Myth: Women are Victims and Men are Victimizers
Camille Paglia is professor of humanities at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and best-selling author most recently of Vamps and Tramps. Christina Sommers, is an associate professor of philosophy at Clark University. In her recent book, Who Stole Feminism, she accuses activist women of betraying the women’s movement. She wrote the book, she says, because she is a feminist who does not like what feminism has become.
The two were interviewed on PBS in 1995. Both women consider themselves “equity feminists”, as distinguished from “gender feminists”. Following are excerpts of their conversation.
Ms. Sommers: The orthodox feminists are so carried away with victimology, with a rhetoric of male-bashing that it’s full of female chauvinists, if you will. Also, women are quite eager to censor, to silence. And what concerns me most as a philosopher is it’s become very anti-intellectual, and I think it poses a serious risk to young women in the universities. Women’s studies classes are increasingly a kind of initiation into the most radical wing, the most intolerant wing, of the feminist movement.
Ms. Paglia: Now, I think that what we need to do now is to get rid of the totalitarians, get rid of the Kremlin mentality. We’ve got to get back to a pro-art, pro-beauty, pro-men kind of feminism.
Ms. Sommers: I think she’s right to call it a kind of totalitarianism. Many young women on campuses combine two very dangerous things: moral fervor and misinformation. On the campuses they’re fed a kind of catechism of oppression. They’re taught “one in four of you have been victims of rape or attempted rape; you’re earning 59 cents on the dollar; you’re suffering a massive loss of self-esteem; that you’re battered especially on Super Bowl Sunday”. All of these things are myths, grotesque exaggerations.
Ms. Paglia: Well, one of the things that got me pilloried from coast to coast was when I wrote a piece on date rape for Newsday in January of 1991. It got picked up by the wire services, and the torrent of abuse that poured in. I want women to fend for themselves. That essay that I wrote on rape begins with the line “Rape is an outrage that cannot be tolerated in civilized society.” I absolutely abhor this broadening of the idea of rape, which is an atrocity, to those things that go wrong on a date – acquaintances, little things, miscommunications – on pampered elite college campuses.
Ms. Paglia: I believe, for example, in moderate sexual harassment guidelines. I lobbied for their adoption at my university in 1986. But I put into my proposal a strict penalty for false accusation. I don’t like the situation where the word of any woman is weighed above the testimony of any man.
Ms. Paglia: NOW does not speak for American women. It does not speak even for all feminists. The National Organization for Women, which Betty Friedan founded, but which soon expelled even her. They’ve been taken over by a certain kind of ideology. I’m in constant war with them as a dissident feminist.
Ms. Sommers: I think we have to save young women from the feminists. That’s at the top of my agenda. And I say that as a very committed feminist philosopher… The other more traditional feminist issue is probably the double-shift. As women, we’re doing a lot of things men traditionally did; they’re not doing what we traditionally did. And so women do bear more responsibility at home. But if we’re going to solve that problem, I think we have to approach men as friends in a spirit of respect instead of calling them proto-rapists and harassers.
Ms. Paglia: The time for hostility to men is past. There was that moment. I was part of it. As an open lesbian, I have expressed my anger to men directly. I don’t get in a group and whine about men. So, oddly, I give men a break and admit the greatness of male achievements and so on. What we have to do now is get over that anger toward men, and we have to bring the sexes back together. Reconciliation between the sexes is the first order of business.
“Sexism, Misandry, and Male-Bashing” by Redstocking (Cassandra Woolf, DOB 1945), Jul 11, 2012:
“I attended Fordham University as a sophomore the year they admitted women as freshmen and was often the only woman in my classes… Misandry, hatred and disdain for men in general, is probably the most underused word in progressive political debate. Although a lifelong feminist, I have always loathed knee-jerk male-bashing and defended men against stereotyping… Both men and women can be sexists; both men and women can be the victim of sexism.”
