Seriously?! Let’s Blame Feminism for the Creation of a “Wimpy” Nation by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

FreyhaufIt 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+

Categories: Abuse of Power, Activism, Ethics, Family, Feminism, Gender and Power, General, Rape Culture, Relationships, Violence Against Women

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12 replies

  1. Good points. Hope you will also interrogate the notion of wimp foreign policy. 1, 2, 3, 4, I don’t want another war. If feminists are more likely to be peace makers (as in Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom or Code Pink) and if some of this is rubbing off on men, I say more power to feminist peacemakers.


  2. This is a great article and a must-read for all parents.


  3. Wow–now you’ve got me scared to death. Of the Faux News Channel. Seriously, I’m old enough to remember the second wave of feminism of the 1970s and how consciousness-raising groups (I led one when I had a post-doctoral fellowship) scared the pants off husbands and boyfriends. I always thought things would get better. Guess not. It makes sense that what are called helicopter parents may be the ones damaging their children, but these hovering mommies and daddies are nothing like feminists. Yeah. Now I’m scared for our society. Good blog!


  4. Are we allowed to mention the name “Camille Paglia”, or is that kinda like “Voldemort”?


  5. Great post! From the other side of the pond, we don’t see the US as leaders in foreign policy. Your leaders may believe you are, our politicians may think you are, but the mass of ordinary, thinking people do not. We don’t want any more wars, and it’s tragic to see how US drones are fuelling yet more conflict in countries we should not be in…..:(

    On the ‘wimpy kid’ thing, it’s just a sign of how fearful and outcomes/achievement focus education and parents now are. Kids feel under such intense pressure now, even at primary school level, it’s madness – and drives them into a kind of insanity. Similar problem here…..

    White, elite men always blame someone else: women, people of colour, gays, etc., etc. It’s their strategy. Just switch off the TV/laptop or else post a strident riposte (sans swear words) to let them know that the world doesn’t think the way they do. Or want to, for that matter!

    Cut through the fear. The Pankhursts, Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr and Tutu always did. So should we!


  6. Michelle —

    The second half of your post raises interesting issues about today’s childrearing. As someone for whom nature is important, kids’ “nature-deficit disorder” worries me. And hovering parents probably do lengthen childhood for many kids, since they’ll have to learn about how to deal with frustrations and failure later in life. And I’m sure the structuring of kids’ time and energies makes them less creative. If children are really becoming more fragile as a result of all of this, that’s a big problem. I can see how that could be true (my daughter is 32, so I’m not in close touch with kids these days, since she hasn’t had any kids herself).

    Otherwise I have some difficulty with this post. I’m sure you didn’t mean to do this, but you allowed two Fox News commentators to identify and name a problem that you then addressed. You called the problem “so-called wimpiness” (softening your alignment with this naming), but then redefined wimpiness to mean lacking backbone or gumption and then later in your post you refined that definition to mean a lack of leadership skills and being cushioned when it comes to kids. Wimpiness for the Fox commentators meant the “feminization” of men, who as a result lack backbone and gumption. So essentially you agreed with part of what they believe to be a problem.

    I don’t agree with the notion that men are becoming wimpy in the U.S. or that men becoming more “feminine” (i.e. taking on the stereotypical characteristics of women like nurture, care, gentleness, kindness) is a bad thing. If anything, the Tea Party demonstrates that the first of these is untrue (Tea Party men being more macho than what we used to see). And it seems to me that just as I took on human characteristics that society said only belonged to men — initiative, leadership, assertion, drive, ambition — so I think it’s about time that men took on human characteristics that our society has defined as “feminine.” Then we’ll be more whole as individuals, and society will hopefully become more caring and demonstrate more of the matriarchal values that Carol and others have blogged about in the past.

    To put this argument more succinctly: the word wimpy is the opposite of macho, and is used by conservative and right-wing folks to push us back towards a more macho understanding of what men should be (and by extension what our foreign policy should look like). I disagree. To engage with this idea, in the way that you did, adds to its validity. We need to define our own problems and/or critique sexist commentators, but in trying to do both you acceded to a certain extent to their sexist, right-wing agenda.


    • Nancy – You have put words to my not-quite-formed thoughts and my discomfort with Michele’s post. We must be careful not to allow others to define us, and to try to avoid the bifurcation that patriarchy seems to love so much.


  7. Taking on Fox News et al is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. Camille Pagila offers a more difficult challenge, as she attacks feminism from within (and she is much smarter).

