The Magazine

No Country for Burly Men

How feminist groups skewed the Obama stimulus plan towards women's jobs.

Jun 29, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 39 • By CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERS
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Here is a clue to what has happened. The op-ed attacking the "macho stimulus plan" invoked Abigail Adams's famous admonition to her husband to "remember the ladies" at the Constitutional Convention, and concluded, "Obama would be wise to do the same and balance the package." It is, of course, preposterous to think of Abigail Adams, or any of the illustrious feminists of yore, proposing to "balance a package," much less opposing an effort to put unemployed men back to work. The historical allusion is revealing.

Within living memory, the American feminist movement was a valiant, broad-based vehicle for social equality. It achieved historic victories and enjoys continuing, richly deserved prestige for its valor and success. But it has now harnessed that prestige to the ethos and methods of a conventional interest group.

Recall that the Obama administration has taken extraordinary steps to insulate itself from the machinations of organized lobbyists, establishing strict limits and procedures for contacts and communications of every sort. Yet its first major policy initiative was transformed by an orchestrated barrage of emails, op-eds, online petitions, open letters, faxes, phone calls, scripted handshakes, and meetings. And the administration went to great lengths to satisfy its petitioners that their proposals had been adopted directly into law. The administration (and Congress) must have been thinking that groups such as NOW and the Feminist Majority were crusading for social justice, when in fact they were lobbying for their share of the action, to the detriment of urgent necessities.

A Washington feminist establishment that celebrates the "happily-ever-after" story of its victory over burly men cannot represent the views and interests of many women. Those men are fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, and friends; if they are in serious trouble, so are the women who care about them and in many cases depend on them. But NOW and its sister organizations see the world differently. They see the workplace as a battlefront in a zero-sum struggle between men and women, where it is their job to side with women. Unless the Obama administration and Congress find the temerity to distance themselves from the new feminist lobby, the "man-cession" will deepen and further mischief will ensue.

Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. She is the author of The War Against Boys and editor of The Science on Women and Science, forthcoming from AEI press.