Talk and Awe

by Jon Schroeder | 5/8/03 5:00am

What is particularly galling about the peccadillo caused by Kathleen Reeder's May 2 column in The Dartmouth, "Sex, Lies and Feminism," is that she has not been held accountable for her flawed conception of feminism. To define herself as a "conservative feminist" simply because she "believes in the equality of the sexes" is an innaccurate understanding of feminism. Rather, feminism's central goal is to establish gender equality; other branches of feminism differ in their beliefs about how to achieve this goal, whether that be the "shock and awe" tactics of radical feminism or the "shop and awe" ones of conservative feminism. While I don't necessarily agree with the inflammatory rhetoric of one side (all women should be lesbians, all sex is rape, etc.), I also don't agree with the conservative feminist position either. Like always, I try to appeal to sense, and that, for me, usually lies in between the two positions.

Why, then, does Ms. Reeder take such a position? She certainly tries to create a space that allows her to embrace the label of feminist while also avoiding the negative baggage of radical feminism. Reeder's position enables her to be the "good girl" who works within the system at the same time as she takes up for her own purposes the mantle of feminism.

Yet, she mistakenly assumes that the phrase "liberal feminism" refers to our American political spectrum of conservative versus liberal. I believe, and correct me if I'm wrong, that the phrase "liberal feminism" actually redefines the Enlightenment notion of "liberal humanism." Instead of saying that all "men are equal," liberal feminism adds women into the mix and says that everyone is equal.

I also believe that Ms. Reeder chooses to "work within the system" mainly because she has not thought very much about it. By stating that men and women are definitely different, she gives herself a lot of room to justify any interaction between the sexes as a result of their innate difference. While biological evidence suggests that gender is not wholly constructed, I would like to find anyone who denies that our society creates certain expectations placed on each gender about how to behave and act toward the opposite sex. Of course Ms. Reeder is not alone in her assumption, as Dan Galemba, in his May 6 column in The Dartmouth, "Rationality, Anyone? Please?" is also guilty of denying this idea.

If anyone does say that these expectations are also the result of genetically-coded qualities present in every human, I would point that person to examples of other cultures. Many societies are patriarchal, few matriarchal, but few construct sexuality and gender in the same way that ours does, and even fewer the way that we find at our College. It is hard to determine if centuries of layered beliefs are a result of our coding or perhaps the result of men's early dominance in society due to things like physical strength or some other advantage that allowed man's material power to become over time a mental power. But I'm talking about this topic a bit too abstractly. What exactly do Mr. Galemba and Ms. Reeder agree on about how men and women are different?

Ms. Reeder's and Mr. Galemba's statements that men and women are unequally satisfied by consensual hookups is also somewhat of a reductive assumption. I believe that men are more able to hook up with girls and shrug off emotional follow-ups not because that is present in their nature but because they are more afraid of emotional commitment. Most men are taught -- and this is certainly my experience too -- through athletics and images portrayed in the media and all over our society that they shouldn't show much emotion. And without any experience to show them otherwise, men will continue to think this way.

However, I believe, and I hope I'm not wrong, that most men who hook up with girls have the ultimate intention of finding someone with whom they can relate, care about, even love (at Dartmouth? -- feigned shock!). And I'm not someone who advocates a straight progression into the security and sedation of middle age -- I believe in passion while we're young, in sometimes facing the danger rather than taking the safer option. I believe in the examined life. But I can safely say that sex without love is unsatisfying emotionally and incomparable to a healthy, productive relationship -- and if men are insecure about entering into such a pairing, I feel bad for them, and I just think they need to mature a bit. I don't want to offend people of other sexual orientations, but, not knowing as much about those positions, I give my viewpoint about heterosexual interaction.

"Conservative feminism" seems to me like another name for traditionalism and retention of the status quo. Whether we want to change society or not, I believe that it is vital to understand how men and women interact. To argue from a purely deterministic viewpoint that gender interactions are already pre-coded in our minds seems to negate the real possibility that we possess a free will and an ability to change who we are as people. Some things are genetic, but many things are not. We need to agree on this one thing. It is disheartening to see how far some of us need to go to get to this point.