"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Why feminism is sexist

With less to lose, I am freer to speak my mind than most members of the American chattering class. So I'll just say it straight: Feminism is sexist. But why?

It doesn't have to be, of course. And until fairly recently, it wasn't. Many of the American feminist pioneers before our time truly believed in, and worked to bring about, equal dignity and opportunity for the sexes. To a considerable extent, they succeeded. But "third-wave" feminism has moved well beyond that. It exists to secure special privileges for women at the expense of men, privileges for which women are thought to qualify as the world's premier victim class. Many women realize what's going on and, partly for that reason, refuse to call themselves feminists. But not many men realize what's going on. They're too chivalrous, or too distracted by their work, or too demoralized by their lack of work. But they had better realize it, if they're to do something about it. And they should.

Friedrich Nietzsche explained as follows why he opposed "equality" for women: "Women will never be satisfied with mere equality. The war between the sexes is eternal, and peace can only come with victory and the total subordination of men." In its time, that witticism was merely flippant. But no longer is it merely flippant. Mind you, I doubt men will ever be subordinate to women across the board, as distinct from being so in some spheres and cases. That's because most women need to respect a man in order to tolerate him, and few women respect a man they can dominate. In my time, I've known only one woman who truly respected the husband she ruled; apparently, no other type of relationship had ever occurred to either of them. But that's rare. Most women don't really want to be the dominant sex any more than most men want them to be. So it won't happen. Yet over the last fifteen or twenty years, I've come to appreciate the witty woman who once explained why Roman-Catholic priests may not marry: "No man can serve two masters." Among our élites, feminism has evolved into a movement for female superiority, and it's having a disproportionate influence on legal and cultural norms. That is to the detriment not only of men but, ultimately, of women themselves.

Consider some facts about contemporary America that, as far as I know, nobody denies. A substantial majority of students graduating from college are women, who as a class are more literate and cultured than men. Two-thirds of divorces are initiated by women—almost nine-tenths when children are involved. Women as a class are no longer greater victims of divorce than men as a class; indeed, most divorced fathers find themselves living at the margins of their children's lives, while of course being obliged to pay for them. I wouldn't call that sitting in the catbird seat. The sectors of our economy in the best shape are health care and education—fields dominated by women—while those in the worst shape are construction and manufacturing—fields where men have traditionally predominated. On average, single women outearn single men, and about one-third of wives now earn more than their husbands. Given current trends in education and employment, the trend in relative earnings will only accelerate. I could go on, but the point should be clear: in America and a growing number of other countries, women as a class are not subordinate to men. Nobody's complaining about that, and nobody should.

Of course it's been widely noted lately (here's one example) that women on the whole are less happy than they were in the 1970s, both absolutely and relative to men. Many women are disappointed to discover, in their exhaustion, that few can be it all, do it all, and have it all—at least not all at once, or indefinitely. But the same is true for men, and times are hard for most people, men as well as women. Although women still have plenty to worry about, and probably always will, that's not primarily the fault of "men" at this point.

One reason for that is something I have argued before: Hardly anybody believes that the sexes are inherently the same save for reproductive plumbing. So people don't believe the sexes should be treated the same. I gave numerous illustrations of what I mean, and I could add more. One anecdote will suffice.

A thirtyish man who had been a student of mine contacted me for advice. He had started work in an office where he was one of only two men among a few dozen women in a female-owned franchise. Since several of the women were quite attractive (including his mini-skirted, 25-year-old boss), the man wanted to know how he should behave so as to avoid any possibility of being accused of sexual harassment. I advised: "Well, you know how you'd like those women to behave toward you? That's how you should not behave toward them." After his sardonic chuckle, he agreed and was most appreciative. I've told this true story roughly a dozen times to people of both sexes; they all agree I gave good advice. In fact, their only criticism was of that young man, for needing such advice.

The moral? Everybody knows that sexual-harassment laws exist primarily to protect women from men, yet nobody finds that "discriminatory," meaning "invidiously discriminatory." That's because people know, instinctively, the differences between the sexes. Such differences run across the board, which is why the so-called "Equal-Rights Amendment" didn't pass in the 1970s, when second-wave feminism was at its peak. That amendment is still dead. Despite what many Americans say out of a misplaced sense of political correctness, they don't really want the sexes to be treated the same. And the reasons for that generally don't have to be spelled out. Some people, to be sure, feel a need to pretend that all the reasons are "merely cultural" and thus plastic. But not many of them believe that—not when push comes to shove. Nor should they.

