Looking back on his famous battle with feminists, Norman Mailer once said, “I was chosen as the sexist pig mainly because I was the most available target. The women saying, ‘Let’s have a revolution,’ were having a revolution, but the revolution was taking place in New York. They weren’t going down to Texas, Mississippi, and Arkansas, and saying to the men down there, ‘Let’s free the women down here.’ They were freeing the women in New York who were already free. They were occupying powerful jobs in New York. They were a strong element in the publishing houses. So, in other words, it was a false revolution to a certain degree.”
Mailer’s words, like much of his work, grows increasingly relevant as war-on-women fighters and the “rape culture” resisters indict, convict, and punish sexism where sexism no longer exists. The modern, American feminist is typically on scholarship at an elite Eastern coast university teaching her she is a victim of the patriarchal poltergeist (impossible to see, but everywhere in its presence and influence), or the one doing the teaching, or writing a column in a major newspaper, or running for office with the full endorsement of the Democratic Party.
Given that women now occupy a majority of seats in college classrooms, the majority of U.S. managerial positions, a growing amount of professional careers, and in all likelihood, the next Democratic nomination for President, it seems no one is questioning the power, intelligence, and courage of women, except the leaders of the American women’s movement, who insist women desperately need protection, and are in danger of crumbling at any second, from exposure to frathouse keggers, literature with misogynist terminology, and whistling construction workers.
Just as the literary scene in Manhattan and Brooklyn in the 1970s was flourishing with female authors, editors, and publishers, contemporary American culture is most egalitarian, and even feminist, in the exact locations and institutions where feminists are angriest about their exclusion and mistreatment. It seems rather unlikely, for example, that the University of California-Santa Barbara, where Bailey Loverin, a female undergraduate recently profiled in the New York Times, is leading a movement for class syllabi to flag “potentially traumatic material” with “trigger warnings,” is a bastion of chauvinism.
The double charge of hypocrisy and self-involvement is what Norman Mailer levied against the American feminists of his era, and it is even more applicable against the feminists of the current era, whose vantage point seems to exist exclusively within a hall of funhouse mirrors.
Let’s Talk About The Real Rape Culture
Leading American feminists have adopted as their favorite hobby waxing apocalyptic about “street harassment” and “everyday feminism,” as a bestselling book of the same title puts it, while they condemn America for fostering a misogynist “rape culture” where sexual assault is tacitly encouraged or trivialized. Rape, like all violent crime, is in steep decline, and there is no doubt that American culture has acquired more contempt of rape, not less. Sexual harassment laws continue to multiply and intensify, and is there anyone who believes that the smarmy “she was asking for it” or the repugnant “she is a slut” defenses attorneys used to mount on behalf of their rapist clients are more effective now than they were in the 1950s, or even the 1990s?
While the absurdity of the feminist battle cry grows louder, its most dedicated amplifiers ignore, or have no interest in condemning, the vicious enslavement and torture of women in the real rape cultures around the world. It requires a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attention to detail to notice a leading American feminist discussing the state of women in the Middle East or Africa. The silence of American feminists was deafening when Brandeis University disrespected and disinvited Ayaan Hirsi Ali—a true hero of the feminist and human rights movement—from speaking at their commencement and receiving an honorary degree. Brandeis’ feckless and spineless administration chastised and condescended to Ali—a former member of Dutch Parliament who underwent genital mutilation and witnessed state sanctioned rapes and honor killings during her youth in Kenya and Somalia—because she is “too critical of Islam.”
Brandeis University deems it insufferably controversial to condemn clitorectomies and arranged marriages for children, but like most of academia and most of the feminist left, is unequivocal in its insistence that any sexual contact with a woman who’s been drinking alcohol qualifies as sexual assault.
One would assume that the importation of genital mutilation to American shores would provoke feminist anger and activism, but again, the only response is deafening silence, and a collective turning of heads away from women truly in need of assistance from gruesome monsters who treat them as prisoners on good days, property on the rest.
Ignoring An Increase In U.S. Genital Mutilation
The Daily Beast recently ran an appalling report that, despite the difficulty of finding concrete statistics, activists are beginning to worry that female genital mutilation is on the rise in the United States. Fifteen years ago, a study estimated that 230,000 young women were at risk, and with the increase of immigrants from countries that sanction female circumcision, it is likely that the number is higher today. The horrific procedure—illegal in America since 1996—is popular as a rite of passage in 28 African and Middle Eastern countries. As Ayaan Hirsi Ali, herself a victim of the ghastly assault, makes clear in her riveting book, Infidel, in much of the Islamic world, it is like First Communion to Catholics: something every child must experience, and from which none are allowed to abstain.
Jaha Dukureh, a Gambian immigrant to the United States who was circumcised as a one-week-old baby, is a leader among American women quietly, but tirelessly fighting to protect children from faith-based thugs who do not hesitate to hack away at babies. Dukureh has testified before Congress, asking that the United States join the rest of the Western World in adopting early detection defenses against those who might clandestinely smuggle young girls into underground or foreign facilities to undergo the surgical nightmare. Educational institutions, hospitals and pediatrician offices, and law enforcement agencies can receive training and coalesce, according to Dukureh, to spot warning signs, and act accordingly.
