Not so long ago, the New York editors and publishers of books regarded the "conservative woman" as an oxymoron. They shared the sensibility of radical feminists who once called Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the Republican senator from Texas, "a female impersonator." Women writers and women readers were liberal or they didn't exist.
A decade ago, I wrote a book proposal with the title, "Women Without Men," examining the sad effects of feminism, among them that radical feminism had deprived a lot of women of men. A senior male editor at a house that had published one of my books (which sold very well) told me he thought it could be a big seller but the feminists in his shop wouldn't let him touch it with a 10-foot pole. (Clichés are big in those circles.)
He spoke without the slightest embarrassment, as if castration were an honored rite of passage, and said that if I went ahead with it to get a suit of armor to duel with the "sophisticated" feminist critics. I put my creative energies elsewhere.
It wasn't personal. A friend of mine who became a well-known columnist wrote a fine comic novel about the Vietnam war, where he had been a distinguished correspondent, satirizing the politically correct, defeatist attitudes of our politicians and press and depicting the communists as greedy, villainous jerks. A senior editor at one of the most prestigious houses in town sent the manuscript back with a terse note: "This is very funny and very well-written but I don't even want it in my office, so I am sending it back to you at once. Good luck."
That was then and this is now. The times, as even Bob Dylan's weatherman might concede, are no longer a-changin'. They done changed.
Mona Charen, another colleague in columny, has written the splendidly researched Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First. It's published by Regnery, the conservative publisher that published conservatives when nobody else would and now has more than its share of best-sellers. Dr. Laura, who dispenses tough love like chicken soup, is a publishing phenomenon.
There's a new novel out called amanda bright @ home, by Danielle Crittenden, who portrays with wit, wickedness and derring-do the adventures of a stay-at-home mom. Serialized episodes have appeared in the Wall Street Journal. She depicts hilarious scenes of family life that our mothers never told us about. Sex is described as "kid-us interrupt-us" and Amanda wonders whether sex is just another item to cross off her to-do list. She's the catcher in the wry of the 21st century maternal mystique.
amanda bright @ home is to the at-home mother what Bridget Jones' Diary is to the female singleton, perceptive and poignant in observing two decades of changing rules: "Amanda grew up in an era when it was considered embarrassing to express a desire to be a mother." If the traditional mother placed guilt on the mother who worked, the baby boomer generation of mothers lays guilt on their daughters who gave up careers to be full-time mothers.
"Where is the daughter of mine who used to talk about making a difference in the world?" asks the mother of Amanda, a former feminist activist, when she learns that her daughter is quitting her job to make a difference in the lives of her small children.
"Mom," Amanda asks, "aren't you always saying feminism is about choice?"
"Of course feminism is about choice," her mother says. "It was just never about this choice."
Publishing houses in New York finally see the benefits of "choice" by producing books with conservative ideas. Crown Forum, an imprint by Random House, announced that it will publish 15 "conservative" books a year. Penguin, too, says it will establish an imprint to publish 15 conservative books. "Fairly or not, there's a perception among many conservative thinkers, leaders, scholars and journalists that the mainstream book-publishing industry doesn't really respect their ideas or their audience," Penguin publisher David Shanks told the New York Observer.
Fairly or not, he might have said, there's a perception among New York publishers that conservative books sell (why should Regnery get all the action?) and we want a piece of it, but we'll put them in the back of the bus where they won't taint the goods for Nice People. Penguin describes the imprint as "books of political opinion and dissent with a conservative perspective," which suggests that the other books they publish have a liberal perspective. (It's all about "diversity.")
A new mood pervades the country. Conservatives are in power in Washington, so the New York publishers will give them a book ghetto they can call their own. So who's been out to lunch?