To the editors:
I write in order to support Mr. David Futrelle’s review of Gloria Steinem’s Revolution From Within [February 14] against the criticisms offered by Ms. Tracey Wik [Letters, March 20]. I have read Ms. Steinem’s book, and while I did not miss her point about self-esteem, it failed to be interesting from the perspective of progressive critique of powers of restraint operating in society. Mr. Futrelle is absolutely right in charging Ms. Steinem with dangerously depoliticizing progressive liberatory struggle. By encouraging people to search more deeply within themselves for the causes of their unfreedom, Ms. Steinem turns away from oppositional critique. This is the root of Mr. Futrelle’s disappointment with Revolution From Within.
Ms. Wik is correct that there are “reasons for those tiny demons we wage war with in our minds,” but locating the causes of self-doubt, low self-esteem, and self-destructive behavior in an insufficient knowledge of oneself is only progressive if effectively linked to analyses of how we are socialized by racism, sexism and class oppression to believe ourselves unworthy of love and respect. To tell working class and minority women “know thyself” is hardly deep and effective oppositional thought. It fails to address how a society founded upon competition and not cooperation, and which perpetuates itself by commodifying human persons and values, is necessarily going to erode such values as caring, respect, friendship and community. These are ideas that emphasize and assert our mutual interdependence, i.e., that we exist as selves only in a “field of selves” (Wayne Booth). It is precisely such ideas that capitalist civilization structurally and institutionally militates against. Mr. Futrelle’s review only shows how Ms. Steinem seems to abandon the idea that (in the words of bell hooks) “we collectively shape the terms of our survival.” His review also validly argues the dangers of Ms. Steinem’s position causing people to become bogged down in self-psychoanalysis. Such a preoccupation with the individual self and its inadequacies could lead people to neglect the communal struggle necessary for liberation. The “roots of our self-doubt” cannot be effectively analyzed in isolation from the social matrix in which “self” is created and has meaning.
Furthermore, Ms. Wik herself makes apparently sexist statements. She writes of Mr. Futrelle, “What puzzles me the most about the piece is why he believed he could speak empathetically on the issue of feminism.” Why should that puzzle her? One can certainly have a deep understanding of and deep feeling for feminism without having to be in complete sympathy with every tract its theorists publish. Ms. Wik’s sentence implies that a man is incapable of such an understanding. Does a gender grant someone a privileged access to emotional, intellectual and spiritual realms that are closed to the other gender? Don’t such determinations about the relation of gender to human nature have social consequences of the type that made a feminist movement necessary?
Ms. Wik goes on to write, “The fact that he cannot relate to Steinem’s expansive emotional repertoire does not surprise me either.” The quote she offers from the review to support her insight reflects neither an inability to relate nor one-dimensionality. It makes a criticism of style, i.e., her “expansive emotional repertoire” was not organized well enough to avoid some confusion in the presentation. Mr. Futrelle is not attacking Ms. Steinem for attempting to address a variety of themes, but for not orchestrating them as well as a writer should (especially given this writer’s talents).
Finally, Ms. Steinem’s significance to the feminist movement and her importance as a social critic do not place her beyond criticism nor immunize her against errors in vision. Ms. Steinem is not the only person writing today who thinks deeply about liberatory struggle, and given the content of Revolution From Within I cannot count her as among the most progressive. Ms. Wik might wish to expand her literary repertoire to include bell hooks, Angela Davis, Cornel West or (from the 19th century) Anna Julia Cooper.
C. Thompson Salgado