“I pity the girl you marry.”
Let me tell you how to write a magazine article. It’s not just a matter of spotting some brilliant story idea hidden away on page eight of the Los Angeles Times or the Washington Post, calling the guy, writing the piece, and two weeks later, you're $500 or $2500 ahead. What happens, rather, when you dial that person's number is that his line is busy all that day and half of the next, and then when you finally reach him one night at 11:15 p.m. you spend the first two minutes apologizing for the lateness of the call.
“Why should the woman be the one who has to move?”
As it turns out, he doesn’t mind; he's a decent guy, happy to cooperate but terribly pressed for time, having so far that day given consecutive interviews to ABC. UPI. NPR, and three freelance writers. Still, he can give you five minutes, if that will help, but after that he’s got to meet with a film crew from 60 Minutes and then there’s a conference with his lawyers to talk about the book. Decent guy that you are. you thank him for his time, wish him well, and hang up the telephone.
Gloria Steinem: "How would that make ... a lesbian feel?"
Later that evening, alone in your kitchen, you contemplate the hard facts. Despite what everyone acknowledges as your talent, insight, and sensitivity, you are hardly the only person who can recognize a good story when he sees it prominently featured in the newspaper. Anyone who can read can do that well. If you expect to get anywhere, you sorely need a new approach.
Joan Didion: “I’m not that interested in women who have it all together.”
For a long time you’ve been dimly aware that you have an unusual ability to chance upon a minor footnote in a book, an off-the-cuff remark in a casual conversation, an incidental fact in a long article about something else entirely, and then, in combination with many other such disparate fragments unconsciously absorbed over many years, to create a spontaneous and original thesis entirely and uniquely your own.
“But that sounds like the way men seduce women.”
Until recently, you always dismissed these as the random musings of a fevered brain, but now it suddenly occurs to you that such ideas — self-indulgent though they be — are nevertheless the raw material of terrific magazine articles.
Furthermore, as you soon discover when you begin the research, because you are no longer competing with fifty other reporters and the Instant Eye Camera from the six o’clock news, the people you call for information actually answer their telephones. To be sure, they’re a bit surprised that any reporter would want to talk to them, but they're curious and cooperative and they invite you to drop by.
In due time, your story appears. Despite its impressive originality, it makes no big splash. Your friends say a few kind words the next time you bump into them. You get a handful of letters — one from a woman who'd like to meet the author, one from a man challenging you to prove that your salary isn’t paid by the CIA. and one from an admiring reader who totally missed the point. And that’s it. No sudden rush of calls burns up your phone lines. No law firms put you on notice of their intention to file suit. None of the local writers’ guilds honors you with a distinguished journalism award.
Then one day eight months later, as you sit at your desk gnawing at your hangnails and wondering what your girlfriend was getting at last night with all that talk about not tying each other down, you answer the telephone to find yourself talking to a reporter from the New York Times or the Washington Post or an NBC affiliate who says he recently came across your piece, liked it very much, and now wants to follow up on it. After that, you start reading about the subject in newspapers and magazines. The Wall Street Journal hails it as a new trend. And Time magazine immortalizes it with a cover.
None of this, of course, has anything to do with you anymore. Your name is never mentioned and you don’t get any credit. Nor is this anything you particularly regret. In creating the single crystalline drop that later grew into such a media torrent, you made an important and original contribution to the ongoing national dialogue. And for a professional writer like you, that’s satisfaction enough.
The author states his case: background and bibliography
Owing to a certain prejudice against people who freely criticize faults in others while never owning up to their own peculiar bases, the author freely offers the following stipulations regarding his upbringing and temperament:
That the author’s father, having spent most of his working life in a Fisher Body stamping plant, had little patience with people who either refused to work or, having a job. continually complained about their hard lot in life. These people his father dismissed with two epithets: "He isn’t worth the powder to blow him up.” and. “He thinks the world owes him a living.”
That the author's mother, frustrated by what she then considered a certain stubborn streak in her son’s character, tried to make him more tolerant of other people, including herself. Her favorite observation when her efforts failed: “I pity the girl you marry.”
That, as a child, he was timid and shy, uncomfortable around loud and unruly people, preferring grassy meadows to the pleasures of a baseball diamond, avoiding rules and the people who made them.
