A Feminist Bothered by ‘Everything’

Meghan Daum is a liberal feminist who, in her forties, finds herself out-lefted by the new left. The Problem with Everything: My Journey Through the New Culture Wars recounts her inability to fathom Fourth Wave Feminists who declare themselves afraid to attend college or seek “lean-in” type jobs (oh the rape culture!) and her schism with Social Justice Warriors whose “self-proclaimed utopian vision” sometimes sounds to Daum “a lot like authoritarianism.”

Daum grew up picketing for the Equal Rights Amendment and chokes at the thought of “heartbeat bills” limiting abortion. But she cringed at the crude, profanity-laden Women’s March and thought some of the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh, even if true (and she believed they were), didn’t amount to “a big deal.” She finds Betsy DeVos a “troubling, even repugnant, specimen” but cheered when DeVos rescinded the Obama Administration’s Title IX guidance that gutted due process. To her, the definition of a feminist means being tough. To today’s feminists, it means being “fair.” Worse still, Fourth Wave Feminism might just be “narcissism repackaged as revolution.”

A skilled, incisive writer (she spent eleven years as a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and now writes a biweekly column for Medium), Daum deftly unmasks the hypocrisies of the new left. Isn’t it sexist to decry toxic masculinity while denying toxic femininity? (Daum has a page-long list of examples.) If a woman can regret a sexual experience and retroactively categorize it as rape, shouldn’t a man be permitted to raise concerns about preying feminists who believe men should gratefully accept any sexual encounter a woman deigns to bestow? (Daum has stories of men not forced, but coaxed, into sex by their female dates, in a manner not altogether unlike some of the “rape” stories women tell.) Isn’t it only fair to acknowledge the many ways women wield incredible power over men—including by threatening to ruin them with #MeToo-type accusations?

[When Feminist Ideology Trumps Science]

In a chapter devoted to the college campus, Daum questions the vaunted statistic that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted while in college. She also wonders how much of the activism on campus is mere performance theater.

But here’s where her account begins to falter. Daum’s major critique of campus activists and the new leftists, in general, is their lack of nuance. They fit every incident into a prepared storyline of oppression. They see every event as a black-and-white matter of morality. They perceive nuance as “a dog whistle for centrist and right-leaning scolds whose privilege blinded them to the severity of the crisis before them.”

All true. But Daum treats the new left as simply too extreme in its zeal for good principles—she talks about the “excesses of feminism”—and never considers that it might actually be wrong about some premises. Partly this is because Daum herself is a leftist who shares some intellectual roots with today’s activists.

Mostly Daum professes to be simply uninterested in questions of existential truth or actual right and wrong. “It wasn’t just ‘truth’ I was after. It was that pesky nuance thing,” she explains. She wants greater personal freedom, including the freedom to hold complicated or contradictory opinions (she clings to “our basic human right to be conflicted”). She also wants the freedom to draw the lines where she thinks they should be drawn—namely, at “real” chauvinism—without bothering to explain why today’s leftists shouldn’t enjoy the same line-drawing privileges. She dislikes the new left’s purist approach not so much because she thinks it’s flat-out wrong, but because its lines are just a little too crisp. She wants murkiness. She declares that “in the end, to be human is to be confused.”

This “let life be messy” dogma buys Daum a lot of wiggle room. She can breathlessly praise the Intellectual Dark Web—Jordan Peterson and Bret Weinstein are particular favorites—for their willingness to “dispense” with the “anticipatory self-inoculations from criticism” (by prefacing a talk on sexual assault, for example, by endlessly repeating that that rape is real and terrible). But when George Will wrote a column characterizing victimhood as a “coveted status that confers privileges,” he was “essentially correct and yet incredibly stupid” for failing to offer those same obligatory concessions. (In The Problem with Everything, Daum herself burns many pages on the requisite liberal catechisms.)

[Word by Word, SJW’s Are Changing America]

She can concede that young feminists, leveraging their “thin skin as their most powerful weapon,” are performing a “brilliant move of jujitsu.” And yet sixty pages later, she declares these same fragile women “put those men on pedestals they might not have been on to begin with,” thereby “doing a jujitsu move against [themselves].” Daum’s love of contradiction and complication sits ill at ease with her complaint that the new left, too, can be self-contradictory.

