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Scrapping NOW: Time to Redefine Feminism
Delivered in St. Paul, Minnesota, June 21, 2002, at the National Coalition for Free Men (NCFM) Forum.
by Wendy McElroy, mac@ifeminists.com

It is the 21st century and the old paradigm of feminism, the old establishment, is crumbling. What we are seeing in this room, right now, is the future. This is the point, the decade during which men stand up, like women did in the '60s, and say "We want equality, we demand justice."

There is a hunger in North America -- you can feel it --- an undercurrent of discontent among men...men who no longer see their children because of anti-male bias in the Family Court system, men who pay taxes to support domestic violence centers but are turned away from those same doors if they are victims, men who are fed up with seeing their sex portrayed in the media as rapists, wife beaters, child molesters or buffoons.

There is also an anger, most of it justified and much of it healthy...because it takes a bit of anger to cease being abused and to demand justice instead. When this demand is made, men will not find themselves alone. The majority of women will stand up as well to defend the rights and the dignity of their fathers, brothers, husbands, sons, and friends. Because the only feminism, the only masculism that makes sense is one that destroys the legal barriers of privilege and discrimination that separate the sexes.

We must return to a society that judges individuals on their merits, not biology...that weighs issues such as custody and domestic violence on the basis of evidence not gender....we must all become human beings together.

The title of my talk is "Scrapping NOW" because NOW is one of the barriers that stand between men and women. But the title is somewhat inaccurate: in the last few years, NOW has scrapped itself and become virtually irrelevant. As a result of its arrogant hypocrisy over Bill Clintonís sexual and serial abuse of women, NOW lost about 50% of its membership -- the numbers of which were always grossly inflated. And the membership continues to fall.

(I read a news item about two months ago, which reported on a "recruiting" session NOW held in Broward County, Florida. You may remember that Broward was one of the democratic/liberal counties in the "hanging chad" recount fiasco in which Gore supporters tried to find more votes for "their guy." Four women showed up to NOW's public forum. Three of them left midway. And, when I did a radio interview with WCCO a few days ago, the show's hostess told me that she had heard of NOW's National Convention only because the National Coalition of Free Men had sent out a press release of this event.)

The crumbling of old feminism continues. Inside of the movement...a cash-starved Ms. Magazine recently merged with the Feminist Majority just in order to survive. Outside of the movement...policies that were formerly unquestioned and unquestionable -- like affirmative action -- are being overturned in court decisions and by state legislatures.

It is no exaggeration to say that a cultural revolution is in process -- again, one that resembles the '60s. For one thing, it is a grassroots revolution...not led by elite voices or tax-funded organizations but by men and women in the street who realize something is terribly wrong.

Revolutions have a sense of inevitability about them, like a tidal wave, and I think a return to equality of the sexes under the law is inevitable. The resistance it faces -- the things that will slow it down -- are the institutions that have been established and embedded within society by the likes of NOW.

By institutions, I mean the laws and policies that have become standard operating procedure in our society. Everything from the issuing of restraining orders to women, almost "on demand," to affirmative action. And the main challenge confronting both masculism and the new feminism is to sweep away these institutions so that there is a clear field on which to construct a gender-blind system that deals with people as human beings, not men or women.

To illustrate what I mean by an institution that needs to be swept away, I want to use what the iconoclastic feminist Daphne Patai in her book "Heterophobia" calls the Sexual Harassment Industry. That is, the laws and policies regulating which attitudes toward women can be manifested, what language about women can be expressed...in both the workplace and in academia.

Let me begin by briefly defining what I mean by sexual harassment and by explaining where I stand on the issue. By sexual harassment I don't mean unwanted touching, grabbing or any other form of physical aggression. That's battery and assault and laws against them have been on the books for many years. All that was needed around 1980 was have those laws rigorously enforced.

Instead sexual harassment zealots created a new law, new policies -- for example, to prohibit "a hostile working environment" in which women feel offended by the words and other non-violent behavior of co-workers. That's what I mean by sexual harassment.

Where do I stand on the issue? Punish physical aggression: but let attitudes and words flow freely. I agree with Patai when she states that sexual harassment was...is an intentional and extremely successful gambit by PC feminists to "bring men to heel."

Sexual harassment is probably old feminism's greatest success story. Laws against sexual harassment now regulate every business and organization of any real size, as well as every university and college in North America. Government reaches into the private sector and regulates attitudes and words to an extent that would be unimaginable in the 1960s, even the '70s. Yet the term "sexual harassment" only entered our culture about twenty years ago.

As a legal concept, it was introduced by the radical feminist Catharine MacKinnon in a book published in 1979 entitled "The Sexual Harassment of Working Women." In the book MacKinnon argued that sexual harassment was a form of discrimination, a violation of civil rights that should be handled by civil lawsuits and under the Civil Rights Act. In 1980, the EEOC -- the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission -- expanded its guidelines to include sexual harassment. The first case that really established the idea of a hostile working environment was Meritor v. Vinson in 1986.

