September 17, 2013

Why First Wave feminism fizzled out

From my new column in Taki's Magazine:
... Yet this isn’t the first time that the evils of sexism have preoccupied American culture. Beginning soon after the triumph of women’s suffrage in 1919-1920, gender oppression was vigorously denounced in the media until well into the 1960s. Many of the leading intellectuals, artists, and entertainers of mid-century America complained tirelessly about the domination of one sex over another. The nearly universal wail went up: How could human beings be so cruel to other humans just because they were of the opposite sex? 
Of course, what H. L. Mencken, Groucho Marx, Ernest Hemingway, Ben Hecht, James Thurber (one of his New Yorker cartoons is to the right), W. C. Fields (above in The Bank Dick, 1940), Raymond Chandler, Billy Wilder, Robert Heinlein, Norman Mailer, and so many others were kvetching about was how women were crushing their henpecked men under their iron heels.

Read the whole thing there.


Aaron Gross said...

WASP, Scandinavian, and Irish Catholic women

Was prohibition really supported by Scandinavian and Irish Catholic women? I haven't read any books on it, but I wonder what your source is for that. I thought that prohibition was largely an anti-Catholic (hence anti-immigrant) movement supported by Anglo-Saxons. My impression was that Catholic women were on the same side as Catholic men.

dearieme said...

Isn't being hopelessly hen-pecked part of American Exceptionalism?

Anonymous said...

Were Jewish immigrants really that patriarchal?

I've always thought of Jewish men as being smothered by domineering mothers and henpecked by their wives.

As for Sicilians, they tend to come from a mama's boy culture, which runs strong through the Mediterranean, Middle East, and India.

n/a said...

For the record, the earliest agitators for women's rights in the US were apparently a Scottish immigrant and Polish Jewish woman.

Robert said...

Anti-Catholic and anti-German, I should have thought (given the German breweries so dominant in America at the time it entered the Great War).

It's notable that when Chesterton visited the States - and, of course, opposed Prohibition - he never once used the incitement-to-gangsterism argument which is so painfully obvious to us now. (This point isn't original with me. Christopher Hollis, something of a GKC disciple during his youth, mentions it in his book The Mind of Chesterton.)

Anonymous said...

I was watching The Divorce of Lady X (1938) on TCM the other day, and it featured Laurence Olivier delivering a barn-burner of a tirade which could have been written by Heartiste himself.

As soon as Olivier launched into it, I quickly clicked to make a copy on the DVR, and when I get a chance, I'll try to burn it to MP4 and upload it to Youtube, with a transcription.

TCM is possibly our single greatest asset in The Culture Wars.

I honestly don't know how much longer The Frankfurt School is going to allow us to keep watching it.

PS: If you're a parent with DirecTV, then you might be really interested to study the filth which The Frankfurt School peddles for consumption by American children [Channel 295, "Sprout"] versus the genuinely tender & simpatico pieces which The Frankfurt School offers for internal consumption in Israel [Channel 293, "Baby First"].

It really is like the contrast between Night and Day.

Or maybe I should omit the "like" altogether and simply say: It really is the contrast between Night and Day.

nooffensebut said...

A contrarian like you should understand that Prohibition did work. Alcohol consumption fell by half, and alcohol-associated illnesses declined along with it. Since the end of Prohibition, alcohol use has risen far beyond the level that preceded Prohibition. Ironically, marijuana prohibition is declining just as proof of marijuana's effects on IQ and psychosis are being understood. Prohibition was a great populist cause, and now our leading populist is a Jewish New York mayor. Libertarianism requires an odd coupling of ignorance and elitism.

diana said...

You forgot Henny Youngman ("take my wife, please") and Philip Wylie (creator of Momism).

Except for Mailer, who saw some action in the Pacific at the very end of WWII, I don't think any of those guys fought.

My father & his relatives were very happy to come home to home & hearth. They just thought Henny was a clown.

The elite attitudes that this crew of misogynists expresses explains the (male) gay rights movement that burst into flames in the 1960s. They expressed the woman hatred inherent in the so-called humor of this list. The early gay rights movement was basically a James Thurber article shorn of the "humor". They agreed on the basics.

Their view of heterosexuality was very dim: men put up with these horrible creatures because they were born with a genetic defect: sexual attraction to women. Otherwise, the two genders had nothing in common, and women existed mainly to exploit men's resources and suck their blood.

It's OK for straight guys to mock and jeer heterosexuality when it's the only game in town. I understand that there were a few gay comedians who took up the cause a few years back, but they weren't very popular. I guess they struck a nerve.

rightsaidfred said...

Why did first-wave feminism fizzle after its triumphs of 1918-1919? It’s an interesting question that’s hard to think about these days because our understanding of the past has become so conditioned by simplistic good-or-bad labels that Americans tend to generate a Does Not Compute error message when apprised of what actually happened.

Good point. I would add that our thinking about policy decisions have become good-bad: if my political opponents prevail, we will all suffer torture forever; if my side prevails, it will make the Garden of Eden look like a slum.

Anonymous said...

The 'Women are Wonderful' effect is around since 60s, perhaps the post-war environment surrounding WWII vets kept it bay.

Anonymous said...

At the link John Derbyshire says in the comments that the browbeaten American male is legendary throughout the world.

So then what's up with all the euro sitzpinklers, Mr. Derbyshire?

Anonymous said...

I was interested enough to find and read Mencken's essay "In Defense of Women". While he makes many good points, I came away feeling like he was basically using rhetorical tricks. For example, he constantly says that women are smarter than men in the things that really matter, but admits they do not "succeed" in most male-dominated occupations, but his reason appears to be like the person that says "I could have won the game, but I just didn't want to".

Both men and women share lots of good things and many bad things, and many bad personality traits may be found in both men and women.

I do like to read Mencken, and agree with him much of the time... but this essay felt contrived to me.

slumber_j said...

The temperance and women's suffrage crowd also tended to oppose both slavery and secret societies, which were considered a big deal back then.