If clarity versus murkiness is the main divide between Third and Fourth Wave Feminists (and along with them, leftists and new leftists), Daum attributes that divide almost entirely to technology and natural generational shifts: “The world has changed so much between my time and theirs that someone just ten years younger might as well belong to a different geological epoch.” She allows she might be particularly sensitive because just as the new left gained ascendancy, her marriage fell apart. But for the most part, she blames “aging and feeling obsolete,” being an “oldster,” becoming an “official” member of “Team Older Feminist.” She attends her 25-year college reunion and comes away mourning, “Oh, the irrelevance! The obsolescence! The creak of aging out before you even get old.”

This is either a brilliant rhetorical move or a fatal flaw. Does Daum intentionally veil her criticisms in her own personal story, knowing that young leftists credit “lived experiences” with far more weight than they do outright arguments? Does she call for moral murkiness because she calculates that articulating a counter-position is too aggressive for activists who plug their ears at naysayers?

Or is she really admitting that her older leftism—superior though she believes it—lacks the moral standing to mount a serious offense to today’s left? That once her generation embraced moral relativism and discarded “truth” as meaningless, they practically invited the next to see themselves as the personal arbiters of right and wrong?

[A Fantasy for the Sexes]

Or perhaps it’s both. Daum tells the story of interviewing potential apartment-mates while a graduate student in New York.  One, a thirty-something man, suggested he buy the food if the female roommates do the cooking. Daum found it hilarious. Such a chauvinist did not merit outrage. He was outdated, “a human-shaped dust bunny being swept, before our very eyes, into the trash bin of history.”

The implication is that today’s fragile feminists have inadvertently rescued the chauvinist from those trash bins, rehabilitating him into an ever-present, even necessary, character to serve as the foil for their feminist narrative. Score one for older feminism. And yet, one can’t shake the sense that Daum fears she is now the one headed for the trash bins of history. She, along with the rest of her generation, leaned heavily on “outdated” and “old-fashioned” as synonyms for “bad.” Now she’s vulnerable to those same charges. That leaves her just one more problem in the vast web of the problem with everything.

Rachelle Peterson

Rachelle Peterson

Rachelle Peterson is Policy Director at the National Association of Scholars.

7 thoughts on “A Feminist Bothered by ‘Everything’

  1. Taking Ms. Peterson’s critique at face value, Meghan Daum is a conflicted idiot.

    That’s better, we might suppose, than being a flat-out idiot …at least she occasionally — in that conflicted confusion — finds some truffles we can appreciate. But beyond her very understandable disagreement with so-called 4th Wave Feminists and their Fainting Spells, she otherwise seems remarkably clueless.

    She “questions the vaunted statistic that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted while in college”?? Questions it? There’s no reason to question it — it’s absolutely 100% totally wrong. It’s like saying I question whether the moon is made of green cheese. Rather she should reject it completely, without hesitation, and with, preferably, a loud guffaw. It’s unreal; it exists only in #metooish fever dreams and the funding plans of Title IX 6-figure professional activists. Even the most casual of examinations would reveal exactly how fundamentally false the assertion (bedrock for two major White House “Rape and Sexual Assault” initiatives back in 2014) was and is. The Clery Stats (a nationwide data compilation of all reported (not proven) sexual assault incidents on campus tell us that across 1500 campuses…and 12M students….there were approximately ONLY 3000 some reported incidents (included in that count, a butt being grabbed on a dance floor). That is an incident rate of NOT 20%….not 2%….not even 1%….but rather .05%. Calculated over a 4 year college career, that gives us a probability that any given female student will experience what she might describe as a sexual assault on her college campus at .2%.

    Or, taken from a different angle… the suggested 20% sexual assault rate (the one headlined by Title IX, #metoo, “The Hunting Ground”, et al) – if it were real – would dethrone the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the ‘rape capital of the world’….replacing it with….yes, the American College Quad. Per those stats, it’s MUCH safer for a woman to be in the Congo (where the rape rate runs only at 1%) than to be an undergrad at PolyTech State U. As a matter of fact, it would even have been safer to be a female trying to survive in the Götterdämmerung which was 1945 Soviet-occupied Berlin (an estimated 100,000 women raped….many 20-30-40 times each; a rape rate estimated at 7%) than to be CoEd Suzie going to her college orientations. These comparisons are insane, of course, but they illustrate the absolute insanity of the “1 in 5”.

