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Cycles of Bigotry

Rod Van Mechelen rodvan at nwlink.com
Fri Oct 20 00:25:03 EST 1995

Cycles of Bigotry
by Rod Van Mechelen
copyright 1995 by Rod Van Mechelen<br>
(updated from the 1991 version)

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.
-- Karl Marx (1818 - 1883)

Life moves in cycles.  From the smallest microbe to the infinite 
universe, we all dance to cyclic rhythms.  Sometimes these cycles 
are obvious.  Like the four seasons or the tides, they shape our 
lives.  But others, like the ebb and flow of the polar ice caps, the 
alignment of the planets, and global warming, we know only after 
centuries of study and observation.  They are hard to see.

There are social cycles, too.  Like gargantuan hearts, they pump 
thoughts, ideas, attitudes and impressions -- the blood of our 
culture.  Vaguely, most of us are aware of these and sometimes 
refer to them as "swinging pendulums."  A good analogy to remind 
us that what is extreme today may be mainstream tomorrow, and 
yesterday's fashions will re-emerge when "everything old is new 

Economists and businesses rely on these cycles to know when to 
save or borrow, spend or invest, expand or sell-out.  Investors, too, 
study social psychology, drawing charts to predict the effects of 
human emotion on "market swings" and "boom/bust" cycles.  These 
are fairly obvious, and politicians work to flatten them out so that, 
instead of suffering ups and downs, we can enjoy predictable 

Sexual attitudes follow a cycle, too.  Skirts and hair are short or 
long, breasts are in or out, women are "barracudas" or, as today, 
men are "predators."

Popular wisdom now holds that "men only want one thing."  As 
recently as thirty years ago, however, feminist icon Betty Friedan 
lamented how our culture believed women were the sexual 
predators and men were their prey!  Before that, during the 
Victorian era, men were base and women were pristine.  "History," 
as Karl Marx noted, "repeats itself."

The cycle of sexual attitudes, as mapped out by historian Reay 
Tannahill in her delightful (though now out of print) book, "Sex in 
History," has repeated itself in ancient Greece, Rome, Arabia, China 
and India, and even among many Native American cultures.  This 
cycle of sexism is part of a larger cycle of bigotry and counter-
bigotry.  In one form or another, it is a pattern that has persisted for 
thousands of years.

The Bigot/Counter-Bigot

*  The racist bigot says: "If your skin is the wrong color, you're not 
good enough!"
*  The counter bigot says: "If you're racist, then you are not good 
*  My sister says: "Stamp out Violence -- kill extremists!"

This cycle of bigotry/counter-bigotry is especially evident between 
the white and black American communities.

During the 1960s, in response to racism black individuals began 
programs of racial validation.  Many of us remember watching a 
black man on television drilling a black youngster on "Black is 
Beautiful," back when the term was new.  The child's mother 
watched with an expression of grim determination as the man 
instilled in him a sense of racial pride.

Black pride emerged from that program, and others like it.  
Focused solely on blacks, however, they were unbalanced.  The 
sense of pride they sought to instill in their children produced, in 
many cases, counter-bigots -- if you're not black, you're not good 
enough.  Only black is beautiful.

Black <b>is</b> beautiful, possessing a character and quality not 
found in any other hue.  But there is also beauty in skin that is pink, 
olive and brown.  All different, all good.

By not teaching children to recognize, respect and value the 
inherent worth in all people regardless of race, such programs 
combined with legitimate demands for justice to imply that being 
white is inherently bad, and that the sins of whites long dead are 
also the sins of whites now living.  Shamed, the white community 
tried to mollify blacks by passing laws or instituting programs that 
attempted to level the field, by lowering standards, as in college 
entrance requirements, or, through affirmative action programs, by 
actively hiring and promoting women and minorities.  Sometimes 
this had the effect of redirecting the discrimination toward white 
men, or of alleviating black individuals of any responsibility for 
misbehavior.  However accomplished, it is combining with counter-
bigotry to stir up resentment among a growing number of working 
class youths that is leading to a renewal of anti-black prejudice.  
According to June Stephenson, author of "Men Are Not Cost-
Effective," the hate crime rate in the U.S. is growing, most of it 
directed toward blacks.

