I bought a secondhand car from a guy once who regaled me with tales of its high performance and low maintenance, but he would not touch the title or payment—paperwork was his wife’s responsibility. I don’t remember his name, but she was named Jeannette. When I told my mother about the experience, she made herself clear: “Roby, you need to find yourself a Jeannette.” A fixer, I think she meant, a responsible counterpart handling practical matters with care and commitment. She went on to say, “You know, someone who puts you on a budget, a diet… who keeps your car from getting repossessed.”
This was 25 years ago now, and my mother is no longer here to contribute her penetrating witticisms and wisdom, but the world she brought me into is largely unchanged. We are not evolving. Sitting at a card table not long ago, a guy next to me spilled his drink and refused to assist in the cleanup. “That’s woman’s work,” he asserted. Is this hormonal, cultural, pure ignorance, I asked myself? In answer, after some 50 years of observation, I’ve concluded that minuscule anecdotes such as these from my own life are not exceptional, but rather proof of endemic toxic masculinity.
Looking beyond the confines of my own personal experience, the abundance of evidence is immense and nauseating. There’s a reason 98% of American mass murderers are not women (https://www.npr.org/2021/03/27/981803154/why-nearly-all-mass-shooters-are-men). “Gunman” may be the word of the millennium. Toxic masculinity bore this country a patriarchy that finally managed to surrender the vote to women 140 years after the so-called framers’ sacred document forbade it. Women in the United States presently earn 83% of what men do (https://hbr.org/2022/07/how-unpredictable-schedules-widen-the-gender-pay-gap#:~:text=Despite%20substantial%20progress%20toward%20pay,less%20than%20men%20on%20average.) Single-parent homes have held steady at only 12% male-led for several generations (https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2018/04/25/the-changing-profile-of-unmarried-parents/), and 30% of single-parent homes live below the poverty line (https://www.aecf.org/blog/child-well-being-in-single-parent-families). The burdens are shared unequally, and the very nature of male behavior is to blame.
I read a few years back that Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. This potential 28th Amendment to the US Constitution passed the House and Senate in 1978, and stated quite simply, in only forty words, that no state could deny or abridge rights on account of sex. 38 ratifications are the minimum required to amend the Constitution while we have 50 states. However, this needed to happen no later than 1982, so Virginia’s action was purely symbolic. The Equal Rights Amendment was born out of the women’s suffrage movement, first drafted in 1923. It passed through Congress during the height of the post-Watergate era, when the power of the executive briefly waned and the legislature often took bold, federal action. This was also the height of feminism’s “second wave”, from the mid-‘60s through the early ‘80s. But none of it was enough for the ERA. As stated earlier, we are not evolving.
At its core, feminism is the belief that an oppressive patriarchy shapes and defines our social framework, and that such a state of affairs is unacceptable. Every movement must suffer a backlash (see Susan Faludi’s great book by that name). Feminism is naturally challenged by unprincipled men, but some women also gain attention (or notoriety) through protest. Attorney and anti-feminist author Phyllis Schlafly famously said “I’d like to thank my husband for allowing me to speak here tonight.” More recently, pundit Ann Coulter has said “It would be a much better country if women did not vote.”
It is telling that Rush Limbaugh, who prospered from broadcasting terms such as “FemiNazi”, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2020. Such acclaim serves as proof that the United States not only preserves this gender inequity but cherishes and exalts it. We apparently will abide its perpetuation. Feminism, in such light, is often portrayed as incompatible with femininity, the hallmark of womanhood as seen through a patriarchal prism. My point is this: Choose both.
On a personal level, I am happy to see the empowering experiences my daughter enjoys through both public education and the Girl Scouts. They are not shrinking violets in training (see the GSA self-defense regimen here: https://playitsafedefense.com/girl-scouts/). She will have choice, and she will not relinquish her power to anyone.
My mother and I laughed a few times about the Jeannette episode, but only because I did indeed find my own perfect complement, her name is Dawn. We have mutually chosen to balance, share and partner in our responsibilities, creating a loving family circle; she’s the best thing that ever happened to me. Also, she makes more money than I do, so I’m doing my part there!
By Roby D
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