Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra defended the Biden administration’s decision to get rid of the term “mother” in favor of the dehumanizing phrase “birthing person,” in a Senate committee hearing on Friday. Reducing women to their sexual and reproductive organs is disgustingly offensive, and women everywhere should be repulsed by such misogyny.
But they shouldn’t be surprised it’s coming from radical leftists in the name of feminism. The “feminist” movement — not to be confused with the actual celebration of women’s distinct and beautiful femininity — has been objectifying women for a long time.
Like many women, I’ve had creeps make unwanted advances toward me. Thankfully, I haven’t experienced worse. But I’ve never felt as grossly objectified as I did reading radical 1970s feminist Kate Millett’s “Sexual Politics” for a college assignment.
The New York Times hailed Millett’s book as the “Bible of Women’s Liberation,” and the Associated Press called it a “landmark of cultural criticism and a manifesto for the modern feminist movement.” But, while I walked away from the creep in the DC Metro feeling repulsed and frustrated, Millett’s relentless psychological debasing of women left me with a pit in my stomach all day.
Relationships between men and women aren’t about sacrificial love or mutual trust, according to Millett’s paradigm — she simply reduces them to sex, and sex to power. If that’s not objectifying women and defining them as sexual objects, what is?
Furthermore, the family isn’t a loving nucleus in which a caring husband and wife serve each other and their children, Millett says; it’s the “chief institution” of the patriarchy. Expressions of sacrifice, thoughtfulness, or provision by a man to demonstrate his love for a woman and desire to make her happy? Forget ’em.
Millett writes such gestures off as “a sporting kind of reparation to allow the subordinate female certain means of saving face.” Romantic love can’t be a genuine act of happy sacrifice; Millett says it’s just “a means of emotional manipulation which the male is free to exploit.”
The Bible doesn’t escape Millett’s sexualizing psychoanalysis, of course. For Christians, the account of Adam and Eve demonstrates not only our human need for salvation, but also the creation of male-female relationships in the image of God. (Notably, the Hebrew term used to describe Eve as a “helper” is the same honorific used in the Old Testament to describe God as a helper for his people.)
But Millett insists the story of mankind’s sin and need for grace is a dark metaphor for sexual discovery used by society to blame women. Drawing graphic phallic inferences from the role of the serpent, she blames accounts like Genesis for perpetuating female sexual guilt.
Fallen humanity has certainly produced plenty of perversions of the beautiful and complementary relationship between men and women, and there’s nothing wrong with people justly calling these instances out where they are found. Born in 1934, Millet certainly lived through an era dominated by the masculine priorities of a wartime world, complete with cultural stereotypes that sometimes treated women unfairly.
But extrapolating these cultural failings too broadly, she creates a perverted narrative of men and women, reducing them to unloving, sexualized objects in a cosmic fight for power and dominance.
The initial waves of 20th-century feminism were certainly right to be frustrated by the real and damaging objectification of women by men, prevalent in advertisements and in the social attitudes the ads reflected. But rather than condemn this objectification of women as inherently dehumanizing, the evolving feminist movement sought the same sexual license as men.
“If that had been the real grievance, it would have been a logical thing for second-wave feminism to ally itself—as first-wave feminism had done—with those forces of prudery that had always worked to trammel or civilize male sexuality,” says Christopher Caldwell in his book “The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties.” But instead, “a large part of feminists’ aspiration was simply to live with the same freedom that men did.”
Under the stated goal of rebelling against sexual objectification by men, extreme feminism saw nearly everything about women through the lens of their sexuality. Not only did it condescendingly insist traditional roles like motherhood were inferior and pathetic, it sought the same license that — in the hands of men — had hurt women.
What do we have to show for it, half a century later? The entertainment industry sexualizes women’s bodies far more blatantly than most Americans in Millett’s youth could have imagined. Insisting there are no real differences between men and women erases the beautiful feminine qualities women have always claimed.
And now national political figures are expunging women from the role of motherhood, simply describing them by their physical ability to reproduce. If that’s feminism, count me out. I’ve been blessed to have men in my life who have always treated me with dignity and kindness — I can’t say American feminism has done the same.