September 20, 1999
Feminism led to masculine rage
By JEAN SONMOR
I'm walking around steaming and I don't know who I'm mad at -- except maybe myself.
The reason for my irritation is simple enough on one level: Those nasty engineers at Queen's University in Kingston, the ones who like to dye themselves purple for frosh week, are at it again. Apparently -- trying to outdo each other insulting and degrading women. "Go Down or Go Home" is their pathetic rallying cry.
Ho hum. Old story. Sexual bravura at its least alluring. A decade ago their predecessors were more violent. Queen's achieved international notoriety for their posters responding to the No Means No campaign-- "No Means Kick Her In The Teeth," "No Means On Your Knees, Bitch"
This year, though, my son is there. First year, living in the thick of it all, in residence. So now I have a personal interest in how brutal and misogynistic the prevailing attitudes are at the place where my husband and I are spending $13,000 or $14,000 over the next seven months to have our son "educated." (The total cost is more but he's contributing his summer savings.)
In the summer there was a minor skirmish when signs went up identifying the AMS (the Alma Mater Society, the student government) as the "All Male Society." The matter was handled internally -- after all, seven of the top 10 jobs are held by women and the editor of the school paper is a woman. "All Male Society" had its ironic twist.
It would be naive to think there aren't rambunctious anti-feminists everywhere. But at Queen's they seem to feel a little freer -- or maybe a little angrier. But the steam that's rising from me, although provoked by the hyper-aggressive poster-makers, has more to do with the ugly impasse between the sexes that we're living through. And for that I blame my generation of women. How come we didn't see this coming? How come we were so caught up in our own stuff that we turned men into the enemy, and now must suffer the consequences?
These students are kids, for heaven's sake, not bitter, wounded 50-year-olds who've been through the marital and professional wars and lost on both counts. Their attitude is societal rather than personal. These guys have absorbed their hostility from the air around them. And who's providing that air? Their feminist mothers and fathers? The media? The women they date?
More and more worrying goes on about what has happened to this generation of boys. Skyrocketing suicide rates. Plummeting grades. Little ambition or focus.( A recent American survey of Grade 8 kids found the girls twice as likely as the boys to aspire to a career in management.) And if you have teenagers you don't have to read books such as Harvard psychologist William Pollack's Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood to see how much surer girls are than boys about where they're going and what they want. "It's as if our sons are unwittingly mirroring ... our own adult ambivalence about masculinity," Pollack writes.
At least some of the hostility toward women must be laid at the feet of feminism. That dreary, doctrinaire me-firstism that many women find embarrassing is still around in spades. In commenting on a recent story that fewer men are now teaching high school, the women educators were indifferent. High school boys don't need teacher-role models, they said. No research shows that. But we've spent nearly two decades on affirmative action trying to balance the gender equation at the universities. Why? Presumably because role models are important to young women. Go figure.
Anyhow, I digress. What I wanted to say was about how carelessly a certain kind of woman embraced feminism in the 1970s. (I'm not discounting myself but I tempered my views as I watched my sons grow up -- living proof that the personal is the political.) We tried to seize power. We saw an opening. We saw unfairness. We never bothered our heads about the consequences. But, looking back, it's pretty clear to me that many -- though not all -- of us already had all kinds of power. It was subtle but very real. Almost without reflection, en masse, we threw over that highly nuanced balance between the sexes and decided to redraw the map -- unilaterally.
What did we expect? Capitulation? That all we had to do was say we wanted to take our place at the boardroom table, show we were smart and strategic enough, and the men, those who prized that kind of accomplishment above all other, would simply bow and retreat? And retreat to what? The housework and family nurturing that we had suddenly decided wasn't enough for us? Now, if you can believe the trend watchers, many women are burned out on superwoman and want to head back.
Trouble is, with all the carnage -- and attitude -- around, that's not possible.
Jean Sonmor can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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