When I first started teaching, I used to ask my students if any of them were feminists. I'd get a few tentative hands, usually from angry-looking young women with short hair. I'd then ask who believed that women deserve the same pay, opportunities, and rights as men. All the hands would go up. I would smile wisely at my students and tell them that they were all feminists. I'd point out that the things I'd mentioned--equal pay, the right to own property, equal opportunities--were the essential tenets of feminism.
My students liked me, so they tried to be kind. They gently pointed out that feminism was the bastion of women in overalls with ugly haircuts and uglier shoes. Feminism was the rallying-cry of the man-hater, the supremacist, the bigot. Clearly, I was behind the times.
I, in turn taught them that what they were talking about was radical
feminism, but that mainstream
feminism was merely a push for equal rights. I think I swayed a few students, but most of us had to agree to disagree.
Over the years, my dedication to equal rights has grown stronger, but I have stopped teaching this lesson, largely because I think that my students might have been right. I think that the popular conversation regarding feminism has been co-opted by a radical feminist outlook. The goal of the women's movement no longer seems to be parity between the sexes, but rather primacy for women. Everywhere I turn, I see feminists making claims to moral, intellectual, and spiritual superiority. In other words, feminism has become exactly what my students claimed it was: an anti-male movement.
The saddest thing about this process is that the original goals of feminism have not yet been realized, and the battle for equal rights is far from over. There are still dinosaurs who believe that a women's place is in the home and that childbirth is punishment for original sin. More important, the literal
enslavement of women is on the rise, with the sex trade kidnapping thousands of women every year, and the brutal treatment of women under fundamentalist Islam is horrifying. However, rather than mount a concerted attack on worldwide brutality against women, I see the women's movement in the United States wasting its energy by taking cheap potshots against men. On the rare occasions that it addresses the larger issue of female abuse and slavery, the primary goal seems to be to draw connections between women under burquas and women who feel insulted in the workplace.
Many contemporary feminists seem bent on becoming exactly the caricature that their conservative critics paint: shrill, humorless, sexist chauvinists with a cruel agenda. In the meantime, I have had to seriously reconsider my identity as a "feminist." If the feminist movement has become frankly anti-male, than any "feminist" male is, de facto, a traitor to his gender and himself. Now, I think that people, regardless of gender, deserve the same rights, and I refuse to prioritize one gender's needs over another's. Under the current situation, I think that makes me a "humanist."
Every so often, I think about Valerie Solanas. Best known for her attempted assassination of Andy Warhol, she was also the author of the infamous SCUM Manifesto
. Largely ignored at the time of its creation, the SCUM Manifesto
has become revered in some circles as a classic radical feminist tract. I see it as the most cartoonishly over-the-top anti-male statement ever committed to paper.
It is probably worth noting that "SCUM" stands for "Society for Cutting Up Men."
One of the key arguments in the SCUM Manifesto
is the idea that men are genetically inferior to women:"The male is an incomplete female, a walking abortion, aborted at the gene stage. To be male is to be deficient, emotionally limited; maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples."
This idea doesn't seem so radical anymore. In fact, I found it echoed in a couple of jokes floating around the internet:What do men and sperm have in common?
They both have a one-in-a-million chance of becoming a human being.
What is that insensitive bit at the base of the penis called?
Solanas amplifies her argument that men are emotionally stunted sex maniacs, stating that "The male is [...] incapable of love, friendship, affection or tenderness[...]The male is, nonetheless, obsessed with screwing; he'll swim through a river of snot, wade nostril-deep through a mile of vomit, if he thinks there'll be a friendly pussy awaiting him. He'll screw a woman he despises, any snaggle-toothed hag, and furthermore, pay for the opportunity. Why? Relieving physical tension isn't the answer, as masturbation suffices for that. It's not ego satisfaction; that doesn't explain screwing corpses and babies."