An ancestor of mine who was a Congregational minister and had been a firebrand Abolitionist received the Presidential nomination of the Anti-Masonic Party in 1880. As far as I can tell, he didn't bother running...

Anyway, he held all these opinions and was also in favor of abolishing the Electoral College. I don't know whether or not that was typically bundled in with all the other stuff, but I suppose it would make sense in a way.

The Rev. never sounded like a real barrel of laughs to me, but as they say, you can't choose your family.

By the way, the reason Harvard historically hasn't had fraternities is that they were reviled as secret societies and shut down by the same people in the 1850s. At which point the frats transformed themselves into several of the Final Clubs that so fascinate the Zuckerberg character in The Social Network.

Pat Boyle said...

You can't take all of this henpecked business too seriously. People compartmentalize. For example Harry Truman was arguably the most henpecked man ever to occupy the White House yet he had the hormones needed to drop the bomb. John F. Kennedy was certainly not dominated by his wife. He brought prostitutes into the White House when Jackie was away. Yet he was interpersonally dominated by Khrushchev in a way we haven't seen until recently with Obama and Putin.

There are other things to say about alcohol too. First of all we seem to forget that alcohol is good for you - very, very good. Moderate alcohol consumption guards against heart disease. It's effects are very powerful. It is something of a wonder drug. There are many studies with very large Ns. The results are dramatic. Look it up. Alcohol consumption versus heart mortality is a U shaped distribution.

The Romans drank wine everyday constantly. It was a disinfectant. Barbarians drank from streams in the woods but the urbanized Romans had municipal water works. The aqueducts allowed them to have large concentrated populations but exposed them to water borne diseases. They drank watered wine or more accurately wined water.

Most times and most places alcohol has been a boon to mankind. Just as chewing coca leaves was a boon to South American Indians. But the concentration of alcohol or coca yields a dangerous product with which humans can't adequately deal. The same is true for poppy juice versus mainlining heroin. Distillation makes beneficial drugs deadly.

It's "Demon Rum" not "Demon Beer".


Anonymous said...

Great article. I remember reading that in the 19th century, what amounted to "Women's issues" were suffrage (of course) but also temperance and banning tobacco. "No wonder nobody wanted them to vote," I thought. What do you think about MADD, though, lobbying to prosecute anyone who blows a .08% for drunk driving? That's a modern temperance/prohibition movement that barely bothers to pretend to be anything else.

Screen to Screed said...

Your eclecticism knows no bounds - great read. And useful, too. I'm heading into my History of American Television class tonight to discuss feminist scholar Patricia "Cougar" Mellencamp's assertion that 50's sitcoms served as containment devices for powerful women like Gracie Allen and Lucille Ball. It will be interesting to contrast the relatively soft cultural confinement drawn around women with the hard legal confinement imposed on men through prohibition.

Dahlia said...

I think you're right about it's fizzle and it illustrates both the negatives and positives about large State power and the monopoly on violence: it allows for more autonomy, but is inefficient and grossly tailored to a people. Not so terrible when a society is very heterogeneous, otherwise...

These kinds of analyses come in for some kicking from the blogger racehist, so I don't want to get into anything about New England and the WASPs, Irish, other ethnics as I know so little about them anyway. But I do know Southerners...

First off, Henry James literally wrote the book on first-wave feminism and Yankees and used a Southern gentleman, recently humbled by the Yankee victory in the Civil War, as contrast: The Bostonians (1886).

I do have a story, forgive if I've told before, about drinking too much and how it was dealt with by Southerners before the New Deal.

I knew an old Scots-Irish woman in north Florida whose father was extremely mean and abusive and stayed out sometimes drinking (this family doesn't have much of a drinking problem, just mean as hell). Anyway, one day, this would have been in the 1930s, the KKK came and got him, took him out to the woods, and whipped him for the sole reason that he was a horrible father and husband who drank too much. The old woman said that her father straightened up after that and they never had any more problems with him.

No need to ban alcohol to solve the problem of a bad father/husband, just the other men policing their own. Very efficient. The downside to having and enforcing norms is less autonomy.

The U.S. has the worst of both worlds today: decriminalization of some of the worst sins coupled with an absolutely aggressive campaign against all violence.

peterike said...

The henpecked husband is a long-standing American trope. The most famous early version is probably "Rip Van Winkle," which Washington Irving published in 1819.

Recall that Rip is a lazy good-for-nothing who had an "insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labour." As for his wife...

"His wife kept continually dinning in his ears about his idleness, his carelessness, and the ruin he was bringing on his family. Morning, noon, and night, her tongue was incessantly going, and everything he said or did was sure to produce a torrent of household eloquence. Rip had but one way of replying to all lectures of the kind, and that, by frequent use, had grown into a habit. He shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, cast up his eyes, but said nothing. This, however, always provoked a fresh volley from his wife; so that he was fain to draw off his forces, and take to the outside of the house—the only side which, in truth, belongs to a hen-pecked husband."

Rip runs to the mountains to escape her, and after his 20 year sleep is not at all upset when he finds out she's dead: "There was a drop of comfort, at least, in this intelligence."

Irving also places a few good phallic jokes around guns into the text to provide a sexual undercurrent.

"His only alternative, to escape from the labor of the farm and clamor of his wife, was to take gun in hand and stroll away into the woods."

And after sleeping for 20 years...

"He looked round for his gun, but in place of the clean well-oiled fowling-piece, he found an old firelock lying by him, the barrel incrusted with rust, the lock falling off, and the stock worm-eaten."

Freed from sexual cares by age and domestic cares by the death of Dame van Winkle, Rip lives out his remaining years in happiness and contentment. A lesson to us all!

Dahlia said...

In the South, we famously do have some dry counties and conservative laws. I'm curious when these date to; women do wring their hands about their men who drink too much, but they have fewer options for keeping their men on the straight and narrow unlike in the days of the KKK and before.
I lived next to a dry county for years and if you're a misanthropic environmentalist who believes in no-growth, going dry is the most effective thing you can do.

Seth said...

