sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

March 6, 2017

The Day of March The 8th

After seizing power in 1917, the Bolsheviks quickly embarked on a program of societal transformation. An integral part of their cathartic agenda was a replacement of traditional pagan and Christian holidays like Christmas or Maslenitsa with newly created socialist rites.  Arguably the most successful of the newly introduced “red calendar days”, the one that the country celebrated in earnest, was International Women’s Day, colloquially known by its temporal marking as the Day of March the 8th.  Not so coincidentally, March 8 was the most subversive of all socialist holidays, and by “subversive” I don’t mean “commie pinko”.

The origins of International Women’s Day are shrouded in mystery.  It first popped up in New York City in 1909 when women workers may or may not have held a strike on that date. In the coming years lady socialists around the Western world led their own strikes on or around March 8th.  One such demonstration in St. Petersburg in 1917 quickly escalated into the overthrow of the tsarist regime.  It is no surprise then that shortly after the October revolution the Soviets canonized the women’s solidarity day. It wasn’t until 1965, however, that the USSR made it into a major holiday giving workers the day off.

The early driving force behind the establishment of the Soviet holiday was a comrade of Vladimir Lenin named Alexandra Kolontai. Here is Ms. Kolontai explaining the meaning of the new socialist observance in a 1920 speech:

Women’s Day or Working Women’s Day is a day of international solidarity, and a day for reviewing the strength and organization of proletarian women. […]

Only the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of soviet power will save them from the world of suffering, humiliations and inequality that makes the life of the working woman in the capitalist countries so hard. The “Working Woman’s Day” turns from a day of struggle for the franchise into an international day of struggle for the full and absolute liberation of women, which means a struggle for the victory of the soviets and for communism!

One can celebrate many things — harvest, liberation from slavery, birthdays of people, countries and extraordinary historical and religious figures, but how does one mark the occasion of “struggle […] for the victory of communism” on behalf of the fair sex?

In 1965, when the Soviet subjects were allowed a day off to mark the occasion of female solidarity, Soviet women were obliged to work government jobs collecting government wages.  With professional opportunities being bleak and stay-at-home motherhood not an option, women were torn between not particularly satisfying jobs and not always appreciating families.  Without the free market working its magic to meet the needs of working families, this was a particularly difficult undertaking. American women justly complain about the double shift, but try working a double shift when you can’t drive up to a supermarket at 10:54 on Sunday night and buy everything you need to feed your family for a week.

There was also a problem with Russian men (and by “Russian” I mean the culturally Russian).  It’s not just that they generally believed women to be all around inferior, which they did and still do, but with the male/female ratio notoriously askew, there wasn’t (and there isn’t) enough of them.  And it’s not that there were so few of them, but that the ones who manages to survive wars and purges are often plagued by problems like sloth and alcoholism.  Women had to step up and do the men’s jobs, be strong when their men were weak.  Ladies were frequently seen on Soviet streets lifting and towing heavy objects, which was understood to be a problem, not a giant leap for womankind.  Those were not perky coeds who thought it would be cool to compete with men or be on equal terms with them, because they weren’t like their men at all.

Add to it the tragic but not frequently discussed at the time issue of abortion as birth control.  The exact number of abortions performed in the USSR is difficult to estimate because many of were done underground, but it’s not a stretch to say that all culturally Russian sexually active women capable of conception had more than one and often more than ten. This all took place against the background of high rate of alcohol consumption and other untreated mental illnesses.

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I’m not sure who took this picture and when, but it appears to be from my birth city of Kharkov , and it is exactly how I remember the Kharkov’s dreary side.  It has the quintessential Russian feel — sure, the girl is hot, but look at the surroundings

 

In the 70’s and 80’s, when I was growing up, Kolontai’s talk of the overthrow of capitalism was absolutely alien to Soviet reality.  But oh, did we hear about the inevitable victory of socialist labor and other related topics!  Communist ideology was inescapable: pinned to the outer walls of highrises, spewed at politinformation meetings at work and schools, saturated on airwaves — virtually anywhere and everywhere, except for our apartments and especially our kitchens.  What Russian society craved at the time was an escape from the officialdom into a private world, interpersonal relationships, inner feelings.  Personal, not political, because personal was interesting and tangible, and political was gibberish.

