Wednesday, March 31, 1999
Lessons of history lost on feminists at MichiganBy Cathy Young
If there was a single most memorable moment on my visit last month to Michigan, it had to be when I was called a house servant of the ruling class.
I was at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor for a debate on domestic violence co-sponsored by the Federalist Society and the Women Law Students Association. My argument was that while the feminist movement deserves credit for getting police and the courts to take domestic abuse seriously, it has also perpetuated a one-sided, extreme view of family violence as a male war against women. As a result, too often, trivial quarrels are blown out of proportion, men are presumed guilty (particularly when it comes to personal protection orders) and women are presumed to be victims, sometimes even when they say otherwise.
My opponent was Andrea Lyon, a clinical assistant professor of law at the U-M and a practicing attorney which she repeatedly stressed. Apart from this I know what Im talking about and you dont subtext, the gist of Lyons argument was that there may well be egregious abuses and violations of defendants rights in domestic violence cases, but the same happens everywhere in the legal system. (Which, even if true, hardly makes it right.)
Ironically, one example she cited the child abuse witch-hunts of the 1980s reflected the same dogma as the excesses of the war on domestic violence: If you disbelieve a claim of victimization, youre reabusing the victim.
Lyon also pooh-poohed any talk of feminist excesses. Yes, she declared, every movement has its crazies, but of course serious feminists dont hate or demonize men. That was a funny thing to say at a law school where Catharine MacKinnon, who argues normal sex in our culture barely differs from rape, is an esteemed professor.
It was also an ironic comment to make in view of her own recent article in the Michigan Journal of Gender and the Law suggesting, for instance, that if the record of a domestic incident shows that only the woman used violence, it may be because she is willing to admit it, but the man lies. Does Lyon believe, I asked, that women are inherently more honest?
In fact, the students women and men alike generally accepted Lyons basic premise: Women in our society are so oppressed that the law cannot treat them the same as men but must tilt toward them to redress the imbalance. They took it for granted that women virtually always have less power than their male partners and cant be expected to leave abusive marriages because they are forced into economic dependency. Never mind that women end marriages all the time for far less serious reasons, or that many women left abusive husbands in days when they had far fewer job opportunities than today.
And that acceptance struck me as sad. These young women attending one of the most prestigious law schools in the country are utterly convinced that they are under the thumb of a brutal patriarchy. These young men who might be hard pressed to name one male privilege they enjoy eagerly agree that their gender should be viewed as a suspect class to undo that patriarchal dominance. These potential future lawyers and judges insist that equal protection under the law is not enough and different groups must be treated differently because of the historical context of oppression.
Clearly, those of us who believe in equal treatment regardless of sex (or race) still have an uphill battle to fight. But after the event at the law school was over, I thought of a good reply to those who argue historical context matters more than the individual. For several years, we have had before us a stark example of what happens when people are obsessed with what one group did to another 300 years ago. It is called Yugoslavia.
Cathy Young is co-founder and vice-president of the Womens Freedom Network. Her column is published on Wednesday. Write letters to The Detroit News, Editorial Page, 615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, Mich. 48226 or fax to (313) 222-6417 or send an e-mail message to email@example.com (Youngs e-mail address is CathyYoung1@compuserve.com)
Copyright 1999, The Detroit News