I liked the piece. I recall the newspaper cartoon "The Lockhorns" as formative to my early understanding of relations between the sexes. It still seems clear to me that, in every man-woman relationship, it is the woman who makes the big decisions.

I also chuckled when I heard that FLOTUS' mother would be moving into the WH. It could make for a hilarious sitcom.

Of course Prohibition and Suffrage were the same movement...nothing weird about it at all. Throw Eugenics into the mix and you have the early Progressive platform all summed up.

Anonymous said...

4So its the WASP culture that ruined America after all.

1. Predilection to nuclear families - (unsustainable in globalized economic environment).

2. Unreconstructed feminism, unfettered individualism - Leads to fast and easy breakup of already tenuous nuclear family.

The end result is a broken culture where more than half of children are living in single homes.

A striking thing about Americans is how many are in second and third marriages with Brady Bunch type setups. People from cultures with more stable marriage traditions find it bizarre.

Anonymous said...

"We live in an era obsessed with gender oppression."

Not really. The theme today isn't sexual oppression but sexual empowerment. The notion of 'war on women' isn't that women are being oppressed but that a war is being waged to re-oppress women who've been liberated by new feminism.
Feminists are less obsessed with 'oppression' than with demands of more power. Indeed, even 'equality' is boring to feminists today. They want elite power and DOMINATION.

"Americans were recently alerted that the women of Harvard Business School are deprived of their rightful grade point averages by being asked out so often on expensive dates by well-heeled suitors."

Feminists are demanding something more than equality. They are demanding the right to have-the-cake-and-eat-it-too. They want to date the best guys and get the best grades. They are acting like Jews and homos who also want to have the cake and eat it too. Jews say there must be no racial or nation-based favoritism, BUT they say America must favor Israel over all other nations and Jewish power must be exempt from any kind of criticism. Homos say they should have the right to lead different lifestyles that are at odds with the norms and values of mainstream society, BUT mainstream society must welcome and celebrate the homo way and lifestyle as equal or even superior to the normal-sexual ways and values. After all, there is the 'gay pride' parade, but no such thing as normal marriage pride parade or day. Feminism is no longer about all women but about Power Women competing with powerful men at the very top. It is elite-centric and concerned with elite matters.

"Of course, what H. L. Mencken, Groucho Marx, Ernest Hemingway, Ben Hecht, James Thurber, W. C. Fields, Raymond Chandler, Billy Wilder, Robert Heinlein, Norman Mailer, and so many others were kvetching about was how women were crushing their henpecked men under their iron heels."

But there are as many counter-examples. Also, much was done in jest. It's like TOM AND JERRY cartoons are about a small mouse getting the better of the big cat, but in reality, cats have power over mice. And Bugs Bunny always ran circles around Elmer Fudd, but in reality, hunters have power over rabbits, not the other way around.
That men had power over women was a given, therefore, uninteresting and banal. But the idea that women could have power over men had a kind of edgy and comical quality to it, and it goes back to the story of Adam and Eve, Pandora's Box, and Greek myths of temptresses and vengeful wives/lovers. Men kvetching about how women ruined it all is as old as the hills. Cleopatra, Delilah, Kundry in Wagner's telling of Parsifal, Helen, etc.

Men are never satisfied with any single female archetype. The loyal dutiful woman/wife is nice and kind but boring, like the 'milk faced girl' in SAMSON AND DELILAH who clings to Samson and wants to serve him according to the Law. But Samson finds her dull. Samson has the hots for Delilah, but she's a no good ho and gets him lots of trouble. But the male heart can never decide and settle for one. Man appreciates the loyalty of the dutiful woman but she's a bore; man is turned on by the sultriness of the hot ho, but she spells danger.

MADONNA OF THE SEVEN MOONS is interesting as a story of woman with split personality between dutiful wife and temptress.

Anonymous said...

Of course, there are other archetypes: the clinging/hugging mother and the castrating bitch mother. A man appreciates the former but wants to grow out of her huggiwugginess cuz it stands in the way of his manhood. It's like after a certain age, a boy doesn't want to be seen being kissed by his mother in front of his friends. It makes him look like an Italian mama's boy. A man resents the castrating bitch mother, but she continues to have psychic power over him by having instilled the sense that he can never be a REAL MAN unless he becomes Somebody. Some mothers are both huggy-clinging and bitch-castrating: the Jewish mothers. "I love you oh so very much, and kissy kissy poo, and you better become a lawyer or doctor or I'll hate you."

The problem of traditional wasp culture was it was both very masculine and very mannered. So, men were expected to be men--crying among wasp men was looked down upon, unlike among Italian and Greek men who had a habit of crying and emoting like babies in public--, but they were also expected to be gentlemen, and that meant they had to win the respect of ladies by acting proper. Funnily, Italian men could be both more macho/masculine AND crybabyish/mama's boy-like. Wasp men could be manly but couldn't be macho with the swagger stuff; wasp men with macho swagger was seen as lowlife, like the Lee Marvin character in MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE.

As proper manners mattered a lot, some wasp mothers raised their sons in a gayish manner, which is why Hemingway came to resent his mother. Or consider Agnes Moorehead as the mother in CITIZEN KANE. I can't imagine her ever smiling at her child. Indeed, she sends him away for 'his own good'.
And there's the domineering mother figure in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE who is both possessive and pushy with her son. She holds him close but also pushes him to be SOMEBODY.
We don't know exactly what happened with Norman Bates and his mother, but the fella has a serious case of mother complex.

