Who's oppressing who?

Rosie the Riveter, a famous WWII posterIn its earliest and most benign form – the political campaign to achieve equality under the law and equality in economic opportunities – feminism was a necessary and welcome reform movement. No rational person could be less than delighted to see barriers to a full range of educational and career options for women fall by the wayside.

The feminism I take exception to today is not the mild and blameless right of a woman to self-actualize that all women absorb by osmosis from the cultural air we breathe, but the radical ideology that has come to dominate the movement’s academic and institutional elites over the last 40 years.

This is an ideology that sees the relations between the sexes as a never-ending antagonistic power struggle, with women as eternal victims and men as eternal oppressors. It is an ideology that explains away the moral failings of women as the fault of a patriarchal "system", but holds men responsible for their actions. And most important, it is an ideology that shortchanges children by privileging the rights and importance to children of mothers over fathers.

That kind of feminism is so deeply entrenched in our society’s cultural elites and the institutions they dominate -- really it is the defining ideology of our era -- that whether she wants to or not, no thinking woman can escape the necessity of negotiating some kind of relationship with its claims.

However intellectually objective we all try to be, each of us brings our own particular life experiences to the decision of what kind of relationship that will be, and I am no different.

So for full disclosure: I brought two relevant pieces of personal history to the table. The first is that I am the daughter -- one of three -- of a charismatic, entrepreneurial, risk-taking father. Having known the privations of extreme poverty in his youth, he was so obsessed with providing economic security for his family that he literally worked himself to a premature death.

Because he was a hero to me, I am well disposed toward the men I meet, unless I am shown good reason not to be, and as a result there are many wonderful men in my life, not least my husband of 44 years and my son and son-in-law, both supportive, loving husbands of high-achieving women and engaged, beloved fathers of two daughters each.

Everything in my experience with men points to the conclusion that different cultural values around relations between the sexes produce different outcomes. Normal, psychologically healthy men, raised in a society respectful of women, as Canada’s heritage culture is, are governed in their relations with women by the instinct to protect them, not to hurt them.

The second element I bring to the subject is the fact that I am a Jew, and grew up at a moment of expanding acceptance of Jews as social equals, a direct result of the world’s sympathy for Jews following the Holocaust.

Because of my people’s unique history, I am instinctively wary of any group – whether a race, an ethnic group, a religion or a sex - that plays a dualistic hand, scapegoating an entire group to explain the unachieved goals of its own members. For a scapegoating ideology always ends in grievance-collecting and a conspiracy theory of history. My people has been unusually vulnerable to conspiracy theory evils over the centuries. It is presently in the midst of battling a particularly destructive and existentially threatening one.

Virtually all Arab and many other Muslim nations rely on Jew hatred to externalize an explanation for their own failures. It works very well. The world has not seen such a widespread and virulent strain of anti-Semitism dominating an entire region since the Nazi era. So I can say with the conviction bred of close scrutiny that I have no use for blame-laying ideologies of any kind.

The time and place in which I grew up was friendly to intellectual diversity, friendly to Israel and becoming very friendly to women. The time and place I inhabit today is unfriendly to intellectual diversity, very unfriendly to Israel, not so friendly to heterosexual men, but extraordinarily friendly to women. These are some of the themes I have lived, and now they are the themes I write about.

The Bridget Jones phenomenon

I started writing intermittently for the National Post in 2000, and on a weekly basis in 2003. For the first several years I wrote frequently about "bad girl culture": a column on children’s hookerwear – little girls dressing like Vegas show girls with the complicity and even active encouragement of their mothers; then one on young women at Ivy League universities starting porn magazines; and a few about the demeaning custom of "hooking up": guilt-free promiscuity with no consequences, or rather none admitted.

I argued that what began for women as sexual liberation had degenerated into irresponsible, intimacy-anaesthetizing, sexual libertinism, an unhealthy trend for women and for society.

