It’s Father’s Day this weekend, in a land where men are underappreciated, disrespected, and under attack. Kathleen Parker is here to save them, with her cultural wakeup call, Save the Males: Why Men Matter. Why Women Should Care. She recently took questions on her new book from NRO editor Kathryn Jean Lopez.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Well count me among those who think men matter. Why do they need saving though? Don’t they usually do the rescue missions?
Kathleen Parker: Men are, indeed, excellent rescuers. We like that about men. In fact, Western men rescued women once upon a time from their status as pack mules. As my friend Matt Labash might say, I like to call that Western Civilization. Men also created the big-idea documents that ultimately resulted in women’s suffrage and equality under the law. Women have demonstrated their gratitude by reaching the summit and basically pulling the ladder up behind them. “See ya, guys. You’re on your own now. Oh, and we’re taking the kids.”
During the last 30 years or so, as feminism has reached most of the goals of equality (except of course for that coveted membership in the Augusta National Golf Club), women have become hostile toward men and maleness in what seems to be a spirit of retributive justice. Our boys will now pay for all the sins committed by the worst men throughout history. That hardly seems fair — and we know that feminism only aims to be fair, right? STM aims to shine a light on all the ways our culture degrades and disrespects males and suggests that women might drop their torches and pitchforks for the sake of sanity and the little ones.
Lopez: Why would anyone ever believe that men turn abusers while watching football?
Parker: We are fairly willing to believe anything about men as long as it’s bad. “Women good, Men bad” is the title of the first chapter. The football-abuser connection is a handy metaphor for the anti-male zeitgeist. The meme was set loose in 1993 when a coalition of women’s groups issued a news release declaring that domestic violence spikes during Super Bowl Sunday. That would be because men slurping beer and watching men pound each other while scantily clad women vault around the sidelines turns ordinary men into the beasts they really are. Or so the myth-making machinery would have us believe.
The media of course jumped on the women’s release because it confirmed what an anti-patriarchal world needs to believe. Except it wasn’t true. Ken Ringle of the Washington Post actually fact-checked the claim and found that it was a misinterpretation of a study that found nothing like that. Nevertheless, first impressions are hard to shed and it’s been difficult to talk rationally about domestic violence ever since. The Duke lacrosse fiasco was the full-flowering of the “men-bad” seed.
Lopez: Is feminism necessarily the enemy of men?
Parker: The short answer is “no,” but a longer answer requires that we define feminism. For those who missed their women’s studies classes, the first wave got women the vote; second wave got them jobs and divorces; third wave made them porn stars. I’ve always said that any woman with a checkbook is a feminist, but feminism has morphed from being pro-woman to anti-male. What we need is a fourth wave — a new “reasonable” feminism.
Lopez: What is “reasonable feminism”?
Parker: Reasonable women are just like reasonable men. They want to make adult choices independent of external authority; they want to choose their work and be paid fairly; they do not presume that men and women are interchangeable in all ways because they are not morons. Certain differences between men and women make absolute equality not only implausible, but undesirable.
Unreasonable feminism doesn’t believe this. Radical feminists, which are those to whom I refer whenever I speak of feminists, believe that men and women are essentially the same and that any differences are the result of social engineering. There’s so much science now refuting this idea, not to mention thousands of years of accumulated wisdom, that it’s really incomprehensible that we’re still debating it. Anyone who spends an hour on a playground knows that male and female are different. When these differences benefit the female of the species, of course, we celebrate them. When they seem to benefit the male, we try to figure out a way to reconfigure the landscape.
Lopez: Can feminism really be remade or is the f-word too tainted?
Parker: Personally, I’m opposed to -ism and -ology. I agree with Walker Percy that we should repent of labels and I’m happy to retire feminism. Nevertheless, a more honest, serious feminism has important work in other parts of the world. Here in the U.S., I’d say we’re in the fine-tuning stage. When we’re debating golf-club memberships, the house that feminism built is fully furnished. We’re doing dust ruffles at this point. I’d like to see feminism focus on helping women who have to worry about being stoned by their sons for daring to speak to an unrelated man.
Lopez: What does it mean to “let men be men” and “boys be boys”?
Parker: It simply means to acknowledge that men are not women and boys are not girls. Boys and girls are hard-wired differently, which one notices as soon as the little critters become mobile. Although there are exceptions, girls can sit and focus for long periods and boys need to move around more. In fact, brain research shows that multitasking stimulates the pleasure center of women’s brains, hence 42 years of NOW. The men’s movement has been in gestation for 15 years and hasn’t begun to quicken yet. Ultimately, letting men be men means not insisting that they be our best girlfriends.
Lopez: How are we rewarding the feminized male?
Parker: With a brand new washing machine! Barry, come on down! Seriously, guys are now expected to be as good as women at everything. It’s not enough to bring home the bacon. A real man has to also be able to whip up a soufflé, know where to get the best pedicure, and be able to identify a Manolo. If a man reading this has no idea what I’m talking about, he’s the man for me. Look, I like a man who cooks. My father cooked in our house and his nails were tidy. But really. When Fortune Magazine features a trophy husband on the cover of a man wearing an apron and beaming virtue from every pore, we might have gone too far in domesticating men.
