walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

heroes out of line

US political discourse evokes a linear continuum from left to right (or right to left, as the case may be). We all know it doesn't work that way, and probably a lot of us have had inflicted on us a two-dimensional grid that is used to recruit people to libertarianism, and some of us have been shown a circle version of the left/right line that shows that extremists of both kinds behave the same: resorting to tyranny and coercion and blah, blah, bleeping blah.

A lot of extremely influential, even heroic people don't fit on this left/right continuum. Jane Jacobs is a nice example. The "right" likes her for fighting eminent domain, for example. Ina May Gaskin presents similar problems, as does Ruth Handler. On the one hand, a huge chunk of youthful progressives cannot imagine anything but good in stopping: the destruction of a city by freeway, a criminally high c-section rate, and coercing little girls to immediately adopt a caretaker/mothering role rather than contemplating other productive adults roles for herself. On the other hand, those youthful progressives may be highly disturbed by: gentrification, an out-of-hospital birth (much less on The Farm) with no access to pain relief, and would be quite shocked to discover that Barbie might have some redeeming characteristics (mind you, less in today's context than when she was first imported from Germany).

Jacobs, Gaskin and Handler have shaped our world profoundly, but it's actually kind of hard for a lot of people to really grasp what they did and why they did it, because what they did and why they did it is so far out of sync with the way the rest of us are prepared to contemplate our political landscape. If you go back further -- to the Temperance movement, to the ideology of separate spheres, to the details of the rhetoric associated with abolitionism -- it gets even worse.

It seems that while heroes have feet of clay, heroines are something far more difficult to come to grips with: they reshape reality, and we seem doomed to find either the motivation admirable and the results repulsive -- or the motivation incomprehensible and the results such a part of us we cannot imagine our modern world another way. And whatever else may be the case, they can't readily be pegged as either "left" or "right".
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