Cycles of Bigotry, Cycles of Sexism
By Rod Van Mechelen
History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. - Karl Marx (1818 - 1883)
1991 Bellevue, Wash. - Life moves in cycles. From the smallest microbe to the infinite universe, we all dance to cyclic rhythms. Sometimes these cycles are obvious. Like the four seasons or the tides, they shape our lives. But others, like the ebb and flow of the polar ice caps, the alignment of the planets, and global warming, we know only after centuries of study and observation. They are hard to see.
There are social cycles, too. Like gargantuan hearts, they pump thoughts, ideas, attitudes and impressions -- the blood of our culture. Vaguely, most of us are aware of these and sometimes refer to them as "swinging pendulums." A good analogy to remind us that what is extreme today may be mainstream tomorrow, and yesterday's fashions will re-emerge when "everything old is new again."
Economists and businesses rely on these cycles to know when to save or borrow, spend or invest, expand or sell-out. Investors, too, study social psychology, drawing charts to predict the effects of human emotion on "market swings" and "boom/bust" cycles. (See, for example, Elliott Wave Principle: Key to Market Behavior, by A. J. Frost and Robert R. Prechter.) These are fairly obvious, and politicians work to flatten them out so that, instead of suffering ups and downs, we can enjoy predictable prosperity.
Sexual attitudes follow a cycle, too. Skirts and hair are short or long, breasts are in or out, women are "barracudas," men are "predators," and now women are "cougars."
Popular wisdom now holds that "men only want one thing." As recently as the 1960s, however, feminist icon Betty Friedan lamented how our culture believed women were the sexual predators and men were their prey! Before that, during the Victorian era, men were base and women were pristine. "History," as Karl Marx noted, "repeats itself."
The cycle of sexual attitudes, as mapped out by historian Reay Tannahill in her delightful book, Sex in History, has repeated itself in ancient Greece, Rome, Arabia, China and India, and even among many Native American cultures. This cycle of sexism is part of a larger cycle of bigotry and counter-bigotry. In one form or another, it is a pattern that has persisted for thousands of years.
- The racist bigot says: "If your skin is the wrong color, you're not good enough!"
- The counter bigot says: "If you're racist, then you are not good enough!"
- My sister says: "Stamp out Violence -- kill extremists!"
This cycle of bigotry/counter-bigotry is especially evident between the white and black American communities.
During the 1960s, in response to racism black individuals began programs of racial validation. Many of us remember watching a black man on television drilling a black youngster on "Black is Beautiful," back when the term was new. The child's mother watched with an expression of grim determination as the man instilled in him a sense of racial pride.
Black pride emerged from that program, and others like it. Focused solely on blacks, however, they were unbalanced. The sense of pride they sought to instill in their children produced, in many cases, counter-bigots -- if you're not black, you're not good enough. Only black is beautiful.
Black is beautiful, possessing a character and quality not found in any other hue. But there is also beauty in skin that is pink, olive and brown. All different, all good.
By not teaching children to recognize, respect and value the inherent worth in all people regardless of race, such programs combined with legitimate demands for justice to imply that being white is inherently bad, and that the sins of whites long dead are also the sins of whites now living. Shamed, the white community tried to mollify blacks by passing laws or instituting programs that attempted to level the field, by lowering standards, as in college entrance requirements, or, through affirmative action programs, by actively hiring and promoting women and minorities.
Sometimes this had the effect of redirecting the discrimination toward white men, or of alleviating black individuals of any responsibility for misbehavior. However accomplished, it is combining with counter-bigotry to stir up resentment among a growing number of working class youths that is leading to a renewal of anti-black prejudice. According to June Stephenson, author of Men Are Not Cost-Effective: Male Crime in America
, the hate crime rate in the U.S. is growing, most of it directed toward blacks.
Black Is Beautiful
Black leaders of the sixties were right to shake up the complacency of the white community. There is a time for hostility, a time for anger, a time to march, and a time to cry.
But when the major ideological disputes are resolved, it's time to put away the strategies, tactics and emotions of confrontation and walk together down the avenues of cooperation.
