Soraya Chemaly’s Huffington Post blog thankfully speaks out against 12-yer-old slut memes and Facebook misogyny.
This hatefulness in online social life is one reason why it troubles me to read triumphalist “end of men” and end of feminism pieces about how women are the big winners of the 21st century.
That assertion strikes me as true, but partial.
Cut one way, it’s certainly reasonable. It’s important not to cast success stories as failures, and women have plenty of “having it all” success stories to share.
Women out-enroll men in college and have surpassed men in medical schools. Pew reports that men stand to gain more now from marrying a college-educated woman than the reverse. The Mr. Degree has replaced the historical Mrs. Degree. Women have made breathtaking advances in a short amount of time in careers and economic independence. The “he-cession” seemed to magnify women’s economic edge, since more men lost their jobs. (Now, that’s not so true anymore. More heavily male construction jobs are coming back, and more heavily female jobs in the state and local public sectors are getting cut). Marital and sexual mores have been vastly transformed, and co-equal marriages are a norm for one cohort.
But, even within this select group of well-educated, affluent, economically self-sufficient career women, it’s hard to square the triumphalist generalization with the sort of casual misogyny that Chemaly describes in her post.
There are two junctures where men—in the sense of masculinity, male power, patriarchy and privilege—get resurrected miraculously from their untimely grave. These junctures are: when a woman attempts to date, engage romantically, or have sex with a man, and when she has a child.
At these two junctures, women lose on the one hand some of what they’ve gained on the other.
I can’t square the end of men with the numbers on sexual harassment and assault, domestic violence, slut memes, and online life that seems to have unleashed or amplified misogyny. Maybe that misogyny is no worse than before, and it’s just found a new, powerful megaphone. Or, maybe the medium is the message, and the misogynistic feeling itself has fed off of new media that offer a dangerous combination of privacy and anonymity in a public forum.
You could look at these developments and see them as contrapuntal and reactive. We see examples of lashing out, misogynistic hostility precisely because women are getting more powerful in other arenas.
The problem is that the large majority of women in America consider a romantic or sexual relationship—often with a man—a marriage, and/or parenthood to be key facets of their lives. Maybe they’ll get married and not have children; maybe they’ll do both; maybe they’ll have a child but not marry.
Whatever the scenario, a majority of women spend a fair amount of time in their lives fussing with men in sexual, romantic or marital relationships, and/or being mothers.
And if they’re vulnerable in these arenas, in their sexuality and their lives as mothers, that’s not an inconsequential counter-punch to their often over-hyped economic and educational triumphs. Instead, it hits their lives right in the gut.
Women’s reality today even in the relatively privileged cohorts strikes me as paradoxical and ambivalent. The numbers on college graduation and professional school enrollment could lead you to see many women—and rightly so—as empowered like never before, while the slut memes and the guilt-tripping, perfectionist motherhood standards and the workplaces hostile to motherhood could lead you to believe that men are the most powerful unpowerful people around, and women are the most unpowerful powerful ones.