Tantaros On Modern Sexism: Women Are Still The Solution, But They’re Also The Problem

Stewart Lawrence | Consultant and policy analyst

Have women become their own worst enemies?  

That’s the provocative thesis presented by first-time author Andres Tantaros, a rising conservative media star at Fox Television until her abrupt departure from the network last month. Rumor has it that Tantaros’ headstrong personality led to conflict with other Fox employees. 

In Tied Up in Knots, written well before her recent departure, Tantaros all but confesses to a self-sabotaging streak. Her obvious talent for communications, her telegenic good looks, and her natural ease before the camera seem to have fueled a tendency toward unbridled status-seeking and vainglory. By her own admission, she’s not always a pretty picture.

In some ways the book reads like a mea culpa, but it’s also a public warning to other professional women to re-examine their assumptions about “success” — and change course. Feminism she says, has rightly taught women to pursue their rights, and despite vestiges of pay inequality, they have largely attained them, she says. But these historic gains have also come at a steep price. Women, she argues, seem to have forgotten that that they are still women – distinct from men — and have no need to emulate men at their selfish worst to get ahead. Rather than abandon time honored feminine virtues and behavioral standards – modesty and compassion among them — that actually set women apart, women should champion them, she says. In fact, they have to, if they want to be truly happy and at peace – and not just footloose and fancy free.

Tantaros’ thesis isn’t entirely new, and she makes no claim to originality. She frequently cites another talk show host, Steve Harvey, who has called upon women to change the way they treat men, for their own sake. Another source is Susan Patton, the “Princeton Mom,” who caused a stir – and a viral sensation – several years ago by suggesting that women, on balance, are happier in monogamous relationships and should avoid reckless sexual escapades and try to get married right out of college, if they can.     

To her credit, Tantaros isn’t calling for a return to the patriarchal world of the 1950s. She parts ways with fellow conservatives whom she believes are too often out of touch with important changes in American society over the past half century, many of them due to the rise of the women’s movement. It’s clear that Tantaros considers herself a feminist — but with an asterisk. She isn’t saying men are saints — far from it. But she has the temerity to suggest that women’s growing social power also demands more conscientious social – and not just political — leadership. When women trade in that power for an illusory sense of personal freedom and independence that they associate with men – everyone suffers, especially women, she says.  

Tied Up in Knots is not without problems. Despite citing an occasional report or study — for example, an intriguing Gallup poll which found that most women prefer to work for a man, not a woman – Tantaros relies far too heavily on anonymous anecdotes and sourcing with friends, colleagues, and ex-lovers as “evidence” of broader social trends. As a result, we learn a lot about Tantaros – she was the black sheep of a traditional Greek family with a stern father and adoring mother — but not much about the experiences of women of different cultural and economic backgrounds who haven’t acquired the wealth and privilege she enjoys. Many of her broad generalizations about contemporary women’s behavior and mindset, both in the boardroom and the bedroom, seem to be based on an exceedingly narrow “sample.”

And Tantarros’ view of men often borders on cartoonish stereotype. She expresses compassion for men who struggle to interpret the confusing cues they so often receive from prospective female mates. But she also falls into depicting men as little more than burping and farting, beer-drinking and porn-loving primates, who can only be properly “civilized” by women, especially enlightened women like herself. If most men are this hopeless — and most women so disengaged and unpersuasive – love and marriage have less of a real future than even Tantaros imagines.

Tied Up in Knots can be an infuriating read. Tantaros’ mix of insight and pettiness and her insistence on showing us again and again just how smart she really is – at one point she calls herself a “socio-political tour de force” — begin to grate early on. On occasion, she threatens to go off the rails completely, with bizarre and eccentric excursuses that a more attentive editor might have excised. Still, there’s a provocative argument here about the dark and ugly consequences of feminist excess. Tantaros may not be the most appealing messenger but she still manages to come off like a modern-day Cassandra – calling women, especially liberal women, back from the brink, before it’s too late — for all of us.

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