First off there was the whole, crushingly depressing "it's just a T-shirt - jeez, don't you people with vaginas understand jokes"-fandango. To which I'll say what I've said before and suspect I will say many many times again:
1) 'Joke' and 'politically significant' are not mutually exclusive concepts...in fact, quite the opposite...humour can be used to subvert political oppression (hats off to you Mister Colbert) or to normalize it (thanks again Mister Hill). Comedy, is, in short, one of the most effective political weapons we have, and using it doesn't exempt you from an iota of political responsibility. Not a single drop.
2) I'm sick to the back teeth and half way down my oesophagus of the raggedy old 'women not having a sense of humour'-thing. First. Please. Get a new line. Second, we have a sense of humour. If we didn't have a sense of humour - living in this rampantly capitalist patriarchial ecologically-suicidal car-crash of a society - we'd have a hard job getting up in the morning and getting on with the business of working, and looking out for ourselves and trying to care for other people. The reason why we don't find this funny is not because the deity of humourless-bitches surgically removed our funny bones at birth but because:
3) Violence isn't funny. And nor is comparing people to animals. And violence and comparing people to animals at the same time. That never goes anywhere good.
Anyway. I digress. Sorry! That one always really gets my goat going.
(Irrelevant but cute)
So, onwards. The second main strand of Ellie's thread - the reason given time and again by commentators as to why we don't need to get our panties in a bunch about misogynist T-shirts, is that we live in a world in which men are subjected to verbal and T-shirt-based misandry on a level which is comparable or exceeds the misogyny women experience. The general point here of course, which Ellie made eloquently to a bunch of more or less deaf ears, is that T-shirts about setting fire to men, or throwing rocks at them, while being in bad taste and unfunny (violence being, y'know, unfunny), do not intersect with a system of historic, cultural and institutional oppression in the same way. What people making comparisons between jokes about beating up women and jokes about setting fire to men seem to disregard is that women don't actually go around setting fire to men. Like, hardly ever. In fact, I would really like to see the stats on just how many men are set fire to in any given year. And I'd like to talk to the men who live in fear of being set fire to. And before people get angry that I'm not taking this seriously, and I think violence against men is funny, or is not a significant problem. I am, I don't, and it is. But we need to be clear. Under the system we call patriarchy, men experience violence. Horrible, debilitating, injurious, traumatizing violence. But the vast majority of the violence they experience is not of the being-set-on-fire-by-women variety. It is of the having-the-shit-beaten-out-of-them-or-treated-like-bitches-by-men variety. Rather like women. Rather like women on the not-funny T-shirts.
Ellie's point was that unfunny T-shirts about throwing rocks at men are subversive, while unfunny T-shirts about beating up women are not, they are normative. The false equivalence between these two things - the assertion that we must give equal weight to misogyny and misandry - only makes sense within the context of what we will call, for the sake of natty nomenclature (and moderate sensationalism), 'patriarchy-denial.' That is, the charge of misandry, and the claim that misandry is an equal, or greater problem than misogyny - a sufficiently large problem to make the focus on misogyny in, say, gender studies, an exemplar of systematic bias and the oppression of men - only makes sense if we deny the relation between individual instances of sexism, and the cultural, historical and social context in which they occur. Or rather, if we deny that the context in which they occur is of a culture which has been, and in many respects still is, organized according to the values, assumptions and interests of men.
At this juncture, Mister Martin enters the fray, trailing in his wake the unmistakable aroma of the Men's Rights Movement. Anyone familiar with the rhetoric of the movement could pretty well spot Tom Martin as an MRA from a hundred paces - to be honest, as soon as I hear anyone say misandry my MRAdar starts going ping. But for the sake of thorough thoroughness three things should suffice:
i) He turned up on Sian's blog (see above link), and after mansplaining that she didn't know her ass from her elbow, demanded that she tell him what Men's Rights authors she had read - all this despite the fact that she wasn't talking about the MRM, and was in fact talking about her own experience of her own degree which, we might suppose, she does know something about.
