Feminist writers sometimes give us the impression that the nonworking mother is a rare bird like the Bach man’s Warbler—sighted (not very reliably) once a decade or so in a corner of I’on Swamp in the South Carolina low country. The ladies magazines do occasionally report on rumors that some professional women like Janet Fallows have taken a few years off to be with their children until they’re old enough for playschool. But these cases almost always involve eccentrics or writers—a species that will do anything so long as it makes good copy. In the old days, writers went to exotic places and paid for the trip by writing articles. Now, the really exotic thing to do is to fix dinner and change diapers on a regular basis.
To show how out of touch some of us are, I know very few mothers of small children who actually hold regular jobs. Of course, I know one who is a “novelist” and countless numbers who get involved in arts councils, church rummage sales, and substitute teaching. Some even do crafts for an hourly “wage” that no sweatshop in Los Angeles would dare to pay illegal Mexicans. In the case of the one or two mothers who actually want to work, they appear to be equally miserable at home and at work.
Obviously, many mothers of small children do work, some of them because they have to, more of them because they feel they really ought to. The strong social pressures on women to pretend they’re men is just a small part of what the women’s movement has contributed to our common life. But why is it that the women I meet are so unlike the women I read about in books? Now I have, it is true, passed most of my days in the Midwest and deep South, where men and women are too ignorant or too poor to live out the fantasies of night-time soap operas and women’s fiction. From the number of novels being written by the women, for the women, and of the women1 I am beginning to wonder if men have given up the genre. To save our readers the effort of ploughing through these books, I offer this brief sketch, Feminist Novel Prototype I:
Darla has always known she was different, even when she was growing up in the affluent suburbs of _________ . She discovered sex at the age of 12, drugs by 14, radical politics by 17. After four years of brilliant underachievement at Barnard or Wellesley, she married Ted, who shared her literary interests. As the story opens, she has just decided to leave Ted (now an advertising exec) and their two small children in order to escape from the Doll’s House and reclaim her soul. After a few episodes of pointless (and therefore thrilling) sex, she realizes that men are only after one thing (what Mamma forgot to tell her). Disenchanted with the first stages of sexual liberation, she checks into a radical lesbian commune, where the conversation alternates between what’s wrong with men and all you never wanted to know about feminine hygiene. In the end, she leaves her alternate life-style behind—although she’ll al ways be grateful for what it has taught her about herself—and we see, on the last page, the new woman bravely facing an uncertain future as the screen door is blown endlessly open and shut by the wind. Or maybe she’s watching the lights going on along El Camino Real after spending two years in the Barrio soothing the anxieties of illegal immigrants-you fill in the blanks. In these write-by number plots, there is some flexibility in the details (aspiring novelists should feel free to use the Prototype without paying any royalties).
Fiction is only a small part of the feminist influence on our high culture. There are feminist enclaves in physiology, psychology, sociology, “education,” literary theory, history—everything, in short, except math and physics, which effectively screen out women stupid enough to fall for the feminist line.
In the past few years alone, countless books and articles have been written to debunk the old sexist stereotypes. A prudent man would have avoided all but one or two of the best, but in this area there is no best, no better, not even a good. What sort of sociology or psychology or neurology is it that knows, a priori, that male and female are social roles that do not depend upon the obvious physiological differences between men and women’ And why is it that the women who write such stuff always seem to look like they have just come from Little League tryouts? There must be a rule that specifies all feminist academics shall cut off their hair and wear only jeans and sweatshirts.
One big fad in feminist studies these days is “proving” that sexual differences in temperament and behavior are unrelated to hormones. Professor Ruth Bleier (photo graphed in sweatshirt and jeans at the University of Wisconsin) fills up a book with chemical formulae, while at the same time contriving not to mention all the mainstream research that would reduce her arguments to rubble. What she does spend time on is in denunciations of what she calls “heterosexism”-that pernicious idealogy that discourages little girls from growing up to prefer the company of women.