I when I set out to write this post, I tried to look up the quote I picked up in one of my seminars that went along the lines that the anti-Soviet was Soviet too.  I couldn’t trace it, unfortunately.  It could be attributed to a well-known dissident for all I know, it could be late Soviet folklore.  The idea here is that everything political is deeply flawed, that the Soviet system wrapped its subjects in the blanket of politics and that politics became inescapable, and that even to resist Soviet reality with a different kind of politics, like the dissidents, was to give into the Soviet system.  Living a private life unbothered by the powers that be was, from that perspective, a true act of radicalism.

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Soviet kitsch: postcard cuties bring early spring flowers to their love interests

And those, on this day Russian men give their women flowers, perfume and chocolates and children surprise their mothers with handmade crafts.  Wives and mothers spend the A.M. hours in the kitchen toiling on the labor-intensive mayo-based salads for the holiday feast to be spent with family and close friends.

The irony of the situation was quickly noted: on the supposed women’s day off it was women who busted their butts while, in best case scenarios, men relaxed in front of the television sets. (Worst case scenario? They were drinking someplace.). To offer help with housework this one day a year was considered an act of a true chivalry, but I’m not sure it ever happened, or, if help was offered, it was accepted (because who can trust dad to boil the carrots, right?) or if the offer extended beyond the manlier tasks like vacuuming the rug.

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More Soviet kitsch: Serenading mom on March 8. Note the apron on the dad

The men watched tv, first national channel mostly — the other two channels unwatchable–skipping the Supreme Soviets session honoring some proletarian femmes, perhaps noting a program that bemoaned the way women are treated in everyday life and always enjoying the operetta.  Lots of it was aired that day, with the aria of Boni from Imre Kalman’s Silva deemed particularly good fit for the occasion:

“One cannot live without women in this world, oh no,” croons  Boni. “As the poet said, they are our happiness.”  Organizers of #DayWithoutWomen please take note.

When the Soviet empire came crumbling down, some socialist holidays were disposed of, but there was broad consensus that the New Year’s Eve, which still remains the most important holiday throughout the Russian cultural space, and Women’s Day are worth keeping.  It remains a deeply ingrained part of post-Soviet tradition.  Ukraine’s controversial Institute for Historical Memory proposed abolishing this vestige of Communism a month ago this year, but that fell of deaf ears; March 8 is genuinely popular in this set in its ways country.

In Russia and its former holdings the holiday  continues to functions as a combination of Valentine’s Day and Mothers Day, but with a Russian twist.  It’s perfectly normal for a Russian publication to make a list of hottest female politicians in the country, just to celebrate the womankind.  A more western-oriented feminists in That part of the world, both of them, look at March 8 traditions with suspicion these days, but they are marginal creatures.  There might be a different way to authentically commemorate a women’s day, but, not unlike the real communism, it hasn’t been tried yet.

America doesn’t need International Women’s Day because our consumer-oriented, individualist society developed different, better ways of showing appreciation of women. When Valentine’s Day and Mothers Day are true people’s holidays, March 8 was an occasion celected by the state that Soviet society made its own.  And yet there is something that we, feminists especially, can learn from this Soviet holiday, namely the idea that private life is worth living for its own sake, that at the end personal happiness is all that matters and that it shouldn’t be sacrificed on the altar of second wave feminism.

I want to leave you with a song by Alla Pugacheva, a spirited redhead with clear, powerful voice, who, in the 70’s and 80’s became the embodiment of personal, not political turn in the Soviet psyche.  She sang of feelings and relationships, love and artists, childhood and motherhood, and it resonated.  I didn’t appreciate Soviet pop at the time, but now, looking back, I get the phenomenon.  So here is One Million Scarlet Roses, her mid-80’s megahit we expected to hear on the first national channel at prime time on International Women’s Day.

