Talk about an uproar. You might have seen it. Recently, Suzanne Venker, the niece of anti-feminist Phyllis Schafly, wrote an article on FoxNews’s website called, “The War on Men.” Since then, the blogosphere, twittersphere, and just about every feminist in the country has been up in arms. The article, they say, is “insulting to women” and a “waste of time.” “Don’t bother reading it” is the general consensus.
How wrong they are.
Venker sees a recent PEW study reporting Millennial men don’t want to marry as a sign that the dearth of “marriageable men” is the fault of the women’s movement. She says women’s changing roles over the past few decades have pushed “men off of their pedestals.”
The result? “After decades of browbeating the American male, men are tired,” Venker writes. And not just tired, they are “pissed off.” Men are refusing to get married because, “women aren’t women anymore.”
It’s true. The gender straight-jacket that confined women to the limiting roles of wife, mother, and housekeeper, has been burst open. Women can now aspire to a myriad of complex and meaningful roles and have greater opportunities than ever before. You can’t have missed the headlines announcing women now make up the majority of college students, are increasingly the primary breadwinners, and that the end of men is nigh. The era of women as subservient to men is long over and, today, confusion reigns.
Venker’s article, and the 209,000 readers who “liked” it, reveal a deep anxiety over the changes currently being played out in society. The reality, as we know, is women have been changing for decades. Even before the Feminist Mystique was published in 1963, we have been resisting the limitations of the old notion of femininity. It is only now, finally, that society as a whole sees that the era of masculine predominance is coming to an end.
And many are afraid. If women have broadened the definition of what it means to be female, where does that leave men? Venker, and those like her, argue for a return to the days of old when patriarchy made everything more clear. Men were in charge and women did all the work (You could argue not much has changed so why all the complaining, but I digress).
Venker is wrong in that we feminists aren’t waging a war on men, we are waging a war on patriarchy. The gender straight-jacket required by patriarchy, the one that limited women for so long, is as confining to men. It was confining in 1963 when the second wave feminist movement and it is even more so now.
Provider. Soldier. Athlete. Aggressor.
These are the roles and characteristics that define masculinity even in the current “post-feminist” 21st century. And yet, we are seeing more and more men becoming stay-at-home dads and in careers that are traditionally considered female centric (eg: nurse, teacher, administrative assistant). We are also seeing more and more men claim their connection to their children (mother’s aren’t the only ones who want flex-time) and even crying (Did you see POTUS thank his staff?). This is just the beginning of the changing nature of manhood, the kind that will benefit us all.
Our challenge as women is to not fall backwards ourselves, but to pull everyone forward with us. We need to support men as they push their own boundaries both professionally and personally. Compassion should be our stead.
We must model leadership for the 21st century, the kind that allows all humans to reach their full potential. It is only when men are given the support and encouragement to find their fullest expression of self, that true equality will be achieved. In the meantime, you’ll still find me fighting the good ole fight; it’s one war I believe in.
By the way, check out this fantastic video by two young women who detail the impact of Phyllis Schafly. Love her or hate her, she certainly has wielded significant influence in the past decades.