The problem with lying is that it always comes back to bite you in the butt. Any kid could tell you that. You know, first you just tell a little lie, to get out of doing your homework, say. Something like, “Oh, the teacher says we don’t have any homework tonight.” And when your mom asks why not, you’ve got to tell her something so you say, “The teacher’s too busy to grade any homework this weekend.” And before you know it, you’re telling an elaborate story about the teacher’s German Shepherd having cancer because he swallowed the pen she usually uses for grading and your parents are onto you and you’re grounded. Lies. They always come back to haunt you.
That, I think, is what’s happening right now to feminism. The backlash against “Grace’s” account of her date with Aziz Ansari is a perfect example. There’s no doubt that Grace had a bad date, and that Ansari was a boor. But, instead of praising Grace’s bravery for standing up to her “abuser,” people — including feminists! — are (rightly) beginning to criticize the #MeToo movement for allowing an account of a bad date to be lumped in with accounts of rape and assault. And they’re pointing out the obvious: that stories like this transform “what ought to be a movement for women’s empowerment into an emblem for female helplessness” (The New York Times). The lie of modern feminism is beginning to crumble.
To be fair, many, many women in America today who call themselves feminists believe in the original message of feminism — that men and women are equally valuable to society, and that opportunities available to men ought also to be available to women who can, and want, to pursue them. But many of those women feel left behind by a feminist movement that has become all about professional and physical success, rather than choice and opportunity. As Elizabeth Broadbent writes on Scary Mommy, “feminism has left me behind. Feminism doesn’t see our child-rearing, much less all that goes with it, as valuable.”
The reason for this, of course, is that the current wave of feminism has distorted feminism’s original message. Instead of saying that men and women should have the same opportunities, a large branch of the feminist movement is saying that men and women are exactly the same — that gender is a social construct. And that’s a lie. The same lie that’s coming back now to bite feminists in the butt.
How? Well, it begins something like this: Men and women are exactly the same. And women have been oppressed. So anything typically “female” is just a sign of oppression. (Like staying home with kids, for example. “It’s imperative for women not to ‘opt out’ of employment to stay home with the kids. Only by working… can women can have a fully ‘flourishing’ life,” writes Meghan O’Rourke in her review of Linda Hirshman’s book Get to Work.) So typically “male” behaviors are better than typically “female” behaviors. So everyone should want to be more like men.
Which leads us to this: If everyone needs to act like men, everyone must feel the same way about sex that men do. So women should want to engage in random hookups and meaningless sex. So — even though she consents — if anything feels wrong about that, it must be the man’s fault for making her feel violated since it can’t be that meaningless sex isn’t actually what women want. So she must be a victim.
And we’re left with this: Women are the victims of men — powerless to do anything to stop them — and men hold all the power, and women are afraid. As Caitlin Flanagan writes in The Atlantic, “Apparently there is a whole country full of young women who don’t know how to call a cab.”
I mean, you know something’s gone wrong when “feminists” are calling Margaret Atwood — author of feminist bible The Handmaid’s Tale — a “bad feminist” for criticizing aspects of the #MeToo movement. Atwood, in an article called “Am I a Bad Feminist?” writes that she does not believe “that women are children, incapable of agency or of making moral decisions. If they were, we’re back to the 19th century.”
But that’s what’s happening. At least to the “feminists” who read “Grace’s” story as an account of sexual assault. Women aren’t victims simply by virtue of being women. Just like men aren’t rapists by virtue of being men. Continuing the lie that men and women are the same promotes the kind of victim culture that feminism ought to protect against. Feminists: it’s time to come clean. It’s the only way to make this right.