Some points on misogyny, misandry, patriarchy, feminism, and masculism

The following be a motley collection of points that keep rattling around in my head as I follow the current discussions around gender roles, feminism, masculism, and anti-feminist backlash.

Complex 1)
  • Often-heard statement: There is no such thing as sexism directed towards men.
  • Alternatively often-heard statement: sexism directed towards men is fundamentally different from sexism directed towards women, since these sexisms are merely "cloaked" versions of sexism directed towards women.
  • Often-heard statement: Feminism has brought about the oppression of men and made them the laughing stock of humanity.
Wrong, all of it. And related. (Also, I do not ever want to hear the phrase "reverse sexism" again. It's moronic. Sexism denotes prejudice or discrimination based on sex. Sexism directed towards men simply denotes sexism against men, period, no need for verbal acrobatics.)

I found an interesting paper a while ago, entitled "Down So Long. Why Is It So Hard To Explain Gender Inequality?". While I do not agree with the entirety of this paper, it did provide some insights to me.
One of these interesting points was that misogynist and misandrist narratives have existed side-by-side throughout the history of patriarchy. The author of said paper gives a characterization of existing misogynist vs misandrist narratives, like thus:

  • Men are practical; women are childish
  • Men are strong; women are weak
  • Men are sexually open; women are sexually manipulative
  • Men are independent and can lead; women are dependent followers
  • Men are smarter and more knowledgeable; women think and know less
  • Men are more rational, analytical, and thoughtful; women are more emotional and lack judgement
  • Men are rule makers; women are ruled by circumstance and emotion.
  • Men are outward lookking and socially responsible; women are narrowly concerned with families.
You'll find many of these views espoused in our cultural records of famous philosophers, writers, and scientists.

And now for the misandrist version:
  • Men are childish [and need to be babied]; women are mature
  • Men are brutish; women are gentle
  • Men are sexually uncontrolled; women are sexually refined
  • Men are bull-headed and power-hungry; women are cooperative
  • Men are dense and obsessed with facts; women are intuitively insightful
  • Men are withholding and insensitive; women are sensitive and expressive
  • Men are morally weak; women are virtuous
  • Men are cold and unfeeling; women are nurturing and concerned with others.
Needless to say, either of these narratives is an insult to many contemporary beings of at least average intelligence, whether male or female, especially if you take into account our (Western European) importance placed on individuality and self-fulfillment.
Thing is, due to the way patriarchy is set up, the misogynist narratives made it into our cultural record of philosophy, religion, and science, while the misandrist narratives didn't. For, well, millennia, the public sphere, including publishing on Culturally Important Subjects such as philosophy, theology, and science was an exclusively male domain, while the female domain was the home, which didn't usually produce written records. In a strictly gender-segregated society that has a separation of domains and power associated with it, it's hardly surprising that such opposing narratives will develop and proliferate. And make no mistake: The misandrist narratives created in this context were no less vicious or unfair than the misogynist narratives. Many of these traditional misandrist narratives are at the root of the issues that Men's Rights Activists are battling against - for example, the notion that men are emotionally impoverished and thus make poor parents, that men have a brutish and undiscriminating sexuality that needs to be defended against, that men are competitive and thus make poor team players if compared to the cooperative nature of women, etc. What we now have is simply a co-existence of misandrist and misogynist views that originated in the same power structure.

To sum up, Othering was prevalent throughout patriarchy's history on both sides of the two dominant categories, but the male form of Othering (including vilification, belittling, and what-have-you of the female Other) has made it into our culture and cultural understanding, while the female form was confined to oral tradition and didn't carry much cultural significance.
Taking this into account: while it's often heard (especially from Masculists) that Feminism has brought about a negative view of the masculine, I think what Feminism did was not to create these misandrist narratives, but to make them culturally visible by giving women, any women, a voice and making their view of the world part of our culture. 

I do think that both misandrist and misogynist views are utter bullshit and should disappear from the face of the earth, but I also think that blaming feminism for the existence and cultural significance of misandrist views means barking up the wrong tree. Giving 50% of the population a voice where they didn't have one before is a good thing - but it also creates some fallout as long as these Othering narratives are important and ingrained, and I think that this fallout is what the Masculist movement triggers on. This is a point where I agree with a premise of the Masculist movement - misandrist narratives are bullshit - but I don't agree with their conclusions - feminism is to blame, and we should just roll back to how things were before feminism appeared on the stage. Sorry, guys and gals, but that's just not going to cut it.

I also happen to think that nowadays, feminists tend to spend a lot of time refuting misogynist heritage, while masculists spend a lot of time refuting misandrist heritage. The point where I've got beef with the masculists is when they try to blame this misandrist heritage on feminism and fail to see the larger context: Feminism didn't create these misandrist views; a millennia-old patriarchical system did. (Though I concede that individuals flying under the banner of feminism may have enforced it).

For the most part, though, giving cultural significance to misandrist views was a side effect of giving women a voice. (To anyone who may want to counter now with: "But if women just go around spouting this kind of nonsense, then they don't deserve having a voice": Men have been going around spouting equivalent nonsense for millennia, and until very recently, nobody every disputed their legitimacy, so shut the fuck up and swallow it as the unfortunate side effects of a transitory status quo. No free lunch to be had on the road to a free and equal society.)

The point of this all is to say that Masculists are in fact on to something when they lament misandrist tendencies in some areas of public life. The point many of them seem to be missing, though, is that these misandrist tendencies today exist alongside equally old (and traditionally more powerful) misogynist tendencies, and that both these tendencies do not originate in feminism, but are a product of a much older societal system (commonly called patriarchy).

