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> Books > Reviews > Ceasefire!

News World Communications, Inc.
The Washington Times

Gender War's Cumulative Inanities

By Philip Gold

World War I had two cease-fires. The official end came with the Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918. But throughout 1917, there were unofficial cease-fires as armies melted away and/or refused to fight. Along many sectors of all fronts, de facto peace, negotiated and enforced by the combatants, prevailed.

"Cease-fire!" proposes a 1918 armistice between men and women. But the book appears during the 1917 of the Gender War, and belongs to an earlier part of the war. This does not make it either a bad or an unimportant book. Quite the op-posite: Cathy Young, a Russian-born 30-something writer and social critic, is lucid, reasonable, thorough and skilled. Her book may well be the best inven-tory of the Gender War's inanities to appear since Christina Hoff Sommers' "Who Stole Feminism?"

But it is nonetheless at odds with the moment: too early in some ways, too late in others. And it shows a certain limitation common to those who live in the more rarefied intellectual reaches, and to generals who pay insufficient at-tention to what's really going on with the troops.

Miss Young begins: "Near the end of a century in which equality of the sexes became a basic tenet of civilized society, the best-seller of the decade says that men and women are creatures from different planets. . . . In a seemingly endless stream of films and books, the war of the sexes rises to the level of mutual assured destruction. . . . Above all, women are urged to get mad."

Initial response: Hello from the trenches, where the stream of films and books (and surveys and studies and other junk) has come to resemble dispatches from headquarters - laughed at and derided, when the combat vets even bother to look at them at all. Men may be from Mars, women from Venus - and relationships are the bloody Asteroid Belt - but down here staying alive's the priority, and we've got a nifty little separate peace going that we maybe don't want publi-cized.

Miss Young then proceeds to take on, in chapter after well-researched chap-ter, the feminist villains, movements and positions that all good conservatives have learned to hate: Susan Faludi, Catherine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, Naomi Wolf, NOW, et al. Response from the trenches: Here we go again. One more assault over the same shell-pocked ground we've been crawling for years. How many times do we have to take Fortress Faludi, Mount MacKinnon, Naomi's Nest, or the Dworkin Dump? What are they thinking of up at headquarters, anyway?

The author answers that question. They're thinking we have to put an end to a war that has gone terribly wrong, and for far too long. What began as a noble struggle for equality and the redress of legitimate grievance has devolved into a mess of contradiction, insanity and grim, obsessional hate. This war must end.

Yet headquarters doesn't seem sure quite how. Miss Young offers a common-sense armistice proposal. Rightly eschewing mere backlash, the poor-poor-pitiful-me Men's Movement and the inanities of conservative traditionalism (especially George Gilder's "women exist to civilize men" nonsense), she favors a 12-step program. It's part personal, part political, part legal; it seeks to craft, as Woodrow Wilson might have called it, a "peace without victors," keep-ing the positive changes, trimming the excesses, making the world safe for gender democracy.

If only wars ended that way. If only the Youngs - and the Wilsons - could triumph with reason and compromise against force and obsession. Something else is needed to get to the final Armistice.

In 1917, the Germans figured out how to break the stalemate in the trenches. Abandoning the massive frontal assaults that had killed millions and accomplished nothing, they adopted more fluid tactics: infiltration, exploitation, bypassing, surprise. It worked, at least until the fresh American millions overwhelmed them.

There may be a lesson here, involving both tactics and numbers. Trench war-fare with what feminism has become doesn't work. They will not be brought to the table by reason or generosity. Too many of them need the war. It's their life now. But more fluid tactics might punch some holes in their defenses. As for the remaining feminist strongholds: bypass, isolate and let them surrender when and if they get the urge.

And remember, as in 1917, there's another army coming, millions of younger women and men who, though irrevocably involved, have scant interest in sacrificing themselves upon the battlefields of their aging, combat-addicted (or merely shell-shocked) elders. Cathy Young belongs in and to that army. She ought to be one of its leaders. "Cease-fire!" despite its title and her best efforts, is a manual of the old tactics and strategies. Her next book should be the manual of the new, a book that will hasten the final Armistice. Given her intelligence and skills, it could be that powerful.

Philip Gold is president of Aretea, a Seattle public policy and research center.

February 20, 1999

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