Warren Farrell rose to fame as the author of a feminist book called The Liberated Man. He went on to give talks to sold-out crowds of mostly women and routinely got standing ovations. According to Farrell, such responses began to trouble him. He suspected that he was unintentionally pandering. So, he started including the male perspective on some gender issues. His audience fell away. Whereas famous American talk show host Phil Donahue had picked him up from the airport in person, Farrell was now persona non grata. Feminists called radio and TV stations to say that if Farrell was interviewed, they would boycott those outlets.
The story that Farrell tells about the recent history of gender relations begins with Betty Friedan in the 1960s. Friedan was enthusiastic about women entering the work force. However, she had some major caveats about how women ought to go about doing this. Friedan figured that if women wanted access to jobs traditionally done by men, they ought to emphasize that many women are capable of exhibiting characteristics more traditionally associated with men and with doing jobs well. These would include such things as being strong, capable, competent, self-reliant and so on. Friedan was emphatic, according to Farrell, that under no circumstances should women claim to be victims. Victimhood implies weakness, subjugation, inability to look after oneself, and the need to be saved and protected. None of that seemed compatible with being chosen for employment, especially in more traditionally male occupations, nor with the likelihood of gaining respect for a job well done.
Many 1980s feminists were scathing about fairy tales and the depiction of princesses being passive and helpless and waiting to be rescued by the knight in shining armor. In the context of the women’s movement since the 1960s, this seems like rank hypocrisy because against Friedan’s wishes and advice, the women’s movement did indeed describe themselves as victims. It was just too tempting a strategy to give up, never mind the inconsistency with what they were trying to achieve – a sense of equality with men and the notion that women were just as capable and strong.
Farrell’s short-hand for this strategy is ‘the damsel in distress.’ From a feminist point of view, one would think this would be anathema, as the 1980s feminists claimed to think. However, what one might call ‘victim power’ was just too enticing. Men and women tend to respond positively to calls from help by women. This is, in fact, entirely traditional. Men’s eagerness to please and help women can be seen in a trivial context in the movie trope of the woman dropping her handkerchief in order to attract the attention of a man who is only too eager to retrieve it for her. I suppose the modern update would be a tissue, but that seems likely to induce the wrong reaction! We imagine that since even caveman times, the male role has been as provider and protector. Hugely pregnant women are more likely to be more defenseless and find it harder to gather food, especially meat. And again, once the children are born, self-defense, food gathering, etc. with lots of little kids to look after, is going to be easier with male help.
So, we might claim that there is an evolutionary and biological aspect to men’s willingness and eagerness to respond to calls for help from women. It can even be ‘sexy.’ However, this positive response to pleas for help works just one way. Men get no such historically, biologically and culturally driven sympathy for pleas for assistance. Men and women tend to view men who claim to be helpless or victimized in a negative light. Such a man is a failure. He is emasculated and definitely not sexy. We stop for women with flat tires. We are much more likely to drive right on by a man in the same situation. Biologically, men are much more expendable than women and it’s part of the reason why we send them to die in battle. A community can repopulate if its male portion is decimated, but if significant numbers of women are killed then there may well be too few babies produced to sustain the group.
Again, feminists are likely to say that biology is not destiny. Just because women give birth to babies and have the breasts to feed them, it doesn’t mean that that should necessarily be women’s sole role in life. And yet, in pleading for male help, feminists have historically drawn from this biological well and continue to do so.
What happened when women in the early sixties cried for help? The mostly male Congress and Senate acted almost immediately and passed laws to ease women’s access to the job market. As men have always done, we seek to be the hero and savior for women. However, this time there was a twist. Women claim to be victims. So far so good. However, if they are victims, who are the oppressors? The men have turned up, eager to attack the enemy; eager to defend womankind. Where is this nasty oppressor? Who is it exactly? The response, of course, is YOU are. You, the man, are the oppressor. It can’t be anyone else.
This sets up a conflict in men which is entirely driven by traditional expectations of the male role. And it sets up a war within men themselves, not just between the sexes. This is the basis for modern male self-hatred. It’s a war that draws strength from both liberalism and traditionalism. If one was consistently liberal, one would say – ‘OK. You need help, but being strong, capable and self-sufficient, you can help yourself. The very qualities you possess to make you suitable employees are the same ones you can use to defend yourself.’ If one was to hold strictly to traditionalism, one would say, perhaps, ‘I agree. Women are the fairer and more delicate sex. Retreat back into the home and we men will continue to work outside the home in a world that is often brutal and unforgiving and we will protect you in the way we have always done.’
