The Gender Battlefield: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Unfortunately, the state of feminism in 2013 may have hit a new low

2013 was something of an anniversary year for the modern women’s movement, marking fifty years since Betty Friedan’s best-seller “The Feminine Mystique”—which, while hardly without flaws, offered a bracingly positive vision of embracing female achievement and strength without demonizing men or sacrificing family. Some of this year’s events reflect the remarkable progress women have made in those decades. Women claimed leadership at General Motors and Lloyd’s of London, the world’s top insurance market; Angela Merkel was reelected to a third term as German chancellor while widely recognized as Europe’s leader. The Pew Research Center reported that women made up 40 percent of America’s breadwinners in families with children—and nearly 40 percent of those were married mothers with median household incomes of about $80,000 a year.

Unfortunately, the state of feminism in 2013 may have hit a new low, with much of its energy spent on battles that are either trivial or destructive. Between gender-war feminism on the left and old-fashioned sexism on the right, picking the year’s worst in relations between the sexes in easy; picking the best is much harder, but worth the effort.  Here’s my personal list, by no means intended to be complete.

Overzealous crusade of the year: The “War on Rape.” Who could be against efforts to combat this despicable crime? At the start of the year, anti-rape activists garnered widespread sympathy as they demanded justice for Steubenville, Ohio’s “Jane Doe,” a teenage girl sexually assaulted by two football players after heavy drinking at a high school party. The Steubenville case drew attention to genuinely troubling attitudes, including a tendency to excuse misbehavior by popular athletes and judge young women’s reckless behavior (such as drinking too much) more harshly. Unfortunately, the noble cause quickly succumbed to over-the-top zealotry—with lurid rumors and harassment of innocent people in Steubenville itself, and a general indictment of America as a misogynistic “rape culture” whose men needed to be “taught” not to rape women.

In this crusade, the legitimate issue of sexual assault in the military was inflated into an epidemic by using a survey that made no distinction between rape and an unwanted pat on the backside and treated every failed rape prosecution (no matter how muddled the facts) as a failure of justice. And, on college campuses, the federal government weighed in on the side of the crusaders, using its muscle to push for lower standards of proof to discipline (mostly male) students accused of rape on the basis of a simple accusation.

By the end of the year, the campus crusade against rape had descended into utter absurdity. In August, Yale University, under fire for punishing “nonconsensual sex” with mere reprimands, released a document with examples of such “nonconsensual” acts—most of them involving no force, threat, incapacitation, or even clear refusal of consent. (In one scenario, the “offender” was guilty of failing to get an explicit okay before reciprocating oral sex.), the feminist website that had earlier accused Yale of hiding rape behind euphemisms, continued to insist that these absurd tales showed Yale’s leniency toward rapists.

And, in October, the Ohio University campus in Athens, Ohio was rocked by charges of a public rape caught on video and posted online. Actually, the video showed two drunk students engaging in a sexual act; after it went viral, the woman went to the police, claiming she had no memory of the incident and had been too intoxicated to consent. Both the video and eyewitness accounts made it clear that, far from being incapacitated, the woman was a fairly enthusiastic participant. The grand jury refused to indict the man. Nonetheless, both the university community and feminist bloggers such as Tara Culp-Ressler at rallied behind the “victim” and denounced “rape culture.” (Talk about trivializing rape.)

In one interesting development, several men expelled from colleges on what they say were phony charges of sexual assault have filed lawsuits claiming illegal sex discrimination under a system stacked against accused males.

The three silliest feminist outrages of the year. There’s quite an embarrassment of riches to choose from. How about:

* Men taking up too much space on public transit by sitting with their legs too far apart. Seriously, feminists? After being enlightened about this so-called issue, I actually started watching for it on several trips on the New York subway. Alas, about three-quarters of the people I noticed taking up an inordinate amount of space were women (spreading out shopping bags or sitting half-turned with a backpack occupying the next seat). This is worse than silly: feminist tirades on the subject feature startlingly hateful language (with sneering references to male anatomy that would be considered vilely misogynist if directed by men at women) and the use of people’s photos taken without their consent (something that the same feminist websites have railed against when it’s men posting “creepshots” of sexy women).

