Though I’d heard about Maurine Dowd (the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times), I’d read nothing of her work before picking up Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide ( New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, c. 2005). This book appears to be a collection of her columns, which perhaps explains its elusive structure and disconnected paragraphs, for it often reads like a series of clever, snidely satirical remarks. She’s a hugely successful career woman but has, apparently, failed in the realm of romance and marriage, a her main message is this: “Little did I realize that the sexual revolution would have the unexpected consequence of intensifying the confusion between the sexes, leaving women in a tangle of dependence and independence as they entered the twenty-first century” (p. 8). She’s as confused as anyone, she says, and offers no answers—only an interested “observer’s” reflections on the issue.
Men, she thinks “prefer women who seem malleable and awed” (p. 42) at their mere presence.
So independent women such as Dowd, who have ascended to positions of power, fail to attract men. Proving her point, she says, “A friend of mine called nearly in tears the day she won a Pulitzer: ‘Now,’ she moaned, “I’ll never get a date!’” (p. 117). Her friend illustrates the fact that: “It took women a few decades to realize that everything they were doing to advance themselves in the boardroom could be sabotaging their chances in the bedroom” (p. 42). Consequently, Dowd laments, more and more women want, primarily, to be wives! This is evident in the sharp decline, during the past decade, in the numbers of women who retain their maiden name when they marry.
Women still seem to delight in being sexual objects of male attention, investing greatly in clothes and appearance. “Forty years after the dawn of feminism, the ideal of feminine beauty is more rigid and unnatural than ever” (p. 229). Sadly enough, from Dowd’s perspective: “American women are evolving backward—becoming more focused on their looks than ever. Feminism has been defeated by narcissism” (p. 233). Accordingly: “A lot of women now want to be Maxim [a men’s magazine that apparently celebrates the female form] babes as much as men want Maxim babes. So women have traveled an arc from fighting objectification to seeking it” (p. 183).
From Dowd’s perspective, however, this does not make men particularly admirable. She delights in heaping ridicule on President Bush and his associates—referring to them as “Bushies” or “ninnies” who lack the testosterone manifestly evident in Hillary Clinton and Condi Rice! The President, she declares, oppresses American women, and those “who wear low-slung jeans are losing rights in an administration where faith trumps both science and facts” (p. 202). Still more, she declaims: “If W. hadn’t been propelled into office party because of sex, he wouldn’t have been able to restrict sexual freedoms, such as gay marriage and women’s rights” (p. 202). She’s obviously fixated on things sexual, and in a lengthy section she ponders the differences between the male and female chromosomes. The male Y, she rejoices to report, is much smaller and simpler than the female X. Thus, to her way of thinking, males are less weighty than females. Indeed, with a few hundred “semen slaves” women could do quite nicely without men! Though reared a Roman Catholic—“I was a serf in a feudal society where men made the rules and set the tone” (p. 193), Dowd has clearly repudiated her Church and its male clergy, including Pope Benedict XVI, who is, she says “God’s Rottweiler,” an evil man who condemns such things as abortion.
Bill Clinton, as one would expect, receives Dowd’s endorsement—though she certainly dispenses suitably caustic comments concerning some of his activities. He (and Hillary’s obvious dependence upon him) put feminists like Dowd in a real dilemma. He supported their pro-abortion agenda but violated their canon of correct behavior and compromised the movement’s credibility. Hillary, particularly causes Dowd concern, for: “As part of their conjugal/political deal, or their ‘passionate codependence,’ as James Carville calls it, she always chose her husband and sold out her sisters” (p. 314). Amazingly, “It was a bold hat trick; she finished off what was left of feminism, yet remained a feminist icon.” (p. 314). She succeeded because of her victim’s status. As a martyr she appealed to the hearts of voters and was catapulted into the United States Senate. So the question Dowd poses to Hillary is this: “Will the ‘I am woman, see me grow’ senator ever be genuinely self-reliant from her husband? Or are men necessary?” (p. 338). For Hillary, apparently the answer is yes!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Harvey C. Mansfield, Professor of Government at Harvard University, has written an important book simply titled Manliness (New Haven: Yale University Press, c. 2006). He is troubled that our current effort to establish a “gender-neutral” society will suppress the manly aggressiveness necessary for human flourishing. Most manifestly: “The attempt to make our language gender-neutral reveals something of the ambition of our democracy today. A gender-neutral language implies a gender-neutral society, marking a pervasive change in the way we live our lives. Our society has adopted, quite without realizing the magnitude of the change, a practice of equality between the sexes that has never been known before in all human history” (p. 1).
