Des Moines Register Executive Editor Carol Hunter has never been much of a free thinker.
So I wasn’t surprised when she approached me one day in 2014 to have a heart-to-heart about “the continuing problem” of newsroom gender equality. Known liberal that I am.
“Gender equality is still a big problem here,” Hunter confided in me, thinking she was preaching to the choir. “I’ve got to find a way to do more to advance women in the newsroom.”
Sadly, I’m the kind of old school liberal who thinks feminism is still about equality - not female supremacy. One with an unfortunate affinity for painful truths.
"What nonsense," I blurted out. “Gannett (our parent company) has a female CEO in Gracia Matore and a female chairman of the board in Marjorie Megner. The Register has a female regional publisher in Laura Hollingsworth, a female editor-in-chief in you, two of the three managing editors are female now, and more than half the reporting staff.”
Carol looked hurt.
Why wasn’t I playing along with her politically correct narrative?
Why did I have to have this unfortunate attachment to factual information?
“Shoot,” I continued like the proverbial bull in a china shop. “This didn’t happen yesterday. My class at Columbia J-School in 1990 was 74 percent female.
"Last time I looked equality was 50-50," I said. "We're way past that now. If there’s a gender equality problem in journalism it’s that there aren’t enough men in the field any more."
Cue smoke from the editor's ears.
The notion that women are still under-represented in the news industry is a convenient fiction, which is rooted in the larger social narrative of “women as forever victims.” Like so many modern allegations of gender inequality.
Is there still gender bias in the United States?
Absolutely, but it exists in both directions now. And the vestiges of our sexist past which hurt women are going away quick, fast and in a hurry, while those which hurt men remain.
Hardly a formula for equality.
I join my fellow feminists in applauding the courageous women like Rosie McGowan who have exposed the repulsive behavior of powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, Roy Moore and Matt Lauer. However, I lament those who have leveled forcible sex with consensual sex and sought to criminalize all American men.
Pushing everyone with external genitalia toward the Republican Party is neither my idea of a winning political strategy - brought to you by the same clueless elites who gave Hillary her "basket of deplorables" - nor a formula for equality.
American feminism continued to drift toward the supremacist behavior, group bias and open hypocrisy of The Patriarchy this month when NBC replaced Matt Lauer on the Today Show with Hoda Kotb, shifting the lineup from three women and three men to four women and two men.
The move comes at a time when there are all-female anchor teams at CBS This Morning, The View, and The PBS News Hour.
What's the message?
Sexism isn't sexism when it favors women.
It seems like the national scandal over the sexual coercion of rich men has pushed our society to an inflection point in the quest for equality. However, instead of equality the result is a new form of female entitlement. One based on the lingering stereotypes of women as victims and men as villains.
For true equality to be achieved, these stereotypes must be consigned to the social garbage dump of history.
Nothing is more detrimental to true equality than the painful truth that some women are now seeking privilege, instead of equal accountability. And nothing supports that view more than the lower standards for personal accountability women continue to enjoy in our society.
It is the single biggest benefit of being female in America.
I was reminded of that painful truth this morning as I read the news of the day about Kaylene Bowen-Wright, a 34-year-old Texan charged with injury to a child with serious bodily injury. She is presented as a victim - just like her 8-year-old boy. Not as a human monster who took him to Texas hospitals and pediatric centers more than 320 times in a misguided bid for attention.
If an American with external genitalia had behaved the same way they'd be much more likely to be portrayed as a criminal in the public forum, instead of a victim.
What could be more sexist than this yawning gulf in personal accountability or more indicative of the new normal in which sexism isn't sexism when it favors women.
It is the same kind of group bias which once dictated that a suspect's race was only relevant in newspaper crime stories when they were black. We were just as blind to cause and effect back then, and just as wrong.
Think about it.
Our society is quick to view male teachers who have sex with their students as villains. Female teachers, not so much. They get to be mentally ill.
Quick to view women whose careers were hurt by refusing Harvey Weinstein’s unwelcome sexual advances as victims. But to label those who enabled future abuse by playing the game as villains, not so much.
Quick to suggest male executives are to blame for the gender pay gap. But female executives – not so much. As if ruthless executives with internal genitalia would never boost profits by keeping female salaries low, or give a negative performance review to a new mother to pressure her into working more. They get to be victims of the glass ceiling.
We’re quick to lock up male predators. Not so much with the female predators. They get to be mentally ill.
Take serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed 17 boys and young men from 1978 to 1991.
Victim or villain?
What about Susan Smith, who drove her car into a South Carolina lake in 1994 with her two baby boys in it because they made her less dateable. Before blaming their disappearance on the proverbial carjacking by a random black guy.
Victim or villain?
What about cult leader Charles Manson, who never killed anyone while his girlfriends slew nine strangers in 1969.
Villain or victim?
And what of Manson cult members Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, who actually committed those murders.
Victims or villains?
Our society’s tendency to see women as victims in the scenarios above is part of our social programming as Americans. It’s also one of the biggest remaining obstacles to real gender equality.
The best quote on the topic comes from feminist Nina Hartley, a retired porn star who refuses to play the victim.
"The idea that a woman could choose, on purpose, to perform in pornographic videos for her own reasons still goes deeply against the notion that women are somehow victims of male sexuality," she said. "That they're delicate flowers who need the protection of a good man or the law."
