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 racist bigot says: "If your skin is the wrong color, you're not
* 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.