“It’s a bad time to be a boy in America” (p. 13) writes Christina Hoff Sommers in The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming our Young Men (New York: Simon & Schuster, c. 2000). She writes to document “how it became fashionable to attribute pathology to millions of healthy male children” while ignoring the positive contributions normal men have made to our world (p. 14). Militant feminists, armed with inaccuracies and untruths, have successfully shaped a culture profoundly hostile to men. Many of them want to abolish the “masculinizing” influences in boys’ lives so as to make them “less competitive, more emotionally expressive, more nurturing–more, in short, like girls. Gloria Steinem summarizes the views of many in the boys-should-be-changed camp when she says, ‘We need to raise boys like we raise girls'” (p. 44).
Some, conveniently ignoring the growing evidence that, as Lionel Tiger said, “‘Biology is not destiny, but it is good statistical probability'” (p. 89) even seek to deny any biological basis for significant differences between boys and girls. Egalitarianism will not tolerate such! Children, the argument says, are born without “gender” and are simply shaped by their environment. Just teach boys to play with dolls they’ll be gentle and nurturing. Same sex play should be discouraged, for boys must be shaped in accord with the unisex model. One feminist philosopher, Sandra Lee Bartky claims we’re “bisexual” at birth but, in our patriarchal society, we’re “‘transformed into male and female gender personalities, the one destined to command the other to obey'” (p. 86). To eliminate such inequities, gender feminists say, demands revolutionary social action.
The central figure in the war against boys is Harvard University’s Professor Carol Gilligan, the first professor of gender studies at Harvard, “the matron saint of the girl crisis movement” (p. 17). Since publishing In a Different Voice in 1982, she has assumed a celebrity’s role in the feminist movement. Gilligan and her chorus of “gender free” advocates claim that girls suffer various forms of discrimination in modern America. They say girls suffer the loss of self-esteem and fare poorly in schools. They then argue that various remedial strategies be adopted to rectify the hostile environments girls face in the schools and society at large. That neither Gilligan nor her followers have presented credible evidence has not discredited their stance in the educational and political establishments. Gilligan’s “research” is largely anecdotal, and her “data” has never been published so as to be tested. Indeed, some of the most frequently cited studies (used to persuade Congress to enact feminist-sponsored legislation) conducted by the American Association of University Women and the Wellesley Center, has been exposed by Judith Kleifeld as “‘politics dressed up as science'” (p. 41).
But, to tell the truth, Sommers shows how “by the early 1990s American girls were flourishing in unprecedented ways” (p. 20). Data provided by the U.S. Department of Education and peer-reviewed scholarly studies all prove “that far from being shy and demoralized, today’s girls outshine boys. Girls get better grades. They have higher educational aspirations” (p. 24). They take harder courses and more advance placement exams. They read more and do better in art and music. “Conversely, more boys than girls are suspended from school. More are held back and more drop out” (p. 25). One scholarly study of 99,000 students’ assets showed girls doing better than boys in 34 of 40 identifiable areas.
More than mere disadvantages, boys increasingly encounter overt hostility in the schools! We now have such things as “girls-only holidays.” Recemt “harassment” definitions now include teasing and typically boyish behavior such as a six year old kissing a classmate. Games like tag are now forbidden, and activities stressing equality are praised in many schools. Consequently, boys are quickly falling behind in the schools. But boys need strict discipline, structured classrooms, competition–the very things progressive educators dislike. Knowledge-based classes, not emotion-laden self-esteem strategies, motivate boys. Schools in England have recently revamped their programs to target boys, and the success is dramatic. Such needs to be done in America, Sommers says, to stop the steep decline we’re witnessing in our young males.
The War Against Boys follows up Sommers’ earlier treatise, Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women (New York: Simon & Schuster, c. 1994). While she supports “equity feminism,” the movement to attain “equal pay for equal work,” educational opportunities and basic human rights, she contends “gender feminism” represents a militant minority which distorts data and pursues a power-hungry political agenda ultimately harmful to women. “Noble lies,” such as the one told in 1993 by Lenore Walker, the author of The Battered Woman, concerning the increase of violence against women on Super Bowl Sundays, are justified “for the good of the cause.”
Sommers specifically attacks some of the outlandish claims which have fueled gender feminism. Gloria Steinem, for example, in Revolution from Within, claimed that 150,000 women die each year because of anorexia. Naomi Wolf, in Beauty Myth, wove the word “holocaust” into her outcry over this. Checking the claims, Sommers found that 150,000 American women yearly suffer from anorexias nervosa–but less than a hundred actually die from the disorder! Yet the Steinem assertion appears in Ann Landers’ columns and college textbooks. Fed a constant diet of distortions in women’s studies programs and media myths, “young feminist ideologues coming out of our nation’s colleges are even angrier, more resentful, and more indifferent to the truth than their mentors” (p. 18).
