April 11th, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
I don’t give out awards, but maybe I should. There are some people out there doing great things, sometimes alone. There’s a guy in North Dakota who’s taken on the whole apparatus of state government and gotten passed, almost single-handedly, an equal parenting bill in his county. It’s the only law of its kind in the country – the whole country. The guy’s a diesel mechanic.
Then there’s a lawyer in Maine who spent who knows how many hours fighting the well-funded Lori Handrahan on behalf of her ex-husband. Handrahan got money from feminist organizations that were pleased to see her lie, slander, commit perjury and abuse her little daughter. But this lawyer fought them every inch of the way, mostly pro bono, and beat the lot of them. The little girl is now in the safe, loving care of her father and his wife.
Both of those guys deserve awards. So does Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon.com, albeit of a different type altogether. It’s still only early April, but I’m putting this article by Williams up as the early front-runner for stupidest article of the year (Salon.com, 4/10/13). Truly, this one is way down there at the bottom. It’s down in the muck of millions of years of decaying phyto-plankton. It’s hard to imagine how someone could come up with anything quite so clueless, so frankly deranged.
It seems that MSNBC talking head Melissa Harris-Perry delivered herself of the following idiotic remarks one day recently:
“We haven’t had a very collective notion of, these are our children. We have to break through our private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it’s everybody’s responsibility and not just the household’s, we start making better investments.”
Hmm. Really? I wonder what proof she has for those assertions. Any at all? Why do we “have to break through our private idea that kids belong to their parents” and families? Harris-Perry doesn’t go into that. I guess she figured it’s self-evident, so why bother. If so, that “reasoning,” otherwise known as an unsupported and unsupportable assertion, falls right into line with “once it’s everybody’s responsibility… we start making better investments.”
I don’t mean to repeat myself, but where’s the evidence for that? Again, silence from the Harris-Perry.
Needless to say, Williams couldn’t be more enthusiastic about what the MSNBC host said. To her this whole thing about families raising children is just so much claptrap. Yes, the human race has done it almost exclusively that way since long before written history, but what’s all that proven experience compared with a few unsupported assertions delivered off the cuff? Along with seemingly everything else about parents and children, the hormonal connection between mothers and children is utterly unknown to both Harris-Perry and Williams.
For that matter, we’re now neck-deep in the social science on child well-being and essentially all of it proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that children do better in families than anywhere else. The two biological parents of the children produce better outcomes for their children than anyone else. That includes single-parent families, step families, adoptive families, foster families, group homes and every other imaginable arrangement. Someone might want to clue Harris-Perry and Williams in on what apparently is a secret to them, if to no one else. We actually know what’s good for children. And when “the community” tries its hand at raising kids, disaster usually ensues. The closest thing we have to that are foster families and group homes that just happen to be at the bottom of the list of places to raise kids.
Maybe Harris-Perry and Williams think that the greater incidence of child abuse, child sexual abuse, exposure to illegal drugs, the relative absence of adult investments of time and nurturing that are found in those situations are ideal for children, but my guess is that they’re just entirely ignorant of what they’re talking about.
But I assure you, if that were the article’s only drawback, it wouldn’t get nominated for Worst of the Year. Bad, yes, but not the Worst. No, what comes next helps to sink the piece into that dark, cold, soundless place heretofore occupied by the likes of Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon.
That’s because, apparently without a clue as to the import of what she’s writing, Williams refers to a New Yorker article by Susan Faludi about one of the most extreme, radical and ultimately insane feminists, Shulamith Firestone. Firestone died last year in a cold water flat in Greenwich Village (The New Yorker, 4/15/13). She was penniless, utterly alone and had long been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. She may have starved to death, but no one knows because no autopsy was performed on her body which was found by her landlord several days after her death.
Back in the heady days of truly radical feminism in the early 1970s, Firestone was something of an important figure. To anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear, her tireless zeal on behalf of the most extreme form of feminism clearly prefigured her mental illness. But for a short time, she was one of feminism’s major figures. Williams cites Firestone with undisguised approval verging on adoration. Why? Because Firestone was one of the original feminists to identify the family as the seat of all oppression of women. Not only that, but as the family enslaved women, it did the same to children although just how remains a mystery.
As Faludi explains, Firestone, who wrote “The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution,” believed “The traditional family structure … was at the core of women’s oppression.” Back in 1970, she argued that contemporary childhood is “a supervised nightmare” and “woman’s bondage to motherhood was also extended to its limits,” and called for a new system “in which collectives took the place of families.”
In Williams’ eyes, these were great ideas.
As is so often the case with feminists, facts prove inconvenient. Those facts show that women in traditional families are happier and safer than those in any other situation. Children of course are too, but, like so many feminists, Williams isn’t about making sense; she’s about changing the world to suit her pre-conceived notions. And if the truth gets in the way, too bad.