“All of us are crippled by such sexist attitudes. Preschools and elementary schools are a better match for most girls. Boys too often wind up on medication so they can conform to classroom rules and expectations. The idea that every man is a potential rapist or sexual predator is hideously sexist.”
“Since I began blogging in 2003, I recognized that we need a nonviolent revolution to create a family-friendly America. It needs to be even more sweeping than the civil rights movement. My brothers, sons-in-law, and nephews have the same difficulty combining work and family as my father did, as my children’s father did. Fathers and mothers need to work together so families have some of what they need.”
Feminism & Misandry
Misandry is the hatred or dislike of men or boys. Though the concept is ancient, the word did not appear in most dictionaries until the second half of the 20th century. Yet it was translated from French to German in 1803 and first appeared in English language print in 1871.
“In the past quarter century, we exposed biases against other races and called it racism, and we exposed biases against women and called it sexism. Biases against men we call humor.” – Warren Farrell, Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say
Religious Studies professors Paul Nathanson and Katherine Young, in their 2001 three-book series Beyond the Fall of Man, agree with Farrell that misandry as a form of prejudice and discrimination has become institutionalized in North American society.
Nathanson and Young argued that “ideological feminism” has imposed misandry on culture. Their 2001 book, Spreading Misandry, analyzed “pop cultural artifacts and productions from the 1990s”, from movies to greeting cards, for what they considered to be pervasive messages of hatred toward men. Legalizing Misandry (2006), the second in the series, gave similar attention to laws in North America.
“Misogyny has been studied and taken seriously for decades. Misandry, on the other hand, has been either ignored or trivialized for decades. Also, political pressure has eliminated (or at least hidden) a great deal of misogyny. Not only has no political pressure been used to eliminate (or hide) misandry but some of the political pressure used against misogyny has directly or indirectly exacerbated misandry. As a result, we suggest, the worldview of our society has become increasingly both gynocentric (focused on the needs and problems of women) and misandric (focused on the evils and inadequacies of men)…We argue that ideological feminists have played an important role in creating the gynocentric worldview and disseminating it”
– Katherine K. Young and Paul Nathanson, Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture (2001).
[Katherine K. Young is James McGill Professor of religious studies at McGill University; Paul Nathanson is a researcher in religious studies at McGill University. Their research, which fills three volumes, is the result of 15 years of discussions between them about gender and its complex role in society and inter-sexual relations.]
In the third book of the trilogy, Sanctifying Misandry: Goddess Ideology and the Fall of Man (2010), Young and Nathanson challenge an influential version of modern goddess religion, one that undermines sexual equality and promotes hatred in the form of misandry. The authors discuss two massively popular books – Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade – both of which rely on a feminist conspiracy theory of history. They then show how some goddess feminists and their academic supporters have turned what Christians know as the Fall of Man into the fall of men. In the beginning, according to three ‘documentary’ films, our ancestors lived in an egalitarian paradise under the aegis of a benevolent great goddess. But men either rebelled or invaded, replacing the goddess with gods and establishing patriarchies that have oppressed women ever since.
Anthropologist Helen Fisher, member of the Center for Human Evolutionary Studies in the Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University, with a PhD in Physical Anthropology: Human Evolution, Primatology, Human Sexual Behavior, and Reproductive Strategies, points out that there is no anthropological evidence for the utopian matriarchy pointed to by some feminists.
In 2002, Charlotte Hays (senior editor of The Women’s Quarterly), wrote “that the anti-male philosophy of radical feminism has filtered into the culture at large is incontestable; indeed, this attitude has become so pervasive that we hardly notice it any longer”.
Feminist author bell hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins) has criticized separatist strands of feminism as “reactionary” for promoting the notion that men are inherently immoral and inferior. In Feminism is For Everybody, she argues that the anti-male strand of feminism led to an unnecessary rift between the men’s movement and the women’s movement.
