Feminism isn't dead, but a new book wounds it badly

Posted: Jan 13, 2006 12:05 AM

Some women protest, "I'm a feminist, just not a radical feminist." Kate O'Beirne is impatient with such qualifications. She is not any kind of feminist, and when you finish her sparkling new book "Women Who Make the World Worse," you won't be one either.

 Feminism, far from promoting the happiness and well-being of women and society, has instead left great swaths of melancholy in its wake. O'Beirne cites "One large study of well-being data on one hundred thousand Americans and Britons from the early 1970s to the late 1990s found that while American men had grown happier, women's well-being had dramatically fallen during the period . . . women were 20 percent less happy."

 The so-called "women's movement" was and is a misnomer. Most women reject the anti-male, anti-family bias of the professional feminists. But a dedicated cohort of humorless, bitter, crusading women -- mostly from miserable families -- was able to dictate policy in some of the most important realms of life.

 Feminists now claim that they were never against marriage and family. But O'Beirne has kept the quotes in her files. In 1971, Ms. Magazine founder Robin Morgan called marriage "a slavery-like practice," adding that "We cannot destroy the inequities between men and women until we destroy marriage." Australian feminist guru Germaine Greer recommended that all women leave their husbands in search of more satisfying "rambling organic structures" (sounds vaguely unhygienic). And Jessie Bernard, a Pennsylvania State University sociologist, asserted that the "destructive nature" of marriage was both figuratively and literally making women sick.

 Strangely, while feminists were burning with indignation toward men, they also enthusiastically endorsed promiscuity. O'Beirne quotes Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon, who notes that early feminists who sought the vote and other rights "saw that the ready availability of abortion would facilitate the sexual exploitation of women . . . they regarded free love, abortion and easy divorce as disastrous for women and children." Modern feminists, by contrast, were characterized by a "puzzling combination of two things that do not ordinarily go together: anger against men and promiscuity; man-hating and man-chasing."

 It is peculiar, but it grew, like so many feminist fantasies, from one foundational error: the idea that men and women are in all important respects alike, and where they are different it is because society has trained them to be so. There are thousands of studies, examples and life experiences that put the lie to this notion, and O'Beirne quotes many. But one stands out particularly. In gauging the attitude of college students toward casual sex, a researcher recently asked college students to approach a member of the opposite sex and say, "I've been noticing you around campus. I find you very attractive. Would you go to bed with me tonight?" Seventy-five percent of men said they'd happily carry out the assignment. None of the 48 young women assented.

 Feminists have peddled more than their share of myths over the past 40 years -- that women earn less than men for the same work; that domestic violence is rife within the traditional nuclear family; that women do not want to take care of their young children and therefore require government-funded day care; that children do better in group care than with their mothers -- and Kate O'Beirne debunks them all. But one area in particular deserves wider acknowledgment and that is what feminism has done to the military. Against the better judgment of generals and admirals, women have been given more and more access to combat, to the point where scores of women have been killed and wounded in Iraq.

 Many did not even recognize, when they entered the service, that they would be deployed so close to the front lines. It isn't just women who suffer. Large numbers of women soldiers are mothers (single or married), leaving behind babies and young children. Nor is the participation of women in combat situations good for readiness or morale. Women have far higher rates of injuries and sick days than men, to say nothing of pregnancy, which in one famous case sidelined 10 percent of the women sailors on a Navy ship. But O'Beirne's argument is completely politically incorrect and completely on the money as to the most profound reason to keep combat an all-male occupation. She quotes historian S.L.A. Marshall, who found that a man will overcome his fear and do what he must because he risks losing "the one thing he is likely to value more highly than life -- his reputation as a man among men."

 Kate is fearless and funny and a must read.