Updated: May 1, 2022
It's time to confront victim feminism's self-imposed disempowerment. Who's truly holding us back?
Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash
The persistent image of 'man-hating' has dogged feminism since, like, forever. It perpetually irritates some not because it's inaccurate, but because it isn't. More than ever.
Power vs. victim feminism
Naomi Wolf described two types of feminism she encountered in her 1994 book Fire with Fire: New Female Power and How It Will Change the Twenty-First Century. At the same time, feminist gadfly Christina Hoff Sommers detailed the same in her book Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women. They assigned different labels to the same descriptions:
Feminists identifying with powerlessness and a fairly traditional image of women as weak, helpless, and in constant need of protection by, ironically, a largely male, 'patriarchal' state. Wolf called this group victim feminists; Sommers called them gender feminists.
Feminists identifying with personal power and agency, who seek genuine equal rights for men and women, and who advocate women use their financial, economic and political power to achieve change for the greater good. Wolf calls them power feminists; Sommers calls them equity feminists.
The misandrists populate mostly the victim feminist camp, although it's inaccurate to paint all victim feminists as man-haters. Having come of age myself in the early 1980s, when Second Wave feminism was in full flower, I became disenchanted years later after a growing internal reactionary mindset infantilized women, and with blinding lack of self-awareness, blamed only men for women's inequity.
The problem, as I saw it, was that genuinely patriarchal institutions had clearly weakened since our great-grandmothers had fought for voting rights (the First Wave). Victim feminists seemed unwilling to acknowledge progress accomplished, which Wolf described at length in her book.
Today, cognitive scientist and popular author Steven Pinker describes what he calls 'progressophobia' on the left--the fear of acknowledging the clear historical evidence for progress.
I didn't appreciate feminism's growing misandrist mindset treating women as chronic perma-victims. It didn't jive with my own and other women's experiences that we held ourselves back as much as any systemic -ism did.
I sure as hell couldn't 'identify'.
As we march into the 21st century it's obvious we ARE making rather a lot of progress, and it's time to acknowledge what power feminists have recognized all along.
Victims are weak, not empowered
It's hard even for us power feminists not to fear our own power, let alone embrace it. Women have only begun to flex their muscles for a little over a century, after thousands of years of genuine patriarchy. Evolution takes time.
I wrote recently about my admiration for U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who has never shirked from power and embodies the best qualities of strategic power--all aligned toward getting things done. What especially impressed me about Pelosi is how she boldly stated during her second run at the House leadership, "I'm the best qualified for the job."
Men do that, not women. Why don't we?
"That glass ceiling doesn't look so thick...." Public domain photo by scottwebb on Pixabay
Nancy Pelosi does not fear men.
One can offer the usual justifications for holding ourselves back--"When women are assertive we get called bitches!" "Who am I to say I'm the best-qualified?"--but maybe it explains why we don't get promoted as much. Leaders, well--lead.
What men do right is they don't wait for anyone to hand them the power. They pursue it, and they don't care what you call them.
Sometimes they take it too far, like trying to overthrow a government over an election they lost fair 'n' square, but you have to hand it to their leader for this: He won the first election fair 'n' square because he oozed confidence, however ill-fitting, and declared he was the best candidate.
His opponent may arguably have never had a genuine chance at real power, but she was the first shot over the bow signaling women's time to lead the government is here. Now a woman is one heart attack away from the U.S. presidency, and in fact she was President for about an hour in November when the elected one underwent a minor surgical procedure.
After the 2018 elections, over 100 women now warm Congressional seats and terrorize their toxic opposition on Twitter.
It fetishizes weakness to blame 'The Patriarchy' as though it's some monolithic Illuminati. The world, and even North America, still retains many elements of patriarchy, but here at least, it's more like your wheezing elderly relation than, say, frat boy Tucker Carlson.
It gives too much power to men and denies our own personal agency. With power comes responsibility, and too many feminists pay lip service to agency while remaining deeply conflicted about it.
They, and sometimes the rest of us, don't even realize we think like victims.