That, as time passed, he grew up, went to college, served in the Navy, and eventually enrolled in Berkeley’s graduate journalism school, where, as his first outside assignment, he chose to write about an evening meeting held in one of the campus lecture halls attended by 200 women, the subject of which was feminism.
Mob attacks writer
The meeting took place in a cavernous lecture hall with steeply sloping aisles and a spotlighted stage. Leading the discussion were half a dozen women ranging in age from their early twenties to their late thirties, most of whom wore slacks, jeans, or bib overalls. A few carried babies and one brought along her Labrador retriever. Using examples from their own lives, the women explained how men oppress women in matters ranging from the seemingly innocuous (opening doors and lighting cigarettes) to the seriously dangerous (wife beating/rape and murder in the streets).
In order to take notes without looking like a spy, I sat in the front row. The discussion for some time dealt with what the speakers said was the belief of most husbands that their wives’ careers were less important than their own. Thus, when a man got a raise and a transfer, he expected his wife to abandon her career and follow him. Well, women needed careers as much as men did, and if the husband got transferred, he’d simply have to start commuting home on weekends. An example was offered of two college professors, married to each other, teaching at different schools, where the husband did exactly that.
I spoke up at this point, asking what happened, say, when the husband was a geologist and he’d just been offered this big raise, except he had to move to Alaska. What did the couple do then?
Actually, my question was not phrased as felicitously as it might have been. For a long time some of the speakers had taken what I thought was a rather cavalier attitude toward marriage. The way they talked, any opportunity that came along was complete justification for breaking the union apart — a new job, graduate school, the need to paint in New England because the light was better there. What I really wanted to know was, did feminists aspire to the married state? And if so. when some sort of problem arose, would they try to work it out with their husbands, or was that it, the finish — divide up the kids and the cats and file for divorce? In other words, did feminists believe in marriage, or was it just another patriarchal, capitalist trap?
A torrent from the audience:
“Why should the woman be the one who has to move?” shouted an angry voice from somewhere high above.
“Yeah,” said another. “How come she isn’t the geologist?”
“Why didn’t anyone give her a raise?”
“What’s her husband doing working for the oil monopoly anyway?”
When people are angry with me I become too upset myself to think straight. My arguments, as a result, seem so disjointed, inarticulate, and ineffectual that even I don’t believe them anymore. Halfway through my confused explanation, one of the organizers cut me off by asking just what kind of a marriage did I want for myself. I mumbled something about wanting to live communally. There was a brief pause and then the feminists moved on to more worthy opponents. But just for those few moments, 200 women held me in contempt — contempt because to them I was another hated male oppressor, and contempt because I’d turned out to be such a poor specimen of one.
The next day I still felt depressed over the fact that 200 women now considered me the enemy. Hoping somehow to justify my position, I called one of the previous night’s speakers and told her I was writing a news story on feminism which I hoped she could help me with. Ignoring my questions, she immediately began talking about the ingrained sexism of men. Would I like to hear something truly disgusting? Last night there was a meeting of feminists on campus. During the question-and-answer period some jerk stood up and said it was the duty of a wife to give up her own job and go along if her husband got transferred to Alaska. Could I appreciate the arrogance of that? She knew perfectly well who she was talking to and she knew I knew it. too. But I no longer had the will to confront her and I let the matter pass.
The feminist double standard
For the last ten years at least, lesbian separatists, radical feminists, and lots of other people who claim to be in the forefront of social change, have been going around describing men as the enemy. You can find it in Ms. magazine, in the Bitch Manifesto, in feminist anthologies, and in all those little lesbian newspapers stacked on the floor around bookstore checkout stands. I have feminist friends who tell me, “Now Paul, don't go getting yourself all worked up about this. At the beginning of every political movement the rhetoric is somewhat extreme. No one considers you the enemy.” I don’t know quite how to respond to that. On the one hand, I hear these feminists saying. Paul we love you in spite of the fact that you’re an idiot sometimes. On the other hand. I’ve met plenty of other feminists who are far too estranged and embittered to consider reconciliation with the opposite sex.