Lopez: Has Too Much Information killed the males?
Parker: It may not have killed them, but it may have sent them to their rooms to seek companionship from virtual, rather than real, women.
Lopez: Did Our Bodies, Ourselves destroy the world?
Parker: If you’ve seen a copy, you wouldn’t have to ask.
Lopez: Why should women be mysterious?
Parker: Because mystery is a woman’s best friend — as are pink lightbulbs.
Lopez: Are you afraid you’re going to have to say “The Vagina Diatribes and the Sacred Clitorati” — one of your chapter titles — on the air?
Lopez: What accounts for the cultural penetration (sorry!) of the Vagina Monologues? How did decent people not stop this nonsense from being everywhere from Broadway to the University of Notre Dame?
Parker: The monologues are like other people’s children — interesting for the first five minutes. But once you’ve shouted the c-word in public, it’s done. There’s nowhere else to go with it — unless you’re five. Then you can say it again and again and collapse in giggles the way little boys do when they say really bad words such as “poop.” Women gathering to reclaim the C-word, chanting it loudly, is one of the stranger developments in feminist history. Now that we’ve reclaimed it, can we give it back?
Decent people didn’t stop the nonsense because Eve Ensler is a marketing genius. She tied her creation to serious work for women who seriously need it, donating millions to combat domestic violence and liberating women in oppressive countries. Very smart and commendable. Once the VM were viewed as attached to women’s noble causes, who would dare complain except a misogynist thug?
Lopez: Why do we need to save men from porn and how can we?
Parker: Because we’re buzz-killers? Men don’t want to be saved from porn, I’m pretty sure. But then alcoholics don’t want to be saved from alcohol (I know I don’t), nor do drug addicts. You get the idea. But when something you do for fun and frolic causes you problems in your real life, then whateveritis is a problem. Porn is causing big problems in relationships. Men increasingly aren’t interested in real women, who are viewed as bad dates. Women are increasingly hurt and intimidated by expectations they can’t meet and often don’t want to. Casual users of “tamer” stuff may not see the need to stop the flow of good feelings, but there’s cause for concern. The trend in porn is toward increasingly violent expressions of human intercourse, so to speak. The association of sex with violence and the extreme objectification of women can’t be helpful to men’s humanity. I happen to be one of those women who think men are capable of rising above their basest instincts.
Lopez: You write that “The ultimate act of emasculation is, of course, the elimination of man’s central role as father.” Have we done that??
Parker: Absolutely. Fatherhood has been increasingly diminished the past few decades. We applaud single motherhood, celebrate sperm shopping as though searching out that perfect pair of Kate Spades and otherwise treat fathers as optional accessories. All of this has been helped by mass media messages that men are buffoons or pedophiles and by a family court system that often treats men as visitors to their children’s lives.
Lopez: How did “shame attached to unwed motherhood serve a useful purpose once upon a time”?
Parker: It kept our knees together. Importantly, it allowed girls to hang onto their innocence a little longer until they really were women. Boys, too. I mean, boys could remain innocent, not become women.
Lopez: How are you not dishonoring the service of women in Iraq and Afghanistan right now by arguing women are different than men in the military?
Parker: Well, by insisting that that’s not my intent. Women serving in war are my heroes. I just don’t want to see them — and the men who are with them — be sacrificed on the altar of misplaced feminist ambition. We’ve confused the ability to die with the ability to fight. Women have no place in combat for a variety of reasons — physical and psychological — but you’ll have to read the book to get the whole picture. The crux is that combat is not being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It has a specific definition, which is to actively and aggressively engage the enemy with the expectation of physical contact. Putting women in that circumstance, mano-a-mano with enemy men, is counter-intuitive on its face. My argument is principally a feminist position: Women do not have an equal opportunity to survive.
Lopez: Is this a debate we can even have at a time of war?
Parker: It’s not a comfortable debate, obviously. But only now are we in a position to ask these questions. No previous war has involved so many women so close to combat. I think we have a moral obligation to our men, our women, and to our society to question where we’re heading. What kind of culture do we want to deed to future generations? If trends continue, you can be sure that “choice” will soon become no-choice for women. If you insist that those women who want to go into combat ought to be able to based on some notion that the military involves “rights,” then some smart guy is going to ask why only women have that option. Once the combat exclusion for women is eliminated, then there will be no rational argument for excluding women from the draft should it ever been applied again. Drafting 18-year-old girls to do battle with grizzly men is a nightmare scenario, not the conscious act of a civilized nation.
Lopez: You use the word “oleaginous.” Buckley School show-off?
Parker: How can one not use the word “oleaginous” — especially when talking about soliloquies to one’s vagina?
Lopez: You and I have a mutual friend who talks about “men who love women.” After the portrait you paint of the way women treat men, what man in his right mind would ever want to have anything to do with women?
Parker: The kind who knows our mutual friend. It helps that she loves men. As do we, Kathryn.
Lopez: On page 79 of your book, you write that “every little thing is not a gender issue.” Did anyone try to tell Hillary Clinton that?
Parker: We can guess her husband never did.