THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT has a problem: it has lost control of its message and its image. American women still feel a need for a strong women's movement, yet an overwhelming majority reject the feminist label. This paradox is the result of feminist extremists who have come to define the whole movement (not unlike a few vocal homophobes and bigots who rendered the whole GOP an ugly, intolerant caricature in 1992).
Perceptions die hard. In an insightful Atlantic article, "Feminism's Identity Crisis," Wendy Kaminer notes that "the popular image of feminism as a more or less united quest for androgynous equality...is at least 10 years out of date." Ask any woman why she's not a feminist and she's likely to say: I don't want to emulate men to succeed--I like being a woman; I respect the right of women to stay home; I don't hate men.
Though feminist leaders are mostly aligned with those sentiments, they can't separate their quest for economic equity from the inane political correctness of their extremist sisters. Mainstream women, who still make only 76 cents for every $1 of male earnings, are dispirited by a movement that seems to have abandoned the objective of economic equity for fuzzy-headed forays into cultural P.C.
It is feminist heresy to speak out against these cultural crackpots, but the consequences of permitting their lunacy to continue unchecked are dire not just for the women's movement but for all women.
These extremists have tragically transmuted the energizing battle cry "I am woman, I am strong" to the neurotic "I am woman, I am oppressed, victimized, powerless." These women do not represent people like us. For women like you and me, to paraphrase a 1992 political cliche, "It's economics, stupid."
Women want equality. Equality in a capitalist society means economic equality. Money is power. Power is equality.
Men always understood money is power. Though feminist leaders profess an economic-empowerment agenda, their efforts are diluted by the proponents of victimization and their sensationalized tales of endless, inescapable oppression at the hands of testosterone-mad, women-loathing, capitalist-pig, Cro-Magnon brutish men.
A right-wing reaction, a backlash sellout, you say? Let's go to the Mecca of P.C. feminism: the "womyn's movement" on college campuses. For a recent Mother Jones article, Karen Lehrman "toured the world of women's studies, where she found classes operating off of several regressive principles: "Women were and are oppressed...Men, capitalism and Western values are responsible for women's problems." Victimized women are elevated; individual merit is downplayed. A few campus radicals? No, activists whose theories become policies hyping nonexistent problems, shifting attention from real ones.
The latest trendy, anti-man, women-as-victim, anti-individual-responsibilities P.C. policy is institutional "courtship management." Students at Antioch College must get verbal consent before any act of intimacy--from kissing to sex--or risk expulsion.
This policy is premised on the overhyped problem of campus date rape. The hype is based on the man-hating extremist notion that all heterosexual males are testoster one-mad, uncontrollable rapists (and we get mad at them for asking about PMS!). Feminists claim one of four coeds is a victim of rape or attempted rape. As Katie Roiphe, author of "The Morning After," rightfully notes, the campus feminists propagating these statistics "were not presenting facts. They were advertising a mood." Well, get these moody girls a prescription of Motrin and water pills, quick.
What does this feminist P.C. policy teach young people? (A) Laws are made to be broken. Sorry. It was ever thus: when electric connection is in the air, neither he nor she is gonna whip out a three-ring binder and record for campus police the actual recitation of consent to kiss. (B) Women are powerless, innocent victims; men are overpowering, sex-crazed barbarians; both are infants who, without written instructions, are incapable of mature communication. (C) Individuals have no free will or responsibility for their actions. Roiphe notes that 73 percent of the "rape victims" in the coed study did not initially define their experiences as rape. They affirmed they had intercourse when they didn't want to because a man gave them drugs or alcohol. Warping the statistics trivializes the far fewer but real cases of acquaintance rape.
The feminist hype follows young women into adulthood. Remember the screamer headlines: SUPER BOWL SUNDAY WORST DAY OF YEAR FOR VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN. This invented fraudulent data impairs the efforts to help real battered women. Meanwhile, in the workplace, the P.C. police are busy ferreting out male pigs. Since 1991, the EEOC reports a 58 percent increase in harassment claims. Spurred on by the proponents of victimization, frivolous claims clog the system while real cases go unremedied.
Mainstream feminists, get a grip. There's a reason 63 percent of those you purport to empower spurn you. We are not victims; our daughters are not infants; our sons are no brutes; our men are not monstrous pigs. The extremists have hijacked your bully pulpit; your hard-earned successes are being mutilated by their excesses. They redefined the last 30 years--don't let them define the next.