On November 24th, Suzanne Venker of Fox News posted an opinion article titled “The War on Men.” In it, she advocates for women to ditch every wave of feminism and revert back to the diffident and submissive nature expected of a woman prior to the advances of the last one hundred years. She opens with statistics stating that men desire marriage less than they did in 1997, while women desire marriage more.
Venker dedicates an entire paragraph to explaining that the result of women earning more degrees and working more than ever has “changed the dance between men and women.” I disagree with her statement. While more women are represented in the workforce now compared to numbers of other women in other decades, this has not changed any dances.
Heels in High Places, an informative website detailing the representation of women in corporate positions, is an excellent resource. Although women are working more, they are still underrepresented in higher paying jobs. Of the global companies studied, 60.2% had at least one woman board member. However, only 9.8% had at least three women board members, and only 2.1% had women board chairs.
Venker’s next point follows: “All articles and books (and television programs, for that matter) put women front and center.” I am not sure how she has gathered this information. Rarely does mainstream media put a woman in the forefront, and when it does, the women are seldom able to function independently or competently. Don’t believe me? I will provide you with a few examples from popular media today.
Skyfall is the current James Bond thriller recently released in theatres. It set records which beat Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and it is the highest grossing film of 2012, surpassing the profits of The Dark Knight Rises. As such a successful film in American and global theatres, it is somewhat surprising to find that the women in this film are not strong characters whatsoever.
(Warning: Skyfall spoilers in this paragraph) One female lead, Sévérine, is portrayed as confident, but it turns out that her past as a sex slave makes her weak, a past from which only Bond can save her, which includes having sex with in her emotionally vulnerable state. When she is killed, Bond barely bats an eyelash, and she is rarely mentioned throughout the rest of the film. Judi Dench’s character, M, who was very strong, dies and is replaced by a young white male. Bond’s partner, Eve, is mocked throughout the entire film for making one mistake, while Bond repeatedly fails his tests. She eventually retires from the field and takes an office job, despite being a fully capable agent.
The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has sold more than 25 million copies as of August 2012. These books depict Anastasia Steele as the protagonist, submitting constantly and often against her better judgment to anything her romantic partner Christian Grey tells her to do. He emotionally manipulates her, uses sex as a weapon (literally, this is a quote from the book), and demands her submission in all areas. Not just in the bedroom, but by eating what he tells her to, staying at home and not pursuing a career, and refusing to look at him in the eye so he can assert his dominance over her.
Women may be at the front and center, but they are certainly not often positively portrayed in the media spotlight.
Venker goes on to claim, “Men want to love women, not compete with them.” This entire article reeks of male privilege. Why can’t both men and women work, raise a family, or choose not to raise a family and cooperate with each other? Why should it have to be a competition between the sexes?
Also, not all men want to love women. There are a myriad of genders and sexual orientations that speak to the contrary. Her entire article overgeneralizes the progression of genders and sexual orientation spectrums that have advanced throughout the past few decades. According to the Williams Institute, 3.8% of the population identify as LGBT, which translates to about nine million people. If this number does not seem large, take a look at the 2010 U.S. Census. The closest demographic to the LGBT population comes in at 4.8%, which accounts for the Asian population in the United States. The number of LGBT individuals does not appear so small in comparison.
One of Venker’s most troubling statements comes at the end of her piece: “All they [women] have to do is surrender to their nature – their femininity.” No, they do not! This is the 21st century. You may identify as a woman, but that does not mean that you identify with every gender norm that is typically associated with this label. I know plenty of women who cut their hair short, who wear men’s clothes (hell, I do!), and who assert themselves in their careers and romantic pursuits, breaking the tradition of the demure lady.
An author who may help me elucidate my point, Lemony Snicket wrote, “Just because something is traditional is no reason to do it, of course.” What Suzanne fails to comprehend is the positive impacts of these societal metamorphoses. Instead of sitting on a window ledge, wishing for the good ol’ days, we should attempt to adapt to these transformations and find a healthy balance. Last time I checked, healthy marriages did not flourish because of surrendering to one’s femininity or masculinity. They blossom when communication is healthy and when both partners are considered equals.
Finally, Venker propounds that feminism comes down to “women good/men bad.” False. As with any movement, there are zealots who take the meaning of the message too far and intimidate or incite others against the cause. Feminism is not a stranger to this phenomenon. I have encountered some radical feminists who do believe that women are better than men. However, like any movement or religion, we are not all this way. Just like every Muslim is not a terrorist, not all feminists are male-bashing bra burners.
Here at Feminspire, I am proud to say that our writers strive to be balanced and inclusive. I have never encountered an article where I thought a woman was bashing a man on the basis of his gender or anyone of any gender or demographic. In addition, feminism is not just for women. Any and all people can embody the ideals of advancing equal rights for women and for humankind.
For years, I shied away from women’s issues and feminism. I steered clear of people I met who perpetuated these issues forcefully. Whenever I did argue a point for women, I would always follow with “but I’m not a feminist.” However, this changed when I opened my mind to actually educating myself about the movement, and not relying on the scant fanatical interactions I had encountered in the past.
Feminism does not grant men “sex at hello,” contrary to a statement perpetuated by Ms. Venker. It aims to create an inclusive environment for women to be valued members of society and as equal partners in relationships.
Feminism is not about overthrowing men and placing women on top. Why would we fight to institute what we detest? Feminism aims at defending the rights of women to become equals with men. Feminism, for me, means women and men will earn equal wages, will be represented equally throughout the workforce, and will be treated with equal respect.
When I was doing research for this article, one of the first links I came across was to a website called mgtowforums.com. This is a forum for men’s rights and Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs), and I do not encourage anyone to go there. While Venker’s writing wasn’t particularly pungent in comparison, it has inspired such comments as, “Women are no longer women, so why the fuck should we even get into a serious relationship with a cheap imitation of a man?” One of the user’s tags is the quote, “I care about rape as much as feminists care about false accusations.”
This is why women need feminism. As soon as we stand up for ourselves, even if it is a mild statement, we are often verbally and sometimes physically harassed. The solution is not to revert back to the formerly standardized gender roles. The solution is to adapt to the transformations and accept that the previously ascribed gender roles are no longer valid.
Ladies, I implore you to fight back against those perpetuating opinions such as Venker’s. If someone tells you to give up the things you love and that make you happy – like your career, your choice of clothing, your way of expressing yourself – in order to entice a marriageable man from “the woodwork,” turn around and walk away. You do not have to change for someone, just as someone else does not have to change for you.
Not long ago, a woman was expected to stay at home, to keep quiet, to look nice for a suitor, and to submit to man’s will. It repulses me when people like Venker proclaim statements such as, “women aren’t women anymore.” They are. We are still women, we have just evolved and changed the definition of what it means to be a woman. This does not mean that we have “won” or that we have switched roles and want to squash men under the soles of our combat boots. The age of the demure young lady has vanished. Just because this used to be how things were, does not mean that how women act now is wrong, or that the traditional ways are right.
If fighting for respect repels others from wanting to marry me, I guess the soundtrack of my life will forever be “Single Ladies.”
What are your thoughts on Suzanne Venker’s “War on Men”? Share with us in the comments below.
Written by Nicole Del Casale