As for henpeckedness, it was actually a sign of male domination of society. Today, any aggressive/assertive women can choose to pursue her own ambition and dreams—or go after the man of her dreams. She has the power to reject any 'weakling' man as a social crutch.
In the past, women's career path was far more restricted. As most top jobs—and even middle level jobs, indeed even factory level jobs---were closed to even highly intelligent and aggressive women, many of them ended up married to find their niche in society. And many of them happened to marry men who were lower in intelligence and ambition than they were. Today, intelligent and aggressive women can rise far above unintelligent and weakling men. But in the past, many such women ended up in marriages with weakling men(as it was expected of most women to find a mate and fast). So, such women henpecked the men who didn't seem intelligent enough, driven enough, bring-enough-bacon-home-enough.
Now, if a woman was like the kindly and dimwitted Edith Bunker, she might be happy with a bummy husband. But if she was bright like Alice Kramden and was married to a fat slob who was all talk and no real walk, she might rip into him. If Alice Kramden grew up today, she would certainly not have married Ralph. She, as the more intelligent one, would have gone to a good college, found a nice job, and married an intelligent man she can respect or lived alone. But in the old days, lots of smart women ended up marrying unintelligent men to whom career paths opened up(whereas they were closed to women). Consider how Ayn Rand felt so much smarter than her husband. Of course, she had a successful career, so she had a ready outlet for her ideas and passions. Betty Friedan, in contrast, thought she was as good or even better than her husband, but since career doors were closed to her, she got nasty on her husband. But such nastiness was the product of male domination of society.

Anonymous said...

It's like Greek women and southern Italian women always ripped into their husbands, but that didn't mean Greek or Southern Italian society were dominated by women. It was because smart and aggressive women had no outlet for their energies that they tore into their weakling hubbies and sometimes sons. Look how Alexander's mother drove him nuts in Stone's movie. Since she couldn't have political power like Alexander or her father, she used emotional power over her son and drove him mercilessly. She is one headstrong ho, like the Chechen mother of the Tsarnaev brothers. Lots of traditional Greek mothers are like that. I know from all my Greek friends. Many were stay-at-home moms but nagging and fierce. The most aggressive woman—at least a white one—I ever knew was the mother of my Greek friend who was a total stay-at-home who married young, but she ripped into anyone who pissed her off. It was frightening to watch.

"This was the grand age of femmes fatales, who twisted seeming tough guys around their silken ankles. An even more dreaded bogeywoman was the mother-in-law. In contrast, American cinema today offers few femmes fatales..."

I think maybe the death of the femme fatale has less to do with feminism than with change in movie tastes. To be sure, there was a time when feminists hated the femme fatale in the way that homos hated the Sinister Sissy archetype where many villains, especially Nazis, were presented as homosexual. Homos threw a fit over ROB ROY with Tim Roth as the Sinister Sissy. Some feminists attacked the femme fatale archetype as misogynist, the notion of woman as the destroyer of heroes and men that has a long pedigree in history. But in more recent times, many feminists have valued the femme fatale as the WOMAN OF POWER.
So, how come there aren't many femme fatales? I think femme fatales are essentially film noir icons, and the problem with noir is it's slow and dark and moody, and most young moviegoers don't go for that. While noir stylistics have become the mainstay of action films, noir drama is character-and-story focused, and most young people easily grow bored with such stories. BLADE RUNNER flopped because it really moved at noir pace. BATMAN movies succeeded cuz they merely took the superficial look of noir while ramping up the energy and speed by focusing on action and thrills.
So, femme battales are preferred over femme fatales, figures who work more slowly, subtly, and patiently. For young people, Milla Jovovich is just more fun than any femme fatale figure. DePalma's FEMME FATALE didn't do well at the box office though it got much better reviews than any RESIDENT EVIL movie.

But femme fatale figures are still useful if incorporated into action thriller movies. INCEPTION's figure of Mal is classic femme fatale, but the movie brought in the audiences cuz it had lots of action and thrills. Cotillard played a femme fatale-ish figure in DARK KNIGHT RISES as well, but again, it was also loaded with action and explosions. MEMENTO had a femme fatale figure but art movies never make much dough. I guess the vengeful Jewish girl in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS is a sort of femme fatale figure.

TWILIGHT has the femme fatale figure in Victoria. In parts 1 and 2, she is femme battale, an ass-kicker. But in part 3, she plays the classic femme fatale by using malicious intrigue to bring down the Cullens. MUNICH had a German femme fatale bitch killer. Most memorable femme fatale since the 80s? Maybe Lady Kaeda in Kurosawa's RAN.

Anonymous said...

Anyway, people like speed and brashness. Femme fatale of film noir are too dark and playing-for-time for current taste. But then, so are the private eye icon. Instead, young people prefer action heroes, superheroes, Bourne guy whupping ass all over the world, etc. We don't really have Marlowe type heroes anymore. Also, the noir action hero was careful about what he said. Today's action heroes blurt out everything like fast-talking Iron Man or make speeches like Batman.

Genuine noir is dead, but so is the western and gangster film. They are still made once in awhile but hardly the staple of current filmmaking. Romance movies are dead too in a way as today's sexual culture is about hopping in and out of bed at breakneck speed. Romance films used to be dime-a-dozen in the golden age of Hollywood, but when something like TWILIGHT comes along today, it raises eyebrows. I mean why isn't everyone effing everyone right away in the movie? How come 90% of what people talk about doesn't revolve around effing?
During the Golden Age of Hollywood, many housewives went to see matinee movies while husbands were at work and kids were at school, and so, there were probably a more varied depiction of all sorts of female archetypes. But with the rise of TV, femme fatales became a common figure in soap operas, and cinema increasingly became a young people's medium, especially as kids began get driver's licenses and even own their own cars.

Paul Monaco has his own theories as to the decline of movie goddess and the rise of male actor domination in the movies beginning in the 60s.

"Why did first-wave feminism fizzle after its triumphs of 1918-1919?"

Maybe it didn't really fizzle out. We have to keep in mind that wasp feminism was reformist and gradualist than radical. To be sure, during the early part of the 20th century, there was reformist feminism and radical feminism.. but the latter tended to be part of larger radical movements like communism, socialism, and anarchism. Emma Goldman was more anarchist than feminist.
Wasp feminism didn't hate men and didn't seek to overturn the social order or form alliances to smash white power. It only sought legal equality for women at the basic level, and it succeeded.
Also, there was gradual but also remarkable change in women's role and freedom from 1919 to 1960. In attitude, fashion, manners, taste, and career, lots of things did change thanks to rise of cities, automobiles, consumer goods, expanded education, etc.
But the Great Depression and WWII led to a certain retrenchment. As jobs were scarce, men with families were favored over women. But during WWII, many women worked in factories, and that experience never left them.