Beef stroganoff vs. rocket science. The feminist blogosphere exploded over a New York Times obituary that opened thus: “She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. … But Yvonne Brill, who died Wednesday at 88 in Princeton, N.J., was also a brilliant rocket scientist, who … invented a propulsion system to help keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that writer Doug Martin was not promoting stereotypes of feminine virtues but humorously subverting them, contrasting Brill’s traditional homemaker image and her very non-housewifely achievements (as some feminist commentators did point out). It is just as obvious that Brill was being honored with a Times obit for the science, not the cooking. No matter: in response to the outcry, the obit was rewritten to cut the beef stroganoff. (Speaking of stereotypes, isn’t there one about feminists and humor?)

“Blurred Lines.” Robin Thicke’s hit single has been denounced as a virtual anthem for rape because of the “I know you want it” lyric—even though the woman addressed in the song is repeatedly invited to make a move on the man and explore her “bad girl” side. (There’s even a disparaging reference to a previous male partner who tried to “domesticate” her.) Despite feminist voices in its defense, the song has become so associated with the “rape promotion” label that it has been banned from several British college campuses and targeted for at least two censorship attempts in the United States. A particularly ridiculous blog item compared lyrics from “Blurred Lines” to actual words used by rapists to their victims; never mind that, as some commenters pointed out, rapists may also have said things like “You’re beautiful.” (Oh, and “I know you want it”—addressed to a man—was sung by a girl band, The Pussycat Dolls, in their best-selling 2005 single, “Don’t Cha.” Those rapists!)

Top three conservative caveman moments of the year. While feminists charges of a conservative “war on women” often target entirely reasonable arguments (for instance, that the gender gap in pay is due mainly to women’s personal choices), there are those pundits who seem insistent on living down to that particular stereotype. Among them: meets Animal Planet. Discussing female breadwinners on Lou Dobbs’s Fox News panel, blogger Erick Erikson asserted that such practices were unnatural and “anti-science” because, in the animal kingdom, it’s normal for males to be in “the dominant role.” (It’s also “normal” for females to raise their young on their own.)

* “Know your role and shut your mouth.” That was from conservative radio host Bill Cunningham to Fox News analyst Tamara Holder on Sean Hannity’s show, in a debate over whether Attorney General Eric Holder (no relation) had committed perjury. Granted, the argument had been contentious on both sides, with mutual finger-jabbing and Holder being the first to tell Cunningham to “shut up”; but the “know your role” part (followed by an “Are you going to cry”? taunt) takes Cunningham’s remarks way over the line.

Head injuries are manly, cancer awareness is girly. Rush Limbaugh—the gift that keeps on giving to the left—has slammed not only the use of breast cancer awareness ribbons but safety regulations to prevent head injuries in the National Football league as signs of the “chickification” of America.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Mickey Rat||

    "Meanwhile, the effort to integrate women into combat roles in the military has run into problems because most female recruits in the Marines can’t meet the necessary standards of physical fitness."

    I think that's gender politics undermined by reality, not an achievement undermined by politics.

  • BardMetal||

    Why does reality have to be so sexist?

  • Nazdrakke||

    Seriously, it's almost like there are actual differences between men and women or something.

  • Marshall Gill||

    Sexual dimorphism is a myth of the Patriarchy.

