I can pinpoint, almost to the day, when I started chugging Blue Pills in my youth. It was the day I saw Free To Be You And Me in elementary school, back in the 1970s. It was the pro-feminist brainchild of Marlo Thomas, a project of the Ms. Foundation for Women, and it was designed to make everyone feel it was okay to be different things: girls could be construction workers, boys could be nurses and carry dolls, black kids and white kids could play together, etc. The basic concept was to encourage post-60s gender neutrality, promoting values such as individuality, tolerance, and comfort with one's identity (as long as you were a girl or a gay guy). A major thematic message was that anyone—whether a boy or a girl—can achieve anything. But mostly girls. It was notable for catchy pop tunes and lyrics, and for having the (young and black) Michael Jackson, Mel Brooks, Alan Alda, Diana Ross, and Rosey Grier, among other stars. Rosey told us "it's all right to cry". I was cool with that.
I was also cool with the emphasis on boys looking forward to being fathers, and encouraging them to think of child care and interaction with their future kids as positive male things (okay, "positive things", they essentially downplayed the whole "male" idea). But the subtext was clear: dudes will enjoy being good fathers to their kids, and it's something that you should look forward to. And I did. It made me use fatherhood as one of my prime motivating factors in searching for a bride, and I had and continue to have a very close relationship with all of my kids, just as my Dad did with his sons. That's not where I take issue with the program.
I take issue with the program because it was loaded with anti-masculine imagery and took the approach that, basically, all things patriarchal were evil and oppressive, and all things feminist were inherently good. It told me, in other words, that I was Free To Be pretty much anything in the world I wanted . . . except a masculine Man.
I can see trying to move past Agricultural Age stereotypes that no longer fit the socio-economics of the post-War period, much less the coming Post-Industrial period. I mean, after Rosie the Riveter it was damn hard to make a case that women were incapable of working most of the same jobs as men, and the post-war need for expansion and industrialization almost required a doubling of the existing pre-war workforce, just to keep the paper moving.
But Free To Be You And Me fucked me up. Bad. It taught me that it WAS NOT OKAY to be a "boy", that MEN were universally overbearing and insensitive jerks whose only role was to dictate and oppress, and that my ONLY HOPE for moral and social acceptance in this brave new plastic world was to hand my testicles over to Marlo and forget I ever had them.
Because that's what FTBYAM represented to me: a clear choice between whether to become a feared and hated MAN, or a gentle and caring boy who eschewed violence and oppression in favor of fat-free yogurt and kittens. FTBYAM probably contributed the most to my fucked-up ideas about women and men. Because while Marlo And Friends were singing about how you could be anything you wanted when you grew up, I was looking around me at the time (mid-70s) and seeing that what most boys and girls apparently wanted to be when they grew up was DIVORCED.
FTBYAM made me ashamed of my gender, ashamed of my culture, ashamed of my history. It made me ashamed of my father for not deferring to my mother in all things. It gave all the credence the young feminist teachers in charge of me needed to castigate me for the slightest boyish infraction. It gave all my young feminist peers all the ammunition they needed to not just reject me, but call me "creep" and other male-bashing tripe, and the sad fact was that if I reported them, it was I who got sent to the Principal's office.
Any attempt at asserting any kind of "traditional" masculinity was stomped on (by the younger teachers -- the older ones still remembered Segregation, they had other issues). The younger teachers, the ones with feminist fervor in their eyes, seemed to delight in correcting a boy if he said he wanted to be a fireman or a policeman or a soldier or a race car driver, telling him instead that it was perfectly okay to be a nurse or a daycare provider instead. Funny, she didn't mention the wonderful starting salaries of those perfectly okay positions, or how to raise a family on them. The subtext was clear: such passively Beta, overly-feminized career choices were the only ones they were going to promote. To boys.