ii) His fundraising site has several links to prominent MRM blogs. His glowing write up - 'Man Sues University Over Feminist Indoctrination' - in The Spearhead concludes that "[w]e should applaud Mr. Martin for his laudable stand against the standard university feminist party line, and hope that his suit will proceed on its merits." One commenter suggests that "lawsuits such as these are the future of the MRM."
iii) Lastly, and most damningly, the video that Tom Martin links to in his Guardian piece to support his assertion that "decades of research" show that "women are more likely to initiate domestic violence" is by a chap who calls himself 'The Happy Misogynist.' So far, so creepy. The video is actually by a guy called Paul Elam, who is an elder of the MRM. Elam is a 24-carrot-gold-copper-bottomed charmer. He runs a very prominent MRA blog called 'A Voice for Men' (just let that one marinate in your mind for a moment), whose strap line is 'Anti-misandry.' Elam is on record as a domestic violence denier (there is a very illuminating debate between him and the anti-MRM blogger David Futrelle which can be found here and here, and which centres on the video that Martin cites as categorical fact). He is also an extremely vocal critic of what he calls "rape hysteria," a victim-blamer and slut-shamer, and has stated that "[s]hould I be called to sit on a jury for a rape trial, I vow publicly to vote not guilty, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the charges are true." Lastly, he is prone to lapsing into violent fantasies about what men should do in order to counter the epidemic of domestic abuse they are subjected to. Right. This might be a good place to put the trigger warning. I quote:
- "That’s it. In the name of equality and fairness, I am proclaiming October to be Bash a Violent Bitch Month. I’d like to make it the objective for the remainder of this month, and all the Octobers that follow, for men who are being attacked and physically abused by women - to beat the living shit out of them. I don’t mean subdue them, or deliver an open handed pop on the face to get them to settle down. I mean literally to grab them by the hair and smack their face against the wall till the smugness of beating on someone because you know they won’t fight back drains from their nose with a few million red corpuscles. And then make them clean up the mess."
Like I said. A right charmer.
(Medieval Gorgoneion being, well, charming)
There is clearly some question here about smearing Tom Martin with guilt by association. I am not claiming that the fact that he cited Elam as 'evidence' that women commit as much domestic abuse as men means that he subscribes to the full gamut of Elam's offensiveness. But then, actually, to be honest, I'm not really that interested in who Tom Martin is at all (sorry Tom, that's just me trying to work through my anxiety about giving your publicity stunt any more attention). What I really want to get at here is the way in which the charge of 'misandry' both evokes, and moreover, is only coherent, when nestled inside the MRM-worldview. As I've already suggested, the first plank of the MRM vision of the structure of the known universe - let's call it the MRAniverse - is the denial of patriarchy. The second plank is the suggestion that, not only is the world not run by and for men, but rather, it is actually run by and for women. We live presently - and have done since the dark days of the 1970s - in an Orwellian feminist gynocracy, one in which women have more or less clandestinely taken complete control of the levers of institutional power and bent them to their will. The evidence of this bending are variously, the feminization of education, the associated infiltration of feminist dogma at all levels of the educational system, the family court system, the tyranny of men being constantly bombarded with propaganda about the exaggerated levels of domestic and sexual abuse experienced by women, the lack of provision for men who experience domestic abuse, the draft, and the fact that, apparently, women don't care about men being raped in prison and don't do anything to stop it.
Now. There are whole load of issues there, many of them are very serious, and they all demand individual consideration and responses. But to bundle them all together, and claim that they all have the same aetiology, and that that aetiology is feminist tyranny, is both incredibly simplistic, and also, in many cases, entirely unrelated to reality. Several of them - prison rape and the draft, for example, are more or less straightforwardly the creation of patriarchy, as also, for instance, is the fact that men who suffer from typically feminized problems like domestic violence, tend not to get much support. The purported feminization of education is highly complex, and in the case of primary education - probably the main issue - is as much to do with the lower status of the work as it is to do with any feminist indoctrination programme. And as for the the claim that men are constantly subjected to rape hysteria, and that rape isn't really a big deal, and that we all need to just STFU. For this, I have less than absolutely no time. We still live in a society where the criminal justice system is so woefully inadequate, where the culture of slut-shaming is so utterly pervasive, and where the enforcement of silence is so fucking deafening, that some men can and do more or less rape with impunity. And until that stops, we're not going to shut up about it. Not for a second.
