do a long-dead President and his slave concubine, the
tug-of-war over a little boy, and two current books
about men by feminists have in common? For nearly two
hundred years the keepers of the Jeffersonian myth have
denied there was a sexual relationship between Thomas
Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemmings, and that her
progeny were his. So they denounced feminist writer
Barbara Chase-Riboud's book about Hemmings because she
told the truth. Then along came DNA and that fiction
could no longer fly. Now their relationship is being
packaged as a tragic love story. In a recent made-for-TV
film, Hemmings is portrayed as a seductress who actively
pursues Jefferson. O.K., stranger things have happened,
and slavery created countless contradictory and confusing
relationships. (Hemmings was also Jefferson's wife's
half sister, the product of another "tragic love story.")
Could she have been a willing participant? Yes. But
nothing changes the fact that she was his slave, and
as such her very existence depended on pleasing him.
Turning this into a plantation soap opera demeans the
slave experience, reinforces stereotypes about black
women's sexuality, fails to grapple with the insidious
institution of slavery, sugarcoats Jefferson's hypocrisy,
and completely avoids the question of rape. I'm sure
that some folks find this a more palatable version of
history--Sally as old Tom's Monica Lewinsky.
the folks orchestrating the heartbreaking tug-of-war
over Elian Gonzáles have convinced themselves that they
are motivated by concern for the well-being of this
little boy. But had this Cuban child not been on a boat
filled with people fleeing their country for the United
States, he'd have been immediately returned to his father
and his homeland. Had the boat been filled with people
fleeing the U.S. in search of asylum in Cuba, those
demanding that Elian make a new life in a foreign country
would be rattling sabers, demanding that he be returned
home. Their hypocrisy is hardly surprising given that
all too often interest in issues like "family values"
and "fathers' rights" is more about exercising control
over women than any genuine concern for the best interests
of the children involved. Their hypocrisy is as transparent
as the double standard being applied in this case. I
suspect that a movie about Elian pleading for U.S. citizenship
is already in the works.
how all the pundits and columnists avoid asking pointed
questions or commenting on the double standards. But
she who rocks the boat is sure to catch hell. Especially
when what she says raises uncomfortable questions. Which
explains why Susan Faludi caught so much flak from the
usual feminist-bashers when her book about men was published.
In Stiffed Faludi explores male country at a time when
the old rules about manhood no longer seem to apply,
men are floundering, and the terrain is fragile. Now
comes another book, by Ms. Editor Emerita Suzanne Braun
Levine, that looks at husbands and fathers. In Father
Courage, Levine sets out to discover how men (and women)
are redefining their relationships and parental roles,
and whether expectations, attitudes, and behaviors are
changing. There are no villains here, only menfolk struggling.
But both books rock the boat by posing challenging questions
about men's lives, the issues many men are grappling
with, women's expectations, and society's prescriptions
for manhood. In this issue, you'll find a lively conversation
between these two authors about men today.
what's the thread? Power, politics, and propaganda and
the need to keep rocking the boat.