The fact is, FTBYAM may have promoted "freedom", but in the process to make children who were "unencumbered by stereotypes", FTBYAM ended up merely creating new ones: the timid Beta (and soon to be divorced) dad, the overbearing Alpha (soon-to-be-step) dad, the successful marital "partnership" that was about as useful a guide to actual marriage as a bicycle manual is to a carp, the "empowered" young woman who could do anything, the "understanding" young man who was expected and obligated to let her do anything, and absolutely no room within the feminist pantheon for a dude who wanted to be free to be a dude. You took the Blue Pill or you got kicked out as a troublemaker. Period.
I bring this up today because I read over at HuffPo a lovely little post from Marlo about bullying.
You see, bullying is what happens when one kid is mean to another kid, and it really is a bad thing. My son has been bullied. My daughter has been bullied. Both have witnessed severe bullying. And it's clear that, for some individuals, the emotional strain of bullying is too much. Pointless suicides or runaways have resulted from bullies and inattentive parents. I have to agree with Marlo, this is a majorly important topic to discuss with our kids.
But the irony is killing me.
Thanks to FTBYAM and its clones, adherents, and attitudes, I and thousands of boys like me were institutionally bullied by feminists throughout our childhoods. Our schools and our teachers were working with the intention of removing the dangerous "masculine" characteristics that might interfere in the feminist paradigm -- say, like getting married and wanting your wife to stay at home with the kids, or pursuing a "typical" and "traditional" male career path that might block some enterprising young woman from having that job. FTBYAM epitomized feminism's subtextual message to men: YOU ARE USELESS AND EVIL AND IN OUR WAY.
Not "equality", not "level playing field", regardless of their intentions the result was a generation of self-loathing boys who resented girls and women for their perceived privileges even as we felt powerless and at the mercy of the whims of the adult women in our lives. Moms who didn't give a damn what you thought about your new step-dad after a hypergamous divorce. Teachers who -- no lie -- told my six-year-old brother Lester in kindergarten that "it doesn't matter if your mommy and daddy love each other, they're just going to end up divorced". (That fucked Lester up for decades.) Neighborhood ladies, mostly divorced themselves, who kept trying to give my mother good reasons to leave my dad even though they admired his fathering skills (he was the only intact father in the neighborhood) and discouraged her from getting us boys involved with Scouting because it was "sexist".
And then there was school. Female, feminist teachers who "lost" my applications for special programs, or failed to recommend me or other male students for honors in favor of girls. If it hadn't been for my History teacher, bless her heart, I never would have won my first essay contest. My English teacher was a feminist who told me, to my face, that despite the fact that my essay was chosen blindly (no names or other identifying characteristics) that the school didn't feel comfortable submitting so many boys and not enough girls. So out of the five boys and two girls who were selected locally, one boy and two girls were recommended by her. But my History teacher didn't like her, she did like me, and she recognized talent. She submitted me on her own and I won.
And then there was the feminist guidance counselor in high school who desperately tried to use my boyish teenaged angst as leverage to get me to go to a small private liberal arts college instead of the local, internationally-known public research university nearby I favored because (as I found out later) her gender-based numbers were off: she had too many boys were going to big State and technical universities, while too many girls were going into the small liberal arts colleges and "traditionally female" schools. She went so far as to call my folks and try to persuade them that I'd be "better off" someplace less challenging. Of course, if that meant that another woman could take up my spot at the university, that was just gravy, but . . .
The upshot is that between my third grade year, when we had a school-wide assembly featuring FTBYAM, and my first year of college, I and my brothers were subjected to what can only be described as pervasive, gender-based institutional bullying. And we did tell our parents. And they did complain. And no one cared one bit, because we were merely male.
FTBYAM was followed up with Free To Be A Family, which took the anti-masculine bias of FTBYAM and mixed it with some massive rationalizations about how much fun it was to be a kid from a divorced household. In Marlo's own words, "I also wanted to dispel the idea that there is such a thing as a "broken" family. A family is a place that you come home to where people love you and support you and miss you and can’t wait to find out what you did today."
