The above phrase is easy to use, and perhaps I over-use it.
The first time I heard it, I felt a rush of relief, having found a term for what had been making me so uneasy, irritated, and upset as I read news articles and received public service announcements about yet another initiative to protect women on campus from male aggression. Here’s a recent one.
It seemed that whatever a man did, even something as obviously innocuous as looking at a beautiful woman with admiration, was demeaning, an expression of male nastiness, a part of the “continuum,” as the feminists tell us, of male sexual violence against women (continuums are very convenient when you want to link an innocent activity to a completely unrelated, violent one).
Here is another example of such demonization.
Last week I was visiting my mother in the hospital. In the bed next to her was a man being treated, as she has been, for an irregular heart-beat.
On this day, the man’s wife was sitting with him, and the two of them were talking to the doctor, who had just been out with the husband on a walk up the hospital hallway, measuring his heart’s performance, especially its ability to return to a resting rate after he sat down.
After some sober discussion, the doctor suddenly became jocular. “One thing I can tell you,” he said to the man’s wife, “is that your husband is a good man. When a beautiful woman walks by him, his heart-rate doesn’t increase at all! I am proud of him!”
Sitting there with my mother, feeling ornery and anxious, I almost shouted out, “Then he must be nearly dead!”
Of course I didn’t, and perhaps I was over-reacting. The doctor was merely making a joke. One could even see it as courtly, chivalrous, a reassurance to the wife about her husband’s love and sexual fidelity. If I’d been in a different mood, perhaps I would have seen it as a sweet gesture.
But it struck me as yet another example—though of course in minor, innocent form—of the constant monitoring of male sexual desire that all of us are encouraged to engage in. Women believe it to be well within their rights to tell men how they are to sit, speak, and look. Wolf-whistles and cat calls are now seen as potentially criminal acts of misogyny. “Good” men are to unlearn their toxic masculinity, and teach other men how to unlearn it too: a particular focus is to speak up if you hear another man making a demeaning joke about a woman, or engaging in “locker room” talk.
Now we’ve got doctors monitoring men’s heart rates to see whether they beat a little faster if a woman in a tight jumpsuit walks by. Even when he is undergoing serious medical treatment for a potentially life-threatening condition, a man’s sexuality is under examination, and he is to be condemned or congratulated for his response to sexual stimuli.
That’s not what the doctor consciously meant, of course, but I think he was unconsciously mimicking the general tenor and attitude of our cultural discourse. It saddens me to see men pandering to feminist ideas of what women want and what they are owed. (Frankly, I don’t expect or want my husband to stop noticing beautiful women around him; I just want him to desire me more than any of the others.)
Male sexual desire has kept the human species going for millennia; it’s ridiculous to think of doctors becoming proxies for the feminist desire police.
Perhaps we can forgive Mona Eltahawy the idiocy of her ideas: she has been marinated in ideologically-based resentment, narcissism, and grandiosity for so long that it’s a wonder she can function at all. Last week, the Egyptian-American feminist activist told CBC Radio listeners about her new book, The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls, in which she urges girls and women to pursue “justifiable violence” against men, claiming that being civil and polite “should no longer be options.” The latter edict seems a tad dictatorial, but what else would you expect from a woman so simultaneously naive and vengeful that she believes the slaughter of men would bring about a better world?
We also learn in the article accompanying the interview that Eltahawy coined the hashtag #BeatMy Assaulter, reportedly “after a man in a Montreal nightclub groped her, and she proceeded to beat him up.” She wants all would-be gropers (of the male variety, that is—female gropers can have at it) to fear beatings from the righteous sisterhood.
Defending her espousal of violence, Eltahawy said that while she knew the recommendation was “highly controversial,” she wants women and girls to begin thinking seriously about radical solutions to patriarchy: “I ask people to imagine—now I’m using this word imagine, and I’m underlining it three times—a scenario in which we kill a certain number of men ever week. How many men must we kill until patriarchy sits across the table from us and says, “Ok, stop. What must we do, so that you can stop this culling?”
It seems that she is not exactly recommending the outright murder of men—merely something assertive and edgy that would put “patriarchy” on notice. A glance at Mona’s pouchy, fat-laden frame does not inspire conviction that men will tremble in her presence, but perhaps she sees herself as the ideas general leading an army of lean, raging women.
So let’s put aside the very large question mark over Mona’s boast about her physical prowess in beating the nightclub groper. Her ideas about overthrowing the patriarchy are actually even weaker.
What her simplistic and blood-thirsty fantasy does not acknowledge—and which it is even likely that Mona, deep in her feminist delusions, doesn’t know—is that the vast majority of acts of violence in North America are already committed against men. Moreover, bystanders are far less likely to intervene when a man is being abused in public than when a woman is. Violence against men tends to produce a collective shrug of the patriarchy; in fact, one has to note that it’s a strange “patriarchy” (which Mona seems to define as a conscious plot by men working together to oppress women for pleasure and profit) that is content to allow its “side” to suffer and die, sometimes even explicitly in order to save the lives of the supposed “enemy,” women.