This gender-neutral project, however, will run aground on the rigid rock of human nature, Mansfield argues. Following the Nietzschean agenda of Simone de Beauvoir, it fantasizes that: “’One is not born, but becomes, a woman’” (p. 133). Thus defying nature, gender-neutrality, not patriarchy, is the “social construction” that denies reality. Men and women are, he insists, significantly different, and he validates his position with extensive scholarly citations. Men, at their manly best, exemplify the Greek virtue of thumos, “a quality of spiritedness” that prompts them “to risk their lives in order to save their lives” (p. xi). They are assertive, crave honor and independence, and enjoy taking charge. Consequently, “every previous society, including our democracy up to now, has been some sort of patriarchy, permeated by stubborn, self-insistent manliness” (p. 58).
This healthy thumos, however, has been derailed in modern times by thinkers such as Darwin and (especially) Nietzsche, who have advanced a “manly nihilism,” providing “a license from science and philosophy to boast and to act without restraint” (p. 83). Rather than the chivalrous gentleman we get the “tough guy” for whom, according to Nietzsche: “’Nothing is true, everything is permitted’” (p. 111). Unfortunately, Mansfield argues, modern feminists, determined to gain equality at any price, embraced this Nietzschean nihilism as their gold standard, celebrating independence and autonomy. They determined to be free from men. “They wanted independence from morality, which kept them in subordination to men under the yoke of the ‘doubled standard’; and from nature, giving them wombs, compelling them to be mothers, which kept them subordinate to men; and—is the point coming into view?—from men. In order to be free of men, these women wanted to change morality and deny nature” (p. 123).
Mansfield provides in-depth analyses of the major feminist thinkers, from Mary Wollstonecraft to Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Frieden. He distinguishes “radical” feminists, who openly attack and would destroy the family, from “moderate” feminists, who tolerate, but do not really support it. He is particularly effective in exposing their reliance upon Marx and Nietzsche. For example, they have committed themselves to “consciousness-raising,” a Neo-Marxist strategy “apparently first used in 1969 in the Red Stockings Manifesto, coauthored by Shulamith Firestone when she helped found a radical feminist group in New York” (p. 15). Betty Frieden appropriated the phrase, and it quickly permeated the feminist movement.
By embracing nihilism, modern feminists failed to discern another approach that might have proved more worthy: Liberalism. Mansfield finds in philosophers such as Locke, Mill, and Burke an ideal of chivalrous manliness that stresses self-discipline and commitment to traditional standards. Similarly, the classical virtue ethics of Aristotle offer resources for reasonable arguments on behalf of women’s rights. These thinkers take nature “as the guide for nurture” (p. 202). They deal with reality rather than imagined utopias. They appreciate the importance of courage and emphasize the need of authority in securing the good society. And, importantly, they agree with Aristotle “that the sexes are not autonomous but related, hence that the ideal of autonomy put forth by the women’s movement will not work. Women see themselves in relation to men, and men, who are spirited, have a need for women that they often do not care to admit” (p. 213).
This is a deeply informed and richly rewarding treatise. Unfortunately, though the book seeks to be address a general audience it cannot escape the academic tone of its author. Without sufficient background in social and political philosophy, readers would be recurrently perplexed by some Mansfield’s argument. But it is, unlike many critiques of feminism, a solidly reasoned and trenchant analysis.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
John Eldridge largely anticipated Mansfield’s argument in a more reader-friendly and Christian publication titled Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, c. 2001). A famous Teddy Roosevelt declaration nicely sums up the book’s message: “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly . . . who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself inn a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory or defeat” (p. xiii).
