Peter Wright of AVfM pointed out the division among early feminists between those who wanted the freedom to enjoy the rights and opportunities of men (voting, professional employment, equal treatment under the law) and those who wanted special treatment (exemptions from military service, favorable alimony and custody rules, lighter criminal sentences, lowered physical qualification standards for physical jobs). He pointed me to the work of Ernest Belfort Bax, an early (1913) men’s rights advocate:
Modern Feminism rose slowly above the horizon. Modern Feminism has two distinct sides to it: (1) an articulate political and economic side embracing demands for so-called rights; and (2) a sentimental side which insists in an accentuation of the privileges and immunities which have grown up, not articulately or as the result of definite demands, but as the consequence of sentimental pleading in particular cases. In this way, however, a public opinion became established, finding expression in a sex favouritism in the law and even still more in its administration, in favour of women as against men.
These two sides of Modern Feminism are not necessarily combined in the same person. One may, for example, find opponents of female suffrage who are strong advocates of sentimental favouritism towards women in matters of law and its administration. On the other hand you may find, though this is more rare, strong advocates of political and other rights for the female sex, who sincerely deprecate the present inequality of the law in favour of women. As a rule, however, the two sides go together, the vast bulk of the advocates of “Women’s Rights” being equally keen on the retention and extension of women’s privileges. Indeed, it would seem as though the main object of the bulk of the advocates of the “Woman’s Movement” was to convert the female sex into the position of a dominant sexe noblesse. The two sides of Feminism have advanced hand in hand for the last two generations, though it was the purely sentimental side that first appeared as a factor in public opinion.”—The Fraud of Feminism, Chapter I: Historical (1913)
Bax is part of the “patriarchal” reaction to early feminism—these men were horrified that the suffocating sentimentality of women and what they thought was women’s overly emotional reaction to issues would, with women’s suffrage and increasingly equal roles in the world, lead to disaster and the end of civilization as they knew it. For a pop culture model, imagine Professor Henry Higgins of My Fair Lady—grumpy, male chauvinist, orderly intellectual. Bax was quite reasonably complaining that the law had already started to bend to favor women over men in some areas (divorce, criminal punishment) for sentimental reasons, while feminists continued to push for even more special treatment, at the same time demanding equality where it would favor women. WWI is what actually ended the fin de siècle order of the world, but feminism continued, contributing in the US to the Progressive movement and its errors (e.g., Prohibition and eugenics).
Feminism as a movement continued and expanded, each victory leading to more issues needing its attention. Public sympathy for the rational goal of equal legal and professional treatment coexisted with the reservoir of sentimental feeling for women and ingrained desires to help mothers and children, which affected decisions on governmental support and handling of divorce. Enlightened and empowered women joined academia and government in large numbers, until today they are dominant in some departments and fields.
But the split identified by Bax is still there.
Feminist thinker Naomi Wolf tried to influence the future of feminism with her 1994 book Fire with Fire: The New Female Power and How to Use It. From the Amazon page:
[T]he book argues that women should renounce “victim feminism,” which casts them as sexually pure, fragile, beleaguered creatures whose problems are all the fault of men. As an alternative, Wolf outlines an anti-dogmatic “power feminism” which sees women as no better and no worse than men, celebrates female sexuality and encourages women to claim their individual voices through a variety of tactics. These include “resource groups” for sharing contacts and increasing access to information and services; consumer campaigns; and pressure on the media to alter their portrayals of women. Wolf theorizes that little girls, as much as boys, have fantasies of absolute dominion but learn to repress their “will to power” at a very early age. Wolf here sketches a psychological road map designed to help women deal with their ambivalence about success, power, equality and money.
I don’t agree with Wolf much of the time, but in this she was on the right side: a feminism directed toward remaining real issues of equality, empowerment, and respect would be far less authoritarian and far less harmful to women’s partners in continuing civilization, men. But the cadres embedded in women’s studies departments, government, and NGOs were not interested in giving up the easy demonization of men and continued to seek refuge in grievance, victimhood, and moral superiority.
One of the problems with social justice warriors and activists generally is their myopic focus on their own culture and government, applying their search for ever-smaller irritants (“microaggressions” and remaining disparities in treatment) to the most progressive societies on the planet while ignoring the far more serious maltreatment of women, gays, religious and ethnic minorities, and poor people in other countries and cultures around the world. They elevate and sentimentalize other cultures as more “authentic” and seem to assign blame for most problems there to the imperialism and interventionism of western countries. I would agree that societies on the other side of the world should not be lightly trifled with and western countries have been foolishly intervening for centuries, but the treatment of women and minorities in those places was in place long before western powers showed up. And yet activists spend far more time and energy on lobbying government to pressure businesses to provide free birth control and weaken standards of proof in university rape cases than they do on improving girls’ schools in Islamic countries or combatting female circumcision. Meanwhile, they choose not to see the problems of men in their own society, and by seeing “patriarchy” as the source of all evil in their world, they assume that all men are privileged and call for more restrictions on men’s rights and freedoms.
