Wednesday, November 21, 2012

PAULA vs JILL -- And Feminists Cringe Worldwide

Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley – two women we had never heard of before the current General David Patraeus scandal.  I like to think of Paula and Jill as the Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz of the post-feminist movement. What’s the post-feminist movement, you ask? That depends on who defines it for you, but overall post-feminism is really the next plateau of the feminist movement.  Think of it this way: The iconic cultural feminist of the 1970s expressed herself publicly by burning her bra. The post-feminist of the new century would simply say her bra is not up for discussion and has nothing to do with the socio/political structure of the world.

Whew! Heavy. Or not. You see, in the 1970s, in order for women to advance in politics, the corporate system, in the workplace, in the family and in their chosen disciplines, many often mirrored the traditional (albeit not terribly flattering) behaviors of men, who were already in positions of power in all of the above. I know this because as a young 20-something American new college grad, I had to work for such women. I sometimes looked at some of the women I worked for and wondered, if I hadn’t met them under these occupational circumstances, would they be more inviting as humans than they appeared to be in the workplace? In the workplace, I reported to women who demonstrated inordinate aggressiveness and a certain desperation to succeed (at least according to the traditionally male definition of success).  

By the 1980s we had our first female Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor (left). We also saw the first woman ever to head a major Hollywood studio, Sherry Lansing at 20th Century Fox.
Sally Ride became the first woman in space,serving on two shuttle missions. I could go on, but the point is that by the latter part of the 20th century women were movin’ on up, and some of the goals of the feminist movement were being realized. And while the leaders of the feminist movement were still passionate about their causes by the 1990s, women in America were not quite as demonstrative or emotionally invested in the movement as they had been in mid-20th century years. 

Today, what has become known as the “post-feminist” movement really still incorporates some of the basic tenets of the original movement – socio/political equality, equal pay for equal work, fair opportunity for advancement in various strata of society, and respect based on individuality, rather than gender.  Please understand – I do not claim to be an expert or a student of feminist doctrine.  I’m just an observer who lived through the most active years of the movement, and now observes the fractured state of feminism in America. 

Enter Paula and Jill. In a nutshell, it goes like this:   Paula gets a sweet gig writing a biography of one of the most powerful military men in America, General Patraeus. She spends about five years working on it, with his full cooperation, and reportedly they develop a personal and sexual relationship.  Meanwhile, Jill,
an alleged social climber from Florida, is friends with the General, and seems to like to mix and mingle with other powerful men, including General John Allen,(right) Nato's commander of foreign troops in Afghanistan.  It seems Jill and the General were into exchanging racy emails. Speaking of emails, apparently Paula sent Jill emails that instructed her to keep her mitts off of General Patraeus.  Jill felt so threatened by Paula’s directives that she reported her to the FBI. Oh God, why am I telling you this? If you haven’t been in a coma for the past two weeks you know all about this already, right?

So, why do I call Paula and Jill the Lucy and Ethel of post-feminist America? Because just like two junior high school girls, they evidently got into a verbal sparring match (via email) about the big man on campus, David P.
Never mind that David doesn’t look much like a BMOC. Power trumps pecs and abs in the grown up world.  Here we have two mature (?) 40ish, MARRIED, educated, outwardly refined women rolling in the digital mud over a married military official. Does junior high ever end? Really. And do women of this caliber not understand that their behavior goes against everything their older sisters and mothers fought for in the heat of the mid-20th century? 

Paula Broadwell could live another 50 years and write some of the finest material of her time, but when she dies, her obit will certainly recall the days of her affair with the General and her catfight with a woman she perceived to be a threat to her hold on him. Jill Kelly could live another 50 years and hobnob with whomever she feels can help her climb the much-coveted social ladder, but forever more she will be identified as the married socialite who conducted an ongoing digital flirtathon with General Allen. Each of them can flash their credentials in neon on the side of their homes, if they choose, but their educational and occupational accomplishment will forever be overshadowed  by their public junior highschoolishness. 

I picture Betty Friedan and Bella Abzug rolling over in their graves, as I envision Gloria Steinem (below, right) holed up in her Manhattan townhouse mixing another pitcher of Grey Goose martinis to ease her pain.
The purely feminist idea was to enable women to get to positions like Broadwell’s and use them to honor all women. It wasn’t to sleep with the General so that her ego could roll in the luxury of knowing she slept with the General.  The feminist idea was to enable women like Kelly to make the choice to climb the social ladder if that was their desire, and while doing so to hold their own intellectually and socially with smart  power brokers. The idea was not to exchange emails with a military official that talked about the joy of a secret slap and tickle under the sheets.  Get it? That’s what makes Paula and Jill the modern-day Lucy and Ethel.  They are not modern women – they are 1950s stereotypes of women who use their “wiles” to lure men and manipulate them. 

Expect the Paula/Jill/David/John drama to continue in the media for another few weeks until we all find a new societal psycho-drama to focus on. Maybe other anti-feminists will make headlines.  Maybe Kim will finally get her divorce and marry Kanye.  Maybe Dina Lohan will take some more pills. Maybe Bravo will debut “The Real Housewives of Pentagon City.” Or….maybe Holly Patraeus, the General’s missus, will slap Paula Broadwell into next week. Now that would be worthy of pay per view TV!  Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Joan Eisenstodt said...

Did the feminist movement (of which I was part and oh how I miss consciousness raising groups) mean for this to happen? Is it all part of allowing women to do the stupid things men did before? Encourage women to do whatever they wanted? Certainly it wasn't Paula and Jill we wanted.