Over on Alas, a Blog, in a thread where the comments are limited to “feminists and feminist allies,” Barry Deutsch (Ampersand) deconstructs a speech by Christina Hoff Sommers, a leading critic of feminist orthodoxies (and a good friend of mine, though there are certainly times when we disagree). In particular, he takes her to task for saying that many feminists are anti-male.
Does Christina paint with too broad a brush? Quite possibly. But a couple of things about Barry’s post:
(1) Barry says he hasn’t seen any male-hating attitudes from feminists except for a few people on the Ms. boards way, way back. I’m guessing the late Andrea Dworkin, famous for such aperçus as, “Under patriarchy, every woman’s son is her potential betrayer and also the inevitable rapist or exploiter of another woman,” or “Male sexuality, drunk on its intrinsic contempt for all life, but especially for women’s lives…”, does not qualify?
(2) Barry writes:
Unfortunately, Sommers’ treatment of the subject isn’t serious. She cites one, and only one, source to show that “the gender feminist philosophy” considers “most men… brutes”: Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues.But The Vagina Monologues isn’t a non-fiction essay. It’s a play about women’s experiences surviving rape and abuse. That’s not the sole subject of the play, but — just after the importance of women loving their bodies — it’s the primary theme. Complaining that a play about the abuse and rape of women has too many abusive men in it is unreasonable and unfair.There is a positive male character in The Vagina Monologues, a man who so loves vaginas that he teaches his girlfriend to love her own vagina. Sommers dismisses this character entirely, for the transparently ridiculous reason that the character is describes as being bland on first meeting (although he later proves to be an unusually great lover, because he loves women’s sex parts so much). It’s hard to respond to Sommers’ argument, because it’s not even an argument; it’s just an irrelevant statement. He is a positive character; he doesn’t mysteriously cease being a positive character because he seems bland at first, or because he loves vaginas.In this speech, that’s Sommers’ only evidence that contemporary feminism considers most men brutes — in one popular play about rape and abuse, many but not all of the male characters are negative. I find that evidence underwhelming.
First of all, I think The Vagina Monologues is pretty important. It’s frequently produced on college campuses, and is probably an important source of exposure to feminism for many young women.
Secondly, the play is supposed to be about how women feel about their bodies (and specifically, their vaginas). If its most important secondary theme is women’s abuse by men, that says a lot about the play’s vision of males.
Thirdly, here is the monologue about Bob. Judge for yourself if it can be considered male-positive. Bob, at best one of two “good” men in the play, has absolutely no positive characteristics, indeed no character at all, except for his love of all things vagina. The first time Bob and the narrator have sex, Bob insists on looking at her vagina first because it’s “who you are,” and he can evidently read her soul in it. In fact, he stares at our heroine’s private parts “for almost an hour.” Any non-fictional man who talked and acted this way would be a major creep who would scare the bejesus out of any non-fictional woman.
3. Barry writes:
Note what Sommers doesn’t include: A single recent quote from a feminist leader saying “most men are brutes.” If this is indeed the common viewpoint of contemporary feminism, I’d think that Sommers would be able to find a dozen such quotes easily; yet Sommers doesn’t provide even one.
That’s setting the bar pretty high. Would anyone require proof of actual, overtly misogynistic statements before convicting a particular class of men of misogyny? Or would strong circumstancial evidence, such as a pattern of always presuming male guilt in any conflict between a man and a woman, be enough?