I experienced that realization in the Vietnam Peace Movement after the Kent State massacre. Now, I thought, public opinion will be on our side and the hawks will be on the defensive. Perhaps the turning-point for other war protestors was when L. B. J. decided not to run for re-election; others may have remained pessimistic until the end, until the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. Identifying the exact moment of Zizek’s communal turning-point is impossible for a movement as widespread as the Vietnam Peace Movement; in a relatively brief, contained demonstration like the Euromaidan, it is open to educated speculation
While the exact moment of Zizek’s turning-point for a large, long-lived movement cannot be accurately determined, it gradually becomes clear to the movement at large that it has occurred. However, sometimes that Zizek yes-we’ve-won moment might be a mistake. I don’t think I was alone in thinking that with the election of Barack Obama the long civil rights struggle in the United States finally was over. Most of the commentariat and The Nobel Peace Prize Committee obviously felt as I did. How wrong we were. The election of a black President turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory for the civil rights movement; it hardened the resolve of racists and diffused the resolve of civil rights activists, who turned their attention from racial discrimination to sexual discrimination.
I may be wrong, but, even though there still is some way to go before women gain full civic equality, primarily in the area of salary equality, I sense that, politically, feminism has reached the Zizek turning-point. When it comes to feminism on a deeper level, not of equal civic rights, but of full social equality, I can’t envision a total feminist victory until there are no more high heels in shoe stores and people look back and say, “Hey, that was weird!” Or until – God forbid – as many men wear high heels as women.
(I’m not betraying my belief in the importance of retaining the differences between the sexes. Male and female sexual display is not only natural, but one of the things that makes life interesting – for people as well as chickadees. High-heeled shoes, though, fall into the same category of masculine coercion of women as did bustles, corsets and foot-binding.)
There is one area, though, where the minor, subordinate, often subservient role of women can never be rectified: history. 95% (these figures are just wild guesses) of history’s most prominent actors, 90% of the renowned artists and composers of the past, 80% of its renowned writers, 95% of its important religious leaders, were men. However, 100% of them were influenced by a rapport with others of the opposite gender, or opposite gender-identity (thanks for the appropriate terminology, kids) – nothing necessarily racy or romantic; I’m including moms and dads.
Unfortunately, most feminist historical writing has taken one of two tacks: identifying women who can be argued as having been as relevant, significant, exceptional as the relevant, significant, exceptional men of their eras and then lionizing them, or treating history as a dismal record of incessant sexual discrimination and subjugation. Both are a distortion of the past, and destroys feminist history’s credibility and places it in a parochial fringe.
A realistic feminist study of history based on the differences between men and women, instead of trying to fit women into an irrevocably androcentric past, would examine the role of the interplay of the sexes, the influence on history’s actors of the opposite sex. For example: an analysis of Elizabethan England from the point of view of Elizabeth’s relationships with her favorites; a study of the difference in Napoleon’s attitude towards masculine adversaries and feminine ones (of either sex); a correlation of the policies and principles of Abraham Lincoln with sentiments expressed by his beloved stepmother in whatever letters or other writings of hers have been archived.
The fact that the important actors of the past have been male should have the same weight in world history as the fact that the lioness is that species’ predator of choice has in the zoology of the veldt. A study of the role of lions in the veldt will examine the organization and exigencies of their dens, not simply the effects of the dens’ designated hunters. A valid, and valuable, feminist history, based on sexual differences, would examine the changing organization and exigencies of all of society – men, women and children. The activities of the men whom traditional history regards as its primary actors would be studied not as exercises of power, but exercises of function.