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June 16, 2014

Why Don't "They" Ever....

One of the themes that crops up whenever feminism is mentioned is something I like to call "Why don't they ever...."?

As in, "If feminists really believe in equality and fairness for both sexes, why don't they ever fight for men's rights/notice the ways men are treated unfairly?" In a moving essay, Cathy Young pays tribute to a former president of NOW who spent her life fighting for men's rights, too:

Karen DeCrow, the feminist attorney and author who served as president of the National Organization for Women from 1974 to 1977, died of melanoma last Friday at 76. Although her passing was widely noted in the media, most the obituaries and tributes overlooked the more unorthodox aspects of her work. A lifelong champion of women’s rights, DeCrow was nonetheless skeptical about many key aspects of latter-day feminism, including its focus on sexual violence and male abuse of women. She was also, for much of her career, a men’s-rights activist.

DeCrow raised eyebrows in 1981 when she served as defense counsel to Frank Serpico, the former New York detective and whistleblower, in a paternity suit. Serpico claimed the plaintiff had used him as a “sperm bank” and lied about being on the Pill while knowingly trying to conceive, and asserted that he had a constitutional right not to become a parent against his will. (The family-court judge, a woman, ruled in Serpico’s favor, but he lost on appeal.)

DeCrow, by then a lawyer in private practice in Syracuse, New York, endorsed Serpico’s argument on feminist grounds. “Just as the Supreme Court has said that women have the right to choose whether or not to be parents, men should also have that right,” she told The New York Times, calling this “the only logical feminist position to take.”

One quote struck me as particularly apt:

In a 1994 interview, she lamented that “in the battle between the sexes, men and women will go practically to the end of the earth in illogical, irrational ways to give each other pain.”

There is so much we don't know about the world, and it doesn't help our understanding to assume that journalists and activists we already know to be biased are telling us the whole story.

Why don't we know these things?

Easy. They don't fit the narratives either side finds useful.

Posted by Cassandra at June 16, 2014 06:22 AM

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I honor her for taking cases that require holding women to the full standard of adulthood instead of treating them as weak victims. Lots of feminists are no better than victim-mongers. Pah. Playing the ingenue card is kind of cute for a brief period in youth; then it's time to grow up, which doesn't mean alternating between "Eek!" and "Woe is me."

Posted by: Texan99 at June 16, 2014 10:49 AM

I am very guilty of having bashed feminists (and feminism) fairly thoughtlessly when I first started writing.

It took a year or two (and the willingness to look outside the right-leaning bubble) for me to realize that, while what I was writing was enormously popular and got lots of approving links, it was also rather shallow and one-sided. That's when I started referring to "radical feminists".

I have to credit the Spousal Unit, who actually called my attention to the writing of several women who called themselves feminists but whose positions were very reasonable and male-friendly. This, from a guy who tends to react to feminists in a kind of stereotypical way (strongly, and not positively). Since then, I've tried to be more balanced.

It's so easy to slide into groupthink, and the Internet tends to amplify that tendency.

I agree that there are too many of the whiny, entitled type of feminist, and they get lots of attention because they have an ax to grind. The more reasonable ones don't get as much notice or traffic, and so they tend to go unheard and unread.

The Nancy Hopkins school of feminism is truly detestable, as is the school that reflexively defends anything a woman does (and too often reflexively attacks anything men do). What really grieves me is seeing that same mentality on too many right-leaning sites - except this time, they reflexively excuse/defend anything men do and bash women.

Neither position strikes me as thoughtful or intelligent.

Posted by: Cass at June 16, 2014 11:32 AM