Group rights over individual rights—what are the consequences of making everything about the rights and entitlements of one class of people more important than others? The devaluing of boys in western educational systems has become a serious problem, and their natural inclinations to tinker and explore has been repressed in favor of social organization. In the United States, mediocre women overwhelmingly dominate primary education, and a lack of masculine role models—and a general emphasis on feelings and group politics over rigor and intellectual exploration—make typical boy interests afterthoughts at best. There is much concern about the lack of women in science and high-tech, but modern primary education slights the hard sciences in favor of recycling training, ecology, and global warming alarmism. Children are taught what to feel, not how to think about problems.
So feminists won their battles, and by 2000, feminists (both male and female) held most of the positions in government bureaucracies, education, social services, and non-profit organizations. Those who had doubts about the worst excesses (e.g., mandatory video sexual harassment training for everyone, even the 90% who had always had the good sense to avoid making anyone feel uncomfortable by bringing sex into the workplace) were marginalized. Having won the controlling heights, feminists succeeded in correcting almost all the injustices that originally brought them political support.
But as happens with all passionate movements, reaching their initial goals did not stop their activists from coming up with novel ways to be offended. They came up with “microaggressions,” tiny slights felt by the very sensitive when someone with a less-elevated consciousness acted less than perfectly in their eyes. “Intersectionality,” the oppression of those who are members of more than one minority class (e.g., a Black female lesbian) became a hot topic, and of course only they had the authenticity to speak of their pain. The movement has evolved itself into an evolutionary dead end, where less and less consequential problems are clung to to justify controlling everyone else’s behavior. The competition to be the most oppressed and most victimized—the “Victim Olympics”—led to a view of people’s class oppressions as the central organizing principle of their lives. They are holders of the Progressive “special knowledge,” and with the sword of righteousness they go out to correct the culture.
This is terribly damaging for the tiny minority of (mostly elite, mostly educated, and privileged) people who follow this new religion. They become close to useless at accomplishing anything concrete—anything that isn’t about a committee organizing to write a report to agitate for more laws and regulations. As such, these cultists find it difficult to gain employment outside the centers of their influence in academia, media, and government.
They are small in number, but their belief is strong and their influence is widespread; they control the discourse in higher education, and new graduates have spent more time being taught their social theories than they have with the classics or the sciences.
Smart, secure women have noticed that modern feminists aren’t acting in their interests. A column in Toronto’s Globe and Mail by Margaret Wente continues the effort to get away from “victims’ studies” thinking:
Do we still need feminism? According to many younger women, we do not. For the past few weeks, a Tumblr hashtag campaign called #WomenAgainstFeminism has been stirring up a lot of angst in the Twitter/blogosphere. As part of the campaign, young women submit selfies with handwritten signs that say: “I don’t need feminism because [fill in reason here].” The reasons include things like: “My self-worth is not directly tied to the size of my victim complex!” “I love being an engineer, but I’d rather just be Mom.” “I like men looking at me when I look good.” “Feminism has become a pseudonym for bullying.” And, on a lighter note, “How the [bleep] am I supposed to open jars and lift heavy objects without my husband?”
Another reason is that #WomenAgainstFeminism is essentially right. There is a hard core of misandry and victim-culture in modern feminism that is deeply disturbing. #WomenAgainstFeminism is in part a reaction to the #YesAllWomen campaign, which began in reaction to the murder rampage of Elliot Rodger last May. The lonely misogynist—who killed two women and four men, before killing himself—was cast as a symbol of the worldwide war against women. As one Facebook comment (quoted in Time by Sarah Miller) said: “If you don’t think this is about misogyny there is something wrong with you.”
Modern feminism has split into two distinct strands. The mild-mannered mainstream version, having achieved most of its objectives for equality (and then some: upward of 60 per cent of postsecondary graduates are now women) is focusing its efforts on ever more elitist issues, such as the lopsided gender split in Silicon Valley and the shortage of women on corporate boards. With all due respect to the problems of the one per cent, I do not think these are the types of issues that will send young women to the barricades.
The leftist, postmodernist strand of feminism insists that women are still oppressed, and the world’s still stacked against us, and there is basically no difference between the rape epidemic in India and the one in North America. One example of this thinking is The Guardian’s Jessica Valenti, who, in response to #WomenAgainstFeminism, wrote: “[D]enying that women are a victimized class is simply wrong. What else would you call a segment of the population who are systematically discriminated against in school, work and politics? How would you describe a population whose bodies are objectified to the point of dehumanization? Women are harassed, attacked and sexually assaulted with alarming regularity in America and around the world.” This is a belief system rather than a depiction of reality, and, as with all belief systems, there’s no point arguing about it with the faithful.
Views like this wouldn’t matter much, except that they have real-life consequences, as Cathy Young has pointed out in Time. One is the destructive “rape culture” myth that has gripped campuses across North America, along with the meme – utterly fictitious – that one in five women will be sexually assaulted by the time she gets her degree. This claim is on the face of it absurd, but it has spawned an epidemic of victimology and abuse of due process that will take a generation to undo.
The Men’s (Human) Rights Movement, together with the majority of women who want to see strong families and well-raised children continue our civilization, has barely made a dent in feminism’s control of the discourse. Until average people understand what’s being done to them, media and government will still promote feminist narratives and demonize men. But sites like AVfM are starting the process of education needed before change can occur.
This article was originally published at Jebkinnison.com –DE