February 4, 2016

Everyday Feminism

Filed under: feminism, immigration, jihad, politics — Tags: , , , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:36 am

One August in the mid-80’s my mom took me and my sister to Yalta.  We usually vacationed elsewhere because this Crimean city, although unquestionably beautiful, was horribly overcrowded.  That year my sister was busy with university entrance exams all summer, so, after she passed, my mother decided to do something extravagant for her in the one week remaining before the beginning of the school year, and took us to Yalta.

Jurmala

No, this is not Yalta, this is Jurmala, a Latvian town on Baltic sea circa 1970.  The semi-naked human mass above is comparable to that of any other Soviet vacation paradise.  It’s hard to believe, but a jam-packed beach is somewhat of an object of Soviet nostalgia today.  Russia staged these types of human ant farm pictures in Yalta last summer by closing some of the beaches and crowding others

We rented out a half a room (well, a Soviet vacation) from a lady who lived five minutes away from the beach.  The lady that lived in the other half and was very talkative.  No problem, we thought, we are not planning on spending time in that room anyway.  We put on our swim suits and shorts and headed out.

Two blocks away from the beach we were approached by a young cop.

“Hello! Where are you from?” He asked politely.

We were taken aback.  This is not how Soviet authority figures typically approach citizens.  “Kharkov,” Replied my mother.

“So do you dress like that in Kharkov too?” He pointed to mine and my sister’s shorts. “This is way too short!” He all of a sudden became a Soviet authority figure, berating us for something that’s not any of his business in a first place.  He scolded us for a few minutes after which he said good buy and moved on to the next group of female vacationers.  A few months later we saw him on national TV admonishing some ingénues.

My mother was upset: No, we don’t wear this clothes in Kharkov, but Kharkov is not a resort town.  And here, two more blocks and we’ll be in our bikinis!

On a positive side, he didn’t throw acid on us, as our Iranian buddies would had done.  That young cop was pretty comical actually.  All his efforts didn’t make a dent in the beach-goers state of undress. But by then the Soviet Union was falling apart and 70 years of pent-up sartorial frustration was exploding in bright colors and mini skirts.  And designer labels on girls whose families, presumably, couldn’t afford any new clothes at all.

I don’t take my ability to dress the way I want for granted.  That’s why I view some of recent arrivals in my town with unease.  There’s a lot of heads carves and two women have only eyes open to the elements.  Their men dress more or less like normal Western men, but women and even elementary school girls are clearly marked as tribal-religious property.

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A classic: an Iranian woman before the revolution

The new arrivals’ dress code doesn’t simply signal their status; it has implications for me and my daughter.  As the European New Year’s Eve rape rampage confirmed, in the eyes of quite a few Muslim men Western women are one step above prostitutes.

I think it’s very important to show that we are not about to change our ways just because Muslim families settled in the nearby Section 8 (or whatever it’s called now) housing complex.  For instance, I always try to make eye contact with Muslim men and smile.  I wear skinny jeans and skirts that bare my knees.  If I’m ever in a situation where I can shake hands with a Muslim man, I’ll initiate it.

The other day I was walking towards the Target entrance when two women in head scarves and a male relative of theirs approached the entrance from the other side.  I made sure to get in 5 steps in front of them and, for myself, for my daughter and for every woman in Tehran, brushed my hand through my hair.

I don’t think I will personally ward off jihad, but on the other hand American women not as easy of a target as European women.  A 17-year-old Danish girl who fought of an assailant with pepper spray was recently told that she will be charged because pepper spray is illegal in Denmark.  This cannot possibly happen in the US, and the men entering the country must know it.

We can look at Israel as a model for assimilation.  The Jewish state has a pretty good record (well, all things considered) bringing their Muslims into the 21st century, and it’s known for beautiful modern women and Uzis.  I’d rather be Israel than Denmark.