So why do so many other self-proclaimed feminists still turn a blind eye to this form of female privilege?
Why are they not clamoring for equal treatment, regardless of whether it brings American women benefits or burdens?
It has to be because so many women on the left now believe sexism isn't sexism when it favors women.
This form of group bias is no different than the misguided idea that men make better cops and firefighters than women. As if there are no exceptionally weak men and exceptionally strong women.
The same kind of obvious sexism still permeates our family court system, which has ripped apart tens of millions of families in the past 50 years by vilifying working class men and reducing them to financial servitude.
Don’t take my word for it. Ask any woman whose sons have been through a divorce and they’ll tell you the institutional bias against poor and middle class men is absolutely shocking. It's one reason why 27 percent of fathers have no further contact with their kids afterward.
Judges think nothing of blocking laid off workers from requesting temporary modifications of their child support payments to the state, stripping them of their jewelry and driver's licenses before a packed courtroom, and locking them up for contempt without so much as a public defender to represent them.
Preferably in front of their kids.
It's a ridiculous shit show.
I’ve got a friend who recently retired from U.S. Special Operations Command after 15 years, much of it in Afghanistan and Iraq. He's a great guy who signed up right after 9/11.
During all that time his wife never worked, even after they got a divorce and their two girls left home for college. He's expected to cover the cost of tuition for these young adults, who no longer speak to him.
He's also required to continue to support his ex-wife for the rest of her life. Even though she's in her 40s, healthy, well rested and perfectly capable of working and functioning as an adult.
Now, try to understand that state of affairs in the context of one of the left's most powerful arguments for legalized abortion, which is that fetuses are "parasites." Ergo, women should not be compelled to carry them to term.
I'm pro-choice. So I'm not suggesting this argument is wrong. However, the parasite logic should also apply equally to men who are forced to serve as financial hosts for exploitative women.
My friend’s ex-wife and adult children are perfectly capable of working and making their own way in the world. So why is he still obligated to continue to subsidize them, if not because our society believes sexism isn't sexism when it favors women.
Who does this willful inequality serve?
It doesn't serve progressive men like me who believe in equality, and modern professional women need no such protections. They don't need handouts. They stand on their own. Proudly.
What's left, but the religious extremists and the militant fems who don't want true equality. And the toxic elites whose extreme wealth makes a joke out of the alimony and child support requirements which bankrupt working class men.
Bottom line, there are a lot of injustices in American society right now and they don't just happen to women. Although you'd think so from the disproportionate treatment accorded male and female victims in the public forum.
Take the unfolding national scandal over rich men abusing their social standing and business connections to pressure ambitious women into sex. I hate to rock the bullshit boat, but these old bulls love to prove the normal rules of civilized behavior don't apply to them and they fuck everyone over to do that. Not just women.
That means offshoring American jobs to Mexico, China and India; forcing employees to work overtime for free; and burdening loyal workers with low wages, bullshit benefits and draconian social media policies. But yet the only thing we care about in America is when some wrinkled sithlord like Harvey Weinstein tries to get some play from someone like actress Salma Hayek.
You know, the wife of billionaire François-Henri Pinault and his $23.9 billion fortune.
What's the moral of the story?
Rich people matter and so do those they're attracted to.
The rest of us?
Not so much.
This kind of thing didn't just start happening.
I was working for the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1995 when our female bureau chief sent me to court to verify the amounts owed by the guys on the state's Top 10 Deadbeat Dad list for our area. The term originated for wealthy men who refused to financially support the children they fathered, but is now applied almost entirely to those who can't find work or are no longer able to work.
I found a strange thing in all the case files. All of the guys on the list were "pro se," meaning they were representing themselves. They weren't rich guys hiding their wealth, because rich people don't go to court without an attorney. Only poor people do that.
I called my editor, thinking we had a scoop, but she had no interest in it. Like Carol Hunter, she was too busy telling the same dated story about female victimization over and over - as if nothing had changed in our society with the passage of time - to see the new trend staring us right in the face.
So much for news being the first draft of history.
There are a lot of comforting lies about gender inequality in American society right now and the biggest one is that it always works against women. As if no woman has ever advanced herself professionally by exploiting the crippled libido of an unattractive man in a leadership position. Or secured a competitive advantage by using her sexuality to secure a better job or make a big sale.
We all know this is bullshit. So why does our society cling to these comforting fictions?
No one seems to know. My sense is that feminists work to address the obvious injustices which impact them, and ignore everything else. Just like every other special interest group.
The problem with that approach is that the goal of feminism is supposed to be equality. We're supposed to be working to eradicate the American caste system which elevates rich men and their kids above everyone else. Not replacing their tyranny with the tyranny of rich women and their kids.
However, some feminists are adopting an increasingly supremacist tone in response to the naked identity politics of the Trump Era. One which embraces the idea that sexism isn't sexism when it benefits women.
Their open misandry leaves precious little room for progressive men of modest means in the movement. Just as Trump's open misogyny alienates principled women on both sides of the political aisle.
It's a goddamn shame.
Because we used to be better than this, and it wasn't that long ago.
Question: When those of us on the Left emulate Trump, isn't that a victory for Trump?
Victor Epstein is a principled liberal, a feminist and a journalism lifer. He edits The Cynical Times, a nonpartisan news and satire website devoted to the faltering middle class.