On July 9, 1978 I rode a bus from Philadelphia to Washington DC to participate in the march in favor of adding the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the constitution.
I was surprised and disheartened to see that only 3-5% of the marchers were men.
In the years since I have lost none of my outrage that the Equal Rights Amendment has not been adopted.
But at the same time I have found the trajectory of modern feminism deeply disturbing.
There is a term in English: “An ah-ha moment,” when all of a sudden something or things that until that moment had been unexplained become clear based on insight. I’ve had several moments like this in my life.
Here are a few:
I grew-up in an academic family and lived in college housing until I went to college. I was steeped in liberal politics, big vocabularies, literary references, multilingualism, and world travel.
I was taught that, when it comes to US politics, there are democrats and evil people.
When I was eleven I joined a Boy Scout troop.
The leaders were all businessmen of one sort or another. The weekly scout meeting was held in the community room of a church whose property bordered the college campus where my father taught. There were no college people associated with the troop’s leadership. In fact, I was the only “faculty brat” in the troop.
The troop leaders, who mostly worked long hours and had two weeks of vacation a year, attended every weekly meeting and spent one week of their annual vacation camping with the scouts.
The leaders loved the boys and did their damndest to help them (us).
I came to love my scout leaders.
Then I learned that they were all Republicans.
This was difficult to digest because my scout leaders were fine men and I had learned growing-up that Republicans are evil.
At eleven I learned that it is impossible to measure people by grouping them into simple categories. This is a lesson I’ve learned again and again in my life.
When I turned sixteen I joined the volunteer fire company in my small town. I thought that, since I was able-bodied, it was the “right thing” to do.
The first bad fire I fought was in a modest three-bedroom home that housed a family. When we arrived at the “fire-ground” flames were coming out of a second-floor window.
Some jackass, not the owner, was standing on the sidewalk and screaming at us: “put water on it, put water on it…”
I was in the “jump-seat” on the attack pumper which meant that I had an air-pack on before we arrived at the fire, and that I was the closest firefighter to the two inch-and-a half-“pre-connects.” I grabbed one and dragged it to the front door. Other guys behind me pulled the rest of the hose from its bed. A second guy backed me up on the hose, the engineer charged our line, and the two of us, once we saw that the ground floor was “not involved,” went upstairs and fought the fire. The inch and a half hose was inadequate and we fought in vain until other guys brought in a two and half inch hose.
I had no idea who owned that house but I busted my ass to save it. At one point the ceiling just above and in front of me was orange.
When I ran out of air I went out of the house and back to the truck to get another air tank.
The chief told me to take a breather and get a cup of coffee. Some women from the neighborhood had set up a table for the firemen: coffee, juice, milk, some snacks; whatever they could pull together fast.
At the next monthly meeting the chief engineer announced some research: the guy who had been screaming “to put water on it” owned a home down the block and had never donated to the fire company. The women who set-up the coffee table had all donated. “It’s always like that” he said, “the people who yell the most never help.”
A few years ago I was in my country home awaiting the arrival of a friend. The phone rang. She had crashed about 3 miles away, and was hurt. I told her to call 911 and that I was on my way. (I couldn’t call 911 because if I had used the house phone the call would have slowed me down. I couldn’t use my cell because I had no cell service at my home.)
My partner and I grabbed a couple of sheets, scissors and tape and I drove like hell.
When we got to the crash site a volunteer paramedic was already there. His pick-up truck had a big NRA decal in the rear window and, on the bumper, a sticker that said: “Man’s humanity to man: a fire truck.”
When I was in college, once a semester, there was an event to raise money for Oxfam, an organization that feeds the starving.
To participate in the event undergraduates would agree to forgo dinner. The on-campus food contractor would donate $0.90 to Oxfam for every student who signed-up to skip dinner.
I did some research. The food contractor billed $1.15 for ever dinner served. $0.25 profit for not serving a meal was their most lucrative day of the semester.
And students, anxious to “be in solidarity with the starving,” felt very self-righteous not eating for an evening.
I was appalled. I donated $2.00 to Oxfam and went to dinner.
I was attacked by my fellow undergraduates. I explained the economics. They were unmoved, even though I had actively donated $2.00 and they had passively donated $0.90 of their parent’s money.
When I said that skipping one dinner at Swarthmore to “be in solidarity with the starving” was an obscene mockery of millions of starving human beings I lost friends.
The night of the “fast” I noticed that pizza delivery men were swarming the dorms.