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Another classic: A beach in Israel

January 15, 2016

David Bowie, Founding Father of Third Wave Feminism Dead at 69

Filed under: feminism, music, politics — Tags: , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 10:27 am

Third wave, or sex-positive feminism, has two dads and one stepmom.  The stepmom is Camille Paglia, the writer who redefined feminism for the 1990’s.  Not ivory tower feminism, of course, and academics-establishment types will never give her the full credit.  Second wave feminism, as RS McCaine argued, albeit I can’t find the exact quote, was a reaction against the sexual revolution and the liberal men.  It made personal political and deemed all sex a rape. What was new about the third wave?  The idea that women derive power from sex and the aestheticism. Those ideas are Paglia’s.  It was Paglia who spoke to the masses, it was Paglia who made most sense.

Paglia was hugely influenced by David Bowie, something she talked about at length after his passing:

Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust period in the early 1970s had a staggering influence on me. I had been writing about androgyny in literature and art in my term papers in college and grad school, so Bowie’s daring experiments seemed like the living embodiment of everything I had been thinking about. It’s hard to believe now, but when I submitted the prospectus for Sexual Personae in 1971, it was the only dissertation about sex in the entire Yale Graduate School. I completed it in 1974, while I was teaching at my first job at Bennington College in Vermont. One of the supreme moments of my life as a student of culture occurred in October 1973, as I was watching NBC’s “Midnight Special” in my apartment in Bennington. It was a taping from London of “The 1980 Floor Show,” Bowie’s last appearance as Ziggy Stardust—a program oddly never broadcast in the U.K. Bowie looked absolutely ravishing! A bold, knowing, charismatic creature neither male nor female wearing a bewitching costume straight out of the Surrealist art shows of the Parisian 1930s: a seductive black fish-net body suit with attached glittery plaster mannequin’s hands (with black nail polish) lewdly functioning as a brassiere. I instantly realized that Bowie had absorbed the gender games of Andy Warhol’s early short films, above all “Harlot,” with its glamorous, sultry drag queen (Mario Montez). Hence I viewed Bowie, who became one of the foundational creators of performance art, as having taken the next major step past Warhol in art history. I never dreamed that someday I would see that brilliant fish-net costume inches away in a display case at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, where I was lucky enough to catch the V&A’s Bowie costume show two years ago. It was a sacred epiphany, like seeing a splinter from the True Cross.

The two Bowie albums that had the biggest impact on me were Aladdin Sane (1973) and Young Americans (1975).   Bowie’s haunting, hypnotic “Lady Grinning Soul,” with its rippling, rhapsodic piano work by Mike Garson, is a masterpiece of art-rock. My own highly controversial view of women in the expanded version of Sexual Personae(published by Yale Press in 1990) can really be seen as an epic extrapolation of “Lady Grinning Soul.” That song reaffirmed everything I had intuited about mythological woman from all kinds of sources—from classic Hollywood movies to the masterpieces of the Louvre! Then there’s “Fascination” (on Young Americans), which Bowie co-wrote with Luther Vandross and recorded in Philadelphia. As I wrote in my essay for the V&A, this gospel/funk anthem is Bowie’s artistic manifesto, the closest we may ever come to a glimpse of his creative process, both passionate and agonized. Yes, passion—emotion! Because that is what separates the great Bowie from all those sterile postmodernist appropriators, with their tittering irony. Bowie drew titanic power from his deep wells of emotion. Plus as a mime artist, he was a dancer, grounded in the body. He never stupidly based gender in language alone—like all those nerdy post-structuralist nudniks who infest academe. Who the hell needed Foucault for gender studies when we already had a genius like Bowie?

Bowie loved Paglia back, naming Sexual Personae one of his favorite books of all time.

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One of the many faces: Bowie as a Sphinx

Bowie’s aesthetic sensibility resonated throughout feminist circles. He is probably the single greatest influence on post-Punk in all of its forms, including feminist riot grrrls.  Riot grrrl bands came in full force in the early 90’s; they married the standard-issue feminist message to a space oddity of female sexuality.  In their genre, the stage show is the most important part of musicianship, and their personaes have to be reaffirmed in every performance, Bowie-style, with a collage of glitter, striptease, lesbianism and profanity of the most hard core punk variety.  Their shtick is that on one hand they are reclaiming girliness, on the other — they are tough, so tough. Ironically their oh-so-empowering storm of the male-dominated music industry took place post-AIDS when the rock-n-roll scene was sufficiently tamed by the disease.

