My Christmas present arrives early! Let’s Read “Spreading Misandry”, Chapter One
Posted by Richie on December 3, 2009
LET’S READ SPREADING MISANDRY
MISANDRY IN POPULAR CULTURE
Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?
This really isn’t the best way to begin a book designed to make people feel sorry for you.
Yes, they really do use that quote, about half way down the first page of chapter one. Solemnly engraved above it is another, less recognisable quote about ‘denouncing the teaching of contempt’, which the appendix informs me is from The Teaching of Contempt: The Christian Roots of Antisemitism. A quick glance back at the chapter title reveals that, no, I haven’t ordered Spreading Antisemitism by mistake. This is helpfully confirmed by the third and final quote, taken from Not Guilty: The Case in Defense of Men by David Thomas (‘a gem of a book‘, according to the clearly unbiased Martian Bachelor of Feminacentric America):
Western society is obsessed with women to the point of mass neurosis… Trouble is, people are so busy looking at the men on top of the heap that no one notices them when they fall.
Ah, so that’s why the authors need to hijack someone else’s anti-oppression rhetoric: It’s a lot less embarrassing. There are a great many eloquent, affecting things to be said about the persecution of the Jews, from the Babylonian captivity to 11th century pogroms to Nazi Germany and their legacy in the present, so when what’s to be said about your persecution basically boils down to “Men do run the world, but… some of them don’t!”, an understanding of antisemitism might inspire you to stop whining and get some perspective on what “persecution” actually means. But where us ivory tower liberal elitists see a pretty solid argument in favour of shutting up, Paul Nathanson and Katharine Young, the tag-team responsible for Spreading Misandry, see a prime opportunity for emotional manipulation: The first two pages of chapter one are dedicated almost entirely to dishonestly drawing parallels between antisemitism and misandry. And since there are no honest ways of drawing parallels in the first place, that’s some pretty fucking dishonest writing!
Why begin this book about men with these words about Jews? Because in our time, surprising though it may sound, belief in the full humanity of men has been dangerously undermined by stereotypes based on ignorance and prejudice, just as that of the Jews was.
Now, I’m writing this as I read the book. They haven’t mentioned any ways in which the full humanity of men has been dangerously undermined yet, and there may be something absolutely fucking revelatory coming up that turns my entire world upside down, though I doubt it. What makes this section really, really objectionable, however, is that they don’t go into any detail about how the humanity of the Jews was undermined through propaganda, just that it was. The assumption here seems to be that the reader will see the phrase ‘stereotypes based on ignorance and prejudice’, then see ‘Jews’, put two and two together and leap to the conclusion that bumbling sit-com husbands are emblematic of widespread misandry. Case in point: The chapter’s only example of the way that Jews were portrayed in popular culture is Shylock from The Merchant of Venice.
As far as Elizabethan antisemitic stereotypes go, Shylock is actually one of the more benign ones. When The Merchant of Venice was written, the Jews had been forcibly expelled from England for about four hundred years, and wouldn’t be allowed back in again for another half century. We might think of “The Middle Ages” as one big chunk of history full of people in pantaloons, but to put the timescale in perspective, the period of time during which Jews were banned from entering England is roughly as long as the period of time between Shakespeare’s plays and the present day. Under those circumstances, that Shakespeare invested Shylock with any humanity whatsoever is a minor miracle by the standards of 1598, even if his portrayal seems antisemitic by the standards of 2009.
Nathanson & Young are in agreement about Shylock’s unusually even-handed characterisation, using it as an example of how, even in a society informed by antisemitism, it was still possible for people to humanise Jews if they closed their eyes and thought really, really hard. If only everyone followed Shakespeare’s example, they plead, we could one day let go of misandrist stereotypes and humanise men. Jews portrayed badly, men portrayed badly, it’s the same situation, yeah?
