The Feminist Factor: Do Men Fear Women?

This question has been rolling around in my mind for days: On some level, do men fear women?

I’m not trying to be provocative. But I was reading a discussion on contemporary feminism recently, and the implications around gender-based control keep bringing me back to the issue of fear.

Don’t we all try to combat fear by taking control?

Specifically, a comment I came across has been nagging at me, and it was this: What has feminism ever done for men?

Can Feminism Help Men?

Believe it or not, this bothered me. Partly, because the question is ridiculous; feminism was all about women getting a shot at more choices – those that men took for granted. But the question irked me for another reason. If women have more choices, doesn’t that invariably mean that men do as well?

Granted, the women’s movement in the 70s was intended to dislodge barriers to education, politics, earning power and sexual freedoms. Unfortunately, it tended to discount the value of parenting and homemaking, and who hasn’t felt that particular backlash in all aspects of contemporary culture?

Yet it seems to me that feminism did accomplish something for men, though perhaps not what the gentleman who posed the question had in mind. With more choices available to women, unless you believe in a zero sum game, that means additional choices for men, too.

But for a man who fears women, even subconsciously, then “feminism” would unleash a pretty terrifying set of possibilities – women having control over their own lives, women questioning the status quo, women able to claim their sexuality, women fighting for earning parity with men, women pursuing education, and women exercising choice relative to reproduction, marriage and child-rearing, including the option not to marry.

Feminist Discourse

But to my mind, this isn’t a zero sum issue except perhaps economically. And even then, only if you assume that women in the workforce will not generate new jobs and opportunities – for both men and women.

I’m not a historian. Nor am I about to whip out statistics and present a case for the feminist-based advances in social well-being though frankly, I would if I had the time.

That said, I will share a personal perspective, along with a reference to the originating discussion which took place at Huffington Post, in a compelling article by Barbara Hannah Grufferman. There, she speaks to her interpretation of feminism today, and to its underlying message of strength in diversity:

Feminism started as a movement to change laws, and the perception of women as secondary to men. But, feminism has morphed into something much bigger and bolder, with an even greater potential to affect global change… To embrace feminism is to embrace this fundamental truth: every human being has rights.

On some very profound levels, feminism has become my own personal moral compass. It guides my daily behavior toward everyone — regardless of gender, age, color, sexual orientation, creed or nationality, and I am raising my two daughters to be feminists as well.

Myth and Reality

Though I suggest that “feminism” could do with some re-branding, I happen to agree with Grufferman’s position. Without saying as much, I believe (and hope) I have raised feminist sons. And by that I mean young men who value women; they would no more discriminate against a female friend or colleague than they would anyone else by virtue of nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or for that matter – weight, height, or hairstyle!

I also recognize that from my 70s feminist idealism, I bought into the Superwoman Myth which is, in my opinion, the worst possible sort of myth – one that is held up as reasonably achievable though it consists of an impossible set of expectations, in our society as it is currently configured. And let’s be real – the whole concept is exhausting.

These days, I’d be more inclined to tout its merits if it came paired with a Superman Myth, wherein we (Super)power couples would navigate the universe arm in arm, equally committed to fighting injustice and pursuing the ever-elusive Work-Life Balance.

The Matter at Hand

Returning to the feminist issues at hand, to Grufferman’s point, increased opportunities for women do offer expanded opportunities for society as a whole:

  • higher levels of education for women mean additional skills brought to the fore
  • broader (humanizing?) viewpoints in our political process (how could we not recognize the mess the world is in?)
  • the hope of more family friendly options in our employment structures and related laws
  • the hope of more single parent reality in our employment structures and laws
  • additional choices for parenting roles for both men and women.

Have we magically met these lofty goals, not to mention dealt with the dramas of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, much less millions of Americans without access to proper health care? Not exactly; perhaps each of those mentions should be prefaced with “the hope of” and maybe even “the likelihood of.” Yet I strongly believe that women experience social ills viscerally, and know inherently that we are more likely to fall prey to them, and consequently, we are less likely to turn away from the need to address them.

