Thursday, October 24, 2019

Feminists Are Waving at Us; Wave Back!

You may not have noticed, but feminists like to wave a lot. It’s not quite Queen Elizabeth's regal wave, but it seems to gain strength through repetition. Feminist have a first wave, a second wave, a third wave and now a fourth wave. That’s a lot of waving. We can only await the last wave, the one that waves good-bye.

Anyway, Meghan Daum’s new book, The Problem with Everything critiques fourth wave feminism. To the dismay of one Sandra Tsing Loh, who has written a not very good or very coherent critique in The New York Times.

For those of us who prefer our essays sans filter, Daum has offered a sample chapter on I find it engagingly well written and thoughtful. You might complain that it lacks a certain theoretical gravitas, but that is much of its charm. It is a very good essay. And it does what essays are supposed to do: to challenge your thinking, not with pseudo-theoretical lucubrations, but with concrete, specific examples.

As for the problem with fourth wave feminism, Daum argues, persuasively and counterintuitively, that it gives men too much power. On this point, she is correct. Feminists need a boogie man, big bad patriarchy to sustain their oppression narrative. The bigger and the badder the patriarchy, the more they are right to be unhinged, to dispense with good behavior, civility and all social norms. When you are fighting omnipotent demons you must let loose.

So, Daum dares criticize feminists:

But when women apply this logic to men, bathing in their tears and shooing off their every utterance as mansplaining, they actually achieve the opposite of what they intended. They effectively put men on pedestals those men might not have been on to begin with. They lift them up in order to knock them down.

Here she is just warming up. Then, she offers the substance of her critique… the way that women diminish and disempower themselves in order to create an omnipotent male enemy:

Of course, fourth-wave feminism is forever armed with countless examples of the ways that men have power over women: physically, economically, and legislatively (though that one’s changing). What they don’t seem to see, however, are the countless ways that women frequently have power over men: in the use of sex as a tool for manipulation, in parenting dynamics, in the ability nowadays to shut down a conversation by citing male privilege and dramatically dropping the mic. What they seem unwilling to confront are the countless ways that power dynamics shift among all kinds of people all the time. For all their thinking about theories of intersectionality among oppressed groups, they seem to have difficulty understanding why a homeless man whistling at a young woman as she goes off to her fancy internship every morning is not exactly a foot soldier for the patriarchy.

So, feminists overplay their hands. They see injustice everywhere and interpret the least offenses as egregious crimes. It all serves to empower men… as though they are more afraid of disempowering men than of overthrowing the almighty patriarchy:

And the funny thing about that is that in assigning men undue power by seeing sexist injustices where there aren’t any, it’s all too easy to overlook other, very real injustices.

Daum excels at recounting and analyzing scenes from the turbulence of everyday life. On one occasion she was riding a subway in the late evening, when a homeless man, surely suffering from mental illness, cursed her out for… who knows what. Across from her on the subway were some young white men, woke as can be. Their reaction was to apologize for the man, for themselves, for their white privilege, for the patriarchy… what have you.

Daum did not see them as enlightened culture warriors joining the feminist war against the patriarchy. She saw them as pathetic, the product of our cultural deformity:

I realized then, that this wasn’t a display of concern but of guilt. I looked at the men again. They had scruffy beards, longish hair, pale-ish complexions. They spoke with that highly articulated cadence you often hear in people in the performing arts, especially theater people. I knew nothing about them, of course (they could have been computer programmers, for all I knew) but a quick flash of my imagination projected onto them recent liberal arts degrees with the full complement of intersectional doctrine. Despite looking like the kind of guys who might have been picked on in high school, they had grown into men who believed themselves to be oppressors. They had grown into men whose response to a crazy homeless guy calling a woman a bitch and telling her to have a fucked up night was to apologize on behalf of the entire patriarchy.

So, she is trying to rip human experience out of the feminist narrative. By my lights she does a very good job of it.

But it wasn’t the patriarchy that had yelled in my face. It was the mental health system, the homelessness problem, the drug war, the whole wounded city and wounded world. This wasn’t systemic misogyny. It was life in the big city.

All of these things pushed and pulled against each other in a great mass of friction. The encounter played out on multiple planes, yet had been reduced to misogyny because those two scruffy-faced men had been educated about sexism in a way that handed them power they didn’t have. They then used that supposed power to apologize for something they didn’t do. In the process, they literally — and quite inadvertently — patronized me. How funny, I thought. How unfortunate.

1 comment:

Vance Jefferson said...

Just finished this book and loved that paragraph about the power women have over men that 4th wave feminists completely ignore. Jordan Peterson has mentioned this a few times so I'm hoping recognition of this fact will begin slipping more and more into our cultural conversation. I look forward to checking out your blog more.