But Mona’s recommendation in favor of women’s “justifiable violence” also rests on the unforgiveable assumption that women do not already commit significant violence. In this delusion, of course, she is far from alone, though one would have hoped that before expressing herself with such vehemence, she might have done some research. Women have shown themselves fully capable of extreme violence in the domestic sphere that feminists say is most unsafe for women and girls, playing an equal role in making it so: women are the majority killers and physical abusers of children, and are equally represented in sibling, elder, and intimate partner violence. For a succinct summation of the evidence, see Cathy Young’s article here.
Alas, it becomes near-impossible to forgive Mona Eltahawy her whacky theories when we consider not how bold and unconventional, but actually how tired and achingly familiar her hateful rhetoric is: it’s been there in feminism from the beginning of the Second Wave, at least as far back as the 1968 call to violence of the crazed Valerie Solanas, much-loved feminist icon, who published her SCUM Manifesto advocating the total elimination of the male sex, in the same year that she attempted to murder Andy Warhol and two other men who had caused her no harm. Solanas had no compelling reason for her violence but was still championed by feminists as an important advocate for women’s rights. She served three years in prison, some in a psychiatric institution, having been found to be suffering from mental illness, after which she continued to harass and frighten poor Warhol. Perhaps Mona Eltahawy is in the grip of a similar malady. Nothing else could justify the enormous ignorance, self-aggrandizement, and moral retardation of her feminist pronouncements.
I can’t stop thinking about the article Paul, Tom, and I discussed two weeks ago from the New York Post entitled “Broke men are hurting American women’s marriage prospects.” According to the article by Hannah Frishberg, women want to “marry up,” (i.e. improve their financial status through marriage) and the lack of men with good jobs today is making that difficult. As Paul said at the time, boo hoo for them!
I have a confession to make. I married up. My husband is smarter than I am and has a lot more cultural capital. I suppose we all have our personal biases.
But I can honestly say that financial considerations never entered into my decision.
And why should it have? From the time I was a little girl in the early 1970s, during the groundswell of the Second Wave of feminism, it was made clear to me that I wouldn’t have to marry for money. In fact, I was under the impression that this was a relic of ancient times when women’s ability to support themselves was limited. I always worked and eventually I found a great job. I could marry for love, and I did.
Therefore, I was shocked—and disgusted—to find the Post’s Hannah Frishberg quoting a recent study to report that “the reason for recent years’ decline in the marriage rate could have something to do with the lack of ‘economically attractive’ male spouses.”
Wait a minute! Aren’t feminists always complaining about the so-called wage gap, expressing outrage that American men still occupy the highest niches of economic power? The Institute for Women’s Policy Research recently claimed that “Women, on average, earn less than men in nearly every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both men and women to calculate an earnings ratio” and blamed “outright discrimination” for the situation. CNN Business reported just two days ago that “the average woman makes 82 cents on the dollar compared to the average man, losing nearly half a million dollars over the course of her career.” You would think from that statement that American men are stealing women’s hard-earned cash.
How can men be riding high economically, making on average 20% more than women and dominating the most sought-after positions, while also not making enough to be marriageable?
The lead author of the study quoted in the Post article, Daniel Lichter, doesn’t address the pay gap myth. On the contrary, he identifies a “shortage” of “men with a stable job and a good income” and even makes it clear that part of the problem is that women are simply doing too well in comparison. According to Lichter, “Many young men today have little to bring to the marriage bargain, especially as young women’s educational levels on average now exceed their male suitors.”
If women are doing well at men’s expense—which we should expect given the long-running and ongoing drive to hire and promote women in place of men through affirmative action policies—then why would it any longer be necessary or even desirable for women to marry men who earn more than the women do?
For the lead investigator in the study quoted, the fact of the matter is crudely straightforward, and is reported unapologetically by Frishberg, who concludes, “And sure, there’s the whole “love” factor in a marriage. But, in the end, ‘it also is fundamentally an economic transaction,’ says Lichter.”
Is it? Sure, for a traditional couple who decide that mom will stay at home to raise a large family, it may still be necessary for the male partner in the marriage to have a well-paying and stable job. But that accounts for only a relatively small percentage of marriages today. What kind of woman won’t marry a man due to his lack of cash especially if she herself already has a good job? Is this not an astounding admission of female selfishness, greed, and fundamental spiritual and emotional shallowness?
What does it mean to mention love in the same paragraph that defines marriage as “an economic transaction”?
What would we say of men who admitted that they weren’t interested in marrying women who couldn’t offer them material advantages? Haven’t women complained for decades about being “sex objects,” advocating instead—what they claimed to want—a spiritual and intellectual partnership? The fact of the matter is that sex at least has a close connection to love; the same can’t be said for money. Warren Farrell’s comment that men are often mainly “success objects” to women has perhaps never been more clearly illustrated.
