A Taoist friend of mine regularly recommends The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet as genuinely good, thought-provoking yet accessible initiations into Taoist thought and study. Since I love me some Winnie-the-Pooh anyway (and since, in general, I’m convinced that some of the world’s greatest wisdom lies in media directed at children), this has proven quite true for me.
The books are full of simple ideas that are challenging me philosophically and spiritually. For the most part, the author (Benjamin Hoff) uses the Pooh characters to offer generalized criticisms of the way we (North Americans) tend to live/think. His arguments are pared down to their simplest form, Pooh-bear style, which is a strength in leading the reader to question how the mindset alterations apply to his or her own life without necessarily calling attention to specific personal or political issues that may just become a barrier to listening.
So I was extremely disappointed–though not entirely surprised–to find that the major point where he loses that focus is in criticizing feminism. Most of the time, Hoff talks about general themes using simple terms, little space and few examples from outside the Pooh books themselves. Then in the chapter ‘The Eeyore Effect’, he spends six full pages on what he calls ‘Eeyore Amazons’, lambasting a strawfeminist in a way that comes off as a personal eye-rolling grudge that actually contradicts everything else he’s trying to say in the book. Eeyores complain for the sake of complaining, giving in to the internal forces that say it’s just easier to be unhappy and focus on the negative, forces that are ultimately due to fear (if you’ll forgive the radical simplification).
Eeyore Amazons make a big deal out of such silly things like words and names. We’re just being contrarian and nonsensical when we don’t want to use terms like ‘chairman‘, and didn’t those silly feminists notice that when they keep their unmarried names in order to avoid symbols of ‘male chauvinism’, they’re just keeping names that came from their fathers (noting condescendingly “And their fathers were such strong advocates of women’s rights?”). Eeyore Amazons, says Hoff, are paradoxically getting rid of everything ‘feminine’ in the world, acting all masculine, “cursing and plundering”, but at the same time denouncing “practically eveything they dislike as masculine and a threat–to the extent of seeing masculinity and threats that aren’t there”.
“Stranger and stranger” he says. Well, yes. It is strange if you really do believe that I didn’t notice my name came via my patriarchal relatives, and that I don’t recognize that keeping it is a limited point to make in an imperfect world rather than a solution to the world’s ills and those of the patriarchy (I genuinely have no idea what my father’s opinions on women’s rights, positive or negative, have to do with my decisions, but then, I’m not a disingenuous builder of strawfeminists). It’s all very strange…if, you know, you don’t bother to listen to these women talking about the sources of these ‘threats’, and thereby magically, paradoxically in fact, become one of those very threats yourself.
What bugs me most is that I really do think it undermines his ability to make his point and contradicts everything else he is advocating. So it’s not just unnecessary (when you demonstrably don’t take a position on other political questions, why this one?), it’s counterproductive. I know it’s ‘just’ a book, and none of these anti-feminist thoughts are either rare or particularly heinous compared to plenty of others. But it makes me sad that yet again, I find myself having to look past attitudes that dismiss what matters to me in order to learn something in spite of them. It makes me sadder that I’m not surprised to have to.