“The Queen is most anxious to enlist everyone to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of women’s rights,” wrote Queen Victoria in 1870 to Sir Theodore Martin. “Woman would become the most hateful, heartless and disgusting of human beings, were she allowed to unsex herself.” Pausing only to add “fanatical” and “idiotic” to Her Majesty’s adjectives, and with a century and a quarter’s hindsight to my advantage, I can only admire the Queen’s prescience. It is not that the fishwives and Madame Thenardiers have grown any fishier—for they were always bad enough—it is rather that the Cosettes and Di Vernons have disappeared. I do not say that women ought to be Victorian violets, or that every new freedom gained by the sex should be repealed, but it is sad to note how each advance seems to make women more unsatisfied, more spiteful, and more vulgar.

It is difficult to tell precisely when the corruption set in; a misogynist might reply sardonically “the Garden of Eden,” but I love the ladies too well to join the crabby ranks of woman-haters through the ages, so my judgment must be more considered, though romantic, and I am forced to choose a time before I was born—the 1960’s, “between the end of the Chatterley ban / and the Beatles’ first L.P.” Although not all women ran mad during the 60’s, enough did to induct their daughters en masse into the cult of feminism; this, added to the revolting politics of the period, and its orgiastic carelessness and general degradation, broke ground for an age that was new but whose vices were old, an age whose roots could be found in the Rome of Elagabalus or the London of the Restoration. An even more violent outbreak of familiar “modernity” can be discerned in the early 1980’s with the discovery of AIDS and our subsequent fixation on the medical and mechanical aspects of sex. Since then the “modern young woman” has taken much pride in speaking, acting, and clothing herself very much like a whore, while thinking like a puritan. Now there is no longer even the romantic pretense of the 60’s; the free love, gentleness, and innocence that the imagination paints upon that decade have become the naked and unnatural aggression, selfishness, and viciousness personified by the “role model” worshiped in a thousand “women’s studies” courses—the modern Messalina, Madonna Ciccone.

However, women being women, the newfangled young ladies arc entirely naive when it comes to the actual relations between men and women—the vulgar loudmouth so proud of her equality and “empowerment” knows less about men than the shyest Dickens virgin, hence the prevalence of “date-rape” (i.e., being taken advantage of). These pitiful creatures so “secure in their sexuality” are nevertheless innocent of facts that their unenlightened grandmothers knew, namely that men are carnal. And as it was women who civilized men through the ages, their abdication of that role leaves men to run riot and act as abominably as ever they did. My father’s solicitous behavior toward my mother taught me how decent women ought to be treated, but the old Adam in me, encountering so many girls ready to buy love and attention at the price of a one-night stand, could only marvel and prevail.

A fundamental tenet of the cult of feminism is that women must act with all the rudeness, contempt, and brutality that men sometimes exhibit toward women and toward each other; this is called “empowerment,” and men are supposed to be frightened of a “powerful” woman. In fact, men find such women laughable. Because we have outgrown our fears of the frigid grade school teacher, we are not impressed by Hillary Rodham Clinton, we have only contemptuous chuckles for Madonna Ciccone because we have seen better bodies on cheaper whores, and our only reaction to the frozen smile on the (surgically improved?) face of Naomi Wolf as she fulminates about sexism is “cute babe . . . what did she say?” The modern Barbie-bitch responds to this by trying to outdo men, usually by making sardonic comments about the “boys,” and—the lowest and cheapest shot—talking about our privy members. What a hypocrite. This is the same talking nail-file who can sniff “sexual harassment” at 50 paces, and for whom normal male behavior is deeply suspect. She dreams of date-rape so that she can have something to feel indignant about.

What is sad about the excesses and “openness” of the last few decades is that they have caused so many ordinary men to become either milksops or brutish thugs, and women to add the worst characteristics of the male to the female repertoire. As women friends have told me in secret, though men can be boorish and sometimes cruel, women exceed them in sheer refinement of viciousness, especially toward other women and the gentler and more old-fashioned type of man. Men generally make women cry through sins of omission and lumpish insensitivity, whereas women often do it through spite. To combine this female trait with an imitation of male power (however ineffectual) is to make for a pretty horrid sort of woman. Anyway, are women really more “powerful” today, as feminists claim? I think not—my older matriarchal women friends, who make me blanch and will probably call me boy when I’m in my 30’s, think that feminism is balderdash and that young women are naive and whining hypocrites. And certainly any comparison of movies old and new favors Katharine Hepburn, Myrna Loy, Barbara Stanwyck, and the Rosalind Russell of His Girl Friday over the characterless morons and strippers who portray the modern woman.

Not that women are all to blame—after all, both sexes took part in the free-fall of the 1960’s, and it was mostly men who voted to make irrationality into law in the various equal rights amendments of the following decade. As for the youth movements of the 60’s, they were co-opted by the rich and luxurious senators and tribunes of the media, and these greasy Luculluses sold our unlicensed vulgarity back to us by the sackload. Any perusal of the magazines, newspapers, movies, and television programs of the last three decades shows our ever-increasing decadence. The intellectuals started it; Norman Mailer’s obsession with the orgasm and John Updike’s tedious couplings filtered into the glossy magazines, and soon obscenity and license were fashionable. It took a little longer for TV to join in; the point of no return seems to have been reached in the early 1980’s—before it there were shows like Donna Reed and Happy Days, after it Roseanne and Married with Children. And it was the 80’s that blessed us with Dr. Ruth, looking like Mengele’s procuress, a shameless embarrassment who should have been locked in a nursing home to drool and befoul herself.

