In 1988, Michael Valpy, a journalist for the Canadian Globe and Mail, published an article about “male backlash against feminism” that strove to examine how women’s efforts to lessen inequalities in gender roles and narrow the gender gap in professional fields may lead to higher rates of female homicide victimization. The article presented the argument that men are uncomfortable with the growing number of women entering the professional working world and as a result, are more prone to reacting with violence to women who dare to venture beyond their traditionally domestic roles. Two professors, Rosemary Gartner and Kathryn Baker conducted a study which compared a model of the “gender gap” in 18 of the most industrialized countries with the rate of female homicide. They concluded that women have a “protective advantage against murder so long as they remained in traditional settings” because they do not run the risk of upsetting men in competition for the same job or accomplishment and they meet fewer strangers.
This is one of those ludicrous articles that usually makes me want to flip a table. But I held off in order to examine how this text relates back to The Female Man. Reading this article made me think primarily of Joanna, the character who describes herself as “the female man”. Although no one reacted with homicidal intent to Joanna’s presence in the workplace, her coworkers’ opinions were fixed because of her status as a woman. As such, Joanna felt that she had to reject her womanhood in order to be accepted or taken seriously. This is a trap. The sexism she experiences in the workplace is not a problem she has the responsibility to solve. Similarly, the argument in the article manages to place the blame entirely on the women and the risk they take by forgoing gender roles and leaving the home. Not once does the article examine how the number of female murder victims might reflect a culture of violent misogyny. Russ, however, does a tremendous job of exposing sexism for what it is, whether it’s obvious or more insidious. She helps the reader to understand that this kind of prejudice is not a consequence for ambitious women who don’t know their place but a result of our history and a shortcoming of our culture.