is a stubborn fact of life.” But, he adds, “… in the universe of thoughts and words, there is more conviction and intelligence in the critique of male privilege than in its defense, which tends to be panicky and halfhearted when it is not obtuse and obnoxious. The supremacy of men can no longer be taken as a reflection of natural order or settled custom.”

I’m not even going to get into the ludicrousness of a middle-aged white dude announcing that the patriarchy is dead – I trust my readers enough to believe that they can figure out the many ways in which that statement is wrong without me offering them a long-winded explanation. But I do take issue with Scott’s assertion that criticism of male privilege is the uncontested norm in the “universe of thoughts and ideas.” First off, my main concern when it comes to discussions about male privilege isn’t so much that people will “defend” it, but rather that people will ignore it, downplay its cultural effects or flat-out deny that it exists. Those speaking up in “defense” of male privilege are easily discounted; those who don’t even acknowledge it are much more slippery and harder to fight.

Second of all, it is absolutely untrue that assertions of male privilege or belief in the inherent superiority of men (especially when it comes to ideas about the superiority of male intelligence) don’t exist in the “universe of thoughts and words.” Look at Richard Dawkins, for example – even in light of his recent comments on false rape accusations, people are still defending him by saying, “well, he’s still a brilliant scientist.” Or, for a broader perspective, look at the short-lists for the more prestigious book and film awards, and count how many books and films are written or directed by women, versus how many are written or directed by men. Or look at the gender imbalance when it comes to tenured staff at a university. There is plenty of evidence that we still take the superiority of men as the “natural order,” even in the world of deep thoughts and bon mots.

Five paragraphs in, Scott finally comes to what you might call the thesis of his essay. “It seems” he writes, “that, in doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grown-ups.” So, feminism is to blame for the supposed death of adulthood? Is that what I’m to take away for this? That in exchange for the cultural domination of men, we’ve traded away our ability to grow up? As evidence of this so-called death of adulthood, Scott offers a few brief anecdotes: Nearly a third of young adult fiction is purchased by readers age 30 to 44. Sometimes Scott has seen grown men riding skateboards or wearing shorts and flip-flops. There’s a woman in his office who wears plastic butterfly barrettes in her hair; when Scott sees her, he can’t help but make a disapproving face. That’s just how much of a grownup he is.

“God, listen to me! Or don’t,” he cries, sounding exactly like a modern-day Holden Caulfield. He then goes on to list all of the awful shows, mostly dominated by women (think Girls and Broad City) that have replaced more adult television fare like Mad Men or The Sopranos. Writes Scott, “What all of these shows grasp at, in one way or another, is that nobody knows how to be a grown-up anymore.”

After a lengthy side-step into the apparently childish history of American literature (mostly, according to Scott, “a literature of boys’ adventure and female sentimentality”), and a brief discourse on why the Founding Fathers weren’t really fatherly and should maybe more accurately be called the Founding Bros or something equally un-grown-up, Scott finally swings back around to the cultural force that’s to blame for modern America’s lack of real, bonafide adults: the feminist movement. See, there are lots of young women who self-identify as feminists, most notably Beyoncé (who Scott calls the “most self-contradicting” feminist, which I can only assume is a dig at her overt sexuality and the length of her proverbial hemlines), and they want equality. But these women don’t want the good kind of equality; these women – especially the ones with television shows – want, Scott writes, to be “to be as rebellious, as obnoxious and as childish” as men are allowed to be.

All of which is to say that what Scott refers to as “cultural feminism” (as opposed to, I guess, academic feminism) is ruining being a grownup for everyone. Instead of forcing men to grow up, it’s encouraging women to be just like the man-babies. Instead of fostering a type of equality where everyone has an awesome job and wears a suit, it’s created a slacker equality where we all live in our parents’ basements and make fart jokes. For shame, feminism! What would Susan B. Anthony say? Oh god what hath we millenials wrought?

