Anti-Male Policies and Assumptions are Nothing New
One of the most irritating of claims heard in mainstream discussions about feminism is that the movement for “women’s rights,” as it is still sometimes called—though what is being discussed under the banner of feminism today has nothing to do with rights and everything to do with special privileges and punitive powers for women that are not possessed by men—is a relatively new phenomenon.
The comforting corollary of this idea is that feminism’s naked animosity towards men and drive to undermine the presumption of (male) innocence are forgivable or at least soon-to-pass excesses of a heady young movement still finding its legs.
Pundits and sympathetic commentators would have us believe that until very recently, women suffered in silence. Sexual harassment in the workplace, we are told, was a daily scourge that was not taken seriously, rape was tolerated or even condoned, and women experienced all the indignities of their sex without recourse or public recognition.
Now women are “finding their voice,” “breaking their silence,” and “claiming their experience,” and we must have patience with their rage and listen respectfully—AND BELIEVE—as they tell their stories of victimization for the first time in history. Defending the #MeToo movement in the wake of the take-down of Chris Matthews last month, Washington Post journalist Monica Hesse explained, for example, that ‘‘Believe Women’ doesn’t mean women never lie; it makes the point that for too many decades, we’ve assumed they always do.”
Really? When was that? As shown in what examples? Most of us don’t have time to investigate these types of claims, and few pundits will question such an asinine assertion with the vigor it deserves.
In reality, claims of sexual harassment by women, and the demand that men be punished for it on a woman’s say so, supposedly bursting from darkness into light as a result of the 2017 #MeToo movement, are decades old and have been expressed in draconian legislation since the 1980s. We’ve been believing women for a long time, with horrific results for men, and feminists aren’t satisfied yet. We need to know this thoroughly and have the facts at our fingertips to prove it.
Anyone interested in reading a fascinating overview of how quickly and thoroughly feminist demands about sexual harassment became law should look into Daphne Patai’s well-written Heterophobia: Sexual Harassment and the Future of Feminism (1998). Patai begins the book by noting that “It has been nearly twenty-five years since the terminology of sexual harassment began to enter public discourse.” In other words, the feminist conception of sexual harassment has been causing trouble for men since the 1970s.
In 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments was enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Nixon, prohibiting discrimination in education on the basis of sex. Lin Farley published The Sexual Harassment of Women on the Job in 1978, and a year later, Catharine MacKinnon, a powerful legal theorist, wrote a book (Sexual Harassment of Working Women) that defined sexual harassment as a form of discrimination based on sex and therefore a violation of women’s civil rights in the workplace and at college.
In 1986, the Supreme Court in Meritor v. Vinson upheld a sexual harassment lawsuit by a bank teller who alleged that her supervisor had pressured her into a sexual relationship.
Thus began what Patai calls the sexual harassment industry, the vast network of laws and policies put in place to protect women (as well as their employers and university officials), along with a cadre of experts to interpret and implement them, in the workplace and in schools. These were followed by an avalanche of lawsuits and complaints by women, which began to escalate in the early 1990s after the testimony of Anita Hill against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991.
In 1998, Cathy Young characterized the impact of the Hill-Thomas hearings on heterosexual relations at work as follows:
When the dust had settled, the new awareness of sexual harassment remained a part of the landscape. “Every time a man and a woman meet at the water cooler now, Anita Hill [is] right there between them,” Wayne State University anthropologist Andrea Sankar told Newsweek a year after the hearings—and it speaks volumes about the social climate that this was supposed to be a good thing.
Back then (and still now), feminists defined sexual harassment in the way that is familiar to us all, claiming that it is all about power, not desire; that it is deeply demeaning and traumatizing, never flattering, to its “victims”; and that women cannot be expected to deal with it sensibly or to act rationally when confronted by it. Women are never seen as responsible or as having any power of their own; and men’s innocent intentions or actual harmlessness are irrelevant to the supposed problem. Once this definition was accepted, it was open season on men, and many men have lost their jobs and reputations on the basis of trivial or dubious claims of harassment; Patai records many shocking cases resulting from the righteous imperative to believe women.
Knee-jerk gynocentrism has always been a potent weapon of feminism, but so has our historical amnesia and the difficulty of looking into the past with search engines primed to give feminist answers and historians pushing an ideological line. We owe it to the coming generations to educate ourselves about how old feminism’s bigotry and power moves actually are.