Exploring the Eclipse of Equality

We Kill it Because We are Free: John Adams meets Courtney Love

In Domestic Politics on March 16, 2010 at 8:44 am

There is a cunning to history, and the zeitgeist tosses up the characters who can accomplish its ends. Well, things are probably a lot more chaotic than that, but selection processes do amazing things at times. One example of this was the early 1990s when the screaming girl band hit the scene. The most famous example was led by Courtney Love, but I had known a band in my hometown of Bloomington Indiana with much the same spirit several years before. It was as if we would affirm gender equality as would do in statistics by proving that there was more within group variation than there was between groups. The extremes behaviors of men could be matched step by step by women.

We have another moment like that before us, but this time in the political scene. Hollywood celebrity seems to precede Washington  by a healthy lead. John McCain discovered Sarah Palin, but someone else would have if not he. Bill Kristol could recognize her talent and its fit to the current scene. Mary Cheney was introduced to us by John Kerry as a Lesbian, but we know her better now as a vulcan. This is evidence of social progress. As further evidence, we have another example of a gender bender in Michelle Bachmann, a representative from Minnesota who mixes the range of gendered characteristics in ways novel enough to propel her to the front of the pack. Like Palin, Bachmann is quite feminine in her appearance and one surely risks engaging stereotypes to describe her too closely. One might simply say that she would not be mistaken for Gloria Steinem in terms of style or substance.

What characterizes all three of these new right superstars is their gender shock value. Palin broke through with among things beehive hairdo and her pit bull bull with lipstick line. Watching Mary Cheney feels like an experiment with picture merging software. She channels her father’s authoritative mannerisms with chilling accuracy. Bachmann has her own idiosyncrasies that owe more to Liz Phair than to Laura Bush. All of this applies to style of course and has nothing much to do with the substance side other than the fact that the gender bending these women are doing is about bringing masculine style political positions and phrases into non-tough guy packages.

In an article about a new book on women’s rock in the 1990’s, we find:

Bands that were unapologetically feminist, that made music that was angry and challenging—music that would have been relegated to the underground in the ’80s—became mainstream. It was acceptable to be angry and sexy, and in pop culture there were finally a bunch of role models: Courtney Love, Liz Phair, and Kathleen Hanna, to name just a few. Sadly, that potent combination of female rage and sex appeal has slipped out of the mainstream.

Well, it appears that it has simply moved into a new mainstream and in unexpected ways. David Brooks started a fascinating row with Todd Gitlin and Dick Armey in the Times the other day in his comparison between the Tea Party and the New Left of the 1960s. In one way, Brooks was right. When we introduce new styles and tactics, they become part of the cultural toolkit. Anyone can use them and they can be turned on the creators, just like bad law.

I was drawn to write this post after watching Michele Bachmann’s performance in her rally to “Kill the Bill” in St. Paul. The full rally can be found here. There are many things to pick up on in her speech. The line that got me was the one that became the title for this entry. She said, “we kill it because we are free. We kill it because of who we are and what we know to be true.” It got me thinking about identity based conflicts more generally and how apt this line is. There are many more women like this out there and the lifestyle they represent has little coverage on the left. We are in a new era of gender politics, and these new right feminist leaders have yet to play out their best hand. What Bachmann told us last weekend about the founding fathers could as easily be said of the gender shock bands of the 90s, “these were no pantywaist wusses, and neither are we by the way.”


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