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The grrrl singer of Bikini Kill is of a conventionally good-looking variety.  Something she works *with*, not *against*

Beyond riot grrrls, when young women urge each other to grow arm pit hair and dust it with glitter, they are trying to think like Bowie.  When they parade down the streets of our cities in nothing but bras and panties, allegedly protesting unwanted attention, they are channeling Bowie in a fishnet bodysuit. If by no means conventionally good-looking Bowie fashioned himself into a sex symbol through sheer will, then they too are beautiful.  You might think SlutWalks are a dorkfest, but the gals think they are in an 80’s music video.

In literature (well, autobiography) and cinema there are the likes of Elizabeth Wutzel and Lena Dunham who are also working within this particular tradition that Bowie sired.  They are the foul-mouthed glitter girls ready to spread their legs for anyone sufficiently well-versed in inner workings of their subculture: Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am!  And I bet they have this and a few other Bowie songs committed to heart.

It should be noted that grrrls’ own invention was to throw the images of strong and healthy pre-pubescent girls into the sexualized Bowiesque mix.  If Lena Dunham didn’t found it very easy to tell us how she molested her younger sister, it’s probably because she saw images of innocence juxtaposed against sexual deviancy all her life.  Not saying that grrrls approved of Dunham’s behavior.

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From a 90’s grrrl zine

This is all terribly ironic considering the circumstances of Bowie’s death, as noted by Brendan O’Neill:

[…]I want to pay tribute to another of Bowie’s feats, which strikes me as quite extraordinary: the fact that he kept his cancer private, or ‘secret’, as the press insists, for 18 months. This, more than anything, has blown me away today. In this era of too much information, when over-sharing is virtually mandatory, Bowie’s decision to suffer away from the limelight, among those closest to him, appears almost as a Herculean achievement.

As if beneath all his masks and extravagances the real David Bowie was a private person. To Bowie personal wasn’t political.  He lived his life as if it was a piece of art and kept away from politics.  As a person he remained an enigma.

The second father of third wave feminism was Bill Clinton whose affairs forced the most doctrinaire of feminists to concede that men and women have sexual appetites.  Otherwise mattress girls would have been running around college campuses twenty years ago.

So there it is: a dissident feminist, a closet heterosexual (as Bowie once referred to himself) and the most powerful man on Earth gave us the current reincarnation of women’s movement.  I leave you, my friends, with Suffragette City.  I have no idea what the song means, not sure Bowie himself knew, but it’s one of his best and it seems fitting for the occasion:

January 7, 2016

What I Remember About Cologne

Filed under: Europe, immigration, politics — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 2:11 pm

The year was 1998, I think, and I was backpacking through Europe alone.  I took a train from Berlin and came out of the Cologne Hauptbanhof (a fun word, I love it).

I walked out of the train station and found myself in front of the majestic Gothic cathedral.  It’s generally considered the best in Germany, but by then I had seen so many Gothic churches that they were all becoming one giant pointy swirl.

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A sleek, modern train station across from the medieval cathedral on a clod, wet night is exactly how I remember the city.  The picture above accompanied several stories about the New Years Eve sexual assaults on indigenous women by migrants in Germany

I walked to my hostel which was just a block or two away.  I stayed there overnight and before going to bed spent some time smoking cigarettes and consuming modest amount of alcohol with the hostel’s German owner and some British guy who’d been staying there for a long time.  The German guy was nice enough, but the Brit was an annoying prick, not because of any kind of a male-female issue; he was simply a prick.

I had only two weeks of vacation left, and I was lonely and tired of Germany.  The following day I took a train to Belgium and from there a boat to the UK where I met up with a cousin.

My daughter will never have an experience like that.

November 13, 2014

An Abortion Barbie Is Still A Barbie

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:33 am

Being a uterati Democrat, Wendy Davis was destined to lose her bid for TX governorship.  I’ve read quite a bit about her losing TX women, doing dismally with the married ones, which some interpreted as women voting with their brains, not loins.  I have a bit of a problem with this conclusion.