That's how recent they are -- the sexual harassment policies with which we live. Even though it impacts the lives of every person in this room and may well impact the lives of your children, sexual harassment is only twenty years old.

There is a real sense in which this is encouraging news. We hear over and over again that you can't change society, that one person doesn't make a difference. You can't fight city hall. Yet society was profoundly changed within two decades and the change came largely from the extraordinary efforts of one woman: Catharine MacKinnon. MacKinnon accomplished a great deal -- a great evil -- but a great deal in a very short time. This gives me real hope that extraordinary efforts in the opposite direction can tear down sexual harassment. And more quickly than it was constructed.

Twenty years is a generation and that's about as long as it takes for people to realize that something isn't working. To realize that the sexual harassment industry and the other institutions that have been constructed by radical feminism don't solve social problems...they create them.

So...if these institutions and the process of dismantling them stand between men and their rights -- if they slow down the process -- what will speed it up?

Let me use sexual harassment as an example once more.

When Lin Farley's book on sexual harassment appeared in 1978 -- and, as far as Iíve been able to tell, it was the first book on that subject -- it galvanized women. The book was entitled "Sexual Shakedown: The Sexual Harassment of Women on the Job." And it chronicled truly appalling instances of gender discrimination that literally destroyed careers of innocent women.... arguably, it destroyed their lives. Farley told stories. She let you see and feel the human impact sexual harassment so that -- even me, a sexual harassment skeptic -- I found it impossible to read Farley's book without feeling that something in society was badly wrong, badly askew.

This is what '60s feminism -- Second Wave liberal feminism -- did over and over again on a wide range of issues. It showed the human misery being caused by laws and social behavior. Take the issue of rape. In the '60s women who had been raped were in much the same situation as that faced today by men who are the victims of domestic violence. The police did not take them seriously. Society often looked down upon them as if they had somehow brought on their own rapes by dressing provocatively or being promiscuous. Just as today, society looks down upon men who are battered by women...as though being victimized was the fault of the victim.

When women stood up and expressed their pain, when they opened a window into their own experiences in order to make people see and feel the realities of being raped...and being raped not just once but twice, the second time by a legal system that did not understand or care...THEN society began to change. Because nothing is as politically powerful as shining a spotlight on injustice. And nothing does this as effectively as showing the human toll that is being taken.

Daphne Patai does this very well in her book "Heterophobia," part II of which is entitled "Typifying Tales." She drives home the savagery of sexual harassment laws and policies at universities where those accused have no presumption of innocence but must prove they are not guilty to committees that have power to ruin their careers and lives. The accused -- almost always men -- have no right to face their accuser or to question witnesses, no right to a lawyer or even, necessarily, to know the exact charges being brought against them. And the charges can be brought for nothing more than assigning the wrong homework, telling the wrong joke, asking female students tough questions or not asking them enough questions.

One of the typifying tales Patai offers is of an over-weight professor who, by all accounts, seemed popular and competent. In the middle of a lecture one day, a female student heckled him by calling out a comment about the extreme size of his chest. He observed that she had no similar problem and, then, continued with his lecture.

The student filed sexual harassment charges against him with the university. There was no allegation of battery or trying to exchange sex for better grades. The charges were based on the classroom incident. A witch-hunt followed. It was so extreme that the professor committed suicide. After which, in a press release, the university administration expressed its main concern: namely, that the Professor's death would not discourage other similarly "abused" women from "speaking out."

Pause for a moment and reflect on what you're feeling right now. Anger at the university. Empathy with the man. Outrage toward the female student. A conviction that things must change. A belief that the abomination known as the sexual harassment industry must be swept away.

That's the power that speaking the simple truth about injustice has on most human beings, male or female.

Let me tell you another story. In the early morning hours of January 7, 43-year-old Derrick K. Miller walked up to a security guard at the entrance to the San Diego courthouse, where a family court had recently ruled against him on overdue child support. Clutching court papers in one hand, he drew out a gun with the other. Declaring: "you did this to me," he fatally shot himself through the skull.

Miller is not an isolated case. Consider Warren Gilbert who died of carbon monoxide poisoning, clutching a letter from the child protective service. Or Martin Romanchick ó the New York City police officer who hanged himself after being denied access due to charges brought by his ex-wife, which the court found to be frivolous.

There is an alarming rise in male suicides. According to a 1999 surgeon general's report, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in America, with men being four times more likely to kill themselves than women. A round of studies conducted in North America, Europe and Australia suggests that one reason for the increase may be the discrimination fathers encounter in family courts, especially regarding the denial of access to their children.

Unfortunately, this reaction seems typical of men....or, at least, more typical than it is of women. Men take pain and abuse inside themselves until they can't take it any more.

