Essays - Autumn 2017

Against Solidarity

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As a writer, with a writer’s chronic need for detachment, I have avoided the ideology of gender

Women's liberation marchers, Washington, D.C., 1970 (Warren K. Leffler, Library of Congress)

By Emily Fox Gordon

September 5, 2017


When the feminist movement first arrived almost 50 years ago, I found myself unable to join it. I can’t say I rejected it—it was too big and in many ways too right—but I privately resisted it, and have continued to do so ever since. Not quite immediately: for a year or so I welcomed it in a mild, distracted way. After all, I’d grown up with it. I was a feminist avant la lettre, a young woman who’d never expected to live her life according to traditional gender expectations. I’d been raised in an academic family, attended progressive schools, worn my hair chopped short like Jean Seberg in Breathless, though on me it wasn’t as becoming. To me, feminism had always been axiomatic, and at first it seemed that the new movement was only amplifying its familiar precepts.

What was it that got my back up? It was the phrase “the personal is political.” I’m not sure when I first heard or read that pregnant aperçu, but I remember recoiling from it instantly. Even then, I understood it to be an idea with a totalitarian lineage. Unlike other puffy notions in the air, this one had a hard center and a deadly specificity. It was a bullet aimed straight at me, a threat to the writer I was certain I was, but hadn’t yet become.

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Emily Fox Gordon is the author of two memoirs, a novel, and a collection of essays, Book of Days. Her essay, “At Sixty-Five,” in the Summer 2013 Scholar, was selected for Best American Essays 2014.

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