Published September 21, 2017 in Warp & Woof
Misogyny: It’s a Matter of Degree …
Last month, I published a piece entitled “A Feminist Manifesto (from a Heteronormative Male Who Raised Only Sons).” In it I attempted to outline the long history of patriarchy in all Euro-Asian societies, beginning with the Neolithic revolution of agriculture more than 10 millennia past. But, I offered a hopeful glimpse of a future finally freed from those cultural burdens. This would be a future where science and technology will have rendered most or all excuses for patriarchy invalid, coupled with gender fluidity as well.
But, what about us men? What can we do to understand this “Third Wave Feminism” (or even a fourth wave)? It seems recognition of the arbitrariness of gender assignment is what finally produced that third wave. Will it help men overcome their fears of women … metastasized over all those millennia of patriarchy?
In the West, it is primarily social convention, not legal impediment, that enforces the secondary status of women. What roles should women expect to play when living with men? What degree of misogyny need they accept in their partners? Any?
In the modern era, men must try harder to hate women. Social conventions have been gradually breaking down for at least two centuries. The famous misogyny of Aristotle or Jean Jacques Rousseau would not be possible today, except perhaps in the diseased minds of men’s rights activists. As opportunities for interaction with women have increased for men, so has the need for some to make a point of rejecting and degrading them. Maintaining the norms of patriarchy requires more effort. Men must seek assistance from social institutions that still support those norms, like certain churches, or business sectors, and those institutions are getting harder and harder to find in mainstream culture.
Episodes like 2014’s “Gamergate”, where an online community of video gamers decided it wanted to purge itself of women, or the recent “Google Manifesto” where a Google employee made a public pronouncement of his atavistic patriarchal values, and was fired for them – making him a conservative cause celebre – illustrate the desperation of some male subcultures. Ordinary couples seen on HGTV’s “House Hunters” sometimes feature a male who lists among his requirements for a home an isolated “man cave.” We are supposed to chuckle, ultimately accepting, with his wife, the immutable and entirely justified desire for exclusion from association with women.
That “man cave” phenomenon illustrates two important features of modern misogyny: 1) benevolent sexism; or, paternalism — the need to protect women from the rigors of a harsh world – and, 2) internalized misogyny, where women feel self-loathing of their gender – men really are better than they are. A man has a right to retreat to a refuge where he can vicariously enjoy violent sports not appreciated by his wife, or perhaps conduct business with other men when he wishes his wife to be “protected” from it (a deceptive business practice). Or, his wife knowingly allows his escape because she feels she is so unpleasant and unrewarding to be around (the ancient stigma of menstruation).
While having roots as old as patriarchy itself, the sexual submission of women to men has also become less clear-cut in modern times. As I pointed out in my “Feminist Manifesto” last month, the sexual revolution of the mid-twentieth century made many traditional sexual mores unjustified by modern medicine and technology. What didn’t change was the moral burden of monogamy – indeed, both men and women now had to grapple with deeper questions of relationships and intimacy. Many men (and women) were not up to the challenge. As “alternative” approaches to relationships between the sexes became more public, many began to question whether women really needed men at all! Feminists may have been in the vanguard, but the point wasn’t lost on men. As men began doubting their value to women, things like male performance anxiety became epidemic. Technology responded to demand here, too. But, technology couldn’t handle the deeper fears of men.
Women’s free choice strikes at the heart of what is known as “toxic masculinity.” This is the doctrine that “real men” must always be aggressors, must never show emotions, and will ultimately win their mates simply by overpowering them. It persists mostly because it is reinforced by family and perhaps some male-oriented cultural subgroups (construction workers? Police?). Women may buy into the “machismo,” but they may not – and, there is nothing men can do about it. A typical complaint of a lonely young male might be that he just can’t seem to find an “old-fashioned” girl. He assigns virtue to his toxic masculinity.
“Virtue” is the root of their narcissism. They may attend church regularly, but don’t really believe they are sinners. They devise elaborate arguments to justify their behavior, ultimately coming to the same conclusion: they aren’t wrong, the other person is. It’s amazing how far some people can go with this narcissism – even to being elected President!
When it comes to relationships with women, the narcissist will often approach an existential feeling of emptiness. He can’t find the “other,” only himself. It’s possible that the high suicide rateamong males (considerably higher than among females these days) is related to this phenomenon.
Of course, economic competition with women can’t be ignored as a contributing factor to misogyny. He sees more women in the workforce and fewer clear advantages of “maleness” in most jobs (see Google Manifesto case). And, he sees a general trend in capitalism for increased productivity not leading to increased wages. Increasingly, ordinary middle class living standards require two incomes. More and more, the only thing protecting men in high-paying jobs, vis-à-vis women, is cultural tradition.
The Worst Offenders
Gender roles are primarily learned from parents, with social convention a strong secondary factor. But, even with the rapidly changing social conventions we are now experiencing, we can’t easily change those behaviors and values imprinted from toddlerhood. This applies to women as well as men. You always are expected to be like your parent of the same sex, or perhaps “better” than them. Boys are exposed early to an Oedipal challenge from their mothers – they must compete with their fathers for mother’s attention, and perhaps with their sisters as well. In the most dysfunctional cases, values associated with “rape culture” might be inculcated into boys disturbingly early.
Rape culture seems to be a combination of toxic masculinity, narcissism, and inability to express anger at women except by objectifying them, then overpowering them – even while they are unconscious. It surely must be the most extreme case of misogyny we see today. It seems those demon memes many of us heard as young adults – “no means yes,” or “mixed messages” — were never challenged successfully. And, certainly, when authorities still have an uncanny tendency to blame the victim when assault is reported, it’s easy to see how this can feed internalized misogyny in women, as well. Activists in the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM), being narcissists, will naturally buy into this – even to the extent of lobbying for greater protection from false accusations of rape. Why? Because, in their imaginations, there is a vast feminist conspiracy of “misandry” seeking to undo them and their narcissism. It’s defensiveness.
The Way Out
What is the way out of serious misogyny, for a conscience-stricken man who really wants to change? He is experiencing deep loneliness and isolation in the world he’s forced to inhabit — the world composed of 50% women. His “bros” are deserting him – they’re moving on, dude! Yet, his ingrained toxic masculinity prevents him from engaging a female “significant other” in a meaningful relationship. He must learn to be open with her, so that she may respond in kind. Women have been known to be open with each other, far more than men – it may be their defense. He must learn to be more like a woman! If he’s successful, he will likely decide that it’s women who are the stronger sex. Then, he can take his place in life with the humility appropriate to a more egalitarian society. Men and women are in it together.
Lately, much attention has been given to the rise of groups of angry young white males. They seem to be resisting the pull toward a more egalitarian society. They are saying to society (which they may brand as the “PC culture”) that there is nothing wrong with masculinity – and seek to segregate themselves from women competitors. They are “male separatists.” There may even be a corollary with white supremacist organizations. When they are drawn together, often via social media, they tend to exaggerate their toxic masculinity, and project it onto other ideological positions – generally racist and conservative ones – where they may be welcomed.
Some writers, notably Angela Nagle, have hypothesized that the reinforcement in those online communities (from “Gamergate”) may have started as a joke, but gradually morphed into a real belief system. These became the alt-right young men in white polos we saw in Charlottesville last month. She would say there is, indeed, a connection between misogyny and white nationalism. In fact, it started with misogyny. Misogyny is the last-ditch defense of patriarchy – and, thus, has become the struggle of our age.