That’s okay. I can live with enemies. One good enemy is worth a dozen lukewarm friends. The only people who don’t have enemies are the ones who have never taken a stand on anything. My resentment is not so much directed against those for whom reconciliation with men is a psychological impossibility as it is against feminists who say they don’t hate men but who nevertheless can’t manage to get it together enough to complain when someone labels their husbands or brothers or sons as enemies.
Last month in my neighborhood branch library I randomly opened a feminist anthology to find myself reading a proposal to kill all the men on the grounds that they’re responsible for all the wars in history and thus deserve to die. Or, if some women are not ready just yet for such a final solution, at least to confine the men to game preserves, as is done in Africa with animals.
A few years ago Ms. magazine published an issue devoted to the topic of men. One article consisted of interviews with feminists who had the misfortune to bear boys. One mother who had “badly wanted” a daughter was shocked and appalled to find out that she’d given birth to a son instead. “When the doctor held him in the palms of his hands, all I could see was prick." Now, I don’t object to their printing that quote. It’s important to know there are feminists who feel that way about their newborn sons. What is disturbing to me is that you can search that issue of Ms. all day without finding any indication that anyone considers such antipathy toward an infant in any way twisted or sick.
Similarly, it doesn’t bother me that a modest proposal to kill all the men was included in an anthology of feminist works. People ought to have the right to say whatever they want in print, including things that make them look ridiculous. The double standard shows up when feminists refuse to speak out against unfair and hate-filled attacks on men for fear of offending their sisters. In a recent Newsday story. Gloria Steinem said she never discussed her personal life in public because the fact that she lived with a man might be seen as an indirect slur on lesbians. “I mean," the article quoted her as saying, "if someone said to me, ‘Are you a lesbian?' and I said. ‘Ooooh no. I'm not that horrible thing,’ how would that make ... a lesbian feel?"
On the plus side of the ledger, there are some feminists who have defended men against unfair attacks, one of the more prominent ones being Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who was quoted by the National Enquirer last January as saying that the women’s movement made a mistake in characterizing men as the enemy.
It might also be noted that Ms. magazine, while it doesn’t print articles condemning hateful attacks on men, does occasionally run letters to the editor from individual women asserting that their husbands are wonderful people and not at ail like the caricatures one or another Ms. writer made them out to be.
Finally, although this perhaps more correctly falls under the category of damning with faint praise, Ms. also once printed a review of a feminist novel in which the reviewer complained that, compared to the lively women characters, the men in the book were all so transparently selfish, stupid, and dull that there wasn’t any suspense in their inevitable defeat.
Guilt Is our most important product
Let me tell you what it’s like to live in Berkeley. A year ago last winter, before moving south. I was chopping onions to make dinner and listening to radio station KPFA. It’s a Pacifica station, leftist politically. uncritically supportive of feminism, black militancy. Indian rights, gay rights, Cesar Chavez, and indigenous revolution. That evening a talk-show host was interviewing a young man and woman who, with the aid of a government grant, had set up a counseling program for "battering males" — men who beat their wives. The battering male, the couple said, constituted a social problem the full dimensions of which were only now being fully understood; the women suffered tremendous abuse. The causes were several, including early male conditioning, macho self-image, backlash against the feminist movement, the inbred violence of the American male, competition, materialism, homophobia, and reactionary politics. The ultimate solution, it seemed, was restructuring society on the feminist-socialist model. In the meantime, any man who felt an uncontrollable urge to beat his wife should immediately come in for counseling at a center such as theirs.
After this, the couple seemed to have run out of things to say, and the host, trying to be helpful, asked them how long their center had been in operation.
"About a month."
"Oh, that’s interesting. How many come in for counseling on an average day?"
"Well, it’s a bit early to tell. Actually, no one has come in yet."
The host of the show. I’d like to note, had marvelous aplomb. He went right on without missing a beat, just as if the answer had come back, "Oh, it varies — fifty or sixty a week." Neither were the two counselors in any way embarrassed by the fact that they had identified and solved a problem for which there was no apparent demand. They knew the world was rampant with battering males. The fact that none had come in as yet only proved that men were sicker than they thought.
