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Times Publishing Company
St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
Throwing off the Yoke of the Feminist Oppressors
By Robyn E. Blumner
What do activists do when the fight is won? Well, if you're a feminist in the mold of Ms. magazine founder Gloria Steinem or National Association for Women President Patricia Ireland, you fight harder and hope no one notices that the opposition's gone.
Lucky for us someone did.
Cathy Young, columnist for the Detroit News, has written a wonderfully fresh book that calls the vocal feminist community to the mat. She exposes the move-ment's use of exaggeration, untruths and stereotyping in a desperate attempt to convince the rest of us of its continued relevancy. In Ceasefire!: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality, Young, who calls herself a "dissident feminist," uses hard facts and clear thinking to blow away claims by today's radical feminists that the world is still "us against them."
"Girls are not silenced or ignored in the classroom," Young writes. "Medicine has not neglected women's health. Abuse by men is not the leading cause of in-jury to American women; the courts do not treat violence toward women more leniently than violence toward men. Gender disparities in pay and job status are not merely a consequence of sex discrimination. The eighties were not a "backlash decade' but a time of steady progress for women and, generally, of strong sup-port for women's advancement."
Young spends much of the book proving these assertions in a way that makes you want to cheer aloud. Finally someone has shed light (and reality) on all those bogus and overstated women-as-victims-of-patriarchy claims.
She dissects Susan Faludi's feminist manifesto, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, which had women and the media boo-hooing over the contrived notion that society has wrested back the gains women have made economi-cally and politically. Young details through meticulously footnoted references that many of Faludi's facts were blatantly wrong and that the trend for women's economic and political success has been on the rise.
But Young really gets to the heart of the damage radical feminists have wrought between the sexes when she talks about those who see women only as victims and men only as oppressors.
In a section of the book titled "Innocent Women and Bad Men," Young describes the hypocrisy of feminists who have turned the focus of their activism from "women's rights to women's wrongs."
These feminists condemn men for not contributing their fair share toward raising the kids and at the same time assert that women should automatically be given child custody following a divorce because women are naturally more nurtur-ing and bonded to children. They demand that men and women be treated equally at work, but then call on the government to protect women's delicate sensibilities from having to hear off-color jokes on the job. They want women to be allowed into military combat alongside men, but don't want the law to recognize that a husband can ever be the victim of a wife's beating, since women are the weaker sex.
But "victim feminists" aren't the only ones at the receiving end of Young's reasoned vivisection. Conservative commentators who call for a return to tradi-tional paternalism are also well pared.
Young says the past is airbrushed by authors like Wendy Shalit and Danielle Crittenden who claim that by freeing women from the need to be chaste, the women's movement has damaged women's prospects for happiness by giving men sex-ual opportunities without the obligation to support their families.
These authors unfairly suggest that men would slough off commitment if casual sex were readily available. Whereas "actual statistics on who abandons whom, and surveys (show) that women are more pro-divorce - in 1994, 59 percent of men and 73 percent of women said that unhappily married parents shouldn't stay together for the sake of the children," says Young.
Ultimately Young does not dispute that generalizations about sex differences often have a kernel of truth. But, she cautions, even if there are traits more common in one sex than the other, individual variation should keep us from pre-suming anything about a person's predilections based on gender.
"A boy will do better on a math test than a girl 63 percent of the time, whatever the reason. But if you automatically assume that a male is better at math than a female, whether in hiring someone or helping a student make a career decision, you'll be wrong nearly four out of ten times," Young writes.
What Ceasefire! does best is remind us that humans and the relationships they form are complex, varied and individual. And that heros and villains come in both male and female packaging.
As Young says: "Men are from Earth, Women are from Earth," so we might as well learn to live together without all the finger-pointing.
May 10, 1999