The New Chastity and Other Arguments Against Women’s Liberation
This book is harmless, predictable, and sad. Like much ad hoc journalism, it is shallow, because the writer has set out to label and destroy a developing phenomenon like the women’s movement rather than to reflect on the needs and conflicts that generated it. Midge Decter’s writing lacks any sense of the past and of the ways it continues to haunt, illuminate, and seduce us. She finds that the women’s movement is the product of emotional and intellectual laziness masquerading as a “passion for social justice” and that its effect, if it is allowed to pursue its course, will be that “we shall all of us, men, women and babes in arms, live to reap the whirlwind.”
What whirlwind, or how our lives might be changed, she does not trouble to say. The book is a sermon, addressed to some presumptive band of the faithful. I cannot imagine it being read—really read—all the way through: it contains no fresh perceptions of women’s stake in this society that might revive their faith in it. I can imagine psychiatrists recommending it to their women patients, middle-class husbands presenting it to their wives on their anniversary or Mother’s Day, suitably inscribed. I expect its existence will be temporarily soothing to some people, chiefly men (the admiring comments on the jacket are all masculine)—but also perhaps to some women who imagine that feminism is denying the value of their past lives, is accusing them of having literally let their powers, their resourcefulness, their bravery, their intelligence run down the drain of the kitchen sink. I am more concerned with these women and their lives than with anything else that may surround the publication of Decter’s book.
Still, I find this a sad book, although its appearance was to be expected. Decter is an admirer of American society and I am not; this is one difference between us. She finds all dissenting movements both counter-productive and phony; she has praised the stability of the American system in the face of efforts to subvert it by “glamorous swashbucklers among the heralds of racial revolution; students; women.” She reveals, in her social criticism, a strange lack of information about the unfilled needs, let alone the enormous destructiveness, of the social order which she so admires, and which has brought forth the movements she so dislikes.
But her politics do not, in and of themselves, explain the nature of her book. I can easily imagine that, as a political conservative, she feels estranged from the radical left out of which the early women’s movement of our time emerged. But she does not tell us this. I could understand it if she declared that some aspects of the women’s movement with which she has come in contact seem to have nothing to do with her life. Black women have said this, and have been creating a black women’s consciousness of their own. What I wonder at …
Was It Matriarchy? October 4, 1973