A more clever approach is offered by Anne Fausto Sterling in Myths of Gender. For every piece of research suggesting a physiological basis for sex differences, she either cites an article on the other side or dismisses the research as “not currently an important view” or “disingenuous.”
In fact, the new feminist sciences have no positive aim, only a desire to discredit sexist biology and psychology. While “sexist” scientists attempt to tackle the givens of experience and to find explanations for the universal patterns of sexual distinctions, feminists begin by shutting their eyes to the painful facts of life. Their hostility to nature is understandable if we consider that feminism came out of the same 19th-century reformist milieu that gave us the first natural food craze, prohibition, and the Victorian moral uplift. Like their spiritual ancestresses—the Susan B. Anthonys, Carrie Nations, and Mrs. Grundys—feminists cannot abide the old Adam. They are desperate to trade in the beer-swilling, cigar-smoking, street-brawling lout so imperfectly designed by the Creator for a new model—someone with Alan Alda’s assertiveness, Torn Brokaw’s brains, and David Bowie’s masculinity. While their grand mothers insisted on referring to the “limbs” of a table and a chicken’s “upper-joint,” the modern bluenose takes refuge in “chairperson,” “our father/mother,” “he/she.” (They all ought to learn Latin, which has no real third person pronoun. Beginning students always manage to say, amat: he, she, it loves, fast enough to sum up most reactions to femspeak.) Feminist writers and scholars simply translate their aversion to reality into the gibberish of academic discipline as if they were trying to confirm the old stereo types of women-incapable, dear things, of serious thought. To update Dr. Johnson’s celebrated declaration, he/she lies, and he/she knows he/she lies.
Whenever I read such feminist stuff, I am reminded of an acute comment thrown-out by one of the contributors to a special issue of Science dedicated to these matters (20 March 81): Conception cannot take place unless the sexual behavior of males and females is sufficiently different Since animal behavior is partly a function of our central nervous system, male and female brains have to be at least different enough for mating to be possible. Otherwise, women might just as well cut their hair off and wear jeans and sweatshirts. What is so intolerable about the most obvious things in the world? No one, after all, is claiming that “biology is destiny” except in the sense that it is destiny for an apple, if it is thrown up in the air, to fall to earth.
Not all feminists or “womens studies” scholars are liars or lesbians. A good many of them are making important contributions to their disciplines, precisely because they concentrate on the uniqueness of the feminine experience. A few names come immediately to mind: Alice S. Rossi for her studies of women students, Niles Newton for her exploration of the complex eroticism of the female sex, Ann Douglas for her observations on the feminization of I 9th century America, Carol Gilligan for her often dotty but sometimes sensible remarks on female ethics, Sherry Ortner for contributing the woman as nature/man as culture distinction to sociology and anthropology, and philosopher Carol McMillan, who makes her first appearance in Chronicles this month. What all these writers share is the realization that boys and girls are different and an awareness of the significance of those differences.
The differences show up in so many ways. Take the case of birthdays. What do most men want on their birthday? A fishing rod, a box of cigars, golf clubs, a table saw? All the things that take him out of the domestic circle and allow him to forget, if only for an hour, that he has been seduced into becoming civilized. Even books are an escape. (How many men, I wonder, read books and smoke cigars just to have an excuse to get away to their den?) But what do their wives ask for? Perfume, bath oil, flowers, a frilly nightgown. It doesn’t take a dirty mind like Dr. Ruth’s to know why. These preferences suggest more than the usual generalizations on hairy brutes and ethereal creatures.
Gifts are, in a way, tributes to who and what we are. An inappropriate gift (say, a pair of designer jeans) is offensive, because it tells me what you really think of me. By what they expect for presents, men affirm themselves as undo mesticated—individuals, while women declare in no uncertain terms that they are daughters of Eve. When a woman gives up on perfume and starts asking (honestly) for sensible things, she is not getting old: she is dying. It isn’t sex so much as beauty. Even the poorest, drabbest grandmother likes to have nice things about, likes to look her best It’s not for you, poor man, so much as it is for her.