    Ms. Daum suggests that if it’s legitimate to decry “toxic masculinity” than equally we should feel free to critique “toxic femininity”. And though here, her logic is impeccable, she misses the central point, skips by it entirely. Masculinity is not toxic….just as Femininity is not toxic. So called ‘tradition gender roles’ are not toxic. What IS toxic is the sleight-of-hand which associates a list of bad behaviors with a targeted gender, as though it is the nature of the male to be somehow poisonous and destructive. Not only is such a blind assertion not true, it is dangerously divisive, extraordinarily sexist, and generally cruel. It ghettoizes an entire population as somehow ‘subhuman’.

    It is not the biological fact of “man” which is toxic….. it is that certain types of behavior which ARE toxic can, indeed, be linked to men…just as they can be equally linked to women….or linked to Blacks….or linked to people from Iowa. The fact that Iowans can display toxic behaviors does not create nor can it justify the idiocy of a label like ‘toxic Iowaness’.

    By shifting the focus of our concern from the problem behaviors to the sex (or color or geographic location) of those who display them we ‘criminalize’ half the population. And — by so doing — we trigger the idiocies we now find everywhere…all pushing the notion that we must somehow feminize men to remove the toxicity (a kind of social / cultural neutering). This is insane.

    She rightfully talks about nuance. And yes, that is clearly missing from the Feminist Manifestos issued in record fashion by every Title IX/Gender Studies bureaucrat. But more importantly what is missing is the common sense recognition that sexual interaction (especially in any extended adolescence) is a full-contact-sport. Not only can we expect all the metaphorical bumps, bruises, nicks, and bloody noses that any full-contact sport delivers, we exponentially expand that ‘injury report’ to include all the misunderstandings, the miscommunications, the clumsiness, the uncertainty, the eagerness, the horniness, the loneliness, the desperation, the confusion, et al which is the world of any 18 yr.old, living independently on campus, for the first time. Throw in a keg of beer and a bunch of jello shots and you have a guaranteed recipe for regret & hurt feelings…anger and broken hearts. The shocked understanding that one is being used is never pleasant. But that does not make the User a criminal….no matter how much the Use-ee feels like a victim.

    If Ms. Daum wishes to highlight her ‘bother’, better that she be bothered by what is truly bothersome. Better still if she more fully recognized the nature of the beast she seeks to wrestle. The infantilization of women which is fundamental to the 4th Wave Feminist Thesis (women cannot be responsible for themselves; women are not accountable; men are naturally too powerful) is absolutely unacceptable. The misandry which characterizes #metoo/Title IX Sexual Assault (especially on campus) is intolerable. Men do not require de-masculinization. Sex does not require the Nanny State to review signed mutual affirmative consent forms prior to a Saturday night date.

    There is no technological or generational divide which separates 4th Wave Feminism from anything. Rather what separates is the degree of unmitigated stupidity & ill will we see, today, so consistently displayed. Long past time we all grow-up.

  2. “The implication is that today’s fragile feminists have inadvertently rescued the chauvinist from those trash bins, rehabilitating him into an ever-present, even necessary, character to serve as the foil for their feminist narrative.”

    No, the implication (which Daum grimly wills herself not to notice) is that today’s fragile feminists are inadvertently validating every one of the old arguments used by the “chauvinists”. They are making the case, by example, for treating women as flighty, averse to rational argument, and governed by solipsism and emotions.

  3. What’s going to be interesting is watching all of these feminists go through menopause. They will suddenly realize that they no longer can have children, they don’t have a husband with whom they shared their lives so far, and no man wants them.

    They will face growing old alone, with no one but their cat to love them.

  4. I can’t help but wonder what if the man was a terrible cook? Some men — and women — are. And in NYC, I imagine purchasing the food would include the physical labor of lugging it home on the subway, something that might not be fun in “heels.”

    Wasn’t feminism supposed to be about treating women as people? Aren’t relationships supposed to be about building on individual strengths?

    Or is the price of feminism having to choke down terrible food cooked by someone who freely admits that he isn’t good at it?

    1. Indeed. And perhaps an equitable exchange of goods and services ( I buy, you cook ) also smacks of capitalism and is therefore repugnant to SJWs.

  5. “Mostly Daum professes to be simply uninterested in questions of existential truth or actual right and wrong.”

    I abandoned her book when she declared Brett Kavanaugh guily: not on the basis of any real evidence but because, well, that’s just how she felt. And further, she seemed quite sure of her conclusion.

    For a supposedly non-fiction work, it seemed remarkable narcissistic. I could tolerate that, somewhat (it’s hardly news that some authors are narcissisists), but I could not comprehend that a non-fiction author would proudly admit- in print!- to reaching a serious conclusion solely on the basis of having doubleplus ungood bellyfeel.

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