  • SQRLSY One||

    If your job is to write yellow letters in the snow with your bodily fluids, then wymen need to become cyborgs with collection contraptions and pumps and stream-pointing devices, technology can solve ALL sorts of problems with differences in abilities… After that, we will equip cyborgified versions of Down’s Syndrome patients with brain-to-computer interfaces, and then they can become the next Albert Einsteins and the next Certifiable Genius POTUSES like Emperor Obama… Equality through Government-Almighty-Mandated technological improvements, I say, and then we won’t care HOW many push-ups, pull-ups, or put-downs the male v/s female Marines can do, outside of their “Waldo” / Cyborg suits…

  • SQRLSY One||

    PS, I also object to the FACT that there are MANY more jobs for WYMEN than for MEN, in the following categories: Sex worker, wet nurse, and surrogate biological Mommy. Until Government Almighty can rectify these situations, maybe, just ***MAYBE***, Government Almighty should contemplate the GHASTLY idea that TRULY qualified combat marines might be mostly men…

  • Ann N||

    Internet Short about dystopian future of mandatory enforced hyper-equality.

    mechanical urination pointing devices would only be fair.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Here is a novel idea. How about simply letting qualified Marines into combat positions, regardless of sex?

  • Procrastinatus||

    The question is whether or not enough female Marines can be trained as infantry to offset the logistical problems from allowing women infantry MOS's. It's about cost/benefit and military readiness.

    Or it should be. It'll probably end up being about our sense of hyper equality.

  • HellsBells||

    Ah, but the future is already here. Just check out "Go Girl" on Amazon (sorry, unable to provide link). No pumps or mechanical parts needed.

  • Gorilla tactics||

    The same reason why "disparate impact" is so racist?

  • lap83||

    "Top three conservative caveman moments of the year."

    This was a bad year for feminists, we spent too much time being offended by the wrong things! Now this is what we REALLY should have been offended by! Progress!

    This is why I'm not a feminist. I don't consider getting my feelings constantly hurt by people I've never met to be a valid hobby.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    It's not their hobby, it's their *life*.

  • Mickey Rat||

    A little pearl-clutching in a Mel Brook's movie review:

    "On the other hand, the homophobic, transphobic, fat-phobic, racist, sexist, and able-ist jokes are a lot more offensive to me now than they were when I was 13. Brooks finds the idea of men in women’s clothing inherently funny, and so presents cross-dressing as the beginning and end of many of the jokes (including the title and title song). And while Brooks has been using racist imagery to confront and challenge racism since Blazing Saddles, it’s sometimes hard to tell when he’s making fun of the oppressors and when he’s making fun of the oppressed."

  • ||

    I wonder what it's like to have so much sand in your vagina you could actually throw a beach party.

  • SugarFree||

    It's a guy. I guess he's a victim of false consciousness.

  • C. Anacreon||

    Why can't you make fun of the 'oppressed' as well? If you only make jokes about one type of person, you're going to run out of material quickly.

    South Park always seems to do so well by ridiculing everything and everyone. That way no one feels singled out.

  • John C. Randolph||

    "On the other hand, the homophobic, transphobic, fat-phobic, racist, sexist, and able-ist jokes are a lot more offensive to me now than they were when I was 13.

    I'm thinking he was probably a lot more tolerable to be around when he was 13.


  • LarryA||

    "Juveniles find juvenile humor more humorous." Who knew?

  • Nazdrakke||

    Meanwhile, the effort to integrate women into combat roles in the military has run into problems

    Good, because unless society is threatened with utter destruction it's a fucking stupid idea from micro to macro.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    The Feminine Mystiaue didn't demonize men? Wasn't that the book which said housewifery was "a comfortable concentration camp"?

  • Irish||

    Well, that's actually demonizing housewives, not men.

    It's okay to tell women what to do and to insult them for refusing to adhere to your ideal if you're a feminist and therefore are more enlightened than they are.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    OK, but I sense some slight demonization of men here. I mean, the husbands are the commandants at these domestic concentration camps, aren't they? Doesn't that seem just a tad misandric (sp)?

  • Ann N||

    the entire critique is relational, the 'marriage' contract. and its most definitely about men more than women. anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

    just listen to 'who' the barriers to this 'problem' are in their own minds.

    its not a criticism of women.

  • OldMexican||

    That was from conservative radio host Bill Cunningham to Fox News analyst Tamara Holder on Sean Hannity’s show[...] but the "know your role" part (followed by an "Are you going to cry"? taunt) takes Cunningham’s remarks way over the line.

