On rabid feminists

I have long been fascinated by Eleanor of Aquitane, a truly remarkable woman who was at the centre of power in both France and England, who helped her second husband to forge an extensive empire, imprisoned for aiding her sons in rebellion, only to emerge and re-enter politics in her sixties. All this in the twelfth century, hardly a time in which women were known for being equally able to wield power. I knew only a small amount about her, so when I found a biography by Alison Weir, I seized it with delight.

What a disappointment. Although it recounted the events of Eleanor’s life, and described the people around her, it did so with strings of adjectives. For example, Weir describes King John, Eleanor’s youngest son, as being nasty, vicious, and treacherous* but she provides no evidence to support this claim, does not record his actions, merely recites the received view of John with no new insight. The effect is like describing someone as being brave, courageous, and not afraid of anything.**

The term ‘rabid feminist’ seems to me to work in the same way. I was alerted to its use in an article about Felicity Goodyear-Smith, by Donna Chisholm in North and South Magazine. Goodyear-Smith seems to raise strong emotions, because she often provides expert testimony for defendants in sexual abuse cases, and she seems to have started to do so only after she formed a partnership with a man who was involved in the Centrepoint community in Auckland. The leader of the Centrepoint community was notorious for advocating sex with children: he and other community members were jailed for their crimes against children. Goodyear-Smith’s connections are dubious, to say the least. However, she is also a professor at the University of Auckland, and the process by which she was appointed to her chair seems to have been as rigorous as any. I simply do not know enough to be able to form an opinion about her and her work.

But I do know that when she was described as a ‘rabid feminist’, my understanding of her increased not a whit. What did that mean? Did she froth at the mouth? Did she bark and howl? Or did she have the temerity to advocate for women? What evidence was there to back up the description?

I was particularly surprised by the person who made the comment. Goodyear-Smith was thus described by Dr Carol Shand, whom I admire a great deal. Carol Shand has long been an advocate for women’s autonomy. In the 1960s, she was one of the first doctors in New Zealand who would prescribe the pill for single women, and she has worked in sexual health and women’s health. Carol Shand is a feminist herself, in actions if not in words.

I wondered why the journalist didn’t ask more questions about Goodyear-Smith’s feminism, trying to work out why she should be described as ‘rabid’. All the journalist managed to show was that people have strong opinions about Goodyear-Smith, but that gives us no insight whatsover about her. It struck me as a throwaway comment, and for it to be included in the article without further analysis, or even included at all, did no service at all to the subject, the speaker, or the quality of the magazine. Adjectives without evidence are simply vacuous. I have no more insight into Goodyear-Smith’s character and actions because the term ‘rabid feminist’ was reported without investigation. It could just as easily have been used by Alison Weir to describe Eleanor of Aquitane.

If anyone could direct me towards a good history of Eleanor, I would be very grateful.

* Or something to that effect: my copy is still sitting on the docks in Wellington.
** Shamelessly stolen from Raybon Kan many years ago, when he described Daniel Day Lewis’ character in the film of The Last of the Mohicans as being “three dimensional: brave, courageous and not afraid of anything.”

7 responses

  1. I enjoyed “A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver”. It’s a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine aimed at children, so it skims over some things, but it focuses on specific things she accomplished (and some big struggles she had).

  2. I’d love to read a good biography of her too, after reading Sharon K Penman’s historical fiction about her. Sad that Alison Weir’s one isn’t good, not sure whether I’ll bother trying it now.

  3. My daughter is named after Eleanor of Aquitane – I shall have to hunt up that child version biography.

  4. well i’m sure this is not exactly what you’re looking for, but i read a lot of jean plaidy (aka victoria holt) when i was young – yes, i know, you don’t need to say it.

    anyway, i still remember reading this one (or it more likely to have been this one given the publishing dates) on eleanor of aquitaine which seemed to me to be quite good at the time. but then i thought charlie’s angels & wonder woman were very cool at the age of 10, so what do i know!

  5. I’m not familiar with any good biographies of Eleanor but, while she’s certainly an interesting figure, she is nobody who we should be admiring – she was involved with a lot of violence, often for extraordinarily dubious reasons.

    But one thing that was interesting for that era – not just the 12th century, but the whole middle ages – is that it was actually comparatively easy for a woman to rise to the very top of social hierarchy. Not that Eleanor didn’t face barriers to her leadership due to being a woman, but her subjects were more able to accept a female monarch than they would have been a female town council leader, despite the latter carrying far less power.

  6. I must say I often refer to myself as a rabid feminist, generally in conversations with people who may not be aware of my leanings – it’s a handy kind of “Warning: I will take your silliness seriously and probably will not “lighten up” about things” sign.

  7. Bottom line is that true Feminists like Boudicca had honour or engaged in the fight for the vote. Today’s feminists are tools of the Frankfurt School social theorists.

    After failing to radicalise the German working class as Internationalist (they became National Socialists NOT Internationalists) the Frankfurt Schoolers fled to the US (to escapr Hitler)where they were given tenure at Columbia University.

    In the 1950′s they attempted to radicalise the American worker – again they failed. Why? Because generally workers were paid well for their work.

    They then formed the hypothesis that the white male European/Anglo-American was suspect from a revolutionary perspective…so they looked for a new constituency to radicalise:

    – Women
    – Homosexuals
    – The youth (the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world
    – Non-whites (and white Jews)

    This is when Herbert Marcuse headlined a revisef version of Frankfurt School critical theory called ‘ The Theory of Polymorphic Perversity’ i.e. if it feels good do it!

    In essence the theorists believed that:

    – The white male needed to be destroyed as he represented the un-radicalised worker.

    – The Church need to be destroyed as this promoted understanding across the classes and false class-consciousness.

    – The family needed to be destroyed as this created an alternative to the State in terms of transmitting values to the young, private property, individualism as opposed to collectivism and loyalty

    In their own words they said ‘we will make the West so corrupt it stinks’. Haven’t they done well? Ever ask yourself why Critical Theory is taught on EVERY Uni course in the West… it is an inter-generational plan to implement a 1930′s worldview… why? Simples. Cultural Marxists state that a matriarchal society is a necessary ‘precursor’ state to the state of anarchy required before socialism can be implemented. They also state that males, once subjugated by legislation, will rise up and destroy the matriarchy and it is they who will institute socialism as they believe it to have been their saviour (and not the originator of the matriachy they destroyed).

    So the Left think that us women are ‘useful idiots’!!!

    The next phase can then be implemented…men running the show as per(after all 9 out of 10 Frankfurt Schoolers were male) and breeding consigned to ArtSem dormitories…dystopian I know but this is what they themselves have stated on the public record!

    So the moral of the story is that some women and some men are natural allies AND some men and some women really are the enemy of humanity.

    Why should we trade the gains of our ancestresses for a generation or two wielding man-hatred power (on behalf of totalitarians)???

    Or should that be TotalitariaNZ.

    Peace Sisters x

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