No, of course it bloody well isn’t. Nathanson & Young seem to be well aware of just how disingenuous they’re being in comparing the two, proceed to try weaseling out of it and fail spectacularly. They give us an example of a “humanised” antisemitic stereotype, but stop short of showing us the kind of out-and-out monster that Jews were otherwise portrayed as, instead making vague statements about ‘popular animosity’ and ‘negative presentation’, phrases quite specifically designed to make the extent of seventeenth century antisemitism sound like someone’s grumpy uncle complaining about how Mr. Mermelstein down the road is a bit weird for not eating sausages. The fact that Jews were banned from entering England for over four hundred years – which Nathanson & Young mention, then never elaborate on, probably because it proves how fatuous and exploitative their analogy is – should immediately tip off the reader that the extent of antisemitism went an awful lot further than “Tsk, those Jews, I feel animosity and negativity toward them” and into… Well, being kicked out of the country, obviously, along with being ritually murdered, consigned to ghettos, banned from entering trades for fear of Jewing them up, and being forced to adhere to a dress code so that they could easily be distinguished from proper people. They were supposed to have magic powers, pervert Christian rituals for a laugh, sacrifice children, make pacts with the devil, carry the Black Death and have no purpose beyond destroying society as we know it while taking our money. Oh, and they killed Jesus. All of them.
To draw a parallel between this kind of treatment and the fact that some of the men on television are portrayed as stupid or evil isn’t just clutching at straws, it’s something so desperate, pathetic and offensive that nobody’s thought to come up with an idiom for it. Even when Nathanson & Young try to backpedal by saying they don’t support ‘facile analogies between the ultimate results of anti-semitism – death camps – and those of other ideologies’, they’re still willing to support facile analogies up to but not including death camps. The only thing they’ve got to back up their “men are treated like Jews” analogy is that there are negative stereotypes of both, but as there are negative stereotypes of every oppressed group, there’s no reason why their point of comparison had to be antisemitism. It’s not a valid analogy, it’s a cheap shot. It’s a wonder that the editor didn’t just cut this entire section from the book, because not only is it illogical, it makes the authors look completely unsympathetic from, literally, page one.
By the 1980s, the word “gender” was used as a synonym for “women”. To study gender is still, by implication, to study women. More specifically, it is to study the victimization of women by men. College courses on “gender” are usually courses on women trying to survive patriarchal tyranny. Men are always mentioned in courses on “gender”, even featured, but almost invariably as those who created the problem of “gender” in the first place.
And while we’re at it, where’s white history month? Ignoring that if this paragraph were in Wikipedia it’d have [citation required], [who?] and [weasel words] popping up all over it… Nathanson & Young amit, a few pages earlier, that ‘the worldview of our society was androcentric until recently’. In which case, what exactly is wrong with gender studies focusing on the oppression of women? Even if we accept their official date for the end of patriarchal tyranny as 1980, that still leaves about 4980 years of patriarchal tyranny, which is a fuckload of patriarchal tyranny to get through.
This has meant that (1) men are society’s official scapegoats and held responsible for all evil, including that done by women they have deluded or intimidated;
Yeah, they’re not big on nuance, are they? Let’s unpack. The evil in the world is committed by people who possess the power to inflict evil on others, effectively all whom are male. Genuine ‘scapegoats’ are chosen not because they’re male, but because they belong to another class: Black people are dangerous, refugees are going to take over, the poor are too stupid to get proper jobs, drug addicts have only themselves to blame, Native Americans are alcoholics, Jews are… well, we’ve covered that. Unsurprisingly, there’s no attempt made to address this, nor is there any attempt to address that some classes of women, particularly single mothers, very particularly young black single mothers, are also scapegoats. Essentially, Nathanson & Young believe that just because women aren’t held responsible for the bad things, then it follows that they must be held responsible for the good things. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that women may simply be invisible.
Also, yes, you should be held responsible for intimidating someone. There are laws against it and everything.