Finally, in the third to last paragraph, Scott writes what is probably his essay’s most important and most telling sentence: “The elevation of every individual’s inarguable likes and dislikes over formal critical discourse, the unassailable ascendancy of the fan, has made children of us all.” This, you see, is ultimately what Scott believes is holding people back from achieving full adulthood: not wanting to pay attention to critical discourse, a field that, by the way, has long been dominated by white men. And, you see, this is what this whole 4,500 word essay has been about. It’s not about people who read YA fiction or revere Huck Finn or live in their parents’ basement; this whole thing all boils down to the fact that A.O. Scott, and other successful, well-educated white dudes like him feel like they might be losing their audience. This isn’t a brilliant article about the downfall of the patriarchy and who the real grownups are and whether or not Beyoncé is too bootylicious to be a feminist – it’s the sad, dying cry of a white dude who sees all of his unearned privilege slowly slipping away.

It seems worth pointing out that not once in this entire essay does A.O. Scott define what adulthood is; he only tells us what it isn’t. Adulthood isn’t wearing shorts and flip-flops. Adulthood isn’t living in your parents’ basement. Adulthood isn’t liking what you like just because you like it. So from all of these negatives, I guess that we can infer that being a grownup means wearing a suit, living on your own, and only enjoying literature and media that someone else tells you will be challenging and enlightening.

If that’s what adulthood really means, then let me be the first to dance on its grave.

mad-men

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36 Responses to “Feminism Killed All The Grownups”

  1. Joey September 19, 2014 at 7:18 pm #

    Brilliant! Once again, absolutely Brilliant!!

  2. kristinmh September 19, 2014 at 7:26 pm #

    I know that they’re culturally influential, but didn’t he notice that Girls and Broad City are cable shows with tiny audiences? I mean, the most popular show in the US is NCIS, a police procedural with a decidedly middle-aged cast.

    The whole article just reeks of “I have never talked to anyone who didn’t live in Manhattan except maybe one guy from Park Slope”.

    • bellejarblog September 19, 2014 at 7:28 pm #

      I KNOW. Like you can’t really compare Broad City to Sex In The City or Mary Tyler Moore or whatever – that just doesn’t make sense.

    • kschenke September 19, 2014 at 8:19 pm #

      Not to mention that it’s super silly to compare Broad City to Mad Men when it’s masculine counterpart is clearly Workaholics. And I don’t think you can blame Workaholics on feminism.

  3. ericjbaker September 19, 2014 at 7:42 pm #

    I shouldn’t comment without reading the original essay, but this is the internet and I’m silly.

    It sounds like he is confusing correlation with causation. “Two things changed recently. One must have caused the other.” How does he know that people wearing butterfly barrettes didn’t end the patriarchy? Global temperatures are on the rise. Surely the answer is more men riding skateboards. They both increased at the same time.

    I’ll believe in a dying patriarchy when men are no longer in control of women’s reproductive rights.

    • tendernessontheblock September 19, 2014 at 8:06 pm #

      “I’ll believe in a dying patriarchy when men are no longer in control of women’s reproductive rights.”

      You have it spot on there.

      • ericjbaker September 19, 2014 at 8:28 pm #

        Why are these people so afraid of letting go? Maybe I’m missing the colonialist gene and don’t understand.

    • neighsayer September 19, 2014 at 11:15 pm #

      spot on.

    • Stephen Voss September 20, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

      Yeah you shouldn’t comment without reading the original essay and neither should the author of this analysis, because it hardly seems like she read it either.

      • ericjbaker September 22, 2014 at 12:32 am #

        It depends on the venue. Academic rigor doesn’t really apply to blog comment that will be read by all of 7 or 8 people. I don’t buy the premise of the original article, which the blogger sufficiently explained and quoted for me to make my comment. So far the only repercussion seems to be that I was gently admonished by one person.

    • SmillingAhab September 20, 2014 at 9:02 pm #

      “I’ll believe in a dying patriarchy when men are no longer in control of women’s reproductive rights.”

