Fox News insist the War on Women was a myth pushed by Democrats. They also insist the War on Men, like the War on Christmas, is real. (More)

Backlash, Redux

In 1991, Susan Faludi’s well-researched and compellingly-written book Backlash set the media abuzz. Faludi presented a wealth of data showing that the 1980s had seen a proliferation of memes around a central nexus: feminism was bad for marriage, bad for men, even bad for women. While part of what is now called third wave feminism – broadening the scope of the women’s movement to include issues of race, class, sexual orientation, and gender identity – Faludi’s work focused more on gender roles and, specifically, a widespread and seemingly coordinated effort to shame and disparage career women in favor of traditional, stay-at-home mothers. In her introduction, Faludi quotes Mona Charen writing for The National Review:

In dispensing its spoils, women’s liberation has given my generation high incomes, our own cigarette, the option of single parenthood, rape crisis centers, personal lines of credit, free love, and female gynecologists. […] In return it has effectively robbed us of one thing upon which the happiness of most women rests – men.

The War on Men

Fast forward to last week and a column by Suzanne Venker, co-author of The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know – And Men Can’t say. Writing at Fox News – long known for their annual, mythical War on Christmas – Venker announces the War on Men:

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. 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.

Venker goes on to opine that women are “angry” and “defensive, though often not knowingly,” a clever bit of rhetorical sleight-of-hand. If I shrug off her claim, I clearly don’t realize how defensive I really am. If I rebut her claim, I prove it. Venker adds:

All the articles and books (and television programs, for that matter) put women front and center, while men and children sit in the back seat. But after decades of browbeating the American male, men are tired. Tired of being told there’s something fundamentally wrong with them. Tired of being told that if women aren’t happy, it’s men’s fault.

I’m not sure what articles, books, and television programs she means. Although most local stations have male and female news co-anchors, men dominate network and cable news. In last winter’s debate of whether health insurers should cover contraception with no added premiums or co-pays, male guests outnumbered women on cable news by over 2:1. Apparently 55 women being asked what they think about a women’s health issue – alongside 91 men – puts men “in the back seat.”

Venker says women have “undermined [men’s] ability to become self-sufficient in the hopes of someday supporting a family,” by competing with men in education and the workplace rather than letting men “love” us. Whatever that means.

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.

The solution, she writes, is for women to “surrender to their nature – their femininity.” The tears of relief just burst out. Pardon me while I fix my mascara.

A few minor details … and one glaring truth

Of course, neither Fox News nor Venker’s own biography mention that she’s the niece of veteran anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly, her co-author in The Flipside of Feminism. Fox News also dismissed the War on Women as “fear-mongering on ‘women’s issues,‘” despite the nationwide outburst of Republican-sponsored laws attacking women’s health care choices. Despite wishful thinking on the right, women did notice … and did turn out for President Obama and Democrats.

But while the War on Women is a myth, at least as Fox News tells it, they claim the War on Men is very real, waged by aggressive women who cruelly refuse to “surrender to their nature.” Just like the War on Christmas, waged by brutal retail clerks who savagely say “Happy Holidays.”

What these two non-wars have in common, of course, is privilege. Discussing an appearance on a talk show with four “angry white men,” sociologist Michael Kimmel wrote for CNN:

Each man told his story of how he was qualified for a job or qualified for a promotion that he did not get because of this putative reverse discrimination against white men. One ended his remarks with a line that served as the title for this show: “A black woman stole my job,” he declared.

Asked to respond, I had but one question for these guys, a question about the title of the show. Actually, my question was about one word in the title of the show. I wanted to know about the word “my.” Why did the men think it was their job? Why wasn’t the title of the show “A black woman got a job” or “A black woman got the job”? The answer, I argued, was that these men felt entitled to the position, and that any effort to make the workplace more equal was perceived, by those men, as a loss.

I thought of those men recently while reading Suzanne Venker’s addled rant against feminist women as the source of the unhappiness that saturates male-female relationships. I thought of how painful it is when you are used to having everything to now have only 80%. What a loss! Poor us! Equality sucks when you’ve been on top – and men have been on top for so long that we think it’s a level playing field.

And that’s the glaringly obvious truth behind the mythical Wars on both Christmas and Men. For Christians accustomed to a monopoly on our national dialogue, “Happy Holidays” is perceived as an attack … rather than a way to include Jews celebrating Hanukkah, blacks celebrating Kwanzaa, Muslims celebrating the Islamic new year, pagans celebrating the Winter Solstice, and the many people who enjoy Santa Claus, Miracle on 34th Street, A Visit from St. Nicholas, and decorating trees and exchanging gifts without needing a spiritual backdrop.

Likewise, men who pine for a lost monopoly on economic and political power see women in college classrooms or working to support families as attacking the very essence of masculinity … rather than as partners in a social model that allows men to be more emotionally complete than the Alpha Provider-Defender role.

And similarly, in the conservative worldview, working for racial equality is waging a War on Whites, supporting marriage equality is waging a War on Marriage, and pursuing fairness for hardworking families is waging Class Warfare.

The only peace conservatives will accept in these so-called wars is for hardworking families, persons of color, LGBTs, non-Christians – and women – to “surrender” to the “natures” of wealth, white, heterosexual, Christian, and male privilege.

I’d offer a pithy response, but I might sound “angry” and “defensive” … and we can’t have that….


Happy Thursday!