Keeping aggression out of assertion


THE controversy over Angela MacNamara's remark that: "The new breed of tough, assertive women are evoking violence in men who do not know how to cope, has brought the whole question of feminism to the fore once again. It is exciting from a woman's point of view and how we will deal with it will determine whether or not the women's movement has come to full maturity.

Are we big enough to take the constructive criticism levied at us, to engage in dialogue with those among us who hold different views - and agree to differ in certain areas?

The main interest of the women's movement was the eradication of injustices against women, which isn't the same as female supremacy, and the movement has had a degree of success. There is now a greater sensitivity among men, particularly in the area of partnership with their wives, and an increase in confidence in young women as they strive to develop their natural gifts in many fields. This is a good thing for society. Balance in politics, education, sport and so on is necessary and can bring out the best in men - as well as women.

There is a danger, however, that too far east is west. We must be ever vigilant that we haven't crossed over the divide, the thin line that exists between assertion and aggression. The danger is there and it behoves us to take it seriously.

I believe - and I would be supported in this view by many psychologists and psychoanalysts around the world that what we are experiencing is a sort of crisis of identity where the traditional roles of the sexes have become somehow mixed up.

Drs Glenn and Alice Wilson in their book, The Great Sex Divide, write about the very male characteristics of aggression, domination and destruction and say that these can only be tamed by their counterparts, which by their very nature can only be found in women. Has the new breed of women unknowingly and unintentionally - and some would suggest probably of necessity actually taken on those very male characteristics to become what feminist Gloria Steinem once called "the men we once wanted to marry"? Is this takeover of the masculine qualities threatening to some of our fine young men? And should we also ask is it threatening to some of our women?

A world full of tough, aggressive, macho people, going around asserting their authority in a tough, aggressive, macho manner isn't the type of world one would wish on one's worst enemy and is far from the dreams and visions of the original women's movement.

When a woman makes an attempt to seek the source of the aggression which permeates our society today and is labelled as ridiculous, ranting and patronising by other women, the alarm bells should start ringing loud and clear.

The knee jerk reaction of some feminists to Angela MacNamara's remark displays a certain amount of immaturity and is regrettable because she isn't the only one saying that the new breed of assertive women evokes violence in men. Many one time protagonists and front line feminists are suggesting that there is a certain validity in the theory. Among them is Christina Hoff Sommers who recently wrote a book called Who Stole Feminism: How Women Have Betrayed Women.

Ms Sommers makes the distinction between "equity" feminists and "gender" feminists and believes that the women's movement has taken the wrong turn. She sees some women as beings as self absorbed as well as too punitive of dissenters. It is obvious from the response of some feminists to Angela MacNamara's statement that there is at least a half truth in this. Women must not be afraid to face reality. If something is perceived to be askew with the movement then let it be discussed. And if the women's movement has got it wrong then let's be big enough to admit it and do something about it.

What all our aims should be at this point is to recognise and celebrate the admirable complementarity of the sexes and to move forward together to a happier, more contented, harmonious family life.

Genuine feminism must cater for all women and promote their different viewpoints. There is a feeling out there that this is not being done. The response to Finola Bruton's statement during the Clinton visit about the non recognition of the work of full time mothers proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that some women feel marginalised by the women's movement. There must be room for all women, not just women in the workforce and women at home but women in all walks of life. How can feminists expect to have equality of opportunity with men while they continue to marginalise those of their own sex who see things differently?