The art of Joan Didion vs. feminist socialist realism
Eight years ago I saw Joan Didion speak at a panel discussion at the San Francisco main library in honor of National Library Week. Four men were on the panel with her but none were anywhere near her league. To their credit, they realized that it was not for the purpose of hearing them talk that so many people had turned out for library week, and they gave Didion every opportunity to speak.
Even so, she proved remarkably reticent. Mostly she just sat there behind the panelist’s table tracing wet lines with her fingertips in the water tray. When called upon to speak, she frequently ran down before finishing her thought and her words came slower and more softly until, halfway through a sentence, her voice trailed off completely.
She proved nearly as shy four years later when, after a twenty-year absence, she returned to UC Berkeley to accept a month-long appointment as a regent’s lecturer. She was leaving immediately after the meeting to catch a plane out of town. She had given another public talk a few days earlier and had been so nervous she nearly threw up. As she waited in the faculty club lounge for the program to begin, she looked so small and lost you almost wanted to put your arms around her shoulders and say, “There, there, Joan. Everything’s going to be okay.” The fact that she might not have appreciated such sentiments wouldn’t have entered your mind. She was wearing a yellow blouse, large gold earrings, and outsized sunglasses. which she took off when she stood up to answer questions.
Almost immediately, a young woman asked why Didion wrote about women who “weren’t very strong?” From the questioner’s tone it was clear that she both admired and respected Joan Didion. but she seemed puzzled and perhaps a bit hurt.
“I’m not that interested in women who have it all together,” explained Didion. A novelist doesn’t choose her characters; they choose her. And once created, they take on a life of their own not entirely under the novelist’s control.
Another woman then asked what female novelist Didion most admired (Joyce Carol Oates), and a man, thinking perhaps he had hit upon a new trend in Didion’s thought, asked why Didion, in response to an earlier question about her favorite novels of the last five years, had neglected to mention any of Norman Mailer’s works. “Have you changed your mind about Mailer?” he wanted to know.
Not at all, answered Didion. but the question had specifically asked about novelists who published in the last five years. “Mailer hasn’t written a novel in five years.” But Didion liked him very much and in the course she taught at Berkeley he was on the required reading list.
Not long afterward, Ms. magazine ran an interview with Didion and her husband. John Gregory Dunne, which had taken place in their Malibu home. As with all of Didion’s interviews, it was one of those awkward, fragmented conversations with long silences, interrupted thoughts, and sentences begun either by Didion or Dunne and finished by the other.
Not wanting to antagonize Didion with what now must seem like a complaint, the interviewer saved her most important question till the end. Why was it, she asked, that Didion never wrote about strong women?
Didion stared at her plate and picked at an egg, while her husband answered for her. Anyone who can ask that kind of question, he said, “doesn't know a goddamned thing about literature.”
Make-up as a capitalist tool
Early in the 1972 presidential campaign, I volunteered to work in the Berkeley headquarters of the McGovern for President committee. This was before McGovern won the New Hampshire primary. There were few workers and little money. We mimeographed our own campaign literature, attributing to McGovern those positions we thought he should have. An enterprising telephone freak rewired the office phones so we didn’t have to pay for long distance calls. The more ideological volunteers debated important issues with each other and passed around petitions for everyone to sign. I typed mimeos. stuffed envelopes, and wrote letters to the editor, a few of which were printed.
Once it became apparent that McGovern was going to win the Democratic nomination, ambitious veterans from the other campaigns swarmed aboard like the U.S. Marines, acting officious, insisting on the chain of command, and setting up empires all over the place, which, after McGovern beat Nixon, they could redeem for staff jobs at the White House.
Despairing of working with such people, I decided to drop out of the campaign, staying on only long enough to attend a final party with some of the original staff at the northside apartment of a woman volunteer, where, as was our custom, we sipped cheap red wine and complained that McGovern’s stand on the issues was too far to the right. Some of the women present were feminist activists who looked at every gathering as an opportunity to raise mass consciousness. One of them, a union organizer named Anita, began to complain about what she said was the incredible sexism of a society where attractive women had lifelong advantages over women of below-average looks.
It was a condition, apparently, which everyone present had long deplored. Make-up. they readily agreed, was a sexist trick for making sexual objects out of women, thereby guaranteeing their continued subjugation, it forced women into competition with their sisters for the attentions of a man. while, at the same time, it permitted the cosmetics companies to cull obscene profits from the human misery they themselves created.