We women are good at a lot of things.  We are nurturing and not exceedingly stupid (not exceedingly smart either, just average).  But we do come with one unfortunate defect, namely jealousy.

Sarah Palin wasn’t too popular with women either, often to the point of obsession, mainly because she’s a former beauty queen with good-looking, if imperfect, family and, back in 2008, a stellar career.  There is a certain class of women who will be made to feel better about themselves by Hillary Clinton because she’s a miserable wrench, and will vote for her for that reason, but cannot stand the sight of Palin.

And sure, Davis didn’t get the kind of vitriolic press that Palin had to deal with, and I’m sure she’ll be more or less left alone after the election because a) conservative women are busy moms, b) conservative women are more likely to be religious and those are warned in some shape or form that jealousy is a deadly sin and c) liberal women are technically on the same team as Davis.

BUT I is it a surprise that women didn’t vote for a noted gold-digger with a Barbie mug?

Do you see a team player? I see a queen bee

And sure, there are many beautiful women who got elected this time around — Elise Stephanic, Mia Love, Joni Ernst — but they are very different kind of beautiful.  One can almost feel the callouses on their hands by looking at their smiles.  Plus, they were elected by conservatives (see above).

May 30, 2014

Sauce on The Tablecloth

Filed under: feminism, Soviet Union — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 4:50 pm

A lady who once wrote that “it has taken me 32 years to understand how to take care of myself” penned an essay calling for a national conversation on 3rd-wave-feminism-compliance of feminine hygiene products.  She proposed the thesis that the use of tampons alienates women from the natural power bestowed on them by menstruation.  (Question: why do menses stand for female power but childbearing is scoffed at?)  The revelation was all inspired by a rap video, titled “Tampons and Tylenol” (what else?) because to really understand where we are as a society, look no further than popular culture, especially black popular culture as it’s more authentic.  (Actually I kind of agree about pop culture being a mirror of society, but, gosh, it’s such a feminist cliche!)

The onset of menses is a huge event for girls, who talk about it quite a bit among themselves –so I’m not surprised that in our let-it-all-hang-out culture the topic finds its way into a song here or there or a sitcom features a joke about it.  More interesting is that the contemporary Western grown ups are so uninhibited about the whole monthly trouble thing.

In my early teens in the Soviet Union, which happened to be in the 1980’s, I had to deal with pretty heavy logistics.  Our only option was a special rubber “belt”, panties really, and inside of the “belt” we laid a runner of cotton which had to be removed and replaced once soaked.  On a heavy day, we’d carry around a spool of cotton.  Once the “monthly” was over, we cleaned and stored the device.  The “belt” was purchased at pharmacies, where, once there was no men around, we whispered the name into the ear of a woman behind the counter who then discreetly slid it into the shopper’s purse.

My “belt’s” edge rubbed against my hip, and by the time I left USSR at the age of 16, I developed a scar that did not heal until a few years later.  I suppose as far as the scars of socialism go, that one was rather superficial.

Once we crossed the border, I could choose from a variety of products, all more convenient and humane than the ones I had before.  But what if some peeping Tom was watching me shop?  To my astonishment, Western women dragged colorful plastic bags of tampons to the check out counters of supermarkets where they were often rang up by men, and the men seemed to pay little or no attention to what went down the conveyer belt.  Heck, no-one at the supermarket expressed any interest in what was rolled in the shopping cards in the plain view of the customers.  What, no sex maniacs of capitalism?

And Western women, have they no shame?  Or maybe that’s what civilization is like because, to quote Chekhov: “A good upbringing means not that you won’t spill sauce on the tablecloth, but that you won’t notice it when someone else does.”

Somewhere on the way to motherhood periods ceased providing endless fodder for girl talk.  Then childbirth and nursing became preferred subjects of powder room conversations.  Mostly I’m happy that consumer society makes it easy for a woman to go on with her life, even when bleeding and in pain.  I don’t believe a feminist needs to take any position on feminine hygiene products other than to promote economic system that eases inconvenience and perhaps celebrate the society that does not make a big deal out of it.  Then again, I don’t believe that personal is political.