And the author of the piece, a woman, doesn’t attempt to explain, rebut, or justify the news. In fact, her very first sentence, which targets the dearth of “men who have their act together,” puts the blame squarely on men for denying women the wealthy husbands they so richly deserve.
Frishberg also seems unashamed of a linked article about women who have chosen, partly out of necessity, to “date down.” This article features a number of successful women married to men whose jobs do not match theirs in status or earning power. The idea behind the article seems to be that these women deserve applause for their high-mindedness and courage. Imagine that: a female lawyer who stooped to marry a mere electrician. How admirable! The whole article provides a deplorable illustration of female condescension and entitlement.
I said in our discussion then that a simple solution to this so-called problem is for women to stop taking men’s jobs. I didn’t mean that talented and dedicated women should not contribute their skills in the workplace if they so desire and if they believe that is the best use of their energies. What I meant was that we should immediately put an end to all affirmative action hiring and promotion of women. It has gone on for far too many decades already. If female business owners and entrepreneurs want (and are able) to create jobs for women: fine. But women should stop stealing the jobs men created and developed.
I don’t expect that will happen any time soon. Instead, women will continue to complain about men’s failures, and to get sympathy for their self-pity, even when their complaints, as in this case, are remarkably self-contradictory.
Meanwhile, the revelation of the ugly face of at least some portion, perhaps a majority, of women today—their crude, grasping natures, their absurd risk-avoidance and materialism, and their inability to love men for themselves—still haunts me.
It was exhilarating to read the conclusions of Harry’s Masculinity Report for 2018, which asked men about their values and did not turn their responses into a tale of masculine failure. In fact, the study found that American men tend to hold strong values of honesty, reliability, and loyalty and feel at their best when they are supporting their families and engaging in meaningful work. Overall, American men experience high life satisfaction and are not “in crisis.”
The lead author of the study, Dr. John Barry of University College London, deserves congratulation for the validating picture of American men his survey made possible.
The analysis of the data took aim at some feminist assumptions about masculinity—that men are selfish, greedy, and competitive—and showed that these are far from accurate. Even in doing so, however, it’s possible the study was unduly influenced by feminist preconceptions of healthy masculinity.
The summary of the report’s findings noted, for example, that men’s participation in sport is a significant contributor to a positive mindset, allowing for socializing and healthy competition. It stated emphatically that “Among the factors which were relatively unimportant to men were: winning; developing an attractive physique or ‘being skillful.’ As the old cliché would have it, it really isn’t the winning, it’s the taking part that counts.” Perhaps many men genuinely do not care much about winning; or at least place the joy of effort and camaraderie above it.
But that certainly hasn’t been my impression of men (or of women, quite frankly). Moreover, without the male drive to win and to be the best, it’s doubtful whether many of our civilization’s greatest advancements would have been made. There is nothing wrong with wanting to win and developing the skills necessary to do so.
Feminist commentators, however, have been telling us for decades that the desire to win is one aspect of “toxic masculinity,” and that a “positive masculinity” would see men unlearn this supposedly damaging attitude. Is it possible that both the survey respondents and their interviewers were consciously or unconsciously framing their conversations about sport with feminist interdictions in mind? If toxic men are those who want to win, respondents may have felt that it was safer to say that winning was less important than enjoying a collective endeavor.
A similar doubt is raised by the “Conclusions and Recommendations” section of the report that claimed that “What’s truly inspiring is that American men understand the importance of their mental health, even above physical health. They are ready to talk, and they want to improve their happiness.”
“They are ready to talk” is a strangely phrased sentence, suggesting that men of the past may not have been so ready. Perhaps not coincidentally, one of the primary criticisms of men by feminists, particularly in the field of psychology, is that they aren’t willing to talk about their feelings in the way women are—and that this is a big problem accounting for such tragedies as male suicide and substance abuse. Harry’s Report seems to accept talk as the gold standard for mental health, assuring readers that men are ready for this crucial guarantor of wellness. “And they want to improve their happiness”—well, who doesn’t? A skeptic like me might hear, “They are ready to do what the feminists have been telling them to do in a bid for peace and approval.”
The report asserts optimistically that “Men get happier as they get older. This is an aspirational message that can provide all men hope. With wisdom and experience comes stability and inner contentment […].” Perhaps so. But do the researchers know for a fact that the older men they spoke to became happier as they aged, or is this conclusion simply an extrapolation from the fact that the older men surveyed reported higher levels of happiness than the younger men, a fact which doesn’t prove the younger men will necessarily get happier later in life. It might mean that older men are happier because their masculine identity was formed at a time when the constant negative barrage young men experience today was far less vehement. As feminist man-blaming and societal discrimination increase, it is quite possible that, far from becoming happier with age, today’s younger men will find themselves more alienated over time.
I am in favor of presenting uplifting accounts of male values and identity so long as problems are not thereby downplayed. But care is needed, even as one pushes back against anti-male assumptions, not to implicitly affirm feminist myths about positive masculinity.