Of course, one doesn't have to go far to see this vision of the romantically-challenged, bestial, sex-crazed man echoed in popular culture. Here are some jokes that make the same point:What's a man's definition of a romantic evening?
A woman of 35 thinks of having children. What does a man of 35 think of?
Why did the man cross the road?
He heard the chicken was a slut.
Solanas proceeds to argue that men are actually sub-human: "[The male] is a half-dead, unresponsive lump, incapable of giving or receiving pleasure or happiness; consequently, he is at best an utter bore, an inoffensive blob, since only those capable of absorption in others can be charming. He is trapped in a twilight zone halfway between humans and apes..."
This idea, too, is echoed in popular culture: What do you call a man with half a brain?
What's the difference between a new husband and a new dog?
A dog only takes a couple of months to train
One might wonder if, in Solanas' view, there are any good men. Actually, there are: "SCUM will kill all men who are not in the Men's Auxiliary of SCUM. Men in the Men's Auxiliary are those men who are working diligently to eliminate themselves, men who, regardless of their motives, do good, men who are playing pal with SCUM. A few examples of the men in the Men's Auxiliary are [...]faggots who, by their shimmering, flaming example, encourage other men to de-man themselves and thereby make themselves relatively inoffensive...
Of course, culture seems to agree: Why is it so hard for women to find men that are sensitive, caring, and good-looking?
Because they already have boyfriends.
Solanas is kind enough to suggest a course of action for ridding the world of this menace: "Just as humans have a prior right to existence over dogs by virtue of being more highly evolved and having a superior consciousness, so women have a prior right to existence over men. The elimination of any male is, therefore, a righteous and good act, an act highly beneficial to women as well as an act of mercy.
Even this bizarre and brutal "final solution" has its echoes in contemporary humor:How can you tell when a man is well hung?
When you can just barely slip your finger in between his neck and the noose.
How do you save a man from drowning?
Take your foot off his head.
What do you call a handcuffed man?
Perhaps I'm just being oversensitive, but it seems to me that one can only read so many of these jokes before the message becomes clear: all
men are stupid, insensitive potential rapists. All
men are guilty until proven innocent. The really funny thing is that these jokes didn't come from a Valerie Solanas fan site or a radical feminist blog. Rather, I found them with a simple google search for "men jokes." Once upon a time, one could be reasonably sure that brutally anti-male humor was the limited purview of a few half-crazed radicals on the outer fringes of society. Now, it seems like one sees it everywhere.
In Spreading Misandry
, Paul Nathanson and Katherine Young outline six forms of misandry that are becoming prevalent in American culture. I'm not interested in rehashing all of them, but one form is male-bashing humor. Another is the common assumption that men have it easier, or are somehow cheating women.
I got a feel for this recently. Jean works across the hall from me. She's a nice person, if a little too quick to assign blame to white men. Still, we get along well. A few days ago, she told me that I looked thinner and asked me if I'd lost weight. I thanked her for noticing and mentioned that I've lost fifteen pounds this year. Her immediate response was to tell me that "You men have it so easy. All you have to do is exercise a little, and the weight drops right off."
Thinking of the hours I've spent in the gym and on a treadmill, the massive changes I've made in my diet, the gallons of water I've guzzled, I smiled and told her "Well, if women could restrain themselves, they might lose weight, but you girls are incapable of even the slightest amount of self-control."
Okay, I didn't really say that. What I really did was smile and went back to my office. I restrained myself for three reasons:
1. The comment would have been rude and mean-spirited; as much as I can be an asshole from time to time, I try to be a nice
2. The comment would have been untrue, and I'm smart enough to know that broad generalizations are unfair and unproductive.
And the real kicker:
3. You can't fight misandry with misogyny. Or, to put it another way, you can't hope to conquer prejudice with more prejudice.
Number three seems like a pretty simple equation. I'm surprised that it's so hard for people to understand.
Labels: equal rights, feminism, misandry, Solanas