Feminist Author Assails Peers for `Heterophobia': Sees Anti-Male Bias in Harassment Laws

Article excerpt

A longtime feminist charges that "heterophobia" - which she defines as "fear and antagonism" toward men and heterosexuality - is driving much of today's sexual-harassment law and policy.

Daphne Patai, author of the new book "Heterophobia: Sexual Harassment and the Future of Feminism," says the roots of heterophobia lie in "extremist" feminist literature, with which she became familiar when she was a professor of women's studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

"Somewhere along the line, the feminist criticism of patriarchal institutions derailed into a real, visceral, and frightening antagonism toward men and a consequent intolerance toward women who insist on associating with them," she writes.

In her book, Ms. Patai says "heterophobia" is the engine behind "some truly dreadful" sexual-harassment laws and policies she says are sweeping the nation, on college campuses and in the workplace.

"Sexual-harassment legislation is an instrument by which the micromanagement of everyday life is being undertaken. The real aim is to change the relations between men and women in a fundamental way," she writes.

Ms. Patai, who is married, put it this way in a telephone interview Friday from her Amherst home: "Feminist literature promotes the image [of heterosexual sex] as [a practice involving] a predatory male and an innocent female victim. . . . There are feminists who write that heterosexuality is unnatural and some who argue that even having consensual [heterosexual] sex is not right, as women are lying to themselves" about enjoying it.

Ms. Patai, now professor of Brazilian literature at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, says such thinking dominates what she calls the "sex-harassment industry" and is incorporated into legal decisions.

Some feminists agree that heterophobia exists in the women's movement but insist that it's not prevalent.

"There is definitely an academic feminist contingent for whom that line of thinking is primary," said Martha Burk, director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Policy and editor of Washington Feminist Faxnet.

"But these people do not represent the feminist movement any more than Gary Bauer [a social conservative who is a Republican presidential hopeful] represents all churchgoers," Ms. …