In its most delusional form, I cited what I considered a perfect media representation of the phenomenon: the 2001 movie Bridget Jones’s Diary. This was supposedly an update of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s classic novel of a meeting of true minds. In the novel the dignified and witty Elizabeth Bennet captures the heart of the upright and gallant Mr Darcy through her strong character, integrity and intelligence.

In the movie version Elizabeth has morphed into the ditzy Bridget Jones, an impulsive, chain-smoking slob of no discernible wit or understanding of human nature, entirely focused on sex, and available to any good-looking man who crosses her path without regard to his character. She is cute and sexy, nothing else.

Strangely, the modern Mr Darcy character with whom Bridget ends up -- completely unrealistically, of course because in real life such a man would never take her seriously -- is in every way a faithful recreation of the original, an intelligent, refined man of taste, discernment and sexual restraint. My conclusion: "Bridget Jones’ and Mark Darcy’s screen characters illuminate a curious postmodern gender disparity in moral standards… For the gentleman is a gentleman still, but the lady has become a tramp."

Feminism and demography

I moved on from there to the dramatic demographic consequences feminism has had on society. As a result of feminists’ promotion of career equity with men and unrestrained sexual experimentation over early and faithful commitment, women are having fewer children later, and many are having none. Consequently, birthrates are down in all western countries, in many below the replacement levels. Canada’s current fertility rate is 1.54 per woman, behind one-child China’s 1.7.

Sadly, many women realize they want to have children, but too late. They were not warned by their Women’s Studies teachers or by feminist commentators that fertility peaks by age 25, or that late pregnancies carry elevated risks, or that induced abortions pose a risk of pre-term delivery in future pregnancies.

Abortion is now such a commonplace here that it is used as a backup form of birth control. Abortions in Quebec have doubled in the last 10 years: in 1998 16 percent of pregnancies resulted in abortion. Today 30 percent do. You don’t have to be a religious Christian to find that statistic disturbing.

All of these realities are directly traceable to feminist doctrine. Feminists’ original goal may not have been the intention to preside over the actual demographic decline of western civilization. Their goal was to empower women. But as the old saying goes, when you are up to your neck in alligators, it’s difficult to remember that your original intention was to drain the swamp.

Campaigning against men

I then turned my attention to the negative and far-ranging effects, of feminism on men. Misandry, which is the female equivalent of misogyny (misanthropy is a hatred of humankind), is now entrenched in our public discourse, our education system and social services. Misandry flies beneath most people’s radar, because we have become compliant in the acceptance of theories that have nothing to do with reality, and compliant in the speech codes that accompany that tendency.

Denigration of men in ways both casual and formal are a commonplace in society. Last Christmas I saw an advertisement for a butcher block knife holder in the shape of a man. The slot for the largest knife was placed in his groin. Hilarious? Imagine a knifeholder in the shape of a woman and a knife slot at the vagina. Hilarious? Not so much. Once you become aware of the phenomenon, you will see it everywhere, trust me.

For overt misandry, one has only to survey the industry around domestic violence. You could be forgiven for thinking that domestic violence is a one-way street, for that is certainly the impression one has from the fact that there are innumerable tax-funded shelters for abused women, none for abused men, unlimited funds for campaigns to raise consciousness around abused women, none for abused men. There is not a single social services agency or charity in Canada advertising "family services" that offers counseling, shelter or legal services for men who have been physically abused by women.

When angry feminists adduce their mantra that only men are inherently violent and that women use violence only in self-defense, I bring up a theme that is forbidden to discussion in women’s shelters: how is it then that partner violence amongst lesbians is significantly higher than amongst heterosexual partnerships?

How is it that children are far, far more likely to be physically abused by their mothers than their fathers? And when they are, how can we justify a woman’s right to take her children to a shelter to escape a violent husband when there is no shelter in the country that will accept a father with children fleeing an abusive mother?