Men are good not only when they’re non-competitive, open, and willing to talk about mental health. They’re also good when they compete to win and deal with problems through stoic self-reflection (and speaking of which, could a disinclination to focus on problems have played a role in the positive answers given? Perhaps some men prefer not to speak of their pain with researchers).
Ultimately, I hope Harry’s is far from the last survey to ask men how they’re doing and to acknowledge the good in their answers. There is much more to be explored outside a feminist framework about the many ways modern men find meaning in their lives.
“I often joke with people that feminism has been like a born-again religion for me—that once I found it and let it into my life, my entire perspective shifted in such a way that suddenly, everything made sense—and that I feel compelled to spread that gospel,” writes Melissa Fabello in Everyday Feminism.
Fabello says she is joking—but is she? In creed and conduct, belief and behaviour, isn’t feminism actually a secular religion?
Religion is a belief system that explains the origin and purpose of life, posits a spiritual or supernatural dimension to human existence, involves faith in what cannot be definitively known, and results in the radically changed understanding and behaviour of the believer.
Feminists do not usually define feminism as a religion but as a social science. Feminism postulates that most societies, and certainly all western societies, have been structured to reflect male perspectives and experiences while marginalizing female perspectives and experiences. Feminism thus presents itself as an evidence-based analysis of society and relationships.
But feminist methodology does not stop at the well-defined boundaries of social science. It ventures beyond these parameters and enters the realm of religion in its adherence to myths and unverifiable theories. Professor Mary Daly at Boston College, even seeks to go “beyond God the Father” (the title of her most influential book). Furthermore, feminists often describe their identity and understanding of the world in quasi-religious terms.
The feminist Garden of Eden, is protected not by a male god, but by a reigning spirit, the divine feminine.
This is a feminist version of the Garden of Eden, protected not by a male deity but by a reigning spirit, the divine feminine. Here women held power and exercised it benevolently for the good of all. Some indigenous cultures are of particular interest to feminists because of their claims to offer proof of such matriarchal social structures in which women had or continue to have significant political and spiritual authority.
At some point in all feminist origin stories, humankind fell from grace because of male sin, i.e. the male lust for power. Men invented and imposed patriarchy, a structure of social relations that severed women from their natural harmony with the earth and with other women. Men introduced other forms of hierarchical control based on race, sexual identity, physical ability, and so on.
Specific feminist theories go even further and address the related, “intersectional” forms of oppression. But all feminisms, regardless of their particular emphases and approaches, believe that patriarchy is man-made rather than natural. It is an unjust social arrangement that denies the life possibilities of women (and other “marginalized” groups) and must be overturned.
According to the feminist origin story, patriarchy imposed artificial gender roles, prohibiting women from their once respected roles as warriors, healers, and inventors. Patriarchy restricted women to the domestic realm, forcing women to serve the sexual, emotional and material needs of men. Patriarchy limited the personal development of women to nurturing children and activities associated with it. Patriarchy enforced the economic, social, and psychological inferiority of women.
The religion of feminism then moves along its narrative arc from the archetypal myths of creation and fall towards the possibility of salvation and redemption from the patriarchy.
Just as some feminists posit a utopian matriarchal society from which women “fell” into their present servitude, so it imagines an idyllic condition of liberation towards which women can and should strive. It also offers at least partial redemption for men through strenuous disavowal of and restitution for their masculine sinfulness. It thus provides a purpose for all feminist activists: the bringing into being of a just world. In this eschatological future, patriarchal bondage and hierarchy will be vanquished, and all women regardless of background or condition will love and value one another and nature and the feminist kingdom of heaven will come down to earth.
In keeping with its purpose of creating a better world, a distinctive spirituality or mysticism is evident in many feminist accounts, including even the most pragmatic and materialist. Almost unvaryingly, feminist theories associate spiritual power with feminine activities, modes of being, or individual women.
This power may take the form of a liberating energy, a sexual purity, a deeper insight or caring, a greater empathy (sometimes as a result of oppression), a greater capacity for collective living, or a revolutionary ethos. The invariable assumption is that simply by virtue of being a woman—whatever that might mean to the theorist (the category of “woman” is hotly debated)—one brings gifts to the world that men do not possess.
Feminist theologian Mary Daly argues that women’s interactions demonstrate new modes of non-hierarchical relationship in “cosmic covenant”
Radical feminist Andrea Dworkin claims that only women, because of their lived experience of one another’s pain, can imagine “the real practice of equality”
American psychologist Carol Gilligan argues that women develop a different, and superior, form of interpersonal morality
French feminist theorist Helene Cixous celebrates the special capacity of womanly creativity as joyful, non-linear, and intimately associated with the fecund powers of the female body
The blatant contradiction between two opposed ideas—that femininity is entirely a social construct of patriarchy, based on nothing biological; and that women possess distinctive capacities for good that should be generally recognised and promoted—is an example of the incoherent magical thinking that characterises much feminism and that highlights its faith-based foundation.
