I get a case of the sads whenever I see a copy of Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch sitting neglected and alone at the dump. Every once and a while Greer's feminist classic can find company with Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, Joanna Russ's The Female Man, Kate Millett's Sexual Politics, Erica Jong's Fear of Flying, and Rita Mae Brown's Rubyfruit Jungle. And off in the corner in solitary confinement might be a copy of the Olympia Press edition of Valerie Solinas's The SCUM Manifesto.
These books bear witness to a generation of women who left behind dreams of changing the world in order to make their suburban neighborhoods and homes safe for their children. As Seinfeld protests, not that there is anything wrong with that. But I cannot help but lamenting what was lost: a spirit of rebellion and protest. Marching with your sisters and brothers while on Orange Sunshine is a long way from standing on the sidelines with orange slices. I know, I know, raising a family is a political choice and a crucially important one, but yesterday's radical feminists were just much more interesting to me than today's soccer moms. Their book clubs were definitely more so.
Let me make clear that my sadness on encountering Greer at the dump ties in with a larger de-radicalization of the entire baby boomer generation. It is tough seeing evidence of my parents' process of growing up and turning their backs on their youth. It is not just The Female Eunuch that gets me down but the copies of Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book, Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice, and issues of the Whole Earth Catalog. By the 1980s, an entire generation cashed in their hopes for a revolutionary and visionary future and bought into the better tomorrow promoted by the Reagan Revolution. Boomers woke up from their dreams of the 1960s and realized it was morning in America and asked "Are we better of than we were four years ago?" Ideas and ideals do not pay the bills. It seemed the time was right for common sense and reality checks. They invested in the Gipper. This is the same Reagan who tear gassed and harassed them throughout the 1960s. The kids grew to love their stern and oppressive father.
On the flipside, yet still in connection with the Reagan years, is another frequent visitor to the dump: Robert Bly's Iron John. This is a (bowel) movement that belongs in the can. A gathering of ineffectual and intimated males who could not handle the legitimate threats to their dying boy's club. The men's movement was not a joke, it was just plain silly and its sound track was atrocious. Maybe that is why Hemingway finds himself in the dump. His brand of macho and masculinity was in some ways a terrified reaction to the post-WWI New Woman. The Hemingway mystique was the Iron John phenomenon of the Jazz Age. The song was tired then and doubly so over half a century later. Good riddance to bad rubbish.