The surprising lack of anger regarding gender relations

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:

I was too young to have any encounters with the feminist militancy of the 1970s. I caught the fading light from that scene in the late 1980s. I worked at Macks Apples and the apple pickers there had a long tradition of hiring one of their own to be the full time cook, because if we each tried to make our own meals, the kitchen would be destroyed in chaos. It was best if we all kicked in $25 a week for food and to pay the cook. There were 30 of us most years, so that was about $700 or $800 a week. More than enough. For some reason it became normal for us to hire radical lesbian feminists as our cooks. I remember they had real anger about gender relations, and they were part of my youthful education.

I was surprised when that anger seemed to suddenly disappear from the USA, in the early 1990s. One day I was in Barnes and Noble and I saw the book Good Will Towards Men. I thought, “That is true, it does seem like women suddenly have good will towards men.” There was a shift in the public discussion. This was the same era when Susan Faludi wrote “Backlash” — things were not getting better for women, if anything they were getting worse, and yet the anger seemed to vanish. There was a shift regarding which gender was on offense, and which was on defense. If the 1960s and 1970s and 1980s had been marked by angry gender relations, the next 20 years would be marked by the opposite. Women avoided the label “feminist”. Women went out of their way to make clear that they had no problem with men in general, just occasional men who were the exception to the rule.

The last few years have seen some interesting developments. The word “feminist” is much more popular now. Superstars like Beyonce can call themselves “feminist” and they don’t have their careers instantly ruined, which is a big change from 25 years ago. And if one looks, one can occasionally find someone saying “Men are a fucking plague“, which sounds like a line from the 1970s.

What’s interesting to me is the 20 year stretch, starting in the 1990s, when the anger some women had towards men seemed to disappear from public discourse. I’m not just talking about in the newspapers, I mean, even on LiveJournal or MySpace or any other online space where people expressed their thoughts, you’d have a difficult time finding anyone who expressed anger towards men as a class. It was always “Men are okay, but this one particular man did me wrong.”

Since that earlier era of feminist militancy, the whole stretch through the late 1960s and into the 1980s, since all that disappeared for awhile, I wonder if the current mobilization around gender justice might also disappear? Will there be any progress, or will people simply be angry for awhile, and then, after 20 years, will they start to apologize for having been angry?

A similar cycle has played out for each type of revolutionary activity. France had a revolution in 1789, 1830, and 1848, but in between each of those revolutions the country suffered intensely conservative reactions, during which it was common for people to apologize, profusely, for ever having been angry with the social order.

I wonder what causes people to apologize for their anger? I know in my own lifetime, it wasn’t because anyone put a gun to their head. I recall the mood in the late 1990s, when myself and friends would discuss gender. The women would go out of their way to emphasize that they had no problem with men as a class. There was no hint of the anger that had been there 20 years before, or which would reappear 20 years later. Yet one could hardly say that women were treated as equal citizens in the 1990s.

I’ve always been interested in history. All of my life I’ve studied revolutions and social movements. Yet I still can’t say I understand the dynamics, that cause a society to shift in one direction for 20 years, then another for 20 years, then back again for 20 years.

It seems that people need a tremendous amount of validation before they feel comfortable expressing their anger in general terms? They have to belong to a community that tells them that their anger is okay. Once they find such a community, that community might allow them to nurture their anger, sometimes to an unhealthy degree. But it is a rare individual who has the confidence to simply be angry.