This article appears in the dictionary next to the words “Straw Feminism.” Venker’s image of feminism hits all the high (low?) notes. This is the nightmarish menace that marches fulminatingly in the dark streets, illuminated only by the fitful light of a burning bra. It articulates all the darkest fears about what women's equality has wrought.
Feminism, you see, is the reason why there are no Nice Men Who Will Marry You. Feminism frightened them once when they were children (as this wondeful cartoon illustrates). It was the nasty thing they saw in the woodshed. You, young lady, were foolish enough to think you might manage to pursue your dreams and simultaneously get married and have children. That was your mistake. And that is why you are single. Blame those terrible firebreathing females in the 1970s who removed you from your proper place — above men, on a pedestal, where you should return as quickly as possible.
Women should not be equal, exactly. We are so different. We belong on pedestals, or something.
If such feminists exist, I have never seen one in the wild. But the myth is potent.
The titles of the writer’s past books — “The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know — And Men Can’t Say” and “7 Myths of Working Mothers: Why Children and (Most) Careers Just Don’t Mix” — suggest what the general tenor of her piece is likely to be. And the piece itself does not disappoint.
To understand what I mean, here are a few excerpts from the piece.
As the author of three books on the American family and its intersection with pop culture, I’ve spent thirteen years examining social agendas as they pertain to sex, parenting, and gender roles,” she notes. “During this time, I’ve spoken with hundreds, if not thousands, of men and women. And in doing so, I’ve accidentally stumbled upon a subculture of men who’ve told me, in no uncertain terms, that they’re never getting married. When I ask them why, the answer is always the same.
Women aren’t women anymore.
What a coincidence. In the past 13 years, I, too, have spoken with hundreds, if not thousands, of men and women. And I wasn’t even writing a book about anything. Some of this was at dinner parties.
I have never, though, stumbled on a subculture of men who told me in no uncertain terms that they were never getting married because women weren’t women any more. I did once run into a guy who’d watched “The Crying Game” and had to go rethink a lot of things about his life, but that was it. In general, if you run into a man who tells you he intends never to marry because There Is Something The Matter With Women These Days, the actual reason is that he is a jerk.
Consider the converse. If I told you that I would never marry because “you so seldom find a man who is truly a man, bestriding a horse with a well-turned ankle in his doublet and hose,” you would squint at me and start backing away, and you would not mourn my departure from the Eligible Pool nor tell men that they needed to reshape themselves in the image of what I wanted.
But let us return to the words of the article. How have women changed?
In a nutshell, women are angry. They’re also defensive, though often unknowingly. That’s because they’ve been raised to think of men as the enemy. Armed with this new attitude, women pushed men off their pedestal (women had their own pedestal, but feminists convinced them otherwise) and climbed up to take what they were taught to believe was rightfully theirs. Now the men have nowhere to go.
Aha. Well. There you have it.
How is it that women have changed? More visible ankle? Fewer hope chests? More voting and owning property?
No. It was the pedestal. We got off our own pedestal.
That was our first mistake.
Unexamined, the idea of being on a pedestal sounds pleasant. People lay wreaths at your feet. The view is nice. But after a while the stylite’s existence pales. You discover what being on a pedestal entails: remaining decorative and immobile.
Stop climbing and taking the men’s things. Shoo! Back! Back to your pedestal! Possibly women weren’t angry until they read this article, but now, if I am anything to go by, they are practically irate.
She goes on:
“It is precisely this dynamic – women good/men bad – that has destroyed the relationship between the sexes. Yet somehow, men are still to blame when love goes awry. Heck, men have been to blame since feminists first took to the streets in the 1970s.”
Yup, that’s what it was. Women good. Men bad. Whenever feminists see a successful man, they seize him and fling him to the curb and kick him with their sensible loafers. She concludes this argument:
“Men want to love women, not compete with them. They want to provide for and protect their families – it’s in their DNA. But modern women won’t let them.”
Nope. We won’t. Men come home to their families with their earnings and offer to help with parenting, and women hit them with their own much fatter, larger paychecks and shout, “HOW DARE YOU!” We do not want to, but there are feminists standing behind us, menacingly, holding shoes aloft.
And then the men very sadly and slowly crawl back to their caves. Every day we see this playing out over American households. Men hold doors open and women slam them in their faces.
Also, I’m really not sure her description of DNA is scientifically accurate.
Back to the column:
“It’s all so unfortunate – for women, not men. Feminism serves men very well: they can have sex at hello and even live with their girlfriends with no responsibilities whatsoever.”
Straw Feminists live in this land where someone can approach you and say “Hello” and suddenly you find yourself having sex with him. It is a magical place. Other denizens include unicorns, leprechauns, and Those Kids Who Are Having Rainbow Parties and Trying A Weird New Drug Made From Construction Paper.
Also, not sure that’s what “You had me at hello” meant but, well — let’s just keep going.
“It’s the women who lose. Not only are they saddled with the consequences of sex, by dismissing male nature they’re forever seeking a balanced life. The fact is, women need men’s linear career goals – they need men to pick up the slack at the office – in order to live the balanced life they seek.
So if men today are slackers, and if they’re retreating from marriage en masse, women should look in the mirror and ask themselves what role they’ve played to bring about this transformation.
That’s the solution. Women need to spend more time looking in the mirror and less time not being on pedestals.
Fortunately, there is good news: women have the power to turn everything around. All they have to do is surrender to their nature – their femininity – and let men surrender to theirs.If they do, marriageable men will come out of the woodwork.”
That’s what feminism threatens, after all. It’s the End of the Marriageable Men. It’s a bunch of Angry Women yelling at men who are just trying to be nice, but men are now sick of being yelled at, and so they are going to respond by not marrying ANYBODY. See what you’ve done, Feminism? Feminism, you are the reason there are no nice, marriageable men anywhere around. When Kelly’s boyfriend dumped her, Feminism, that was on your head.
In short, everybody get back to your quilting.
Maybe she has a point. Maybe the Nice Eligible Young Men They Used To Have Back in 1790 are going extinct. The traditional Husband, Patriarch of the Family, to whom the wife was supposed to submit is sliding out of fashion. If that’s the only model you’re looking for, the pickings are indeed slimmer.
But I don’t think the answer is to turn back and “submit to your femininity” and reduce men to the role of bringing meat to the cave.
She riffs on statistics from Pew, which note that since 1997, the percentage of 18-34 year-old men who list having a successful marriage as one of the most important things in their lives has dropped by 6 percentage points (from 35% to 29%) while among women 18-34 it has climbed (from 28% to 37%). Sure, there’s a gap, which is a change from 15 years ago.
But overall, Pew notes, “The shares of working-age women and men who say having a successful marriage is “one of the most important things” or a “very important” thing in their lives exceed 80% now, just as they did in 1997.” And the totals for men and women are within one percentage point of each other.
The mistaken assumption of all this is that a balance between work and life is something only women want. The contrary is true. The Pew study did demonstrate that women are doubling down, placing a higher value on all of the above: parenting, marriage, and careers — but so are men, especially when parenting is concerned. “Having it all” is not just for ladies any longer.
Maybe that’s the War on Men. Perhaps, in the War on Men, the Subculture of Men Who Insist In No Uncertain Terms That They Will Not Marry Because Women Are Doing It Wrong is, indeed, the first casualty. But I’m not sure it’s a loss.