I appreciate thoughtful critiques of the content we publish here at Thermidor. Thus, I am happy to post this interesting letter we received in response to Thermidor contributor Elena Russo's piece "Feminism's Destructive War On Society." I've decided not to write a full response to it and instead leave the discussion for the combox.
To the Editor,
I have some feedback on Elena Russo's piece, "Feminism's Destructive War On Society." This piece contains a detailed and accurate criticism of feminism's present-day excesses and advocates Christian motherhood as an alternative. I appreciate the goals of this article, and I have a few comments.
First, while criticizing feminism, the article unwittingly concedes too much to feminism. Second, there are some superficial aspects to the way she discusses male behavior which might be taken the wrong way by a male audience.
While the article spends most of its space on blisteringly accurate criticisms of feminism, it compromises too much by accepting first wave (and some of second wave) feminism. This is a very common mistake to make when criticizing feminism: many people criticize the modern form, but feel they need to make concessions to older versions of feminism to be even-handed.
There are many criticisms of first wave feminism from a Christian reactionary perspective. The single greatest essay I can recommend is Female Suffrage, A Letter to the Christian Women of America by Susan Fenimore Cooper from 1870. Mrs. Cooper deftly takes down all of the feminist arguments of her day. She predicted exactly what would go wrong. Mrs. Cooper criticizes the early feminism of J.S. Mill:
"The subordination of the wife to the husband is declared by Mr. Mill to be "the citadel of the enemy." Storm the citadel, proclaim the entire independence of the wife, and our feeble imaginations, we are told, are utterly incapable of conceiving the glorious future of the race consequent upon this one step. This is a very daring assertion. It is so bold, indeed, as to require something of positive proof ere we can yield to it our implicit belief. The citadel we are urged to storm was built by the hand of God. The flag waving over that citadel is the flag of the Cross."
All we need to evaluate the first wave is to look at the lives and writings of its prominent proponents, including the supposedly good ones like Mary Wollestonecraft and J.S. Mill. Look at Victoria Woodhull advocating free love in the 19th century. Early feminists were trying to tear down Christian marriage from the very beginning.
Back to the article, the author says "Women should be guaranteed rights such as equal pay and protection from sexual harassment." Equal rights, equal pay, and sexual harassment are all modern liberal feminist concepts which clash with the Christian framework of the rest of the piece.
"Equal pay" is propaganda for bribing women to leave the home in exchange for voting left and driving down wages. Even if women must join the workplace, "equal pay" can never be codified when women and men perform different jobs and hours. "Sexual harassment" is the variety of problems that occur once unmarried people spend all day together, problems which would have surprised none of our ancestors. It was first wave feminism who fought to create the unchaste modern workplace, then it blamed men for anything that went wrong. "Sexual harassment" policy cannot fix that situation, but it does discourage scrupulous men from courting their female coworkers, marrying them, and taking them out of the workplace and into the home.
The next area of discussion is about the critique of men's behavior in this article:
"Is women’s anger justified? Men are not blameless, but individual men have hurt individual women through coercion and manipulation such as in rape, physical and psychological abuse. Men have also emotionally damaged women through lying, cheating, abandoning, and refusing to commit in matrimony. However, women, in turn, have injured men by committing the same sins and others. At least one in five men commit adultery against their partners, but a similar statistic is reported of women. Truly, men hurt women in relationships, but with our newfound ‘freedom’ to dictate our own rules in relationships, they’re made increasingly dysfunctional."
My objection to these critiques is that they sound too close to buying into feminist narratives about the badness of men. Yes, I grant that men commit plenty of sins. But I think we need to remember that the modern concepts of rape, abuse, coercion, and manipulation are greatly influenced and inflated by feminism. (A point where I know the author agrees.) Using these criticisms without disclaimers is bound to unintentionally push the buttons of some male readers and cause them to miss the points she is making.
In this case, I do understand the point: about women needing to learn to forgive men's sins against them. This was one of the strongest parts of the essay, and it shows the advantage of the Christian approach over modern secular critiques of feminism. But once we recognize how feminism has poisoned women's opinions of men, we must go further: Aside from male sociopaths, a large amount of male poor behavior exists in relationships where both people are sinning against each other—usually due to feminism muddying the waters about healthy roles and depriving men of headship. Feminism makes it very easy for women to blame any clash on the man and claim abuse. To recover from feminism, women must question their own judgments of men's behavior and try to take the plank out of their own eyes, and ask for forgiveness, in addition to giving it.
The author moves on to give men advice about virtue:
"Men should finally rise to become leaders again of high quality. Work on attaining the masculine virtues, workout your bodies physically, your minds concerning the world, and souls in prayer. Men, hold high standards in your relationships and take a decisive lead with the goal of marriage in mind, or don’t date. If you want to restore the civil order, you must restore committed heterosexual relationships."
The author correctly describes the problems of feminism, and correctly describes the behavior we want to see in men and women. But these parts of the article feel dissonant: If indeed women are so corrupted by feminism, how can a man commit to her in matrimony? How can this possibly work?
This is the big question that will be in the mind of many male readers. In the Christian male parts of the net, there is a common complaint by Christian men about being expected to "man up", marry and perform their duties towards hedonistic modern women who don't accept their own duties as wives, and who spent their fertile years racking up student debt and cavorting with the least-saintly men possible, while their churches made only half-hearted efforts at discouraging them. Atheist women, of course, are much worse. As a consequence, when advising men about their role with women, I think it's very important to acknowledge the difficulties men face in practice with the women they are finding. We need to give them a vision of how traditional marriage can still work despite these problems, and despite the lack of support for traditional roles from modern churches.
The problem that many good men are facing is that they just don't believe that a stable marriage can work with modern women, thanks to feminism and what it has done to women. They fear that even if they do their part in marriage, their wives will still develop ridiculous grievances and divorce them. Telling these men what virtues they should embody, and how they should date, will not help them. It will only raise their hackles, unless we can paint them a picture in which marriage has a happy ending.
Specifically, we must persuade men that they can find marriageable women through searching better, or that they can "create" traditional women out of modern women through headship and leadership. If men can believe that virtuous wives can be found or made, then they will find the motivation to pursue virtue in themselves. Without that hope, they will descend into nihilism.
What our men need from women is not general advice on manhood and virtue, because men are the ones who are best qualified to give advice to each other. If women are to give men advice, the most useful advice would be how to avoid or deal with feminism in other women. What men need is to believe that there are women somewhere who are worth it. As a result, the most effective parts of this article are where the author is giving advice to women, because it shows that women are out there who understand the problems of feminism and are trying to improve the state of womanhood.
The best way for women to encourage virtuous Christian manhood is to pursue virtuous Christian womanhood in themselves and in each other, and to state their condemnation of the feminist serpent and affirmation of Christian marriage. The original article is a good start towards this goal, and the next step will involve rejecting feminism fully, including the supposedly-good parts of past versions of feminism.