The implosion of the family

Finally I want to talk about the implosion of the traditional family, which can be directly traced to feminism’s repudiation of normative marriage and the role of fathers as vital to a child’s psychological well-being. In June 2006 I wrote about the imbalance, in women’s favour, in the family law system: 90 per cent of contested custody suits end in sole custody awarded to the mother. Such a skewed percentage is unthinkable in any other branch of law.

The family law system is now systemically colonized by radical feminists. Their goal is the incremental legal eclipse of men's influence over women's spheres of "identity" interests, which includes children. To that end the custody issue has become a front line in the gender wars, supported by all feminist academics and institutional elites, by supine cabinet ministers and by feminist judges.

To illustrate with just a few examples:

  • Supreme Court of Canada chief justice Beverley McLachlin: "We have to be pro-active in rearranging the Canadian family"
  • Former justice minister Martin Cauchon: "Men have no rights, only responsibilities"
  • Feminist psychologist Peter Jaffe, a social-context educator of family court judges: "[J]oint custody is an attempt of males to continue dominance over females"
  • And most egregiously this from the National Association of Women and the Law: "Courts may treat parents unequally and deny them basic civil liberties and rights, as long as their motives are good".

Here we are truly in George Orwell country. In simple words this statement means "The end justifies the means" and there is not a totalitarian regime in the world that does not espouse that exact excuse for their denial of rights to their citizens. In our courts the "good" that motivates them is supposedly the child’s "best interests" but in fact it is virtually always the mother’s happiness. This is not justice.

Misandry in family law

Misandry in family law arises from an ideology that views children as the property of women, even though many peer-reviewed studies show children want and need both parents, and no studies show sole parenting by a mother serves children's best interests. This ideology is instilled in judges during training sessions featuring feminism-driven materials, and subsequently often plays out as unaccountable kangaroo courts.

The result is that an adversarial mother who initiates a divorce against the will of the father --however indifferent her parenting skills, however superb his - and even if the children spend their days with nannies or day care workers --pretty well has a lock on sole custody of the children.

If she makes a false allegation of abuse in order to have him barred from the house -– this happens regularly; any unsubstantiated claim of abuse or even voicing her fear of abuse by a woman will be acted upon instantly by the police and the courts with no recourse for the man – or denies rightful access to the father, she will never be punished at all.

Conversely, if he withholds support money, even if he has lost his job and has no other means of paying, he will be criminalised: His picture as a "deadbeat dad" may appear on government-sanctioned internet sites, and if he goes to jail, as is likely, he will serve a longer sentence than cocaine dealers.

In the days when children belonged to both their parents, it used to be said that children were "hostages to fortune." Today they are hostages to feminism and the state.

And yet every credible sociological study on record demonstrates without ambiguity that if there is a single sure indicator for success in adulthood, it is the presence of a father in a child’s life from the time he or she is old enough to negotiate a path through the world beyond her doorstep. If there is a sure indicator of failure – dropping out, drugs, promiscuity, crime – it is not poverty, it is fatherlessness in later childhood and adolescence.

There is a Yiddish expression my mother used to invoke with a philosophical sigh, "der reidele dreht sich" – the wheel turns. A hundred years ago, it was homosexual love that dared not speak its name. Today homosexual love roars, and it is manliness that whispers in the shadows.

Goethe said: "All theory is grey, but green springs the golden tree of life." The time for zero-sum theories – if your sex wins, mine loses – is past. Men’s voices needn’t be silenced for women’s to be heard. We need more conversation, less monologue. Only one voice should be privileged by everyone: the still, small voice of conscience. Conscience leads away from sexism and toward humanism. Humanism leads to mutual respect and trust between the sexes. And collaboration between the sexes leads to the "golden tree of life" we should all be striving toward – a healthy society.

Barbara Kay writes for the National Post. This article is an excerpt from a speech given earlier this week to the McGill University Women’s Alumnae Association on the Impact of Feminism on Society.


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