(2) women are society’s official victims and held responsible for all good, including that done by that they have influenced or converted;
We’ve just covered the “responsible for all good” thing, but to come at it from a slightly different angle: the “goodness” women are credited with is a kind of supportive, nurturing goodness, not the kind of proactive, thrusting goodness we think of as genuinely heroic or world-changing. I’m guessing this is what Nathanson & Young mean by “influence”, but the end result of the “She helped me become a better man” narrative, in fiction and real life, is that it’s not about the goodness of the woman, it’s about the man’s totally not gay journey of self-discovery. We won’t dwell on the implications of “converted”, which makes women sound like the Cybermen.
(3) men must be penalised, even as innocent individuals, for the collective guilt of men throughout history; and (4) women must be compensated, even as undeserving individuals, for their collective victimisation throughout history.
Or “You have the unfair advantage of pointing out that I have an unfair advantage”. Nathanson & Young fail to go into any detail about what ‘the collective guilt of men throughout history’ should actually be over, in order to make it sound like the politically correct equivalent of original sin. There is no such thing as ‘collective guilt’, what there is is a society created by ‘men throughout history’ in order to benefit… men throughout history. This is why, again, effectively every powerful person on the planet is a man. If this state of affairs makes men feel the occasional pang, then the solution isn’t to stop addressing it entirely and pretend everything is nice and egalitarian, it’s to keep addressing it until things actually are egalitarian.
Misandric popular culture has defining features that are derived from these assumptions. Artifacts and productions that take narrative form, at any rate, feature several characteristics: (1) Every major female character is heroic (both willing and able to defend the good, including herself), virtuous, or both. (2) Every major male character is psychotic (unable to choose the good), evil (unwilling to do so), less than adequate, or all these things. (3) Until they develop the inner resources to fight back, either individually or as a group, female characters ar the victims of male ones. (4) Until their true nature is revealed, male character often to be charming, benevolent and trustworthy. (5) Female characters are either already feminists or ready for conversion by remembering trauamatic events in their own lives. And (6) evil or psychotic male characters are often eliminated through death or “surgery”, and inadequate ones converted through contact with female friends into honorary women.
Wooooaaaaaaahhhh there. If we tone down the hyperbole – and, let’s face it, we have to if we want to make it through this without stopping after every sentence and going “No no no no no no no no no no!” like Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast - what Nathanson & Young are saying is that, basically, ‘productions that take narrative form’ feature saintly perfect women, and men who are fucked up and need to grow as people. Which of these characters is the narrative about, do you think? A female character who has no purpose other than to be mother-figure to the hero and ‘convert’ him is not a positive character, she’s a shallow plot device designed to help the hero complete his journey.
We’re only on page eight at this point, but I’d be quite surprised if the remainder of the book can top the phrase ‘honorary women’ for sheer bollocks-factor. If we needed any more evidence that Nathanson & Young are more concerned with defending their self-pitying worldview than taking a honest look at sexist stereotypes – we don’t, by the way – it’s all there in ‘honorary women’. The fact that some men are actually portrayed as decent, likeable people simply has no place in their paranoid ramblings, so these men are swept aside and ignored because they’re ‘honorary women’ and therefore don’t count as real men for the purposes of their argument. So, predictably, the thrust of the book isn’t “Treat men like human beings”, it’s “Let men get away with the exact same self-destructive shit as usual without ever criticising them for it”.
Skipping ahead, because their yammering gets really repetitive and I haven’t seen The Colour Purple…
- Robert Plunkett, male author, is dismayed that his books aren’t ‘beloved’ just because he’s not a woman. It couldn’t possibly be that he’s obviously a bitter asshole.
- There are books that treat men as animals who need to be tamed. That feminists also object to these books isn’t mentioned, nor is the proliferation of books about how women are shallow, infantile bimbos who can be manipulated with credit cards and shoes.
- ‘Misandry could be found also in every conventional cinematic genre, to the extent that a case could be made for the existence of a new genre, the misandric one, that cut across the lines of other genres. For our present purpose, however, this is unneccessary’. Thank Christ.
- ‘Not even all women see the world revolving around themselves’. Aww, bless ‘em.
This book’s not really aimed at me.