Against our better judgment, let’s read “Spreading Misandry”, Chapter Four
Posted by Richie on December 22, 2009
LET’S READ SPREADING MISANDRY
BYPASSING MEN: WOMEN ALONE TOGETHER
The bonds of “sisterhood” were heavily promoted in the 1990s, and only because political gains would have been impossible without solidarity. That solidarity was reflected in popular culture. Among the more obvious examples, in music were the Spice Girls, promoting “grrrl power”, and the annual Lilith Fair, developed to celebrate the music of female artists.
Should people who get the Spice Girls’ catch phrase wrong really be writing a book about 1990′s popular culture?
This isn’t entirely a cheap shot, you understand. It’s been clear since page one that Nathanson & Young don’t know what they’re talking about, but the deeper you go into the book, the more it becomes obvious that they really don’t know what they’re talking about. Spreading Misandry presents itself as an analysis of popular culture throughout the 1990′s, yet the authors don’t appear to have actually engaged with, or recognised, any of the decade’s major trends prior to their “research”. The Simpsons has gotten two sentences, and not even complete ones, while a romantic comedy that barely anybody remembers or likes gets half a chapter. They feel the need to explain Home Improvement, Beavis & Butt-head and King of the Hill the audience as if they’ve only just discovered them, and then rely entirely on articles about those programmes rather than addressing their actual content. They think Andrew Dice Clay is a good example of a comedian who was run out of town for his politically incorrect viewpoints, rather than the single most self-defeating example possible. And now they’ve managed to conflate the Spice Girls with riot grrrl, something which I’m sure would horrify both parties. Hey, women involved with music, it’s all the same thing, who cares?
There is nothing wrong with solidarity per se, but sometimes it has a lamentable by-product: withdrawal. In this case, that amounts to voluntary sexual segregation. There implication of many movies and television shows, for example, is that women do not or should not need men for any significant reason.
For example, many movies and television shows! No statistics or studies or actual examples, just… many. God there are just so many we shouldn’t even need to list them. I mean, if you want an example of a show that suggests women don’t need men for any significant reason, just turn on your TV right now! Well, not right now.
Men are not necessarily evil, just superfluous. Indifference to men, not hostility, is encouraged, whether explicitly or implicitly. Why is that byproduct lamentable? Mainly because the idea that any group of people is superfluous should be recognised as inherently dehumanising.
Hey, remember how less than a chapter ago they were blasting all those ads and sit-coms where the principal cast were all male? Because they clearly don’t expect you to.
Chapter Four’s prime target is Murphy Brown, which we’re told is misandrist because the main character became a single mother during the third season. That’s it. Nathanson & Young don’t even attempt to explain how the act of portraying single motherhood makes the show misandrist, or how this one element of Murphy Brown‘s premise qualifies it as ‘bypassing men’ when the majority of Murphy’s co-workers and friends were male. Any pretense that Spreading Misandry is an honest, well-researched analysis of the portrayal of men in popular culture promptly vanishes and is replaced with an aggressively one-sided pro-Family Values screed about how the moral fabric of society is being steadfastly unwoven by single women, poor women, women who have abortions, women who have unprotected sex and, to be blunt, any women who don’t agree with Nathanson & Young’s ultra-conservative viewpoint. Obviously no “reading” of the media is ever going to be apolitical, but this isn’t even trying to be fair, consistent or even convincing. Spreading Misandry is not an analytical study, it’s a rant, and worse, it’s the kind of rant that only people who already agree with the conclusion could possibly take seriously.
Shows such as Murphy Brown are not the direct cause of single motherhood, in the ghettoes or anywhere else. Nevertheless, they legitimate what many have already accepted in others or even decided to do for themselves.
Yeah, trust the people who spent the last three chapters comparing a Kodak ad to Jim Crow laws and medieval antisemitism to finally bring up ghettos in this context.
The social position of Murphy makes her far more culpable than a poor, uneducated woman. Viewers can assume that she has knowledge of and access to birth control. That even she chooses to have sex without “protection” indicates the depth of this problem.
The father, who also chose to have unprotected sex, is naturally made invisible in this discussion so that Nathanson & Young can get their misogyny on. Murphy became a single mother because the child’s father left her, not through IVF or some form of parthenogenesis, and if the father didn’t want a child he should have used a condom. That events like this are often the ‘direct cause of single motherhood’ isn’t addressed, naturally, but what’s more interesting is that they’re complaining about a situation in which a man was able to walk out of a serious relationship and retain his individual freedom rather than be forced into a marriage he isn’t sure about. This is exactly what Nathanson & Young were complaining, all of one chapter ago, that the male lead of He Said, She Said wasn’t able to do, yet now that they’ve got an example of the very outcome they wanted right in front of them, they treat it as proof that men are victimised.
Many people would have agreed that having children outside marriage, though more difficult, is a more desirable solution than abortion. Only those who argue that the “quality of life” is more important than life itself could have disagreed.
Women who have abortions do so because they’re selfish, have no regard for life and aren’t trying hard enough. ‘Many people’ agree with this statement. The central argument of this book is that society privileges women above men. Mmm.
The show “naturalises” single mothers. Like all single mothers, like all mothers, Murphy has to think about such mundane matters are burping, diapering, and toilet training. The clear implication is that single mothers, no matter how rich and famous, are just ordinary members of the community, not shocking or even glamorous anomalies.
That this is supposed to be a criticism speaks volumes.