There is little left to hide now, what with advertisements for prophylactics and various forms of female itch cream with names like Clitroslimol competing for space on the airwaves. The lady in Swift’s poem seems to be selling most of the contents of her dressing table on television; “Celia! Celia! Celia has a yeast infection!” Worse still is our sick obsession with gratuitous depictions of childbirth. Hardly a day goes by without a shameless actress spreading her legs and pretending to give birth, moans and all, on some made-for-TV movie.

Shamelessness is a badge that the fair sex wears with pride now; the very idea that behavior might be thought immodest is beyond the comprehension of most people under 40, and therefore few of the ordinary decencies are observed. Somehow humiliation and exhibitionism have become a mark of honor, of “liberation.” In England, young girls glory in going topless in the pages of the Sun; in America, they queue up to appear on Howard Stern’s radio show (Belinda Carlisle from the Go-Go’s was recently on Stern—he paid her $150 to let him cut off her stockings and fondle her feet). Women rarely (other than for political reasons) upbraid men for being boorish and lewd, and often join in the worst kind of masculine vulgarity. Nevertheless, they enjoy a double standard that is scandalous; a woman may act as outrageously as she wishes without fear of reproach, but the slightest cross-eyed glance, the minutest male infraction, however trivial, is grounds for sending a man to the Star Chamber of “sexual harassment.”

This double standard has grown so common that we have come to accept feminism as normal and to mouth pious platitudes when confronted with the absurd situations caused by the cult. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent changing military materiel to make it unisex, carriers torn apart, aircraft ejection seats altered at great cost, and the result of this endeavor? After repeated warnings by real soldiers and fliers against the idiocy of putting women in combat, the first female combat pilot destroys herself and a $100 million plane while patrolling in the Pacific. Nice work. Women purporting to take male roles have never been held to the same standards as men, and the craziness at the all-male Citadel military academy in Virginia is another excellent example. Shannon Faulkner not only attempted to destroy its tradition (knowing there are a hundred military schools that take girlies), but having forced her way in with the aid of demented judges, refused to accept having her head shaved along with the male cadets. I have friends in the marines whose description of hazing makes me glad to be an effete writer; training soldiers is a tough, unfair, horrible, and often unbearable process. Those who survive are changed and hardened, and I think that no woman should be put through something so awful. But if little Miss Shannon really wants to be a soldier, let her be hazed with the rest; marines are probed and tormented to find their weak points—a woman’s weak point is obvious, and young Shannon could be raped repeatedly to see what she is made of. This is a horrible thing to write, but feminist cultists must be shocked into common sense: What the hell do they think the enemy will do to her?

Unfortunately, this kind of toughness may vet come to pass—C.J. Cherryh’s sci-fi novel Rimrunners describes just such a violated and hardened female space marine of the future, and a glance at American Gladiators and Cynthia Rothrock movies is enough to show that we are well on the way. I would not even mind that much, if there were still some gentle ladies left, but where are they? Today’s young women are easily stereotyped, and hardly any of the stereotypes are attractive. It would be foolish of me to claim to know what women were really like before I was born, but a romantic comparison is possible, using the pure image of movies and television then and now. Then we had Deanna Durbin and Alice Fae, now we have Shannon Doherty and Sharon Stone. Then we had Audrey Hepburn and Hayley Mills, now we have the blubber-lipped Kim Basinger and Juliette Lewis. Then we had Audrey Meadows and Lucille Ball, now we have Roseanne Barr.

There have been changes even within my lifetime. The Charlie’s Angels of my childhood were paragons of femininity compared to the dismal sluts one sees on TV today. And pop music? I remember Karen Carpenter, those darlings in Abba, the young Kate Bush, even Blondie, with nostalgia; I miss their sweet voices, charming melodies, and apparent innocence. Now there are no more tunes and the voices are turned to shrieks, and the absolute lack of any discernible musical talent is covered over with a thick mucous layer of MTV attitude. For this is the 90’s; the great era of the female musician. She comes in three basic types: the fake, six-year-old, petulant, lisping Daddy’s girl, skipping about and singing in an annoying whine; the Madwoman of Chaillot complete with loose gestures and rolling eyes, gurgling and howling like a Bulgarian widow; and finally the Woman Songwriter with long dresses and combat boots, often wearing glasses and singing in a self-involved monotone that belongs in a Soviet tank factory.

Which brings me finally to the female voice. Whatever happened to it? When I watch old movies or listen to old radio programs I am often struck by the loveliness of female tones, from the peachy bass flute of Margaret Dumont to the “lark ascending” of Deanna Durbin. For some reason, women can no longer speak beautifully. The older ones usually cultivate an angry flat delivery like a feminist drill sergeant, and the young girls croak like frogs. The ubiquitous croaking noise that issues from the throats of the young is an attempt to sound like a stoner, an habitual drug addict. I suppose the girls think it makes them sound sexy.

Oh, where have the women all gone? Was it only 40 years ago that Jerry Lewis got stuck in a girl’s school in You’re Never Too Young? I watched the movie the other night, and marveled at how innocent and honestly young those little actresses were, how soft of voice, how gentle and kind, and how various—short, plain, pretty, tall, plump, bossy, but all of them adorable. Watching their modern counterparts forms an invidious comparison, so many of them croaking, bitchy, simpering, nasty toughs obsessed with sexual politics. As they grow, they will mate with new men and breed snarling brats whose vocabulary consists of the word “cool.” But where have the women all gone? Where can one find those wonderful creatures who used to be so . . . feminine?

I may not be the only young person asking such questions, however. The title of this article is taken from a poignant song by an effervescent New York folk duo named Drink Me:

Hey there reference librarians.

Hey rare book antiquarians,

Hey there octogenarians, answer please.

What will I do with these flowers and gems?

To whom will I recite these wretched poems?

How will I live in a world without them?

Where have the women all gone?