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Saturday, April 1, 2000

Ceasefire! Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality by Cathy Young

An Appealing Case for Gender Equality

Free Press • 1999 • 360 pages • $25.00

Cathy Young has not lost any of the spunk that drove her as a youngster to question the absurdities of daily life in the Soviet Union and impelled her family’s immigration to the United States. Ceasefire!, much like her first book (Growing Up in Moscow) displays an uncanny ability to puncture the shibboleths of a dominant culture, this time the contradictions of radical feminism. In it, she skewers many of the sacred cows of contemporary feminism, while criticizing conservative traditionalists as well. All in all, it is a tour de force.

Once its earlier goals of achieving legal and social equality for women had been largely achieved, feminism took a lurch to the left. Abandoning equal rights, which Young backs fervently, the new incarnation of feminism glorifies women as a class while demonizing men, exaggerates any remaining disadvantages women may experience while ignoring impediments unique to men, and routinely distorts statistics to portray women as victims in desperate plight (and therefore worthy of special political dispensations).

Young amasses evidence aplenty to counter the radicals’ “Phony Statistics Hall of Fame.” For example, the National Organization for Women claims that many judges and attorneys are still biased against women and therefore that fathers are granted custody 70 percent of the time when they seek it. As she does with each of the radicals’ favorite statistics, Young traces that claim back to its origins. She finds three sources: a book by a feminist widely criticized for its sloppy statistics and “penchant for hyperbole,” another book that claimed a similar percentage but for uncontested cases; and a gender-bias study that actually found that women who filed for sole custody received it 75 percent of the time, as opposed to 44 percent for men. Digging deeper, Young finds data from state studies that clearly display the overwhelming advantage that women enjoy both in contested and uncontested custody cases.

Throughout the book, Young evinces a sympathy for men that radical feminists will find appalling. Rather than being the historical victors in a war between the sexes—the foot-soldiers of the patriarchy that oppresses, rapes, sexually harasses, and underemploys women—Young contends that men are condemned as a sex with little regard for their individual differences or for the impediments that they suffer as men. Men die on average seven years earlier than women, have no choice about engaging in a lifetime of work to support their families, commit suicide four times as often, suffer ten times as many work-related fatalities, receive much harsher prison sentences for identical crimes, and are the only group in society that it is permissible to caricature.

Declining to endorse a nascent men’s movement that would champion men’s status as victim, Young issues a clarion call for all individuals to be treated as human beings. In a saner age, this admonition might sound trivial, but in ours it is nearly revolutionary. Instead of a National Organization for Women, she envisions a National Organization for Gender Equality. This equal-rights and equal-responsibility movement for both sexes would be built on what she calls (with tongue firmly in cheek, no doubt) a “Twelve Step Program.” Among the twelve are such recommendations as: recognize that behaving badly is not a monopoly of the male sex; insist that advocacy groups get the facts straight; acknowledge that both sexes are from earth (not Venus and Mars), with large similarities and smaller differences; presume that fathers are equal parents with mothers despite their different roles; stop treating women as an interest group with claims that are more legitimate than men’s.

Although Young’s attack is directed mainly at feminist radicals, traditionalist conservatives do not emerge from Ceasefire! unscathed. Pro-patriarchy conservatives who revel in the supposed inevitability of male domination or define women principally as sexual creatures are roundly condemned. F. Carolyn Graglia’s Domestic Tranquility: A Brief Against Feminism, a huge hit among traditionalists for its glorification of women’s role as homemaker, mother, and contented sexual soul mate, “rivals any radical feminist tract in shrill extremism and sheer nuttiness.” What Young finds most disagreeable in Graglia’s vision is that without striving or aspirations of their own, women are less than human. Young embraces a more proactive life for women. Built on serious pursuits outside the family, “it is a life of doing and not just being.” For women who choose to put children above career, she proffers “respect,” but doubts that such a choice, if made over an entire lifetime, will lead to the fulfillment Graglia expects. (Editor’s note: See Candace Allen’s review in the February Ideas on Liberty.)

Individualists will find Young’s vision appealing. As for traditionalists, Ceasefire! is filled with so much evidence and common sense directed against radical feminism, the short chapter attacking traditionalism should be easier to bear.

Ellen Frankel Paul is professor of political science and philosophy and deputy director of the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at Bowling Green State University.