I have to say up front that I'm a late Boomer Euro-American male. A few years ago I decided to take a hard look at SWF (second wave feminism) to try to make some sense out of it. What happened? Why? Who are the winners? Who are the losers? I wanted to find a book that was informative and neutral. But that book doesn't exist to my knowledge. It's either thumbs up or thumbs down. That alone needs some explaining.
The authors write, "When we talk about Americans' culture war, what we're often really talking about is women and their role in society." (p82)
Often yes - but not always. And it really confuses the issue when people start screaming `bigot', `racist', `homophobe', and `sexist' - because we tend to treat the culture wars as a single package. Bear with me here, because this is important to the issue of feminism. I've decided there are seven aspects to the culture wars that emerged out of the late 60s and early 70s:
1.) Eurocentrism (race)
2.) Judeo-Christian centrism (religion)
3.) Phallocentrism (gender)
4.) Heterosexual-centrism (sexual orientation)
5.) High class centrism (class)
6.) High culture centrism (civilization)
7.) Anthropocentrism (environmentalism)
These are my seven pillars of 60s mythology. It's a reactionary movement against these `centrisms'. And like Christianity, it's a `last shall be first' mythology. We were all a bunch of young Robin Hoods fighting for the rights of oppressed groups such as gays, Buddhists, Native Americans, and endangered species. It was a good time to be an oppressed group.
Now when we hear the words `culture wars' in the news it could be a debate about same-sex marriage (number four on my list: gay rights), or it might be a debate about teaching cultural studies in public schools (number one on my list: race). There was talk of the culture wars concerning the film `Avatar' (number six on my list: culture), and the film `The Golden Compass' (number two on my list: religion). The `culture wars' refers to much more than just feminism. Still, I believe the authors are correct when they say that feminism dominates the wars. There are just so many women with so much power and influence, and it affects so many lives, so profoundly. But there is only one catch, as the authors of this book make clear: women were never oppressed.
Take a majority of the population, that has had the right to vote since 1920, that come from all classes of society (unlike certain ethnic minorities), that have the ability to access a man's pay check, that have the freedom to say `I don't' rather than `I do', and that are the mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives of male law makers. It doesn't make sense. There are over 58,000 names on the Vietnam memorial. All but a few are the names of men. To this day most jobs that are dangerous and physically demanding are performed by men. When the Titanic sank women were given a seat in the life boats. Men were expected to go down with the ship. Try to imagine another oppressed group given priority in those life boats. We've been living this lie of female oppression for forty years. But why? Why does it persist?
The authors point out that many women, especially feminist icons, don't mind being victims, blaming their misery and failures on a society that is designed to thwart their happiness. True, but I think there's an even greater reason. As George Gilder explained in his 1973 book, the new rules of the sexual revolution gave men what we've always wanted: freedom from responsibility and access to women. There are plenty of things that men don't like about SWF, such as sexual harassment accusations, gray rape accusations, gender bias in child custody battles, and a general degradation of our innate natures. But consider this question: Is there anything in the universe that would be so terrible about SWF that would cause men to be willing to give up access to p**sy? (not sure if i can use that word here) But think about it. This is why I see so many men, like knights in shining armor, defending SWF, catering to those poor oppressed victims of the patriarchy - and seething at the thought of returning to a pre-60s morality concerning sex. It's also the main reason why so many men, especially young men, are hostile to religion. "It's all a bunch of BS", they say. "It's too dogmatic." Any positive effects of religion are no match for the libido paradise SWF offers.
It's particularly disturbing to me to hear feminists talk about spreading their enlightened ideas to poorer countries. I see this as a plan to free up women from poorer countries for the benefit of more powerful men from wealthier countries. It's the same old line of liberation. But we might first want to consider the implications to our own culture before we export our ideas. The destruction of the nuclear family isn't quite as traumatic among men and women with six figure incomes as it is for the average worker. And it isn't as traumatic to the average worker in America as it will be for he average worker in poorer countries. For now we would do well to keep our decadence to ourselves.
I've looked at both sides of feminism. Here is my short list of pro-SWF books:
1. The Feminine Mystique, Betty Freidan, 1963
2. Against Our Will, Susan Brownmiller, 1975
3. Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Gloria Steinem 1983
4. Feminist Theories: from margin to center, Gloria Watkins (Bell Hooks), 1984
5. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, Susan Faluda, 1991
6. The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolfe, 1994
7. Feminism is for Everybody, Bell Hooks, 2000
8. No Turning Back, Estelle S. Freedman, 2002
9. The F Word, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, 2004
10. The Feminine Mistake, Leslie Bennets, 2008
And here is my short list of anti-SWF books:
1. Sexual Suicide, George Gilder, 1973 (revised as Men and Marriage, 1984)
2. Why Men Are the Way They Are, Warren Farrell, 1986
3. The Myth of Male Power, Warren Farrell, 1993
4. Who Stole Feminism, Christina Hoff Sommers, 1994
5. Domestic Tranquility: A brief Against Feminism, F. Carolyn Graglia, 1998
6. The Return to Modesty, Wendy Shalit, 1999
7. Professing Feminism, Patai & Koertge, 2003
8. Feminist Fantasies, Phyllis Schlafly, 2003
9. Women Who Make the World Worse, Kate O'Beirne, 2006
10. The Flipside of Feminism, Venker and Schlafly, 2011
Forty years of second wave feminism has indeed changed our world. But whether that change has been beneficial depends on one's perspective. If all women could have lives like Cokie Roberts it would be wonderful. And if all men could be as successful as Bill Clinton, have a good wife and a harem, that would be great as well. On balance I'd say the result has been a few big winners at the expense of many more less fortunate men and women.
These authors are strongly conservative. But they recognize that the problem of SWF cuts across the political spectrum. They write:
"It doesn't matter whether people identify as 1970s (i.e., liberal or leftist) feminists, conservative feminists, or even non-feminists --most Americans think like a feminist even as they vociferously deny being one." (p169)
I was delighted by statements like this and agree with most everything the authors say. But there are just a couple of things to nitpick. The authors write:
"Women in America CAN have everything they want out of life, but they must first break free from feminist assumptions and distortions." (p173)
The second half of this sentence rings true. American women, and many men incidently, have been brainwashed. But telling women that they can have `everything' reminds me of feminists in the late 70s and early 80s telling women they could `have it all': career, marriage, kids. It was a little white lie to get as many women as they could on their side. Women who follow Venker's and Schlafly's advice might later regret it when they realize they've made a `feminine mistake'. Spare the hyperbole. Life is full of compromises.
The only other complaint I have is that these authors present men too much as innocent victims. The truth is we're just as much to blame for this mess as the bratty upper-middle-class white feminist women that scream and whine about 5000 years of oppression. "And we couldn't even have our own credit cards", they'll complain. [Violins playing in the background]
There is no middle ground here. And I don't see either side in this cat fight relenting. The exhilaration women have over their social empowerment is alive and well, and there are many female authors encouraging women to stay the course, keep up the fight; don't give in to the demands of that cruel patriarchy.
But if you're a guy like me who never wanted to look at either side of this debate, because it's just so convoluted, irreconcilable, and depressing, I strongly recommend you force yourself to read this book and some of the others on my lists. Trust me; it will be much more profitable than watching another ball game.