Women in the Workforce

When I attended graduate school – business school to be exact – there was a relatively low percentage of women in my class. No, I don’t have a statistic to quote, but this was in the early 80s. Trust me – I was surrounded by men. I also felt no particular discrimination in that setting, nor any discomfort. I like men, and I was perfectly at ease in my B-school environment.

For me, coming from a liberal arts background, the point of business school was to open doors, to acquire new skills combined with the old so I might secure international jobs, and make a decent living. I had places to go and things to do; I also wanted financial independence – something my mother never had.

Mission accomplished. Until I had children, that is, some 10 years later. Then I found myself in a situation where flexibility in my employment environment was literally non-existent, and I was married to a man who had no intention of compromising his career objectives in the way I was expected to compromise mine. I was supposed to continue bringing home an MBA income, while raising the children and keeping house.

Equitable? Not exactly, though I managed it for a number of years but was perpetually exhausted and increasingly resentful – neither of which helps a relationship.

  • So what do you do if your industry cannot or does not accommodate a notion of part-time work?
  • What about those critical employment benefits that require a certain minimum number of hours?
  • What if you work in a field with no flexibility, or that requires travel – and you want more time with your family?
  • What happens if you become a single parent, and all these concerns are compounded?

These aren’t gender issues; these are family issues, and should be the concern of (smart) employers who wish to retain talent. Of course, economic times being what they are, perhaps this is moot for now. But surely inflexible employment structures, recessionary times and single parenting have added to the swelling ranks of home-based jobs and entrepreneurship among women.

Personal Perspective

My ex-husband and I had considerable differences in value systems and in parenting approach, something I didn’t realize when we married. A case of rose-colored glasses? Perhaps. I thought we shared the belief that our marital life would revolve around family, in the mode of his parents, siblings, and their children – a large, tightly knit European clan.

I was wrong.

Of course, we all make assumptions when we marry, and we can’t possibly anticipate how kids will impact our lives as couples, much less our careers and financial situation. But we learn quickly that compromises must be made.

Bearing children in my thirties, I didn’t mind giving up traveling, though I continued to work; my spouse loved to travel, and had no intention of cutting back. He was a road warrior by choice. But over the years, I found myself falling into the category of “married single mom” and not because I wanted it that way. I wanted something else – a husband who was home more often, another parent to share the joys and dramas. I wanted partnership.

Parenting Choices

Returning to the discussion of parenting choices and feminism, I wholeheartedly believe that both men and women can be exceptional parents, and either can be the primary care-giver. I’ve seen it over and over; I’ve seen some examples of genuinely shared parenting among married couples and divorced couples. I am also well aware that men solo parent just as women do.

I also recall the 70s and 80s when the concept of a man wanting to stay home even part of the time, to care for children, held considerable stigma.

So what has feminism done for men?

What has it accomplished along with paving the way for greater numbers of women creating businesses that employ men, women physicians who provide their services, women running universities and seeking to educate our kids, women whose voices are now part of the political process?

Among other things – feminism has led us here. To this place and time. To the recognition that men can and do love their children profoundly, and are capable of raising them well.

Feminism and Femininity

Now I’ll stick a dainty little toe into troublesome waters (as if the above splashing around weren’t enough) – I love the inherent differences between men and women. Some is nature, some is nurture, and there’s considerable range in those differences and how they play out.

I am a strong woman and a confident one, yet I consider myself feminine. That is as true today as it was thirty years ago. And I love strong men – those who are smart, funny, confident, and understand that there are few absolutes in the world, and they approach life accordingly. With an open mind.

A belief in greater access (and respect due) to the political, economic, and social power base doesn’t obliterate a desire to be or feel feminine. Owning one’s sexuality (rather than taking whatever is “given” in marriage) is also not unfeminine; if anything, I should think a woman who enjoys sex would make a more welcome partner to a man of like mind.

The Fear Factor

Of course, I’m making assumptions drawn from my own life, including periods spent abroad, relationships prior to marriage and after – generally in France or with French men. Those I’ve known, as friends or otherwise, embrace women who know their own minds and enjoy being women. And there is no fear factor at play.