Most movements 'fizzle out' once the basic goals have been achieved. The youth movement and anti-war movement of the 60s 'fizzled out' because they succeeded.
And even hardline radical feminism 'fizzled out' when feminists took power and grew dreary with their neo-puritanism, leading to the rise of New Feminism that glorified the 'vagina' and 'slut'. Paglia won big. Feminists used to bitch about Monroe and madonna, but no longer. When Chicago erected that giant statue of Marilyn Monroe with her panties showing from below, I don't recall a single feminist raising a fuss about it. Had it happened in the 70s or early 80s, there would have been hell.

Anonymous said...

“In reality, WASP, Scandinavian, and Irish Catholic women had rational reasons to campaign against the saloons where their husbands wasted away their paychecks and health in binge drinking.”

This is iffy. I have a feeling that many leaders—and even rank and file members—of the temperance movement were either single women or women with teetotaler husbands. Many were probably respectable upper class ladies with good dependable husbands. So, why did they join and lead the movement? Just like elites today, they wanted something to promote in order to feel righteous and holier-than-thou. Notice that the leaders of today's 'lets take care of the children of the world' are white elites who grew up affluent and whose kids lack for nothing. But they claim to want to do so much for poor kids in America. Long ago, it was to fatten up scrawny asses of poor kids; today, it's to slim down the fatasses of 'poor kids'. While drinking was a common problem at all levels of society in the past, many of the most vociferous voices of the temperance movement belonged to those who came from spic and span squeaky families where no one drank and where the women didn't have to worry about violent drunken husband. Indeed, it was precisely because they were affluent and well-treated that they had so much surplus time and energy to lead the movement to take away drinking from other folks. Most people who do volunteer work today people from affluent backgrounds. They are often women with lots of free time, and they wanna feel that they are doing something good for society and feel holier-than-thou.

“But it’s only odd from a contemporary perspective where Prohibition is bad and feminism is good, and thus they can’t have anything to do with each other, because that would be, you know, complicated.”

History is always funny this way. Keep in mind that it was once the Left and blacks who were against gun control in America. Black panthers and white radicals wanted to get their hands on guns for street battles.
And keep in mind white southerners had been the biggest opponents of the GOP, but look what happened since.
And contrary to the 'progressive' narrative, the American left was no less opposed to 'rock n roll' and such capitalist stuff than the 'rednecks' who referred to Elvis as a 'white n...'. And feminists used to be anti-porn, but we hardly hear a pip anymore from the feminist community against it. The funniest and most ridiculously tortured logic comes from Ann Coulter who decries southern Democrats for having opposed the Civil Rights movement while being willfully oblivious to the fact that all those 'racist' southern Democrats of the past all turned Republican.

“In contrast, the newer immigrants of the era, such as Sicilians and Jews, came from more patriarchal cultures.”

Jews are a special case. In some ways, many Jews were indeed from conservative cultural background. But many Jewish immigrants were also fiercely radical, intellectual, and ideological, which couldn't be said for most southern Italian-Americans. While some Jews would have resisted the cultural liberalism of wasps, other Jews found wasp reformism too moderate and 'bourgeois' and demanded more radical solutions. Such dualities have long marked the Jewish community. Today, they are the most elitist yet also the most 'egalitarian', at least ideologically. They are the most tribalistic yet also most 'universalist' ideologically.

Anonymous said...

"The rise of the Ellis Island immigrant populations helped delay feminism’s triumph that had once seemed imminent in WASP-dominated America."

Not really. Wasp-style feminism did triumph in terms of its basic goals as it was reformist and not radical for the most part. It didn't want what the radical feminism of the 60s and 70s demanded: to be anti-male and align with non-whites against the 'evil white male'--and be dominated by Jewish women and their silly wasp bimbo minions like Jane Fonda, who never had a clue about anything in life.

And then, there were figures like Pauline Kael who wanted to break out of wasp-style liberalism(too tepid for her) but also disdained the radical Jewish style politics that demanded their own forms of conformism. Her defense of Hud's rape of the Patricia Neal's character is something most of her fans would rather not remember.

Dahlia said...

On second thought...
Did the Protestant denominations that supported Prohibition suffer the same fall from Grace? The Progressives?! While other groups saw Prohibition aiding their causes, these latter two, especially the Pietists, were more of a factor than feminists from my reading.

I looked up the county I was familiar with and discovered it went dry back in 1946, though the drying spell for all seemed to last from shortly *before* Prohibition to a couple decades after. The hillbilly areas were far more likely to go dry than the lowland English-dominated Antebellum areas.
(Where the whipping took place in my anecdote was more English).

In discussing Prohibition, I think it would be helpful to put it in the much larger context of human history as Prohibition really is so anomalous.
Prohibition also illustrates that within-nation differences are relatively small which is quite a feat for different ethnic groups (Scots-Irish, Anglo-Saxon, etc.) During the Progressive era, everyone (Protestant Natives) in the U.S. took one giant step towards State empowerment.

Difference Maker said...

They didn't want their men to be drunken slobs

Dahlia said...

I read some startling statistics on how much men drank (hard liquor) in 1830 vs 2010. Three times as much! Why? It's easy to feel sorry for some of these women who were dependent with few rights.
But surely there were other recourses (communal policing) and those aren't getting mentioned? Or did men really abdicate their responsibility?

I'm curious to know how 19th century American drinking compares to German drinking today and back then (the world, too. Contexts!) The Germans I know, across the class spectrum, but from Swabia (my relatives and others) and Bavaria, drink beer with all three meals. Yes, including breakfast. Room temperature, too.

Reg Cæsar said...

Scandinavians were essentially taller, fairer, dumber. Poorer WASPs. Oh, yes– and drunker, too. When aqvavit sent Sven and Ole under the table, rest assured Lena's thoughts turned to Prohibition. Even today, Scandinavia has the strictest liquor laws in Europe.