Naomi Wolf in Fire With Fire contrasted “power feminism” with “victim feminism”, arguing that the latter promotes the “angelization” of women as victims that speak with a pure voice and inversely demonizes men as inherently amoral. Wolf’s analysis of victim feminism echos the criticism that Betty Friedan made of female chauvinism which she defined as “the assumption that women have any moral or spiritual superiority as a class”.
Sociologist Anthony Synnott argues that the reality of misandry is undeniable when one looks to cultural, academic, and media depictions of men. He states that “misandry is everywhere, culturally acceptable, even normative, largely invisible, taught directly and indirectly by men and women, blind to reality, very damaging and dangerous to men and women in different ways and de-humanizing”. He also criticizes modern scholarship on men as “dehumanizing” and lacking in awareness of statistical reality (“Why Some People Have Issues With Men: Misandry”, Psychology Today, October 6, 2010).
Wendy McElroy, an individualist feminist, wrote in 2001 that “a hot anger toward men seems to have turned into a cold hatred”. She argued it was a misandrist position to consider men, as a class, to be irreformable or rapists. McElroy stated “a new ideology has come to the forefront… radical or gender feminism”, one that has “joined hands with the political correctness movement that condemns the panorama of western civilization as sexist and racist: the product of dead white males” (Sexual Correctness: The Gender-Feminist Attack on Women, 2001).
In 2001, novelist Doris Lessing delivered a speech at the Edinburgh Books Festival criticizing a “lazy and insidious” culture that had taken hold within feminism that reveled in flailing men. Lessing stated “I find myself increasingly shocked at the unthinking and automatic rubbishing of men which is now so part of our culture that it is hardly even noticed”.
Barbara Kay, a Canadian Journalist, has been critical of feminist Mary Koss’s discussion of rape culture, describing the notion that “rape represents an extreme behavior but one that is on a continuum with normal male behavior within the culture” as “remarkably misandric”.
Ideology and Its Discontents: Transcending Feminism
In 1997, when I was working as a wilderness guide and experiential educator, a midwife for men and others in ritual initiation and personal/social transformation, leading Mythic Warrior training for men, Vision Quests, and Boys-2-Men Quests, I wrote Ideology and Its Discontents: Transcending Feminism – ReHonoring Masuculinity, which was published in Everyman: A Men’s Journal, Ottawa, Ontario later that year.
Here is my experience with ideological feminism and its transcendence into a truly progressive gender-justice movement:
Years ago, I lived with three nuns and a priest in the Maine woods, engaged in volunteer service to the impoverished, neglected, and marginalized people of Washington County. I respected the personal strength and moral independence of those women, particularly Sister Lucy who had chosen to ignore the hierarchy of her order and the Catholic Church in order to do God’s work.
The reclusive Oblate priest would join us every morning to celebrate the mystery of faith, transliterating the communion readings as they were recited to eliminate gender-specific language. That year was a wonderful immersion for me into the power and beauty of the feminine principle of life. My fellow-travelers were celibate but fecund women and men giving birth to a culture of caring that placed people and place above power and privilege.
On one of my mile-long walks into our community, in the midst of a conversation about sexism, I was admonished by a recently-arrived political feminist never (as a man) to attempt to define women’s oppression. I still remember the fierceness in her voice and the daggers in her eyes as she expressed that.
I’ve struggled these fifteen years since to hear the pain behind that stern warning. But I have had difficulty at times in hearing the story of women’s oppression, and witnessing the revision of our history, language, culture, and politics by a feminism which has grown ideological.
While many, if not most, of my brothers and sisters in the movement for non-violent social change freely adopted the perspectives and values of feminism, I could never call myself a feminist though I supported much of the struggle for women’s rights. Well before my conversation in Maine, I stood in defense of clients outside a besieged Feminist Health Center even when I had mixed feelings about the ethics of abortion and the right of women to make child-bearing decisions independently of the men with whom they co-conceived.
I honor women’s attempts to help society understand and acknowledge the pain and devaluation that they have felt as women. But I cannot accept, any more than that woman in Maine when the roles were reversed, the right of women to define and label men’s reality. I part company when the rhetoric of feminism not only denies men’s experience of devaluation and disempowerment but makes us into enemies of women.
