Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pat Robertson Interviews Bill Bennett; Feminist-Bashing Ensues

Former Secretary of Education and Drug Czar Bill Bennett just released his new book, The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood, a collection of essays, letters, and poems meant to encourage Bennett's vision of manhood. The Book of Man is divided into chapters about men in war, play, work, prayer, political life, and with women and children. On the October 26th edition of The 700 Club, Pat Robertson interviewed Bill Bennett about his new book, and the two had disdainful things to say about feminism and modern males.

At the beginning of The 700 Club segment, Lee Webb introduced The Book of Man at the 18:05 mark as follows.

"What truly defines a man? Generations ago, masculinity may have been easier to define. Men were men, and honor, duty, and valor were expected. But these days, the lines are often blurred, from the feminist movement of the 1960s to current gender debates, boys are left with a confusing choice."
Revealingly, when Webb spoke of the days when "men were men," military images and a scene from the film The D.I. flashed across the screen. However, when he spoke of "blurred" lines, images of feminist marches and Chaz Bono appeared on the screen. The intent, it seems, is to equate masculinity with militarism, and to conflate feminism and transgender status with confusion about masculinity.

During the interview, Robertson praised The Book of Man, and Bennett spoke proudly of content from Pericles, Churchill, Reagan, and profiles of living soldiers. Bennett's emphasis on military leaders, and the fact that an entire chapter of The Book of Man is devoted to military-themed content, again suggested that he equated masculinity with militarism.

Bennett argued that gender signals are blurred and that people no longer understand what it means to be a man. Feminism and the gains it has bestowed upon women have frightened men, who have sunk into irresponsibility, he insisted. At the 20:37 mark, Bennett had this to say.

"[Feminism has] changed the terms of discussion. It's frightened a lot of men. It encouraged women. You know, we said, Pat, we said 'you go girl,' and the girls went, and now for the first generation in history, women graduate from college with more achievement, more education, more ambition then men do, and a lot of the men are thrown back on their heels. What do the men do? Well, unfortunately, one of the answers is they play video games ... Girls, young women complain about this, boys who will not take responsibility. And I think the answer--of course, the answer's Biblical, but I point to the founders as well. They thought three things were necessary for a boy to become a man: industriousness, work, marriage, and faith. Those are the anchors, and those are the things that bring boys to manhood. What feminism did, I think, Pat, was confuse the debate to some extent by saying those expectations that we have of boys, the kinds of responsibilities that they will need to take up as men, we're not sure we need them anymore, 'cause we're not sure we need men anymore. Well, we do need men."
Bennett provided no evidence for alleged widespread irresponsibility among males, other than citing a statistic that men are playing more video games. To boot, he seems to see academic success as a zero-sum game, in which gains for women mean losses for men. Bennett exhibited even more anxiety over successful women when he later said, "Fine. All power to the women and the girls, as long as we don’t confuse roles and the differences in genders."

At the 22:42 mark, Robertson fretted that a matriarchy might erupt if men don't assume their correct role (a strange anxiety shared by Doug Phillips in a talk at the 2011 CHAP convention). In response, Bennett claimed that feminists supposedly want real men -- as he imagines real men -- for marriage and protection.

ROBERTSON: What’s this going to do to society, though, if men don’t take their places as men, and if suddenly there’s a gap and women and we have a matriarchy. What will it do ultimately to society?

BENNETT:  I think it can hurt society, maybe grievously. Interestingly the feminists are not celebrating this Pat. They want men too. They might want to rail against this and they may want to talk about , you know, stereotypes of man and male domination and so on, but women want men. They want men for that strong arm, they want men for that protection, they want men for a partner in marriage and so it’s something that has got very blurred and what I try to do in this book is remind people of things that are true. And to the boys, as you very well said, the array of things offered on TV and elsewhere is very confusing, from macho stuff to gay culture to all sorts of things. What I got here is a point of view that is time tested, based in tradition that will get boys to manhood.
Bennett's stereotypical straw man image of feminism suggested that he'd had little exposure to real-life feminism. Has Bennett ever read anything written by feminists? Or ever talked to them in real life? I thought. Also, Robertson's anxiety over a coming matriarchy again suggests a zero-sum vision of the world, in which gains for women equal losses for men, and an egalitarian society is unthinkable.

