Klavan On The Culture

Is There a War On Women?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about a war on women. Much of this has been devised by the Obama administration and its cronies in order to divert our attention from their unprecedented and illegal attack on our Constitution’s guarantees of religious liberty. At its core is the old leftist canard that says if people won’t be taxed to pay for your goods and services, they are somehow denying you access to those goods and services. It’s low and dishonest garbage and the people who promulgate it should be kicked first out of office and then downstairs.

But this weekend, one of the Wall Street Journal’s better columnists, Peggy Noonan, while largely agreeing with the above, opined that there really is a war against women nonetheless. By this she means the rather frequent use of sexual slurs, mostly by leftist men but sometimes by men on the right as well, to denigrate women in high-profile positions. “The words used are vulgar,” Noonan says, “and are meant to tear down and embarrass.”

I enjoy Noonan’s column a lot, but I can’t agree with her here. It seems to me, in fact, that there has been an ongoing and wickedly offhanded war against men for the past forty years at least. It’s not just the outright insults that have been permissible in respectable outlets: i.e., calling men collectively and individually “pigs.” The war has been waged in far more subtle and disgraceful ways as well.

Consider the common phrase “he objectifies women,” which casually belittles and denigrates men’s sexual yearnings. Or think of the almost universal depiction of fathers and husbands in movies, television shows, and advertisements as weaklings and fools under their wife-mommy’s control. Imagine the knowing laughter that would follow if I were to remark that “women are smarter than men,” then imagine the furious outbursts that would result if I said, “men are smarter than women.” The war is waged not only in what is said and shown, but in what is not said, what is considered off-limits.

As women have entered positions of power, equaled men in earnings, and outstripped men in education, men have begun to fight back against this ongoing assault. In doing so, they have begun to treat women  — well, as roughly as they treat one another. The insults are different because the genders are different — in much the same way I will call a woman “sweetheart,” when I would call a man “pal” — but the feeling behind them is largely the same. Peggy Noonan calls this “the coarsening of discourse in public life.” But that’s generally a complaint made by those who want to dish it out but can’t take it. To paraphrase Shakespeare, men have been called dogs for decades, now women have to beware their fangs.

You can’t expect men to treat women with the special respect they once earned by being ladies if women are no longer going to behave in the way that earned them that special respect. A lady was an elevated personage precisely because she kept out of the workaday fray. She exhibited greater gentleness and generosity in the full knowledge that men would provide the muscle and money to protect her — and for that protection she returned deference and respect. You may say, well, then it’s a good thing women aren’t expected to be ladies anymore. Fine, but everything comes with a price. If feminists are going to verbally assault men then misogynists (a misogynist being the flip side of a feminist) are going to fire back. If women are going to compete in the market place using their beauty and sex appeal, men are going to compete using their aggression and toughness. No fair complaining. You can’t have women linebackers but say it’s not right to block them because, after all, they’re just girls.

Listen, personally, I believe in treating people with kindness and respect whenever possible. I believe in good manners and feel too many people mistake bad manners for strength when they are almost always evidence of a weakness. But there’s plenty of unkindness, disrespect, and bad manners to go around in both genders and I don’t see why I should feel that women suffer from them specially. Indeed, as I understand it, women don’t want to be special anymore.