A few days later I went to the most popular local pizza delivery joint and asked about the rush on Oxfam night. “Oh,” they said “the Oxfam fast is our biggest night. We hire extra delivery men for that night.”
So I was vilified by a parade of undergraduates for eating and donating $2.00. These guys skipped dinner, their parents “donated” $0.90 to Oxfam, and these same kids, in “solidarity with the starving,” spent $6-10 on pizza and grinders. Oxfam night was not about helping the hungry, it was a fashion statement. And, like all fashion statements, it was a cheap way to rat-pack the unfashionable.
In spite of the fact that I am atheist, or maybe because of it, I have a deep interest in things so-to-say “spiritual.” Besides acquiring a degree in comparative religion I have spent time in both Buddhist and Christian monasteries. I was never called to be a monk, but I saw that while some monks become quite completely nuts, others acquire a rare kind of ability to see. If you have not spent time among nuns and monks, you cannot possibly understand this, so take my word for it, or not.
In any event, as a result of repeated trips, I have made several friends among the monks on Mount Athos in northern Greece.
The first time I went to Athos I was deeply struck that, because there were no women in the monastery, there was no freely-circulating sex energy. In contrast with my experience “in the world,” where sex-energy is woven into everything, this was a great relief. In this artificial environment, free of the dynamics associated with the interactions of men and women, I found a deep relaxation and a sharpened ability to focus.
But the second time I went to Athos I felt a lack in the life there and also in the understanding of the monks. I saw that by excluding women the monks had effectively amputated half of human intelligence from their lives.
In Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment there is a socialist character who rails about worldly injustice, but is shiftless and idle. The narrator, which is Dostoevsky’s voice, describes the socialist as follows:
“He was one of that innumerable motley legion of half-baked vulgarians and meddling know-it-alls who immediately attach themselves to the most fashionable idea current, only to vulgarize it and immediately caricature everything they serve, often with the greatest sincerity.” (Sidney Monas translation)
When I read that passage I had a huge ah-ha moment. Just as I read that passage the co-eds at Swarthmore, a school that was founded as a co-educational institution with equal numbers of male and female students and whose faculty is approximately 50% female, were in the middle of a tirade about “gender-specific language.” I found the theme stupid. I pointed-out that sentences like: “the jockey demonstrated excellent horsepersonship,” and “the oblivious pedestrian fell into an open personhole” are as stupid as they are awkward.
The notion that the female students at Swarthmore College were somehow oppressed was not only ridiculous, the suggestion insulted the untold millions of women who are, and who have been, oppressed.
I made this point and was anathematized. But I had read Dostoevsky and therefore knew who these young women were: they were part of “that innumerable motley legion of half-baked vulgarians and meddling know-it-alls who immediately attach themselves to the most fashionable idea current, only to vulgarize it and immediately caricature everything they serve, often with the greatest sincerity.”
Their screams of “oppression under patriarchy” were as hollow as the contention of their fellows that, as they stuffed themselves with pizza, they were in “solidarity with the world’s starving.”
Today no one but a pedant uses, as an impersonal pronoun, the tortured s/he.
I have come to distrust and, frankly, openly mock, all isms: socialism, feminism, vegetarianism when political, fascism, communism, Catholicism, Judaism, libertarianism, etc.
I mock feminism at the same time that I embrace the suffragette’s struggle to get women the vote. I embrace the fact that it is now, among the enlightened, a universally accepted premise that women’s thoughts are as valuable as men’s. I applaud the increase in the number of women in the highest echelons of our society at the same time that I lament the slowness of the change. I reject, in every aspect, the notion that women are somehow less valuable than men. I celebrate as positive the integration of the sexes in our society. I view all this as part of a larger movement towards enlightenment and understanding.
I celebrate all of this because, obviously, there are terrible injustices directed at women both historically and, more importantly, in the present. The fact that women are paid $0.78 for every $1.00 a man is paid in the same position is an outrage. Our society is filled with these outrages. The fact that men get more jail time than women for the same crime is an outrage. And the fact that black men get 20% more jail time than white men for the same crime is an outrage.
Feminism is now into its “fourth wave,” and some feminist writers are talking about the emerging “fifth wave.” To me nothing spells “lost and looking for footing” more than a movement, a few decades old, reinventing itself into four or five “waves.” Every time I hear talk about which wave of feminism is which, I think of the now defunct Soviet Union and its famous “five-year plans.”