Complex 2) "But patriarchy is so widespread and has always existed, there must be some legitimacy to it!"

Also wrong. The very simple argument: Naturalistic fallacy.
Point in case: Slavery had existed for millennia (Ancient Greece anyone?), and still, the consensus in today's Western Democracies is that slavery is Wrong and inhuman and unacceptable. Human sacrifice had a long history - and still, it's considered inhuman and unacceptable and even incomprehensible in most modern-day societies. Just because something has existed for a long time doesn't mean that it's right or a moral blank cheque.

The more complicated argument: Patriarchy has not always existed, but the records of non-patriarchic societies are smudged and blurred. It's a commonplace to say that the victor writes the history - the first thing any victorious power has always done is to burn any existing libraries (if I recall correctly, this is nicely illustrated in the book "Glut. Mastering information through the ages" - which is a terribly interesting read in any case). But it also seems true in the case of patriarchy: If you look closely at the developments of myths, there are traces of non-patriarchic socities. Interestingly, they don't necessarily hint at matriarchic societies (a favourite of some Masculists, who seem unable to imagine a societal structure where there's no overarching domination of one sex/gender over another), but rather they hint at more egalitarian societies.
A point in case is the - no doubt transformed - myths of Amazon societies. Another is the myth of Lilith.
Lilith - Painting by John Collier

Lilith is a figure that appears in many myths as a female daemon, usually associated with sexual deviance, temptation, and vileness. However, some myths trace her back to a Sumerian, Babylonian, or Hebrew goddess of childbirth, children, women, and sexuality, whose transformation to a daemon can be interpreted as a societal transition to patriarchy and its need to control womens' sexuality. For example, in Hebrew mythology, Lilith is the first wife of Adam (as in Adam and Eve), who was created by God from the same earth as Adam, varyingly before, after, or at the same time as Adam. However, Adam and Lilith start bickering because Lilith refuses to submit to Adam on the grounds of being created from the same earth as and thus equal to Adam. In some versions of this myth, Lilith eventually chooses to get it on with archangel Samael and subsequently refuses to return to Paradise and Adam.
There are other myths that document the transition of female goddesses associated with liberal and self-determined femininity to daemons that embody threatening female sexuality, but I'm no scholar, so if this interests you, I suggest you go digging for yourself.
So. Point in case. While according to cultural records, patriarchy has "always been", you can find traces to the contrary if you pay close attention and take into account that records have always been modified to suit the dominant ideology.

As to the question of why patriarchy arose in the first place, I don't know - there seems to be little research investigating this. Something that seems to be consensus is that it's connected with the insight of humans into the correlation of sexual intercourse and progenity, an inheritance system (entailing something of substantial worth to be inherited, such as land, suggesting a link to humans becoming settlers), and the need to establish inheritance rights through kinship, which would have been a pretty much exclusively male issue. Establishing inheritance rights to something of worth through kinship, in an egalitarian system, may have led to the need for males to ascertain parent-child relationships, which- in the absence of genetic tests, which weren't available at the time - leads to a need to control female sexuality, which leads to a need to control female behaviour in general. And indeed, a prominent feature of patriarchies has been, and to this day still is, to control and subdue female sexuality. We still see this today in popular notions of "good girls" not initiating or desiring sex, or in tendencies such as slut shaming.

So. To summarize:

1) No more talk of "reverse sexism"
2) No more denying that there are misandrist narratives at work in our societies today
3) No more denying that there are misogynist narratives at work in our societies today
4) No more blaming feminism for the existence of these narratives
5) No more energy spent on arguing that patriarchy is "just natural" or "how things have always been, will always be, and should always be"
6) Hold your horses on generalizing or normative statements concerning female or male sexuality, because if you're tempted to make any, there's the reasonable assumption that you're blinded by your cultural background, and we're nowhere near a point where we can cleanly separate nature from nurture
7) No more judging of individuals - who inherently deserve respect all by themselves - on the grounds of traditionalist gender normatives.


  1. Very nice to read and sensible.

  2. Came here searching for something specific to Lilith not mentioned, but I enjoyed this. One thing I'd love to point out, though. It's not just that misandry has existed alongside misogyny, equally inaccurate just disproportionally represented. It's that much of the sentiment of misandry is IN DIRECT RESPONSE to a woman-hating (misogynistic) society.

    While none of the assertions regarding men or women are true (each person is a full individual and can not be generalized or stereotyped) both set of narratives give a very similar message: women are cast as "other" and must forge an identity from their position of subordination. The qualities of being "gentle," "sensitive," "nurturing and concerned with others," even "intuitively insightful" can be seen as a kind of Stockholm Syndrome (if you haven't, you may want to read Loving to Survive by Dee L.R. Graham because it's fascinating) in response to the very real statistical prevalence of men's rape, brutalization, and control. The reverse is not true. Men may be knowledgeable and practical, strong, leaders, and ruler-makers, but not in response to women being barred from knowledge and training in critical thinking, being relatively weak, being ruled by circumstances that demand she be a dependent follower.

    I think there's an argument that even the examples in the misandrist column are a form of misogyny, and the whole concept of misandry is in support of the patriarchy.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I'll follow up on L.R. Graham once I find the time.
      Reviewing the list of female virtues, it _does_ stick out that they could be classified as being accomodating and adaptive virtues above all else, so your argument is certainly worth thinking about more.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Charting a course to hands-on DNA sequencing with the Oxford Nanopore MinION

Getting my Pharmacia LKB Multidrive XL online... now with 3D printing!

Ramblings: "On Regulation" by Andrew Ellington