Black leaders of the sixties were right to shake up the complacency 
of the white community.  There is a time for hostility, a time for 
anger, a time to march, and a time to cry.  But when the major 
ideological disputes are resolved, it's time to put away the 
strategies, tactics and emotions of confrontation and walk together 
down the avenues of cooperation.  This is what most of the leaders 
of the black community have done, and are doing.  But cooperation 
is not a banner under which angry mobs can be rallied to form 
political power blocks.  Cooperation requires communication, 
negotiation, consideration, reflection, knowledge, patience and 
work: The emotional rewards are slow to come.

Conversely and perversely, confrontation often provides more 
immediate emotional satisfaction.  Particularly when it involves 
giving up personal responsibility by blaming others for the problems 
of life.  Some black pundits, like Jill Nelson, author of "Voluntary 
Slavery," gain a following by indulging in such tactics.  A growing 
number of feminists are, too, with their social and political assaults 
on men long after there is any need or justification for doing so.

To be treated as equals in school and at work, many women needed 
to adopt an attitude of confrontation, and demand that men 
accommodate them.  Many men resisted, but many more accepted 
what was fair and inevitable, and women's legal status is now, in 
many ways, superior to men's.  Conflict could have ended there, to 
make way for a new era of cooperation and negotiation.  Instead, 
feminist extremists carried the confrontation further to precipitate 
more and more antagonism toward men.  In the muck of this 
misandristic malice, the seeds of a new misogyny have germinated 
and are taking root.

Recently, a prominent member of the fathers' rights community 
began posting articles to the Internet arguing that men are 
physically, mentally and morally superior to women.  On college 
campuses, male students are now discussing ways to use Title IX to 
"kick feminism off" their college campuses.  And recently, when an 
ABC TV affiliate produced a show on "deadbeat dads" that was to 
feature a female fathers' rights lobbyist, an executive of Dads 
Against Discrimination (DADS), one of the largest fathers' rights 
organizations in the country, "strongly objected," and persuaded 
them to replace her with a man who, though far less capable of 
debating the issues, was preferable solely because he was a man.

The cycle of sexism has come full circle.  The misogyny of the 
fifties and sixties led to the androphobia of today, which in turn will 
produce an efflorescence of anti-female sentiments tomorrow.  Is 
this backlash inevitable?  Is there no way to stop the cycle and find 
some happy middle ground?

Ending the Cycle

We can end the cycle, but neither men nor women can do it alone -- 
we must work together.

In "Male and Female," Margaret Mead asserted that once we have 
identified and analyzed this cycle, "it should be possible to create a 
climate of opinion in which others, a little less the product of the 
dark past because they have been reared with a light in the hand 
that can shine backwards as well as forwards, may in turn take the 
next step."  It is up to us to take that next step.  Women must 
oppose anti-male sexism just as vigorously as we expect men to 
oppose anti-female sexism.

To the courageous feminists who brought modern sexism to our 
attention, we owe gratitude and respect.  They opened our eyes.  
But their wise words have drowned beneath a deluge of strident 
voices all clamoring to be heard, all shrilling one message -- men 
are to blame and must make restitution for all the misfortunes all 
women have ever suffered.

Where we heard voices of reason, now we hear only rage and fear 
as feminist extremists work not to break the cycle of sexism, but to 
reverse it.  This is not what the pioneers of feminism sought.  They 
were less interested in castigating men than in inspiring women to, 
as Lucretia Mott put it, "be acknowledged...moral, responsible" 
beings with full civil and political rights.  In a nation where women 
are increasingly afforded the right to fill combat positions in the 
military while men are denied the right to refuse combat positions, 
and women, but not men, have the legal right to refuse to become a 
parent, realization of the feminists' original goals is a historical fact 
the extremists refuse to acknowledge.

Perhaps this is because few men have participated as men.  Those 
who gained entrance to the cause were male feminists, who, like 
Ashley Montagu, author of "The Natural Superiority of Woemn," 
found refuge and feminine approval in the aggrandizement of 
women and the denigration of men, rather than in advocating a 
policy of same rights, same responsibilities.

We need neither the conciliatory voices of male feminists, nor the 
extremists' recriminations, but the strength and integrity of women 
and men working together to dismantle all the sexist barriers 
without blame if we are to create a more complete humanity and a 
finer state of being.


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