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Fashion Statements

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October is here, and once again it's time for post-season playoffs, foliage and fashion magazines thicker than the Old Testament with seasonal guidance for the young and voguish. What's in for the fully outfitted professional woman on the go this year? Why, according to Vanity Fair, it's that old mid-nineties reliable: conservative counterrevolution.

About the Author

Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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Remember the MSNBC blondes? Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter and Jennifer Grossman? The three picture-perfect pundettes with one opinion among them are now oh so ten minutes ago. The new vanguard is composed not of TV temptresses, according to VF fashion guide Sam Tanenhaus, but genuine thinkers and writers--like Midge Decter and Gertrude Himmelfarb, but with DKNY camisoles and Frédéric Fekkai styling. These pretty young smarties, Tanenhaus tells us, are "the coming thing, heralds, or sirens, of a genuine conservative chic." "Sexy but not too," the author coos of Wendy Shalit, who is "part ingenue, part vixen." "Cool and polished" Danielle Crittenden is half of one of "the capital's pre-eminent power couples." "With her trim figure, short copper hair and smart red jacket," Amity Shlaes "could pass for a stylish college professor." "Handsome," "quirky, bold, original" Virginia Postrel, who is "tallish, with flowing locks," has a "striking pallor...accentuated by a navy-blue suit, a cobalt-blue silk shirt and matching nail polish." Lyn Chu is a literary agent, not a writer or thinker, but never mind. As her photograph demonstrates, she is quite a babe. (Not pictured, for reasons unexplained, is the "slender" 25-year-old Keachan Kimaye, who showed up for her VF interview wearing "an ankle-length, body-hugging, translucent Ralph Lauren V-neck sleeveless cotton summer dress, striped in sunset pastels, atop a salmon-colored DKNY camisole.")

Oh yeah, the brains part. What are the ideas that young girls across the land will be accessorizing this season, the ones "shaping a new politics, untethered to tired left-right dichotomies," ignoring "partisan debates" and "focusing instead on shared generational experiences"? Well, at 23, Shalit published a buzz-heavy book arguing that young women would be happier if they dressed like Hasidim and saved themselves for Mr. Very Right. Crittenden, power right-wing editor and proud bearer of her maiden name, has authored a tome to convince women to give up their careers and proudly bear their husband's name. Amity Shlaes doesn't like our system of taxation. And the "visionary" Postrel has "created a new vocabulary, part Ayn Rand, part Star Wars." (I think Tanenhaus means this as a compliment.)

No wonder liberal editors attack them, and, as Crittenden observes, old-fashioned feminists are "not even prepared to deal with you." And how prejudiced of East Coast elite reviewers to inquire as to whether these authors muster even the slimmest shred of evidence beyond their own deeply sheltered upbringings to support their theses. Reviewing Shalit and Crittenden in The New York Review of Books, Andrew Hacker notes that both draw on nothing more than "personal anecdotes, conversations with friends, or simply impressions they have formed...not on evidence." Similarly, Peter Gosselin, writing in the New York Times Book Review, found that despite many "catchy anecdotes," Shlaes's antitax manifesto could not come up with "any grander rationale...beyond the fact that nobody likes to pay them." Then again, some things are just hard to prove. According to Shalit, for instance, virgins possess "an undeniable glow about them that is absent, for instance, in our modern anorexic." Crittenden observes that with a smaller number of "sexually available young women," predatory men will have to turn to marriage rather than, say, prostitutes. Shlaes opines that IRS officials exercise a power "akin to that of an inquisitor in the Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella.'' (Postrel, the only other author among this vanguard of counterrevolutionaries, generally doesn't see her books reviewed in these publications at all.)

Hmm. Is anyone else thinking conspiracy here? Decter, Himmelfarb and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, to name three quite conservative women, get their books respectfully reviewed, despite their antifeminist leanings. Of course, the ancien régime bothered with the tedious task of undertaking actual research, footnotes and occasionally even original thinking, but how last century is that? (Note to fact-checker: Did Hannah Arendt wear Armani?)

Here's the real story: Antifemale, liberal-media East Coast bigwigs--working through their unwitting ideological dupe Sam Tanenhaus--are purposely revealing the vacuity of these intellectual ingénues precisely for the purpose of discrediting their ideas. That way, pretty young women will continue to flood the marketplace and buy lots of sexy clothing only to be easily exploited at places like Vanity Fair. Who better to disgrace the ideals of modest dress and a return to the home and hearth for ambitious young women than this decidedly immodest crew?

But seriously, the attempt to deflect the challenges of liberal feminism while pretending to speak for its "next generation" is exactly the strategy employed by the well-financed conservative stalking horse, the Independent Women's Forum, with whom many of these women are associated. Since its inception in 1992 the forum has been a chat-show booker's dream and an honest producer's nightmare. The explosion in TV talk shows with twenty-four-hour cable and the easy availability of IWF's well-spoken cadres--all generals, no troops--has created a media-wide misimpression that young women are marching back into the kitchen with virginity intact. According to the October Lingua Franca, the IWF, which opposes affirmative action, the Violence Against Women Act and Title IX funding, is moving even farther down the antifeminist food chain. Their new campaign seeks to overfund a series of women's college publications that appear to be dedicated to the proposition that a true "feminist" pursues a life--and politics--straight out of Father Knows Best.

Yes, you've come a long way, ladies, but hold on to the leopard skin anyway. Just in case the counterrevolution is televised, you should really have something to wear.

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