Suzanne Venker presents a curious — and self-contradictory — argument against the feminism she reviles. In the first paragraph of her article The War on Men, she cites:
“According to Pew Research Center, the share of women ages eighteen to thirty-four that say having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in their lives rose nine percentage points since 1997 – from 28 percent to 37 percent.”
In the next breath she says: “Believe it or not, modern women want to get married. Trouble is, men don’t.” I wonder what she would say about the majority of women (63% according to my 11-year-old daughter’s math skills) who did not say that having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in their lives? Perhaps anti-feminists don’t need to learn math.
As for the men who don’t want to get married because “women aren’t women anymore,” Ms. Venker herself calls them a subculture, one definition of which is “a cultural group within a larger culture, often having beliefs or interests at variance with those of the larger culture.” This is not the dominant cultural belief, Ms. Venker, no matter how you try to make it so.
I grew up in a “traditional” household, although once we were of school age, my mother worked part-time as an artist and then full-time as a computer programmer to help put her four children through college. She also was the primary caregiver for the entire time I lived at home, cooking every meal, cleaning every surface, soothing every wound, and nurturing creativity and confidence in her three sons and one daughter. She didn’t complain, because this was the model of motherhood and family that she grew up with.
I also grew up in a time of great cultural change for the better, and I learned both at home and in school that women are equal to men in their intellectual, problem-solving, and creative abilities. I learned that — unlike my mother who was forced to quit teaching because she was pregnant — I would have the choice to work in addition to or instead of marrying and child-rearing, the choice to support myself rather than relying on someone else to provide for me. Or I could choose to live according to the traditional model, which served our family well. This gave me an independent spirit that remains a cherished aspect of my personality: something I guard fiercely.
No one can tell me how I should be in the world, and I thank my mother for that message, which she got from her fiercely independent mother, who also raised her children in a traditional family. And though my grandmother never claimed the title, I believe both these women were feminists because they believed women to be equal to men. Equal does not mean identical (the same). Equal still allows for biological differences, “our nature” as Ms. Venker likes to call it. Equal still permits women to be feminine. And equal does not negate men, their perspectives, or their place in society. It merely demands that they share.
Feminism is not about denying men their hard-earned positions in the world. It points out that women should have equal opportunity, equal choices, equal voice, and equal pay. If a woman chooses to delay motherhood as I did, that is her right. If she chooses to work, she should be paid equal wages for equal skill and productivity. If she chooses to marry, she should be able to negotiate the terms of that relationship with her partner: not dictate them or have them dictated to her — both voices being considered, equally.
Ms. Venker unwittingly points to the essential problem in today’s battle of the sexes, which has outlived backlashes and counter-punches: “Men haven’t changed much – they had no revolution that demanded it – but women have changed dramatically.” Ms. Venker fails to see how men are complicit in and at least partially responsible for the gender gap. Instead she points the finger at one side of the schism: women (which I interpret to mean “feminists” in this context). One has to wonder: how can a heterosexual couple survive if one partner changes and the other stays locked in a retro-perspective of relationships?
Ms. Venker says that women are angry. Despite the gross generalization, there is a kernel of truth in her statement. I don’t doubt that most women get angry at times. And many women do not get a fair chance to be their true selves, and thus have a right to be angry a lot of the time. I get angry, usually when someone tries to tell me what to do, how to be, or what choices I should make for myself. Wouldn’t a man react similarly? But women are not necessarily angry at the man standing in front of them. They are understandably angry at the cultural model that has privileged men for thousands of years. And they may get angry at men (and at women, like Ms. Venker) who refuse to recognize the need to change the paradigm to a model of more equality.
Even more astounding is the following: “Contrary to what feminists like Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men, say, the so-called rise of women has not threatened men. It has pissed them off.” I don’t deny that some men might be pissed off (especially judging from the comments on Ms. Venker’s website). What surprises me is her tacit justification of male anger on the heels of her condemnation of female anger. This, of course, plays into the dominant cultural model of men as warriors and women as subservient property to be protected. Men can be angry that women are taking control of their lives, but women can’t be angry at millennia of male dominance that continues to this day if you look at the relative lack of female representation in government. Ms. Venker dismisses perceived threat as a potential cause of male anger. The two, in this case, appear inextricably linked. How can one explain the unmerited hatred of strong, smart women in power, like Hillary Clinton, if one doesn’t consider their threat to the male patriarchy? It is a very sincere question that has baffled me for decades.
Lastly, I must snicker at the following: “The fact is, women need men’s linear career goals – they need men to pick up the slack at the office – in order to live the balanced life they seek.” Not exactly, Ms. Venker, but perhaps you have not raised a family while working in a mixed-gender environment. When a family need keeps me from the office, I can rely on the seven women and one man who work closely with me to pick up the so-called slack. It does take a village, to paraphrase Ms. Clinton. And, if I lived with a partner, maybe he could stay home with my sick child from time to time while the women and men in his office cover for him. Care-taking does not categorically fall to the female of the species as a biological imperative. In some species, fathers provide the majority of care for their young at certain times in the life cycle, and some males just loaf around while the females go in search of food.
One thing that makes us different from Emperor penguins or sea lions is that we can choose our model of parenting to suit the needs of our family. There is no biological imperative. But in heterosexual couples (which is the limited context for this discussion) it requires that both male and female adapt to new roles. If men aren’t willing to adapt, you can’t blame it all on women. Darwin and subsequent scientific evidence have taught us the crucial role of adaptation to survival of the fittest.
In my ideal society, I would be able to voice my perspectives and have them heard without being seen as criticizing the core of some man’s ego. I have no need to be married again. I don’t need a man’s money or his protection. I want to live with a loving, supportive partner who sees me as an equal and not as a threat. I have known many such men, so I can attest that they exist. Contrary to Ms. Venker’s opinion, I don’t have to deny my core beliefs or personality for eligible men to “come out of the woodwork.” I wouldn’t want a man who felt the need to hide in the woodwork because I speak my mind anyway. If that is where they are heading, too bad for them: let the Amazon Era begin.
To the pissed-off men out there, I say this: I can disagree with you and still respect you and your right to hold your own opinion. But you need to do the same for me. If not, it makes me justifiably angry. You still have the power to choose, so live with it.