But that is my experience. And I can certainly understand that anyone – male or female – who has lived with or worked for a ball buster, a control freak or narcissist (pick your term) – male or female – might think otherwise.

Still, I come back to fear. I come back to men who may fear women who say yes when they mean yes, and no when they mean no. I come back to women who may fear showing their strength because it makes them seem less “marketable” to men. And you know what? They are. We are. Or perhaps it is only true for the Baby Boomers and Gen X. What about Gen Y? What about the Millennials?

Yes, I have raised my children largely solo – but it isn’t what I wanted for them, and certainly isn’t what I wanted for myself.

The Future

Each of us comes to our feelings on emotional topics from personal experience. I imagine the (implied) question “What has feminism ever done for men?” comes from someone with good reason to ask, or at the very least, with his own story that forms his experience.  I’m glad the question was posed; it caused me to reflect.

As for my own future, I am nearing the end of raising children, and I’m worn out. I count my blessings; there have been helping hands when I least expected them, offered with extraordinary compassion, and my sons have been the recipients of gifts from “strangers” in ways they will never know. Moreover, despite the ongoing strain that plays out in the background, I believe my sons feel loved by two parents, albeit differently. And that is because they are loved by two parents, albeit differently.

As for my sons’ views on men and women, I imagine they’ve seen my strength, my determination, and equally, my missteps and my vulnerability. I believe they will understand that responsibility, accountability, and honor are essential values, and that value systems, like brain power and talent, know no gender.

If they become parents, I hope they will participate fully in raising their children. They are young men with heart, curiosity, humor and perseverance. They will make strong, positive role models.

My Take-Away, Not About Taking

For myself, feminism was never about taking away from men; it was about gaining footing so we might share more with them, and also play a more determining role in our own lives.

I have known relationships in which men were unfazed by strong, feminine women (the two attributes are not mutually exclusive), and definitions of masculinity and femininity were more fluid. I also believe we have become selfish in our relationships, and have forgotten the importance of doing the hard work that is sometimes required.

I have come to accept the ongoing need for individual choice rather than male or female role-based directives. That includes understanding that gender warfare is damaging, that some men make better parents than women, that some women make better CEOs than men, and none of this precludes us from loving each other – if we would lay down the gloves, and let go of the fear.


© D A Wolf

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Comments

  1. “I was married to a man who had no intention of compromising his career objectives in the way I was expected to compromise mine.” Oh how true. I put my career on hold because someone needed to have a job and make money while husband was earning his advanced degree. I wanted to go to law school, but that never happened (and actually I’m kind of glad). Even still today, here I am, 40 years old at the bottom of the ladder. My boss is only a couple of months older than me and she’s a VP. But, the fact remains, someone has to reliably be there to pick up the kids and get dinner made.

    It’s a vicious circle – he makes more money so, therefore, his job is more important, and therefore I have to be the one schlepping the kids everywhere, or staying home with them when they’re sick, etc…

    At times I do find myself resentful. But I also know that we have a good partnership – one that works for us. And I also accept responsibility for the choices I made. I didn’t have to have my first child when I was 25 – I could’ve waited and established my own career, like my boss did. Instead I’ll be 43 when the first kid heads off to college. There are definitely some advantages to being a young parent.

    What does my rambling have to do with feminism?

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      I think your ramblings aren’t ramblings at all, Cathy. I think you see elements of yourself in what I wrote about. Yes, we take responsibility for our choices, and many of us tend to look for the positives in those choices. Usually, there are some.

      But the inherent unfairness remains. It’s no different in your story than it was in mine, relative to the need to put your goals on hold, and then the spiral into roles and responsibilities that often leads us very far from what we want – we, the women – as individuals. At the same time, from what I can tell, there are also significant differences in your story and mine. For one, a husband who views the couple as a partnership, and who values the family unit.

      The other difference is being a “younger” mother. While I had the advantages of establishing a career before marrying and bearing children, that made no difference once I was embroiled in that vicious cycle you speak of – except that I was there 10 years older. Having your children younger has its advantages.

