For anyone following the #womenagainstfeminism hashtag on Twitter, or the other online venues where this is trending, one will readily observe just how often the charge is made (or is it a defense?) that the W.A.F.s and friends simply “don’t understand” feminism.
Actually, I think they’re right. After a lifetime of being told, going back to the sixties, that my kind (the dread White Man) were responsible for pretty much everything bad that ever happened to anyone else not like us, I decided to check it out myself.
I read Brownmiller, Ehrenreich, Friedan, and Caldicott, to name but a few. I hung out with, worked with, listened to, and attended public events with, self-identifying feminists, for years. I saw women in the 80s wearing running shoes to work to “Take Back the Night” and went on to wonder if they had, as heels got higher and higher until anatomically self-immolating footwear had become the new symbol of “empowerment.”
I married a feminist with a feminist mother. I watched my more intellectual, urbane male friends, one after another, go from being interesting, funny and spontaneous young men to being diaper-bag-toting stepnfetchits who could barely begin a sentence without the words “let me check with…” I worked with redneck manly men whose wives actually (wait for it) MADE THEM SANDWICHES, and who also in absolute seriousness called the little lady The Boss and meant it.
And all this time, in college towns and tourist towns, as well as cow towns, I kept thinking that, sooner or later, I would run into this Patriarchy that had all these gals stirred up. Ol’ Pat must have done something REAL bad to these women, ’cause they just never seemed to stop looking for him behind every corner and in every action, thought, attitude or perceived slight on the part of men.
And still, I guess I just didn’t “understand” feminism, hard as I’d tried. I remember the first time I got wind that things were changing between guys & gals was when at about age 9 or 10, still in the bygone era of “full-service” gas stations, I saw my first woman out pumping gas, checking oil and wiping windshields. Soon after that I started hearing about new roles assigned to men, such as attending childbirths, being emotionally available, involving ourselves more with children and being more understanding of women’s health. I added two and two, and figured, not such a bad trade: men do more stuff women do, and women do more stuff men do. I can work with that, I was thinking as I prepared for manhood.
In the early 80s I worked with women and men both, on a fire crew and in livery stables where I spent some summers, and it seemed OK. I kinda overlooked how the men would do all the heavy lifting, and never thought once about the inequity of my spending three days picking swollen ticks off horses’ bellies to drown them in diesel, while three girls would wander by and go “ey-ewww, that is SO gross…”, or the all-day rides I would guide while the ladies took all the cushy one- and two-hour ones that had them home for lunch…
When I entered residential homebuilding I just assumed there would be women coming along. (cue crickets) I saw a grand total of ONE female electrician, which is a high-paying profession with almost endless employability requiring only on-the-job training, ONE lady carpenter who prided herself on her volunteer work at the women’s shelter and had no issues with my carrying her materials for her (but a lot of issues with being a real carpenter, sorry to say). And that’s it, in more than 35 years in the trades. Women were never discriminated against or excluded, they just never showed up at all.
Meanwhile, my son was abducted by his mother in a long-planned action scripted by her mother with the MSW and a new law called “the Violence Against Women Act” that she and her colleagues used to crucify me in court without evidence; I experienced repeated instances of police officers going on alert in courthouses when the tone of my (male) voice became suspect while one woman expert after another were scarlet-lettering me with their guesswork and their social theories; one male judge, lawyer or police officer after another submissively awaiting a female diagnosis of my disturbing maleness before deciding what to do with me or whether I could be unsupervised with my son (all of this with no evidence whatever being presented at any point);
Then years after this kangaroo-court farce I began to look back into gender politics issues. I found women demanding seats on corporate boards that they had not earned, women accusing men of domestic violence without ever being troubled to prove anything had happened to them at all, women who were the electoral majority in one election after another castigating me and all men over why “they haven’t elected a female president”, women being astonishingly rude, dismissive, crass and vulgar toward male coworkers in non-construction workplaces where I worked at various times; women dominating every aspect of what was supposed to be a dialogue about “gender” and openly guffawing at the idea that any man had anything to contribute to the discourse…
Women being shamelessly passive-aggressive toward their spouses and boyfriends, openly rude in public places, defiantly fraudulent toward programs and benefits they applied for, matronizingly dismissive of the very concept of male grievance, THIS is what I think of when I think about “feminism.” And, feminism has been such an apparent success, that a woman now doesn’t have to know half what I do about feminist theory or history, to get away with plain rude and hurtful behavior whenever she decides to indulge in them.
So, the bashers of #womenagainstfeminism are right on the mark: try as I have, flexible as I’ve been on the idea, hard as I’ve worked (I even enrolled in “Gender Studies 101” at a community college once in the late 80s, which I and two other men were basically badgered by students and instructor alike into dropping after the first day),
No, I don’t understand feminism. Not at all. I understand what it might have been, what it was marketed as being, what some adherents believed it was supposed to be.
But what feminism’s actions and results have shown, as a popular philosophy or as a policymaking doctrine? Guilty as charged: I absolutely do not understand.