The university professor began the first class of the semester by announcing that she was an "anti-imperialist, anti-heterosexist Marxist-feminist." She read us the famous quote from Robin Morgan, the leading feminist and former editor of Ms. Magazine, who said "kill your fathers, not your mothers." Seeing the students' shocked faces, she added "Kill is too strong. Hate your fathers, not your mothers." I guess she was a moderate.
One of the male students in the class, obviously feeling chastised, said the defense I've heard young men say hundreds of times--"don't blame us for what happened to women in the past--blame our fathers and grandfathers."
I've ruminated darkly over those words many times, and when thinking of my father and grandfather, I can't help but be struck by the special burdens they shouldered as men, because they were men, and how these special burdens have now become a blank space in our history.
Hate my grandfather? My grandfather was a milkman. A young immigrant who enlisted to fight in World War I out of gratitude to the country which had allowed him to escape Russian Czarist tyranny. A man who, wounded in the decisive Battle of the Argonne Forest in 1918, received the Purple Heart and the French Croix de Guerre. A tender father who stayed up half the night stroking the fevered brow of his sickly youngest daughter--a "daddy's girl"-- before going to work at three in the morning. A man who put his safety and even his life on the line during the violent union strikes and battles of the 1930s, because he believed that workers have the right to decent wages and living conditions.
Hate my father? The man who worked six days a week for 25 years yet somehow always had time to spend with me? Who never once let me down? Who worked 12 hour days when my sister and I were toddlers so he could ensure that we would be provided for? Who recalls sadly as he looks at his little granddaughter that he doesn't even remember what we looked like at that age, because he was rarely able to be home?
The successful feminist re-writing of the pre-feminist past as a virtual dark ages where men lived like nobles and women were their serfs is at the core of the "hate your father" idea. Tens of millions of male blue collar workers--who put their bodies on the line in the coal mines and steel mills so their wives and children could live in safety and comfort--have been turned into oppressors. Their wives and children, for whom these men sacrificed so much, have been turned into their victims.
Edited out of our history are the tragedies of millions of American men who were killed or maimed on what early trade unionists called the "battlefield of labor." The miners who died in cave-ins, explosions, or of black lung disease. The sailors and fisherman who died at sea. The oil refinery workers killed in explosions. The factory workers killed in industrial accidents. The construction workers who died carving train tracks and then highways through majestic mountain cliffs or the scorching desert. The construction workers who died building our bridges, dams, high rises, stadiums, and apartments.
All of them have been forgotten, in part because there is no natural constituency which would like to remember them--the right generally does not dwell on yesterday's struggling blue collar workers and heroic union men, and the left is beholden to the feminists, for whom any mention of men as special contributors or as victims is strictly forbidden.
The only credit left for men is the military, and even this has been partially hijacked. We now speak of "the men and women who fought and died in our wars" as if even one percent of our military casualties were ever suffered by women, or as if women were ever conscripted the way men were.
Feminists once excoriated our society--correctly--for ignoring the massive, hidden contributions of women in child-rearing and housework. They asked new and important questions like "Who cooked the last supper?" and, even better, "Who washed the dishes afterwards?" But we have now come full circle--men's special and unique contributions (hazardous jobs, long work hours, long commutes, time away from the family, etc.) are ignored, and any reference to them as a male burden is "sexism."
I thought of this recently when I took my young son to a large model train exhibition, one rich in 1940s and 1950s Americana. Looking at the huge displays of trains cutting through mountain peaks, of bridges and railroad trusses towering hundreds of feet above canyons and rivers, of towns and their factories and coal mines, of the sheer industrial might of the old America, I felt torn inside. I know that this was a world where many Americans were terribly mistreated--blacks, Latinos, some women, and often the working-class and the poor. Yet I couldn't also help but feel a tug of nostalgia as I looked at a world which men--through their ingenuity, strength, and raw physical courage--had carved out of wilderness. Men of my generation have endured relentless criticism, and even the best of us must struggle just to attain the moral status automatically granted to women. Yet in this older world, it seems, there was respect for men and the special sacrifices they made.
And perhaps someday, the professor's dictum "hate your father" aside, there will be some respect for the sacrifices my father and grandfather made, the uniquely male sacrifices they made. Hate my father? No ma'am!
This column first appeared on World Net Daily (4/8/02).
(Reprinted with the permission of SheThinks.org, a publication of the Independent Women's Forum)