    Most middle class American parents believe that the economic world is at the start of a revolution in which many jobs will be replaced by robots or unskilled, un-unionized 3rd-world country workers. While the internet companies may boast of their fantastic financial successes, they don’t employ many people- maybe ten. How is a middle class parent going to ensure their offspring continue in their privileged (or better) lifestyle?

    Most parents agree that children must tap into their creative potential- better to be the ten in the conference room than the one minding the furnace in the basement. Paglia calls this active, creative potential a “masculine” force. Two strategies emerge: manly and teamwork. The Paglia/Fox News parents (yes, Paglia is raising an 11-year old boy with her former partner) encourage “manly” competitive activites. Paglia has said children should be pushed into professions like electrician, plumber, refrigeration technician, etc i.e. jobs that won’t be replaced by robots or unskilled ‘global’ workers . The helicopter parents believe that children create best in a “stress free” environment, and if they can’t be creative then they should at least learn to be compliant and cooperative, because who knows their child’s future boss could be a Laplander woman from Helsinki.

    Because there is so much uncertainty regarding the future job market, and no one knows where or when new jobs will be created, all the bourgeois parents are getting pretty stressed out.


  8. Geez, I always feel respected for being a feminist. When I’m with lesbian activists, we love this world of freedom, our commitment to ending all male supremacy. But when I wander into right wing worlds, it is extreme sexism writ large. Men are men women are women, and national figures preach this stuff. No wonder there is such a disconnect when I deal with right wing hetero women. Men just have to find something to do besides dominate the world. I really have no answers for them, they are stuck with this, they show no signs of changing, meanwhile, women in America have radically changed in my lifetime. Radically. This is alarming to right wing traditional thinking people, because the social codes aren’t clear.

    I know, I should have sympathy for the social chaos men are in now, but I’ve grown accustomed to having no place at the table in hetero-land, and find the whole thing tiring at best. Men need to change themselves, women need to stop caring and let me do their own hard work. If I can deal with their idiocy in the work world day in and day out, then men can do the hard work of learning to actually be caring people, people who ask questions, people who learn how to converse with women intelligently. Will men ever be as fascinating and wonderful as feminists? Lesbian feminists?


  9. I find a lot of fear or tittering among hetero women; fear of the label of feminism, fear of conflict, fear of talking about serious issues. Really, I don’t know what hetero women fear unless it is loosing some special status? Catering to men? Putting up with stuff I would not tolerate at all. I really don’t know what it is. I still believe there really is something wrong with men as a species, that we are coming to the end of this, that they have destroyed the world, and still want to destroy rape and dominate. I see no change globally in their behavior, and I think women should just get on with it. Why bother with men? We are holding them back by catering to them or even listening to them half the time. They need to change themselves, and I think women need to have raw courage. Maybe it’s just a hetero thing to be afraid of the label of feminist. I’ve never had a problem with it, it is a point of honor among women I hang with. Maybe it is a fear inducing label because women know they are owned by men, and are afraid of losing this privilege. Fearing of losing men who own you is big. Men who want to be militaristic macho guys— I think it is a sign of male insecurity and cowardice really. Men are social cowards, mental cowards, they just are. SInce they have no role in the new world, because they refuse to change in this world? Well your guess is as good as mine.


  10. I am a feminist. Happy to be one. I have joined many groups. They tend to be more politically focused than on relationships. So, I get an overload of Fox and Tea Party ridiculous remarks and speeches. (Huckabee wins this week).

    This may cause a stir. I have wondered if dualist thinking isn’t a part of the problem. I’m uncertain that asking for the “feminine” side of men and the “masculine” side of women to be balanced is a good idea. What if compassion, empathy, community, protection, leadership are neither masculine or feminine? What if there are multiple ways to embody these traits? Ways far older than Jung? I find that those qualities are multidimensional not dualistic.


    • I agree, wemarriage. Bur our society doesn’t yet. Especially when it comes to men, who are supposed to define themselves by becoming not just “masculine,” but in many cases, by becoming “macho.” As I said above: And it seems to me that just as I took on human characteristics that society said only belonged to men — initiative, leadership, assertion, drive, ambition — so I think it’s about time that men took on human characteristics that our society has defined as “feminine.” Then we’ll be more whole as individuals, and society will hopefully become more caring and demonstrate more of the matriarchal values that Carol and others have blogged about in the past.


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