Furthermore, Bennett's comments suggested a facile understanding of women. Has he considered that lesbians might not want to marry a man, or that some women might not want to marry at all? Has he considered that some women might want a friend and partner in a husband, rather than a "strong arm"?

Bennett's vision of manhood equates stereotypical masculinity with responsibility, ignoring the fact that a man can have one without the other. To boot, his masculine ideal excluded large categories of men, which troubled me. By describing gay culture as a supposed source of gender "confusion," he assumes that gay and bisexual men cannot embody healthy masculinity. Furthermore, by enshrining heterosexual marriage as a foundational element of manhood, he excludes gay, bisexual, asexual, and single men. By listing faith as a pillar of manhood, he excludes atheist and agnostic men from his vision of ideal masculinity. (If we assume that by faith, he means conservative Judeo-Christian faith, billions of men from other religious backgrounds would be excluded too.)

Robertson and Bennett yearn for a bygone era of rigid gender roles, unable to accept that notions of gender have changed. (Compare David Barton, Kenneth Copeland, Angus Buchan, and Doug Phillips.) What Robertson and Bennett fail to understand is that gender is a flexible social construct, and as such it can take limitless forms. Simply put, Bennett's model of patriarchal, militaristic, heteronormative masculinity is unhealthy and will no longer resonate with all men. There are many ways for men to forge healthy masculinities without shoehorning themselves into some stereotypical masculine role. A man can be responsible and hard-working while also being fair, nonviolent, and egalitarian. A man can be a peace-maker, an innovator, a hero, a questioner, and countless other things. A man can be straight, gay, bisexual, or asexual. A man can pray at a church, meditate with a sangha, or sip java at a coffeehouse atheist meeting. And, he can be secure in his masculinity WITHOUT treading on women. Contrary to what Bennett thinks, well-adjusted men do NOT feel threatened by successful women.

Times have changed, Bill, and both sexes are better for it.

Hat tip to Right Wing Watch. To watch the full episode, click here


  1. Well said! I applaud your conclusion!

  2. Woot woot, Ahab!

    Robertson and Bennett really should move out from that rock they're living under.

  3. it doesn't surprise me in the least bit that bennett has to ask what defines a man. i'm sure he has no personal experience that would inform him.

  4. I also agree with the conclusion you reach. Even the title of Bennett's book gives me the creeps. Macho men have always struck me as shallow.

  5. Great article, Ahab.

    So, feminism is driving men to play video games? That's about the most silly suggestion I've heard in a long time.

    And the way they talk, it would seem that they believe a tenet of manliness is war. For certain, sometimes war is necessary, and our soldiers should be exalted, but war itself represents humanity in one of the worst aspects of our existence. It represents a fundamental breakdown of communication, a fiercely stubborn will, and a lack of empathy leading to piles of corpses at the leadership of (typically) men.

    Furthermore, what they seem to really not understand is that in their times of yore, they were coming from a period when most of the jobs required hard physical labor, which (generally) men were better suited for. But in today's job market, intellectual capital is much more valuable than sweat equity, putting women on the same playing field with equal footing. In that sense, and given that there is a trend towards the US dropping behind the other countries in academics, you would think that they would embrace the enlarged pool of intelligence by including women in the workforce in order to be globally more competitive.

  6. Cognitive Dissenter -- Don't hold your breath. Their misogyny is pretty well entrenched.

    Nonnie9999: :: chuckles ::

    Doug -- I can do without the supermacho types too.

    Wise Fool -- Yeah. I've heard fundamentalist speakers lament the supposed lack of responsibility among men now, but they don't provide much evidence.

    Bennett's conflation of manhood with militarism was disturbing. War, while sometimes necessary as a last resort, should never be glorified. To boot, this excludes men who cherish peace from his ideal masculinity.

  7. I dunno, Pat, I kinda think that if we had a matriarchy, the world would be a better place...

  8. Knatolee -- Poor Pat would faint at that suggestion, methinks!


All comments are subject to moderation. Threatening, violent, or bigoted comments will not be published.