    Cunningham accused Holder of being a stooch of the left and Tamara became very irate and began playing a victim role all of a sudden. When Cunningham told her "know your role", he clearly meant her role as a stooch of the left. That is what he clearly meant. Ms.Young is misrepresenting that exchange completely.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Hitchhiking to Hell, in a handcart!

    The shared economy is looking more like a tsunami. Room-renting firm Airbnb went from 4 million customers to 10 million in one year. Lyft, a ride-sharing company, grew faster: 20-fold in one year. Conventional businesses are paying attention: General Motors has invested $3 million in the San Francisco-based online rental company RelayRides.

    But many traditional businesses are crying foul, pointing out that the new companies tilt the playing field. A taxi company or hotel must abide by a plethora of well-intended laws meant to protect both buyers and sellers. As the shared economy has grown, stories have popped up of homes rented over the Internet being vandalized or rented cars wrecked.

    If a couple rents rooms in their house frequently to paying guests, could it suddenly turn a quiet residential neighborhood into a commercial area? And what about the tax revenues cities and states miss out on when someone avoids renting a hotel room or rental car?

    Stealing from the government! Just another form of terrorism.

  • SusanM||

    The laws are well-intentioned! Which means they can't be the problem.


  • Nazdrakke||

    A taxi company or hotel must abide by a plethora of well-intended laws meant to protect both buyers and sellers industry insiders and political campaign donations.


  • OldMexican||

    In 2013, there was a fair amount of attention to men’s rights groups—which often raise legitimate issues but have a regrettable tendency to mirror the gender antagonism, hyperbole, and victim mentality of radical feminism.

    "Why can't men act more lady-like?"

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Robert Reich believes in America!

    As Alexis de Tocqueville recognized as early as the 1830s, what distinguishes America is our pragmatism, resilience, and optimism. We invent, experiment, and fix what has to be fixed.

    Of course there will be problems implementing the Affordable Care Act. But if we’re determined to create a system that’s cheaper and more effective at keeping Americans healthy than the one we have now – and, in truth, we have no choice – we have every chance of succeeding.

    Keep hitting it.


  • ||

    How can anyone still take Reich seriously? All these people who claim to have so much intellectual heft stlll use sophmoric arguments such as the rich aren't paying their fair share or we need a centralized bureaucracy to drive the economy, despite the evidence to the contrary. I seriously wished that Sowell, Williams and hell even Niall Ferguson would fucking debate these assholes. But then the left never ever argue in good faith nor do they debate with anyone who has half a brain.

  • mkreitler||

    Maybe someone should explain to him that, in America, we do that by letting ideas compete, and letting the people choose the ones they like best...

  • ||

    But then the wrong people could choose the wrong idea. That's how a lot of Progressives think. They could give two shits about the poor. What they really want is to conform society to their way of thinking and force everyone to live a lifestyle that they deem as suitable.

  • Irish||

    As Alexis de Tocqueville recognized as early as the 1830s, what distinguishes America is our pragmatism, resilience, and optimism. We invent, experiment, and fix what has to be fixed.

    I have to laugh when I see progs cite Alexis de Tocqueville. De Tocqueville was essentially a classical liberal and would have despised everything the modern progressives stand for.

  • OldMexican||

    But, with men's issues on the table, perhaps the next year will see more calls for a balanced approach that promotes fairness and goodwill toward both sexes.

    Let's end public education first, then we'll talk about showing goodwill and fairness to the opposite sex - it's not only feminists who promote a culture of emasculation, ya know. Their partners in crime are a'plenty.

  • OldMexican||

    While feminists charges of a conservative "war on women" often target entirely reasonable arguments (for instance, that the gender gap in pay is due mainly to women's personal choices), there are those pundits who seem insistent on living down to that particular stereotype.

