Thursday, June 5, 2008

Deborah Lipstadt on Sex and the City and Friendship

Deborah Lipstadt is a personal hero of mine and a model for the sort of historian I want to be. Her book, History on Trial, chronicling her legal struggle with Holocaust denier David Irving is a must read for anyone who wants to understand what it means to be an objective historian. Recently, on her blog, she took a step away from her usual discussions of Holocaust denial, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism to comment about the recently released Sex and the City film. She counts herself as one amongst the show’s legions of female fans. In particular she admires the show for the strong friendships it depicts amongst its lead characters. Having never seen the show or the film, I am neither for nor against it; it may be a brilliant show and, even if it is not, Dr. Lipstadt is entitled to her frivolous fun.

What I found disturbing about Dr. Lipstadt’s comments was that she then turned it into a feminist attack on men. According to Dr. Lipstadt: “Most men don't have friends like that. They may have sports or poker buddies but they don't have friends who understand them to the depths of their hearts.” Dr. Lipstadt goes on to attack how the media portrayed Sen. Hillary Clinton in her recent presidential campaign. Dr. Lipstadt remarks:

Just as men don't get the essence of friendship. The men just don't get how mad so many women are about the treatment meted out to Hillary Clinton. The comments about her whining, her shrillness, her pantsuits, her ankles, her voice, her laugh.... None of the things we have heard about male candidates. Does anyone know how Obama, McCain, or any of the other close to a dozen men laugh? What their ankles look like?

I see this as a excellent example of how the hypocrisy of modern feminism can poison people, who are, in all other respects, rational individuals. Maybe I missed something, but, from my reading of feminist literature and the tolerance seminar I was forced to take before coming to Ohio State, I was under the impression that it would be sexist, and therefore wrong, of me to say something like: "Women do not get the essence of friendship. All they have are people to shop and gossip with." Why are Dr. Lipstadt’s words not sexist as well?

If anyone is interested in learning more about this strange concept of male friendship, I would suggest that you read C.S Lewis' essay on friendship in his book the Four Loves. While you are on the subject, may I also recommend Cicero's famous work, De Amicitia. Over the past few thousand years of Western Civilization, a fair amount has been written on the topic of close male friendship. As a man I can point to the models of Achilles and Patrolocus from the Iliad, Roland and Oliver of the Song of Roland and Lord of the Rings’ Sam and Frodo as models of male friendship. Dr. Lipstadt holds up Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte and seems to think that she has some sort of moral high ground. Something about that strikes me as off.

Just to be clear about this issue; the charge of sexism is not particularly important to me. What I care about are things like tribalism, to use Karl Popper’s term, and, most importantly, hypocrisy. Modern feminism, from what I have seen, seems to think that their standards only apply to men; there is no sense of self reflection. This is not very different from religious fundamentalists, who see themselves as the paragons of moral virtue sent to set the rest of the sinful society straight. At the very least our modern day Christian fundamentalists have the tradition of Paul, Augustine, Luther and Calvin to remind them of the utter sinfulness of all mankind, women as well, to keep them in line.

To turn the tables on Dr. Lipstadt, I would see her post is a good example of how many feminists seem to fail to understand what bothers so many men about Hillary and her campaign. As a man living in the early 21st century, I accept that sexism is wrong and that I need to think in larger terms than my male brotherhood. Not that men are perfect in this regard but at least they have a concept of not being sexist toward women.

John McCain and Barack Obama are not running as men. Hillary ran as a woman. Why should any man have trusted Hillary to think in larger terms than her female sisterhood? As long as women are not trained like men to avoid sexism and think outside of the tribalism of their female sisterhood than it is going to be very difficult to for women to be elected to public office.


Izgad said...

To be fair to Dr. Lipstadt, I raised these issues with her and she gracefully acknowledged that she should not have made any categorical statements about men. I will take that as a victory.

Whitney Johnson said...

REally interesting post. Thank you.