No doubt a large Catholic population had something to do eith Rhode Island's being the only state never to ratify the 18th Amendment.

blogger said...

"I thought that prohibition was largely an anti-Catholic (hence anti-immigrant) movement supported by Anglo-Saxons."

That was Ken Burns' argument in his doc.

I think it had something to do with the politics of ethnic VICE industries.

Roughly speaking, there were Virtue Industries and Vice Industries.
Virtue industries were farming(producing food), textiles(producing clothing), mining, oil production, manufacturing(producing things we need), and etc.
Vice industries were prostitution, gambling, alcohol, and sometimes entertainment.

As wasps had dominance in the virtue industries thanks to their knowledge base, capital, work ethic, connections, and head-start, it wasn't so easy for newcomer ethnic immigrants to break into the virtue industries.

Of course, virtue industries ethical issues like labor tensions, dangerous conditions in mines and factories, and etc. Nevertheless, they were about making stuff--food, clothing, machines, and etc--that mankind really needed. As such, they were considered noble and essential pursuits of man.

In contrast, vice industries encouraged and promoted behavior that were deemed to be immoral, transgressive, dangerous, subversive, irresponsible, etc.

Now, some wasps had made their fortune initially through vice industries, but they moved to more legit areas of virtue industries. And wasps wanted to hog the virtue industries for themselves.

So, ambitious immigrant ethnics had to move into vice industries to make their fortune since so many virtue industries were hogged by wasp elites and closed to them. So, there were lots of Italian and Jewish gangsters involved in gambling, prostitution, porny stuff, smuggling, narcotics, and other such stuff.

Popular culture was somewhere between virtue industry and vice industry. It might be called vanity industry. It could be used as a force of moral degeneration and corruption--and there was some racy and nudie movies made before the Code(a kind of cultural prohibitionism)--, and popular music might make white folks dance like a bunch of gibbons and monkeys.

But popular culture could be used to promote 'positive' virtues too, and Disney made many such films and Hollywood made its share of respectable movies with big important inspirational themes. It's like Pottersville and Bedford Falls in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.
In BEDFORD FALLS, Italian-American immigrants try to emulate small-town American values and become good citizens. In Pottersville, small town America is like ethnic-infested big cities with hard drinking men and a cigar-chomping big fat Negro banging on the piano at Nick's(instead of Martini's).

Jews in Hollywood tried to have it both ways. Selling sex and violence and other salacious stuff but also judging them so that the moralists didn't get too upset--and making stuff like TEN COMMANDMENTS. So, gangster films both sensationalized and condemned the criminals in a 'crime doesn't pay' way.

blogger said...

Perhaps, Prohibition was a means by wasp elites to clamp down on a major vice industry that might come in control of ethnics, but it had the opposite effect.
By illegalizing liquor, Prohibition gave Jewish and Italian gangsters--and Irish ones too--a great opportunity to corner the alcohol market and rake in tons of dough.
Also, as alcohol was simply too popular, it had the effect of glamorizing and even legitimizing vice as something hip and cool.
Ending Prohibition had the effect of pulling the rug out from underneath the ethnic hoodies.
But the damage had been done. Ethnic hoods had made lots of cash that could be funneled into other industries like Las Vegas and trucking. It's like Vito Corleone and Hyman Roth made lots of dough during Prohibition and used the cash to move into other areas once Prohibition ended. They got a huge leg up during the speakeasy days.

Also, the culture had changed during Prohibition so that the cool-and-hip Vice genie could not be put back in the bottle. Prohibition glamorized the vice of alcohol and clubbing, especially accompanied to Jazz music.

Once that happened, vice industry became legit, and today, even gambling is all over the place.
And today's entertainment industry is a vice industry. Just look at Miley Cyrus.
As foul as much of vice industry is, its one great advantage is pandering to the base lusts of folks.
It's like the scene in DISTANT where some guy who was watching STALKER sticks in a porny tape once his nephew has gone off to bed. Virtue culture vs vice culture.

Once social inhibitions go and people become Beavis-n-Buttheadized and reptilian-brain-ized, those who control and peddle the vice gain power over those who peddle the virtue.

To be sure, Jews, Negroes, and homos try to have it both ways. Negroes make a big deal of MLK and Oprah(as virtue figures) but also glorify rappers, thug athletes, and gangbangers.
Jews give us all the intellectual stuff and Holocaust cult but also control the movie, music, and porn industry, much of which is mindlessly salacious and foul.
Homos act all bitchy and swinish but also put on the clean-cut 'new normal' 'gay father knows best' shtick.

Anonymous said...

Blacks used to go around carrying a placard saying "I AM A MAN".

What kind of signs to trannies carry around?


Anonymous said...

Femme fatale turned into camp with this:

Anonymous said...

Looks like Trannie Pritzker got a role in a movie.

Anonymous said...

Camp killed the vamp.

Flame burned the dame.

Fairy jinxed the fair.

Steve Sailer said...

"Except for Mailer, who saw some action in the Pacific at the very end of WWII, I don't think any of those guys fought."

Raymond Chandler was a sergeant in the Canadian army in the Great War. He was one of the few survivors in his platoon of a German artillery attack. He didn't talk about it much.

Anonymous said...


UC to spend up to $6m on crumbling mansion for new president Janet Napolitano despite tuition fees doubling and teacher layoffs due to budget cuts

Whatever happened back in the Roaring 20s, this round of "feminism" sure doesn't seem to be in any danger of fizzling out.

[Although you gotta admit that it sure is ironic to be using the word "feminism" to describe the most fervently abjectly pathologically non-feminine women in our society.]

Anonymous said...

UC to spend up to $6m on crumbling mansion for new president Janet Napolitano despite tuition fees doubling and teacher layoffs due to budget cuts

I heard she's replacing all the wood with carpets.

Rohan Swee said...

