It is so easy to blame feminism for the ills of the world – mainly because of continued misconceptions and misunderstandings about the definition or meaning of feminism. Feminism is responsible for poverty, bad leadership, wars, the polar vortex, the list goes on. Feminism is still considered a derogatory term that serves to incite prejudice against those who label themselves as one. In fact, negative connotations surrounding feminism are exacerbated in today’s culture, especially in the media. Fox News seems to be the poster child of “femiphobia” – a term coined by Stephen Ducat and defined as “wanting to repress every man’s feminine side and demonize the feminine and gay wherever we see them.” Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Nick Adams, in a recent interview, illustrate this femiphobic viewpoint by blaming feminism for raising a culture of “wimps” and “wussies” and thus compromising the U. S.’s national security and weakening its global presence. In other words, feminism is to blame for the problems of the world.
According to Adams, men around the world are no longer allowed to be “manly” and that this phenomenon is a “dangerous” problem:
American men are of course very susceptible to it. It’s really important particularly in America given the leadership role that America has in the world that American men be allowed to be men.
What does in mean to be a man and how is Adams defining that stereotype? While I am aware of the discussion of gender identity and roles even gendered stereotypes, this post is not about what those roles mean. Rather, for this point of discussion, I want to address the issue of masculinity, feminism, and what it means to be a “wimp” as portrayed by popular media.
With that caveat in mind, I ask the following questions:
- Is the author suggesting a move to a “hypermasculinity”?
- Is Adams identifying masculinity with aggression and violence in a world where feminists and perhaps all women are demonized?
In a society dominated by the “alpha male” character trait,male honor and pride are paramount. Is Fox News telling men to replace so-called passive behavior with pride, abrasiveness, authoritarianism, and arrogance–in such a world if where women are demonized, then assaultand rape will follow. The call for “real men” or “hyper-masculinity” therefore provides a real potential to move us further towards a misogynistic rape culture of violence–in the direction of barbarianism.
My perception may seem radical, but it is not. Our media is already moving the direction of condoning or even inciting violence against women (a problem I previously addressed on this blog). Media and the culture based on “enlightened sexism” (the so-called new feminism or anti-feminism, depending on your viewpoint) encourages our daughters to be the servants and playthings of men – to enjoy being submissive even when lines are “blurred.” The exchange between Hasselbeck and Adams illustrates just how the media demonizes feminism (continuing from Adams’ quote above):
Hasselbeck: “Is this in direct relation to feminism on the rise…Is it a result just sort of society seeing men that are not masculine and men that are as masculine being kind of demonized?”
Adams: “You’ve hit the nail on the head.”
The author goes on to say “It’s a very hard time to be a man in today’s society” where “feminists are creating angry women and feminine men.”
Hasselbeck then asks whether feminism impacts national security and reflects how a nation is seen globally by other countries. Adams’ answer is not a surprise:
Adams: “Absolutely…Wimps and wussies deliver mediocrity, and men win…. and what America’s always been about is winning.”
So real men win? [Sigh] By blaming feminism for so-called character flaws of men, a bigger point is being overlooked. We are raising our children in a controlled and controlling “sanitized” world where we eliminate as much room for failure as humanly possibly while, at the same time, removing fun, and filling time with academic exercises and extracurricular activities. Feminists are not creating a world of so-called “wimps” – this is a cultural issue not a feminist issue. Instead of playing the blame game, I think it is important to exam the crux of the problem.
It should be stated, before I continue, that being a “wimp” it is not a physical trait nor is it an emasculated man; rather, it is a person who lacks backbone and gumption – male or female. Hara Estroff Marano states that large number of so-called “wimps” in our society is directly related to how parents are raising their child(ren) in a sanitized manner – a world dominated by Purell.™ From rubber cushion surfaces to minimize skinned knees, coaching or co-playing with our children (instead of free play time with children of like age), and sanitizing everything and everyone, we try to insulate our children from injury and failure. We seek to minimize bad experiences – no one loses in a game, no one gets lower than a C for a grade (grades are expected, not earned), are two such examples. According to Marano:
Parents are going to ludicrous lengths to take the bumps out of life for their children…. making kids more fragile; that may be why they’re breaking down in record numbers.
The operative word here is “parents” not “feminists.” In such a framework, children lose the opportunity to gain leadership skills because of the the strict structures put into place by parents – teachers – coaches – etc. Decisions do not need to be made; someone else is making those decisions for our children and the margin for error is almost eliminated.
As a mother myself, I also look at the shifting pedagogical focus of our children’s primary education: “academic achievement” rather than “child development.” I remember enrolling my eldest daughter in school and with a July birthday, there was a benchmark evaluation to see if she was “mature” enough to attend kindergarten or not. The basis for enrollment was matured social skills. By the time my twins’ enrolled, seven years later, maturity was not an issue, aptitude and cognitive ability was the new benchmark – could they write the alphabet and answer rational questions? This emphasis on teaching to the test and intellectual emphasis from an early age has compromised our children’s ability to “think outside the box” and robbed them of the time needed to develop their creative and sensory abilities.
Caught between being overprotected and the new pedagogical focus in primary school, children’s “time” is occupied with a slew of extracurricular activities, which eliminates “free time” for our children to decompress, play, and have fun. This in turn compromises the development of important cognitive skills related to social engagement.
I am sure the problems I have named that seem to be contributing to the development of a so-called “wimpy” nation only scratching the surface – the tip of the iceberg, if you will. The point of this post is to make a statement: instead of exhibiting femiphobic behavior and shifting the blame for the issues or problems that exist within a society, we should focus on what is actually causing the problems and find ways to fix them. Using terms like “masculinity,” “alpha male,” “wimps,” etc. are not helpful in defining what it means to grow up as a healthy individual. If the problem is lack of leadership skills, inability to think outside the box, etc. then identify the reasons for this problem and not play the blame game again. Blaming feminists solves nothing but encourage bigotry.
Michele Stopera Freyhauf is a doctoral Student in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and a Member of the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University as well as an Instructor at John Carroll University’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies, Adjunct Professor in Religious Studies at Ursuline College and the University of Mount Union. Michele has an M. A. in Theology and Religious Studies from John Carroll University, and did post-graduate work at the University of Akron in the area of History of Religion, Women, and Sexuality. She is also a Member-at-Large on the Student Advisory Board for the Society of Biblical Literature and the student representative on the Board for Eastern Great Lakes Biblical Society (EGLBS). Michele’s research interests involve feminism, gender, and sexuality influenced by religion with special emphasis on the Biblical text, religious syncretism, literary analysis, politics, and law in the Ancient Near East. She is also interested in gendered violence, historical theology, and ecclesiology. Michele is a feminist scholar, activist, and author of several articles including “Hagia Sophia: Political and Religious Symbolism in Stones and Spolia” and lectured during the Commission for the Status of Women at the United Nations (2013). Michele can be followed on Twitter @msfreyhauf and @biblicalfem. Her website can be accessed here and is visible on other social media sites like LinkedIn and Google+