The Death of Ideologies II
Bill Long 4/5/08
On Radical Feminism
I grew up as the second of four boys in my family. I don't ever recall there ever being a female in the house, except for my mother and occasional adult female/couple guests of my parents. When I began to become interested in girls late in junior high, my interest was nixed by a move to CA (summer 1967). In CA I became focused on athletics and, when injury happened, on my Evangelical religion. When I returned East for college in 1970, I immediately became one of the leaders of the college Christian fellowship. I had no time for dating or even to think much about girls/young women. I had a task to perform, an ideology to uphold, a world to win. Actually, I recall I had one date before I met the woman who would be my wife. In summer 1972 I took a fellow youth intern at the church to a Max Morath concert at Stanford University. It was the heyday of the Scott Joplin ragtime revival, and Morath wowed us with a splendid concert. After the concert I took my date to a pizza parlor for a pizza. We talked amiably. She kissed me on the cheek when I dropped her off at her home. I never considered another date--not because I didn't enjoy myself but because I didn't see a reason for it.
But I had to adopt some kind of understanding of men and women, I suppose. My Evangelical religion stressed the importance of staying "pure," and so I did--by not even dating. Sort of like the sexual equivalent of a fence around the Torah. But then I began to hear gentle whiffs of what became the second pernicious ideology to dominate my life--radical Feminism. I heard it first from the Brown University chaplain, himself a man whom I later learned was struggling with his sexual identity at the time. In about 1971 or 1972 he told a group of us, "Men and women are essentially the same--there are only minor biological differences between the two." Because I wanted to believe some "doctrine" or authoritative belief about gender, I immediately accepted his position. Though my heart tended to tell me that the biological differences I perceived between men and women weren't really that minor, I quickly squelched that feeling. I was used to doing so because the Evangelical/Fundamentalist group with which I was associated at college, Campus Crusade for Christ, emphasized that one should not live by feelings but by the undoubted facts of the Gospel. So, feelings were placed to one side (another pernicious thing, I believe), and I accepted the Rev. Baldwin's pronouncement.
I later learned that he was simply spouting one of the tenets of first-generation feminism, the "equality of the sexes" prong, so to speak. But I heard him as saying that since men and women were alike in every way, girls/women were basically guys. Thus, one shouldn't get too excited about them, and you didn't cut them any emotional "slack"--you treated them as if they were "guys." Who could object to that?
A "Feminist" Church
But it wasn't until the end of my seminary career that I began to attend a liberal church in Boston--Church of the Covenant. This may seem to be inconsistent with my Evangelical beliefs, (for why would I want to "taint" myself with "liberals"?), but I think I had enough of a "messianic" complex in my heart at the time to believe that everyone of every stripe who identified with the Christian Church would find me a pretty valuable person to have around. It was at "Covenant," as we called it, that radical feminism was having a field day and I fell for it hook, line and sinker. I learned, for example, that Western history could be captured in one word: patriarchy. Men were the problem with our world. Look at wars; look at international conflict; look at unfair distribution of the world's goods. It was because of men, men who systematically not only raped the planet but did so by relegating women to roles of subservience and dependence. Not every man, of course, was an actual oppressor (after all, they needed to have someone listen to them other than their fellow "victims"), but we were all "potential rapists."
How does one live, if indeed this ideology is true? Well, you defer to women. You let them have the leadership roles. You never consider correcting a woman. You agree with their every thought. In fact, so scared was I of the ideology that for more than a fleeting momen I thought the radical feminists in our midst were somehow going to reverse the order of nature and make men start bearing children.
I adopted this ideology because they seemed so passionate about it. It must be true if these oppressed women from Harvard and Boston University told me they were victimized and that opportunities for them had been foreclosed. I began to feel bad that I could calculate large numbers instantly in my mind (maybe that goes back to my statistics-orientation as a boy); I vowed never to correct a woman's mathematical calculations, even if it would lead to substantial confusion in meetings because the numbers didn't "add up." Maybe they were developing a new system of mathematics of which I was deservedly ignorant.
I tried to live my marriage with these feminist principles ever before me. I never got over the guilt I felt at not being interested in learning how to cook meals. I studiously tried to make things "equal" at home, though my wife often pointed out how she was doing more than I was. I considered career to be completely secondary to trying to do things "equally" in my partnership in feminism. I would vow never to work more than eight hours a day, and preferably much less, so that I could always "be available" so that I would never give the impression that I was trying to take away full opportunity for my wife to do things. I tried to affirm her in everything. I never corrected her, as far as I can recall. I would eagerly have given up any kind of professional identity I had (and I had an Ivy League Ph. D. with European study) in order to be true to the feminist Gospel. But even in this I know I failed--I was so ambitious that I wanted to make a "mark" in the world and so I loaded up on extra teaching opportunities, board positions, etc. It was a miserable time for me--and, I know, for her.
The Ideology Crumbles
My marriage finally fell apart completely in 2000, with divorce following in 2001. It took me a few years afterwards to place the remnants of this ideology in the dust bin, but I think I have done so by now. If I meet a dumb woman today, I think of her as dumb. If she is slovenly and undisciplined, I think of her as such. If she is smart and perceptive, I commend her for those things and try to enjoy those things about her. But I still don't know how to cook, and I am finally over the feeling of guilt at enjoying a meal prepared by a woman. It has been a long journey, and I am happy to say that I have shucked off the remnants of this ideology.
One more essay describes my experience with racial cooperation.