By Rod Van Mechelen
Is it time to become men who make women feel perfectly safe?
An emasculated profile
2003 Olympia, Wash. - A couple weeks ago, while recuperating from surgery, I watched E!'s Celebrity Profile of Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. During the interview, she spoke fondly of Michael Landon, and in particular of one episode that had a powerful impact on her life.
The episode involved a story in which her character, Laura, ran away from home. When Landon, as her father, finds her, he jumps off his horse, runs over to her and, sobbing, embraces her. She described it with words to the effect that, "This was the first time I buried my face in a man's chest and felt perfectly safe."
This got me to thinking: "Perfectly safe" are words few women in America today feel comfortable using in the same sentence with a description of how they feel about men. That's because, during the past 30+ years, feminists have worked very hard to make women feel afraid of men.
They have profiled us as rapists, warmongers and batterers, the source of every bad thing in the world, the cause of all violence, demons of discord, evil incarnate, the big bad wolves who bring terrible darkness into the women's world of happiness and light.
It was hard to deny their denunciation of all things male because, spurious studies of ideological origin aside, on the face of it so much of what they claim appeared to be true. Virtually all prosecuted criminals are men. For millennia, men have taken up arms to make war. Men murder, fight, rape, create and lead oppressive regimes. Men level mountains, pave over forests, year-after-year American men don orange garb and, armed with rifles and beer, tramp out into the woods to kill Bambi. Indeed, testosterone became all but synonymous with poison.
What could be more obvious? "Men bad, trees pretty," to misquote Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And so, being men, we did what men have done for millennia: our best to protect women by, in this milieu, damning ourselves.
Sexual gag reel
This produced a comedy of errors on a national and then international scale: "All men are rapists, that's all they are," goes the famous line in Marilyn French's enduring tome, The Women's Room: A Novel, so suddenly an uncomfortable coming-of-age liaison could brand a boy as rapist.
Men, according to feminist doctrine, prey upon women, so in the aftermath of the utterly inane debate over Anita Hill and the Clarence Thomas Hearings, both male and female coworkers tread on proverbial eggshells for fear of saying or doing anything that might subject them to disciplinary actions by uneasy employers anxious to avoid the possibility of pricey lawsuits over some trivial slight.
It's like a sexual gag reel, with everybody stumbling around not knowing what to do. In consequence, millions have gone on-line, where they parade their sexuality in stark detail. Mild-mannered mannequins of propriety and politically correct sexless conduct by day, in the twilight they shed inhibitions, clothing and all sense to pierce this, tattoo that, and risk contracting incurable STDs in their search for love, sex and simple human connection in a world gone nuts over pleasing the prissy proctors of feminist superiority.
Then came 9-11 and a renewed appreciation for the more masculine virtues.
The return of "manliness"
If a band of men martyred themselves to strike a blow against the big bad symbolized for them by the twin towers of the World Trade Center, then it was also true that in the aftermath of this senseless slaughter, thousands of men rushed to the scene where they demonstrated courage and self-sacrifice of a kind which made feminists cringe. The kind of heroic spirit that gives women reason to feel "perfectly safe."
In the days that followed 9-11, much was made of this, some of which I contributed, and though I strive to be fair, there was a strong vein running through the general cacophony over the manly acts of the heroes of 9-11 that was sexist to the extremist degree:
After years of male-bashing, it is good to see some appreciation for male heroism and even for the fact that traditional machismo always included not only dominance but protection and rescue. But one senses that some champions of the manly man would have been almost disappointed if the heroes of Flight 93 had included a woman. (Some flight attendants may have helped fight the hijackers.) Meanwhile, feminists who bemoan the lack of attention to the heroines of Sept. 11 tend to sidestep the fact that it's overwhelmingly men who put their lives on the line in dangerous jobs. - Cathy Young, Feminism's slide since Sept. 11, The Boston Globe, September 16, 2002 p. A15
Feminism, which was already mired in its own inane claims and struggling against the growing strength of a backlash born of anti-male sexism, slid, as Young put it, "further into irrelevancy."
While this was an inevitable part of the social movement life cycle, as outlined by Eric Hoffer in his seminal work, The True Believer, the pivotal consequence of this tragedy was that the sea change in social sentiment started not with a vengeful backlash against women, which, as long-time readers of The Backlash! know, was one of our greatest fears, but a tearful celebration for manly virtue.
Return of the "tree huggers"?
The fact about manly virtue is that it has never gone away, but has spent much of the past few decades hiding in various sub-cultures, including the MythoPoetic Men's movement and Promise Keepers.
These, however, have always colored their version of the Virtues with ideological overtones that appeal only to a few, thereby making them unpalatable to even the hungriest youths starving for some semblance of sexual sanity. So while tree-hugging Indian Wannabes and Christian mystics have their respected place, for the mainstream something more sensible and less ideological, more practical than practiced, is needed.
What we need is a short set of principles that make sense, a guide for appropriate conduct that brings the sexes together rather than drives them apart. Something we can teach our children that does not drag us back into the old realities of sexual inequality, but celebrates our differences at the same time it embraces our equality.
Feeling perfectly safe
Feminism of the late 1980s through most of the 1990s focused on women's safety issues. They made women fear men, and men responded by protecting women against men. All this led to, however, was greater fear, deeper sadness and rampant confusion. What George Gilder described, in Men and Marriage, as sexual suicide.
There are plenty of books extolling various virtues. I grew up with Aesop's Fables, and more recently William J. Bennett compiled his celebrated Book of Virtues. Such as these, however, do not address in practical terms the most basic manly virtues and how to cultivate them. For that, I think, we need to trek deep into the long-neglected though oft-maligned territory of boyhood to rediscover what grew out of the work of Ernest Thompson Seton: the Boy Scouts.
The Boy Scouts may not offer a panacea to all the social ills that plague our culture, certainly not when the Girl Scouts preach misandry, or fear and hatred of masculinity. But they do offer something both lacking and needed by today's youth: a simple yet comprehensive set of principles embodying appropriate manly virtues.
This is no final solution promising an end to all conflict between women and men, but the feminists led us down this ill-fated path to fear and hatred of men, and now it's up to us - to "men and the women who love them," as author and teacher Warren Farrell is wont to say - to take the lead and create a culture in which, more often than not, women can press against the chest of a man and "feel perfectly safe."
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 for 9-1/2 years on the Cowlitz Indian Tribal Council.