“Let us take our share of the empire as swiftly and gently and fairly as possible.” Naomi Wolf’s feminist work, “Fire with Fire”.
Excerpt from Naomi Wolf’s 1993 feminist manifesto, “Fire with Fire”
While male dominance is undoubtedly oppressive, and while many men do take personal satisfaction in wielding power oppressively over women, the greater truth is that the “oppressors” are simply doing what anyone would do: protecting what they have. When we understand the nature of power, and when women acknowledge our own will to power, men’s resistance to women’s equality looks every bit as unjust, but less intimately infuriating: Misogyny is all too real; but a lot of sexism, seen in this light, is not the stubbornness of a pig or the oppressiveness of a born monster, so much as the basic math of politics, a natural human response to a threatened and real loss of status. Women would certainly exhibit it themselves were the roles reversed.
Over the last twenty years, every cultural and political domain of men has been infiltrated by women. The building site and the boardroom were breached; then female academics questioned men’s central role in the literary canon; female athletes are gaining on male record and look set to outstrip them in our lifetime; women soldiers have challenged men’s identity as warriors; female theologians even questioned the maleness of God.
Men are seeing their empire begin to crumble; their world is indeed dying. Feminist colleagues will laugh at this assertion and point to the unmoving structure of male dominance. But we are at a point where men, and especially the traditional elite of white men, have lost their authority before they have lost their power. The masculine mystique is dwindling. And in an unjust system, the loss of authority inevitably foreshadows the loss of power.
Men know their empire is threatened, and they are fighting for their lives, or the lives to which they are accustomed. As it would for heirs of any lost empire, no matter how unjust its foundations or how cruelly run its colonies, the old order’s obsolete social forms and rituals of entitlement are taking on in the eyes of men a wild glamour, and provoking a fierce nostalgia akin to the nationalism of a people entering exile.
In Male and Female, anthropologist Margaret Mead found that in preindustrial societies, when women start to do “men’s work,” men anxiously stake out some unmarked labor, call it exclusively male, and redefine that work as the act which makes men men and not-women. Mead’s findings suggest that these men’s behavior is a cultural inevitability, one that mirrors the resentment that some women would feel if men took over their habitual roles and territory. If so, this distress deserves insight and maybe even compassion, rather than simplistic mockery and condemnation. If they want dialogue that can move the sexes beyond this crisis, women might want to understand the current retreat of men on an emotional level, even as they mobilize hard against its political fallout. Let us take our share of the empire as swiftly and gently and fairly as possible.
Wolf, Naomi. Fire with fire: New female power and how it will change the twenty-first century. Random House, 2013.
Naomi R. Wolf (born November 12, 1962) is an American author, journalist and former political advisor to Al Gore and Bill Clinton. She first came to prominence in 1991 as the author of The Beauty Myth. With the book, she became a leading spokeswoman of what was later described as the third wave of the feminist movement. As a journalist, she has written about topics such as abortion, the Occupy Wall Street movement, Edward Snowden and ISIS. She has written in venues such as The Nation, The Guardian and The Huffington Post.
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