The Impending Death of Feminism

Steven Harper PiziksEvery year my seniors read Moliere’s Tartuffe. In that play is a scene in which Orgon orders his daughter to break off her engagement with the man she loves and marry the evil Tartuffe.  She begs him not to force this and asks his permission to marry the man she wants.

“Haw haw haw!” I chuckle at this point.  “Tartuffe was written in the 1600s.  Nothing like this happens today!”

Or . . . ?

I bring up a web site on my SmartBoard that asks questions and lets the students text their responses so we can see how the class as a whole answered.  The answers are always a little shocking.  Look here:


The question reads, “A man should ask the woman’s father for permission to marry before he proposes.”  The students could choose TRUE (if they agree), FALSE (if they disagree) and NOT SURE.

In the first class, 23 said TRUE and 9 said FALSE.
In the second class, 22 said TRUE and 2 said FALSE.
Overall, 45 said TRUE and 11 said FALSE.  Only 5 were unsure.

Then I asked this: “A woman should get her father’s permission to marry.”

16 said TRUE.  15 said FALSE.  9 were unsure.  (I didn’t get a picture of the other class, but responses were slightly higher in favor of TRUE.)

And before anyone asks if this is a weird group of students, I have to tell you–this is the norm.  So much so, in fact, that I have a set of canned try-to-make-them-think responses:

“So what happens if the guy asks permission and the dad says no?”  (Today more than one student shouted, “Marry her anyway!” To which I said, “Then why ask?”  Another group of boys stated vehemently that if Dad says no, you end the relationship.  “If the dad doesn’t like you, you don’t want to marry her,” they said.)

I also ask, “Ladies, what happens if dad says, ‘Yes! Welcome to the family, son! My gosh, I have to make some phone calls and tell everyone.’  And then your boyfriend pops you the question–and you don’t want to marry him?”

This is usually met with silence.

“Awkwarrrrd!” I add.

“It’s the right thing to do,” the girls maintain.  “And it’s romantic!”

“Is it?” I ask.  “I’d find it creepy and insulting that everyone else was consulted about my own marriage before I was, like mine was the last opinion that mattered.  But that’s just me.”

The class folds its collective arms and glares at me.  Psh!  What does this old guy know about anything?  He’s an idiot!

Occasionally, I’ll get a student who maintains that the asking is a pretty gesture–cute, but ultimately meaningless.  Like putting flowers on a table.

“You may see it that way,” I respond.  “But your fiance and father may not.  When the marriage starts on the assumption–however cutesy–that you are second-class, you’re potentially signing on to a lifetime of similar treatment.  You expected–allowed–it to happen once.  Why shouldn’t the behavior continue?  Should the boy drive on a date?”

“Yes!” This is always the answer.

“Why not meet him there, ladies?  That way, if things go pear-shaped, you don’t have to figure out how to get home.  Does the guy always have to make the first move and ask the girl out?”

“Yes!” Again, always with this.

“What happens if the guy is too shy, or doesn’t get the chance to ask you?  You’re giving up on a potential relationship, ladies, because of social pressure you don’t even realize you’re caving into.”

“If it’s meant to happen, it’ll happen,” said one of my students today.

“That’s what Snow White said from inside her glass coffin,” I countered.  “Good thing the prince decided to go riding that day.  What if he hadn’t?  Maybe things would have gone a little better for Snow White if she’d grabbed the apple and smacked the old woman on the head with it.  Then she could’ve ruled an entire kingdom as queen instead of just marrying a prince.”

More folded arms.  More glares.  Seriously, what does this old guy know?

Feminism is dying before our eyes on the triple-bypass operating table, and I’m in the weird position of being a middle-aged white man trying to convince a bunch of young women that they should be treated like people and not like a sack of eggs.

No wonder we have scandals like Gamergate, climbing college campus rape rates, and the utter failure to address income inequality between men and women.  Part of me wants to say, “Okay, fine–you want a world in which you’re treated like crap?  Have at!  No skin off my nose.  I’m a white male.  I don’t have any daughters.  I won’t suffer as your rights are eroded.”

But I keep knocking my head against the wall.

