How does a man become a feminist? What would lead a normally constituted American male to throw in with an ideology that appears to be unfriendly to men?
The answer is: gratitude.
True enough, very few men openly identify themselves as feminists. Still, many men happily mouth the basic tenets of the feminist credo. They may not understand what they are saying, but they support the cause because they feel grateful for what feminism has done for them.
Take Hugo Schwyzer. He has been married four times. He has had countless casual sexual encounters and no small number of relationships. Manifestly, he feels grateful and perhaps endebted to feminism for having provided him with so much free love.
So, he defends the feminist party line.
In debating Neely Steinberg Schwyzer does not dispute that feminism, especially sex-positive feminism, has helped create the hookup culture.
Yet, Schwyzer thinks it’s a good thing, for him, for his fourth wife, and for everyone who wants to learn from experience. Being anything but a gentleman Schwyzer lets on that his fourth wife can match him hookup for hookup.
Unless she has completely sold out her self-respect for the feminist cause, I suspect that she is not very happy to read all about it.
Steinberg explains what feminism has done for men: “Instead of embracing the emotional and biological differences between men and women, or at least considering them, sex-positive feminists buried their heads in the sand, unintentionally creating, in the meantime, a veritable sexual playground for men, often times at the expense of women, many of whom just wanted relationships that were both sexually and emotionally satisfying. Women were told they could have their cake and eat it too, but the dessert in many ways has been a better payoff for men.”
How does feminism create male adherents to its cause? It provides them with an endless supply of young women.
Of course, this assumes that men want nothing more from women than free sex. If men are looking for marriage and family, the hookup culture detracts from this goal. It teaches men to respect women less. It teaches women to respect themselves less.
It should not surprise anyone that fewer and fewer Americans are getting married today.
According to Steinberg feminist fairy godmothers tell young women that they should get in touch with their sexuality by getting drunk and spreading their legs. Dutifully they comply.
They don’t really like it. They do not really want it. In truth, they are sacrificing themselves for the feminist cause.
How did feminism convince women to sacrifice their self-respect and their reputations? Steinberg explains: “The Samantha Jones (of Sex and the City fame) lifestyle was, in my opinion, a false bill of goods, sold to impressionable young women as glamorous, exciting, and liberating, while ignoring any sort of biological mechanisms that induce women to emotionally attach with their mates. I was told, by the 10% of women who are capable of effectively and consistently compartmentalizing their emotions when it comes to no-strings attached sex, that emotions were overrated, anathema even, and could easily be separated from sexual acts with another human being, to unapologetically unleash my inner slut (there’s that word again). It was our right (rite?) as women, our responsibility as sexual creatures, to show the world we can fuck like men do, have instantaneous orgasms, and feel faaaabulous while doing it in our 4-inch Manolo Blahniks. Countless women bought into this lie, only to realize years later that it doesn’t, in fact, feel so great most of the time, and that actually, there’s nothing all that empowering and liberating about spreading your legs with wild abandon.”
As it happens, Steinberg is far more cogent and thoughtful than Schwyzer. In truth, Schwyzer doesn’t seem to be thinking at all.
He wants young women to see their hookups as learning experiences. It’s amusing to see an ideological zealot defending the value of experience. What would Schwyzer say if experience taught people that feminism is exploiting young women to advance its ideological agenda?
He writes: “Experience really is the best teacher, even if not every student learns the lesson the first (or 101st) time. Women in particular need reassurance that their worth is not linked to their number of sexual partners. They need to hear that pursuing pleasure for its own sake when they’re young will not make it more difficult to form enduring monogamous relationships (if they want them) when they’re older. These are lessons I’ve learned, lessons I’ve seen the men and women in my life learn and embrace.”
In truth, as Steinberg replies, the only thing you can learn from having lots of casual sex is how to have lots of casual sex.
Worse still, Schwyzer completely ignores the fact that hookups are potentially dangerous to women. He does not seem to understand that women incur far greater real risks from casual sex than do men. This does not even count the emotional toll.
As for all the things that Schwyzer thinks that women need to hear, why do they need to hear it? Perhaps because, as Steinberg says, it’s a big lie. Too many hookups will undermine a woman’s confidence, and will damage her reputation.
Schwyzer says that the hookups will in no way make her less marriageable. Recent statistics tell a different story.
What did Steinberg learn from her own unfortunate serious of hookups?
Steinberg says: “All I learned from drunken, fleeting hook-ups over the course of a decade was how much I was being viewed as a sexual object by men, as a vagina who happens to think and feel, rather than a thinking, feeling human being who also happens to have a vagina.”
She adds that she learned about relationships and about intimacy from actual relationships, not from casual sex.
In her words: “If it weren’t for some of the wrong turns (and their attendant lessons) in my life, I wouldn’t have found the wonderful man who I am dating today and be able to appreciate him. But I think I owe that more to the few actual relationships I’ve had with the wrong men and less to vacuous sexual encounters that taught me nothing about intimacy or pleasure.”
In its early days feminism was denouncing men for treating men as sex objects. At the time, four decades ago, men were thoroughly engaged in dating and courtship. Treating women as sex objects was far more rare than it is today.
Nowadays, important feminists have encouraged women to act like sex objects, the better to make a sacrifice for the feminist cause.
[Over at Hooking Up Smart Susan Walsh has just offered her own excellent comments on the Schwyzer/Steinberg debate. Walsh has written widely and brilliantly about her topics, so I recommend her post. I also recommend that you check out the links to other of her posts.]