Hillary Clinton’s defeat is wreaking havoc in the sisterhood. Celebrity feminists are especially distraught. “Girls” star Lena Dunham developed hives and fled to Sedona for spiritual renewal. Katy Perry took to Twitter to declare “THE REVOLUTION IS COMING.” For feminist icon Robin Morgan, the election is proof that “a diseased patriarchy is in a battle to the death with women.”
But less-excitable analysts are drawing more sober conclusions: Perhaps the women’s movement is too elitist and out of touch with ordinary citizens, especially working-class women. That seems right, but I would go one step further. Today’s feminism is not merely out of touch with everyday Americans; it’s out of touch with reality. To survive, it’s going to have to come back to planet Earth.
First of all, it’s time to stop calling the United States a patriarchy. A patriarchy is a system where men hold the power and women do not. Women do hold power in the United States — they lead major universities and giant corporations, write influential books, serve as state and federal judges and even manage winning presidential campaigns. American women, especially college-educated women, are the freest and most self-determining in human history. Why pretend otherwise?
Feminism is drowning in myth-information. Advocates never tire of telling us that women are cheated out of nearly a quarter of their salary; that one in four college women is sexually assaulted, or that women are facing an epidemic of online abuse and violence. Such claims are hugely distorted, but they have been repeated so often that they have taken on the aura of truth. Workplace discrimination, sexual assault and online threats are genuine problems, but to solve them women need sober analysis, not hype and spin. Exaggerated claims and crying wolf discredit good causes and send scarce resources in the wrong direction.
Today’s women’s movement also needs to reckon with the fact that men struggle just as much as women. Modern life is a complicated mix of burdens and advantages for each sex. Too often, feminism focuses on gender inequities among elites: CEOs, MIT astrophysicists, U.S. senators. It is true that there are too few women in those positions, but we need to consider the entire workforce for context. Most backbreaking, lethally dangerous jobs — roofer, logger, roustabout and coal miner, to name a few — are done by men. It is men — especially working-class men — who are disproportionately crushed, mutilated, electrocuted or mangled at work. Activists lament the dearth of women in the Fortune 500, but they fail to mention the Unfortunate 4,500 — the approximate number of men killed on the job every year.
Men are also the have-nots in education. Hispanic and Native American women are now more likely to attend college than white men. Unless we find ways to help them, a large and growing cohort of young men — white, black, Hispanic, you name it — are unlikely to find a place for themselves in the modern economy. When men languish, so do the women who love them.
Within living memory, the American women’s movement was a valiant, broad-based vehicle for social equality. It achieved historic victories and was rightly admired for its determination and success. But today, Big Feminism is a narrow, take-no-prisoners special-interest group. It sees the world as a zero-sum struggle between Venus and Mars. But most women want equality — not war. Men aren’t their adversaries — they are their brothers, sons, husbands and friends. As Henry Kissinger reportedly said, “No one will ever win the battle of the sexes. There’s too much fraternizing with the enemy.”
Robin Morgan’s death match with the patriarchy has always had limited appeal. Feminism needs to take women as they are, not as it wishes they would be. In a 2013 poll, Pew asked American mothers about their “ideal” working arrangement. Sixty-one percent said they would prefer to work part-time or not at all. Catherine Hakim, a sociologist at the London School of Economics, found similar preferences among Western European women. As journalist Tina Brown said, “There are more tired wives who want to be Melania sitting by the pool … than there are women who want to pursue a PhD in earnest self-improvement.” When women want the “wrong” things, feminists tend to write it off to entrenched sexism and internalized misogyny. But it’s 2016, not 1960. Why not credit women with free will and respect their choices?
Women’s activists are now planning a Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21. The organizers want to remind the new administration that women’s rights are human rights and for the world to “HEAR OUR VOICE,” in all caps. If I may offer some unsolicited advice: If that voice is calm and judicious rather than hyperbolic and harping, people just might listen.