Equally dishonest is the assertion that girls suffer more “self-esteem” problems than boys. An oft-cited study by the American Association of University Women made this claim and it has entered the public consciousness and from there to laws and public policies. Yet no article in any refereed journal substantiates it. Similarly, the 1992 “The Wellesley Report” charged that our “schools shortchange girls.” In fact, girls excel in virtually every aspect of schooling. Only in math and science do boys score higher. The Wellesley Report also noted that girls try to commit suicide more often than boys–but it neglected to mention that far more boys actually take their lives.
Central to this feminist agenda is victimization. A litany of female sufferings pervades the writings and conferences orchestrated by the likes of Steinem and Wolfe. To mobilize an empathetic public, women must be portrayed “at risk” in various areas. Particularly powerful is the portrait of battered women, victims of “domestic violence” which pervades the media. To rectify things, they advocate “a utopian ideal of social transformation” (p. 51). Just as Marx urged the oppressed workers of the world to unite and shed their chains, so too his feminist progeny call on women (abused and oppressed in patriarchal societies) to rebel and create a wondrous world shaped by feminine virtues.
When the facts don’t support the “violence” message, militant feminists simply ignore them. Richard Gelles and Murray Strauss, probably the finest students of domestic violence, have devoted decades to their research. Once favored by feminists because of their knowledge, Gelles and Strauss fell from grace once when their data contradicted feminism’s “patriarchal” thesis. Violence in families is certainly a problem. But women as frequently as men, and siblings more frequently than parents, initiate it. And most “violence” is minor–less than one percent of the violent acts actually do serious harm to the victim. Importantly, “more than 84 percent of families are not violent, and among the 16 percent who are, nearly half the violence (though not half the injuries) is perpetrated by women” (p. 195). Yet The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence brazenly, dishonestly claims that 50 percent of all women will suffer violence from their spouses!
To implement their designs, radical feminists have found public schools and universities fertile fields. History textbooks have been re-written, exaggerating the role of women–at times portraying “Herstory” as the real story. When challenged to provide evidence for certain claims, one woman argued that since the actual evidence had been suppressed the story must be manufactured to tell what women want told! Male authors such as Melville and Henry James have been replaced by Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Alice Walker! Logic and rationality, forms of “vertical thinking,” have been disparaged as “phallocentric” and thus banished from the classrooms. One feminist philosopher, Joyce Trebilcot rejects such male constructs as “truth,” “knowledge,” and “science.” Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia has been branded “Newton’s Rape Manual” by Sandra Harding (p. 66).
Sommers also addresses such issues as “rape research,” “the backlash myth,” and “gender wardens.” Needless to say, she incessantly looks for the truth and finds feminist “scholarship” riddled with error and manipulation. There are legitimate female concerns, problems which need serious research and reform. Unfortunately, Sommers shows, these are not what interest the militant feminists who dominate both the academy and the dominant media. For her efforts (as you might expect) Sommers has been savagely attacked by the National Organization of Women. Yet they have learned not to appear with her in a debate or public forum, for her logic and evidence have proved too daunting.
Ann Douglas provides important historical perspectives in The Feminization of American Culture (New York: The Noonday Press, c. 1977, 1998). She’s mainly interested in the 19th century’s transformation of New England’s religion. She documents “the vitiation of Calvinist theology at the hands of a group of proto-feminist white middle-class women writers intent on bringing themselves into new positions of power, and a cadre of liberal Protestant ministers anxious to shore up their own fast-eroding status” (p. xi). William James, Sr. noted that “‘religion in the old virile sense has disappeared, and been replaced by a feeble Unitarian sentimentality'” (p. 17). The doctrinal rigors of Calvinism–with its emphases on sin, salvation, and self-sacrifice–dissolved, James thought, into an emasculated tenderness which surfaced in the liberal clergy’s pacifism during the Civil War.
Reducing “faith” to feelings of dependency or good-will or whatever, “the Protestant minister became the only professional other than the housewife who ceased to overtly command, much less monopolize, any special body of knowledge” (p. 165). God, to Noah Webster, was an “Indulgent Parent.” As American preachers, such as William Ellery Channing, embraced liberal theology, they simultaneously cultivated their inner feelings and captivated female parishioners who, like Mary Baker Eddy, sought to “feed the famished affections” (p. xii). Unlike lawyers and doctors, who mastered important disciplines respected by men, “the minister increasingly fell back upon an inner parish of women and those men who had been reduced to playing the woman’s role; his congregation consisted of those who were feeling rather than thinking” (p. 204). Such ministers (unfortunately in Douglas’ view) lost that admirable masculine toughness which the Church needs to be the Church.
