Even plastic, hyper-processed, sterile "humans" are haunted by duality
That is a profound piece. Yes, it's about the fertility. I lived my life in such a way that I could know what female really is by engaging in reproducing the species. The wisdom I gained thereby is more priceless than diamonds. But all around me, young women are rejecting reproduction (and some for very good reasons). But this means that the knowledge and wisdom of female-hood is dying out, and with it, the hope for our species. I wish there was something to be done . . . but my daughters have far less chance of finding a non-porn-addicted, non-violent man than I did. Why would one choose to have children with a ravening animal? If female-hood's wisdom dies out, I will still blame men for it, for it is their desire for loveless, exploitative, brutalist sex that caused it all to happen. And the world will end as a result.
Excellent writing, per usual.
I think that one reason a lot of people resist thinking things through philosophically is because they know the logical conclusion of their views is something they won't like. There's some genuine obtuseness going on, but much of it is, I think, a defensive posture. People will dismiss this article's final question, "What are we for?", because they don't have a good answer to it.
Alas, that question cannot be dismissed.
The last line says it all. What are we for? If “the squirreliest thing a squirrel can do is make another squirrel or two”, why shouldn’t we acknowledge this as at least an honorable pursuit?
For the first time we are personally seeing well off middle aged couples who have never had children or do not have good relationships with the few they had. Their lives are less complicated than ours with five children and six grandchildren, and they spend more on themselves but it looks so dull. Only a medical diagnosis can disrupt the indulgent monotony of their days. Reverse mortgages are very popular as they have no one to inherit.
Death, with no one to miss you, to remember you, to look at a picture when you were 20, or 40, or 60, and have fond memories of those days, no wonder people are unable to face it. Love that had no outlet in reproducing Nana’s eyes or Pop-Pop’s chiseled nose, was it really love? Legacies of read-alouds, carefully collected books, nursery rhymes, handmade textiles, ethnic recipes, holiday customs. The things that have made even hard times bearable for millennia.
We will get the hard times but only a few of us will have the collective memories to make living through them easier.
If the culture can truly convince people that there is no difference between male and female, it can convince people to believe anything.
I think that this is precisely the point,
Some good food for thought here. It's interesting to think of people leaning more into extreme gender presentation as labor becomes more gender neutral...but I also find that pretty hard to believe. Most people don't get BBLs or bicep implants. I'm sure if they were around 50 years ago, they'd just be as widely adopted.
That being said, I'm all for people treating gender presentation as a costume, and society valuing a person for what they personally bring to the job, rather than treating them as a stereotype and treating them that way. People are treating gender presentation as some weird cosplay? Good. That's all that it's good for as far as I'm concerned. Women are the only ones to get pregnant and give birth. There's a number of ways to present. None of them undermine that fact.
To value women as workers, they do need to be valued as mother's, too. The reproductive justice movement -- which calls for supporting women who want to be moms, and those who don't-- provides a great blueprint for that in a way that centers the reality of women's lives in a way that both commercial/mainstream feminism and conservatism lacks. Being a mother is just one phase of a woman's life, if she so chooses (hopefully she has a choice in the matter). To value women, the importance of motherhood -- but also the transitory nature of child rearing -- needs to be addressed. It's a rich and nuanced topic.
“When all are sexless there will be equality. There will be no women and no men. There will be but a fraternity, free and equal. The only consoling thought is that it will endure but for one generation.”
~G. K. Chesterton
The Equality of Sexlessness
From GK's Weekly, July 26, 1930
Another superb essay. When do we get the collection? Mary Harrington, a Joan Didion for our time, navigates the cultural narrows with wit, style, concern and profundity. Thank you. My only agnostic rock in the stream is the closing question. Maybe the post-religious challenge now is to find faith where there is no teleological meaning. Sisyphus, again.
This is an excellent dissection of life in 'Barbie World'. I would only add this other dimension: that for all its 'hollowness and sterility' for ALL women and ALL men, it is still worth remembering that life in Barbie World will still be the same highly 'asymmetrical' experience that sex relations have always been (since time immemorial). An asymmetrical experience depending (for women) on how Barbielike-approaching physically pretty they are and (for men) how Ken-like they are.
Feminist discourse, in its preoccupation with relations between 'women' and 'men' per se, has largely ignored the huge INTRA-sexual experiential differences between life for the more and for the less desired of both sexes.
I wonder which movie is ultimately more dehumanizing, Barbie or Oppenheimer.
How sad that feminism has evolved from the basic need for equal rights and fair treatment to this horrific caricature, with its emasculation of men and the "Barbie feminism of hollowness and sterility." (Yet some female commentators here STILL blame men, as usual!) Given the plunging rates of fertility documented by Dr. Shanna Swan—50% decline in 50 years and speeding up—today's high school graduates may well live to see the end of human fertility anyway, as depicted in the 2006 film Children of Men (I'm working on an essay about this now). Add to that the damage done to women's reproductive capacity by the Covid vaccines—well documented in the Pfizer reports released by Dr. Naomi Wolf's team at Daily Clout—and we could be witnessing, not the dawning of the brave new era radical feminists are touting, but the end of our species. So while it's all very well to call out "toxic masculinity," feminism too will have played its part in our demise.