Of course, religious elements might similarly be found in many totalising worldviews (such as Marxism, for example) that judge the present as unjust and embrace a utopian vision for the future. But feminism’s umbilical cord with religion becomes more striking in relation to the manner in which a “sinner” or “seeker” comes to accept feminist claims, and their subsequent effects on believers’ attitudes and behaviours.
Most fundamentally, feminism requires a fervent belief in a central tenet or proposition for which no indisputable evidence exists, whether it be patriarchy, male sexism, the social construction of gender, or women’s sexualised oppression
Here is where the element of faith shows itself most clearly. No matter how many times feminist statistics are undermined and no matter how many times countervailing evidence is revealed—feminists continue to cling to their beliefs, often simply by repeating the original mantras with increased fervour and conviction.
The matter of belief leads to what is perhaps the most salient feature of feminism as religion: its marked effect on the believer’s attitudes and behaviour. Becoming a feminist is akin to a religious conversion in that there is a marked transformation in the believer’s orientation to the world, a sense of “rebirth” or “awakening” that changes all one’s personal coordinates. Melissa Fabello speaks for many when she explains how “Feminism has coloured every single thought and action that passes through me in a day. Feminism has changed how I see myself and others. [It] has rebooted my entire being.”
If it were a matter of evidence, feminism would have lost its legitimacy as an explanatory framework long ago.
What may once have seemed a heterogeneous mix of experiences is now organised by a single dazzling insight into the reality of structural inequality, the “casual and ingrained sexism” of even “the best men (and women).” Nothing escapes the explanatory power of the intersectional feminist thesis. Previously innocuous behaviours by men are now placed on the continuum of expressions of male privilege. All interactions between persons, no matter how trivial or seemingly amicable, are understood as negotiations of social power in which the oppressed person, usually a woman, is at a perilous disadvantage. This changed perception is not only applied to the world ‘out there,’ but to the most personal dimensions of the believer’s life.
As a result, a profound sense of grievance and passionate desire to fight for collective justice well up in the believer, along with a fervent longing for feminism’s promised land—the end of all inequality under the sign of the divine feminine. All of the feminist believer’s former experiences are now re-evaluated in light of the feminist insistence on women’s experience of sexualised violence. In cases where the conversion is truly radical, a sweeping hatred of feminism’s ‘other’—the white heterosexual man—may develop. Women who do not share the believer’s new understanding are classed as unenlightened, deluded by patriarchal “original sin” (which according to Mary Daly was, for women, internalized guilt and self-blame).
A young woman can write about her horror at discovering that she is pregnant with a male child; a feminist leader can pen an article proposing that boys’ failures in school are the result of their ‘privilege’ in the world—and that we should stop helping them succeed in life; these are seen as reasonable expressions of elite opinion. The satirical question “Would you rather your child had cancer or feminism?” refers to an immediately recognisable reality for many parents, friends, or lovers, who have had family members alienated irreparably because of feminist-inspired paranoia and resentment.
There are evident parallels to the fanatical religious believer who becomes alienated from former friends and family members. The difference, however, is that the major religions of the western tradition, including Catholicism, Protestantism, and Judaism, stress the believer’s continued responsibilities to family (especially in the commandment to “honour your father and mother”) and to the wider human community. The God of these religions is a loving Father who cares for His creatures whether they know Him or not. Such is not the case with feminism, whose goddess-spirit cannot dwell in the masculine.
Feminism differs from most orthodox religions in making its ‘Promised Land’ a place that must be built in the here and now, not in an afterlife, with the result that a deep urgency attends all efforts to renew present society. The effort by necessity includes the harsh punishment or exile of feminism’s enemies (think of feminist efforts to destroy those who argue with them online), for the feminist utopia cannot be created while the unregenerate pollute the land.
Feminism contains no injunction to “Love your enemies” (or even your neighbour) and it demands immediate and ongoing reparations for the perceived injustices of the past. Thus it may be said to encourage all the negative aspects of fervent religious beliefs—irrational passions, a rigid worldview that refuses other perspectives, the demonisation of non-believers—and none of the benevolence and self-sacrificing love that characterise true religions at their best. In its supremacism and justification of violence against non-believers (and ‘dhimmi’ status for male feminists), it perhaps most closely resembles fundamentalist Islam.
The impact of a religion on an individual or on a whole society is not necessarily bad, of course—it all depends on the content of the religion and the cultural forms it takes. We should be clear that feminism is closer to a religion than a social science, concerned less with truth than belief, often impervious to reason, and highly intolerant of competing viewpoints. It may be allowed a carefully circumscribed place in the public sphere, but it should not be allowed to operate as an unofficial state sanctioned religion.
One of the strengths of the men’s movement has been its ability to demonstrate that despite a declared commitment to “gender equality,” feminism is (and probably always has been) a movement for female supremacism. Especially in the past 40 years, feminism has involved the demand by women (with male support) for an equal, or more than equal, share in what the other sex has produced and created while advocating for legal or workplace exemptions and privileges for the female sex.
