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Tuesday, May 11, 1999

Women's rights . . . and wrongs
Cathy Young claims the feminist movement has gone off the rails. The author believes in equal rights, but that means men must be given a fair deal, too

Donna Laframboise
National Post

Greg Kinch, National Post / Cathy Young, author of Ceasefire! Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality: "Most feminists see equality as a matter of convenience."

In eighth grade in the Soviet Union, Cathy Young recited to the rest of her class poems banned by the government. In her teens, she devoured books that could have resulted in a five-year prison term, and "knowingly and unrepentantly committed an illegal act" several times a month by using someone else's card to gain admittance to a Moscow library.

Born Ekaterina Jung, Young was only 17 when her family emigrated to the United States in 1980, but she already knew more than most of us about how far from its original good intentions a revolution can stray.

In her latest book, Ceasefire! Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality, the 36-year-old Young says the contemporary women's movement has also gone off the rails. In her view, "the biggest impediment" to genuine gender equity "is what passes for feminism today."

After experiencing firsthand the disastrous Soviet system, it's no surprise that Young leans toward the right of the political spectrum. But being raised in a country in which the official press declared women liberated and yet still exhorted them to be meek, weak, and compliant also made her into a fierce feminist.

A columnist for the Detroit News and a co-founder of the Women's Freedom Network -- a group that explicitly rejects traditional views of women -- Young demands intellectual rigour and moral consistency from both the Left and the Right.

While her book is primarily a critique of modern feminism, some of her harshest words are directed at conservatives -- such as the one who wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 1997 that "manliness is endangered by women having equal access to jobs outside the home."

According to Young, just as the characters in Orwell's Animal Farm merely replaced one unjust system with another, feminism has been more interested in female advantage than in fair play.

"Most feminists," she writes, "see equality as a matter of convenience: women are as tough and aggressive as men when it comes to fighting wars or fires, but frail and helpless when it comes to domestic violence; as carnal as men when it comes to sexual freedom, but innocent and victimized in any sexual conflict."

Combined with gullibility on the part of the media and male hesitation to criticize women, this self-serving feminist agenda has led, says Young, to a situation in which the general public is profoundly misinformed about the true state of gender relations.

"Girls are not silenced or ignored in the classroom. Medicine has not neglected women's health. Abuse by men is not the leading cause of injury to American women; the courts do not treat violence toward women more leniently than violence toward men," declares Young in her introduction. "The '80s was not a 'backlash decade' but a time of steady progress for women . . . The climate in our society is not one of 'cultural misogyny' . . . but is far more saturated with negative attitudes toward men."

In even-handed, carefully footnoted prose, Young cites a mountain of evidence that contradicts many feminist beliefs, demonstrating in the process the meagreness of the data on which so much feminist "scholarship" has depended. She also argues that many feminist-inspired public policy initiatives have spawned massive new categories of injustice.

Young writes of a man who lost his job at a waste-water treatment plant after a co-worker complained that his copy of Esquire magazine "with a G-rated cover photo of an actress buttoning up her bra" constituted sexual harassment. She tells of a coast guard captain who found himself on the receiving end of "a criminal probe that drove him to suicide" after delivering mildly racy jokes at a banquet.

She describes numerous cases in which men have been slapped with questionable restraining orders, often in the midst of an acrimonious divorce, and have been harshly penalized for minor infractions. One man, says Young, "asked a telephone operator to tell his ex-wife that his dying mother wanted to see her grandchildren, and spent over 100 days in jail. Another was arrested for violating a restraining order . . . by stepping out of his car to pet his dogs when he came to pick up his son, and again for returning his son's call."

While Young acknowledges that situations still exist in which women in real danger from violent men don't receive adequate protection from the authorities, she says the problem is that "when an injustice goes the other way, there is no outcry."

Although feminists have stereotyped men as dangerous and abusive, Young calmly points out that, according to "federal statistics, more American women are attacked by other women than by husbands or ex-husbands;" that battering in lesbian relationships is at least as common as in heterosexual ones; and that a survey of bisexual women found "that more had been physically and sexually abused in relationships with women than with men."

Although those on every side of the political spectrum demand that something be done about domestic violence when men are accused of it, Young notes that no one talked about the 1998 murder of comedian Phil Hartman in these terms. After being shot in his sleep by his wife, Hartman wasn't considered a battered husband, but someone who'd had to "restrain [his spouse] at times" in order to prevent her from harming anyone. Rather than being labelled an abuser, his wife was described as a pathetic soul struggling with "emotional demons" who had difficulty "controlling her anger."

As Young points out, the notion that men -- but not women -- should be held fully accountable for their misdeeds sometimes results in shocking inequities. "No feminist," she notes, "spoke up when a Virginia woman got an 18-month sentence for torturing her live-in boyfriend's small son and the boy's father got eight years for failing to intervene."

Despite its moral shallowness and incoherent logic, Young says contemporary feminism appeals to many ordinary women "by 'validating' and giving a larger meaning to their personal problems." But she says that casting women's anger at men in political terms does no one any favours. Such anger, she says, "has little to do with politics, patriarchy, or even men being from Mars and women being from Venus. It has to do with the tensions and messiness of intimacy."

The challenge, says Young, is for both women and men to "deal with the other person's unique qualities or [their] own inadequacies" rather than trying to lay the blame elsewhere.

"Don't mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, siblings [and] same-sex lovers feel at times that they must cross a labyrinth to reach one another?" she reminds us.

Somewhere along the way, Young believes, feminism shifted its focus "from women's rights to women's wrongs." It exaggerated female problems and remained silent while other people's civil liberties got trampled.

It's therefore high time that feminism be replaced, she says, with "a philosophy that is not pro-woman (or pro-man) but pro-fairness; that stresses flexibility and more options for all; that encourages us to treat people, regardless of sex, as human beings."


From Cathy Young's Ceasefire!:

On male-bashing by women: If women are allowed to get away with bigotry, it means that they are not being taken as seriously.

On the Promise Keepers, a conservative Christian men's group: Declarations that husband and wife are equal but that he has the last word smack of Orwellian Newspeak.

On author Naomi Wolf's notion of Power Feminism: "Power feminism" with the slogan "More for Women" -- won't do. Women don't always deserve more.

On teen magazines: The idea of teenage girls' magazines focused on something other than fashions, boys, and Hollywood is a laudable one; but "alternative" magazines that dwell on the perils facing girls under patriarchy aren't much of an improvement.

On paternalism, Left and Right: Conservatives and liberals differ on plenty of things when it comes to women's roles

. . . But they seem to agree that it should be a matter of special concern to protect innocent females from bad males and other bad things.

On believing feminist-generated statistics: It's about time we recognized that ideological zeal can be as strong an incentive to bend the truth as the profit motive.

- On the need for even-handedness: Today, most gender issues are women's and men's issues -- and if we don't take the male perspective into account, we miss half the picture.

- On treating women as an interest group: As long as women's voting patterns and political interests remain somewhat different from men's, attempts to seek the "women's vote" will continue. Nevertheless, just as most politicians today would recognize that they have a moral responsibility not to appeal to racial or ethnic bigotry, they should recognize that they have a moral responsibility not to contribute to gender polarization.

Copyright Southam Inc.