[Paleopsych] NYTBR: 'Women Who Make the World Worse, ' by Kate O'Beirne

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'Women Who Make the World Worse,' by Kate O'Beirne
Easy Targets

    And How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Families,
    Military, Schools, and Sports.
    By Kate O'Beirne.
    230 pp. Sentinel. $24.95.

    Review by ANA MARIE COX

    I was as eager as anyone to discover the individuals whom Kate
    O'Beirne, an editor at National Review, identifies as "women who
    make the world worse." While I fantasized about an exhaustive
    catalog - running, say, from female suicide bombers to Martha
    Stewart - I would have been pleased if her new book were just
    another haphazard laundry list on the order of Bernard Goldberg's
    "100 People Who Are Screwing Up America" or "The Sexiest Man
    Alive." Whether the inventory springs from Joe McCarthy or People
    magazine, the fake authority of this sort of hectic litany makes
    for diverting cocktail conversation, alternate schemes of
    organization and elaborate conspiracy theories. After all,
    Americans have been second-guessing official lists since the Bill
    of Rights.

    But O'Beirne does not deliver on expectations for a roll call of
    Republican enemies. Sure, she tosses invective at some specific
    (and predictable) targets, but for the most part the women in her
    book are less a real threat to the contemporary conservative
    project than a history lesson. Her salvos against such dusty icons
    as Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda and Catharine
    MacKinnon do all these women the enormous favor of making them
    relevant again. And, surely, anytime anyone recalls the deeds of
    Bella Abzug, an angel gets its wings.

    In chapters on child care, women in the military, women's athletics
    programs and education, O'Beirne dutifully catalogs the rhetorical
    (and occasional legislative) excesses of these high-profile
    activists and some of their less prominent sisters in academe. She
    recalls The Washington Post's refutation of the oft-repeated claim
    that Super Bowl Sunday brings a spike in domestic violence. She
    mocks MacKinnon's (decades-old) contention that "all heterosexual
    intercourse is rape." She collects arguments against the charge
    that women are paid less than men for jobs of "comparable worth."
    And she drums up outrage against elimination of high school
    wrestling teams under the duress of Title IX. We are frequently
    reminded that there are real biological differences between women
    and men. These are op-ed conservatism's greatest hits, a retro
    compilation one might market as "Now That's What I Call Culture

    O'Beirne did not compose these familiar tunes. She regurgitates
    whole pints of earlier books with similar arguments, particularly
    "The War Against Boys" by Christina Hoff Sommers and Daphne Patai's
    "Heterophobia." Copious quotations from Steven Rhoads's "Taking Sex
    Differences Seriously" form the backbone for her conclusion,
    amusingly entitled "Mother Nature Is a Bitch." O'Beirne's endnotes
    lack much in the way of citations of original research, but they
    are an excellent bibliography for anyone interested in the history
    of modern (or not-so-modern) antifeminism.

    Indeed, it is O'Beirne's desire to demonize feminists in general,
    rather than naming names, that really disappoints. When she's not
    picking off the old and weak, she's aiming for the broad side of a

    One of O'Beirne's few truly compelling arguments - though, again,
    not exactly an original one - attacks the idea of an electoral
    "gender gap" that runs decisively in the Democrats' favor: "There
    is no monolithic women's vote and there is no monolithic women's
    agenda," she writes (though she adds that the "feminized Democratic
    Party" has a big problem because it has lost its appeal with male
    voters). Would that she would give feminists the same credit for
    not being a monolith. I have considered myself feminist since I
    understood what the word meant, but O'Beirne's depiction made me
    reconsider. According to her, "feminists have been peddling the
    message that women should count on the workplace for fulfillment,"
    "classrooms have been turned into feminist re-education camps to
    stamp out all sex differences and smother the natural attributes
    and aspirations of girls and boys," and (as she puts it in her
    chapter on the military) "a woman being brutally killed alongside
    men is a long-awaited feminist dream of equality."

    Clearly, I've missed some meetings.

    In the age of the book-as-rant (see Goldberg, Ann Coulter, Al
    Franken and Michael Moore), perhaps one shouldn't expect better
    than O'Beirne's simplistic caricatures. Today American women have
    unprecedented access to educational and professional opportunity
    and to the machinery of power. O'Beirne, however, attributes
    women's progress not to any feminist agitation but to "the natural
    evolution of social expectations."

    Unfortunately, there is no such thing. Social change is often the
    product of confrontation between extremes. To depict one extreme as
    pernicious and all-powerful reduces real debate about equality into
    a cartoon about underarm hair. Feminism isn't always pretty (see:
    underarm hair). Without it, however, Kate O'Beirne would have been
    unlikely to have this book published - and most women would not
    have their own money to waste on it.

    Ana Marie Cox is the author of the novel "Dog Days."

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