Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Socially Conservative 2000's

My mother always rips articles out of Newsweek and the local paper and will give them to me, in a pile with my mail that got sent to their house. Like many people, I'm frequently too busy (or perceive myself as too busy) to sit down and read through them when I get them. Yet I rarely throw them away unread. They just, at the end of each year when I move, get piled together in the box labeled "Misc Papers" with class notes I want to keep, academic articles I want to keep, bank statements, pay stubs, bank receipts, and letters.
While packing to move from this apartment, I finally had the idea to put them in a bag, and that way, when I'm drinking my coffee outside in the mornings, keeping them all together, and actually making an effort to go through them. This is nice because they're about an assortment of topics, interesting...it's just nice to sit down and read something factual but not overly dense, sometimes. Sometimes I'm so starved for text that I find myself reading the uninteresting surrounding articles, even if they're sensationalist trash about Heath Ledger or Amy Winehouse.
I have an entire issue (not just ripped out articles) of Newsweek saved, because the whole thing looked interesting. It is from July 2007. That tells you how far behind I am in my reading.
This was a rather long preamble to my topic...
Anyway, the article I read yesterday was about Jane Austen, her current popularity among a wide array of audiences, and what all that means. It was really great! There's a lot I could say about it, but I'll limit myself for now, especially since, not having the article in front of me, I might be less than accurate. I'll edit this post later with the article nearby, so I can at least write down the name and writer.
The writer discussed the popularity of Jane Austen, contrasting her with equally popular Dickens and Shakespeare, but arguing that they have lapsed into "venerability," whereas Austen has remained accessible--like someone you could sit down and have coffee with. Like an eighteenth century version of our (most intelligent) chick lit heroines. But, she argues at the end of the piece, this doesn't make her low-brow. I guess what she's saying is the great thing about Austen is that she is accessible at nearly every level--though perhaps ignored by literary snobs of the highest order.
Anyway, one of the parts of the article that jumped out at me and stuck with me all day was reference to "the socially conservative 2000's." I am going to get the wording screwed up probably, but she was writing about how - I believe it was the marriage plot in Austen's novels - resonates with the "would-be feminists" of the "socially conservative 2000's" who have instead become "Bridezillas."
Something clicked. Socially conservative!? I've never before heard our decade referred to in this manner...but it makes sense. I frequently find myself thinking about an issue of progress or equality and wondering why things seem stagnant - even regressing. I wonder why I have to argue in a class at a women's college that there's nothing biologically weird or wrong with a man who decides to take care of his children instead of working full time. Why so many people seem obsessed with banning gay marriage. Or weirded out by interracial couples. Why I have to assert, so often it seems, that although I lack a Y chromosome, I am actually cut out to be a scientist/live alone/have opinions/drive a car/walk down the street without a male relative (obviously I am exaggerating.)
I learned in my medieval lit class--where I was shocked by how racy some of the texts were, or by some of the feminist stuff I read--that contrary to what we believe, society hasn't been climbing a liberal, progressive escalator for all time. It frequently goes in waves. So are we in a downhill slope right now? Are we going to have less rights? Am I just going to have to get used to truck drivers honking at me (and not in a friendly way) because I have the audacity to be a woman with my shoulders showing driving alone on a highway? Let alone when we were driving across the country -- well, there were TWO of us then, and what were we doing so far from home? With no men to look out for us and keep us out of trouble! How did we do it without killing ourselves in some haplessly female way--such as forgetting where we parked our car, or getting so distracted by a "Clearance" sign at a shoe store that we forgot to look both ways and ran into traffic, or perhaps of dehydration due to crying SO MUCH, you know, women are such saps, we couldn't stop, and we were in the desert and it's like, dry there.
I only latch onto feminism because I am female and have the most personal experience with it. But this conservatism relates to all things - censorship, gender equality, racial equality, class, gay rights...etc.
What do you think, my three readers? Are we progressing at all, or are we truly in the socially conservative 2000's? Will we have to be more watchful to maintain our rights?

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