Back in the 1960s there was a British TV sitcomedian named Tony Hancock. He played the part of a middle-aged bachelor: sardonic, curmudgeonly, misogynist, knowing he was at the losing end of modern life but determined to go down fighting, or at least protesting. In one program he was sitting on a bus that had no more empty seats, when a woman got on. She stood straphanging right over Hancock, glowering down at him. (I had better explain, for the benefit of younger readers, that in those days men were supposed to give up their seats to women on public transport.) Hancock, glowering right back: “Don’t try that with me, Madam. You lot wanted equality: Well, you’ve got it. Now stand there and enjoy it.”
Just how mean-spirited, how insensitive of me was it to remember this as the media hysteria over the Central Park “wildings” reached a crescendo last weekend? Now look: I can imagine the terror those women felt. I have myself, as it happens, been chased by a howling mob of drunken youths — an experience not easily forgotten. At the same time, what happened in Central Park was a very contemporary phenomenon. I am willing to be corrected on this, but I doubt if a search of newspaper files for the 1940s and 1950s would turn up anything similar. And this, supposing I am right about it, is not very surprising.
Take a fairly orderly society with strong social sanctions — internalized by most members of all classes and races — against physical violence towards women. Apply three or four decades of blather about “oppression,” “sexism,” and “discrimination.” Add to the mix an unemployment rate among working-class young men higher than that among college-educated women. Blend in some militant feminism, with its outlawing of chivalry, its proscription even of the word “lady” or of any suggestion that a woman might not be fully capable of doing any task a man can do. Marinate in a widespread acceptance of bastardy, so that legions of young men have no model, either positive or negative, for how a man should treat a woman. Stir in a degraded black youth culture (“youth culture”! — the most egregious oxymoron of the twentieth century!) in which practically all forms of decency, courtesy, and self-restraint are sneered at as “acting white,” this sneering being backed by a musical (well, rhythmic) accompaniment in which the usual terms for a woman are “bitch” and “whore.” Heat over the fires of a sex-drenched entertainment industry, in which the most private of functions and practices are the raw material of public chatter. Season with alcohol and marijuana. What do you get? What do you think?
Sure, the young men being pulled in for those dousings and gropings are a rough lot: corner-boys and petty criminals from the city slums, mostly. Not the kind of fellows I’d want my own daughter bringing home. But society will always include this element. The trick is to get some rudimentary values into their heads somehow, to have them — not all of them, perhaps, but enough to restrain the incorrigible few — internalize at least a few minimum basic sanctions. We used to do this. We always did this. Of my remotest ancestors, the Anglo-Saxons of the late first millennium A.D., it is recorded that their chief delights were in singing, drinking, and fighting. It is also recorded, however, that they treated their women with utmost deference and respect. Somehow we have mislaid our most fundamental inhibitions. How did this happen? Well, the higher used to regard it as part of their social function to civilize the lower. The lower may not have liked this, may in fact have resented it; but enough of it stuck with enough of them that decency was commonplace even among wastrels and thieves. The higher, for well-rehearsed reasons, no longer wish to do this. They wish, in fact, to permit the opposite to be done.
“I am woman — hear me roar!” Was that how the song went? I note that one of the women roughed up in the Park makes a living as a kick-boxing instructor. What did it avail her? To be sure, fifty against one is pretty lousy odds regardless of gender; but it must have crossed that woman’s mind, in her rage and terror, that with all her pedi-pugilistic prowess, she was no match for even one of those meatheads, not even with a quart of malt liquor and a dime bag of Mary Jane fogging up his windows. Women, even in peak physical condition, are not very big and not very strong. Men, unrestrained by social sanctions, can do as they please with them; and men nurse some very unpleasant feelings about what they would like to do with women, as can be seen from the kinds of atrocities that are committed in wartime when socialized restraints break down completely.
Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret. (“You may drive out Nature with a pitchfork, yet she still will hurry back.”) The great conceit of the last 200 years has been the belief that, in the words of Mao Tse-tung: “There is no such thing as human nature.” Well, here is one argument the Left has lost pretty decisively. It has lost it in the psychology and genetics labs, it has lost it in the military training camps and Scholastic Aptitude Testing centers, it lost it in Central Park last week. It lost it again in the streets of Charleroi, Belgium, that same week, when thousands of British and German soccer fans, graduates of educational systems from which the very mildest attempts to inculcate patriotism have been ruthlessly eradicated, fought a pitched battle for national honor. Human nature exists; it is subtly different between long-isolated and -inbred populations; it is strikingly different between the male and female of the species; and it includes some undesirable components that no amount of social engineering can ever expunge.
Should capable women be excluded from universities and professions? Of course not. Should there be a place in the military for women who wish to serve? Of course there should. Should women who do not care for marriage and childbirth be thought any the less of on that account? Certainly not. Should women be paid the same as men for the same work? Absolutely. But: Are women physically weaker than men? Does physical strength still count for anything in our gentrified society, this society of dot.coms and billionaire geeks, of law-school degrees and eighteen different kinds of coffee? Will young men behave brutishly towards women if unrestrained by internalized sanctions? Should a sane society attempt to instill those sanctions rather than rely solely on the deterrent effect of post facto criminal prosecution? Yes, and yes, and yes, and yes.
And will feminists fight that attempt tooth and nail, as “demeaning” and “patriarchal”? You bet. The fantasy of human equality has the gravitational pull, as well as the destructive power, of a Black Hole. The pitchfork having proved ineffective, I predict that feminists will soon turn to pharmacology. They will not be satisfied until every male under the age of thirty is forcibly sedated with Ritalin by a federal Gender Equality Commission. This process is already under way in our elementary schools. Until it is complete, feminists — and the nonfeminist women who are their unfortunate dupes and victims &#!51; will have to suffer occasional indignities at the hands of young males who are not restrained in their behavior by any antique, feudal, patriarchal notions of female vulnerability and innocence. This is what the feminists asked for, and this is what they, and their victims, have got.
I am sorry for the women who were terrified and mauled by those hooligans in the Park. I hope they will soon recover from their ghastly experiences. I hope those who assaulted them will suffer some punishment — though I hope it will be something well short of the 25-to-life now being called for by our more hysterical commentators. And yet … if only it had been a half-dozen feminist ideologues in the Park that day, instead of harmless women who merely walked into the consequences of feminist arrogance and stupidity. Then I would say, without guilt or shame: Let them stand there and enjoy it.