Peanuts
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In a classic Peanuts strip printed in syndication across the country on November 18th, Schroeder responds to a very enthusiastic phone call from Lucy with the simple response, “It’s not proper for a girl to call a boy on the telephone.”

What is truly remarkable is that that Fox news recently published an opinion piece by Suzanne Venker which blames the supposed “slacker” behavior of men on the fact that “women aren’t women anymore.” This article, written by a woman, presumes toward the end to admonish women to “surrender to their nature – their femininity.”  This femininity, as understood by Venker should consist of a woman saying no to sex before marriage, not competing with men, and not seeking her own happiness.

Why is feminism still considered bad for men?

Listen, I understand the comfort of the tried-and-true.  For a few post-industrial-revolution generations, there seemed to be a comfortable economic, social, and cultural understanding in which men worked and women provided moral and emotional support (at least for those in the upper and middle classes). I am not denying that there are millions of men and women for whom she obeys and he cherishes is still a workable formula, but this is not a universal formula for happiness.

Venker fails to acknowledge the necessary economic consequences of her view of gender relations. She neglects to mention that when men held the economic power, single women were viewed as vixens or whores out to entrap a man who will provide for her. In such a culture, women cannot be true friends until both are married, and no longer need to compete for male attention and a home to live in. Abused wives assume (or are taught) that their husband’s violence is due to her failure to obey or provide his emotional happiness. Sex was a woman’s obligation, not necessarily an act of mutual intimacy and love.

This system was toxic for men as well. Sure, the hierarchy was a little more clear, but that also meant men had fewer options. Since providing for a wife and children was expected, men chose professions based upon stability, and passions or interests were secondary. Men were not taught to understand or talk of their feelings, to self reflect, or seek mutual support from other men.  Marlboro men and ribald stories over a round of golf were the range of appropriate companionship between men. This combination of economic pressures and emotional silencing did nothing to stem the epidemics of alcoholism, drug use, prostitution, gender based violence, etc.  Oh, and a man never knew if his wife was having sex because of obligation or as an expression of mutual intimacy and love.

I am not trying to claim that everyone was unhappy or all marriages were mere obligatory contractual understandings. I’m simply pointing out that previous gender roles were not universally life sustaining. If any couples today find these traditional roles work in their particular situation, that’s good! However, Venker instructs all women to act in similar ways, and claims that all men will respond in similar ways. That kind of universalism does not ring true with me. Unique individuals will find a billion (7.055 billion) different ways to express their gender. And to argue that one model is correct from among that many is ridiculous.

This article is so out of touch with reality, that I find critiquing it’s heteronormativity is almost pointless. If men are responsible for women’s economic stability, same sex relationships are not even within the scope of the conversation; this kind of silence and willful blindness is not only devastating to LGBTQIA individuals, but alienating to friends and family. We cannot continue to try and define human experience by one cultural model of gender, or sexuality, or economics, or language, or… we must learn to live with the creative, exciting, and terrifying possibilities.

Audrey Krumbach

Audrey Krumbach will begin as Director of Gender Justice and Education at the United Methodist General Commission on the Status and Role of Women in January 2012. Called to lay ministry, Audrey graduated from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and has served in a variety of settings to build a better church and world, including the Reconciling Ministries Network.

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