Born-Again Feminism

Article excerpt

Byline: Kathleen Parker

How a movement that's grown stale in America can draw new inspiration from its abaya-clad sisters in the Middle East.

Among life's surreal experiences, few can compare with finding myself seated on a baroque bench, one of dozens lining the perimeter of an ornate drawing room in the palace of Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak in Abu Dhabi, chatting it up with three Ph.D.-endowed women sheathed in black abayas, sipping sweet hot tea and eating candies. "I think you Americans do not enjoy being women as much as we do," said one, peering into my face with an earnestness one usually associates with grim news delivered to next of kin.

Say what?

Pressed further, she allowed that American women, in their quest for equality with men, had surrendered some of their uniquely feminine traits and attendant pleasures. The occasion was a luncheon in honor of then-first lady Laura Bush given by Sheikha Fatima, widow of the founder of the United Arab Emirates, on the first stop of a four-country tour to launch a partnership to fight breast cancer. From the U.A.E. we traveled to Kuwait, where we met courageous women who, having just been granted the vote the year before, had recently run for public office. None won, but they ran.

It was an inspiring trip, as one might imagine. For me personally, having just turned in the manuscript for my book Save the Males, it was life-altering. Not to be rash, but I dare say I've become a born-again feminist after decades of feeling that feminism had veered off course. When the National Organization for Women turned out to protest golf-club memberships, I figured it was time to alphabetize the CDs. All done here.

I stand by my book's argument that males need to be saved to the extent that, too often, equality has become a zero-sum game in which girls' success has meant shortchanging boys. Like my friends in Abu Dhabi, I believe that American women have paid dearly for the privilege of having a voice in the conduct of their lives. Have they failed to enjoy being women? To each her own determination, but I would submit that in trying to find a place in a male-ordered world, women have paid more than their fair dues, much to the detriment of their mental health and their families.

But meeting women of the Middle East--breaking bread with them, seeing beyond the clouds of fabric, bearing witness to suffrage on the ground floor and the courage required for women to sally forth--combined to awaken something long dormant. Perhaps it is a matter of stakes and battles worth fighting. The struggle for free expression in cultures that condone sacrificing women to men's honor gets the blood pumping again.

I've been fortunate to meet some of the women included in this magazine and have been mesmerized by their intelligence, grace, and courage. While we Westerners have never had to contend with a Taliban or a theocratic state that treats women as subhuman, we are reminded that the rights we take for granted are not exactly growing mold.

Nevertheless, the feminism of my youth did grow stale and, over time, often became silly. Or so it seemed to me and, apparently, to many other women who became mothers and workers and knew that the real world of juggling career and family wasn't a calling but a curse. We were trying not just to be as good as men, but to be men. I have the neckties to prove it. It turns out that women make lousy men, a fact for which we should feel grateful rather than apologetic. As a group, we are worse at some things, but better at others--the very "others," it also turns out, that happen to be driving today's economy and that of the future.

Consequently, in the U.S. today, women hold a majority of the jobs, and dominate in colleges and professional schools. They also hold a majority of managerial and professional positions, and about half of all accounting, banking, and insurance jobs. …