Even a child can see that boys and girls are different. Unfortunately, what is obvious to most children and adults became the object of heated controversy in the 1970s, when a goofy new idea took root. A small but noisy band of feminists began insisting that the sexes were identical except for their reproductive apparatus, and that any uniqueness in temperament or behavior resulted from patriarchal cultural biases. It was a radical concept that lacked any scientific support, except that which was flawed and politically motivated. Nevertheless, the campaign penetrated the entire culture. Suddenly, professors and professionals who should have known better began nodding in agreement. No doubt about it. Males and females were redundant. Parents had been wrong about their kids for at least five thousand years. The media ran with the notion and the word unisex found its way into the language of the enlightened. Anyone who challenged the new dogma, as I did in a 1975 book titled What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women, was branded as sexist or something worse.
The feminist movement then took a new and dangerous turn. Its leaders began trying to redesign the way children were being raised (which is why the issue is of concern to us today, all these years later). Television talk-show host Phil Donahue and dozens of wanna-bes told parents day after day that their daughters were victims of terrible sexist bias and that their sons should be raised more like girls. There was great urgency to their message. Things had to change immediately! they said. Donahue's feminist girlfriend and later wife, Marlo Thomas, coauthored a best-selling book at about the same time titled Free to Be You and Me, which the publishers described as "the first real guide to nonsexist child rearing." It urged boys to play with dolls and tea sets and told them they could be anything they wanted to be, including (no kidding!) "grandmas and mommies." It featured dozens of poems and stories about role reversals, such as a mother nailing shingles on the roof, building new shelves in the family room, and working with cement. Meanwhile, Father was in the kitchen making breakfast. Every effort was made to teach kids that fathers made great moms and mothers were pretty tough dudes.2 The book sold several million copies. And the movement had only just begun.
Germaine Greer, author of The Female Eunuch, was even more extreme. She said the traditional family had "castrated women." She believed mothers should be less nurturing of their daughters because to treat them gently and kindly would reinforce sexual stereotypes and make them more "dependent" and feminine. Greer also insisted that children are better off being raised by institutions rather than parents. It is difficult to believe today that her book offering those and similarly outrageous views also soared to the top of all the best-seller lists. That illustrates just how culturally dominant radical feminism was at that time.
Perhaps the most influential of the early feminists was Gloria Steinem, founder of the National Organization for Women and editor of Ms. magazine. Here is a sampling of her perspective on marriage and child rearing:
We've had a lot of people in this country who have had the courage to raise their daughters more like their sons. Which is great because it means they're more equal. ... But there are many fewer people who have had the courage to raise their sons more like their daughters. And that's what needs to be done.
We need to stop raising boys to think that they need to prove their masculinity by being controlling or by not showing emotion or by not being little girls. You can ask [boys] ... "Whatif you were a little girl?" They get very upset at the very idea they might be this inferior thing. They've already got this idea that in order to be boys they have to be superior to girls and that's the problem.
[Marriage is] not an equal partnership. I mean, you lose your name, your credit rating, your legal residence, and socially, you're treated as if his identity were yours. I can't imagine being married. If everybody has to get married, then clearly it is a prison, not a choice.6 (Steinem married in 2000.)
All women are supposed to want children. But I could never drum up any feelings of regret.7
Think for a moment about the above quotes from Steinem, Greer, and the other early feminists. Most of them were never married, didn't like children, and deeply resented men, yet they advised millions of women about how to raise their children and, especially, how to produce healthy boys. There is no evidence that Steinem or Greer ever had any significant experience with children of either sex. Isn't it interesting that the media (to my knowledge) never homed in on that incongruity? And isn't it sad that these women were allowed to twist and warp the attitudes of a generation of kids?
Of major concern to the feminists was what they considered to be the "sexism" in children's toys. As with so many issues during that era, it was Germaine Greer who was most vocal. She said, "So where does the difference [between the sexes] come from? If it's all bred into us by people like toy makers, who steer boys toward these trucks, girls to the dolls, and by teachers, parents, employers—all the wicked influences of a sexist society—then maybe this is a social problem that needs to be fixed."
Great pressure was exerted on companies to "fix" the problem. I remember being contacted during that time by an attorney who asked for my help in defending the Sav-On drugstore chain. The corporation had been sued by a feminist attorney, Gloria Allred, representing the parents of seven little girls who, they insisted, had been emotionally damaged by their lack of access to certain toys in one of the stores. Allred said with a straight face that great harm was being inflicted on these children by the presence of two signs, Boys' Toys and Girls' Toys, placed eight feet above the aisle.9 A psychiatrist then testified (and was handsomely rewarded for it, I'm sure) that the youngsters had been deeply and irreparably wounded by Sav-On's "discrimination." No one asked why the parents of the children didn't simply take them to another store. Still, Sav-On caved in and agreed to remove the "gender-related" signs in their stores.10
Retailers of toys were thereafter put on notice that segregation of merchandise by sex was not to be tolerated. They got the message. For more than two decades, Toys "R" Us implemented a "gender-neutral" approach to marketing as demanded by feminists. It was not successful. Finally, the company administered more than ten thousand customer surveys to learn more about the preferences of children. It turned out that boys and girls were interested in different things. What a surprise! Armed with that information, executives at Toys "R" Us decided it was politically safe, at last, todisplay the toys in separate sections called Boys World and Girls World. This return to a traditional approach brought a storm of protest from the Women's Reproductive Health Initiative and the Feminist Karate Union.11 The company stood firm and other toy retailers followed suit. It made no sense to do anything else.
Christina Hoff Sommers addressed the flap over toys in her outstanding book, The War against Boys. She reported that Hasbro Toys tried to accommodate feminists by producing a new dollhouse designed to interest both boys and girls. That way they could sell twice as many units. There was, however, a slight miscalculation in the way children would respond. Girls tended to "play house," using the plastic structure in the traditional way. Their dolls got married, arranged toy furniture, had babies, and did the things they had seen their mothers doing. The boys played with the dollhouse too, but not as anticipated. They catapulted the baby carriage off the roof and generally messed up the game for the girls.12 Back to the drawing board.
Well, the unisex movement prevailed until the late 1980s when it fell victim, at last, to medical technology. The development of noninvasive techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging and PET scans, allowed physicians and physiologists to examine the functioning of the human brain in much greater detail. What they found totally destroyed the assertions of feminists. Men and women's brains looked very distinct when examined in a laboratory. Under proper stimulation, they "lit up" in different areas, revealing unique neurological processes. It turns out that male and female brains are "hardwired" differently, which, along with hormonal factors, accounts for behavioral and attitudinal characteristics associated traditionally with masculinity and femininity. It was these sexual benchmarks that feminists attempted to suppress or discredit, but they failed. Still, you have to admire their ambition. They tried to redesign half of the human family in a single generation.Book: Bringing Up Boys
By Dr. James Dobson