Feminism as a movement which expresses women’s hopes, desires, and demands for respect and equality of opportunity is courageous and progressive. Feminism as an ideology which defines not personal experience but TRUTH – for both men and women – is oppressive and regressive.
Just as Sister Lucy knew that to live by her faith she had to deny the orthodoxy which degraded its living essence, all those who hope to usher in a new age must be wary of allowing liberating ideas to congeal into restrictive, self-serving, and oppositional ideology.
Among feminists, the name for the all-pervading evil of our culture is “patriarchy”. Caring men, still trying to please and protect women, have accepted the accusation which the new political consciousness imposes on men and masculinity. The acquiescence of the media and politicians to prevailing dogma further supports the demonizing of men as a class for attempting to fulfill society’s impossible demands.
Vietnam vets, who took on the most dehumanizing of male roles that our society requires, are still suffering from the experience of returning from the hell of combat to the contempt and condemnation of the very people for whom they sacrificed their humanity. We have named the syndrome of denial, extreme anxiety, misplaced rage, survivor guilt, paranoia, alienation from feelings, self-destructive behavior, and inability to love or trust as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And we have recognized it as the normal human response to serious unresolved trauma compounded by lack of recognition for, or appreciation of, the sacrifice made for others.
And yet, in lesser degree, these are the very symptoms that women have recognized and criticized in men as a class. Historically, men have stoically accepted the role of protector and provider, sacrificing their own psychological and physical welfare for the sake of home, wife and children. Particularly in the last century, men have been drafted into the unrecognized and unappreciated status of civilian soldier in a constant and increasingly demanding low-level economic warfare. It is no wonder that men exhibit the signs of traumatization. Addiction and domestic violence – both forms of pathological narcissism – are the fallout.
In the 1960s and 70s, many of us, in the name of progressive ideology (and ironically, in the name of peace), made the grave error of blaming the foot soldiers for the violence and oppression of the system they were caught up in. Let us not, in the 90s, make the equally grave error of blaming men, individually or as a class, for fulfilling the roles which all of us – men and women alike – demanded of them.
The historical period we are now beginning to grow beyond was oppressive in many ways to all of us – or is recognized now as oppressive as we begin to understand the vital human needs that weren’t served by that culture of fixed roles and expectations.
As men begin to explore other ways of being men in a post-modern world; as men begin the long-overdue process of reclaiming their lost and repressed feelings, owning their pain and shame and guilt, recognizing the beast that lies within their aching breasts, joining hands in supportive and positive brotherhood, and celebrating their masculinity; as men are discharged from the socially-required roles of protector and provider – it is imperative that they be welcomed home and supported in their transition to a new civility.
Women do not serve their own liberation by pointing accusing fingers, or directing their pent up anger, at these returning veterans of a no-longer-functional masculinity. It is true that men must help men, as women helped women, to re-examine and redefine men’s experience and possibilities; but gender liberation will not be achieved until we all undertake a rite of passage through our own inner darkness. This passage, as all transformational journeys, requires that whatever demons we encounter on the way be acknowledged as our own projections and be transformed by recognizing them as divine beings calling for attention.
We now recognize our personal developmental responses to dysfunctional families as unfortunate but necessary to our ego-survival and viability. We must also acknowledge outworn and dysfunctional social constructs as unfortunate but necessary stages of our cultural evolution. In neither case is blaming self or other helpful or healing. Understanding, forgiving, and letting go are.
Vietnam vets deserve to be recognized as heroes for their sacrifice, though they may have engaged in reprehensible behavior while trying to survive in the inferno of a guerilla war. And men must be acknowledged as heroic for their civilian soldiering, though many unforgivable acts might have been perpetrated in the process of ego-survival in the daily hell of a competitive and materialist society which demanded that men kill themselves for the comfort and security of their wives and children.
