Monday, February 21, 2005

Most People Don't Want Change; They Want Exchange

What's going on between Susan Estrich and Michael Kinsley is one of those situations I immediately feel uncomfortable with and compelled to watch. Seeing a friendship go down in flames, playing out on a national scale is compelling. And I can't say, maybe Kinsley is the biggest jerk imaginable and maybe Estrich has valid points, but there's something about her tone that really bothers me. Worse yet, I can't decide if it bothers me for legitimate reasons or if it's some internalized patriarchal bullshit on my part: I feel like I must leap to Kinsley's defense, at least a little. Am I uncomfortable because Estrich is just doing what men have done for as long as they've been in power, i.e. is it seeing her act outside of what I perceive to be appropriate behavior for a woman? Or am I uncomfortable because I see her doing what Angelou warns against, seeking not to destroy hierarchies, but to instill herself on top? Maybe both. The ways in which it bothers me: 1. She hauls out a long list of names of women who agree with her. What? We now need armies of people to prove our importance? 2. She threatens him, saying that it'd be better for Kinsley to run her letter and make changes to the editorial page than to not run her letter. Well, making changes to the Op-Ed page is not contingent on him running her letter. Isn't it enough that he sees a need to make changes and has taken steps to make those changes? Or must she take credit for it? 3. She says she wanted to help quietly, but found that she was ignored. Well, please, who is she to get to help quietly in the first place? Did Kinsley ask for her guidance or is she just the self-appointed advisor to Kinsley? That isn't clear. 4. She is not the co-editor of the Op-Ed page. Why does she get to act as if one of her students not being published is a crime against woman-kind? Is that the only way we can get published, to know someone powerful? Gods, I hope not. 5. She acts shocked when Kinsley says "Susan - We don't run letters from 50 people, and we don't succumb to blackmail." And she says in response, "I am not engaged in blackmail, and I find that Suggestion to be highly offensive and insulting, and I am certain the many prominent women who have signed the letter would also agree." Can one refute charges of blackmail while making another veiled threat? Maybe Estrich has a different definition of blackmail than the rest of us, but a pretty general one is: do what I'm demanding of you, or I'll take this action that will be unpleasant to you. Saying that you're going to take your letter to Drudge if Kinsley doesn't publish it, and that it'd be better for him if that didn't happen is a threat. On top of that, saying that you're going to turn every woman who signed the letter against him if he doesn't apologize for saying that you blackmailed him is another threat. Christ Jesus. 6. She turns his disabling illness against him in the most abhorrent way. She almost admits that she’s being going around town "worrying" about his health--but then at the last minute she doesn't have the guts to own her actions, but blames other "people" for gossiping. "People," she says, "are beginning to think that your illness may have affected your brain, your judgment, and your ability to do this job." Yes, you read that right. She hits him right where it hurts, suggesting that his mind is going. I don't know how many of you have watched a brilliant person's body deteriorate while his mind stays sharp, but trust me, as much as a person might hate being stuck in a body that doesn't work, the fear that they'll lose their minds, too, is pretty great. For her to play on that, for her to even bring it up--not in a real, sincere, worried way, but as another kind of threat, that people are already talking--is obscene. 7. She appears to not understand modern technology, like, the phone. She says, "The fact that you were not in Los Angeles all week hardly helps matters, nor does the fact that you don't return phone calls." If he wasn't in town to receive his messages, how can he be faulted for not returning her calls? The incident that prompted this back-and-forth seems to have been a combination of the Times's general lack of women on the Op-Ed page and, then, specifically, the publication of some right-wing nut, who’s against feminism. Estrich's response to this is to form "a group of powerful women in this town -- 'The Club' is the name I have in mind -- to throw our collective weight around when it is needed -- to make sure there is a woman on the list when Disney starts interviewing CEOs, or to put pressure on News Corp to add a woman to their board (believe it or not, there isn't a single woman on the News Corp. board, and given that I work for Fox News, somebody else needs to take the lead on this one; again I've even gone to Mike Milken on this one, lord knows if working through the system worked, I wouldn't be writing this e-mail)." Yes, she's feigning surprise that Fox News's parent company doesn't have a woman on its board. And, yes, she's proposing that, in order to counter the old boys' network, she's going to head up an old girls' network. This is just great. Listen, if some evil genius wants to head up "feminism," more power to her, but I think a genius, evil or not, knows blackmail when she's doing it. And the only way I'm uniting with other feminists behind some leader is if she is indeed an evil genius. Otherwise, I'll make my own decisions, thanks. But more than that, what she's proposing is asinine because she doesn't have the power to do the very thing she wants to claim the power to do. How is she going to organize some old girls' network that will make sure anyone does anything when she can't even successfully pressure a friend of hers to put her friends on the Op-Ed pages of the LATimes? Why will Disney or Fox News fear her ability to turn her network of people against them? What's she going to do when they don't give a shit? Talk bad about them behind their backs? Start up websites against them? Shit, I have a blog, a hatred of the patriarch, and a network of friends. Nobody’s quaking in their boots because of me. I'm not saying that a lack of women in powerful positions in the media is not a serious problem. Clearly, it is. But if we think that the solution to that problem is to act like Men, Jr. and throw our weight around (when we don't have any) and threaten people (when we can't back up those threats) and get a bunch of names together (when it's not clear we can actually count on those people) and try to blacklist someone by smearing his name all over town (when no one in power gives a shit what we think), we are deep fucking trouble. We don't need to reproduce the institutions that have hurt us in our own image; we should be out destroying the institutions. Fuck being in the LATimes or on Fox News. Get your powerful friends together and do your own thing.


Blogger the Professor said...

I feel the need to pick, so to 7) I go. I think it is you, Aunt B, who doesn't know about technology. Most businesses (let alone many private individuals) have access to their messages from anywhere on the globe. It's called voice mail.

Otherwise, I think you've tapped into the problem - it's about friendship and power. Estrich seems to have assumed that being friends with Kinsley was the same as being able to tell him what to do, especially in regard to feminist concerns, of which she is the expert in the relationship. She is refusing to allow for Kinsley to be the same patriarch that most men are mostly because she can't bear to know that she has been friends with someone who is not actively and successfull and thoroughly pro-feminist.

2/22/2005 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Okay, it's true. I've yet to get my voice mail figured out and others are probably picking up their messages from all over the planet.

But I'm also very uncomfortable with Estrich setting herself up as the expert on feminism. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't she the person who lambasted Huffington for running for governor instead of staying home with her kids?

Here's a quote from the column:

"She [Huffington] is running on a platform she didn't even believe in a few years ago. Nor is it one she lives by. How could she do that to her children? my own children ask."

Please! Does Estrich ever own up to anything? First she says it's her children who are appalled by Huffington (way to play the Who's-a-better-mommy card) and then she says it's "people" who think Kinsley has lost his mind.

I'd hate to get on her bad side because she seems like the queen of passive-aggressive-land.

2/22/2005 04:13:00 PM  

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