Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I've been reading with some fascination the various intergenerational feminist back and forth going on. I'm not sure how valid that description is for the country generally (aside from the general trend of older voters siding more with Clinton), but it has played out in the media to some extent that way.

I found this bit to be telling:

At a recent pre-panel reception, I immediately connected with a philosophy professor about the difficulties and joys of teaching feminist theorist Judith Butler. But the professor's mood took a 180-degree turn when the issue of eating disorders came up. "I'm so sick of hearing young feminists talk about fashion and body image and work/family balance," she said, rolling her eyes like an adolescent, though she looked to be about 50. "What about the women in Afghanistan!?"

She even approached one of the other panelists, 42-year-old journalist Kristal Brent Zook, with a plea to shut down any conversation about these "frivolous" issues if they should come up during the panel (i.e., shut down me, the silly author of a book on body image). Zook had my back, of course. She responded to the professor, "Actually the entire goal of this panel is to create intergenerational dialogue where all voices are heard. It's not my job to decide what's important to Courtney or any other feminist. It's my job to express my own issues and listen openly to others."

One of the more frustrating, futile, and self-aggrandizing rhetorical games is to tell people what their priorities should be. Nick Kristof has played this game in the past, chastising womens' rights groups for not focusing their limited resources on whatever his pet cause of the week happens to be. It's also global warming concern troll Bjorn Lomborg's trick, saying that instead of focusing resources on combating global warming we should use them for a bunch of other things that aren't going to happen. There's always a more important cause, a more deserving subject, a more downtrodden person. It's essentially a way of undermining all good works while building up the critic as More Serious And Enlightened Than Thou.

But people have different priorities. And to the extent people become involved in issues or causes, they have different skill sets, different abilities, different sets of knowledge. They have different things they can bring to the table. Telling people they should be fretting about the women of Afghanistan instead of focusing on eating disorders is, to put it bluntly, just stupid. More than that, it achieves absolutely nothing.