      That’s going in my quotes to remember for all time file. Bravo.

    • peacewisdomprosperity September 21, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

      YES!!! 😀

  4. Deb September 19, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

    “…it’s the sad, dying cry of a white dude who sees all of his unearned privilege slowly slipping away.”
    Please, the faster the better in my opinion.

  5. Natalie DeYoung September 19, 2014 at 7:58 pm #

    Reading this made me happy. What a strange correlation to make, between adulthood and feminism — it was a bizarre article to me.

  6. kschenkel September 19, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

    I’d like to point to this early XKCD comic: http://xkcd.com/150/ “We’re grown-ups now and it’s our turn to decide what that means.”

  7. tinyorc September 19, 2014 at 8:22 pm #

    I guess being adult means constantly cheating on your wife as your only real emotional outlet, or becoming a drug baron rather than suffer the indignity of accepting financial help with your cancer treatment.

    • tinyorc September 19, 2014 at 8:24 pm #

      Also, if anyone needs me, I’ll be watching Adventure Time and eating cereal and not fucking worrying about the lifestyle choices of other grown-ass adults who really aren’t hurting anyone with their barrettes and skateboards.

      • jodiethalegend September 21, 2014 at 10:40 am #

        …and that neatly sums up my thoughts. As long as you can care for your children adequately and know how to pay your bills, why should someone else get to tell you whether or not you are acting sufficiently ‘adult’?

  8. Linda Hulme Leahy September 19, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

    Eric’s comment for the win. By the way, do you own a skateboard?

  9. Linda Hulme Leahy September 19, 2014 at 8:51 pm #

    Read the original article, then read this response. Then go back to the article, then back to the response. Sadly, the article is not the response. But it could be. Now we’re in the land of The Lost Boys and you’re Peter Pan and here are two commentaries about that thing you want to get rid of (patriarchy). Those commentaries have turned into what women want most (not diamonds, you idiot). I’m the adult your adulthood could be as fun as. I’m on a skateboard.

  10. neighsayer September 19, 2014 at 11:12 pm #

    ” “that, in doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grown-ups.” ”

    – and by “grown up” I’m sure he means somewhere between being callous and disdainful of women and children and their feelings on one side, and on the other side being a killer, either literally, or at least in business.

    “Nearly a third of young adult fiction is purchased by readers age 30 to 44.”

    – pretty sure that is the damned Harry Potter phenomenon there. I don’t imagine that stat would have been noticeable without that series. While i agree with you in everything in this post, if it’s Harry Potter Scott is talking about, I have to lean with him a little on that. Still, with what I suspect is his definition of growing up, I’d rather see middle-aged folks carrying Goosebumps around than the return of his vision.

    • tigtog September 20, 2014 at 1:08 am #

      “Nearly a third of young adult fiction is purchased by readers age 30 to 44.”

      At least some of those readers aged 30 to 44 are buying that YA fiction for the young adults they know and (shock horror) reading it first so that they can talk about it together later. Maybe even for the particular purpose of fostering some critical media literacy in those discussions? What a childish travesty that is!

      Do you think he realises that today’s publishers would be marketing Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as YA fiction?

      • AMM September 20, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

        Well, I’m 61 and I buy YA literature. For me. Not just Harry Potter. Also Hunger Games. Luna. The Blue Sword. (All by women authors, BTW.) I buy the stuff I buy because it’s good and generally low in pretense and BS. And I don’t feel like I’ve been had when I finish the book (I’m lookin’ at you, Mr. Dan Brown.) When I think of “adult” literature, I think of stuff the fiction that the _New_Yorker_ publishes — stories about the existential crises of self-involved, highly privileged people — which always leave me thinking, who cares? Or men like Norman Mailer who write stuff that’s “serious” because it’s about Manly Things, which is to say, things that are ultimately about someone’s penis.

