Elisabeth Badinter: 'It takes time to make a man'

Article published on Oct. 24, 2007
Article published on Oct. 24, 2007

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The Paris-based French philosopher threw a proverbial spanner in the works in 2003 with her provocative book ‘Wrong Route’. From confusion to regression, she gives a ruthless account of feminist thinking

The neo-macho is a she! Relationships between men and women have got anything but easier since the seventies feminist revolution; immature men are running from their responsibilities confronted by successful virile women, or thirty year old ‘baby losers’. Writer, qualified philosophy teacher, mother of three and activist from the word go; Elisabeth Badinter, 64, has no problem going against the dominant grain of thought. After throwing doubt on maternal instinct and predicting male pregnancy, she attacks the feminist ideology, claiming that it keeps women in a state of permanent victimisation.

Today’s men are lost, stuck in an identity crisis amid little daily weakness’ and chronic immaturity. Has thirty years of feminism finally rendered them impotent?

The feminist movement is the only non-bloody revolution of the twentieth century. That doesn't mean that the procedure wasn’t difficult or that it went off without complication. Why are so many men suffering from ‘Peter Pan’ syndrome these days? For a start, they’re subconsciously bearing the guilty conscience of their ancestors and are permanently under accusation. The annual enquiry released every 10 March concerning battered women, for example, claims that one in ten women is a victim of conjugal violence, which is a shameful use of statistics. We create a male image that is so negative; I’m hardly surprised that young men run away. Contrary to the radical American feminist movement which tends to exaggerate the victimisation of women, very few men are swines. Whether it was intentional or not, we have effectively castrated men.

You evoke a ‘taming of sexuality by a new feminist moral order’. But do the trivialisation of porn and the degrading image it gives to women go against this idea?

Porn is criminal where non adults are concerned. This adult recreational activity may become a model of sexuality for younger people, which is unacceptable. But from there, we don't need to go as far as censure: it’s not just men that watch porn. I think that a lot of women find themselves in the traditional pattern of accepting the caricature of male domination. If this archaic role distribution didn’t, in some way, satisfy our sexuality, surely we wouldn't need it? This brings us to the question of feminine masochism. It is an important sexual drive.

You say that there is no male domination, but a lack of will by women to assert their autonomy...

Female domination exists as well. I am amazed by young women’s massive resistance to the traditional feminist model of equality. Some part of her probably does want it, while the rest hopes to hang on to the not so unfavourable former image, probably because it characterises unambiguous identities. Why are more brilliant, qualified women choosing to stay at home to raise a family? If it isn’t a form of power, at least to some degree, how do you explain that 80% still take on the household chores?

Even if they have been brought up by feminists, the number of men volunteering help with cries of enthusiasm is pretty few and far between...

The whole problem of political and professional inequality stems precisely from this inequity in the home. It’s true that a lot of men don’t do their bit, which is kind of their way of standing up to the ambient misandry. There has however been noticeable change since the fifties, when men wouldn’t have lifted a finger to help. A true egalitarian model would be a form of joint responsibility. The situation is improving, even if it is still far from adequate: there will always be swines or selfish types ... You know, it takes time to make a man. And, by the way, it’s taking them longer and longer, 35 - 40 years.

In your 1997 book ‘XY: On Masculine Identity’ you predict that men and women will become ‘twins of different sexes’. Whereas we actually get the impression that there has never been such divergence between the two...

We can’t make changes to the male identity without creating great frustration and confusion. Men have always been terrified by women, in particular by their sexuality. But before they seemed sturdy, hard and strong; an archaic model of power before which girls became poor creatures, dreaming only of setting up home and starting a family. The majority of today’s women are successful and endowed with this incredible assertion: they have both the ultimate capacity to bear children, and the means to acquire financial or professional power in the outside world. And what is left for men? It’ll take a good half century more of adjustments.