By now, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with women ‘bypassing men’, since what these women are ‘bypassing’ – and not always by choice – is a live-in relationship with the father of their child, not men as a gender. There’s no indication, either in real life or wherever Nathason & Young get their information from, that single mothers are separatists who ‘do not need men for any significant reason’, or even that they intend to stay single indefinitely; they’re simply women raising a child on their own. But the concept of women not being dependent on men in any sphere of their lives is something that Nathanson & Young clearly feel very, very threatened by, even as they struggle to convince us that men are the victims in all this.
In a sense, they’ve got a good reason to feel threatened. Spreading Misandry has demonstrated (intentionally) that men are expected to be vulgar, selfish, filthy, violent and incapable of wiping their own arses, but has also demonstrated (unintentionally) that this is acceptable because there’s an indentured staff of women around to clean up the mess and provide a quick shag when it’s all over. If women cease to be dependent on men, however, then suddenly the onus is on men to impress women with something other than “My biology makes me the head of the household”, and they aren’t going to get a pass on acting like an abusive toddler anymore. This is, of course, unlikely to happen in any of our lifetimes, but the mere existence of single mothers with successful careers is enough to prove that it’s hypothetically possible, and it scares the absolute shit out of Nathanson & Young because it points to a society where men might be expected to act like the ‘honorary women’ – or decent human beings – that they’ve heaped so much scorn on.
Few people think about what might actually happen if complete equality were achieved, if we were to eliminate every vestige of gender as a cultural system. What we call “degendering” would mean the dissolution of all cultural differences between men and women and mitigate even biological ones. How, then, would either men or women as such form identity?
Naturally, Nathanson & Young can’t conceive of any gender identity existing outside of a hierarchical system of assumptions and forced socialisation. I know a lot of other people can’t do this either, but that doesn’t stop it being annoying.
In the remote past, men made distinctive and valuable contributions to the community by virtue of their male bodies (apart from anything else). And we are not referring to insemination. Male bodies are distinguished from female bodies in general by their comparative advantages of size, strength and mobility. These were extremely useful for hunting, pushing iron ploughs, or wielding weapons in battle. Many people now find it hard to see why warfare was ever valued, but the fact is that most societies, including both men and women, have indeed valued it. Beginning with the rise of agriculture and city states, it was considered necessary for some people to defend the community from radiers and often desirable for them to raid other communities.
Yes, all human civilisation from the stone age to the beginning of the industrial revolution can apparently be covered in one paragraph of vague generalisations. It’s difficult to even engage with something this inane; men might be stronger than women ‘in general’, but this doesn’t take into account that women ‘in the remote past’ were either barred from fighting in the first place even if they were physically strong enough, or… were allowed to fight, and promptly did. I know I’ve complained about this at least twice before, but the Persian army featured in 300 contained, prior to its “visualisation”, female soldiers in both the front line and the officer corps, but we’ve had the idea of war as a purely masculine pursuit drummed into us for so long that the audience instantly assumes only men fought at Thermopylae. Even in cultures were women were barred from combat – not because they were more valuable, but because their place was at home – there were women who broke the law in order to defend their societies; the first example off the top of my head is Nakano Takeko, a Japanese woman who formed her own warrior corps made up of women who weren’t allowed to officially enlist in the army. Nathanson & Young also fail to address why important non-combat roles ‘in the remote past’ – politicians, bureaucrats, scribes, priests – were predominately male, since physical strength doesn’t make you any better or worse at, say, writing cuneiform.
Oh, and women never worked fields, apparently.
In the recent past, beginning with industrialisation, the importance of the male body has declined steeply. Machines and computers do much of the work that once required male bodies.
Men: Piles of meat designed to hit stuff. Who’s the misandrist here, again?
By contrast, identity for women is still formed in connection with the one thing that men cannot do: Give birth. Combat has always been extremely dangerous, not only to society in general but to men in particular, but that was balanced throughout most of human history by the fact that childbirth was extremely dangerous for women. Because modern medicine has greatly diminished the danger formerly inherent in childbirth, that balance – both sexes being at risk of losing their lives for the community – is symbolically destroyed.
Women: Incubators (but we already knew that). Hey, you know what else is the generally-safe-to-give-birth-in western world has ‘greatly diminished’? Men being forced into mandatory armed service. Most men in the west won’t see front line armed combat at any point in their lives, ever. Meanwhile, one fifth of the voluntarily joined United States military are women. They might be outnumbered by their male comrades, but they’re also really, really outnumbered by the men who have no intention whatsoever of enlisting. The ‘balance’ that Nathanson & Young are so concerned about really doesn’t have a reason to exist anymore, but they want it preserved because it’s not a ‘balance’, it’s a hierarchy where men do all the important things while women stay home and make babies.
One possible solution to the inevitable problem of degendering might be called “regendering”, retaining some sort of gender system but one in which men, like women, are encouraged to make a distinctive, necessary, and valued contribution to society (though not, we hope, through combat). But who can say how that would be worked out? It would require both sexes to give up something, of course. But neither, in all likelihood, would do that willingly.
See, they play no favourites! Except that, since they’ve already established that men have had their biological and cultural identities robbed from them, they clearly don’t see men as having that much to give up. This entire strand of the argument really sums up why Nathanson & Young are the last people who should be allowed to write a book on gender relations, by the way: Faced with a binary gender system that isn’t working out very well and creating an environment of frustration and hostility, their response isn’t to hypothesise a society without sexual segregation, it’s to hypothesise a society with a slightly different kind of sexual segregation.
Bypassing men, like looking down on men and even laughing at men, is not necessarily misandric. In theory, it can be explained as merely creating a “space” for women. The trouble is that it amounts on moral grounds to segregation. It could be argued that sexual segregation, unlike racial segregation, is voluntary rather than imposed. How, therefore, can it be challenged on moral grounds? The answer is ambiguous.
You’re telling me.