opinion

"Pathetic, fragile, complaining wimps": Where Bettina Arndt thinks feminism went so wrong.

Bettina Arndt has checked out of feminism.

It’s a movement, the 69-year-old clinical psychologist, author and journalist says, that treats women like “pathetic, fragile, complaining wimps”.

But it wasn’t always that way, Arndt argues.

“I used to be a feminist because I believed in equality,” she told Mamamia. 

Arndt’s career began in the 1970s, when she became one of Australia’s first sex therapists. She was excited about the prospect of more choice being available in women’s lives, and thought, as she puts it, “orgasms were a good place to start.”

Feminism, according to Arndt, was once about empowerment. She loved the strength and independence encapsulated in Helen Reddy’s war cry, “I am woman, hear me roar”. But Arndt doesn’t see the strength anymore. She just sees victimhood.

“The resulting fragile, wilting wallflowers are eager to claim victimhood and tell tales of scary encounters with the dangerous sexual predator they believe lurks in every man,” she said in an address at the Sydney Institute this week.

“Feminism today is not about promoting equality but rather tilting laws, rules and regulations to advantage women at the expense of men. And most people think that is unfair. That’s why so few people today are prepared to call themselves feminist. A recent SBS survey found only 19 per cent are willing to use that label. Feminism has gone off the rails and more and more people are speaking out about this divisive force in our society.”

We, of course, do not know that be true. There are multifarious reasons one might not call themselves a feminist, and many of them have nothing to do with believing that the world ‘advantages women’ in the first place.

The intellectual argument purported by Arndt belongs alongside the likes of Canadian professor Jordan Peterson, the creator of the documentary The Red PillCassie Jaye, and men’s rights activist, Karen Straughan.

In the wake of the Me Too movement, their voices appear to be getting louder.

“I think the current #MeToo movement is exposing the worst aspects of feminism,” Arndt tells Mamamia. That’s why she called her book #MenToo, to tell the other side of the story, drawing on a number of men’s issues where she posits men are being treated unfairly.

“The Harvey Weinstein case represents a serious problem that needs to be addressed – men using their power to take advantage of women,” she says.

“It’s a great thing that is now being taken seriously. But I hear constantly from men and women who are concerned this has now morphed into a witch-hunt where punitive women can demolish men’s lives using unproven allegations.”

When she appeared on Sunrise on Tuesday morning to speak about #MenToo and how men’s lives have been derailed by the women’s movement, the criticism was swift and cutting.

And perhaps rightfully so.

Arndt described her work as a challenge to the excesses of feminism, and suggested that mothers of sons, “look at what’s happening to the men we love in our lives,” and posited that “women have been given so much power to destroy them if they like.”

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Whether we agree with that worldview or not, is, I believe, beside the point.

Because it’s a conversation happening in hushed voices around dinner tables, and in whispers over a beer at the pub. It belongs in the mainstream, because this is a discussion that matters.

We know that one woman a week is murdered by a current or former partner. One in three women will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. Just five per cent of CEOs on the Fortune 500 are women, and less than one quarter of world leaders are women. Two thirds of the world’s illiterate population are women. That’s just the beginning.

If women are ‘destroying’ men as Arndt puts it, then they’re doing a pretty damn bad job at it.

But we also know that there are very real challenges facing men. And that’s something we must be allowed to say, without being met with an eye roll and a flippant remark about ‘male tears’.

On Sunrise, Arndt made the point that six out of every eight Australians dying by suicide everyday are men.  In an address she made to the Sydney Institute this week, she cited the statistic that 57 per cent of cancer deaths are male. Men are more likely to be murdered (by another man), and make up 92 per cent of Australia’s prison population. Again – that’s just the beginning.

None of this negates feminism – at least not the feminism that I believe in. All it does is strengthen its central tenet.

Equality.

Men’s rights and women’s rights are not mutually exclusive. We don’t have to pick a side.

Perhaps the Arndts and the Petersons and the Jayes and the Straughans are a response to the lack of nuance in the current feminist narrative.

When some proponents of the #MeToo movement told us that it was as simple as ‘believe women’, some bristled. To ‘believe’ an accuser on account of their gender is at odds with our entire justice system – one built on the premise that an individual is innocent until proven guilty.

No conversation can ever be as simple as two words – which is why #MeToo was surely intended to be the beginning of a discussion, not the end.

The book #MenToo was unequivocally designed to be provocative. It will make headlines. It will sell copies.

But rather than dismiss Arndt because she might have something to say that we deem offensive or unnacceptable, it’s critical we do the opposite.

Because silencing an opinion doesn’t mean it ceases to exist. It just means it has the luxury of going unchallenged.

Perhaps #MeToo and #MenToo have far more in common than either realise. Women suffer on account of being women, just as men suffer on account of being men.

And feminism, or whatever one would like to call it, needs to address both. At the same time.

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