The men’s movement, on the other hand, genuinely advocates for equal treatment of the sexes under law, in the workplace, and in society generally.
Lately I’ve been having conversations with a tough-minded friend who isn’t willing to let the matter rest there. Men and women are fundamentally different, he argues, and it is foolish to pretend it isn’t so, or to imagine that a viable future can be built on the fantasy of social equality.
Male society is based on equality of opportunity. Men compete, produce, and achieve to establish their positions in social hierarchies. Female society is based on equality of outcome. Women take what men produce or achieve and distribute it to their children, family members, and associates.
The fundamental inequality of this arrangement–its basis in relations of dependence and obligation–is obvious to any honest observer.
It is impossible to name a contribution made by women in the areas of science, technology, medicine, the arts, or philosophy without which the world would be significantly the poorer. Men have created the entire infrastructure of the modern world. And now women are demanding, in the name of equality, that men step aside and allow women to take it over.
The two main contributions of women to society–supporting their men and guaranteeing the survival of children–are the two contributions that modern feminists, with the general agreement of western women, have vehemently denied and rejected.
It’s impossible to create a realistic model of social equality when the contributions of men and women to society are so obviously unequal. The more men produce, the more women demand it be given to them, with no reciprocal responsibilities or even gratitude owed on women’s part.
We’ve heard a great deal over the past 40 years about what men owe to women and to society. Most men are more than willing to make their contribution. Surely it is now time to demand of women: what do YOU owe to men and to society? What contribution to men’s well being are you willing and able to make? Until women start answering that question responsibly, they cannot claim to care about “gender equality.”
Laila Laurel’s supposedly “tongue in cheek” manspreading chair is only the latest in a concerted campaign by feminist activists to make men feel bad for supposedly taking up too much space. It is the result of decades of feminist grievance-stoking that has led us to the point that feminists think they should be congratulated for having the gall to tell men how to sit.
How could it happen that some women—with institutional support—could come to feel it their right to lecture men on keeping their knees together?
In 1988, feminist theorist and University of Illinois philosophy professor Sandra Lee Bartky published an article about women’s social position that demonstrates the intellectual roots of this particular strand of anti-male bigotry. Bartky used the ideas of French post-structuralist Michel Foucault to explain how it was that women in the late twentieth century west were technically free, and yet still profoundly, and seemingly willingly, constrained in a variety of ways, ranging from the way they moved and sat to their tendency to smile more than men and to spend a great deal of time and energy making their bodies conform to ideals of feminine beauty. No matter who they were or what they did with their lives, they were always aware of themselves, she claimed, as bodies on display.
Foucault’s theory, developed in his book Discipline and Punish (1975), was that modern regimes had moved away from what he called the power of the sovereign—brute power, often haphazardly applied–to a far more subtle, widespread and effective micro-power that resulted in individuals willingly monitoring and disciplining themselves, becoming what he called “docile bodies.” Though Foucault was far more interested in men’s experiences than women’s, Bartky saw his theory as uniquely applicable to the modern woman, whose body became “docile,” according to Bartky, as a result of the micro-regulation of her gestures, her posture, her movements, her facial expression, and even her tone of voice. What made women regulate themselves, according to Bartky? Nothing and everything—the culture at large. Everything about men, in contrast, from the way they stood and positioned their bodies to their assertive, unconstrained behavior in public spaces, bespoke their less-regulated gendered selves.
Bartky’s is an entirely social constructivist view of womanhood, and the feminist movement in general has taken a strictly constructivist approach to social change over the years. And feminist social change has amounted to a deliberate, institutionally enforced reversal of sex roles, following Bartky’s list of grievances almost to a T. Feminism aims to make men experience greater and greater restrictions on what they can say and do while women demand and achieve ever greater freedoms (without responsibility) in dress and behavior. A few men can get a pass if they are approved by women or beyond the reach of feminist enforcement mechanisms. But a majority of men experience a steady erosion of their autonomy and freedom, to the point that they’re not even sure it’s okay to touch a co-worker on the shoulder or give her a compliment. And they’d better keep their knees together when they sit.
Feminist demands are often framed in terms of women’s safety or social justice. Laila Laurel, for her part, has claimed that how men sit is a part of the everyday sexism that encourages men to “command space” while forcing women to make room for them. But don’t be fooled. The anti-manspreading project is designed to force men to endure the shame and humiliation that Laurel believes, falsely, has been forced on women by men for centuries. It is a project of blatant collective punishment typical of totalitarian movements. …
The movie When Harry Met Sally is 30 years old, and its anniversary has prompted a number of serious reassessments of the popular romantic comedy. Not surprisingly, a harsh feminist lens has been applied to it: while one article celebrates the movie for its revelation of the pleasure gap between the sexes, another criticizes the film for its “quiet cruelty.” Spoiler alert: in both cases, it’s the man who is in the wrong.