Up until now, Dukureh’s compassionate and courageous campaign has received little press coverage or political play. Saving young women—in America and abroad—from sadistic butchers has not provoked a “Yes All Women” spectacle of self-satisfied Twitter users congratulating themselves for typing a sentence in their iPhones while waiting in line at Starbucks, or a war on women rallying opportunity comparable to when Mitt Romney had the temerity to suggest he reviewed the resumes of women before hiring them to serve in his gubernatorial cabinet. The disparity of outrage—always volcanic whenever a comedian uses the wrong pronoun, but forever dormant in the face of actual female pain and despair—is something Dukureh understands with greater clarity than American feminists, who if sincere and not solipsistic, have no idea they are being used: “The U.S. is so far behind on this issue, because everything in this country is about politics. They [elected officials] think this doesn’t affect the vote. This is not like abortion. It isn’t like some other women’s issues.”
It is obvious to the point of banality that most American politicians, especially the walking museum exhibits in the Congressional chamber, are hopelessly self-serving, more dedicated to advancing their own power than honoring any oath of office, or serving any constituency.
Activism: An Extension Of Contemporary Narcissism
What is more interesting about the pathetic provincialism of American feminists, is that it reveals the sad reality of contemporary activism as an extension of the culture of narcissism. Social media allows for projecting an avatar, and creating the celebrity illusion, where everyone is famous without having to earn any fame. Social-media politics then becomes yet another opportunity to broadcast a manicured personality, and present oneself as important. Rather than enlarging the world, politics, especially for the young feminist, is simply another layer of coating on the narrow bubble that becomes a permanent intellectual residence. Inside the bubble, it is easy to see how sexism becomes a condition based solely on your own experience, not the historical and political force still subjecting women to misery outside the bubble.
Nothing beyond first-person is relevant in contemporary language, because it does not lend itself to the expression of personalized outrage. If I am walking to my job where I earn a six-figure salary, and a moron makes a crude remark about my legs, that’s real sexism. If I am at a cocktail party, and an idiot takes a condescending tone of voice, that’s “mansplaining,” and that’s real sexism. Female genital mutilation? Honor killings? Life behind a burqa? Never happened to me.
Endless hand wringing over “rape culture” takes place on college campuses about dorm-room sexual activity, because that is where feminist leaders, and leaders-in-training, live and work. Feminist leaders do not live or work in the American military, and it is unlikely that they even know anyone in the military. The Pentagon reports that sexual assaults increased by a rate of 50 percent from 2012 to 2013, and many victims of sexual assault in the military claim reporting the crime is met with an icy response from superiors, and sometimes investigations against the alleged perpetrators never even happen. The story hardly ever surfaces in the mainstream press, however, and American feminists seem content to keep it that way.
Women Need International Solidarity
One of the few insights from Karl Marx still relevant is the need for international solidarity among oppressed people. If American women truly believed they were oppressed, they would have all the more reason to zealously advocate for the liberation of their African and Asian sisters, but instead they will obliviously protest that the existence of suffering elsewhere is no reason not to focus on making improvements here, no matter how marginal those improvements seem. The defense proves hollow when American feminists refuse to even come to the aid of fellow Americans, whether they are the impoverished immigrants suffering under the cruelty of Islamic insanity, or the working-class women of the military, who too often encounter an institution more worried about public relations than justice for rape victims. In an irony invisible to the Left, American feminism has become an elitist expression of upper-class concerns. Highly educated and paid women endlessly describe their own inconveniences, while ignoring the legitimate suffering of the poor, in foreign countries and their own cities.
Tip O’Neill’s adage, “All politics is local,” has undergone an ugly mutation. “All politics is personal” now rules the cultural ethos with a farcical fist. Since all politics is personal, everything personal becomes political. An unpleasant encounter with an ill-mannered man is not an indictment of his character, but yet another haunting from the Patriarchal poltergeist—proof of America’s insidious sexism. The shooting spree of one deeply narcissistic and anti-social lunatic, who claimed women were the target of his violence, is not a horrific atrocity leading to an outpouring of sympathy and support for the victims and their families. It is an episode of American misogyny, and an opportunity for millions of young feminists to cast aside the corpses, and move their own confrontations with chauvinism to the center of the story.
The next time you are scrolling through your Facebook feed, and you begin to feel escalating irritation with the self-obsessed superficiality and frivolity of each post—pictures of lunch, updates on an exercise routine, selfies—resist the temptation to click on the X. Study it closely, because you are looking at the character of American feminism, and the future of American politics.
David Masciotra (www.davidmasciotra.com) is a columnist with the Indianapolis Star. He has also written for the Daily Beast, The Atlantic, and Splice Today. He is the author of All That We Learned About Living: The Art and Legacy of John Mellencamp (forthcoming, University Press of Kentucky ) and a 33 1/3 book on Metallica (forthcoming, Bloomsbury Publishing).