I’ve lost track of which wave is which, but there are tenured feminist professors of “gender studies,” teaching in venerated institutions, who have floated the question: “absent sperm, are men really necessary?” This is utterly bankrupt, and as debilitating a notion as the Athonite monk’s rejection of all things female; as small-minded as my father’s “intellectual” colleagues who thought all Republicans vile; and as ridiculous as the liberal’s notion that any member of the NRA must be a sociopath.
But this kind of small and corrosive thinking is ubiquitous. Stephen Marche, a writer of books about the sexes and their interactions wrote this in the NYT on September 25, 2017:
“…male mechanisms of desire are inherently brutal.”
He argued that: “the nature of men in general…” is that beyond ideology or class or profession men are “bound together, solely, by the grotesquerie of their sexuality.”
Of course Marche is not the first to suggest that somehow the male is baser than the female.
Andrea Dworkin, the famous radical feminist, argued in 1976 that heterosexual sex is, of its nature, violent; and that accordingly “men will have to give-up their precious erections.”
Forget that Dworkin and Marche are obviously idiots. The deeper observation is that their classification of maleness as brutish and violent and in need of subjugation is in no way different from Alexander Steven’s argument in his famous “Cornerstone Speech” given in Savanna, Georgia in 1861.
Stevens wrote about the new society he foresaw: “Our new government is founded… its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”
Feminism, which began as the unassailably just insistence that women are, in every respect, as fully human as men, has devolved into something as base and as socially destructive as racism.
The very undergraduates who cut their teeth railing against “gender-specific language” in the 1970s are today railing against “micro-aggressions” and “mansplaining.” It’s really hard not to laugh, except that under the silly jargon is a very corrosive current.
And that current is that the ills of the planet, from war to social injustice, to the wholesale plunder of natural resources, to election-fixing is the work of men.
The danger with this sort of thinking is that it’s half-true. Yes, wars are fought mostly by men. And yes, the social structures that favor the wealthy few are jealously protected, most often by powerful men. The majority of the CEOs of aggressive polluters are men. And the techies who are hired to hack elections, if Russia’s efforts are any indication, are men.
Is this because men are evil, or because women have not yet achieved parity? Or are there other much more subtle factors?
You don’t see the wives and daughters of warriors protesting the war their husbands and fathers make. On the contrary you see them venerating their “brave” husbands and fathers and doing obeisance to warriors “for their service.”
You rarely see anyone who is enriched by the firms that abuse the planet—men or women—complain.
You don’t hear the rich and comfortable—men or women–in their suburban homes complaining that the law exists mostly to protect their uber-comfortable lives. “Black Lives Matter” is a result of this.
The very people, men and women, who complain the loudest about all the evils that men do are the very men and women who go quiet when they are on the gravy train that those evils bestow. This is how people are always and everywhere. Not just men; not just women…
The fact is human kind thinks dualistically, and is therefore stupid. Ridiculous comments like “men have the power, therefore they promote patriarchy,” illustrate this. Actually the powerful are loath to cede power because they like their power. It has nothing to do with “patriarchy” or “chauvinism” or “gender oppression” or any other buzz-word that reduces a complex system to a single cause or feature.
In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that men are sacrificed for women. Men take about 98% of US war casualties. Men suffer about 95% of workplace deaths. And if a ship is sinking “women and children” are rescued first. This is all worth thinking about.
But the larger fact is that feminism, as it is often promoted today, leads women, especially young women, inexorably to vilifying men. This leads, naturally, to fermenting anger which in turn becomes a baseline, a default setting, of anger and outrage. All men in the educated classes, even if they are deeply sympathetic to the long and rightful struggle of women for parity, have been down-stream of the vituperation of feminists and their practiced outrage. What started as a demand for rightful equality has decayed, in time, into a lexicon of buzzwords and, worse, the transformation of a great struggle into a tedious caricature of itself.
Recently a woman asked me: “I wonder if you are thinking that there is a war on men going on?”
I answered: “I do, and there is.”
A particularly awful result of feminism is that maleness is itself now derided. The manly virtues of self-reliance, protection of the weaker, providing for the family, competing relentlessly, and self-sacrifice are reduced in the feminist lexicon to sociopathy, territoriality, aggression and nihilism.
This is a disaster for our culture, not only because it devalues the basis on which so much has been built. It is a disaster because boys today are taught that their essential nature, their boyness, is unacceptable. If a boy persists in climbing trees and hunting frogs and taking apart engines to see how they work that kid will be medicated.
