Confronting Woman-Bashing in the Men's MovementBy Glenn J. Sacks
April 2, 2002
It is said "choose your enemies carefully, for someday you'll resemble them." The men's and fathers' movement is gaining in strength and slowly making progress. However, there is a disturbing fringe element whose woman-bashing very much resembles the vicious man-bashing which men and fathers have endured for the past three decades. It is important that men's and fathers' activists confront this fringe rather than turn a blind eye to it.
What are the characteristics of the woman-basher?
Characteristic #1: The woman-basher believes that all women, or virtually all women, are the problem.
For example, in a recent issue of Transitions, the newsletter of the National Coalition of Free Men, a front cover cartoon depicts a pretty bride (representing a woman on her wedding day), and then a hideous, multi-headed monster (representing a woman in divorce court, presumably because she has won custody of the children and driven the father out of his children's lives). The caption indicates that this cartoon refers to all women, not some. Most NCFM leaders and members immediately recognized the unjustness of the cartoon, and realized that it was, in fact, a perfect mirror of the radical feminist "all men are rapists" position.
Another woman-basher (WB) expressed similar thoughts in a later issue, writing that for men, bad things "will happen if you engage in risky behavior such as having sex, having a child, getting married, or [having] anything resembling a relationship with a woman." The writer cautions that those who dismiss these inevitabilities are "the future victims."
Characteristic #2: WBs believe that men don't ever really oppose woman-bashing or woman-blaming, but oppose it publicly only because they're forced to do so.
After the cover cartoon was published, there was a storm of protest from NCFM members and leaders, and the issue was hotly debated in the pages of Transitions. Many WBs, however, assumed that these protests (and the ensuing anti-woman-bashing measures taken by the Board of Directors) were made because we were afraid of our wives' reproach or because we feared offending some by not being politically correct. The idea that most NCFM members and leaders opposed the cartoon out of simple fairness and decency did not seem to occur to them. This is similar to the feminist view that any woman who opposes feminism can't really be against feminism, but is instead the dupe or the captive of evil, reactionary males.
Characteristic #3: WBs believe that even those females who have helped us do so out of dubious motives.
When syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker recently launched a misguided attack on Russell Yates, one men's chatroom participant derided Parker as a "Giggling ditz-bunny" who is "another Cathy Young, another Wendy McElroy - one of those women whose image of herself is so pompously filled with patronizing goodwill towards the poor little men that she can't even imagine how sexist and anti-male she sounds."
Another noted that male-friendly female writers like McElroy are simply like the "farmer [who] always fattens up the turkey before Thanksgiving." The farmer is always "meticulously friendly" but has "malevolence in her heart." We are also told that McElroy's ideology is that of "friendly fascist feminism" and that women like this don't bash men because they instead try to "neuter them politely."
An outside observer would never guess that the WBs are speaking of the small minority of writers who have actually made a real effort to discuss men's issues at a time when it hasn't been popular to do so.
Characteristic #4: WBs believe that for 30 years women have won at the expense of men and that men can only win now at the expense of women.
As Warren Farrell says, when only one sex wins, both sexes lose. There is no way that men or women can move forward from this point unless they move forward together and on an equitable basis.
Characteristic #5: WBs dismiss women's contributions to our movement because "it's often women who speak up for us only because Lace Curtain censorship doesn't allow men to do it."
Lace Curtain censorship is real, and yes, many men have been silenced, but this doesn't discredit the efforts of those women who have spoken out. It is important that we don't mistreat them, as the feminists did to the many men who helped the cause of women's liberation. Dianna Thompson, the Executive Director of the American Coalition of Fathers and Children (ACFC), says:
"I can understand men's frustration. It's unfair that women are typically able to talk more about gender issues than men can. If I talk about the way current child support guidelines are excessive and unfairly burdensome to fathers, people will listen. If a man says the same thing, people will look at him and say ‘He's just trying to get out of paying.' It's not fair and I don't like it, but I'm not the one who made these rules. Women in the fathers' movement didn't make these rules."
Women who have helped men and fathers often find themselves in an impossible double-bind--they are labeled traitors by feminist-minded women, and at same time are disparaged by WBs. Trudy Schuett, publisher of the Desert Light Journal, has been denounced by feminists as a "fathers' rights whore," and Susan Faludi has implied that pro-father women are Uncle Toms. Kim Gandy, the president of the National Organization for Women, says that the relationship between men and women in the fathers' movement is similar to the way "a man charged with rape will hire a woman lawyer to represent him."
Conversely, some women in the fathers' movement report that there are men who contact fathers' groups and are displeased when a woman answers the phone or when a female activist is chosen to help them.
Since some men apparently have forgotten those many women to whom we owe a debt of gratitude, I have begun to compile a list of male-friendly women activists and writers who deserve recognition. To view the list, click here.
Characteristic #6: WBs believe that when male-friendly women writers or activists show support for the mainstream feminist view of a gender issue, it is indicative of their bad intentions.