The Washington Post author focused on the famous diner scene in which a young Sally demonstrates to a stunned Harry how convincing a woman’s faked orgasm can be. It was a brilliantly funny scene that told a simple truth without judgement: some portion of women are convincing fakers, and even a sexually experienced man can’t be sure. Women laughed in recognition and some men may have scratched their heads, wondering why anyone would need to fake sexual enjoyment.
In the romantic-comedic world of the movie, we are to understand that Sally probably never does fake it with Harry; and that their marriage will be happy enough that it won’t matter either way. But the WaPo writer, Lisa Bonos, has to make something sinister out of the scene. In her argument, Harry is the typical macho man, someone who doesn’t care about women’s pleasure (though the whole point of his story to Sally was his ability to give women pleasure). Furthermore, according to Bonos, the fact that some women fake orgasm supposedly reveals that women’s sexual pleasure is “not prioritized” in heterosexual relationships. Wait a minute! How did it become the man’s fault that his partner lies to him about her sexual experience? How does his desire for her to orgasm prove his “macho arrogance,” as Bonos claims of Harry? Bonos, of course, doesn’t say.
While the Wapo author applauded the move for telling an uncomfortable truth about how men presumably fail to please their women, the Atlantic author, Megan Garber, took the opposite tack: not only was the movie untrue, but it was untrue in a way that was belittling towards women because it validated male-on-female criticism. This author focused on Harry’s announcement to Sally one night when they were talking on the phone about the film Casablanca that Sally is a “high maintenance” woman, someone who has to have her salad dressing on the side and her pie a la mode a certain way—someone who, in other words, is never easy. Sally protests, but Harry insists, and in creating a reductive category for his friend, he does what men, according to the author, too often do by putting women into categories from which they cannot escape.
It’s true that Harry liked to categorize things and people. But isn’t that a comic part of his character, something the film finds amusing and unserious? And yes, Sally is “high maintenance,” a characteristically if not exclusively female trait, but her various quirks don’t prevent Harry—and various other men in the movie—from caring for her and treating her with tenderness and respect. What’s the big deal? It’s a big deal because for this author, as for most feminist authors, any movie that suggests a man can have an opinion about a female flaw, even if the flaw is a minor one, is a film that impinges on women’s necessary freedom to believe themselves perfect. Knowing that Harry found Sally “high maintenance” apparently inspired this author—and others like her, she assumes—occasionally to question her own behavior, wondering if she was being “high maintenance, “ something she apparently believes women should never have to do. When it comes to having preferences or making criticisms about the opposite sex, only women, apparently, should be allowed to do it.
What neither of the writers will admit is how out of sync with the character and tone of the movie their feminist analyses are. When Harry Met Sally was NOT a feminist movie: it was a standard romantic comedy based on a traditional understanding of men and women’s different attitudes towards love and sex. It did not politicize these differences, or care whether they were produced through social conditioning or biological imperative. It imagined that both men and women were happier when they came to see the world through the other’s eyes—something neither feminist author can even imagine.
It was six years ago that a small group of activists in Edmonton, Alberta demonstrated to the rest of the country how tired they were of anti-male propaganda. Their witty poster campaign, entitled “Don’t Be That Girl,” and the predictable backlash it provoked, illustrated the thick skin and long-game steadfastness required in men’s rights work.
In July of 2013, a coalition of feminist groups had teamed up with Canada’s national police force to create a series of posters lecturing men about their supposed sexual attitudes.
The campaign, dubbed “edgy” and “brash” by an approving Global News article, challenged men to “own their role” in ending rape. In particular, according to the website of one of the project partners, the campaign pinpointed men’s “sense of entitlement in regards to sex and access to women’s bodies.” It didn’t matter that most men have never felt any such entitlement. “Just because you helped her home … doesn’t mean you can help yourself,” ran one of the poster’s messages, with an image of a drunken girl being assisted to a vehicle by her date. Another poster showed a young woman passed out on a sofa while a man stands over her, just about to remove his jeans. Nowhere on the posters or in the accompanying explanatory literature was it mentioned that sexual assault is committed by a very small minority of men.
The posters suggested that many men are so brutish and morally enfeebled as not to realize or care that sex with a woman who has passed out is not sex but sexual assault.
In response, Men’s Rights Edmonton launched its own “public education” campaign: against false allegations of sexual assault. Entitled “Don’t Be That Girl,” it copied the feminist posters exactly, using some of the same images and lettering, but with a different message: “Just because you regret a one night stand … doesn’t mean it wasn’t consensual.” The men’s rights posters had a simple, tit-for-tat message: men can be victims too, and they’re tired of the barrage of misandrist messages. In a gender equal world, women’s criminality deserves to be called out just as much as men’s.
The all-too-predictable response was a marshaling of outrage and over-statement. Anu Dugal, Director of Violence Prevention at the Canadian Women’s Foundation, said that the men’s rights posters reinforced the damaging belief “that women are responsible for sexual assault because of their actions or appearance.” Notice the specious logic in Dugal’s cookie-cutter rebuttal: to claim that some women lie about abuse is the same, according to her, as claiming that women are responsible for their abuse. But “Don’t Be That Girl” never said that women are to blame for rape: the subject of the men’s rights campaign was false allegations.
