I was thrown off my horse by strep throat, but I am planning to continue my series responding to Christina Hoff Sommers.
Cathy begins, I think, by misunderstanding what I meant when I said “If man-hating is so pervasive in contemporary feminism, why don’t men in feminism encounter it more?” Cathy responds:
Barry says he hasn’t seen any male-hating attitudes from feminists except for a few people on the Ms. boards way, way back. I’m guessing the late Andrea Dworkin, famous for such aperçus as, “Under patriarchy, every woman’s son is her potential betrayer and also the inevitable rapist or exploiter of another woman,” or “Male sexuality, drunk on its intrinsic contempt for all life, but especially for women’s lives…”, does not qualify? 1
But — like David Cohen, who I quoted — I was talking about the feminists I’ve directly interacted with. (Was this really so unclear in context, Cathy?) Alas, I never met Andrea Dworkin.
To be sure, there are some stunning anti-male quotes from Dworkin and a few others — quotes I’ve often seen recycled by critics of feminism. (Some of these quotes are out of context or fabricated, but some are real.) Are they representative of day-to-day feminism, of most feminists, or of current feminism? Not in my experience.
But this brings up something I’ve wondered about for quite a while. When I read MRAs, as well as “conservative feminists” like Christina Hoff Sommers, a narrative history of feminism tends to emerge, which goes something like this: Once upon a time there were the suffragettes, who were libertarian or conservative and they were Good. Then came the second wave feminists in the 60s and 70s, who fought for equal pay and the like, and they were Good. But in the 1980s came the Evil “gender feminists” or “victim feminists,” who turned feminism into man-hating victimology, and feminism has been Bad ever since.
But curiously enough, when reading Sommers and others, it quickly becomes apparent that most of their examples are from 60s and 70s feminism. And so Sommers makes a big deal of the word “ovulars,” a term from the 1960s that no one but Sommers herself uses nowadays. Dworkin, Young’s example, peaked in influence and prominence in the 70s, became a hugely controversial figure within feminism in the 80s, and pretty much faded from prominence after that. Most of the feminists I see quoted as proof of how awful and man-hating feminists are (Robin Morgan, Germaine Greer , Marilyn French, etc) came into prominence in the 60s and 70s.
60s and 70s feminism was, frankly, a lot wilder, and a lot more unrestrained. This has its good side (I’m a fan of some of Firestone’s wilder digressions), but also a negative side, in the unrestrained anti-male sexism of some feminist leaders. But it’s interesting that the peak of anti-male sexism in feminism — which I’d say was when Valerie Solanas shot Andy Warhol — happened before many of today’s feminists had even been born. Yet according to the conservative feminist narrative, feminism now is much worse than feminism then.
It’s a new century, but conservative feminists and MRAs are still nattering on about what Robin Morgan said in the 70s, or about the super bowl Sunday controversy from over a quarter century ago. Let me ask you this, Cathy: take stock of what feminists have been doing and saying this century. Do you really think that Andrea Dworkin saying “Male sexuality, drunk on its intrinsic contempt for all life” is typical of current-day feminism?
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Cathy also defends the relevance of The Vagina Monologues, which, I’ll remind readers, was the one and only example Sommers gave in her lecture to support her argument that feminist believe that “men are beasts.” I don’t find anything Cathy comes up with persuasive. Yes, The Vagina Monlogues are very popular, but it’s still fiction, and it’s still just one example. No honest person can claim with a straight face that a single work of fiction proves anything about feminism in general.
Analyzing pop culture is valuable; but to discuss a general trend in pop culture, one must analyze multiple works, and show that a pattern actually exists. Otherwise, all you have is cherry-picking — Sommers’ stock in trade.
So what is feminist pop culture? It’s Vagina Monologues, sure (and nothing wrong with that; not the greatest work of literature, but it’s funny and sexy and it’s raised tons of money for good causes); but it’s also Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the songs of Ani Defranco and the comedy of Wanda Sykes and a dozen other things. I think looking at all these things would produce a more complex, but more honest, picture of feminism than Sommers’.
When I suggested Sommers should be able to provide a couple of quotes from current, prominent feminists saying “men are beasts,” Cathy says I set the bar too high. Maybe, although I’d accept quotes that amount to the same thing (such as the Dworkin quotes Cathy recycled). But if I raise the bar too high, Cathy digs a trench and drops the bar in.
Here’s where I’d set the bar: Current feminists, please. Multiple quotes from this century. Quotes from actually published, known feminists, not students quoted in some student paper or something said in the comments section of a blog. And if you’re going to claim that these quotes represent current feminism, then the quotes should be from a representative variety of current feminism: not only white feminists, and not only radical feminists, and not only academic feminists. (Or, if the only quotes you can find are from a particular sub-group of feminists, say so, rather than falsely claiming that this represents all of current feminism.)
Is that a high bar? I’d say it’s a reasonable bar, given the extreme and far-reaching claims made by Sommers. If Sommers can’t provide reasonable evidence for her claims, then it’s up to her to moderate her claims, not up to me to lower the bar.
(Cross-posted at Blog by Barry.)