Young, McElroy, and Parker have together tackled a laundry list of men's issues, yet when they've disagreed with men's activists (such as Young and Parker's recent attacks on Russell Yates), some WBs have been quick to accuse them of selling-out or of double-dealing. In reality, when these women have disagreed with men's activists they've sometimes been right. More importantly, disagreement and independence (as well as concern about legitimate women's issues) don't indicate betrayal or malevolence. And while I disagree with Young on the culpability of Russell Yates, her central point--that fathers' activists should not defend fathers simply because they are fathers--is a valid one.
Characteristic #7: WBs use personal experience (having children stolen in a divorce, being the victim of false accusations or of domestic violence, etc.) to justify anti-female bigotry.
This is a dangerous practice, because it parallels the despicable way feminists have used victimhood to justify man-hate. One need only to look at the hate-filled feminist head case Andrea Dworkin, reputedly the victim of sexual abuse, to see where this leads. Pain and victimization need to be channeled into reasonable and dedicated political action, not woman-bashing.
A healthy response to victimization is to emulate McElroy, a former victim of severe domestic violence. Rather than turning her personal victimization into anti-male bigotry, she has used it to gain insight into the lives of all victims of domestic violence, male and female.
Characteristic #8: WBs believe that feminism has caused all of men's and fathers' current problems.
WBs blame feminism but ignore an equally destructive force--men's chivalrous tendency to blame men first and women last. It is this attitude which has created what Farrell calls "the machinery of male protection," whose victims are almost always male.
For example, in a discussion of the Texas District Attorney who is considering filing charges against Russell Yates "because of all the e-mails she received" a WB wrote "Who do you think sent those mails? Women."
I can say from my experiences defending Russell Yates in the Houston Chronicle and on radio talk show programs throughout the Southwest that this is a misguided assumption. The most vociferous attacks on Russell (and on me) came not from women, but from men, most of whom have deeply imbibed the "always blame the man" ethic of our time. Russell ought to hope for an all-female jury.
Characteristic #9: WBs believe that women aren't worth the trouble
One WB recently wrote about "a tale I've heard from a number of friends. F--king women in the feminist era is so dangerous that it's not worth the effort, and, anyway, most women are so damned lousy in bed that they aren't worth the trouble." This writer could perhaps find a soulmate in feminist bigot Germaine Greer, who recently said "God knows how many women already have no use for their men, who are all too often idle and incompetent both as wage-earners and around the house, uninterested in the children and hopeless in bed."
Characteristic #10: The WBs believe that their "radical" rhetoric and posture helps the men's movement achieve its goals, just as the radicalism of Malcolm X helped Martin Luther King achieve his moderate civil rights goals.
Some WBs justify or even celebrate woman-bashing by referring to the Civil Rights Movement model, whereby white racists knew that if they didn't give the moderate King what he wanted, they'd have to deal with the radical Malcolm.
Setting aside the fact that the above assumptions about King and Malcolm aren't actually historically accurate, there is one fatal flaw with this model. At the time of the Civil Rights movement, most Americans acknowledged that blacks had been mistreated and oppressed. Thus, while Malcolm X could be criticized for his radical views, nobody could deny that the source of his rage was legitimate.
WBs do not, and in many ways should not, enjoy the same legitimacy. Men, as a whole, are still often viewed as oppressors or at least as advantaged. In practical terms, woman-bashing from our quarter often doesn't sound like the noble defiance of the oppressed, but instead like the unjust rage of the "privileged" whose privileges are under attack. Thus woman-bashing marginalizes and delegitimizes all wings of our movement.
To be fair to the WBs, with a few exceptions, their woman-bashing is not the product of genuine misogyny, but is instead reflective of the frustration of a generation of men who have grown up in a relentlessly misandrist popular culture, and who have had almost no forum within which to oppose it. It is also true that over the past three decades we have become so unaccustomed to hearing criticism of women, that legitimate criticism is often labeled "woman-bashing" or "misogyny." But there's a important difference between criticizing certain female behaviors or demanding fairness from women, and the "all women are out to destroy men" attitude of some WBs.
Besides being unjust, woman-bashing could be disastrous for our movement. After 30 years of being on the receiving end of gender abuse, the time is ripe for gender reconciliation and a serious attempt to address men's concerns. The injustices committed again men (particularly fathers) by our courts and our media are so outrageous that most people will support us if we can get the truth out to them. Even many feminist dissidents are tired of man-bashing and victimology, and have rejected anti-male feminism. The special courage--the male courage--of the heroes of September 11 has helped remind us of the many unique and critical contributions that men make to our society. We will change society, as long as we are reasonable and fair.
Late in his life Malcolm X said "the enemy is not whites. The enemy is racism." The men's and fathers' movement needs to make sure it never sees females as the enemy, but only misandry--whether from females or from males. If not, we'll become like the bigoted feminists that this movement was formed to oppose.