However, if one is truly caring about women, as is the traditional male role, and women are expressing an interest in changing their societal role, then one listens sympathetically to both the desire to work outside the home and to a desire to be helped. And so begins decades of male confusion; of wanting to be the sympathetic protector and helping to demonize oneself as the evil being who has brought about the victimhood of women. The more one wants to be the savior of women (think firemen and policemen), the traditional role, the more one has to hate everything one stands for including ‘paternalism,’ the desire to protect women! One gets sexual harassment laws concerning ‘hostile working environments’ aimed at protecting women, while men such as coal miners and construction workers literally die on the job (the latter, one every workday hour) with few such protections and little protest.
Arguably, this has resulted in a society in which many men have colluded in identifying the oppressor as themselves. Farrell claims that both sexes have a light and a dark side. Men are both rapists and murderers, and benevolent fathers and saviors. If you need rescuing from a burning building, or your nation needs defending from hostile enemies, it is most likely to be a man who is risking his life to save anonymous strangers. But this savior aspect of men has in recent decades tended to be ignored and hidden by such gender neutral language as ‘fire fighters’ and ‘police officers’ despite these professions being 97 to 98% male dominated.
Things came to a head in the 1980s with the ‘all men are rapists’ slogan, which was supposedly inappropriately taken from a novel by Marilyn French. The claim is that French didn’t say it; just one of the characters who wasn’t necessarily supposed to be saying something true or with which French agreed. But the nadir for men occurred in the 1990s with the scare about male pedophiles. Being male somehow became associated with pedophilia. The hysteria was so intense that it has changed most English speaking cultures dramatically to the extent that children can no longer walk to school or play outdoors unsupervised. Or, if they do, the parents are likely to be regarded as irresponsible. This cultural change was not brought about by any actual changes in the risk of child abduction and rape, only be a generalized fear of men. Air New Zealand and Qantas have a policy that no unaccompanied child can be seated next to a man.
Likewise, suspicion towards men was also evidenced in the 1990s by the fashion for psychiatrists convincing their female patients that their fathers had sexually abused them. Women would present with symptoms like, if I remember correctly, general anxiety and depression, to be told that it was because of repressed memories of being abused by their fathers. Among other things, this had to do with Freudian psychology momentarily becoming popular again. We know now that when people suffer from traumatic events, they don’t typically repress them, instead, they can’t stop thinking about them. Most, possibly all, Vietnam War veterans suffering from PTSD don’t repress their memories, they have nightmares about them and can’t get the memories out of their heads. Many fathers were wrongly demonized and grandfathers were often deprived contact with their grandchildren until such point that the women realized they had been duped by their well-meaning, but misguided, psychiatrists.
Male self-hatred is a cancer for men, but as I have just explained, we don’t tend to care much when men are in trouble. Instead, rhetorically, one is compelled to point out that in demonizing men, masculinity itself came under fire, as did traditionally masculine virtues of striving, achievement, performance with bad consequences for all. This has arguably led to a culture in which the balance between masculine and feminine virtues has shifted hugely in favor of the feminine. One of the most famous examples of this kind of thing is the ‘no child left behind’ notion. This may sound good to some ears as an expression of compassion, but to an educator it sounds bizarre. The only way to achieve something like that would be to lower standards to such a degree that even the most hopeless case can ‘pass.’
Egalitarianism is also rampant and a more typically feminine notion. It denotes the kind of love that requires nothing in return. It’s unconditional. No one is better than anyone else. I love all my little sheep equally. No one is to be left out in the cold. Unconditional love is a good and beautiful thing, but in practice, it needs to be leavened by conditional love which can be earned. We earn it by achievement, getting better, developing and by being pushed and encouraged in a more traditionally masculine manner. Rather than raising self-esteem through self-esteem classes, self-esteem is raised by doing things or gaining skills of which one can be proud.
Egalitarianism also does not happen to be true. If one names almost any human characteristic, someone will be better or worse than you in that regard. There’s equality before the law, as an ideal, and one person, one vote. Thus one has legal and political equality in principle. We may also be equal as God’s creatures, as John Locke suggested. But, typically, egalitarianism is extended to criticizing or being uncomfortable with any demonstration or even suggestion of superiority. Hence, it’s greatly attractive to the resentful.
Ironically, given the name, the logic of militant feminism has often ended up demonizing being feminine too. Women who choose to stay home and raise children are sometimes seen as sell outs and as failing to help the cause of women. Wearing dresses, make up, painting your nails, and in any way conforming to traditional gender roles tends to be seen as bad. So in the end, the desire of some women in the 1960s and since, to make use of the damsel in distress trope to help the cause of women, has ended up demonizing men, generating a cultural and ideational vacuum filled by feminine values at great social and cultural cost, and, like the snake that eats its tail, even tending to produce a hatred of all that’s feminine.