If it weren’t for the disturbing quality that lurks behind every word of Women’s Liberation literature, you might be tempted to write off the substantive stuff (men are sexual vampires, marriage is stunting and exploitative—that kind of complaint) as merely whacky. But it is difficult to ignore a movement whose pervasive theme is so resentful, envious, and despairing, and which draws to its liberated bosom thousands of females who would rather break down than build up. Sadder still, while Liberation is irresistible to women who want to be men, it is poison to women who want to be women. Wasteful and self-destructive, this movement may simply be demonstrating in a particularly unappealing form what appears to be society’s tendency to atomize and negate, to be compulsively unwilling to compromise and construct. Nevertheless, as a fighting woman myself, I can’t forgive Liberation its paralyzing excesses.
At the root of Liberation’s determination to disintegrate the sexes is the disabling anxiety that different means the same thing as inferior. Anybody can see that women are as valuable as men but they are no more the same than ears and eyes are. Women are biologically, constitutionally, and emotionally different from men. Why is this palpable fact so hard for so many women to swallow? Are we as confused as all that?
And while the girls, abetted by certain educationists who ought to know better, are tying themselves into psychic knots trying to prove that the obvious differences ain’t so, the larger social issues, among them the measurably deteriorating status of women, continue to smolder. Perhaps for the first time in history, American women have the freedom and opportunity to use their considerable collective energy to do something effective about the way we have been discriminated against.
In a way, we should not be blamed for our confusion. At least blacks know they are black; it’s something they can sink their teeth into. But how many women know they are women, or at least know what being a woman signifies? The analogy to be drawn between the recent racial and sexual explosions is by now almost too weary to be re-cited —except to note the fact that the analogy breaks down at a critical point: namely, in their goals, for while the eventual black goal is psychologically respectable, Liberation’s is not.
Despite separatist disclaimers, I’m convinced that blacks will only be satisfied when we all look more or less alike. Most people are profoundly suspicious and hostile about profound physical differences (excluding sexual ones) ; everybody will be much better off when you can’t tell whose parents were white and whose black, when such killing physical differences will be blurred once and for all. But the parallel imperative—that women be just iike men—is based on faulty psychological assumptions. For androgeny is not productive; on the contrary, it is irrevocably sterile. You can stir around the races until, like a box of melted crayons, we all come out brown, but you can’t do that to male and female.
If women, like blacks, feel that it’s about time to do something about our second-class status (and women make up the only nonminority group I can think of which suffers from the serious effects of minority group self-abasement), more power to us. Until recently we were just the same as prisoners (no money of our own, no political leverage, few career choices, little physical freedom; if home was our castle, we were still under a sort of house arrest). Now that we’re out, what are we doing about it? It seems to me we’re still too angry, too defiant, too confused to organize ourselves effectively.
by Anne Bernays
How did we get this way? For one thing, key concepts have undergone transformations as radical as a sex-change operation. Consider, for instance, the concept of “fulfillment.”Until a few decades ago this was a benign word that meant having babies and being a self-sufficient, happy hausfrau. Gradually, while almost no one was looking, it turned itself inside out so that by 1946 or so, it had come to mean just the opposite. It meant get out. It meant you had better find yourself a job that would take advantage of your baffled, bottled-up, urgent, unexpressed need to express yourself to your ultimate mental and emotional capacity. It would be interesting to find out just how many men feel their jobs meet these romantic requirements. To be altogether fair, by the postwar period there wasn’t too much left for a woman to do around the house that would fill eight to ten hours, unless she was a compulsive. What was an educated girl going to do but go out and fulfill herself in a so-called “man’s world,” competitively with men, alongside men? So far, all well and good.
No one with any brains would deny that women represent the largest wasted labor force in America, nor that, except for several crucial years, we need and should be given the opportunity to put our gifts—intellectual, artistic, political, whatever—to work on a regular, equal-pay basis. But when Liberation insists that women can be absolute “equals” with men in these spheres, they’re ignoring what it’s all about. For if women are willing to acknowledge the remotest emotional obligation to husband and children, especially to children during their fragile first five or six years of life, then they can’t summon the time, physical energy, and psychic equipment to do two jobs simultaneously. You can’t split a woman’s life down the middle and expect each half, like a severed worm, to go happily crawling off, to survive and function in perfect health.
Long ago, in the early sixties, Betty Friedan performed a legitimate service for thousands of intelligent ladies by letting them in on her little secret: life has more to offer you women than a sinkful of dirty dishes. Shouting all the way, Mrs. Friedan encouraged women to get up there and claim their seats in the front of the bus.
Mrs. Friedan’s rhetoric, however, was as nothing compared with the rhetoric of the Movement. “Sexual suppression is an essential instrument in the production of economic enslavement,” says Wilhelm Reich, inventor of the Orgone Box, a telephone-booth-type item you were supposed to sit in for several hours a day while you soaked up sexual wattage. Like so many Liberation writers, Dr. Reich comes up with half-truths which are then worshiped as full-blown realities. The uneasy fact is that sexual suppression and repression do indeed exist as extensive and mutilating problems, but to blame it all on a systematic, conspiratorial attempt by “society” (read “men”) is both simplistic and fatally misleading.
There must be something else to blame for the devitalizing anger anti the deliberate attempt to defeminize women and for the loss of true sexuality in so many people, both male and female. I suspect that it is that same role-confusion again, compounded by mothers who, unsure of their own sexual identities, don’t know what to tell their daughters about men and marriage, and so tell them nothing useful. The result is a perpetual downward cycling of frustration, anger, and envy, based on ambivalent feelings about life itself.