It is not an exaggeration to say that millions and millions of boys are today filled with Ritalin because of feminism. The long term effects of this crime are not yet known, but the suicide rate among boys has skyrocketed. Boys under 13 are about ten times more likely to kill themselves than girls. Perhaps this is not too surprising in a culture that teaches boys self-loathing.
There is no doubt that women have gotten a raw deal for centuries. This is not the result of an insidious patriarchy designed to oppress women. It is the result of centuries of cultural evolution driven by many, many forces. The explanation is not in the dualistic explanation that men oppress women, but in a deeper understanding of human nature and history. And the resolution is certainly not in the dualistic anger of one side (the women) against the other side, (the men). This approach leads to the absurd situation we have now.Another insidious result of feminism is that it is embraced, as all isms are, as being a unifying theory of everything existing.
When Hillary Clinton lost many feminists said that the reason was “misogyny.” When it was pointed-out that Clinton lost white women by more than 10 points, these same feminists argued that because of “the culture of patriarchy” many women are “unconsciously misogynists.”
This sort of “thinking” derives from being attached to an all-embracing “ism.” When evangelicals blame hurricane Katrina on a “culture of sodomy” in New Orleans, or the 9-11 attacks on the “godlessness of New Yorkers,” they are being every bit as stupid and in the thrall off of their ism as the feminists are when they say that Hillary lost women because women are unconsciously misogynists.
In short, I abhor all movements of the day. And I especially abhor the dualistic and debased thinking that movements, of their nature, propagate. I hate the guys who, when someone else’s house is burning, stand on the corner and scream for someone else to put water on it. Women of the Ivy League, screaming about patriarchy, are no different than the jackass on the sidewalk outside the burning building. Yes, the house is burning. No, you are not helping.
The Oxfam “fasters” are not in solidarity with the starving but are instead making a mockery of the hungry with their fashion statement. In exactly this way the patchwork of buzzwords that comprise the current rhetoric of feminism—“patriarchy,” “micro-aggression,” “man-spreading” “toxic masculinity”—is just fashion babble and, unintentionally but actually, a mockery of real oppression. If anyone points-out the moral bankruptcy of this situation, they will be rat-packed by the fashionably righteous.
Perhaps the most insidious aspect of feminism is that it has infected the educated class. We can all roll our eyes when the evangelicals suggest that sodomy caused Katrina. But when a man innocently suggests that some women is unqualified for a position, or lacks judgment, he is told that he cannot see the situation clearly because he is either consciously or unconsciously a misogynist. This kind of baloney strikes at the heart of our society. It propagates the absurd notion that men, because they are men, cannot comment with any authority on matters that touch upon women. The inverse, that women cannot comment with authority on matters that touch upon men, is summarily rejected. Ironically and insidiously, our culture has come to believe that women, and feminists particularly, have understood that men as a sex are at the core of all that is bad in the world. Should a man, God forbid, express how absurd this is, there is a ready dismissal: “He is just mansplaining.”
It’s now obvious the “Me Too” movement has become a political tool. Al Franken was unfortunately forced to resign from the Senate because of a comedy actor’s kiss on a plane in order to remove him as a possible presidential candidate. Kristen Gillibrand was the loudest voice and now she’s running for President. As bright as she is, she deserves the significant loss of support she has incurred.
Joe Biden just announced his candidacy when only a few weeks ago he was criticized for invading a woman’s space by giving her a reassuring hug and a peck on the head with a perfunctory kiss. Warren and Sanders conveniently jumped on the bandwagon and called him out. And then his apology was deemed insufficient.
Thank you Phil, your essay in its own way covers our uncivilized, civilized world and I so appreciate being further enlightened.
Phil, I very much enjoyed reading this. It told me a lot about you & your personal history that I didn’t know, & it taught me about some things in the world with which I wasn’t familiar. The title of your blog was the first thing that caught my attention, because the memoir of Kerouac‘s bosom buddy, Neal Cassady, is titled “The First Third.” I find your blog posts more interesting than “The First Third” because the latter is almost completely devoted to the first 20 or so years of his life & Neal himself is pretty much all he writes about in the memoir. Sadly, the title of his memoir doesn’t reflect his life-span. He died a day or two shy of his 42nd birthday.
I was very aware of Neil Cassidy’s book when I named my blog.
Neal had lived what he thought was one third of his life. I’m hoping that I have a third left.