I've always discerned a certain mama's-boy pose in the whole "we're just reacting against being henpecked" strain in American literature/humor. The whole Thurber/W.C. Fields/Mailer etc. thing always struck me as already emasculated - "what a bad widdle boy I am; you can't tell me what to do!". (The New Yorker isn't written for "old ladies in Dubuque"? Since when?)

It's a hackneyed theme that pop-culture portrays (white) men as doofuses and jerks. But earlier shows like The Honeymooners or the later Home Improvement, which showcased the repulsive "wise, long-suffering wife as mommy to infantilized husband" trope, were, if I'm not mistaken (being no expert on pop culture) big with men, not women. I can't imagine this not being fundamentally repulsive to women. Which is the sort of thing that leads me to believe that the whole feminism/anti-feminism thing is a vicious feedback loop, not a straight causal arrow. Where did that "wife as mommy" thing start? It wasn't part of my natal (completely American) culture. (But I'm a Southerner chock full of prejudice against "yankee" culture and all its pomps.)

(Seth: I recall the newspaper cartoon "The Lockhorns" as formative to my early understanding of relations between the sexes.

Well, there you go. In my house growing up, "Lockhorn humor" meant "unfunny stuff that illustrated what sexual relations were like among the uncivilized". I always wondered why my dad could get himself so damned consternated about the vulgarity of a stupid newspaper cartoon. Now I finally understand.)

But going on in parallel to the whole "woman-dominated American male" is the common observation that traditional American culture is at the same time much more masculine in tone than European culture - more frank, more straightforward, more conducive to manly simplicity and honesty, lacking effeminate nuance and circumlocuitousness. (Is that even a word? I feel gay typing it.) Or, in a more negative view, more crass and brash. Thus, American men are more masculine than "euroweenies", and American women women are perceived as "masculine" because American culture is just a relatively masculine culture, and inculcates those traits.

Crawfurdmuir said...

"The temperance and women's suffrage crowd also tended to oppose both slavery and secret societies, which were considered a big deal back then."

Women disliked the saloon and the lodge because they were places where men went when, in women's opinions, they ought to have been attending to domestic duties, and spent money on their own entertainment rather than on fineries for their wives.

The Anglo-Irish barrister Maurice Healy, in his marvellously funny book about wine, "Stay Me With Flagons," made the point that one of the Scandinavian countries at one point tried closing its pubs in response to prohibitionist pressure, and in due course, the women who had been all for taking this step when it was first proposed were happy to see it abandoned - they had found out what it was like to have their husbands around the house for too much time.

Bill said...

If Mencken were alive today, he would find that in the short time women have had the franchise they have managed to surpass even men in stupidity.

This is the problem with a lot of old-fashioned American men -- especially those of the upper middle class. They simply aren't imaginative enough to conceive of a world where gender roles differ significantly from their own, and therefore dismiss the potential for devastating change.

For example, some of Mencken's statements, such as the assumption that women's desires almost always coincide with their children's interests, look profoundly stupid from today's perspective, and are the basis of ruinous legal policy.

BTW, to Dahlia the pro-KKK father-beating advocate:

If you or assorted henchmen ever get involved in domestic disputes in a vigilante capacity on the basis of some unsubstantiated accusation, you deserve hard time in prison. I can't think of a more lawless practice than storming into people's homes and beating them solely on a small child's word.

Anonymous said...

My g-grandfather was born in 1889 and died in 1976. One day I asked him how prohibition ever got started. He claimed it was a surprise attack spearheaded by some group called the Anti-Saloon League, the biggest bunch of world-improvers and do-gooders to walk the earth since the abolitionists. He said everyone thought it was a saloon-closing effort, not complete prohibition. By the time the big brewers and distillers figured things out, it was too late. The German brewers were labeled as traitorous Huns and since they had chains of saloons they were in the crosshairs anyway. Distillers were sleeping at their posts during the Great War while the ASL collected politicians by carrot or stick. He claimed no-one seriously thought a constitutional amendment would pass enough states, but the ASL had threatened enough state politicians to make it happen. He would get spittin' mad about this Anti-Saloon League he claimed was a bunch of club-wielding church ladies and girlymen.

Anonymous said...

LOL, Shemp Howard as the bartender!

Anonymous said...

"Now, if a woman was like the kindly and dimwitted Edith Bunker, she might be happy with a bummy husband. But if she was bright like Alice Kramden..."

Who the hell are these people?

DJ said...

Because they wore hoods?

Old fogey said...

Thank you, Diana, for mentioning Philip Wylie and his "momism." I thought only old fogeys like myself remembered that.

Alcalde Jaime Miguel Curleo said...

I am so pinning that Thurber cartoon to my Pinterest board

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

"Although you gotta admit that it sure is ironic to be using the word "feminism" to describe the most fervently abjectly pathologically non-feminine women in our society."

Feminism, the extremist—and of late years the predominant cult of the Woman's Movement, is Masculinism.

- Arabella Kenealy, Feminism and Sex Extinction 1920

And the word 'feminism' itself came from Charles Fourier.

Anonymous said...

Seth, I was more an Andy Capp fan. Flo could hold her drink, and her own.

Anonymous said...

I heard she's replacing all the wood with carpets.

Anonymous pwns teh innert00bz for Wednesday, September 18, 2013.

Why couldn't Mitt Romney have had speech writers like this?

[It's a rhetorical question - we all know the answer.]

Sean said...

WC Fields wasn't the biggest star in the world, because women didn't like him. Yeah the immigrants brought their own ideas, but the Irish were the immigrants with political power back then. Tammany Hall ran New York with an incredible amount of corruption, right up until until mayor Jimmy Walker was forced to resign. So I would say the Irish influence was imperceptible in reforms like prohibition. Certainly the young Irish 'widow' (many had actually been deserted) with several children was a stock figure in propaganda against the evils of drink. I'm not sure about Irish women being a voice for Prohibition.

Something that showed women could trump the Ellis Island Hollywood was the movie morality code. That really was a huge change it was like Prohibition (Check out the pre-code WC Fields dentist short.) It shows women had the whip hand over Hollywood back then.