      • Jessica September 20, 2014 at 8:22 pm #

        Interesting tigtog, I started writing my own YA SciFi series without any intentional focus directed towards that genre. Perhaps some of us mid-adults still enjoy the innocence and adventure those earlier years provided? Perhaps the only true YA stories are those written by young adults, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. We all fantasize. 😉

        AMM, I was reading Robin McKinley one summer, the author of the Blue Sword, and it was in response to “Sunshine” that my own stories high-jacked my life. I felt that there was such an over dose of magic and magical creatures in Sunshine that I took upon the challenge to write my own book on the subject, but from a scientific and secular point of view. I’m hooked now…

  11. culturetastic September 20, 2014 at 9:05 am #

    When I read his article, I also asked myself, what exactly Scott defined ‘adulthood’ as. Isn’t finally being able to enjoy your freedom, liking what you want, doing what you want and not what your parents tell you to, part of being an adult? In my opinion, there is more to being an adult than watching Mad Men or wearing business attire. How is he to know if the man wearing his suit isn’t the biggest comic nerd living in his parents basement out there, how is he to know if the man wearing shorts and flip-flops isn’t the most responsible and caring father and husband? Scott takes appearances as such as a basis for his arguments shows that he is shallow in more ways than one. Blaming feminism (what is his definition of that anyway?) for how men behave, well, that’s real grown-up. Just as grown-up as blaming your younger sibling for breaking your mums favourite vase instead of admitting that it was your own fault. Is it women’s responsibility to raise men to adulthood? Isn’t self-responsibility also something that distinguishes a grown-up from a whining child?

    In any case, I am really glad that you made me aware of this article. Let’s make a bonfire and dance around in our infantile ways. If feminism is death to adulthood, I guess that is what is expected of us.

  12. andreablythe September 20, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

    I haven’t read his essay, but I love your analysis of it. And I’ll be dancing on adulthood’s grave with you.

  13. Jessica September 20, 2014 at 8:09 pm #

    It repeatedly baffles me how many men feel threatened by the idea of equality. How can anyone call themselves a victim for stepping down from supremacy alone?

    I somewhat touch on feminist issues and assault in my own Young Adult fiction series, mostly in the sequel which is still going through editing while other books are in the writing stage. I don’t make it an agenda to preach my opinion, but I portray recognizable scenarios of the typical idiocy between genders. In fact, the cover for the sequel portrays a split moment of an attempted assault.

    http://nocsville.com/2014/09/20/the-dark-church-ground-of-johannes-kyrka/

    Thank you Belle for your continued voice of reason! Richard Dawkins sentiments on the issue saddens me.

  14. peacewisdomprosperity September 21, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

    What a ridiculous article, this A.O Scott is crying over spilled milk…the spilled milk being his misinterpreted reality of what being a “real” adult truly means. He had it all contained and now it’s out of control! Oh what have we become? What are we to do? Boo hoo hooo!
    Who cares? What about being human? Being yourself? Yes Scott, yes, let’s all raise our noses up and scorn philosophy and art, freedom and individuality and let’s all melt into your “Adult mold” …let’s undo decades worth of blood, sweat and tears that activists like Simone De Beauvoir have spent years shedding…let’s forget all the passion and open-mindedness and devotion that many spent nearly their whole lives working towards…to change crowd-controlling ideologies that once kept art as prisoner …all to help a society that didn’t even want the help until they realized the truth…all these people that long ago felt trapped and marginalized under the pressure of their then current reality and crumbled under the shame of being themselves. I think he fails to see that perhaps he feels at home in all this…this “turmoil” he brings to light (which really is but the long-deserved “freedom of individuality” of the people). You should thank us Scott, all the “flower barrette-wearing women” and “Harry-Potter-reading 30-year-olds” are feeding you ego, and it will never be hungry again, believe me.

    Belle, you’re spot on when you say that he goes over great lengths to discuss everything adulthood isn’t and shouldn’t be in his own subjective mind. He indirectly points out that we should all be like him “What all of these shows grasp at, in one way or another, is that nobody knows how to be a grown-up anymore.”. Notice there is no “we” but only “nobody” as in “all of you people”. Yes, all of you! YOU! Shame on you for being happy in your individuality!