Well, that's great . . . except it was directly counter to the experiences we were having in the 1980s, when she was promoting the Murphy Brown, UMC Professional divorcee ideal of family and we were seeing kids our age becoming alcoholics because of the stress divorce, hypegamy, infidelity, and all the other wonderful hallmarks of feminism brought us. Oh, what bounty! My friend Marty shot himself at 17 because his mother had refused to let him even lay eyes on his father in three years. My friend Chris had four step-dads in five years and eventually got into heroin. My friends Mark and Tony were exiled to the shed in the back yard so their new stepsisters could each have their own room (in defense, it was a very nice shed). Their sisters went to college, their mom and step-dad paying for it all. Tony went to one semester of community college his grandmother paid for, and then joined the Army, and Mark ended up working retail for decades because their step-dad didn't want to pay for some other man's kids' college . . . and didn't think his wife should either (she felt it was more important to give the girls a head-start, since life was "against them" just because they were women).
Families in the 1980s were a post-apocalyptic disaster, and worrying about whether or not a kid felt "accepted" by his peers for his family life was laughable. We were all just trying to survive the feminist-inspired wave of "I'm not HAAAApppy!" divorces, or the mid-life crises-inspired cheating that wrecked our families. Kids in general, to the Baby Boomers who fueled the idealistic and unrealistic FTBYAM and FTBAF, were accessories and status symbols, mere points of contention in a divorce settlement and a useless and ungrateful waste of child-support money -- believe me, we knew that. We got told that by our culture every day.
Especially if you were a boy, the consensus opinion of the women in your life (and in popular culture) was that you were either effeminate and ineffectual to the point of terminal Betatude (which they despised but accepted) or that you were an angry, violent male chauvinist intent on perpetuating the oppressive nature of the Patriarchy and therefore merited their disgust. And if you tried to claim to be the former, they did everything but demand you castrate yourself before they'd admit it.
FTBYAM and FTBAF taught two generations of boys to loathe themselves and hate their own gender. It taught us that that women were smarter than men, women were better than men, that women had better promise and better sense than men, and -- most importantly -- women were just more important than men . . . and particularly young men who weren't even cute boys anymore. Yech.
By the time my generation hit our teenage years, crawling into a popular culture of disaffected youth and wailing androgyny was all we could do to survive this pervasive, intentional attack on masculinity. The institutional bullying by "tough, smart, independent women" in our public and private institutions, not to mention the culture at large, taught us to fear women, not trust them in the slightest, and it didn't do a damn thing to make us less resentful. It just showed us that, for men, feminism was about revenge and suffering, not about equality and fair play. We could take a look around at the social carnage of divorce and hum a few bars of one of the songs with tragic irony and KNOW that it was bullshit . . . but bullshit that was Industry Standard. The families we saw were chaotic messes who mostly just argued, drank, fought, and went to counseling until it was time for a divorce. Few of the kids I knew ever had a place that you come home to where people love you and support you and miss you and can’t wait to find out what you did today." That was a sick fantasy, compared to what was actually happening to "family" in America in the 1980s. Mostly their parents yelled at them about homework, asked them pointless questions and didn't wait to hear the answer, and then went off on their own little head-trips about their own failing relationships.
Of course there's been a lot of water under the bridge since then. We've had two generations of catastrophic hypergamic divorce to look back on, two generations of weekend-or-absent dads, two generations where men didn't feel comfortable trying to talk to their sons at all, lest they be accused of "spreading sexism". The original children of divorce have overcome the stigma enough to rack up three or four divorces and step-families of their own, now. The Patriarchy has well and truly fallen, and now only the Puerarcy remains. Two generation of anti-social Betas too battered by feminist combat dating and no firm social rules has had an effect someplace other than the Glass Ceiling. I have seen Scout troops filled with boys from single-mom homes, and gosh, they didn't look nearly as happy, secure and fulfilled as those from two-parent households.
Because almost thirty years after Free To Be, we can measure its results, and those results are mixed at best. While it's true that you have empowered, intelligent, highly-motivated young women willing to devote a decade and a half of their best reproductive years to climbing the corporate ladder, at the end of that climb they discover that their reproductive options (what we use to call "husbands") don't want a thing to do with them. Feminists may make decent bosses and great co-workers, but they make cruddy wives and mediocre mothers, with a few notable exceptions.