This is what most of the leaders of the black community have done, and are doing. But cooperation is not a banner under which angry mobs can be rallied to form political power blocks. Cooperation requires communication, negotiation, consideration, reflection, knowledge, patience and work: The emotional rewards are slow to come.
Conversely and perversely, confrontation often provides more immediate emotional satisfaction. Particularly when it involves giving up personal responsibility by blaming others for the problems of life. Some black pundits, like Jill Nelson, author of Volunteer Slavery: My Authentic Negro Experience, gain a following by indulging in such tactics. A growing number of feminists are, too, with their social and political assaults on men long after there is any need or justification for doing so.
To be treated as equals in school and at work, many women needed to adopt an attitude of confrontation, and demand that men accommodate them. Many men resisted, but many more accepted what was fair and inevitable, and women's legal status is now, in many ways, superior to men's. Conflict could have ended there, to make way for a new era of cooperation and negotiation. Instead, feminist extremists carried the confrontation further to precipitate more and more antagonism toward men. In the muck of this misandristic malice, the seeds of a new misogyny have germinated and are taking root.
Recently, a prominent member of the fathers' rights community began posting articles to the Internet arguing that men are physically, mentally and morally superior to women. On college campuses, male students are now discussing ways to use Title IX to "kick feminism off" their college campuses. And recently, when an ABC TV affiliate produced a show on "deadbeat dads" that was to feature a female fathers' rights lobbyist, an executive of Dads Against Discrimination (DADS), one of the largest fathers' rights organizations in the country, "strongly objected," and persuaded them to replace her with a man who, though far less capable of debating the issues, was preferable solely because he was a man.
The cycle of sexism has come full circle. The misogyny of the fifties and sixties led to the androphobia of today, which in turn will produce an efflorescence of anti-female sentiments tomorrow. Is this backlash inevitable? Is there no way to stop the cycle and find some happy middle ground?
Ending the Cycle
We can end the cycle, but neither men nor women can do it alone -- we must work together.
In Male and Female: The Classic Study of the Sexes, Margaret Mead asserted that once we have identified and analyzed this cycle, "it should be possible to create a climate of opinion in which others, a little less the product of the dark past because they have been reared with a light in the hand that can shine backwards as well as forwards, may in turn take the next step." It is up to us to take that next step. Women must oppose anti-male sexism just as vigorously as we expect men to oppose anti-female sexism.
To the courageous feminists who brought modern sexism to our attention, we owe gratitude and respect. They opened our eyes. But their wise words have drowned beneath a deluge of strident voices all clamoring to be heard, all shrilling one message -- men are to blame and must make restitution for all the misfortunes all women have ever suffered.
Where we heard voices of reason, now we hear only rage and fear as feminist extremists work not to break the cycle of sexism, but to reverse it. This is not what the pioneers of feminism sought. They were less interested in castigating men than in inspiring women to, as Lucretia Mott put it, "be acknowledged...moral, responsible" beings with full civil and political rights. In a nation where women are increasingly afforded the right to fill combat positions in the military while men are denied the right to refuse combat positions, and women, but not men, have the legal right to refuse to become a parent, realization of the feminists' original goals is a historical fact the extremists refuse to acknowledge.
Perhaps this is because few men have participated as men. Those who gained entrance to the cause were male feminists, who, like Ashley Montagu, author of The Natural Superiority of Women, found refuge and feminine approval in the aggrandizement of women and the denigration of men, rather than in advocating a policy of same rights, same responsibilities.
We need neither the conciliatory voices of male feminists, nor the extremists' recriminations, but the strength and integrity of women and men working together to dismantle all the sexist barriers without blame if we are to create a more complete humanity and a finer state of being.
Rod Van Mechelen
Rod Van Mechelen is the author of What Everyone Should Know about Feminist Issues: The Male-Positive Perspective (the page now includes several articles by other authors), and the publisher of The Backlash! @ Backlash.com. He is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and served from 2002 to 2012 on the Cowlitz Indian Tribal Council.