The recent posts about Frances Lear, upon whom the television character Maude was based, and Susan Sarandon and her dysfunctional background, got me to thinking: how many feminists have come by their feminism by substituting a vague resentment of all men for a hatred of one? How many prominent feminists hated their fathers? How many were molested as children?
So I took a look at the "Early life" section of the Wikipedia bios of some of the other recent prominent feminists. What I found was that some had mothers who were crazy.
Gloria Steinem's parents divorced when she was 10, and her mother Ruth was "an invalid, trapped in delusional fantasies that occasionally turned violent." Ruth was in and out of mental institutions all her life, and couldn't concentrate long enough to finish reading a book, but Gloria chose to interpret Ruth's inability to hold a job as "evidence of a general hostility toward working women."
So, no abusive father there, but a crazy mother, whom Steinem identified with, and whose insanity Gloria chose to view in political terms.
Germaine Greer is the author of The Female Eunuch, a 1971 bestseller. She was born in Melbourne in 1939. As per Wiki: "According to Greer, her mother suffered from what was probably Asperger's Syndrome, and as a result they had a difficult relationship. Greer left home because of it when she was 18."
(Aha -- a pattern!)
Greer, by the way, was not the kind of rigid, doctrinaire thinker so many of today's feminists are. She lived an adventurous, open-minded life, was obviously intelligent, and -- this is what really sets her apart -- had a sense of humor. But, she was an early proponent of what was then called "women's liberation," and thus merits mention here.
Kate Millett was born in Minnesota in 1934; she is most famous for writing Sexual Politics in 1970. From Wiki: "According to Millett, she was afraid of her father, an engineer, who beat her. He was an alcoholic who abandoned the family when she was 14, 'consigning them to a life of genteel poverty'."
Okay, that time it was the father. (Millett herself, by the way, was bipolar, and in and out of mental institutions.)
Andrea Dworkin, the anti-pornography crusader, seemed to have trouble with the truth (she claimed to have been drugged and raped in a hotel at age 53, a point in her life at which she was grotesquely obese). But there was nothing mentioned about her family history which spelled out insanity.
I then took a look back at some of the more famous feminists of the past, expecting more family dysfunction. But most of them came from large, intact families, with parents with whom there seemed to be nothing wrong. What's more, many of their parents were liberal in their outlook, so many of these feminists were in fact not even rebelling all that much.
Susan B. Anthony was born in 1820 to a Quaker family which favored social reform, and which had strong Abolitionist leanings.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was introduced to activism by her father, who was a judge. She had ten siblings, but six of them died by the age of 20. (Her mother was "devastated by the loss of so many children, [and] fell into a depression, which kept her from being fully involved in the lives of her surviving children and left a maternal void in Stanton's childhood.") Okay, a little bit of dysfunction there, but being depressed about losing six of your children is understandable.
Carrie Chapman Catt, a suffragist, born in 1859, had a relatively normal upbringing.
Julia Ward Howe had a stable upbringing.
Lucy Stone, another prominent suffragist, also came from a stable home, though she resented her father's authority.
Alice Paul, another suffragist, came from a Quaker family and basically followed in her mother's footsteps in becoming an activist.
Simone de Beauvoir, famous for The Second Sex, published in 1949, grew up in a sort of genteel poverty. Her mother was a conventional thinker, and her father more of a rebel. But her father was proud of Simone's intellectualism, and Simone's feminism couldn't be described as a rebellion against her family.
So, what with all these early feminists coming from stable backgrounds, there went my theory.
But then it occurred to me that the causes these old time feminists were espoused were completely just. All they wanted was the opportunity to become doctors, or lawyers, and to control their own fates. And, they wanted to be able to vote.
Who can argue with those causes?
None of these old time feminists argued that women should be combat soldiers, or that men who looked at women the wrong way were guilty of sexual harassment. None proclaimed that everything a man could do, a woman could do better. None believed that a woman who later regretted having sex ought to bring rape charges, or that a woman who'd had just one drink was incapable of sexual consent.
They were merely arguing for equal rights. They were sane women, from sane families, arguing for a sane cause.
It's the more recent feminists who tend to come from dysfunctional families, and who argue for today's more loony feminist theories.
The women listed above are far from a big enough sample from which to draw any really solid conclusions. And no one is responsible for having a dysfunctional parent. But, parents are inevitably strong influences, for better or worse, and always have an effect on their children. And the intersection of psychology and political outlook is always fascinating.
You can tell a lot about a movement from the type of people it attracts.