(Gorgon from Syracuse, 570-550 BC)
As always, the matter of sexual violence, and the broader question of who gets to control women's sexuality and reproductive capacities is not a fringe issue in this debate, or in the minds of the inhabitants of the MRAniverse. According to Elam - giving a nicely illustrative, if fairly whacked out, example here - feminist gynocracy is held in place only by the power of women's vaginas. It is pretty much standard MRM-lore that women are entirely useless creatures - unlike your average MRA, they don't fight bears, or hunt mammoth, or build spaceships - all they do is shop, and eat, and nag, and bitch. They spend whole days lying about on leather sofas wondering how to finagle diamonds out of the nearest passing sap. In fact, women are so monumentally useless in the MRAnivese that the only thing we have to bring to the table is our ladybits. But man, is they some powerful shit. Powerful enough, in fact, that since the evil feminazis gave us all carte-blanche to use our turbo-gentitals in any way we see fit (not that they were once controlled by men under a system called patriarchy or anything you understand), we have singlemindedly put them to work in the cause of world domination. And now, you see, all the men who make all the decisions in all the institutions in all the countries in the great gynocracy do so, only under the hypnotic power of the all seeing, all consuming feminazigina (Plato didn't see that one coming in The Republic did he now?)
When you put it like that, it sounds bonkers. And in significant respects, it is bonkers. But at the same time, as all good feminists know, the fear and denigration of female sexuality, and the associated drive to appropriate and control women's reproductive capacities, is at the very heart of misogyny, and of the systemic control of women's bodies, behaviours and expectations that goes by the name of patriarchy. What is so striking about the MRM - a movement which likes to style itself as revolutionary, as having made some kind of epic breakthrough in the consciousness of men - is that, when you scratch the surface, you find nothing but the most archaic form of misogynistic fear and hatred. The fear and hatred which got the whole game going way back when, and which emanates, necessarily, from a masculinity which can understand itself only in terms if its own invulnerability. A masculinity which, therefore, in principle, cannot tolerate the idea of having needs, and dependencies, and can only conceive the meeting of those needs in the vernacular of domination, or manipulation, or appropriation, or pick-up artistry (for more on the idea of masculine invulnerability see me here on Anders Breivik, here on Facebook, and here on Doctor Who).
(Arnold Bocklin, Medusa, 1878)
With respect to the vice-like grip of the ideal of masculine in-dependence, it is profoundly telling, for example, that Paul Elam, in the final installment of his epic on 'The Plague of Modern Masculinity,' conceives men's salvation from feminist gynocracy through the figure of the Zeta male. This Man who will Go His Own Way, and deliver himself from the tyranny of the "pussy cartel" by slaying his reliance on the evil man-eating vagina (seriously, you should see all the woman substitutes, and vagina deterrents these guys have been trying out), is a revolutionary new individual who is based, Elam tells us, without the merest hint of joining up the dots, on the figure of Perseus, and his decapitation of that evil ugly gorgon feminazi bitch Medusa. That mythical monstrosity who was not, I should note, while we're at it, Paul Elam, turned into a Gorgon by Athena as punishment for being pretty and conceited, but for being raped. This is a story which has not, you must understand, been around since something like 800 BCE. And this story is not itself a retelling of the boy-reaches-manhood-by-slaying-the-snake-haired-dentata-decked-mother-monster tale - and on that, God bless the Lady Gaga, but she's channeling some pretty ancient spirits there - that has been spun out across time and space, at least since someone bothered to write down the Enuma Elish in old Babylon town. I mean seriously guys, pull the other one. This is the oldest tale in the book. It's so goddamn old that it's goddamn pre-book. It's so old that we had to piece it together from bits of shattered clay tablet that someone had written on with a stick and then lay under piles of dust in the ruins of the library in Nineveh for nearly three thousand years. This guy that's going to save you from the pussy-cartel, this Zeta-male dude, let me tell you, he hasn't just sprung fully formed like Athena from Paul Elam's head. He's been around before. You'll see his picture in the dictionary under the word archetype. He's like, y'know, the origins of patriarchy.