We face many genuine challenges in forcing men to share power, but no one ever gives it up willingly. Hence the MAGA backlash, as white people and male people realize people of color and women people want a seat at the table too.
Like it or not, we need men to work with us on creating a more equitable society for all.
Not all are on board with the MAGA set.
Misandry pushes away our male allies
Men are tired of being blamed for everything wrong with the world. As a member of an advantaged group myself--white people--I know many of us, too, are tired of being blamed for the same.
I don't hold men today responsible for the grievances of the ancient past any more than I hold myself for any. I especially don't consider a birth penis (or a white skin) 'original sin'.
Treating men as The Enemy pushes away our potential allies--some of whom lick their wounds with 'men's rights activists' or sexually entitled incels. Plenty of real men would like to see women succeed and are genuinely invested in creating a more equitable world. But they're neither blind nor stupid. They can see how women hold themselves back. How we need to speak up more. How rapists get away with it because we don't hold them accountable. How we're more risk-averse. How we fear too much what others will say about us. How we worry more about what we look like than what we've done, and what we can do.
How we're afraid to seek power.
When I make these points I get a certain amount of pushback, but men reach out to me publicly and privately to say, "Thank you. Thank you for saying what I don't dare say."
I get them. I feel the same about 'victim antiracists'. They closely resemble victim feminists, except their fight is racial rights. Worthy cause, but, like victim feminism, self-infantilizing and bigoted (white people). Victim antiracists teach people of color they're perpetually oppressed and in need of constant state (white) protection.
Still waiting to 'not be heard'
In my thirties, I read an article by a newspaper reporter (she later became a friend) who wrote about how her voice became less important after she hit forty. Her bosses didn't listen to her opinion as much as when she was young and cute. Men were less inclined to turn to her in a conversation than they once had. I was perturbed. I was a few years away.
It never happened.
It seems when you're as loud and opinionated as I am, people hear me whether they want to or not. I'm hard to tune out without leaving the room.
I don't always speak up. I don't always make myself heard. Like other women--like other people--I sometimes silence myself. Now I push myself more when I feel reticent about speaking out. Less clueful men will never learn to listen to women, hear our stories, unless we make them.
Image by Tumisu on Flickr
Be too strong for them to ignore you
I wonder if we make it easier to victimize women when we don't take responsibility for ourselves and our lives.
When we complain about harassment overmuch and exaggerate harm done, how serious do we sound? How overprivileged? How much does a victim feminist mindset train girls to think like victims rather than go-getters?
It's one thing to be rightfully irritated if some jerk feels you up on the bus, it's quite another to turn it into an Epic Battle With The Patriarchy. Xena I ain't, and neither is anyone else.
I reserve my outrage for the truly outrageous, like that American women's precious abortion rights are hanging by a thread over a malign Supreme Court stacked with newer members who couldn't hold an intellectual candle to a guinea pig. Or that Harvey Weinstein was allowed to operate in plain view for decades. Or that judges still worry more about what effect jail will have on a rapist than the convicted perp's rape had on his victim. Or that his dad called it 'twenty minutes of action'.
There's nothing less weak-looking than women mistaking slights and 'microaggressions' for world-class oppression. #MeToo jumped the shark when Matt Damon was all but forced off Twitter for differentiating between a butt grab and a rape.
As we move into the halls of power, how can we challenge ourselves more? How can we be stronger?
How can we confront our personal power and use it for the greater good?
How do we change the often-unconscious patriarchal paradigm and embrace our male allies rather than drive them away?
What can we learn from good men in power? What do they do right that we don't? What don't they do that we do?
What are we learning from good women in power? What are we learning from the ones who screw it up? (I'm looking at you, Elizabeth Holmes!)
Are we acting like victims, thinking like victims, playing at empowerment while hiding in our little 'safe spaces', slapping at 'The Patriarchy' when it walks by, but failing to call the police if we hear our (female) neighbor in danger?
Who's really holding us back, the Patriarchy or ourselves? Or each other?
What are we doing to challenge the genuine man-haters?
If misogyny is wrong, so is misandry. Men make up roughly half the world's population.
We have to learn to live and work with them.
I'd rather work with them than against them.