You can chalk up at least a bit of the "marriage gap" (the age at which couples get married for the first time -- it was about 19 in 1960, it's 28 and rising here and now) to women focusing more on career interests . . . but you can explain a lot more of it if you consider that the dudes out there just don't want to get married at all, anymore, and particularly not to women who are more concerned with corporate bonuses than childcare. Dads (and potential dads) are, indeed, a lot more involved and sensitive to their reproductive issues today (thanks, feminism!), and because of that those men who do put thought and effort into their fatherhood, including good wife selection, wouldn't marry a feminist on a bet. The likelihood of catastrophic failure is just too high, especially when there are plenty of better options out there. Foreign brides, "traditional" girls, or women who see themselves as mothers and (gasp!) wives rather than employees or competitors are all better bets than your average feminist, for the men of America.
(Free To Be . . . A Spinster!)
As for me, I'm going to take Marlo's advice: I'm going to be Free. To be. Free to be . . . a Man. A big, hairy, thoughtful, considerate Patriarch far more concerned about my children's emotional welfare than whether or not my daughter can make partner before she's 30. A Man, unafraid of women and disdainful of feminist shaming rhetoric. A Man who understands that violence, power, money, and ingenuity are all tools at my disposal, not reasons to loathe who I am. A Man who feels no shame at looking and lusting at women for fear of offending their "rights" not to feel afraid of me.
I was afraid of women for thirty years. Female fear is just not a high priority for me.
But, thanks to Marlo, I'm Free. Free to Be.
I'm free to be a Man who takes a wife (who knows and understands that "wife" doesn't mean "equal and temporary domestic partner", but WIFE) and raises his kids without fearing Marlo's ire. A Man who feels no pity at the struggle of young women trying to find a job in this economy because there was damn little pity demonstrated to me during the last economic recession I'm free to be a Man who can stick his tongue out at the gigantic shit test that is feminism and ignore it, because it just isn't working for me anymore (and, I see, it never really was). I'm free to be a Man who doesn't feel compelled to sacrifice the futures of my sons in order to elevate my daughter's. Sure, they're free to be whatever the hell they want . . . but they also understand that that freedom is dependent, partially, on their accepting my guidance, or they'll be free to slug it out on their own. I'm free to be a Man who delights in the sight of naked boobs and the hum of precision machinery, who doesn't consider the expression of my sexuality an attack on femininity, who demands respect -- yes, demands it -- or I won't play anymore.
And that's where Marlo And Friends really went wrong for half of the audience they were shooting for. They managed to inject the idea of gender-free economic and social empowerment, but they did so in such a way that promoted the active and willful disrespect of masculinity and male authority. And while that would make any real feminist cream her jeans just hearing about, the sad, Red Pill fact is that when you promote disrespect for masculinity in a culture, you do not automatically increase respect for femininity. You just get a lot of sullen, pissed-off, uninvested men who can't wait until the feminists are out of the room so that they can tell that joke.
And a lot of strong, independent, empowered women who can't get two dates in a row with the same dude, much less a commitment, a ring, or a family. Women who traded in their reproductive future and betrayed their genetic destiny for the promise of a respect that never was fulfilled. Those poor women, thanks to feminism, are Free To Be single for the rest of their lives and die alone, childless, and unloved by men. They get to stamp their feet in rage as the dudes they once dated and tried for years to get to commit end up getting married to much younger women (often in a matter of months) from the Philippines or Korea or Brazil or Siberia and start popping out kids like it's double coupon day. These strong, independent women who were told there would be PLENTY of dudes waiting for them when they were done Being Free To Be are now realizing, to their horror, that they've been sold a bill of goods. They're Free To Be a corporate drone with a vagina that's increasingly losing the attention she craves and increasingly getting frustrated at all of the guys who are just not real damn impressed with how well they've done.
But that's okay, Ladies. Because it's all right to cry. We should know. We've been doing it behind your backs since 1974.