In response to:
The Curse from the January 16, 1969 issue
To the Editors:
If the female equivalent of Uncle Tom is Huck Finn’s Aunt Sally, then I think Margot Hentoff’s article, “Women,” [NYR, January 16] shows a lot of Aunt Sallyism. She demonstrates a friendly concern for women, but all solutions, short of artificial conception, are thrown to the winds. She starts out with a supposedly radical remark: “It is not good luck to be born a woman,” and neglects to say why not. Instead she has cast another stone.
It is easy enough to be feminist when you are either married or economically independent. But when you are single and poor, the needs for either money or love or both will drive out much of the pleasure of independence very fast. These facts turn the problem from feminists to women in general. As with racism, the original sin was not the worst—slavery; it has been the way that sin has become institutionalized beyond recognition. The colonialist mentality is at work, at fault, in both cases, and since one can’t change a mentality with words, one must act to change the institutions protecting it.
Of course the relationship between men and women involves a good degree of two-way pleasure, which has not been the case between blacks and whites. It sounds as if Mrs. Hentoff would rather try out a sexless society before trying a socialist one, for she passes over the socialist protection of women as if there were nothing but motes in her eye. She might, on the other hand, just not know to what extent prostitution, legitimate and illegitimate, is rampant in America. You can move among any class of women and find the same panic at large, a panic that leads girls to hide their heads under the bedcovers (where someone is waiting) for the most peculiar reasons.
“He’ll marry me if I get pregnant, or maybe he won’t…and even if he does, who will take care of the baby, if I have to get a job?” Birth control has changed the bodies, but not the minds of women. In some socialist societies an effort is being made to help a family maintain itself by providing such simple things as child care, medicine, education and rent. Of course there must be flaws, but I would also call it progress where money does not determine your choice of a husband, does not make you compete with men as a group, does not destroy your family’s security, does not give you a false mustache and dildo, and does not finally make you collapse with pills or a bottle beside a man you hardly know.
For a long time women have relied on the kindness of strangers; and because Americans as a whole don’t expect enough from their society, while expecting too much from themselves, these small pursuits have come to seem necessary. Who isn’t scared of change—especially for the better? Certainly women aren’t alone in that.
March 27, 1969