I thought it was a basic tenet of evolutionary biology, especially as applicable to higher species such as cats, that eggs are precious but sperm is cheap?
If I’m not mistaken, Helen Gurley Brown who put Cosmoplitan Magazine on the map, never had kids, but married a Hollywood Producer whose last name was Brown. The crux of her book was that women should live their lives as a series of ‘sequences’ and not strive to be Super Woman, doing it all at once. I would hardly call her ‘a role model’..she was marketing a book. Another blabber-mouthed feminist Gloria Steinem couldn’t land a man but had lots to say about just about anything- very anti-male & family. When Betty Friedan, a much greater intellect than Steinem and a mother of three, wanted to include provisions in the failed-to-pass ERA ( Equal Rights Ammendment) regarding family & children, Steinem nixed the idea. God only knows why (too many) young elite primarily white women revere her today. Steinem has no clue about children and family life. A bit of a publicity monster in the end.
Mary, have you seen the new Emilia Clarke movie trailer? Talk about cyborg era- it’s all about hatching babies in pods
Being reduced to being 3D printers for new male babies is the ONLY possible result of Harrington's program for returning women back to the status of chattel. Why is she even pretending to be a feminist at all? This is the man she should most admire, and his is the world she wants all of us imprisoned in: https://twitter.com/timotheeology/status/1597012252410142720
This is a fascinating piece, although I think Barbie has always acted as a sort of Rorschach test onto which we project our collective cultural anxieties, whatever those may be. Your piece seems to be a meditation on the film as much as the Barbie doll itself, but to defend the latter, I’m not convinced Barbie (the material doll, at least - a.k.a. 'actually existing Barbie') signifies the transformation of feminism into bio-libertarianism, although it’s definitely tempting to read her in that way.
It’s true that Barbie has a sort of neutered femininity that means that she is basically interchangeable with Ken - to wit, my older sister chopped the boobs and hair off our Barbie doll to make a substitute Ken before we got a real one. But presumably that has as much to do with our cultural sensibilities surrounding suitable products for children as anything else. Can you imagine the outcry that would have ensued if Barbie had a vagina and nipples? ‘Miniature sex doll being sold to children!’ the headlines would cry. Even Barbie’s more recent and ‘realistic’ cousin, the Lammily doll, doesn’t have primary or secondary sex characteristics (boob-shaped mounds aside), although she does have zits and a more normal figure. (Actually, I'm pretty sure the Lammily doll, being nothing more than a cynical attempt to cash in on the feminist critique of Barbie by preying on the anxieties of liberal feminist, middle-class mothers, deserves your contempt!)
My final piece of evidence for your consideration? The Heart Family: the best Christmas present I ever received (circa 1985). This was an attempt to introduce a nuclear family unit to Barbie’s world. While neither parent had genitals, they did have two ‘adorable’ offspring (although the boy bore an uncanny resemblance to Chucky - it wouldn't surprise me if the character in ‘Child’s Play’ was modelled on him). Of course, children had to surmise for themselves how these offspring entered the world, but that was par for the course anyway, given the all the talk of birds and bees and images of storks carrying babies that held sway until at least the 1980s (in Australia, at least). Interestingly, the Heart Family fizzled out really quickly, in my view partly because it limited the imaginative possibilities of Barbie herself by fixing her too much in a role - but I'd be interested in your thoughts on that.
Anyway, I’ve gone on too long, and illustrated far too vividly my fondness for Barbie (a holdover from my childhood), but you can read my defence of Barbie here: https://silentbutdeadly.substack.com/p/barbie-and-me, which covers much of this ground, albeit in more detail.
Thank you Mary, keep on truckin’, these issues are so viscerally contested. I meet women who want to be sexually dominated and like porn, and I despair. Inauthenticity is ubiquitous.
But I still chafe on your premiss that “The telos of sexuality is, for men and women, the creation of new men and women”. Or, rather, that can be agreed, but without dispensing with our wayward path driven by the telos. Love is the condition for bringing up new men and women, the selflessness in the whole body acceptance that we are part of a continuum. And love is the condition for sexuality. But this selfless love - this communion with continuity - should be the framework from the first fumblings (when pregnancy would be premature) to the post-menopausal delight in communion with your fellow traveller, when creation is no longer possible.
Love is the condition of sexuality and includes the vital but limited sub-fact that creation is the telos.
It is the fact that modernity has aggressively separated sexuality from love - through pornography, deranged promiscuity, technologized activity, and yes, too easily the chemical contraceptive - that is our C21st problem: apart from anything else it has fed the new pornographized patriarchy of misogyny, self-hatred and rabid individualism.