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Canadian Review of American Studies 1992Special Issue, Part II Veblen's Anti-Anti-Feminism ClareVirginiaEby 215 It was not Thorstein Veblen's way to make public statements of belief. Circuitous, cumbersome, barbed, Veblen's prose evades rather declares. Many readers have found his values difficult to pin down; debates continue over such critical issues as the extent of his agreement with Marx and whether Veblen's works foretell change or more of the same. Rick Tilman sums up decades of scholarship by noting that "no consensus now existson the value or even the meaning of Veblen's work" (1992, 13). The lack of consensus has only been aggravated by the general impression that Veblen's earliest and most famous book, The Theoryof the Leisure Class (1899), says everythinghe has to say.The preoccupation of many readers with this single text has obscured a number of his reiterated ideas and rhetorical strategies. One of Veblen's most consistent strategies throughout his writings, at least as consistent as his often-noted satirical pose, is the binary opposition. Although he disparages invidious comparisons made by others, it is within these binary oppositions that Veblen inscribes his own values. Indeed, determining his values becomes almost monotonously simple once one know how to read the contrasting terms. Veblen values everything that he claims his culture despises. The following list is partial: 216 Canadian Review of American Studies Honorific Traits Humilific Traits (what societyvalues) (what Veblen values) Business (making money) Industry (making things) Instinct of sportsmanship Instinct of workmanship Predatory tendency Parental bent I Competitiveness Cooperation War Peace Invidious,self-regarding Collective, group-regarding behaviours behaviours Waste,ceremony Utility Financier Engineer Salesmanship Technology As William James remarks in a different context, "these terms make the contrast simple and massive" ([1907] 1992,7).1 Depending on one's point of view, Veblen's ever-widening net of oppositions reveals his senile repetition or his masterful consistency. I will argue that "male" and "female" belong on this list as primary loci of Veblenian censure and of value. Veblen could be described as a protofeminist or, better yet, since he is constitutionally more inclined to attack the bad than to praise the good, as an anti-anti-feminist. I will trace Veblen's assault on the dominant gender ideologies of his day through three of his rhetorical strategies. These strategies are especially noteworthy because invidious comparisons were (and continue to be) invoked to keep women in a separate, lesser, or circumscribed sphere. One crucial strategy of Veblen's anti-anti-feminism involves his study of men-less biological males than masculinity as a social construct. He is interested inwhat modern anthropologist David Gilmore calls"the approved way of being an adult male in [a] given society" (1990, 1). Veblen ClareVirginia Eby I 217 consistently attacks approved models of manhood for perpetuating coercive and hierarchical behaviours. A second component of his cultural critique is the deconstruction of "natural'' gender roles. The logic of this aspect of his anti-anti-feminism is echoed in a comment of Derrida's: "In a given situation, which is ours, which is the European phallogocentric structure, the side of the woman is the side from which you start to dismantle the structure" (1987, 194). The third strand of his anti-anti-feminism, which in its lack of spleen may warrant a reconsideration of Veblenian rhetoric, ishis guarded but undeniable tendency to align women with positive values. Before tracing these strategies, I should note that several of Veblen's contemporaries and a handful of modern scholars have commented on his progressive viewson gender. The nephew of Lester Frank Ward praised The Theoryof theLeisure Classfor its treatment of women and recommended to Charlotte Perkins Gilman that she read it; T. W. Adorno applauded Veblen for taking women seriously (Dorfman [1934,194];Adorno [1981,esp. 81-81, 88]). Two of the most sustained modern treatments of Veblen's views on gender are comparative; John P. Diggins positions Veblen's views against those of Mill, Gilman, Engels, Levi-Strauss, and Mencken; and Edythe S. Miller finds Veblen's analysis "comparable to contemporary [1972] discussions," a fact she uses to challenge orthodox economists to make women's status a central...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 215-238
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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