Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Arianna Huffington swings the liberal feminist pendulum

Arianna Huffington
It has been said that Arianna Huffington herself is AOL's greatest asset in its recent acquisition of the Huffington Post.

It's no secret that Huffington has swung her personal political pendulum  from  conservative to  liberal as reflected by Meghan O'Rourke in the Slate.com article titled "The Accidental Feminist" back in 2006.

O'Rourke said:

"In "The  Female Woman" (1973), Huffington argued that the 'frenetic extremism" of the women's liberation movement was seeking 'not to emancipate women, but to destroy society.'  A heatedly conservative position in the era of liberal feminism, it put Huffington on the map (she was then 23). Today, though, she calls herself a feminist."

Theres goes Huffington's pendulum -- but did it swing far enough?  In 2006, Huffington  published a book titled "On Becoming Fearless." 

O'Rourke continues:

"Arianna's current Weltanschauung is decidedly liberal and even feminist. In "On Becoming Fearless," Huffington scolds women for being careless and clueless about money ("Even in the liberated workplace of today, a surprising number of us still think that it's the man's job to make and understand money"). She recounts the cautionary tale of a writer, Carol Hoenig, who dallied in leaving an unhappy marriage because, as a stay-at-home mom, she had no source of independent income. She makes it clear that she thinks what keeps women out of top positions isn't evolutionary aversion to risk-taking, but rather internalized fears and a culture that is conflicted about female leadership."  (emphasis mine)

Well, Huffington gets it ... almost.  I like that she encourages women to take fiscal responsibility in their lives and to overcome their fears of risk-taking.  (I need to work on this myself.)  Yet, is the workplace truly "liberated" when women still make only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns?  And yes, our culture is conflicted about female leadership, but Huffington falls short of naming the real cause:  patriarchy.

O'Rourke says Huffington is still a little clueless:

"At other times, though, Huffington seems actively to misunderstand her own privileged position. A typical example involves her friend Caroline Graham, who lost a job at Talk when the magazine was shut down and who went through a jobless period of "shame and fear." Then Graham "rallied" and started a new consulting firm, having got on the phone and found out she had 'more friends and knowledge than I had imagined.' Great—and all quite understandable. The only trouble is that most people's problems are a little less grandiose. Interspersed within the book are personal testimonies from other Huffington friends and acquaintances, including Nora Ephron, Diane Keaton, and former Paramount chief Sherry Lansing. Huffington explained to me that 'these were not superwomen—they are successful, sure, but they are women to whom the ordinary woman can relate.' But it is one thing to offer inspiring examples of bootstrapping; it is another to point to Diane von Furstenberg, a Belgian √©migr√© who was once married to a prince, and tell middle-class American women that their fears are much like hers. Some differences merit being treated as real.

Here is where Huffington, like the early feminists she now claims to embrace, misses the point.  The early liberal feminist movement assumed sameness.  It assumed that all women saw work as a way to liberation and wanted the same thing -- equality to compete with men in the workplace.

I'm not devaluing the issue of pay equity, or the efforts of the feminist movement on its behalf.  The fact remains that the early movement targeted and benefited white, educated women of the upper middle class -- think "The Feminist Mystique" -- and many women felt left out on the basis of race and class.  

The good news is that O'Rourke "gets it" when she says, "Some differences merit being treated as real."

Betty Friedan's thinking changed later in her life -- so perhaps there's hope that Huffington's pendulum to swing just a little farther.

Worth another listen:

My podcast "Liberal Feminism Today"
       

                       
   
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Worth another read:

"What Betty did write"

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