Reader/IWF-basher L.P. is back! Yesterday, she accused us at of of trying to force women to be barefoot and pregnant. (Not me! I’ve never had a kid, sad to say, and I’ve got the world’s largest shoe collection west of Manila.) Yesterday, L.P. sparred with The Other Charlotte (see Inky Responds, April 20). Now, L.P. says we’re not nice enough to Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and the bra-burning comfortable-concentration-camp cadre of 1960s radicals. L.P. e-mails:

“If you are any student of history, you will know that men did us no favors by extending us any sort of rights at all (although I am fond of men–still, bad behavior on their part). It is largely through the efforts of such rabble-rousers as Susan B Anthony, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinham, Alice Paul, and the like that you have access to the opportunities that you do today. It certainly wasn’t by courtesy of the magic female opportunity fairy. And while I’m not fond of radical feminism, it would be unfair and ungracious not to give them their nod. For any social movement to take root, you do need your radicals (phoenixes I call them) to push these issues into mainstream society.”

As with her reference to the Trojan Horse in her last e-mail to the IWF (corrected so brilliantly by TOC), L.P. is a little weak on her classical mythology with her reference to “phoenixes.” This suggests that L.P. could have used a a few sessions with my redoubtable college Greek teacher, the late and lamented Hazel Hansen, who had to battle real sex discrimination–the kind that held that women weren’t fit to hold university positions–in order to win the right to terrify us lazy students into memorizing and reciting “Go tell the Spartans…” in unison and in Greek every morning as class began. Miss Hansen, as she insisted that she be called, would have had no truck with the whining victimology that L.P. seems to admire in Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. Miss Hansen would would have detested the thought of being called a “rabble-rouser.” She was a lady–although at the battle-axe end of lady-dom, rather like the Spartan mothers who advised their sons to come back from war  with their shields or on them.

Here’s the skinny on the phoenix, L.P.: The phoenix was a mythological male (get that, male) bird of gorgeous plumage that was said to have reproduced by setting its nest and itself afire and then, once dead, rising anew from the flames. I fail to see the resemblance to Betty Friedan.

Now for some history. I am a great admirer of Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul, who tirelessly worked to win women the vote in 1920. These were tough, proud, smart women (Paul obtained a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania). Neither would have dreamed of indulging in such inanities as Gloria Steinem’s famous “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” But Anthony and Paul were part of a trend that began long before the suffrage movement, in mid-19th-century England when married women secured the right to own their own property. In America, the state of Wyoming extended women the vote in 1869, well before Wyoming became a state. Men gave women that right without the help of suffragists because they could see that the pioneer women of Wyoming were as good as they were at clearing land and fighting Indians. Tough women schoolteachers in Wyoming had drilled McGuffey’s Reader into their heads.

Anthony, Paul, and their like were a world apart from Steinem, Friedan, and the self-pitying feminist generation they have spawned. Steinem’s and Friedan’s incendiary and often silly writings (see “comfortable concentration camps,” “fish,” and “bicycle” above) happened to coincide with women’s postwar entry into full equality in the educational and job markets (the Equal Pay Act was enacted in 1963, the year Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique”). But the victimology that Steinem, Friedan, and their ilk preach has little to do with equality and a lot to do with special pleading. It’s that notion of women as frail souls in need of government protection from men that the IWF robustly opposes. And so would my Greek teacher Hazel Hansen if she were alive today.

And here’s a male reader, M.R., adding his thoughts on the male-bashing forum the ’Bag was running a week or so ago (See the Mailbags for April 1, April 5, April 6, April 8, and April 9). I had remarked that, sad to say, most men’s rights advocates seem to be divorced dads disgruntled at having to face up to their paternal responsibilities and pay child support. I also expressed my support for the notion that women have a civilizing effect on men.

Here’s M.R.:

“Men and women in the men’s movement are ‘disgruntled’ about many things that create a profoundly anti-male world with terrible consequences for everyone….[M]ost of the men I know working on men’s issues are happily married. I know one who’s going through a divorce and child custody battle, and he’s not disgruntled about child support payments. He’s devastated by not being able to see his children. He’s devastated that the family courts treat him like a criminal when he’s committed no crime….

“Do you really believe that money is better for children than love? If so, you’re either terribly ignorant of human needs or you’re a more stubborn ladies-firster than I thought. You’re incapable (or afraid?) of putting any obligation on the divorced woman to allow the father access to his children. But this is not a radical idea. A few states already require family courts to presume shared joint physical custody, a law that actually lowers the rate of divorce….

“About paternity laws, I guess you didn’t realize we’re still living in ‘the old days’: any child born of a man’s wife is still legally his, even if the child is the product of her adultery. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this legal tradition just last year. So it’s perfectly legal for a woman to abort her husband’s child, bear another man’s, divorce her husband, and make him pay for the other man’s child. Of course the money is good for the children, but the real reason for leaving these laws in effect is to protect the woman from a besmirched reputation. A woman’s social status is more important than fathers and children knowing the truth. Does any of this seem troubling or unfair? Does it seem like inequality before the law?…

“The military, religious orders, and business organizations are ‘male’ institutions! Men devised and built them. It’s almost all men who continually develop and maintain them. These institutions have nothing to do with women civilizing men. They have a lot to do with men civilizing men. The only institution women have ever founded is feminism, which exists solely to get things for women, a profoundly selfish, immoral, and uncivilized enterprise, which the IWF often resembles.”

Oh, I don’t think we women are that bad, M.R. We did invent Mom’s apple pie and the rule about putting the toilet seat back down.

I agree that some women abuse the divorce process and hurt their own children by denying them access to their fathers. Other women–and men, too–put the children first in a divorce, which is the way it should be. I think that joint legal custody of children should encouraged, although I don’t approve of dopey hippie arrangements in which the kids live with one parent one week and the other the next; kids need domestic stability. The age-old rule about husbands’ having to support any children conceived during the marriage wasn’t designed to protect women’s honor (although that’s a nice idea) but the well-being of the children themselves. The idea that the man whom you call Dad can suddenly claim that you’re not really his horrifies me and would devastate any child.