    Interestingly, while it is very easy to find examples of feminist hysteria and ridiculous crusades that are prevalent in academia and inside many circles on the left, it was clear that Ms. Young had to scrape the bottom of the prodigial barrel to find the most trivial, irrelevant and personal of opinions from three different individuals as "examples" of stereotyping from the right - that is, NOTHING expressed by think tanks, departments of male studies (which don't exist in any campuses) or actual books or papers or studies by conservative social scientists or anything like that. NO. She found three comments, made by three guys, one of the comments made during the heat of battle, on TV. And, that was it?

  • Mickey Rat||

    And one of the comments may not have meant what Young implied it to mean (that the person "know her role" as a moderator rather than as a woman).

  • Robert||

    Of course it's often been noted around here that Ms. Young will scrape the bottom of a barrel to find the other side of any story she writes of one side about. Still does great stuff, but that feature of her material is sometimes groan-inducing.

  • scareduck||

    I can't be a men's rights advocate (or to hear certain feminists, men's rights asshole) for the same reason I can't be a feminist. I just don't think mirroring the culture of complaint is good for anyone.

  • ||

    the culture of complaint

    Does the 1st Amendment foster a "culture of complaint" when it says "Congress shall make no law [...] abridging [...] the right of the people [...] to petition the Government for a redress of grievances"?

    Shouldn't the people just man up and stoically take what the govt. hands out to them?

  • Ann N||

    scareduck is why feminism exists beyond 'equality' and into abuse.

    women in general would not put up with grievances put upon their gender, even if they did not personally bear them.

    men are the only 'protected class' full of members who couldn't give a fuck about how the rest of their group is treated.

    if the rest of the protected classes thought that way we would be ok. instead it creates a vortex of abuse aimed at men.

  • ||

    Well, yes. Men are in fairly open and acknowledged competition with each other; not looking out for the other guy (meaning all other guys) is a socially accepted attitude.

    Women and men aren't treated the same way by society (meaning all women and men)

  • Ann N||

    not looking out for the other guy is socially acceptable when the other guy is white hetero male.

    for everyone else the progressive agenda is in hyperdrive.

    trying to marry collectivism and individualism is especially problematic when you show favoritism of classes. its just insulting to call that 'equality'.

    its not a coincidence there are few libertarian females.

  • SusanM||

    I've said to activist-type friends in the LGBT community that we shouldn't end up like the feminists have. Fems have become such a group of entitled crybabies it's hard to take them seriously anymore.

    When you get activists who call down holy vengeance over silly things like "Donglegate" or demand that the deck be blatantly stacked in your favor "just because", when something really bad happens no one cares because it gets lumped in with the silly shit.

  • Cyto||

    It seems that the bulk of hard-core 'activists' of whatever stripe are actually seeking advantage for themselves and their preferred cohort, rather than some ephemeral "justice". Success in addressing any actual injustices serves to expose this motivation - whether we are talking about feminists or whatever would pass as their ideological counterpart - maybe skinheads.

    It seems to be built in to human nature. Maybe that's why only a fringe element of the population is attracted to the libertarian "just leave me alone" cause. That's also why our activists seem to be Don Quixote types who only gather a small following around a single issue. People like Carlos Miller. There's really not a huge constituency for the injustice of being told not to photograph something. There's certainly no group identity that can gain an advantage for itself. Once the single issue goes away - so does the movement.

  • Brandybuck||

    the “offender” was guilty of failing to get an explicit okay before reciprocating oral sex.

    So the guys goes down on her and she complains?

    Okay guys, here's the trick: Write out the alphabet with your tongue. By the time you get to Q she's coming. Don't just slobber all over or she'll report you to the campus authorities for mandatory reeducation.


    You can do better than that.

  • RishJoMo||

    I really think that is gonna be cool man!

  • Moogle||

    I had a feminist online tell me that plain old middle class white guy me has more privilege that Hillary Clinton and après Obama combined. Meanwhile, I can't get out of federal jury duty summons to a court 60 miles from my house.

    Fuck this country.

  • Moogle||

    Après? Pres

    Fuck autocorrect, too.

