Tara Zahra

Tara Zahra completed an American Prospect writing fellowship in 1999 and is now a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows.

Recent Articles

The Antifeminist Seduction

In a curious, back-handed compliment, conservatives have appropriated feminist language in arguing that feminism itself is the cause of women’s problems today.

American women are lonely and unfulfilled. They are able to cope with their dreary lives amidst seas of expensive carpeting and well-dusted furniture only by popping pills. Society has limited their choices and robbed them of their true power, leaving them resentful of the lives of quiet desperation left to them by their mothers. Sounds like the feminist portrait of the 1950s housewife, right? Actually, the well-dusted prisons are not postwar suburban ranch homes but corporate office suites. "Mother's Little Helper" is no longer Valium—it's Prozac. Social pressure no longer confines the miserable female to the domestic realm; it now compels her into the professional realm. And the force behind that social pressure is not the patriarchy—it's feminism. If the classic nightmare vision of the repressed housewife was always somewhat of a feminist caricature, it nevertheless served its purpose, ultimately expanding the acceptable range of choices available to women and changing—for the...

The Feminism Gap

"F eminists Don't Know What to Think," declared U.S. News & World Report in late September. Pointed editorials in the Atlanta Constitution and the New York Daily News condemned "Feminism's Double Standard" and "Silent Feminists' Shame." Maureen Dowd even proclaimed in her New York Times column that feminists had committed "mass suicide" by failing to condemn Bill Clinton. Time magazine wondered—on its cover—in June: "Is Feminism Dead?" Well, isn't it? In the cultural realm, Ally McBeal , the highest-rated show on television with a female lead, features a thirtysomething Ivy League lawyer in microskirts, whose every courtroom argument alludes somehow to her need to find a boyfriend. Bridget Jones's Diary , a runaway best-seller in both England and America, details the life of a thirtysomething editorial assistant obsessed with counting her calories and finding Mr. Right. And The Rules , which sat atop the best-seller list for much of the mid- to late 1990s, advises women how to...

Devil in the Details

Gatemania It's beginning to seem as though Watergate's greatest legacy was a handy shorthand by which pundits and politicians can criminalize their opponents with the twist of a suffix. Beginning with Koreagate in 1976, when a South Korean rice dealer was investigated and eventually arrested for being too generous to certain members of Congress, the media gave us Billygate , in which Jimmy Carter's brother was said to represent Libya; Debate gate , wherein Carter's debate briefing books mysteriously turned up in the hands of Ronald Reagan's campaign staff; Peanutgate/ Goo bergate , in which peanut-farm money of questionable origin ended up in Carter's campaign coffers; and Lancegate , concerning the shady banking deals of President Carter's budget director, Bert Lance. With Ronald Reagan came Contragate , or Irangate , perhaps the only post-Nixon scandal to be worthy of the suffix, followed by George Bush's Iraqgate and Passportgate , in which President Bush had the State Department...

Art: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Account Executive

Economic impact studies can demonstrate a return on public investments in the arts. This is a handy tool for arts advocates, but also a dangerous one that reduces art to commercial calculus.

Mark is a starving artist. He abandoned the world of material comfort, a well-stocked refrigerator, and dance lessons at the Scarsdale Jewish Community Center to live in a rat-infested East Village loft with his starving artist friends. Using his video camera, he documents an aggressive protest against a real estate developer's plan to turn Mark's loft, along with the vacant lot next to it that is inhabited by a group of homeless people, into a high-tech cyber-arts studio. When in an unexpected twist his videos turn out to have commercial appeal, Mark faces an angst-ridden choice: Should he sell his work to a nasal-sounding executive with a cell phone and a beeper, leaving behind his self-imposed outsider status as an artist but gaining financial security and mainstream popular appeal? Or should he renounce commercial valuation of his work, forfeiting his chance for mainstream status and economic power but preserving his artistic integrity? The conflict crescendos with a triumphant...