April 23, 2013

Ill-Mannered Women Seldom Make History

Filed under: feminism, politics, Soviet Union — Tags: , , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 11:34 am

I came out of my parenting funk last week to learn that Margaret Thatcher, one of the greatest champions of freedom in our era, had passed away. Chihuahuas were barking mad, of course, but as Mark Steyn tells us, Lady Thatcher was the kind who’d savor the fury:

Mrs. Thatcher would have enjoyed all this. Her former speechwriter John O’Sullivan recalls how, some years after leaving office, she arrived to address a small group at an English seaside resort to be greeted by enraged lefties chanting “Thatcher Thatcher Thatcher! Fascist fascist fascist!” She turned to her aide and cooed, “Oh, doesn’t it make you feel nostalgic?” She was said to be delighted to hear that a concession stand at last year’s Trades Union Congress was doing a brisk business in “Thatcher Death Party Packs,” almost a quarter-century after her departure from office.

The finger!  The finger!

The whiniest of all chihuahuas Morrissey opposes Thatcher on animal welfare grounds or some such. He certainly aged… but the good news is that he’s still alive. Who knew?  Morrissey was one of those entertainers who were big in the West, but gained virtually no traction in the Soviet Union.  We preferred classic rock and heavy metal.

And here is another quote from the infinitely quotable late Prime Minister:

“I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding,” she once said, “Because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.”

“They” certainly lost a lot of arguments.  Steyn summed up the legacy of Lady Thatcher’s domestic policies:

Thatcherite denationalization was the first thing Eastern Europe did after throwing off its Communist shackles — although the fact that recovering Soviet client states found such a natural twelve-step program at Westminster testifies to how far gone Britain was. She was the most consequential woman on the world stage since Catherine the Great, and Britain’s most important peacetime prime minister. In 1979, Britain was not at war, but as much as in 1940 faced an existential threat.

Mrs. Thatcher saved her country — and then went on to save a shriveling “free world,” and what was left of its credibility. The Falklands were an itsy bitsy colonial afterthought on the fringe of the map, costly to win and hold, easy to shrug off — as so much had already been shrugged off. After Vietnam, the Shah, Cuban troops in Africa, Communist annexation of real estate from Cambodia to Afghanistan to Grenada, nobody in Moscow or anywhere else expected a Western nation to go to war and wage it to win. Jimmy Carter, a ditherer who belatedly dispatched the helicopters to Iran only to have them crash in the desert and sit by as cocky mullahs poked the corpses of U.S. servicemen on TV, embodied the “leader of the free world” as a smiling eunuch. Why in 1983 should the toothless arthritic British lion prove any more formidable? [Emphasis mine, — ed.]

My grade school years coincided with Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister and Ronald Reagan’s Presidency.  The Soviet media vilified both of them ferociously, but to our family they were friends.  We had family members who were trying to leave the Soviet Union, and we appreciated the unwavering support both Thatcher and Reagan expressed for Soviet dissidents and refusniks.

Regardless of family background, my generation loved action flicks and coveted blue jeans and bootleg rock music.  But it was up to the political leaders to explain the value of freedom.  Back in the 80s, Western leaderships projected optimism and confidence.  They showed us why capitalism was successful, and why it was worth imitating.  Maggie, Ronny and rock-n-roll were the picture of the West that I grew up with.

Maggie’s opinion was valued.  My grandma, who always got her news from the Russian Services of the BBC and the Voice of America, was heartened when the BBC broadcasted the Iron Lady’s opinion of Gorbachev: he was the man she can do business with.  That was the seal of approval Eastern Europe craved.

