Sex & Love

Are Overbearing Men a Feminist Issue? Check Your Pants for the Answer

Do you need a penis in your pants to speak your mind? That’s the rhetorical question Amy Alkon, self-proclaimed advice goddess, puts to activist guru Rebecca Solnit in response to Solnit’s Los Angeles Times op-ed suggesting that men—at least some … Read More

By / April 23, 2008

Do you need a penis in your pants to speak your mind?

That’s the rhetorical question Amy Alkon, self-proclaimed advice goddess, puts to activist guru Rebecca Solnit in response to Solnit’s Los Angeles Times op-ed suggesting that men—at least some men—are overconfident, overbearing boors who “crush young women into silence”:

Men explain things to me, and to other women, whether or not they know what they're talking about. Some men. Every woman knows what I mean. It's the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare… It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men's unsupported overconfidence.

To that, Alkon replies that she is a woman (last she looked) and hasn’t had any difficulty speaking up or fending off annoying male conversationalists:

But, wait. Let me check. (Peering down into pants and then panties) Yup, there's a vagina in my pants, which suggests I'm either a woman or there's a matched, escaped set of labia taken up hiding in my underwear. Most mysteriously, I don't seem to suffer the myriad conversational injustices from men that Solnit and so many other women apparently do.

In her blog, Alkon seems to enjoy taking on self-proclaimed feminists and accusing them of a victim-mentality. In this post, she suggests that Solnit is a Rip van Winkle feminist who forgot to wake up. Those days of talking about inequality, analyzing the structure of inequality, protesting against inequality—those are all in the past. In this generation, we don’t talk about how we are victimized and what we need to do to combat our victimization, we just “do it”:

…can you explain how I, who grew up in this culture, and presumably, drink from the same water supply as millions of other women, managed to become a woman who can muster the sheer courage to say, “Hey, ya big lug, lemme talk!”? I had no friends as a child, and became kind of a doormat as a result (desperate to be liked). I fixed that in my 20’s, and now, what I care about is whether I’m being true to what I believe in…which sometimes requires telling some blowhard to put a sock in it so I can be heard.

But wait. Alkon’s comment proves Solnit’s point. Alkon agrees: there are plenty of (male) blowhards out there who try to make women feel like doormats. Women need an awful lot of “sheer courage” to say, “Hey, ya big lug, lemme talk!”

Alkon can fight back against the blowhards because she has learned a shtick that works. It’s the Nanny’s shtick. It’s the bossy, brassy, Bette Midler shtick. It’s a Jewish shtick, agnostic advice goddess.

But does every woman have to be able to call men “big lugs” and elide subject and verb in order to get a word in edgewise? Do we all have to channel Barbra? That’s the question Solnit asks that Alkon doesn’t really answer.

The eccentric and unreadable French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan infamously suggested that all of human society was based on what he called the phallus. The “phallus,” Lacan explained, is not the physical penis, but the symbol of the social order, of the laws that govern relationships. No one can actually ever have the phallus, but those perceived as having it control society and its rules.

Solnit is, in essence, complaining that men don’t just have a penis in their pants—they have the phallus there too. Despite the trappings of an egalitarian society, men still are perceived as having symbolic control over the social order. As long as men feel they have that power, some of them are likely to wield it.

Perhaps Alkon has the right idea after all—women won’t have the freedom to talk until we can change the symbolic social order. It’s time to look in our panties, ladies.