So in America today, women are not subordinate to men, even as neither women nor men believe the sexes should be treated the same. Why then the chorus of complaints that women "earn less money on average" than men, even though far more men than women put in 80-hour weeks on the job, and even though far more women than men, naturally, choose part-time or zero employment so as to care for their children? Why is abortion doggedly defended as "a woman's right" when the mother doesn't want her child, but the father must pay 18 years for children allowed to be born, even if he didn't want them? Why do we see more and more "women's-health" centers, but no men's-health centers? Why is it perfectly fine to depict men in TV ads as bumblers and imbeciles, but not women? Why is it socially acceptable for women to boast of and laugh about the violence they would do to a cheating spouse, but not men? Was Nietzsche right? Will women not be satisfied until men have been totally subjugated?

I don't think so. At bottom, the problem is that feminism's generational momentum has outlived the need for it. Women who are Hillary Clinton's age grew up in a very different world from that of women who are Lady Gaga's age, but it's the Hillarys of the world who can and do push "women's issues," as if we're still living in the 70s. Lady Gaga, by contrast, takes her freedom and success for granted—just like the growing army of conservative female lawyers and politicians out there. So I think feminist sexism too shall pass. It will pass not when the secretaries to those women are men, but only when men have as much as those women to be unhappy about.

Friday, September 02, 2011

People, I'm religious but not "spiritual"

I just had to say that in this medium, as I once did on Facebook. The consternation I aroused there bodes well for the traffic I hope to get here. But my saying it here and now is not just lust for vainglory.

This morning I saw a tweet from The Anchoress that called for more than the ten seconds I usually devote to tweets. It linked to an article by one Lillian Daniel, a minister of the United Church of Christ—that bastion of all things PC—entitled "Spiritual but Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me." I'm delighted to find a liberal-Protestant minister who's knowledgeable enough about this sort of thing to be bored by it. Rev. Daniels dealt with her boredom by producing that article for a website aimed at the more engaged among her co-religionists. I deal with mine by determinedly affirming the opposite of the slogan that bores me. But the article itself piqued my interest because, as I had hoped, it perfectly explains what's behind the all-too-American phenomenon of "spirituality" without "religion."

From her plane's seat, Daniels wrote (emphasis added):
Thank you for sharing, spiritual-but-not-religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating. Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a mighty cloud of witnesses instead? Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community? Because when this flight gets choppy, that's who I want by my side, holding my hand, saying a prayer and simply putting up with me, just like we try to do in church.
Exactly. For wisdom about and love of things divine, I need to trust the transgenerational assembly (ecclesia) of people I worship with far more than I trust myself. I may not trust the old lady next to me in the pew at Mass more than myself—she of the blue hair, the off-key singing, the suspicious scowl. I certainly don't look to that guy at the other end of the pew, that middle-aged used-car salesman sporting a beer belly and an oleaginous grin. And I do have an almost-unbreakable habit of imagining how much better a job I could do than the priest up there—or than our bishop, for that matter. But what I do trust, far more than myself or them, is who and what we all love, and what it all represents. I don't want to make God in my own image any more than I want to make him in the image of the average layperson or clergyman. What I want is what we all know we need to be a part of: the Body of Christ. That includes more than his Risen body in heaven. It includes even more than the Eucharist. Necessarily, it includes the Church, which St. Paul did after all call "the Body of Christ." Extra ecclesiam nulla salus is a dogma because we can be incorporated into Christ only through his Body, the Church.

That's the essential point utterly missed by the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd: those who want God without his people, Christ without his Church in all her challenging and irritating concreteness. The spiritual-but-not-religious can hardly avoid idolatry. Recoiling from the human imperfections of God's people, especially those of the leadership, they will settle only for a God who conforms to their ideas of what's appropriate, rather than vice-versa. And that's why I call myself "religious but not spiritual." I want to awaken people to the idolatry they confuse with integrity. That way, they might stop boring me.