If you can assume that marriage and the family will remain the nucleus of society (and I’m aware this is precisely what Liberation does not assume, has no wish to assume), then it is painfully clear that until something or somebody comes along to put the brakes on this runaway confusion, generation after generation of bright girls will wake up sometime after college with a shock, as the pattern repeats itself unchecked, a shock that will have as much to do with how and why they should function as adult females as with their identity.
If matters were not bad enough, there seems to be a real, gentle conspiracy among the administrators of elite women’s colleges to assure their students that they are not merely as good as men but that they are men—female men. “You will leave this institution,” the girls are told, but not in so many words, “impressively educated. You will go out into a world where you and your male counterparts will have identical careers, job choices, and opportunities. If you happen to get married and have children along the way, you will be able to deal with any minor problems that arise on this score.” This gentle conspiracy, which glosses over the real facts of life, becomes another accepted myth. If by some miracle, a girl escapes its inevitable backlash, someone else is going to get it in the neck, more probably her husband or her children, those archetypally innocent victims. An unjustified confidence in the ability to drop all such “archaic,” “trivial,” and “male chauvinist” sex-based distinctions is simply a neatly camouflaged trap.
The victim of this confidence game believes with all her heart that her only satisfactions are going to be those earned by leading an independent life, remaining loyal to abstractions, and doing her own thing. She cannot allow herselt to believe that these misty ideals may actually be substitutes for the giveand-take of intensely personal relationships and extended personal commitments—where love is not something you go around talking about but something you do.
Our victim is an easy mark for Liberation. Although she doesn’t know it, she is readying herself for a deprived life. It’s extremely revealing, I think, that Liberated women don’t follow the lead of their black sisters and cry, “Woman is Beautiful.” The Liberated girl refuses to think of herself in feminine terms. Like a prisoner of war (the war with men), she will restrict her answer to a stark “I am a person.” Since (so their logic lurches along), under the present setup, women possess only the dignity of a sexual object, similar to any other commodity in a market-oriented society, she cannot be beautiful, but only repulsive—and repulsing. No pride is visible here, only fight. The psychic imperatives have blinded her to the pleasures of her own uniqueness.
“Scientists are still busy ‘proving’ the biological inferiority of women.” says sociologist Marlene Dixon in a recent issue of Ramparts. This investigation into the clinical differences between male and female, branded by the Movement as sinister, malevolent, male chauvinist, reactionary, and all that, is scientifically quite honorable, even conventional. It is being carried on by both men and women researchers, whose principal aim is to define what most people can see in front of their noses.
Some of the recent findings, while not terribly startling, are interesting for their implications. Jerome Kagan, a professor of developmental psychology at Harvard, an enthusiastic, affable man in his early forties, has been working this controversial vein for several years. Kagan and his colleagues have found clinical evidence that, in general, females are more proficient in verbal skills than males. John Watson, at Berkeley, recently discovered that even in children a few months old, there is a measurable sex-based difference in response to stimulation: specifically, baby girls respond more often to auditory excitation, boys to visual. As Kagan somewhat offhandedly sums up a portion of the findings, “It is not completely bizarre to suggest that the sex differences in . . . vocalization during the first year reflect a subtle difference in cerebral dominance.” In other words, the insides of their heads are not the same. Moreover, Kagan has come up with neurological evidence that may explain why “there are many . . . women poets and novelists . . . far fewer women composers.” If the brains of little girls behave differently from the brains of little boys, it seems valid to expect dissimilar personalities, aptitudes, ambitions.
This leads us directly into the delicate area of personality. Even the most repressive male would hardly dare maintain that women have exclusive rights to, say, gentleness, or men, courage. For example, women have very positive, adhesive feelings toward their own small children, and men wouldn’t at all mind being physical heroes. (This does not mean, of course, that in a pinch the arrangements can’t be turned around.)
Yet, as a lady psychoanalyst recently reminded me, nobody knows how she is going to feel about her children until they arrive. Nonetheless, Liberation maintains that when society undergoes its badly needed overhaul, children can be whisked off to communal nurseries where superbly equipped women will look after them while their mothers go out and fulfill themselves. There’s a lot to be said for this kind of substitute home, described recently by Bruno Bettelheim, and for the civilizing effects of a really good nursery with one warm, motherly, consistent woman running the show. It’s also perfectly true that an educated adult can’t survive solely on a diet of Child for long, uninterrupted periods of time without getting rickets of the mind. But the time your children are with you is short, they grow up fast, and soon all that’s left of them is a voice, long-distance, on Sunday afternoon.
Some women might prefer not to have their children removed after breakfast. They may enjoy having their kids around, giving them lunch, talking with them, trying to discover the shape of their personalities, presiding over domestic war and peace, taking them to buy shoes, even kissing them. Here, in sentimental form, is what is missing in the Liberation’s manifesto, which, like scores of radical solutions for injustices, bases its corrective assumptions on selective, fragmentary reasoning. Marlene Dixon says, “All women suffer from economic exploitation, from psychological deprivation, and from exploitive sexuality.”
She didn’t ask me. She doesn’t want to know about women like me, and I can’t exactly blame her, for we’re her enemy. Just as all males are her enemy. I would like to be there when Miss Dixon debates another professional sociologist, a woman aptly named Patricia Sexton. In Mrs. Sexton’s admirable book The Feminized Male, she described for us her “ideal woman”: “She would be strong, tough, able to take it, ready for rough-and-tumble. . . . As for sex, she would be frank and accepting, if not rather bawdy, and would use the street vernacular where it fits. She would love people—all colors and castes, women as well as men.” Mrs. Sexton and I are of one mind, except I regret her use of the conditional tense. Aren’t there any fleshand-blood women to be proud of anymore?