This email came in yesterday from someone called YiddisheMama (YM):
Hello there, Mr Hugo,
I found your website while researching anti-feminist women’s groups. Just wanted to let you know that its not only younger females who are antifeminist. There are also older women like me (48) who have always been anti-feminist, in my case, actively so since my teen years. In the 1970s I volunteered with Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum/STOP ERA.
Why does it unnerve you so that so many females are against feminism, and see through the lies of it? Why does it bother you that so many of us had strong male role models in the persons of our fathers, and because of that, were able to do anything and be anything we wanted in life, dependent (sic) of feminism?
Do you even realize how sexist feminism is, because they say that women CANNOT achieve anything of importance without THEIR help? I never asked those women to do anything for me, and I resent their claim to represent me!
I have, over the last 32 or so years, noticed that the only women who are the most committed to feminism are women with poor relationships with the males in their lives. I’ve never had that problem; the men in my life (boyfriends, male friends, father, son, husband of 25 yrs so far)
have been nothing but good and helpful to me. I love men. So why would I join a movement that so often is perceived (and so often is) detrimental to the rights of men?
The post YM refers to is this one.
In any event, I sent a short reply back to YM, making it clear that I didn’t intend to convey the impression that it was only young women who held anti-feminist positions. I did take issue with her implication that “all feminists have poor relationships with men.” I wrote:
My wife, my mother and my sisters, who (for inexplicable reasons, seem to get along splendidly with me and other men) are stauncher feminists than I. True love can endure and thrive in a relationship with interchangeable gender roles. I live that out with my beautiful wife everyday.
To which YM replied this morning:
They get along with you well because you see things their way. Women always like men who are willing to follow their party’s line.
I repeat parts of what has been a civil exchange because I hear similar things from anti-feminist folks all the time. YM wrote to me because she bristles a bit at the implication in my post that most anti-feminist women were young. It certainly wasn’t my intention to convey the impression that women “of a certain age” couldn’t also be ardent anti-egalitarians, and if I did so, I’m sorry. But YM, like many anti-feminists, has no trouble judging the state of my marriage — or any heterosexual relationship grounded in feminist principles.
Anti-feminists assume several things about men in the feminist movement. Frequently, we’re labeled as “gay”. As any sociologist will tell you, “gay” is code for “not a real man”. To the anti-feminists, “real men” (whom they assume are all heterosexual) could not possibly embrace an ideology of radical gender justice.
Of course, if we do seem to be happily hetero, the attack shifts: we’re sexual predators, wolves in sheep’s clothing, using feminism as a tool to seduce vulnerable young women. Our feminism isn’t real, merely a facade.
If we’re married to a woman and evidently monogamous — and still committed to feminism — then we must be “whipped.” Sometimes I think folks hear me say “I’m in a passionately feminist marriage” and they imagine that I’m married to an emasculating tyrant who only stays with me because I’m her sniveling “yes” man! That’s certainly YM’s implication when she riffs about my following the “party line.”
My wife, as those of you who read this blog and know us both will attest, is indeed a very strong woman. Yes, she could probably beat me up, but that has more to do with her martial arts prowess than her temperament. And I find her raw physical strength to be incredibly sexy. But my delight in her strength is not linked to my own sense of being weaker than her. If there’s one thing both she and I agree on, it’s that neither of us is turned on by a power imbalance. I have no desire to dominate her or she me. We love working out together, sweating together, lifting together, sparring together, doing century rides together. I don’t need her to be weak so that I can feel powerful and masculine. My sense of myself as a man is not contingent upon being able to do for her what she cannot do for herself.
As with working out, so too with every other aspect of our marriage. Our roles are, in most ways, interchangeable. We both do laundry. We both earn money outside the home. We both do chinchilla care. My wife generally does do most of the cooking, and I generally handle the washing-up when she does so. (I do enjoy doing laundry and doing dishes, but I really can’t stand cooking. We all have our strange little preferences.) We’re not relentlessly keeping score of who is doing what, but we’re also both mindful that our marriage is a shared project requiring equal levels of effort. And we’re both working equally hard to make that marriage a success.
The “complementarian” view of marriage, to which YM and other anti-feminists tend to subscribe, sees men and women as fundamentally ill-suited to step outside traditional roles. This “separate spheres” ideology assumes women are better nurturers, better parent-figures, better home-makers; men are better leaders, better earners, better protectors. In a complementarian marriage, each does for the other what he or she cannot (because of their sex) do for themselves.
A feminist marriage, like a complementarian marriage, recognizes that two different people will always have different gifts. But a feminist marriage doesn’t assign roles based on sex — it allows for flexibility based not on genitalia but on desire and on need. My wife will be the one getting pregnant, and nothing can change that — I can’t take on that role. But when it comes to earning, spending, cleaning, planning, building, washing, dreaming, shopping, and caring — we are both equally well-equipped as full and complete human beings to do these tasks. We both wear pants in our family.
If there’s one thing I know with absolute certainty after all these years and all these relationships: marital power is not a zero-sum game. A family does not need a single leader, because a family is not (pace, my right-wing friends) a military unit. A marriage is not a broth to be spoiled by too many cooks. I like me some metaphors too. So here’s the image that comes to my mind when I think about my marriage:
My wife and I are sitting in a row boat. It’s wide, and we sit side-by-side. We each have one oar, and we’re rowing together in tandem. If one of us pulls harder than the other, our boat will start going in circles. We’re rowing together, pulling identical oars, using identical force, talking together about which direction to take, trusting that God will give us a favorable current. The boat won’t move the way we need it to if we don’t row equally hard, in the same rhythm, with the same stroke. We’re not gazing at each other, but we’re side by side, our shoulders touching, close and companionable and alive and in love. This is the way we’re crossing the great ocean, and this is the way — lord willing — we’ll someday arrive at the undiscovered country on the other side.
My wife and I don’t always agree. Feminist marriages have quarrels too. What makes our marriage work — what makes it feminist — is not the absence of conflict, but the way in which we work through our disagreements. We mutually submit, one to the other, and we mutually lead. It may not work that way in the military, but by God, it works that way on Marengo Avenue in Pasadena, California. And I’ve seen it work for plenty of other folks as well.
Note: the title of the post, if not the theme, is at least partly inspired by Amy and Leon Kass.
UPDATE: I ought not to have taken YM’s bait, or KellyMac’s. This thread at an MRA site, replete with the inevitable vulgarity, misogyny, homophobia, and puerility one associates with these types, is fairly indicative of what we’re dealing with.