Suzanne Venker, best known for theorizing about the imaginary war on men in an article I criticized here, has decided to answer a few burning questions for us. For instance, when she said for women to “embrace their femininity,” what did she mean?
Well, let’s just say the post begins by quoting Tracy McMillan, also a leading Worst Person Alive candidate, and gets worse from there.
Oddly, I agree with some things Venker says. Our culture is incredibly femmephobic: as a culture, we hate, fear, and despise feminine things, including gentleness, compassion, sensitivity, deference, adornment, giggling, and the color pink. Unfortunately, some aspects of the feminist movement have fallen prey to this cultural femmephobia and portrayed “women’s liberation” as the liberation to be as masculine as the dudes. (See also: pretty much anyone who criticizes staying home with children as anti-feminist.) But turning from hating women to hating things associated with women is not a feminist victory.
Femininity is powerful. Hard femmes who will kick your ass without breaking a nail. Self-sufficient people who can grow their own garden and can their own food and bake their own bread and would do just fine if dropped in your hypermasculine zombie apocalypse fantasies, thank you. Soft power and manipulation and killing with kindness. Solidarity and self-love found in nail salons and teenage sleepovers. The self-sacrifice and devotion required to be the primary caregiver of some pretty damn cool kids. Lipstick and foundation as armor to shield you from the daily microaggressions of a misogynistic society intend on grinding you down. That matters.
The problem I encounter is when Venker suggests that women have to be feminine and men cannot. A woman can honor and respect the feminine, and still choose not to be feminine herself. Similarly, if a man wants to embrace femininity, he should be perfectly welcome to do so. Of course, if a woman wants to embrace femininity or a man not to, that is also wonderful. Every gender presentation should be open to people of every gender.
Ms. Venker, however, has science for us!
Fortunately, there’s been an explosion of brain research in the past several years to help explain male and female anatomy. The best books are Dr. Louann Brizendine’s “The Male Brain” and “The Female Brain.”
I presume this is some odd use of the word “best” I was previously unfamiliar with, given that Dr. Brizendine’s book is notoriously full of inaccuracies and errors.
Neuroscience is incredibly new. There’s a lot of really basic things we don’t understand yet, like “why do we dream?” and “how is language implemented neurally?” and “what neurochemical things are happening when Ozy can’t get out of bed because life hurts so much?” If we can’t explain things like that, why would you assume that we can state categorically that and how men and women are different?
Of course, I would be very surprised if it turned out there were no inborn differences between men as a group and women as a group. I even have some guesses about what the differences might be. Nevertheless, you cannot ignore that culture and upbringing plays an enormous role in how people behave, not to mention that thanks to confirmation bias we tend to notice people who fit the stereotypes and not notice people who don’t. People can continue to believe a stereotype that isn’t true just because they believe it. (Yeah. Brains are kind of awesome.)
The second half is another one of those “I agree, but no” situations. For instance, Venker says that if marriage and lasting love is your goal you must become comfortable with sacrifice and capitulation! I entirely agree with this. I mean, I wouldn’t say “capitulation” exactly, but as far as I can tell in every long-term committed relationship there are a certain number of “I love cabbage but she hates the smell, so I won’t eat it” and “his dream is to live on a boat, so despite my apathy about the water off I go” issues. If you’re going to wait for someone who is exactly compatible with you in every way… well, you’re going to be waiting for a long time.
Unfortunately, Venker’s idea of what you’ll have to sacrifice has absolutely nothing to do with actual compatibility issues.
Just because you make your own money doesn’t mean your guy can’t pay the bill. Just because you value independence doesn’t mean you can’t take your husband’s last name. Just because you can do the same job a man can do doesn’t mean you need to let him know it.
The first two are just… bizarre. I honestly have a hard time imagining someone being like “I didn’t want to get married to her, but then she let me pay the bill and mentioned wanting to take my last name, and now I am in LOVE.” But what they lack in relevance they make up for in anti-feminist cliche goodness. Seriously, what next, is she going to pull out the “who opens the door?” thing? (By the way, the optimal rules are “the person who invites pays” and “the person with the coolest last name keeps it.” Can someone give me a column at Fox now?)
As for the third… call me a feminazi, but I think being dishonest is a really bad setup for a relationship. If he doesn’t love you unless you pretend not to know how to reduce a fraction, kick ass at video games, and kill scary bugs, he doesn’t love you. He loves the imaginary you that you made up to keep from hurting his manly pride. If that’s something you want in your relationship… well, your kink is not my kink. But it sounds like a sad and empty way to love for me.