WHEN FEMINISM first hit the fan, Margaret Mead warned: "Women's liberation has to be terribly conscious of the danger of provoking men to kill women. You have quite literally driven them mad."
Men aren't the only ones slithering in this snakepit. I also have the Ms- fits. Until feminists started wailing about the female's passivity, submissiveness and something called "victim status," I had no idea women were such doormats. My childhood was populated by Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, Pearl Buck, Marie Curie, Clare Boothe Luce and the Duchess of Windsor.
Now, it seems, women are born to be sexually harassed, but harassment is not what it's cracked up to be, if the dreary accounts we read about in feminist publications are any guide. These things used to be quite dramatic. My mother, who grew up during the Valentino era, used to warn me about men who sat next to girls in the movies, injected them with drugs and took them to bad houses in Argentina. When my grandmother issued the same warning, she always substituted Shanghai opium dens because she grew up during the Boxer Rebellion.
Thanks to feminists, these wicked things now happen in the office. Gone are the smoldering caballeros and soldiers of fortune, replaced by that sucker of breath mints Henry Tremblechin from Purchasing. No wonder modern women are so unhappy; this isn't harassment, it isn't even well traveled.
Feminists are now claiming that off-color remarks constitute sexual harassment. Any woman who has ever worked in a gutsy male environment knows that the correct response to a randy remark is an even more salacious retort. But timid feminists don't see it that way. To them, the proper reply is a lawsuit -- that safe modern version of the old slap in the face. In their zeal to create a brave new world for women, they are dragging us back to the days of: "You cad! How dare you use such language in the presence of a lady!"
When feminists are not objecting to language, they are ruining it with droppings from their own pens. Women's writing was coming along fine until feminists came along and turned it into Women's Lit.
Their efforts fall into two basic categories: rambling word-choked quagmires of the "my vagina is a hated Other" school; and revisionist histories of the "carry me back to dry Atlantis" school, wherein we meet those Celtic warrior queens with names like Fellatrix, who give birth during pit stops at chariot races.
Feminist historians are fixated on matriarchies, but the examples they give are either too remote to be provable or else they are pseudomatriarchies -- easy-going South Seas societies composed of people who were gentle because they did not have to work very hard. Carefully skirted by feminists is the one real matriarchy we know for a fact existed: that land of institutionalized child abuse, Sparta.
Women's Lit has had disastrous effects on female conversational style. Feminists have even managed to ruin girl talk. We used to have marvelously satisfying and instructive t.ete- ma-t.etes full of things like: "Then he put his legs where?" Now we have, "His openness is a token meetedness."
Feminists give every evidence of possessing overpowering maternal instincts. Instead of pursuing their interests with the healthy selfishness of the Suffragettes, they have rushed to stroke every other social cause as well, so that the all-purpose feminist goal seems to be an abortion performed by a gay black doctor under an endangered tree on a reservation for handicapped Indians.
Haunted by fears of elitism, they have developed a Poe-like affinity for the kiss of death. There is no "women's movement." It has become instead "women and other minorities." Jesse Jackson has even included women in his mantra. "I may be poor or black or brown or female or unemployed, but I am somebody," he wrote in a recent column. Rightly or wrongly, this turns the majority of Americans off, perhaps because it brushes perilously close to the old 19th-century list of nonvoters that so infuriated the Suffragettes: "Minors, criminals, lunatics and women."
The Supreme Court decision against drafting women sent feminists scattering like chickens with the pip, venting their usual non sequiturs. Following a feminist argument is like following Ariadne through the labyrinth. For centuries men have accused women of being illogical, and now along comes Ellen Goodman to prove them right. Writing in Redbook, she says she believes in drafting women because:
1. "Perhaps, stripped of its maleness and mystery, its audience and cheerleaders, war can finally be deglorified."
2. "Women must be in a position to stop as well as start wars."
3. "It has been far too easy to send men alone."
4. "I simply cannot believe that I would feel differently if my daughter were my son."
By recommending the equal slaughter of women to put an end to the slaughter of men, is she not saying what the American officer said in Vietnam: "We had to destroy the town in order to save it"?
There are even heavier crosses to bear in the Whoops Department, a category feminists fill with clocklike regularity, as when they tried to explain why women need a Women's Bank. Quoted in a Wall Street Journal article, Kay Bergin, deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Banking Department, said: "Women still fear financial institutions. They're afraid of being rejected, of appearing foolish by asking the wrong questions. In a women's bank, there's a feeling of sisterhood that says we're all in this together."
Can she mean that women's banks don't know how to figure compound interest either?
Feminists, I hasten to add, are not all bad. In fact, they are an ideal bellwether, an invaluable aid in helping me form opinions on issues that I don't have time to keep up with. If the feminists are for it, I'm against it; if the feminists are against it, I'm for it.