      Are there answers in any of this?

      We certainly have the technology tools to accommodate flexibility in many white collar professions (at the very least). But until our employment environments mature – and by that I include our work processes and managerial skills – we won’t make full use of those tools in ways that would benefit marriage and family and women and men both. Those of us who don’t want to lose our dreams, who do want or need to contribute income, but who do not wish to abdicate our parenting, or bear so much of its responsibilities that we’re worn down by the weight of it.

      Thank you for reading. Heavy stuff for many to wade through, I know.

  2. “For myself, feminism was never about taking away from men; it was about gaining footing so we might share more with them, and also play a more determining role in our own lives.” — I love this. Well said.

    I think men’s egos are so dependent on their successes that anything that gets in their way is to blame. And too often, they see strong, successful women as a problem rather than just the (inherent and necessary) competition.

  3. I actually dont believe this post answers my question. It seems more like since feminism has helped women….it must have helped men…..because here we are !? My fundamental problem with feminism is how it has steadfastly defended the area’s where women have advantage….like healthcare….like education….like conscription….like parental rights. To be honest, the area of parental rights is where my biggest argument is. Why must an unmarried man go through putative registries to establish paternity ? Why do mothers decide what the fathers name is on the birth certificate ? Why is paternal dna testing not mandatory at birth ? Why do women file for divorce on a 2-1 basis (9-1 for educated couples) ? Why do mothers overwhelmingly gain custody post divorce ? Why are divorced fathers treated like wallets ? All of these questions are rooted in feminist groups fighting to retain their inherent legal advantages and labeling men as violent abusers. So when you defend equal parental rights for men, let me know. In the meantime I’ll try to deal with my “fear of successful women”.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Explain to me how women have advantage in health care. Explain this to me today – especially – as I stare down yet another increase in shit health care insurance that covers the bare minimum in a health care system where you shuttle from doctor to doctor to get a non-answer. Explain to me the advantages I have in the educational system where I worked to pay off loans until I was nearly 40, and now find myself at 50+ “over-qualified and over-educated” – exactly the same things the family court judge said 10 years ago and due to that he denied alimony though I assisted with my husband’s career for years, and used the same reasoning when he applied special rules to reduce the child support below state minimum though that minimum would cover barely 1/4 the family expenses and I had been laid off? Explain to me where my advantages are with an ex who moved beyond state lines and figured out exactly how to finagle the support payments and pay what he wants and ignore what he wants – and I have no recourse unless I want to go further into debt for another decade? Oops. Sorry. Nothing else left to mortgage!

      As for custody? Explain to me how many men ask for custody – other than as a means to frighten the mothers and coerce them into taking very little support and no alimony. Tell me how a parent who professes to love his children ignores them except when it’s convenient, visits when it’s convenient, makes promises and keeps them when they’re convenient? Explain to me the legal advantages that I have in all this – as a woman -trying to survive, trying to finish out my job of raising responsible and honorable sons – and by the way – sons who do in fact love their father – because despite what has transpired between the adults I want them to know the love of their father.

      Explain to me how it is that he moved on with his life, a big job, a new wife, a new home and I’m worried about how many more months until we lose the roof over our heads – and no, not the family home – we lost that 6 years ago. The second tiny home that I’m struggling to keep until my younger son graduates from high school.

      Why don’t you try explaining all this to me, as I muddle through another day with chronic pain that I cannot afford to have addressed, as I put compresses on my face following the dental appointment during which – yet again – they’re trying to help hold things together after years of neglect because there was no money to pay for dental care. And this, thanks to a dentist who has extended courtesies out of extraordinary kindness.

      Tell me about my advantages. Seriously. I’d like to hear. Tell me about parental rights. I’d like to hear. Tell me about the numbers of women who file for divorce because their husbands back them into a corner until there is no way out except this misery and what follows, including years wasted trying to get “justice” and there is no such thing as long as your adversary has the money and wiles to have superior legal counsel.

      Frankly, my friend – what has feminism done for me except backfire, with a judge who saw fit to penalize me for having earned myself an education, worked my way up to a position which I then set aside to raise children and to help my husband and still bring in an income?