–Steven Harper Piziks

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The Impending Death of Feminism — 7 Comments

  1. I’m not sure it’s that feminism dying, but more of media influence, especially on students who don’t have much life experience. The first thing I thought when I read what they were asked was Disney. All of that has been done to death in films and TV–and the reason the Bectal Test exists. And a lot of people are influenced by what they see in films. I’ve certainly seen writers get into trouble over trying to write diverse characters because their only experience with diversity is Hollywood’s version, which starts out with the worst clichés.

    I also think you might be drawing the wrong conclusion from incidents on campus and the problems of equality. What seems to be missing is that this has ALWAYS been a problem. I grew in the 70s and the only books available to me at that time that had girls in were either romances or the girl was a victim to be rescued. If I wanted action or science fiction, most often women were nowhere to be found in those stories. I also enlisted in the military and can certainly say that more than 25 years ago, all those same problems that got into the press existed then. The difference is that the internet and indie publishing have given women a voice they didn’t have before. Before, a college campus could dismiss a sexual assault as “dating,” and the victim was stuck. Now, someone could post a Tweet about it, and it goes viral. That’s created its own problems, and resistance, because there are a lot of people who don’t like that the control is gone.

    • I agree with this and the next three thoughtful replies. High school kids are still caught between Disney fantasy and their own inexperienced ideas of the World Out There. Most of them are too immature and/or ignorant to really grasp what you are saying. But having someone actually pose the questions, forcing them to think, is the first step in opening their eyes. I wish they’d had more teachers like you at an earlier age.

  2. Rape on campus has always been a problem. Back in my college days, it was possible to be raped right in the library stacks. I used to carry a switchblade when I went looking for research materials, and it never would have occurred to me to report it when I was harassed. That was at USC–which later closed its stacks because of the problem. But when I was an undergrad, a lot of women didn’t report it because they’d be shunned, blamed, maybe even kicked out of housing for being sluts. And if they did report it, there was the utterly humiliating clinical attitude usually by male doctors, on top of the shock and pain, with the overriding question, “What did you do to cause it–why were you walking there, why were you dressed like that?”

    I see young women taking advantage of some of the small rights women have accrued since those days–taking them for granted, and that’s good, because I do think all those young women who don’t question the “romantic” (gag) media treatment of women will be more likely to speak out loudly when they hit real life.

  3. Having spent 8 weeks on book tour, that included many universities as well as bookstores and other venues, from New England on down and finishing in Texas, your perception that feminism per se is dying, would be opposed vehemently by the very many young, energetic and very brilliant women of all heritages and classes I met in a variety of situations. We presented out book, which above all is about the generations of enslaved women of colonial and antebellum USA, who were coerced and violated in every way to produce as many children for the owner’s line of credit as early, as fast and as often as possible. So we were speaking to women’s issues, absolutely.

    What is heartbreaking to me is how hard the struggle is, particularly for poor women of color, and how they are still pushing back and working to make their own lives, the lives of their families and their communities better.

    As others mentioned above — rape has always been a terrible problem on campuses, and for the college women off campus too. At UNM, back in the day, if a woman reported being raped to the cops, they more than likely raped her again, themselves. Of course, Albuquerque cops then (as evidently again) were nationally notorious for violence and corruption.

  4. Keep up the good fight, Steve. All those folded arms mean, Nope, I’m not buying this, it’s too uncomfortable. But you and I both know many of the kids will be thinking about it later. That’s all teachers can hope for.

  5. I think this boils down to the difference between “should” and “does.”

    Perhaps these young people have internalised the old social attitudes to the point of agreeing that, yes, this is the way things are supposed to happen, for whatever nebulous reason. Sort of like that old biblical edict about not wearing clothing comprised of mixed fibres. But who really lives like that?

    I was married a dog’s age ago, and certainly my spouse never asked permission of my father, even when it was more customary to do so than it is now. I can’t think of a single person I know – now or in the past – who has done this.

    Kids try on all sorts of ideas, but that doesn’t mean that, ultimately, they’ll live by them. Most of them will have picked up a whole other set (and probably more than one) of postures by the time they head out into the world on their own.

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