Men without women would probably be even worse than the Hittites-great empire builders with no apparent sense of beauty. Not that women necessarily create beauty. Georg Simmel was probably close to the mark when he suggested that women rarely display original genius in the arts (although they have made enormous contributions to lyric poetry and the novel). On the other hand, they demand beauty from us: it is one of the conditions (along with children) on which they consent to live with us. Inevitably, we suffered from delusions of grandeur: they wanted painted walls and a basket of flowers; we gave them Vermeer and Brahms.
I can only imagine what my feminist former friends and colleagues will say to all of the above. They will probably not offer an actual counterargument or genuine response of any kind. In the unlikely event of a radical feminist reading this magazine, we shall find ourselves treated to lectures on sexist insensitivity and male chauvinism. With any luck, we might hear from one of those organizations with charming acronyms like ALLECTO, B.I.T.C.H , SCUM, or NOW. What answer can we make to those who will neither discuss nor debate their plans to drag an entire society against the grain of human nature? Early in this century, Ortega had another set of intellectual totalitarians in mind when he declared: “If anyone in a discussion with us is not concerned with adjusting himself to truth, if he has no wish to find the truth, he is intellectually a barbarian.”
Barbarians, as C. P. Cavafy pointed out, have their uses. They are a constant reminder of how much a civilization stands to lose. Fifth-century Athens was full of depictions of their hero Theseus’ struggle against the Amazons. The Theseum, the Stoa Poikile, and the Parthenon all portrayed the struggle of Greek civilization against the upside-down world of Amazons. It was even chiseled into the shield of Pheidias’ monumental statue of Athena.
The Amazons played an important part in the Athenian national myth. The Athenians, grateful for their deliverance from the Persians, expressed their struggle for civilization in a series of powerful metaphors: gods against giants, lapiths against centaurs, Athenians against Amazons. Our own Amazons have set themselves even more defiantly against everything vital in our civilization—our religion, the remnants of a chivalrous code of honor, our literature (thoroughly sexist), even our language. But while Theseus and his comrades were probably real men and the Amazons fictional beasts, our own Amazons are all too real. It is the men who have become fictional.
If feminists in their rage against the truth were only intellectual barbarians, all might tum out well in the end. Our civilization will be one with Nineveh and Tyre, but empires have folded up before now. When the Roman Empire collapsed in the West, it was only a matter of I, 500 years or so before Europeans rediscovered amenities like indoor plumbing, regular baths, and an-effective postal system. But the feminists have a grander program. Vandalizing a civilization is not enough. The very idea of sexual equality (man-woman) strikes deep at the roots of human nature itself. The age of chivalry was gone long before Burke pronounced his famous eulogy, but the age of husbands and wives, mothers and children-what name do we have for it except the age of man, the human age?
All this twaddle about sensitivity and equal rights, what does it come down to? A rebellion against what we are, whether you believe that “what” was declared by God or is the accumulated product of millions of years of evolution. And what is the male response to the lesbians and playgirls who wish to elevate the consciousness of their wives and daughters? It is somewhere between enthusiastic assent “take her, she’s yours”-or polite “I beg to differ.” Most decent men are simply not prepared to give feminists the treatment they deserve. They could be our sisters, daughters, or-God help us—our wives, gone off the deep end for a season. They’ll be back.
Many of them will be. Giving birth has an odd way of turning brats into women. But what will they be corning back to-the new sensitive male? I sometimes wonder why they should bother. The problem with women does not lie with women but with men; with men who were so afraid of women that they wouldn’t consent to educate their daughters properly until education meant job-training, with businessmen who think it’s good business to have an economy based on two-income families, with the all American boys who refuse to grow up and accept full responsibility for a wife and children, and with the new sensitive males that once upon a time we would have called sissies.
In the old days, when the ladies withdrew from the table and men knew the comfort of old port and strong tobacco, one of the first toasts offered was inevitably: “Gentlemen, I give you the ladies.” In that same spirit, I dedicate this issue to the patient women of America, and this essay, written on the day after her birthday, to my wife and the mother of my four children.