  15. Athena September 22, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

    “I’m not even going to get into the ludicrousness of a middle-aged white dude announcing that the patriarchy is dead”

    “it’s the sad, dying cry of a white dude who sees all of his unearned privilege slowly slipping away.”

    It’s interesting that feminists think the validity of an opinion is based upon who is giving it. Even if they, apparently as quoted above, agree with that opinion. The hypocrisy is so laughable it’s no wonder so many women are rejecting feminism now.

    Lastly, if you’re going to lambast others writing as ‘rambling’, you should probably tighten up your own. It makes you look really, really stupid. Zero self-awareness. Zero.

    • bellejarblog September 22, 2014 at 6:11 pm #

      I’m flattered that you so frequently stop by to hate-read my blog. Thanks for the page hits!

      • Athena September 22, 2014 at 10:06 pm #

        What can I say, psychotics fascinate me. I wouldn’t get too excited about the page hits though, you don’t even show up on any analytics engines.

        The experience here is like picking up a dog-eared diary left at a hospital bus stop. Repetitive, narcissistic, and delusional.

      • Jessica September 23, 2014 at 1:57 am #

        Athena, I’m not sure you understand SEO. Type in Belle Jar in Google, and this blog is at the very top out of many. A little further down, you find this article: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/profile-belle-jar/

        I’d say her page hits are just fine. Now, I don’t think she’s hosting her blog under her own domain to drive traffic to a website, but to keep the blog in the WordPress environment for greater exposure as..well, simply a great blogger.

      • LC September 30, 2014 at 5:20 am #

        Athena’s tone is hostile and abrasive but his or her basic point is quite sound, even important: you’re flinging ad hominems at Scott as though they prove something about his argument. If patriarchy is indeed dead–not saying it is or isn’t, but if it is–it’s not ludicrous for a middle-aged white man to say so. It’s sound cultural criticism.

        Scott’s piece isn’t without its flaws, but it’s much more subtle than you give it credit for and much more sympathetic to progressive politics than you want to believe. What’s more, your own take down consistently misrepresents or omits Scott’s ideas in order to present a distorted view of them that more readily justifies your posture of indignation. Here’s one example:

        Scott says: “… in the universe of thoughts and words, there is more conviction and intelligence in the critique of male privilege than in its defense, which tends to be panicky and halfhearted when it is not obtuse and obnoxious. The supremacy of men can no longer be taken as a reflection of natural order or settled custom.”

        To which you say: “…it is absolutely untrue that assertions of male privilege or belief in the inherent superiority of men (especially when it comes to ideas about the superiority of male intelligence) don’t exist in the ‘universe of thoughts and words.’” And then you list out a paragraph-long series of examples, from the universe of thoughts and words, of belief in the inherent superiority of men.

        But nowhere does Scott claim, as you claim he claims, that such beliefs don’t exist at all in the universe of thoughts and words. He simply says that there is more conviction in the critique of male privilege than in its defense, a much more subtle–and much less sensational–claim than the straw man you attack so vigorously.

        Rhetoric may get you more page hits, sure, but, without substance and integrity, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny or convince. Peel back the rhetoric from your post and there’s not much left that’s convincing or all that fair to Mr. Scott’s argument. You may believe Scott is decrying his own loss of power as a critic (to the extent he is decrying it, that’s not at all even close to being the point of his essay) but you should first slow down and contemplate what seems–as best as I can tell as a first- and last-time reader of your blog–to be the basis of your own power as a critic: an awful lot of sleight of hand.

  16. smartypants196 September 23, 2014 at 4:30 am #

    bravo bellejar, another important essay, you call them as you see them and you speak for many of ua

  17. Ona Luna April 6, 2015 at 12:41 am #

    Tony Soprano, Don Draper and Walter White are paragons of Adulthood? Color me confused. Great response to that drivel, BTW.

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