Friday, October 17, 2008

Obama, Ayers and the New Left (by Suzie)

          For a moment, forget all the other stuff about Obama and William Ayers. I want to know: Has Ayers apologized for being a sexist schmuck? Why aren't more people talking about Bernardine Dohrn?
          Later in this post, I also want to discuss how the New Left’s vision of feminism influences the discourse these days.
          Conservatives may think all ’60s radicals thought alike, but people on the left should know that sexism among radicals helped spark the women’s liberation movement, and that tension remains.  Jesse Lemisch, history professor emeritus of City University of New York, wrote that Ayers’ 2001 memoir "Fugitive Days" is
full of archaic sexism, littered with boasts of Ayers's sexual achievements, utterly untouched by feminism. ... "Hostility to feminism," writes Dan Berger in a new history of Weather, "characterized the organization from the beginning" …
          Daisy’s Dead Air calls Ayers a boring dork.
what? huh!? ... he is this big dangerous "terrorist" in a Sarah Palin speech ... while his wife Bernadine, the one always running the joint, isn't mentioned at all, is she?
          Dohrn was a founder and leader of the Weathermen.  Some of her old male colleagues still talk about her leadership in terms of sex appeal.
"It's a completely sexist point of view," she says. "Nobody would talk that backward way about men. I find it outrageous, really outrageous, and I think women in all walks of life, not just in public life, still receive that dual treatment."
          In recent times, Dohrn also said: “I wish that I had bridged the feminist movement and the anti-war movement better than I did.”
          In addition to opposing the Vietnam War, Weathermen talked of white privilege, showing disdain for a lot of working-class whites whom they considered racist. Not surprisingly, they had little use for white, middle-class feminists.
         In 1970, Jo Freeman described a feminist divide:
The original issue was whether the fledgling women's liberation movement would remain a branch of the radical left movement, or be an independent women's movement. … The New Left women's groups serve much the same function as traditional ladies auxiliaries.
          In 1969, for example, Dohrn had attacked the women’s movement for being middle class and for focusing on sexism, instead of “integrating (not submerging) the struggles of women into the broader revolutionary movement…”
          This critique echoes through feminism today, especially among academics and those who identify as the third wave. Many women think feminism must fight all oppressions equally, instead of focusing on gender. They think the feminism of the ’60s and ’70s benefited only middle-class white women, and they know little about the wide range of issues and activism back then.
          Whatever else the New Left accomplished, its vision of feminism took hold.