One of the lessons with which the feminist movement has blessed us is that language has the power to define and limit our experience of life. Having learned that lesson, let us now refuse to label a culture which is understood in retrospect as oppressive and unfulfilling – a culture in which we were all in some way enslaved and disempowered to be fully human – in a way which defines one class as villain and another as victim. Division and dissension are tools of oppression, not of liberation.
The term “patriarchy” has been used, not just descriptively, but as a moral judgement and a weapon of accusation. By equating patriarchy with evil, all those who wield it point it menacingly at men and masculinity, even to the point of dishonoring the male principle of action and manifestation which lies within us all and without which there would be no human edifice of culture.
If we are to move together into a new millennium of cooperative coexistence on the Earth, we must abandon the narrowness inherent in any ideology, embrace the infinite openness of possibility, and honor the harmony of complementary sexual principles that make us whole, individually and collectively.
It is certainly true that the cultural denial of our essential connection to the Earth Mother created an unhealthy distortion of both the feminine and the masculine principles. A more accurate and less loaded term to describe that historical period might be Umbriarchy – the rule of the shadow.
Now that we are all beginning to leave the cold comfort of the cave of ignorance and isolation, men must not be afraid of wielding their warrior power in a new and conscious way which serves the God/dess in us all. It is by defending the sanctity of masculinity, that we will slay the dragons of defensiveness and denial that have too long obscured with their sulfurous fumes the true beauty and power of men.
If men and women wish to be rainbow warriors of the new millennium, they must turn their swords from one another and stand together to face the demons we have co-created. As soon as we do, those demons will bow down to us in respect and begin to serve us in creating a new world, for they are only our unacknowledged shadows crying out to be loved.
There is probably no more important figure in the modern feminist movement than Karen DeCrow. She is an American feminist attorney, author, and activist who graduated from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in 1959, and went on to Syracuse University where she attended the Graduate Program in Communications and then received her JD from the College of Law (1972). As a lawyer, she has specialized in Constitutional law, gender and age discrimination, and civil liberties.
DeCrow became involved with the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1967, serving as a National Board Member from 1968-74 and National President from 1974-77. She received the Service to Society Award from Northwestern in 2002. She was inducted into the Medill Hall of Achievement in April, 2007, and into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in October, 2009. In July, 2009, Syracuse University honored her with the George Arents Award in recognition of her lifetime achievement, and in December, 2009, she received the SUNY-Oswego President’s Medal.
In 1969, DeCrow ran for Mayor of the city of Syracuse, New York, becoming the first female mayoral candidate in the history of New York.
During her tenure as president of NOW, DeCrow led campaigns to ensure that collegiate sports would be included under the scope of Title IX, oversaw the opening of a new NOW Action Center in Washington DC and the establishment of NOW’s National Task Force on Battered Women/Household Violence, and participated in a tour of over 80 public debates with antifeminist activist Phyllis Schlafly over the Equal Rights Amendment.
She is the author of several books, including The Young Woman’s Guide to Liberation (1971) and Sexist Justice – How Legal Sexism Affects You (1975).
DeCrow describes her ultimate goal as “a world in which the gender of a baby will have little to no relevance in future pursuits and pleasures – personal, political, economic, social and professional.”
Her commitment to authentic equality and justice between men and women, and her consolidation of the goals of both the Women’s and Men’s Rights movements are evidenced in these quotations:
“If women have the right to choose if they become parents, men [should] have that right too. There is a connection between legalizing abortion for women and ending of paternity suits for men. Giving men their own choices would not deny choices to women. It would only eliminate their expectation of having those choices financed by men.”
“Justice therefore dictates that if a woman makes a unilateral decision to bring pregnancy to term, and the biological father does not, and cannot, share in this decision, he should not be liable for 21 years of support. Or, put another way, autonomous women making independent decisions about their lives should not expect men to finance their choice.”
by Robert Riversong: may be reproduced only with attribution for non-commercial purposes