“Well, if I had to choose between two women for a job.” I interjected, “and both were equally qualified, except one was pretty and one was not, I’d hire the pretty one.” I furthermore said I didn’t see anything wrong with this; it was human nature to appreciate beauty.
Once again I had the sensation of sitting alone on a stage while 200 people shouted at me in the dark. I was accused of sexism, insensitivity, and racism—the latter on the grounds that my white male standards of beauty discriminated against our black sisters. Besides all this. Anita's husband now noted that in the example I gave I naturally cast myself as the employer. Didn't that show, he triumphantly asserted, on which side my sympathies lay?
I tried to defend myself, but as everyone seemed to think my politics were grievously in error. I bowed to the general will. As the discussion moved on to other matters. I sat there brooding over the injustice of my being cast as a defender of make-up, whereas in fact I never liked it at all and on those rare occasions when a woman asked my opinion, I always recommended that she wash it off.
Unkinder still was the fact that, except for Anita herself, the women who had attacked the wearing of make-up were themselves wearing lipstick, eye liner, eye shadow, and, in two instances, mascara so heavy it stuck together in grainy clumps on the tips of their lashes. "If make-up is a tool of oppression," I asked a woman next to me on the couch, "then why are you wearing mascara?"
Unlike me, she didn’t see this as a contradiction. “We’ve been conditioned to think we need it. We can’t help ourselves. ”
There it was again, that marvelous ability to ignore contradictions as the ducks ignore the rain. Depending on your current ideological requirements, oppression could mean anything you wanted it to. from what Hitler did to the Jews to the subtle brainwashing by which men force Berkeley feminists to wear mascara against their will.
The art of lesbian seduction
Between 1973 and 1976 I worked as a stringer for the San Francisco bureau of Time magazine. In those days it was easier to get sex stories into the back-of-the-book sections than any other kind. Consequently. when I ran out of money. I'd suggest stories on homosexuals, bisexuals. transsexuals, and everything in between. Once, while doing a story on bisexuality. I interviewed a young woman named Lisa, who at the time worked for a sex information hotline. She had an advanced degree in psychology. She was bright, witty, and attractively seductive.
I'd just put away my notebook after a long talk on bisexual theory and practice and was preparing to leave when she began telling me stories about bisexual parties. By her account, the number of crosscurrents and combinations at such events was so varied and intense that at times she simply had to close her eyes and stand still until her pulse slowed down. But for sheer nerve-wracking pleasure, said Lisa, the most fun of all was the seduction of another woman.
“When I meet someone I like." she said. “I ask her over for dinner in the middle of the week. You can always invite a woman over for dinner on a Tuesday night without raising eyebrows. The other thing I do is serve wine — a lot of wine. ”
After dinner. Lisa would approach the subject obliquely, asking about her friend’s politics, the kind of books she read, whether or not she liked poetry. “If she liked lesbian poets, for instance, ” said Lisa, “that was an excellent sign.”
The tendering of a sexual offer was for Lisa a matter of the greatest delicacy. She never propositioned anyone outright, preferring instead to make her desires known during what to outsiders would seem a perfectly innocent conversation, but which to Lisa was subliminally interwoven with subtle invitations to sex. The problem, Lisa complained, was that it was entirely possible to talk in such a fashion for an hour or more without fully knowing whether one’s offer had been accepted or even understood. “My head would just be spinning.” she said.
I never wrote about Lisa for Time. They dealt too much in nuts and bolts to use a subtle story of texture and tone. A year later, when I was finally ready to attempt such a story. I called Lisa back. She wasn't as friendly as she'd been before. She said she was no longer a bisexual, having given up on men entirely to become a full-time lesbian. I told her that I didn't see that as a problem. I d been very impressed with her account of her erotic encounters with other women and now I wanted to write a story on lesbian seduction.
“I don't understand.” said Lisa.
I explained that her account of inviting women over for weekday-night dinners, serving them wine, asking them about lesbian poetry, and conducting these multi leveled conversations was a marvelous story.
Lisa was aghast. “But that sounds like the way men seduce women.”