  • John C. Randolph||

    The problem with feminism today is the same problem that all reform movements have after achieving their reasonable goals. Once they reach that point, the reasonable people move on to other pursuits, leaving behind the dregs. In the USA, now that women have the vote, and the same legal rights as men, the dregs in the "women's movement" are bitching about being ridiculed when they have ridiculous hissy fits over some guy talking to them in an elevator.

    Other examples: the labor movement used to be about saving workers' lives. Today, it's just another tax-collecting parasite that robs workers to buy hookers and blow for politicians. The civil rights movement used to be about equality before the law, and today it's just a guilt-peddling industry shaking down employers who don't meet quotas, and of course keeping Asian students out of universities to make room for lower-scoring "diversity" admissions.


  • Ann N||

    I dont believe that for a second.

    feminism is a plague unlike any other, in that its victims have no public support, even while being oppressed.

    noone cares that men are treated unequally, not even other men, and CERTAINLY not 'compassionate' women.

    as for inherent bigotry, men are the most unsympathetic victims there are. ppl believe in white male privilege, in the face of counter evidence and explicit law to the contrary (and enforcement of said laws).

    labor disputes dont have that kind of bigotry to deal with.

    Besides bigotry, there is the issue of propaganda, but again, male victims suffer more than big business/unions.

  • SusanM||

    I think Peter Noone cares deeply about equality for all.

    Seriously, JCR has a point. The feminist movement reached this point back in the 80's, where they really achieved a lot of what their stated goals are. Rather than consolidating their gains they kept plowing ahead and straight into the sexual harassment witch hunts (wizard hunts?) of the 90's.

  • ||

    ridiculous hissy fits over some guy talking to them in an elevator.

    The woman in question didn't "have a hissy fit". She was creeped out by a guy she's never met before suddenly coming on to her when they were alone an elevator, and explained that guys shouldn't do this, as it gives a poor impression and makes women nervous. It was the people responding to her comments, which were meant to be helpful for men rather than derogatory, who threw the hissy fit.

  • ||

    She was creeped out by a guy she's never met before suddenly coming on to her when they were alone an elevator, and explained that guys shouldn't do this, as it gives a poor impression and makes women nervous.

    Which would have been entirely OK as long as she explained it to the guy in the elevator -- or after getting off the elevator.

    No one invited her to to address her "helpful" comment to all men. Those who take her "helpful" comments to heart don't do this type of thing anyway; those who do this type of thing don't listen to her "helpful" comments anyway. It was just a vehicle for her to vent her frustration that a particular man did not behave the way she finds it appropriate and to turn it into a "teachable moment". Fuck that noise.

  • Nicholas Sarwark||

    How can a review of the year in feminism have missed this well-reasoned and persuasive gem?

  • SusanM||

  • buybuydandavis||

    "In one scenario, the “offender” was guilty of failing to get an explicit okay before reciprocating oral sex."

    Ha. Before *reciprocating*. Maybe it was just very hard to tell what she was saying at the time.


    "Meanwhile, the effort to integrate women into combat roles in the military has run into problems"

    No shit.
    You know, nothing strikes fear into the hearts of our enemies more than a group of fags, frustrated women and cross dressers. This whole equality thing has become absurd.

  • thorax232||

    What a terrible immature world we live in. =/

  • Dean Esmay||

    To quote my friend and fellow activist Alison Tieman: "The easy rebuttal to Ms. Young's assertion is this. 'You convince feminists to change those elements of feminism *you* find problematic (let's not even go for all the elements *we* find problematic) and then come back to us about working with them. Until then we'll just keep on keeping on.'"

  • ibcbet||

    It's not their hobby, it's their *life*.

  • PaulinePhelpsmee||

    up to I saw the check of $8495, I did not believe best friend actualy earning money part time from their computer.. there friend brother started doing this 4 only fourteen months and as of now cleared the dept on there appartment and got a top of the range Ariel Atom. website here

  • crazydaisy||

    Interesting thoughts wholesale doll clothes


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties