Column

The end of feminism is not at hand—alas

With so many male studs turning to sarongs and foppish attire, it is becoming ever more difficult to find a Real Man

Barbara Amiel July 27 1998
Column

The end of feminism is not at hand—alas

With so many male studs turning to sarongs and foppish attire, it is becoming ever more difficult to find a Real Man

Barbara Amiel July 27 1998

The end of feminism is not at hand—alas

Column

Barbara Amiel

One of the highlights of the World Cup soccer tournament, for me, was the appearance of the Romanian team. It seemed they had fallen for the slogan “Blonds have more fun.” There they were, bleached and blond, Nordic-looking instead of Gypsy-ish. One expected to see Clairol or L’Oréal slogans on their shirts.

The team’s flamboyant hair-coloring is, I suppose, part of the great attempt by men to make a comeback. It’s been a hard quartercentury for the gender with extra bits of tackle. Life started to go downhill when feminist Andrea Dworkin in her engagingly titled book Intercourse and Susan Brownmiller in Against Our Will decreed that any heterosexual use of that tackle, whether consensual or not, was rape due to the imbalance of power between men and women. From then on it was inevitable. Feminism was on the march and men on the run.

At the fashion shows in London last week, men in skirts or embroidered suits were the norm. Football stars and other male studs now wear skirts out all the time—they call them sarongs. What with their colored hair, handbags, earrings, makeup and touchyfeely emotions, it is becoming ever more difficult to find a Real Man, as my single girlfriends tell me.

I suppose the foppish male has been a fixture in many declining societies. Of course, it’s a risky business to associate social stages with fashion because there have always been men who defy this trend. The great dual scene between Cyrano de Bergerac and the Vicomte de Valvert is based on Cyrano’s refusal to wear sufficient plumage and gloves.

In every period, there are Cyranos who refuse to play the game. Thank goodness, I say, for my husband and the President of the United States. It would be a major departure for Conrad Black to wear a leisure suit, and I think I can say certainly that neither he nor Bill Clinton will be wearing a skirt.

President Clinton has, in addition, nailed his colors to the mast as a man whose touchy-feely moments are more likely to be just that, rather than the weepy kind. His lusty behavior has led to all sorts of sweeping assumptions that culminated in a recent Time cover story asserting that feminism was dead. Gloria Steinern actually got around to defending Clinton’s behavior with Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey as “he took no for an answer.” Betty Friedan now sees men as allies, not enemies.

The infamous Jan. 30 dinner this year at New York’s Le Bernadin restaurant had leading feminists like Erica Jong declare, after a glass or two of vin extraordinaire, that they want a president “alive from the waist down.” There it is. Clinton seems halfway to Mount Rushmore as the president who single-handedly stopped the madness of sexual harassment in its tracks. Since he was the feminists’

greatest champion with his vetoing of the ban on late-term abortions and his advocacy of women in the military, the feminists have had to accept his sexual peccadilloes as natural behavior rather than coercive or criminal. Now, the media lemmings are on a new flight path. The August/September edition of Reason magazine is publishing an essay, “Groping Toward Sanity,” that suggests Clinton’s fumblings have restored balance to America’s notions about men and women and reversed the hysteria of the Anita Hill days. Clinton is becoming the Ronald Reagan of the sexual battlefield: the man whose gropes won the Cold War between the sexes.

Feminism, we are told, is in retreat. But my response is not so optimistic. Perhaps Clinton’s escapades will result in a degree of sanity replacing the utterly hysterical notions that have paralyzed the workplace. The ability to yell sexual harassment on the basis of a lingering look at the water fountain has created a nightmarish situation in offices and daily life. It’s been a great career and business opportunity for sexual harassment officers and companies that reengineer employee attitudes, but has done little for normal sexuality.

With so many male studs turning to sarongs and foppish attire, it is becoming ever more difficult to find a Real Man

Still, this particular sign of sanity does not signal the end of feminism as the major influence in our society. Quite the opposite. The ability of feminists to pull back from the fringe excesses of their movement simply indicates a new self-confidence and realization that they have become a comfortable part of the landscape. They are now so much a part of the current ambience that they can afford to jettison ideas that taint them. We still have a society moving from patriarchy to matriarchy. We are as far away as ever from a liberal society.

All the same, the feminists have a basic problem. Their power in our society is based on the notion of victimization. Under this rubric Canada has seen, for example, second-rate minds appointed to extraordinarily powerful positions in our legal system—particularly our judiciary—and exerting an ominous influence in areas such as health, education and labor. But these appointments, like all feminist privileges and benefits, have their root in the notion that women are downtrodden and handicapped by their gender.

Unfortunately, like any ruling group, the matriarchy dislikes appearing weak and handicapped, even though that’s the source of its strength. Like royalty of old it wants to be powerful and enjoy that power visibly. What is the point of acquiring privilege if you can’t flaunt it? Normal human feelings of pride tell them they would prefer to be viewed as dauntless rather than daunted.

A survey in England this month found women outdistancing men as the new rich and that black nurses are earning more money than white ones. But when you must rely on disadvantages to keep your ruling position, you can’t show off your superiority. Ah well. In the game of loser-take-all, it’s not easy to be a winner.