“Lisa, that’s what you told me last year.”
On the contrary, said Lisa, it wasn’t what she'd said at all. In typical male fashion I had twisted everything she had told me about the love between two women and made it seem shabby and pornographic. She didn't want to be pan of such a story. If I really wanted to learn something about women. I ought to read Shulamith Firestone’s book. The Dialectic Of Sex.
A guilty male is a masterpiece
In Berkeley I lived with a feminist for two years. We tended to disagree about everything, including the issue of feminism. She once spent most of a long automobile ride from San Francisco to the Russian River trying to get me to agree to the proposition that men oppress women. She had formulated it as an oath which she wanted me to swear to. The fact that I wouldn’t, she said, showed arrogance and lack of character.
I said I’d never swear to any such thing. It was demeaning and I resented the fact that she’d even ask.
She said she resented my resentment against such a fundamental truth: men did oppress women. If it weren’t for my perverse stubbornness, I would have admitted the obvious long ago: women faced systematic, widespread discrimination in every facet of society, from marriage to education, employment to the arts. I don’t remember precisely which arguments she used on this occasion, but having lived so long in Berkeley I was familiar with them all — marriage was a trap that held a woman down, and children were a disaster that finished her off completely. The professions had excluded women so long that now they only held a small percentage of the highest-paying jobs. Men who never finished high school made more than female college graduates. In business, most of the secretaries were women and all the executives were men. In government, what did women have — a few congresswomen. an occasional Republican senator from Maine, someone named Kreps in the commerce department?
Under the circumstances, my girlfriend asked, how could I sit there and blandly deny that women were discriminated against?
I wasn’t denying there was discrimination, I said. A period of temporary discrimination is the universal fate of every group when it first aspires to higher positions of responsibility and power. But it was not so much a nationwide plot to keep women down as it was the law of inertia in human affairs. Besides, I complained, why was she blaming me? I never hired or fired anyone in my life. The poorest-paid secretary in the most unenlightened firm still made more from her job than I did from mine. And yet to hear her talk. I was enjoying all these fantastic perquisites of wealth and power just from having been born a male.
I reminded her of what Nora Ephron had said in a lecture we’d attended at the College of Marin: “It’s always been harder to be a man.” If men had it so easy, I wanted to know, why was it that women lived eight years longer than they did? Why was it that men suffered from higher rates of suicide and heart attack? Why was the male death rate higher than that of the female at every age?
Look, she explained, she wasn’t blaming me. She was only trying toexplain how men oppress women.
Well, if she wasn’t blaming me, then I didn’t want to hear about it.
I couldn't shut her up with threats. She'd talk about what she wanted to.
Look, she could talk all night, for all I cared. I just didn’t want her talking to me.
Did I know what was wrong with me? I couldn’t face the truth.
Did she know what her problem was? She was mad at her father, except he wasn’t around, so she was taking it out on me.
She wasn’t taking it out on me at all. She was only explaining what everyone in the world recognized except me, and I was getting defensive about it.
I was getting defensive about it because she was blaming me.
She wasn’t blaming me. She was only explaining how men oppress women.
Well, if she wasn’t blaming me, then I didn’t want to hear about it.
Generally, our arguments went on in the same vein until, after an hour or so, their absurdity became apparent even to us. Then we would laugh and apologize and, for a while, everything would be fine.
Turning the anti-maternal tide
Before leaving Berkeley last fall, I gave a going-away party for myself and invited all my friends, including a former classmate from graduate school. She’d been very busy in the intervening years, writing a food column, running a restaurant, falling in and out of numerous relationships, camping in Hawaii, vacationing in the Greek Isles, tennis twice a week. At my party, though, she was pensive and subdued. She was over thirty now, she was tired of running around. She wanted to find a stable man, settle down, and “have babies.’’
I remember being absurdly touched by that announcement. Having lived eight years in an area so thoroughly imbued with feminist ideology as Berkeley was, it never occurred to me that a bright, attractive woman might deliberately clutter up a successful career just to "have babies.’’ The only women who still saw babies as a viable alternative. I’d been led to believe, were those who fell into the bottom third on the Stanford-Benet test, unassimilated immigrants, fecund Roman Catholics, and the lumpenproletariat. Under the circumstances, hearing an educated, attractive, and independently successful woman say that she had a need in her bones for children made me feel protective and warm and pathetically grateful.