Theology shifted. Jonathan Edwards’ thought lost out to the “New Divinity” position, thus shifting from a “basically paternal (or gubernatorial) and authoritarian view to a fundamentally maternal and affective one” (p. 124). Horace Bushnell personified the new view, singularly celebrating God’s love and revering Christ for “meeting men on mortal terrain, shaping himself to human needs, offering himself as a model not as a governor” (p. 130). Bushnell thought “‘forgiveness is man’s deepest need and highest achievement'” (p. 140) and that self-forgiveness is one’s primary task. “Man’s conversion experience is no longer an acceptance of God so much as an acceptance of himself, and Bushnell understood this as a function of happiness, of nurture, and of process” (p. 140).
To understand our world, such historical studies prove invaluable. Though Douglas’s focus is rather restricted–and her analyses often problematic–she provides a rich narrative which illuminates some significant developments in this nation’s history.
Taking the whole of Christian history as his subject, Leon J. Podles portrays The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity (Dallas: Spence Publishing Company, c. 1999). He begins with the demonstrable observation that in the West Christian churches appeal more to women than men. Negating feminist complaints concerning “the patriarchal tendencies of Christianity, men are largely absent from the Christian churches of the modern Western world. Women go to church; men go to football games” (p. 3). “The Methodist Church,” he quips, “is a women’s club at prayer” (p. xv). Women prefer a heart-felt faith, whereas men relish logic and discipline. To the degree that Christian churches cater to feminine preferences, they attract women and alienate men. Men generally eschew the soft, nurturing, non-combative message and culture of today’s churches. Yet “men do not show this same aversion to all churches and religions. The Orthodox seem to have a balance, and Islam and Judaism have a predominantly male membership. Something is creating a barrier between Western Christianity and men, and that something is the subject of this book” (p. ix).
Women often envision God as loving, forgiving, nurturing. To a degree at least, women “constructed an image of Jesus as they wished men would be: sensitive, willing to reveal themselves in speech, always ready to talk about their relationship. Such men are irritating to other men and strike them as effeminate. The masculine objection is not to love, but to self-revelation through words rather than actions” (p. 124). Men envision God as righteous and powerful. A man “seeks out dangers and tests of his courage and wears the scars of his adventures proudly” (p. 43). He readily risks his life for the good of those he loves, for the safety of his community. He’s motivated to save others! “[O]f the twenty most dangerous civilian occupations, all but one are almost entirely male” (p. 44). Men desire a religion which appeals to their hunger for heroism, opportunities to face danger and thereby prove oneself manly. Discipline and pain, however costly, validate one’s efforts and provide meaning for the competitor. In America, revivalist preaching, with its condemnation of sin and call to repentance– combined with its promise of “death and rebirth” as a pathway to virtue and holy masculinity–strongly appeals to men. Crisis experiences, conversions, are far more important to men than to women.
The Old Testament reveals a thoroughly masculine Yahweh, a God who freely loves, guides and disciplines His people. “Only in the Hebrew Scriptures do we find an all-powerful and all-good Father-God” (p. 67). Under the OT’s patriarchal system, “fathers care for their families and find their emotional centers in their offspring. In ancient Israel, ‘the image of father was not primarily one of authority and power, but one of adoptive love, covenant bonding, tenderness, and compassion.’ Patriarchy, we can easily forget, was and is a great achievement in the face of the male tendency to promiscuity and alienation from children and the women who bear them” (p. 67). Hardly a cross for women to bear, patriarchy is one of the graceful gifts granted them by a loving Father. This pattern was sustained in Christian circles for more than a millenium. Martyrs and monks, valiant warriors of the Lord, were celebrated, and the portrait of God as Father, Son and Spirit provided a rich nexus for a proper appreciation of both masculine and feminine traits.
In his concluding chapter, “The Future of Men in the Church,” Podles ventures some suggestions. “The crisis of the Church,” he says, “in every age is a crisis of saints. There is no modern, accessible model of saintly lay masculinity in Western culture. A man can be holy, or he can be masculine, but he cannot be both” (p. 207). Importantly, he says, “Feminism and homosexual propaganda dominate the liberal churches, and both drive men even further away” (p. 196). On the other hand, some conservative Evangelicals, such as Promise Keepers, seem to recognize what men crave and how to reach them with the Gospel. “The holy is a masculine category: men develop their masculine identity by a pattern of separation, both biological and cultural, and to be holy means to be separated. The more transcendent God is, the holier he is and the more masculine he is” (p. 197).
Today’s feminist theologians, consequently, pose a threat to the Faith akin to ancient Gnosticism, for they seem determined to eliminate all vestiges of the masculine in God, are deconstructing the Trinity. Liturgies celebrating “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier” replace those devoted to “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” To the extent they succeed, to the extent women take control of the Church, men will simply depart. For they are not interested in a “Church Impotent.”