By Cathy Young of The Washington Post
Feminist male-bashing has come to sound like a cliche — a misogynist caricature. Feminism, its loudest proponents vow, is about fighting for equality. The man-hating label is either a smear or a misunderstanding.
Yet a lot of feminist rhetoric today does cross the line from attacks on sexism into attacks on men, with a strong focus on personal behavior: the way they talk, the way they approach relationships, even the way they sit on public transit. Male faults are stated as sweeping condemnations; objecting to such generalizations is taken as a sign of complicity. Meanwhile, similar indictments of women would be considered grossly misogynistic.
This gender antagonism does nothing to advance the unfinished business of equality. If anything, the fixation on men behaving badly is a distraction from more fundamental issues, such as changes in the workplace to promote work-life balance. What’s more, male-bashing not only sours many men — and quite a few women — on feminism. It often drives them into Internet subcultures where critiques of feminism mix with hostility toward women.
To some extent, the challenge to men and male power has always been inherent in feminism, from the time the 1848 Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments catalogued the grievances of “woman” against “man.” However, these grievances were directed more at institutions than at individuals. In “The Feminine Mystique,” which sparked the great feminist revival of the 1960s, Betty Friedan saw men not as villains but as fellow victims burdened by societal pressures and by the expectations of their wives, who depended on them for both livelihood and identity.
That began to change in the 1970s with the rise of radical feminism. This movement, with its slogan, “The personal is political,” brought a wave of female anger at men’s collective and individual transgressions. Authors like Andrea Dworkin and Marilyn French depicted ordinary men as patriarchy’s brutal foot soldiers.
This tendency has reached a troubling new peak, as radical feminist theories that view modern Western civilization as a patriarchy have migrated from academic and activist fringes into mainstream conversation. One reason for this trend is social media, with its instant amplification of personal narratives and its addiction to outrage. We live in a time when jerky male attempts at cyber-flirting can be collected on a blogcalled Straight White Boys Texting (which carries a disclaimer that prejudice against white males is not racist or sexist since it is not directed at the oppressed) and then deplored in an article titled “Dear Men: This Is Why Women Have Every Right To Be Disgusted With Us.”
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