Bunk and utter bunk
Let me tell you how I came to write this piece. One morning last January I was sitting at the dining room table with my feet up on a chair, sipping Earl Grey tea and reading a newspaper account about a conference of male feminists at UCLA. The purpose of the conference was to show solidarity with feminists and gay men, to attack masculine role models, to learn to play and hug and cry and do all the things that men are supposed to do but allegedly can’t.
Among the conferees was a group from Madison, Wisconsin, calling itself “The Other Side of the Coin.’’ According to the news account, it was their unique perspective that women oppressed men, and they wanted a forum to argue their cause. The collective that had organized the conference refused them official sanction, whereupon they held their workshops on the lawn. Afterward, the newspaper quoted one of the conference organizers as saying that the notion that women oppress men was the “sheerest bunk.” He didn't say that the reverse was also bunk, just the notion that women oppress men.
Well, it seemed to me that in the distinction was a story somewhere. I called several men from the collective, met with them in their offices and homes, studied the literature they gave me, turned over in my mind their detailed analysis of my old sexist ways. In their various voices, they all said the same thing: I was wrong in feeling blamed. Feminists didn’t consider me the enemy, at least not anymore. The problem was an unnecessary one, created totally by the media, which, in sensationalizing a few unrepresentatively shrill voices on feminism’s outermost fringes, served to cause undue divisiveness between women and men. This was not to say that women didn’t have cause to be angry. You’d be angry, too, if you’d been held down, ground under, and otherwise oppressed by men. It was, rather, that feminists no longer blamed men for oppressing them. The real enemy, they now understood, was the patriarchal capitalistic system, which, in forcing men into their oppressive roles, made victims out of men and women alike. As such, the system had to be struggled with and fought against until, collapsing under the weight of its internal contradictions, it fell before a newer, finer socialistic system based on principles of universal justice, compassion. and equality.
Until I talked to this collective of male feminists, I’d never been able to figure out what it was about feminism that I didn’t like; why, for instance, as I once complained to an old friend. I wished there were some way to vote for the ERA. and at the same time vote against some of its louder and more offensive proponents, the people who, once it passed, would not be content with viewing it as a victory for equality, fairness, and simple human decency, but who would rather proclaim it to be a justly deserved and properly humiliating defeat for men. Those kind of feminists I couldn't stand — the ones who were spiteful, vindictive, and who, no matter what they might say about not “blaming” men. nevertheless truly and unquestioningly knew that men were the enemy; the ones who talked about “struggle" and “oppression" and the “patriarchal capitalist system." and who. ten minutes after you met them, began likening the struggle of women with the struggle of blacks and comparing what they said was a man’s desire to run his wife’s life at home with the desire of American imperialists to run everyone else’s life abroad.
In fact. I quickly discovered, it wasn’t feminism per se that I objected to at all — that is, if by feminism w hat was meant was equal pay for equal work, an end to discriminatory practices in credit, housing, unemployment, and the right of a woman to apply all her talents and all her abilities to anything she wanted to. The part I had trouble with was that feminism seemed to come inexorably intertwined with the standard leftist ideological line —the concept of class struggle, the ruthlessness of capitalism, the moral degeneracy at America’s heart, the belief we cause most of the world's misery, the willingness in the name of justice to smash all contrary points of view, the moral certainty of one’s superior vision, and so strong a desire for not only equality of opportunity but equality of result that any measure to bring it about was fully justified, including, a Russian dissident recently wrote, “attempts to straighten the stooped and shorten the tall.”
There are feminists. I know, who don’t believe in socialism and the patriarchal, capitalistic, imperialistic conspiracy, and the next time I meet one I plan to ask her to lunch. As for the feminist-socialists. I know they’re angry, disillusioned, and unhappy with the way their lives are turning out. But the fact is, to paraphrase James Thurber, everyone is disillusioned. That’s no excuse for blaming dashed hopes and scattered dreams on the perfidy of men. That’s mere pettiness, and not worthy of the free and independent women they truly are.