I am not a feminist in any recognizable sense of the word, and have never payed much attention to feminist thought, so the following analysis is bound to be incomplete. But since the observations of a disinterested third party can sometimes help shed light on problems, my reflections might be worth something.
There seems to be two sides to contemporary feminism: on the one side is ideal of the woman who can do anything a man can do: she can cuss like a man, fuck like a man, drink like a man, cut deals like a man. In every action movie there is always a woman (incredibly hot, wearing spandex) who can fight and kill like a man.
On the other side is a strand of feminism that is terrified of men: there is nothing more wicked than “the male gaze”, nothing more to be feared than objectification, nothing more insulting than a cat-call. The fornication of college students must be carefully regulated, the smallest unconscious manifestations of the patriarchy sought out with the fanaticism and paranoia of a Torquemada.
I am aware of the fact that within feminism there is a split between the “pro-sex feminists” and the “radical feminists”, and the two conflicting ideals (which I admittedly caricatured above) more or less match up with each respectively. But what I suspect however is that the contradictory expressions of feminism are two expressions of the same underlying problem.
As a society we have decided to tear down cultural norms on how the sexes are meant to interact, forgetting that there was a reason for those cultural norms. For example, once upon a time nice girls did not go to parties and get drunk with boys. That cultural norm had to go, since it implied that there were things allowed to me that were not allowed to women. But being smaller, women cannot drink the same amount of alcohol a man can drink, so they will get drunker at a party, especially when drinking games are involved. A boy might wickedly take a calculated advantage of her in her impaired state, or he may naively think he is getting lucky and later get accused of rape when the girl comes to regret her drunken decision. This is why there is a concerted effort in some states to legislate how college students fornicate.
Since I don’t associate with binge drinkers and find drunk women unappealing, I’m tempted to say “not my problem.” But it is worth noting that we have a rather stupid pattern developing: 1) a cultural norm exists to protect girls; 2) said norm is overruled because girls can do everything boys can do; 3) girls get raped (or sometimes claim to have been raped, some cases are clear, others are not); 4) we legislate new norms to protect girls.
The first image of the woman who does everything a man can do (the pro-sex feminist) leads directly to the creation of the second image: girls as delicate flowers who need to be sheltered from men at all costs (radical feminism). In any intellectual pursuit when you find yourself oscillating between extremes you are doing something wrong.
Here are few things I think feminism gets wrong (admittedly from my perspective of a disinterested non-feminist).
1. Certain traditional male behaviors (binge drinking, fighting, compulsive risk taking, sexual promiscuity) are not particularly good for men. They are excesses. They might be tolerated as long as they are kept quiet, but not nearly as celebrated as some feminists seem to think. They are certainly dangerous for women.
2. Part of the success of the “pro-sex feminist” movement is due to the fact that it plays right into the hands of male excess. Women nowadays are being told that things like porn and promiscuity are empowerment. How Orwellian. To me that sounds like a male plot to facilitate exploiting women.
3. Traditional gender roles had some basis in male privilege, but they were also based in realism: women are smaller and weaker, get stuck with pregnancy, and though there are exceptions, tend to have different emotional needs then men. The gender roles might not have been perfect, but they did have a function of protecting women. Denying the fundamental realities behind the gender roles does no good to either sex.
4. And this is bound to piss somebody off: traditional gender roles are also, to an extent, based on preference. Politicians like to make noise about the pay-gap between men and women in order to get single women to vote for them. The exact same politicians pay men on their staffs more than they pay women, because those women of their own free will and volition chose to sacrifice years of their careers to raising children. Married women tend to be unimpressed with the gender-gap argument, because they know the decisions involved.
The breakdown of many functional gender roles is not a bad thing: it makes no difference to me if my doctor or employer is a man or woman as long as he or she is good at what they do. Some functional roles that go back to strength and aggression should probably not change: I refuse to believe that sending an 18 year old girl into combat to be dismembered or disemboweled is good policy for either for womankind or for national security. As a matter of personal preference, if I ever had to speak to a therapist or member of the clergy, I’d chose a man.
I have Mexican friends who are scandalized by seeing lady truck drivers in the United States, much to my delight. Mexican men complain that gringas are pushy and demanding: I tell them that is because they need a real man to handle them; it is always fun to undermine Mexican machismo. An Italian friend once confided in me that the creature on earth he most fears is a middle-aged American woman, and I told him he was right to fear them, they are a dangerous breed and will eat you alive if crossed. I’ve commented before that if I had a daughter, I’d be delighted if she were like this:
But however a functional role might be filled, it is still a woman or man filling it, tending to bring the strengths, limitations, emotions and mental habits of either. Which is where I think the old fashioned forms of chivalry have a role. I still open doors for lady executives, refuse to cuss around lady truck-drivers, and am known to send flowers for any old occasion, and have never meet a woman who did not appreciate it.