Deep in his heart every man, Eldridge says, longs “for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue” (p. 9). Thus men prefer football to ballet, adventure films to “chick flicks.” They long for mountains to climb, not beachfront boardwalks to stroll. “The masculine heart needs a place where nothing is prefabricated, modular, nonfat, zip lock, franchised, on-line, microwavable. Where there are no deadlines, cell phones, or committee meetings. Where there is room for the soul” (p. 5). Unfortunately, for the past several decades a gender-neutral society has endeavored to emasculate men.
Worse still, from Eldridge’s viewpoint, Christianity has contributed to the problem by urging men to be “nice guys.” In fact: “Really Nice Guys. We don’t smoke, drink, or swear; that’s what makes us men. Now let me ask my male readers: In all your boyhood dreams growing up, did you ever dream of becoming a Nice Guy?” (p. 7). Jesus is portrayed, all too often, as a supremely “sensitive,” compassionate caregiver. As Dorothy Sayers discerned long ago, “the church has ‘very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah,’ making him ‘a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies’” (p. 26).
Pale curates and pious old ladies would marshal men not into armies but into small groups for sharing and caring, holding hands and baring their feelings. But, Eldridge insists: “We don’t need accountability groups; we need fellow warriors, someone to fight alongside, someone to watch our back. . . . . The whole crisis in masculinity today has come because we no longer have a warrior culture, a place for men to learn to fight like men. We don’t need a meeting of Really Nice Guys; we need a gathering of Really Dangerous Men” (p. 175). Men long for the camaraderie that Shakespeare’s Henry V declared at the battle of Agincourt: “’We, we happy few, we band of brothers, / For he to-day that sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother’” (p. 175).
Wild at Heart basically sets forth Eldridge’s own views, rooted in his own experiences. But I’ve had students who’ve read and positively responded to his message. And the book provides, I think, a healthy antidote to the therapeutic messages so dominant in today’s educational and clerical circles.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Only a woman would dare write, as has Kate O’Bierne, a book titled Women Who Make the World Worse: and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military and Sports (New York: Sentinel, c. 2006). O’Bierne is a lawyer, the Washington editor of National Review magazine, and a regular panelist on CNN’s The Capital Gang. For 30 years she has witnessed, with increased alarm, the ravages of radical feminism, and she writes this book to alert us to its harms. Her thesis, as the book’s final sentence indicates, is this: “All of these women who make the world worse by waging a destructive war between the sexes are at war with Mother Nature” (p. 199).
First, consider the plight of the modern family, one of the primary targets of radical feminists, who want the government to assume the role of fathers in traditional families. Influential women, such as Penn State’s renowned sociologist Jessie Bernard, have denounced the “’destructive nature’ of marriage” (p. 3). Motherhood, she claims, harms women’s health. The very desire for children, to her, is “a sexist social construction” (p. 3) rather than a natural hunger. Textbooks written by the likes of Professor Bernard contain a litany of anti-marriage complaints. Judy Aulette’s Changing Families, for example, devotes three chapters to marriage and says nothing positive about it. She does, however, invoke Friedrich Engels to conclude “‘that marriage was ‘created for a particular purpose: to control women and children’” (p. 6).
Next, consider day care, which assumes that hired hands can rear children better than moms at home. Radical feminists idealize socialist systems, such as Sweden’s, and insist that women find meaning in life through making money. Ignoring the fact that most women actually prefer to invest energy in bearing and rearing children, the leaders of the women’s movement insist they be freed from the burdens of childcare. They frequently urge young women to put careers first, attaining financial success, before considering pregnancy. They fail, however, to disclose important truths. For one thing, “most current studies show that female fertility begins to drop at age twenty-seven, and by age thirty can decline by as much as 50 percent” (p. 44). Thinking, as many young women seem to, that one can start a family in their mid-thirties, defies one of the more important “facts of life.” So too it is evident that ordinary women cannot “have it all.” One can effectively devote her energies to either a job or to children, but not both. Third, O’Bierne exposes “lies about wages, discrimination, and harassment.” In truth, she says: “There is no discriminatory pay gap between working men and women” (p. 50). Unmarried women who work full-time receive the same pay as their male counterparts (when one makes honest comparisons considering educational background and ability). Women who stop working, or work part time, to devote themselves to their children, obviously receive less pay. But they choose to do so and apparently find much fulfillment in so doing. “A Pew Research Center survey found that 86 percent of mothers rated their children a 10 for their importance as a source of happiness, on a scale of 1 to 10, while only 30 percent of employed women rate their job as a 10” (p. 195). Women also choose careers in areas, such as education, that do not pay as much as more rigorous or dirty or dangerous professions.