      I’d like to know. Yes, Come to think of it, you can answer that one for me.

  4. h0tr0d, You want to know how feminism has helped you? Let me explain then.

    With the advent of no-fault divorce laws, thanks to a few feminist women us wives and mothers no longer have any legal recourse against a man who abandons us or cheats on us with other women.

    A woman who is married to a man for decades can be left with NOTHING if her husband finds himself a younger model. Equitable distribution means she gets an equal share of any assets, if she can prove there are any assets and nothing more.

    A woman who has spent decades raising children and staying home because it was agreed between her and her husband that she do so can be and is often left by her husband. She is left with no retirement of her own. She is left with no long-term spousal support because such a thing has become an antiquated idea. But then again, so have the vows a man makes when he promises to “love and honor.”

    When a husband leaves a wife who he has encouraged to be a stay at home mother and wife, he takes her job with him, her means of support, and thanks to feminism she gets to start her life over at a very ripe age.

    That is something feminism has done for you and all men. It has given you the right to LEAVE/MISBEHAVE with no repercussions.

    The vast majority of women have taken advantage of NOTHING but have been taken advantage of my friend, and most of the time it is a man or the family court system that is taking advantage.

    I had a car accident in 2002 that lacerated a kidney and left me suffering with renal failure. I have a vestibular disorder that causes vertigo. I don’t have medical insurance and believe me when I say, there is no one out there lobbying for me to get such just because I’m a woman. And there isn’t a social service program that I can get on because I make too much money.

    There are more poor women raising children in the country than there are poor men. When your gender becomes the majority in that problem then you will have a right to spout off at the mouth. Until then, you don’t have a dog in the hunt.

    Now for your other questions…

    1. Why shouldn’t an unmarried man go through a putative father registry is a better question. Do you think you should just be able to show up at the door and claim paternity of a child? A mother gives birth to a child, it is fairly logical that she is the mother. A man doesn’t give birth and needs to protect his legal paternal rights by PROVING he is the father. If he resents having to do that then he doesn’t deserve any rights in my opinion. A man who wants to be a father is going to do whatever he needs to do to prove he is the father without resentment. Showing up with a dangling package between your legs doesn’t make you anything other than a dangling package.

    2. Names on birth certificates. Mothers don’t decide what name goes on the birth certificate. States have statutes that do not allow an unmarried woman to claim anyone as the father of her child until it is proven through paternity testing that he is the natural father. My first child was born before my ex and I were married. His name was not allowed on the birth certificate of our child until we hired an attorney and went through the steps necessary to “legitimize” our son.

    If an unmarried woman enters a father’s name on a birth certificate without first proving paternity she is breaking the law. If a hospital allows an unmarried woman to do so, they are also breaking the law.

    3. DNA testing. DNA testing is mandatory at birth UNLESS it is a married women that gave birth. If a married woman gives birth it is legally assumed that the child she gives birth to is the child of her husband. If she is unmarried she has to prove paternity before claiming anyone is the father.

    4. Women filing for divorce. Women file for divorce more often than men because they have to protect themselves from men. I did a survey 3 years ago regarding this subject. There were 568 responses to my survey of divorced women. Of those 568 women, 87% had filed for a divorce because their husbands were having one or more affairs. They were married to men who were screwing around on them, taking other women on vacations, buying gifts and spending money earned by both spouses on the other woman. Women have no choice in such a situation other than file for a divorce and protect themselves legally and financially.

    Four percent of the women who responded had filed for a divorce due to domestic abuse. They were being beat on a regular basis and did what anyone has a right to do… GET THE HELL OUT!

    Nine percent of the women who responded divorced because they were “unhappy” or “unfulfilled.” Only 9 % of women I surveyed who had filed for a divorce did so for foolish or selfish reasons.