Hilary didn't get elected but Obama getting elected may have been because liberal feminist women preferred Obama.

Dahlia said...

Bill said,

"BTW, to Dahlia the pro-KKK father-beating advocate:

If you or assorted henchmen ever get involved in domestic disputes in a vigilante capacity on the basis of some unsubstantiated accusation, you deserve hard time in prison. I can't think of a more lawless practice than storming into people's homes and beating them solely on a small child's word."

Earlier I said,

"within-nation differences are relatively small"

We often like to think there are gargantuan differences between us, say San Francisco versus Alabama, but it's only relative. When we compare ourselves to other times and places, we're really quite alike.

There were a lot of assumptions made in your comment about the incident for which I provided few details and they all went in one direction: supporting State authority/individual autonomy.
Fine if you don't believe in a community or people policing their own.

I was trying to illustrate the costs and benefits, very briefly, of both systems.

The case of the old woman as a little girl with the drinking father (he was an abusive head of house, so everyone was affected) shows the strengths of the communal policing system; we know her counterpart today would either be hoping and waiting for her father to change of his own volition or she goes into the foster care system.

(Also, because I suspect the mention of KKK set off alarm bells, what historians emphasize about it and what the people who actually lived with them emphasize are two very different things. As a Catholic, I personally don't want them near me so don't misunderstand that I approve of that particular group. But if there is one thing that was emphatically pointed out to me time and time again about the group was that it was more a communal policing group.)

Anonymous said...

In BETTER ANGELS, Pinker says how much things have changed since HONEYMOONERS in which Kramden threatened his wife with spousal abuse. We don't tolerate such things anymore. (No, women are merely used as sex meat in music industry and porn.)

Pinker says the humor in HONEYMOONERS derives from the fact that despite all his big talk, Ralph IS NOT MAN ENOUGH to back up his threats with real violence.

I think this is a total misreading. I think the point is that Ralph is MAN ENOUGH NEVER to actually abuse his wife.
For all his bluster, he's a good guy and really loves his wife and would never do her actual harm.
So, his refusal to hit his wife is actually a his sign of true manliness. He may talk like a brute but there's a gentleman inside that really does appreciate his wife, and the humor and our affection really derives from that.
He is man enough to control his physical rage and stick to shouting.

diana said...

" I thought only old fogeys like myself remembered that. "

Only old fogeys like you and me remember that.

Re: Chandler's service in WWI, I stand corrected - and I stand by what I wrote.

Any guy who hates being dominated by women should try the alternative. Be dominated by men and see how much fun it is.

xantipedia said...

"Women disliked the saloon and the lodge because they were places where men went when, in women's opinions, they ought to have been attending to domestic duties, and spent money on their own entertainment rather than on fineries for their wives."

Fineries? That's what you think? These wives were likely dependent on their husbands for all financial means. That would have included food, clothing, shelter, shoes for the kids, and general respectability. I cringe at nagging, but the ladies couldn't go to saloons and drown their sorrows. Or live it up. They were home with the shoeless kids. Just maybe, some of their vituperation may have been justified.
From my earliest days, long before I heard of "feminism", I knew I would make my own money and never be in such a situation. An awful lot of the crazy "feminism" of the last few decades was not driven so much because of any oppression. Come on. No--it was being tagged as an opressor dependent on those she oppressed. No thanks. I don't want in to that club.

Anonymous said...

"Hall ran New York with an incredible amount of corruption, right up until until mayor Jimmy Walker was forced to resign"

We've been through this before. Tammanny Hall was not Irish. The Irish were not a great political power at that time. Certainly if there were Irish involved, few were of the Catholic variety.

Anonymous said...

"I knew I would make my own money and never be in such a situation."

And how exactly you went about this?

"An awful lot of the crazy "feminism" of the last few decades was not driven so much because of any oppression. Come on. No--it was being tagged as an opressor dependent on those she oppressed."

The problem with no name and Friedan's cry that society asks too little of women.
And from a man of the times:

As for Mencken and the like, the first wavers were responsible for taking away every power from the husband while keeping every responsibility, and their criticism reflected this.

Today, by the laws of most American states – laws proposed, in most cases, by maudlin and often notoriously extravagant agitators, and passed by sentimental orgy – all of the old rights of the husband have been converted into obligations. He no longer has any control over his wife's property; she may devote its income to the family or she may squander that income upon idle follies, and he can do nothing. She has equal authority in regulating and disposing of the children, and, in the case of infants, more than he.

Now view the situation of the husband. The instant he submits to marriage, his wife obtains a large and inalienable share in his property, including all he may acquire in future; in most American states the minimum is one-third, and, failing children, one-half. He cannot dispose of his real estate without her consent; he cannot even deprive her of it by will. She may bring up his children carelessly and idiotically, cursing them with abominable manners and poisoning their nascent minds against him, and he has no redress.

- Marriage and Law, Mencken

xantipedia said...

"As for Mencken and the like, the first wavers were responsible for taking away every power from the husband while keeping every responsibility, and their criticism reflected this."

you seem to be missing my point. Personally I always respected my father, tho not close to him, because he was, to his ability, responsible.
In the 20th c., the women have had more power in marriage, divorce than ever before and to an extent that's not fair. But it's pretty new. Prior to 1870, and the Married Woman's Property Act, in England, fior example, a married woman turned everything over to the man. Many novels were based around that. Even the middle eastern Muslims were astounded at this. Muslim women always owned their own property, at least in law.
Anyway, that's not my point. I wouldn't bother too much to argue that there needs to be more balance and we are, in fact, going n that direction, imo. My niece's boyfriend took their year old son out of state and she doesn't have the money to fight it. It's six of one half dozen of another, as far as which one is the better parent in that couple's case, but 30 yrs ago, the mom would have kept the kid. Not so cut & dry any more and that may be for the best.
Aside from the fact that everyone is interdependent in some way or another, my point is, I never ever wanted monetary dependency on -- anybody. And this I felt viscerally, by the time I was about 7.