(Gorgon on Athenian coin, 515-510 BCE)
When Freud famously associated the snake-haired Medusa with men's horror at the sight of 'castrated' female genitalia, he established the Gorgon as perhaps the most significant historical symbol of female sexuality, and men's fear of its petrifying power. Many women of the feminist persuasion have since tried to reclaim her. But, as the present seething of the MRM's archaic resentment suggests, it looks like it's going to be something of a slog. So, I'm gonna end this little rant-cum-essay with a plea. While women who worry about this stuff - who work daily to try and improve the lot of other women, and men, who are damaged by the rigidity and oppressions of life under patriarchy - must keep on doing what they're doing, it also seems increasingly evident that little progress will be made until we can engage men in conversation about the problems which emanate, with mechanical inevitability, from defining masculinity as invulnerable independence. Recent scholarship on the origins of the Gorgon suggest that her features derived, in its earliest forms, from a stylization of the face of a decomposing human. Hers is the mask of death - the symbol of our life turned to putrefaction. And the connection between death and women's sexuality is far from incidental. For as certainly as the bodies of women bring life, they also, in that very beginning, bring the end. We enter the world through women's bodies in a state of profound dependence and vulnerability and need, and we continue, throughout our lives, to be dependent and vulnerable and needy - for food, for belonging, for care, and for the bodies of other people. And it is in that dependency and vulnerability and need that we find the fragile fact of our mortality, and the chance and the risk of life.
Perseus with the Head of Medusa, 1545-1554)
There is nothing that can be done about this. You can rage, and project, and resent the shit out of those that you love and need and desire. You can fantasize about replacing them with robots and artificial wombs, or get yourself off using rubber lined holes. You can imagine cutting off the head of the beast and freeing yourself from all that pesky pain and longing and lust. But it will make no difference. You are going to die. And on the way there, you will be made of nothing but flesh and blood and need and want. This is not a conspiracy against you. It's just the gift and curse of being alive. For all of us. And it's incredibly hard work - to take responsibility for your desire, to learn how to handle your vulnerability, to work out how to get your needs met while not being an asshole about it. But that's what we're asking. Not because we hate you. Not because we're hell bent on oppressing you. Not because we think you're evil. But because, actually, most of us, in principle, really quite like you. Many of us want to share our lives with you and think you have it in you to be the kind of people we would want to share our lives with. But if you insist on comparing us to animals, or reducing us to body parts, or painting us as a bunch of manipulative bitches intent on jerking you around with our ubervaginas. If you insist (with willful misandry actually) that your chimpanzee genes exempt you from taking responsibility for your needs and desires, that you are somehow congenitally incapable of not dominating, denigrating or appropriating our bodies, that your DNA prevents you from seeing us as whole people with thoughts and needs and dreams of our own. Or if, when we point out how problematic these behaviours are for us, you go lah lah lah, or get defensive, or do 'what about teh menz', or call us hysterics, or tell us we're misandrists, or compare us to Hitler. If, in short, you deny the very existence of the privilege by which the world is bent, every day, invisibly, around your needs and values and assumptions, then you close down the possibility of us moving forward together. And you do it, in fact, by taking us right back to the place - to a primal fear of falling down a dark stinking hole - where this whole fucking mess got started to begin with.
As the vast number of links on this page make quite evident, this piece wouldn't have been possible without the stalwart public service provided by David Futrelle at Manboobz. David, you don't know me, but, for spending your days trawling through this miasm of hatred, dicing it neatly, and giving it to us with wit, and incision, and kittens...thank you! It really helps, in all kinds of ways.
And to the two kids from South Wales, as always, where my brain begins and yours ends...xx