    The vast majority of the women I surveyed only divorced their husbands when they were left no other option. Sixty four percent of the women I surveyed said they would have stayed in the marriage had they been given an opportunity. Their husbands refused counseling, refused to stop beating them, refused to stop cheating on them. Sorry but when it is bad behavior on the part of men that is putting women in a position of having to file for a divorce it means very little to me or any woman when a man points a finger and blames women for filing for divorce more often.

    5. Custody issues. Mothers overwhelming gain custody because in only 10% of all divorce cases do fathers petition the court for custody. Most family court jurisdictions have moved toward 50/50 custody but the reason more fathers aren’t getting 50/50 custody is because they are not asking for it. If a father wants custody he can hire an attorney and fight for custody, it really is that simple.

    6. Child support. A father’s legal obligation to help support his child does not end with divorce. If you think paying child support relegates you to a position of being nothing but a wallet that is your problem. You can be as pissed about paying child support as you want. The mother of your child doesn’t care how pissed you are, neither does the court that ordered you to pay child support.

    My advice to you is to GET OVER IT. As a divorced mother who raised two sons I can tell you that whatever you are paying in child support is a drop in the bucket compared to what it costs to raise your child.

    It wouldn’t matter who defended equal rights for fathers or anything else. You are angry and looking for someone to blame for the position you think you are in.

    If you have an ex that divorced you, then you played a role in the reason there was a divorce. You’ve got two choices. You can do some navel gazing and own the mistakes you made in your marriage or you can stay angry and blame women for where you are.

    I’ve got an ex who walked away with 86% of his income and he had a substantial income. He has no relationship with our sons. I was left to raise our children on my own with no help from the family court system. My ex has defied EVERY aspect of our final divorce decree. I’ve taken him to court, he has been found in contempt and NOTHING was done. He got away with breaking the law and not being held responsible as a father.

    He lives with his new wife in their new half million dollar home and hasn’t a worry in the world. My boys and I, we’ve struggled. We’ve been about as low as three people can go because he left us and the courts did NOTHING.

    I spend my time trying to change a broken system. Not constantly spouting off about whose fault it all is. When men like you who can’t seem to talk about anything other than how feminism got you in the fix you are in stop talking out of your butts – ranting and raving, you might have something useful to add to the conversation.

    Until then, you are of no use to anyone, least of all yourself and your children. May I suggest you do something constructive. Do something that might keep other men and women from becoming victims of a broken divorce system. Or continue to rant and whine. It is up to you.

    A question for you. What can you DO that will make a difference?

  5. Based on the vitriol of the previous two posts, there is no upside to me responding.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      I welcome any discussion here, h0tr0d. As for what you perceive as vitriol, I’m sorry if that’s how it came across. Perhaps what you see is the ragged edge of the other side, at the end of another long day. Men and women both live with hardships that are unfair and difficult to saddle. Some days we bear them more graciously than others. I think the real point is that there is no “justice” for many of us, there are many sides to every truth, and when it comes to the complexities of family court or even the fallout from our relationships, we are all vulnerable.

      Perhaps the best we can do is not assume that “men” get the bad breaks any more than “women” do in certain situations. We each live through a personal lens, doing the best we can.

      I will agree with you, however, that part of the legacy of the feminist 70s is a devaluing of the importance and necessity of home life and child-rearing. And I find that tragic.

  6. Thanks for the follow up. It may surprise some of your readers that I am happily married for 20 years and am not lashing out due to my personal circumstances. I am a lifelong democrat that used to call myself a feminist….until I stumbled into the progressive blogsphere and feminist echo chamber. I no longer call myself feminist and have unfortunately had to join hands with some knuckle-dragging MRA’s in order to stand up for men. Why is it progressives are so willing to denigrate men as a group ? At any rate, my only motivation is to ensure a level playing field for my teenage son and daughter.

  7. I’ll admit I’m responding after only scanning. There seem to be two topics, as indicated in your title, that might have been better considered separately. Do Men Fear Women…no, at least not this man. The Feminist factor…gets embroiled (as commenters note) in what does that word mean. I don’t know that any clear meaning can be recovered at this point, so new words may be needed. I do watch out for individuals who are anti-social or gender-biased, including those who couch this as being macho or feminist. “Fear” is not my word.

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