Fourth, there is a militant sex bias in America’s schools, significantly privileging females. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for example, explaining the court’s Virginia Military Institute case, asserted that all-female colleges are manifestly justifiable while all-male schools are constitutionally illicit! Under the influence of feminists such as Carol Gilligan, teachers have “resolved to transform education to eliminate ‘male-identified attributes’ like ‘reason and logic’ in favor of ‘feminine ways of knowing’” (p. 68). Thus O’Bierne titles her chapter: “In the Classroom . . . Boys Will Be Girls.” Consequently history, once a record of heroic exploits, of battles and adventures appealing to boys, has been “rewritten to achieve the Ms.-education of our children” (p. 74). Games involving competition or rough play are abolished on behalf of feminine “sharing” of rewards and emotions.
In chapter five, “Spoil Sports—Boys benched,” O’Bierne details the decline of athletic opportunities for boys. This is especially due to the implementation of Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, whereby “the goalpost has been moved: from increasing athletic opportunities for women to reducing the number of men playing sports to achieve parity between the sexes” (p. 93). Dramatically, between 1992 and 1997, “over 20,000 male slots on team rosters were eliminated,” while “the number of female athletes increased by 5,800” (p. 98). Major men’s programs, in swimming and wrestling, for example, were simply eliminated. All this has transpired despite the fact that women simply don’t enjoy sports as much as men. Only 15% of the women at elite all-women’s colleges such as Wellesley voluntarily engage in athletics. Radical feminists, O’Brien contends, have simply found traction in varsity athletics for a deeply political agenda: remaking the nation into a gender-neutral society.
The military has similarly suffered. Radical feminists have long insisted that women in the armed services enjoy all the opportunities available to their male counterparts, including combat. Doing so has involved propagating the “woman-as-warrior myth” (p. 120). While crying out for equality, however, they have simultaneously pled for special treatment. Thus at West Point women are given 5:30 minutes to complete an obstacle course that men must run in 3:20. Women only need do 48 push-ups whereas men must do 72 in a two minute period. (I just did 100 in 60 seconds, and I’m 65, so the task’s not too tough!).
In a chapter entitled “Abortion—the Holy Grail,” O’Brien says that “Modern feminism’s biggest enemies are the smallest humans” (p. 157). Though 19th century feminists, such as Susan B. Anthony, were staunchly anti-abortion, their successors, emboldened by Supreme Court decisions, are militantly, uniformly pro-abortion. Though they claim to support the nation’s women, in fact, as the late pro-life Democratic Governor of Pennsylvania, Robert Casey, said, “’most women in America opposed abortion on demand, while the most avid supporters of abortion are unmarried males between 18 and 35’” (p. 171).
Unfortunately for radical feminists, they “have squared off against Mother Nature, and she’s no feminist” (p. 180). Like defying the law of gravity, the sexual revolution, with its androgynous illusions, is designed for disaster. There are absolutely inflexible sex differences that we must recognize and respect. Indeed, doing so “can liberate women—from the feminist orthodoxy in conflict with their natural talents and desires” (p. 180). Common sense sex stereotypes are, in fact demonstrably true. “On the first day of life, girls are more drawn to a picture of a face, and newborn boys to a mechanical mobile. At a year, boys have shown a stronger preference for a video of cars, while girls at age one prefer a talking head” (p. 190). “Mothers are particularly good at reading babies’ faces” (p. 190), and a “study of 186 societies found that mothers, with their superior skills, are the exclusive or primary caretakers of infants” (p. 191). Boys prefer hierarchical structures while girls enjoy equitable, empathetic relationships. “Women judge character and moods better than men” (p. 194). Men are generally “more aggressive and enjoy superior math skills, and women are, on average, more nurturing, with better verbal skills” (p. 182). Men looking for a mate mainly desire a beautiful woman; women primarily value resourceful men who will provide for them.
In short: truth really matters and women who deny reality make the world worse!