Another feminist organization, Calgary Communities Against Sexual Assault, charged that “Don’t Be That Girl” was “absolutely false, inaccurate and 100% incorrect.” What is one to say about such a claim, given that proven cases of false charges are widely known; one well-publicized case at the time of the posters involved an Edmonton cab driver whose accusers’ casually malicious plan to get out of paying their cab fare by claiming he had assaulted them was caught on videotape. If not for the camera in the taxi, Soner Yasa would likely have gone to prison; he would almost certainly have been out of a job, his reputation in tatters. The feminist response to such realities was a massive, socially-sanctioned shrug.
Most disturbing of all was the response of an Edmonton police officer, Acting Inspector Sean Armstrong of the Serious Crime Branch, who dismissed ant-feminist concerns by claiming that in “four and a half years” of assault investigations, he had encountered “only one false report.” How would he know? When even police officers—those whom we expect to treat all claims with a certain degree of sober skepticism—blindly toe the feminist line, we know our society is in serious trouble.
“Don’t Be That Girl” demonstrated the perfect circle of feminist orthodoxy: men who refuse their characterization as rapists are accused of promoting rape; men who object to false charges are accused of lying. “Don’t Be That Girl” indicated the wit, tenacity, and refusal of shame necessary in MRA resistance.
Looking for mental escape on an airplane last week, I found instead two movies that, in different ways, dramatize male disposability. Neither is an avowedly feminist creation, but both show the imprint of our culture’s male-blaming and female-valuing assumptions.
“A Star is Born” is the third remake of an old story (originally a 1937 movie), and I haven’t re-watched earlier versions to see whether they were as overt in their emphasis on the theme of worn-out male talent being replaced by a vibrant and superior feminine creativity. In the modern version, the male star is not only an aging rocker nearing the end of his career, but also a pathetically self-destructive man who has never come to terms with his inner demons, most particularly the legacy of the abusive father who set him on his path to alcohol-fueled self-hatred and oblivion. To make matters worse, he is losing his hearing as a result of years on a deafening stage and his (typically macho) refusal to use the protective equipment recommended by his doctor.
The male role in the film—and it’s hard not to see it as symbolic of our contemporary moment—is to bring much-deserved attention to the awesome talent of the younger woman, and then to exit the scene. Though the woman loves him—mainly out of gratitude, it seems—she is legitimately powerless to supply the self-respect and self-control he so spectacularly lacks; and his love for her quickly comes to seem, both to the film’s characters and to the compliant viewer, as a drag on her career prospects.
His only decent option is the one he ultimately takes: to kill himself before she can come to hate him for his need and irrelevancy. Even for that, of course, he is blamed, in a scene in which his former manager reassures the grieving widow that she need take no responsibility for the despair that led him to suicide. Fortunately, he leaves her a song that she makes her own in a spectacular memorial performance. We are to understand that she will make of her fame something far more fruitful than the man ever did. In death, he is a greater artistic inspiration than he would have been in life.
I expected a far different take in Clint Eastwood’s acclaimed “The Mule,” but found instead a strikingly similar theme about male redemption through self-sacrifice and disappearance. The movie’s hero is a man near the end of his life who discovers, almost too late, that he under-valued his (entirely female) family and thus deservedly lost their love. In an act combining reckless indifference and financial desperation, he becomes a drug runner for a cartel after his flower business fails; at the same time, he begins to re-connect with his estranged wife, daughter, and grand-daughter. As he descends further into crime, risking his future on increasingly hefty drug runs, he embarks on an emotional and spiritual rebirth.
For what sins is he atoning? His family, especially his constantly nagging ex-wife, are bitterly vocal about their grievances: the man never made time for them and was always on the road or working at his business, failing to show up for many important family occasions. That he provided—and continues to provide—a materially good life that would likely have been impossible if he had been more physically present is never once acknowledged by anyone, not even our hero, who accepts without contradiction his family’s harsh judgements.
In an ironic moment of confession, the Eastwood character tells the FBI agent who will ultimately arrest him that he made a terrible mistake by not putting his family first in his life. That he loved his work and seems to have received affection and affirmation through it that were entirely lacking in his family is hinted at, but never directly explored. Near the movie’s end, the man’s redemption comes when he risks his life to stay by his dying ex-wife’s bedside. Shortly after, he is arrested, pleads guilty to drug charges, and is embraced by the remainder of his family as he is taken away to prison, where they joke affectionately that at least they will know where he is. He will not be in their lives any more than he was in the past, but he won’t have his own outer-directed life either, and that seems a just recompense for his earlier failures.
Both these films view their male characters almost entirely through a female lens, judging them by their (in)ability to provide emotional and other kinds of support for their women. The men’s own emotional needs and desires are presented as either irrelevant or morally wrong. When the men are no longer necessary to the women in their lives, they redeem themselves by quietly disappearing. It’s hard not to see them as parables for our man-shaming times.