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The anti-feminist
The Washington Times
October 9, 2001
The anti-feminist
by Woody West
     Too many of the memoirs in the current bumper crop consist of taking
large egos out for extensive airings. The notion often seems to be that
one's singularity demands to be shared with the universe, the more
intimate and clinical the better. From time to time, though, a writer
records the years in a less egocentric way - subjective, to be sure, but
beyond existential bleating, connecting the life lived to the social and
ideational tides of the time.
     Midge Decter's "An Old Wife's Tale" is pre-eminently of the latter.
She does not turn her soul inside out for the titillation of readers,
indeed is reticent about "particularities." The memoir is serious but not
somber, a recollection and analysis of the decades as daughter, wife,
mother, grandmother - and a wider context as a highly visible participant
in the cultural rumblings that define the half-century past. It is a
distinctly American tale. In brief synopsis it unreels like this:
     Restless daughter of Midwest middle-class family drops out of college
and heads for New York City at a dead run. With scant training, she lands
as secretary at a magazine that later will figure dramatically in her
life. After World War II, she marries a graduate student, quickly has two
baby girls and shares the crowded and energetic life of the men returning
from the war and the women who marry them and, with fecund haste, create
"the Baby Boom." A few years later divorce; the memoirist must scramble to
provide a home for her daughters. She labors at a variety of jobs to keep
bread on the table, eventually holding a series of magazine positions,
each with greater responsibility. There's a second marriage, two more
children, another girl and a boy. Then, in the late 1960s, she becomes
executive editor of Harper's magazine.
     Around this point, Miss Decter began to emerge in a more public
persona, in large part in vocal disagreement with the rise of the feminist
movement. In the coming decades, her name and that of her second husband,
now editor of Commentary magazine, would be prominent in the fierce
intellectual contention as almost one name, Midge Decter-Norman Podhoretz.
      This extra-domestic role would expand - endorsement of and writing
on behalf of the civil-rights movement; opposition to the rise of the
counterculture and anti-Vietnam protesters ("a war of the privileged young
against the working-class young"); to an intense and increasingly vocal
anti-communism (her husband would swing the liberal editorial stand of
Commentary magazine to the right and be anathametized by the Eastern
literary tribe); consistent support for Israel as the only democracy in
the Middle East; and stout backing of Ronald Reagan and his presidential
policies - with her evidently surprising realization that she was an
"ardent ideologue."
      She would be among the founders of the Committee for a Democratic
Majority that campaigned for strong defense policies and was the chrysalis
of the neoconservative movement. Miss Decter also established a small but
articulate advocacy group, the Committee for the Free World, and,
uncharacteristically for such organizations, she folded it with the
implosion of the Soviet Union.
      It has been a lively gallop as a "public intellectual." But for Miss
Decter a principal involvement has been in the debate over the seismic
shaking "family" and its components have undergone as a result of the
sexual revolution, so called, and the often disastrous consequences. She
finds "a seemingly never-to-be-mediated internal clash of ambitions: the
ambition to make oneself a noticeable place in the world and the ambition
to be a good mother."
      The women's movement is roughly handled for what it has wrought, and
Betty Friedan, her polar opposite, takes some wicked whacks. Miss Decter
argues that the institutionalized women's movement has viciously
denigrated the female's maternal nature and metastasized to a hatred of
men. She notes that much of this doctrine of oppression has been abetted
by men. Males for the most part decided it would be just as well not to
get in the front of that accelerating political vehicle.
      So where has the relentless current taken marriage since the 1960s?
It has poisoned the relations between the sexes, she writes, "women
explosively complaining and men silently seething with resentment." The
end result, Miss Decter contends with sadness, is "that the offspring born
to the most 'enlightened' sector of my generation, who had as no babies
before them been cosseted and petted, whose bodies had been cared for and
minds stimulated, so to speak, within an inch of their lives, were in the
end neglected children" - neglected in the vital sexual roles and
intellectual manners that, male and female, sustain civilized society.
      Miss Decter is not against women working, to be sure. She's worked
for much of her life, earlier from necessity, and then from the desire to
find a complementary furrow to her first obligation as a parent (and she
ruefully looks back on some of her decisions, as any thoughtful individual
must as the years mount up).
      "An Old Wife's Tale" is not a jeremiad. Rather, it is a reflective
and penetrating essay on our jostled immediate history - and the writer's
Woody West is associate editor of The Washington Times.
Copyright © 2001 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
Washington Times Home:
[Related Article:
American Communism And The Making Of Women´s Liberation
By Henry Makow Ph.D. -- Wednesday, October 3, 2001]



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