Many more holes to fill....

Here's something which has been on my mind.

I had a long discussion about feminization (pussification, perhaps?) with a female friend the other day, and found myself troubled by a few things that do not quite fit the equation. I'll give just one local example.

Not far from where I live, there used to be a beautiful swimming hole. Located in a low, flat area where this particular creek takes a bend, the water is naturally deep (around seven to ten feet) and forms a natural swimming hole. This is the kind of place where my dad learned to swim, and similar places were made legendary by countless American authors. (For all I know, this was one of them; it's a real classic. Much like this one.)

But enter the modern age, the modern legal system, and modern insurance companies. You are not allowed to have "dangerous conditions" on open land, and you are not allowed to have what the law defines as "attractive nuisances." For if you do, and if someone drowns, you are liable. As far as I know, no one had ever drowned at the particular swimming hole in my area.

And now, no one will swim there again. The insurance company made the owner fill the entire hole with hideous cinder blocks -- so that the water is now only a few inches deep.

Try swinging on your favorite inner tube tied to a tree and leaping into that! You won't drown, but you'll be lucky if you don't break something. (And, well, sorry to inform you, but you can be held liable for the trees too -- even in Tennessee. Can Texas be far behind the "tire"less, treeless tort trend? Or will there be swimming hole tort reform?)

As she is an outdoor type who enjoys hiking and camping, my friend was just as outraged as I was about the filling of the swimming hole. Yet she understands as well as any man that this is the way of modern America. Asked whether she thought feminism or feminization was responsible, she questioned the idea of blaming one sex over another -- noting that most of the people involved (lawyers, judges, insurance executives and underwriters, and the contractors who filled the hole) were in all probability men.

Was the filling of that swimming hole part of the feminization of America? Is Tort Law "feminine"? If men create and enforce such a legal system, does it make sense to say that they have "feminized" things? Doesn't the latter term imply that men are imitating women, even though women might not have had the idea and are not to blame? Is it fair to blame one sex for decisions taken by society as a whole? Is all weakness (which this expansion of liability clearly is) to be considered feminine? Why?

I am not denying the outrage here. As a libertarian, I believe in a doctrine called "assumption of the risk." I learned about it in law school, yet today it seems to have little or no meaning. The reason is that there are huge numbers of lawyers, all competing with each other for work, and all dedicated to the endless expansion of liability. Feminization may be the result, but the women didn't do it.

And some of them have had their fill too.

posted by Eric on 11.11.03 at 11:48 AM


I don't know nearly as much about the feminist movement or the law as I would like, but don't many feminist post-modernists advocate the deconstruction of "masculine" structures -- possibly including notions of assumption of risk. I imagine this is what some people refer to when talking about the feminization of Western civilization: not merely the literal brainwashing of men into a female mindset (though that happens too) but the shift from traditional Western/Modernist concepts and structures to post-modernist, "post-masculine" (or whatever) paradigms.

Tim   ·  November 11, 2003 10:16 PM

I think there's an appalling lack of defined terms in the "feminization" debate. The forces that influence how "safe" or "unsafe" our society becomes are based on cultural and economic factors that can't be pinned down to traditional concepts of masculinity or femininity. For instance, liability issues are driven by our legal system (and its financial goals) far more than by our collective concepts of manhood (as is evidenced by shows like "Jackass").

Certainly, there are some in the US who think our culture is becoming too feminine; yet from my perspective, with all of the masculine bravado we're seeing from NASCAR to WWE to the war in Iraq, it seems that Western manhood (a-la Elizabethan England) is still very much alive and well here, and that the term "too feminized" might translate more roughly to "at all feminine in any capacity whatsoever".

The "no girls allowed" sign has been torn down. This isn't a matter of how much femininity is too much. It's the assumption that any femininity at all is undesirable.

This is an assumption that literally begs for challenge.

John Kusch   ·  November 12, 2003 5:00 AM

One of the reasons I prefer the more vulgar term "pussification" is that it implies something else entirely -- a lack of backbone, a lack of willingness to stand up for self, family, community and country, and consequently the refusal to take responsibility for one's own actions. The ridiculous litigiousness of our society that has caused the swimming hole to be filled in is an outgrowth of this denial of responsibility and the mistaken belief that we must be protected from ourselves.

Analog Mouse   ·  November 12, 2003 12:02 PM

I would use the term "emasculation" or "castration" instead to denote our weakness, the _desexualization_ of Western culture as such, not only the men. If Mr. du Toit had written "We are becoming a nation of eunuchs" I would have agreed with him completely. But instead he wrote "We are becoming a nation of women" and I could not disagree more violently. For a gynosexual man to have such contempt for the very women to whom he is (at least presumably) attracted shows to me a deep contempt for his own sexuality, which reflects and/or produces a deep contempt for his own self, despite his boastings. And that is precisely the problem! I blame the Christian churches for fostering that anti-sex, anti-self mentality which is destroying us.

Steven Malcolm Anderson   ·  November 12, 2003 12:39 PM

Thanks for all the comments. There still seems to be a kneejerk tendency in some quarters to decry as "feminine" (or homosexual, or less than "manly") all unpopular things, without much regard to definitions. Queen Elizabeth I was female, as was Margaret Thatcher. One would think that women in power would be a feminizing influence -- whatever feminizing means. The modern women's movement seems wedded to socialism. (Sometimes, so does much of the "gay movement.") But does that make socialism feminine? Or gay? Why?

Eric Scheie   ·  November 13, 2003 5:36 AM

Eric, THANK YOU for this post.

I prefer the term 'pacification' myself, although 'lawyerization' (??) applies to most of Eric's issues.

Persnickety   ·  November 14, 2003 7:13 PM

The real problem is that there are too many laywers - it's too profitable a profession. And this comes from/encourages too much government. Lawyers bend the police power of government to serve individual ends, including their own.

Who gets to write all the laws? Politcians, most of whom are laywers. Who gets to interpret the law? Judges, who are usually laywers. It's a pretty cozy arrangement, all in all.

It is said that the adversarial system of law is an improvement over it's predecessors (trial by combat, trial by ordeal); but I still think the current system is seriously flawed. I just don't have a serious replacement - except possibly a combination of the transparent society and a perfect truth machine - i.e. a technological solution.

But as long as we have all these lawyers running around who need to make money, then we all end up paying for it with more than just money - we pay with our freedom as well.

(This is offered with no intent to insult you personally - but it's what I think.)

Eric E. Coe   ·  November 15, 2003 9:35 PM

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