The curious case of the feminist fainting couch

fainting victorian lady

My wife was a French major, but she’s forged a career as a high-level engineer and manager in a famous tech company.  She bore and raised three children, and put up with me, while out-competing males in one of the most male-dominated industries.  I always thought of her as my ideal for humanity, but if I were into women’s causes I would consider her a heroine of feminism.  However graciously, she pushed and shoved her way into a man’s world.

Not so.  From the scattered signals I get – admittedly, as a self-identified member of the “guy” construct – women’s advocates aren’t interested in success stories.  They don’t much care for female winners and trail-blazers.  In fact, they seem altogether bored by working women.

The portrait of womanhood that emerges from the effusions of their professional advocates is of a frail, genteel, terrified creature, forever shocked by encounters with the indecent urges of male sexuality.  Attend college, you get date rape.  Step into the street, you are deafened by the wolfish howls of men.  Get online – trolls call you unspeakable names.  The workplace?  Ground zero for an epidemic of disgusting male behavior.

What’s a liberated woman to do?  The next stage of feminism may well be the fainting couch, or even the fainting room, where Victorian ladies were expected to withdraw while getting over those annoying spells of female hysteria.  Life is too crude, too naked, too sexual – we’ve even come to call sex “gender,” as if reproduction were a grammatical exercise – for the more spiritual half of humankind.

Here is a “trigger warning” in an MIT survey to students on the subject of sexual assault:

Some of the questions in this survey use explicit language, including anatomical names of body parts… This survey also asks about sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence which may be upsetting.  Resources for support will be available on every page of the survey, should you need them.

Apparently, even reading that the body has parts and sexual assault occurs can induce a swoon.

If women are sheep, then who is the shepherd?  Who rescues the eternal victim?  I have no clue.  Not her “partner,” certainly.  That Victorian standard has been allowed to lapse.  The government?  Come on.  That’s where you drown in testosterone.   Feminist organizations?  They are the ones leading the frantic chorus of “Be afraid – be very afraid…”

Here, though, is the wretched truth:  the sexual nightmare described by the advocacy groups actually exists.  Male fighters for the Islamic caliphate regularly rape, brutalize, and enslave female captives.  They recently kidnapped, tortured, and murdered a woman in Iraq for the sin of promoting women’s rights.  On occasion, some of these practices have been exported to the democratic West.  Muslim men in Rotherham, England, for example, raped and prostituted 1,400 underage girls during a span of 15 years.

A naïve observer, an analyst from Mars, might conclude that these horrors have inspired the note of panic in the feminist world-view, and that the men responsible for them must be the natural targets of feminist outrage.

Not so.  There has been mostly silence.  Women’s advocates seem profoundly indifferent to the atrocities perpetrated against women in the Middle East, much preferring to troll for date rape in Cambridge.  Concerning Rotherham, the omerta-like silence was so deep that the male abusers continued to abuse, undisturbed, for many years.

Dwelling on such subjects doesn’t make you a favorite of the women’s movement.  Ayaan Hirsi Ali defied her patriarchal culture, and has campaigned relentlessly against the mistreatment and mutilation of women in Muslim lands.  Religious zealots murdered her collaborator, Theo van Gogh, and have threatened to murder her.  In a logical universe, such an assertive female would be a leader among those who advocate women’s causes.

Not so.  Hirsi Ali is invariably described not as “brave” or “uncompromising” but as “controversial” – meaning she’s upsetting.  She talks about Islam and body parts.  Tender spirits who become exposed to her are expected to dash off to the fainting couch and wanly clasp to their bosoms “resources for support.”

Not controversial, somehow:  that college administrator who imagined the ultra-clever kids at MIT would be horrified to learn sexual assault is a thing.

Does any of this matter?  Only if morality matters – and it’s the peculiar contention of this blog that it does.

Morality presents the individual with rough-and-ready signposts to the good life.  Human beings prefer purpose to drift.  We demand that our personal story have a theme, a clear direction:  that we inch toward some ideal.  For guys, it’s easy.  Get a job, get a woman, play it straight with both – bingo.  You’re one of the good ones.

Young women, as they look to the future, confront a trackless jungle of contradictory moral imperatives.  Should they mate, or avoid rape?  Marry, or embrace freedom?  Go for the big family, or the big career?  The signs point in every direction.  The good life is nowhere to be found.

Anyone who thinks women are faint-hearted and easily shocked hasn’t met my wife or daughter.  But if they were, what earthly good is served by constantly proclaiming that men are terrifying predators – and that women should withdraw and beg for “support” from a safe distance, rather than engage and compete?  That feels like the opposite direction from equality:  from happiness, too.

To accomplish anything in life, to exist as a moral agent, even the most fragile Neo-Victorian feminist will have to rise from her couch and walk smack into the world as it really is.

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One Response to The curious case of the feminist fainting couch

  1. Mark Johnson says:

    Excellent post.

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