- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2003

Eliminate affirmative-action programs. Do the same with the sexual-harassment industry. Refuse to accept bias against boys in public schools.Those don’t sound like the talking points of your typical feminist, but while Wendy McElroy isn’t typical, she is a feminist.Mrs. McElroy advocated her feminist agenda in Washington last week, but it wasn’t at the annual National Organization for Women (NOW) conference in town.

Instead, her remarks were made to a very different audience — one largely of men — at an event sponsored by the National Free Men Coalition, a group that could be described as masculinist, the opposite of feminist.

She said men have been silenced, threatened and abused. They have been slighted and dismissed by the law as the result of a crusade led by a brand of feminism she terms “gender feminism,” the goal of which is not equality with men, but advantage over them, she said.

The founder and editor of IFeminists.com, Mrs. McElroy is part of a growing movement to redefine the gender wars, seeking to dispel what she describes as a mythical belief that women are systematically discriminated against.

Men aren’t taken seriously as victims of domestic violence and sex abuse. Divorce and family courts are stacked against them. Health research for women’s ailments outpaces research for men’s illnesses in some areas. And public schools thought to disadvantage women, are, in fact, underserving boys.

NOW-style feminism, Mrs. McElroy said, is dead because “it turned the sexes against each other in the workplace and in academia.”

A NOW spokeswoman did not return calls for comment on Mrs. McElroy’s assertions, but many feminist scholars still contend that women are oppressed.

The director of research at the Women’s Research Institute, Barbara Gault, says that women have yet to reach pay parity in certain fields and that in careers such as construction, engineering and other math-dependent fields, men still dominate.

Ms. Gault conceded that more women than men are earning bachelor’s degrees, but she said women’s economic returns from education still trail men’s.

“There is no blatant discrimination in this day and age, but it’s subconscious,” she said. “I wouldn’t say that men need the catching up.”

But advocates for men say males are now the disadvantaged in many ways.

For instance, 90 percent of custodial parents in divorced couples are women, according to Dianna Thompson, a spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, a group that combats what Mrs. Thompson calls a bias against fathers in court.

Custodial mothers routinely deny fathers access to their children, and the men’s only recourse is to pursue additional court orders that could still be ignored, Mrs. Thompson said. It is a pattern of court battles most men can ill afford. It fuels a billion-dollar divorce industry, she said.

“We have a changing society,” Mrs. Thompson said. “Women are working, and men, for years now, have been taking on active roles with their children, and the courts haven’t caught up with that.”

Mrs. McElroy is pro-choice —”a woman’s body, a woman’s right” — but that view doesn’t keep her from advocating fathers’ rights. In fact, she is fighting for men to be able to avoid parental responsibilities, just as women can with abortions.

She said a father should be able to “relinquish all parental claim and responsibility, thus giving him the option to relinquish fatherhood on the same level the woman can relinquish motherhood.”

“If a women decides to carry a pregnancy to term, the man can be held legally liable for that person for at least 18 years,” Mrs. McElroy said. “The father has legal responsibilities that extend for nearly two decades. I don’t believe there should be legal responsibilities without rights, and yet responsibility without rights is what exists today for men in this area.”

Women have entered the conflict against NOW-style feminism, she said, out of affection for the men in their lives — their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons.

“I dreaded the possibility that the men I knew and respected might someday look at me as the enemy because I am a woman and nothing else,” Mrs. McElroy said.

One of the most prominent voices in the battle against radical feminism is Christina Hoff Sommers, author of “The War Against Boys” and “Who Stole Feminism?” Her research in education refuted feminist claims that girls were disadvantaged in schools.

“In the view that has prevailed in American education over the past decade, boys are resented, both as the unfairly privileged sex and as obstacles on the path to gender justice for girls,” Mrs. Sommers writes. “A review of the facts shows boys, not girls, on the weak side of the gender gap.”

Girls outnumber boys in advanced-placement classes, student government, honor societies, debate clubs and newspapers, Mrs. Sommers showed.

The Department of Education reports that in 2000, 8.5 million women were enrolled in college, versus 6.7 million men. The number of female students in graduate schools increased 57 percent from 1990 to 2000, far outpacing the 17 percent growth in male attendance.

What’s more, Mrs. Sommers pointed out, figures on suicide clearly contradict the view (put forward by Mary Pipher in “Reviving Ophelia”) that young women were suffering special psychological harm. Young men are far more likely to commit suicide than young women.

Meanwhile, women get first priority in health care, said Megan Smith, director of project development at the Men’s Health Network. Breast-cancer research gets four times as much funding as prostate-cancer research, she said, even though the two diseases’ incidences are nearly the same.

Furthermore, Ms. Smith said, women have special offices in several government agencies that advocate and specialize in women’s-health matters. Men don’t have one such office, but the network hopes to change that, she said.

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