But Firestone, for all her many shortcomings, merits greater attention. Somehow Williams manages to miss the excruciatingly obvious fact that Firestone’s life proves the very opposite of her anti-family message.
Firestone was born to a devoutly Jewish family. By all accounts highly intelligent, she and her father Sol came into conflict many times from at least the girl’s teens on. A devoutly Jewish upbringing by a demanding and highly critical father and a passive mother sent Shulamith straight into the none-too-loving arms of the Second Wave feminist sisterhood. Firestone embraced feminism with all the passion of a young woman trying to find a substitute family. It proved to be a brief and disastrous experiment.
A rising star one moment, Firestone published her first book, “The Dialectic of Sex” in October of 1970 and was purged from the movement the next. The “sisters” decided she was too much of a leader to be part of their new egalitarian utopia, so she was out. As Faludi says,
“The group is falling apart,” Firestone wrote to Laya on May 26, 1970, and confessed to “a little bit of a sleepless night.” She added, “Basically, I don’t believe finally that the revolution is so imminent that it’s worth tampering with my whole psychological structure, submitting to mob rule, and so on, which is what they’re all into.” Some days later, the members of New York Radical Feminists gathered in a hall downtown for a general meeting. The West Village-1 group aired its complaints, women began shouting at one another, and then they voted overwhelmingly to abolish the structure that Firestone had crafted. The Stanton-Anthony brigade retreated to the cellar, where Firestone and Koedt announced their resignations and left the hall. All but two of the Stanton-Anthony members quit soon thereafter, and Koedt withdrew from activism. “I was done with groups after that,” she told me…
John Duff, a sculptor who was Firestone’s on-again, off-again boyfriend in this period, remembers Firestone telling him that she had been forced out by an “anti-leadership” faction. “And guess who became the new leaders?” she said to him. “The anti-leaders.” Late on the night of the vote, Firestone showed up at Anne Forer’s door. Forer remembers her saying, “They threw me out and that’s it.”
Then, later in the 70s her brother Daniel committed suicide and then in the early 80s, a final conflict with her father led to Firestone’s cutting all ties with her family. Sol died in 1981 and that, according to friends was her complete undoing. From there she descended directly into madness from which she never recovered.
So how does the collective stack up against the family in Firestone’s own life? Well, in the early days, feminism, her adopted family, threw her out of the house for the sin of political incorrectness. The “sisters” (note the familial term) and the sisterhood, whom Firestone had so warmly embraced, shoved her aside, not because she wasn’t beneficial to the movement, but really on a whim. Everyone in that family had to be alike and she was anything but run-of-the-mill. So, in what looks a lot more like jealousy than moral rectitude, her adopted family spurned her.
Now, it’s true that, in the 90s, on hearing of her mental problems, some of the old guard tried to help Firestone with the assistance of a dedicated psychiatrist. And for a time it worked; she had a couple of years of lucidity. But the old guard proved to be every bit as committed to Firestone and her well-being then as they ever were – not very. Faludi again:
The recovery didn’t last. By the late nineties, the support group had started to dissipate—Margaret Fraser moved, as did the psychiatrist who replaced her; Lourdes Cintron fell ill; the younger women found jobs in other cities—and soon stopped meeting altogether.
What about her real family? Beyond doubt, it was her rejection of them in favor of her new-found sisters in the feminist movement that set Firestone up for her mental smash-up. She found her life with father, mother, brothers and sisters to be intolerable, but of course what they gave her was far more than she ever got from those who knew her only as a political actor. They gave her the love and compassion that only families give. Her relationship with her father was almost violently contentious, but it was only when she finally cut ties with him and the rest of her family that her plunge into madness began in earnest.
[Her sister] Tirzah told me, “It was when our father died that Shulie went into psychosis. She lost that ballast he somehow provided.”
She needed her family in the most basic way. She didn’t need the sisterhood and they didn’t need her.
At the last, only her biological sister Laya kept trying to contact Shulamith.
She withdrew into her old seclusion, not answering the phone or the door, not speaking even to Laya… When Laya came to New York a few years ago, and her sister finally answered the phone, she begged her to at least show her face. “I said, ‘Shulie, I’m walking by your apartment. Just look out the window and I’ll wave to you.’ ” She didn’t.
She’d spurned her true family and couldn’t make herself return to them. The others long before had spurned her.
Firestone was buried, in a traditional Orthodox funeral, in a Long Island cemetery, where her maternal grandparents are interred. Ten male relatives made up a minyan. None of her feminist comrades were invited.
That’s the wonder of the collective Williams extols. It didn’t give a tinker’s ‘damn’ about Firestone. She died crazy and alone because she’d tried to substitute them for her real family. That’s what Williams wants for all of us. Into the bargain, she doesn’t even realize that the one example of the “community’s” care plainly undermines the thesis it’s offered to prove. That’s just dumb.
I’ve gone on long enough for one piece, but I still haven’t exhausted the deep and broad silliness of Williams’ article. So I’ll do that in my next post.