Recent feminist writers have claimed or implied a special affinity between women and irony, and between feminism and irony on account of their “double” relation to the prevailing order of things: both speak from within this order – indeed, to a greater or lesser extent, are determined by this order – and yet both remain “other” to this order in some way.
In his essay, “Equality” (1943), C. S. Lewis deplores the way that the concept of equality has come to characterize all aspects of the male-female relationship in modern times. In what he calls “a little plain speaking,”
This is the tragi-comedy of the modern woman; taught by Freud to consider the act of love the most important thing in life, and then inhibited by feminism from that internal surrender which alone can make it a complete emotional success. Merely for the sake of her own erotic pleasure, to go no further, some degree of obedience and humility seems to be (normally) necessary on the woman’s part.
Truth to tell, “equal pay for equal work” sometimes seemed the entire content of the moderate agenda, but it managed to gain support for a veritable revolution that in short order reconstituted women as a separate social and political class. It’s possible to imagine that without feminism, things might have turned out better for women and more harmoniously for everyone. There is a great deal we can retrieve and learn from this body of writing. They provide more detailed accounts of the reception of specific playwrights and tendencies from critical voices conscious of their positions on the margins of mainstream culture. The changes in law, policy, habits, customs, and expectations that may have been needed to help women advance into the public sphere would have developed gradually, as a normal part of societal progress, without recourse to a poisonous ideology that separated women’s interests from those of society as a whole, and without rewriting the past as one long history of injustice toward the female sex.
According to Andi Zeisler, co-founder and creative director of Bitch Media, feminism has become a revolution that has become privatized: In her view, feminists today are all about the right to make individual choices—any choices, choices that may be wholly estranged from the original objectives of feminism, which once meant collective action to change whole systems. She recommends the subject matter to which modern dramatists might devote themselves, such as “hundreds of the professions occupied by women” and “women’s friendships with women” which she claims have been “unaccountably neglected” even though “there are before us so many examples of women spending the best years of their lives together, and cooperating sincerely and cordially in so many different activities.”
Zeisler writes in Time Magazine,
This kind of marketplace feminism … pulls focus from systemic issues and places it on individuals and personalities. It’s easy to see Sandberg, for instance, urging women to lean in, and forget that leaning in puts the onus on women themselves—rather than on the corporate systems and values that shortchange all workers regardless of gender.
But to make the world itself more feminist-safer, saner, more equitable, more sustainable-requires asking more of one another and ourselves than the market can answer. It involves asking difficult, complex and uncomfortable questions about what and whom we value. It requires confronting the reality that the world has not evolved nearly as much as we’ve been led to believe it has. And it needs us to admit that making us feel good about what we buy is not the same as making us feel purposeful about what we do.
Although it is impossible to predict the outcome of any negotiation with irony, I hope that what emerges from my attempt is a narrative of vigilance. The feminist insistence that women behave like men and make as much money as men do may not be the sole reason for women’s rising levels of dissatisfaction with life; a greater incidence of divorce and single motherhood may also contribute to it. Gender equality requires co-operation on all sides. As a humanist, I’d like to see today’s feminists give men a bit more credit – they might just be surprised.