One of the healthiest and most effective things about the Men's Movement today is the many sites that are spreading quickly. Sites that offer accounts of men who battered by their wives, of fathers alienated from their children...

And, as men speak out, I think they will be amazed by how many women get up and stand beside them.

In many ways, the Men's Movement, or masculism, reminds me of nothing so much as '60s feminism. Back then, when women spoke out, many men responded. Men said, "the way rape victims are treated is not fair." They said, "there shouldn't be artificial barriers for women who want to enter certain professions: they should advance on the basis of merit." Men said, "I want my wife and daughter to be receive a better shake from society."

And without that reaction from men, I don't believe that feminism could have been the remarkable success it became in the late '60s, early '70s. It went from being a fringe movement to becoming part of the mainstream. I also believe that feminism went badly wrong at the same moment it declared a "gender" war and, so, betrayed the men who had supported it.

The subtitle of my talk is "Time to Redefine Feminism" so let me give you a definition to serve as a starting point. Let me define radical or gender feminism, which has had a profound impact on what is currently mainstream feminism. Radical feminism has pretty much defined the ideology and issues of the current mainstream movement, including NOW, and it shows us the direction in which we should not be heading.

What is it? Radical feminism is the ideology that views men and women as separate and politically antagonistic classes. Men oppress women. They do so through the twin evils of the patriarchal state and the free-market system, the combination of which is called "white male culture."

To restate this, for radical feminism, men and women -- as separate classes -- do not share the same political interests or benefit from the same political circumstances. Instead, the interests of men and women are at war.

There is nothing inherently wrong with separating the sexes into classes. Medicine, for example, often separates the sexes. Women are examined for breast cancer and men for prostate problems. But when doctors do this they do not claim -- as radical feminism does -- that the basic medical interests of men and women conflict. The doctors realize both sexes share the same basic biology that requires the same basic approach of nutrition, exercise, oxygen and common sense in terms of lifestyle. In other words, although medicine separates men and women as a class for certain purposes, it does not deny the shared humanity of men and women.

By contrast, radical feminism doesn't say that there are some political issues on which men and women have important differences -- for example, abortion. It says there is a fundamental class conflict based on gender. It says that men and women do not share the same basic human needs -- politically speaking -- such as freedom of speech or the protection of private property. This is like the doctor saying that the two sexes do not have the same biological needs.

Taking freedom of speech as an example... Radical feminism claims that men use this "freedom" as a tool with which to oppress women. They oppress women through pornography. Through verbal sexual harassment. Through the media that brainwashes women into believing they have to be thin, sexy, etc. Women on the other hand -- according to radical feminism -- benefit from political correctness. This is the idea that only correct, non-offensive words should be spoken, only those images should be seen. By this analysis, freedom of speech does not benefit women, only men.

The form of feminism I embrace is called individualist feminism ...what I call ifeminism. Ifeminism is based on the belief that all human beings have an equal right to the protection of their bodies and property. All human beings.... men and women...share the same political concerns because we share a common humanity. The primary political characteristic of both women and men -- what benefits both women and men -- is for each of us as individuals and adults is the right to make any peaceful choice whatsoever with our own bodies. And the laws that protect choice should look at men and women and see no difference whatsoever. The law should be gender-blind in both its content and its application...in courts, in police policy, and so forth.

(For those who want to learn more about the particulars of ifeminism...I recommend visiting the website ifeminists.com, which I edit and at which men are welcomed. Or you can read a new anthology I edited, "Liberty for Women" -- which includes essays by men as well as women on issues such as abortion and the right of gun ownership for self-defense.)

The aspect of individualist feminism that's important to this speech, however, is that it sees no political conflict between men and women. Whatever is good for "the individual" is, by definition, good for individual women and men.

So why do I call myself a "feminist?" Why don't I just call myself an individualist or a humanist?

Because the law does not treat men and women equally, either in its content or in its application. The law is not gender-blind. In many areas, it treats men like second-class citizens. In others, it discriminates against women. And until this is changed, until there is true equality -- neither privilege nor oppression based on gender -- I'll call myself a feminist.

Of course, a lot of the time I am called an "anti-feminist" because of how profoundly critical I am of the "old feminism" -- the feminism that NOW represents. One of the reasons I am so critical is that NOW-style feminism has not only betrayed the men who supported it in the early days. It has betrayed women and continues to do so.

It betrays women on the issues on it speaks and on the ones to which it gives only silence. Consider -- just very briefly -- one issue on which NOW betrays women...both by speaking and by remaining silent at the same time. It is probably the worst atrocity being committed on the bodies of women in the world today. And that is China's one-child policy by which women who have one child are -- at least, officialy -- required to abort any child thereafter. Why isn't NOW screaming in protest against forced abortions that strip women of reproductive choice? Why is it, instead, loud and uncritical in calling for American tax dollars to be used by the United Nations Population Fund for family planning in China?