The Iron Lady is greeted by Moscowites in 1987 at the beginning of Gorbachev’s short tenure

Here is Oleg Atbashian — who is a couple of years older than me and has a more mature recollection of that period — on listening to Maggie on shortwave radio (click on the link for a cool poster).  He tuned in for rock-n-roll and stayed for politics:

 One night — it had to be late 1982, when Margaret Thatcher was running for her first re-election — my shortwave radio caught a BBC broadcast of the Iron Lady’s campaign speech.

[…]
Listening to Thatcher speak confirmed everything the Soviet media was reporting about her, and more. In a deep, powerful voice, she accused her socialist opponents of destroying the British economy through nationalization and presented the proof of how privatizing it again was bringing the economy back to life. The free markets worked as expected, making Britain strong again. The diseased socialist welfare state had to go, to be replaced by a healthy competitive society.

To the average consumer of the Soviet state-run media, that didn’t make any sense. When exactly had Britain become a socialist welfare state? That part never passed the Soviet media filter.

[…]

The next logical question would be this: if Great Britain wasn’t yet as socialist as the Soviet Union, then didn’t it mean that whatever freedom, prosperity, and working economy it had left were directly related to having less socialism? And if less socialism meant a freer, more productive, and more prosperous nation, then wouldn’t it be beneficial to have as little socialism as possible? Or perhaps — here’s a scary thought — to just get rid of socialism altogether? [Emphasis mine, –ed.]

My readers are welcome to dispute me, but I prefer Maggie to Ronny.  For one, the Iron Lady’s task of privatization was infinitely greater than anything Ronald Reagan had to face.  For another, I’m absolutely in awe of her speaking style.  Reagan was a great orator, full of passion, insights and spontaneity.  But Thatcher, ooow, her zingers were deadly.

I think it’s instructive that while the left talks incessantly about female empowerment, the actual great female leaders are conservative.  In part it’s because feminism is a false idol.  A non-Y-chromosomed Western politician too attached to the sisterhood is limiting herself.  The work of female emancipation now entails such all-important projects like providing already cheap birth control for free.  A woman with a vision, like Margaret Thatcher, has to have greater goals in mind.  Plus, if the story of Sarah Palin teaches us anything about the women’s movement, it’s that we, women, can be nasty and envious.

Since the second wave feminists taught women that personal is political, which really means that nothing is personal.  One’s choice of occupation, of clothing, of, notoriously, coital position, belongs to the sisterhood.  Feminism is a way of life, and as far as lifestyle advise goes, this one is highly questionable.  Per feminist bumper sticker wisdom, “Well-behaved women seldom make history”.  A now middle-aged death rocker we know has that one on her car.  There are plenty of obediently ridiculous women in the feminist movement, from raging grannies in pink to slut walks.  Is it worth it?

I’m sure it’s all very convenient in short term given how young ladies have all the rationale to party, but I pity the “girls” who will not, in a matter of year or two, grow to regret their participation.  The Ukrainian group Femen is selective high-end international version of slut walks.  I have to give it to them, they know how to get their egos massaged.  Occasionally, their protests have a kind of logic to it.  If one has to remove her bra for a cause, flash islamists.  Ultimately, though, they are dead-enders (via Leslie Lofties) destined to be a footnote to history.  If they get an honorable mention in history books, students struggling to figure out the narrative will wonder if they really need to know about partially naked women who once grabbed headlines.

Margaret Thatcher will get an entire chapter. I’m not sure she was “well-behaved”, certainly not by the standards of the socialist Left, but she was a lady, and as such she commanded attention and respect.  When the Meryl Streep film came out in 2011, Margaret Thatcher’s personal style became a popular topic of discussion, which is a bit silly.  It’s the women’s movement that’s about style, and the more outrageous, the better.  Morrissey is about style.  The Iron Lady was about substance.

Iconic Maggie, cheerful on the day she was elected, 4 May 1979.  Power, optimism, substance

A side note:  Margaret Thatcher had her twins when she was 28 — early by today’s standards.  She slowly developed her career and went on to be the most powerful woman in the world.  Had she waited another ten years to start her family, she’d spent her 40s carrying for young children, not moving up the Tory political ladder.  There is a lesson there.

And, oh, look how slender this mother of twins was — because she gave birth in her 20s?

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