Or consider an issue much closer to home. Midwifery. In the United States, there is currently a war being waged on the abilities of midwives their alternative form of child birth...that is, alternative to going into a hospital. Take California as an example. And here I want to read from a letter I received from Faith Gibson, a midwife activist who wrote the essay entitled "The Official Plan To Eliminate The Midwife 1899-1999" which is part of "Liberty for Women."

Faith writes,

"The lobbyist for California consumer attorneys privately told us they would 'permit' midwives to remove the unworkable supervisory clause" -- that's the legal requirement that midwives must have physician supervision for home birth even though there is no requirement for physicians for provide it -- "they would permit midwives to remove the unworkable supervisory clause if we swapped it for a mandatory malpractice insurance clause. We of course would love to have equivalent (to docs) malpractice insurance but our 'pool' of midwives is so small that premiums for coverage would be twice our annual income."

"Since doctors who agree to supervise a midwife become liable -- under the law -- for anything that happens during childbirth, the law basically insures that doctors won't offer supervision. And, if a midwife practices on her own, the medical board will prosecute her, with the price tag for legal fees alone being $50,000 to $100,000."

Faith ended her letter, "The bottom line for all of this is that we are now moving towards a return to underground lay midwifery and a massive resurgence of 'unattended do-it-yourself' births. I could just cry."

Faith has tried to interest mainstream feminist groups like NOW in this issue...but to no avail. NOW seems quite willing to allow this attack on the right of every woman to determine the circumstances under which she chooses to give birth to her own children.

NOW has not merely betrayed men, it has betrayed women.

Earlier on...I said that the Men's Movement reminded me of nothing so much as '60's feminism. And I think what's happened to feminism since the '60s to the current day can act as a cautionary tale to masculism. It can point in the direction you shouldn't be going.

What happened to feminism? Two decades before second wave feminism took off in the '60s, World War II had drawn a generation of women out of the home and into the workforce. But with the economic boom of the fifties, many women returned to domesticity and seemed to be contented. Then, in 1963, Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique tapped into the hunger of a new generation of women who wanted to leave the home and go back into the workplace, into schools. A sexual revolution also exploded, due partly to a new birth control method -- the pill. The Vietnam War led an entire generation to question values to resist authority.

Women rode the social chaos of the '60s into an invigorating freedom. In 1966, NOW was founded. Although there was anger at men, the anger was usually focused on specific issues like rape: Second Wave liberal feminism wasn't anti-male. NOW welcomed men, like Warren Farrell and the actor Alan Alda both of whom became symbols of the enlightened man. Across the country, there were "speak-outs" on rape and women marched for reproductive rights. The focus was on women's liberation NOT the need to disempower men.

At the same time as Friedan and other liberal feminists were mobilizing, another strain of feminism advanced as well -- radical feminism. Simone de Beauvoir's book The Second Sex was published in 1953. The book attacked heterosexualism and the traditional family as male oppression, claiming that lesbianism was the embodiment of sexual freedom. Beauvoir attacked the existing institutions of society were to blame for the subjugation of women. And, so, while liberal feminism was advancing into the mainstream, radical feminism began to spin out a revolutionary theory that sought a sweeping away of white male culture or patriarchy as a means to liberate women.

In 1973, feminism won a tremendous victory in Roe v. Wade and an optimistic movement began to focus very tightly on a fresh effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. In March 1978, one hundred thousand demonstrators marched on Washington, D.C. in support of the ERA. Yet, after frustrating extensions and delays, the measure was finally defeated in Congress in 1984.

The defeat of the ERA was a stunning blow to the liberals within feminism whose voices had dominated. Not so with radical feminists who had always viewed the ERA as a "Band-Aid" solution. Instead, they offered a new solution to a discouraged movement -- a new political theory based on gender oppression and viewing men as class enemies. And about 1983 to 1984, you saw the rise of radical feminism -- it started to dominate feminism in general. New law started to emerge...law that assumed men were the political enemy. For example, in 1983 -- Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon drafted the infamous Minneapolis anti-porn ordinance that defined pornography as violence against women and a violation of their civil rights. For example, in 1984, under pressure from radical feminism, the EEOC amended its sexual harassment guidelines to place all burden of blame squarely at the feet of the employer who became responsible for any act of sexual harassment within his or her business.

Feminism became a politics of rage. It lost sight of being fair, of being equal under the law with men and aimed instead at privilege.

I said this was a cautionary tale. The caution is this: I hope that men are not so angry and do not become so angry that they -- that you ever view me as the enemy.

The Men's Movement in North America is poised to take off like a rocket and when it does it will provide a new chance...a new beginning for men and women to be the full, equal, and respectful partners in society that we were always meant to be.

For this...I thank you.


 
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