Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Misandry, Medusa and Men's Rights

It may not have escaped your notice that over at Comment is Free there has, of late, I know not where (sorry, that's Hamlet)....been quite a lot of what we might call - let's go for something approaching neutrality here - people making noisy noise about misandry. First there was the whole Tom Martin brouhaha, here and here (see also Sian of the Not-Straight Ribs here). And then Ellie Mae O'Hagan wrote a great piece last Thursday about the now infamously withdrawn Topman T-shirts, the ones that compared women to dogs (she's a bitch, geddit?), or gave a jaunty recitation of excuses for domestic violence. They're fucking hilarious. Given the apparent mood of the times, Ellie's credulity un-stretching assertion that the T-shirts indicate a disturbing normalization of misogyny met with a fairly predictable response.

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 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.

(Cellini Benvenuto, 
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


  1. J. this is amazing, it made me cry.....with relief that someone (I know ) is making a serious challenge. Don't stop. R.G.

  2. Another great piece.

    I have a long history of female-perpetrated abuse. I mean, I am in the position of growing up in a situation where the only women in my life spend the whole time telling me I was scum (after one of them raped me), whereas the men showed me humanity, love and compassion*. It fucked me up completely. I still have problems socialising with women and with various items of women's clothing, which I can't wear, and with my general gender identity, in fact.

    HOWEVER. I never, ever try to claim that I'm right to feel that way. In my attempts to find help I frequently run across people, usually male but the occasional female too, who have tried to deal with their own abuse by finding a cultural justification for their hatred. It's disgusting. I mean, I have days when I hate all women, but I just remind myself of who is to blame for me feeling that way, ie. who I'm *really* angry with, and stay in the house until it passes. I recognise that being attracted to the same gender that you hate brings a whole new host of problems, but it's still misplaced blame. It's very despiriting, when you need understanding and validation, for other members of the minority group you belong to to decide that you don't belong; technically it's secondary victimisation. And it makes me feel like saying this (provided it comes out ok!):

    I think the distinction between subversive and normative is very helpful. I don't like any gender stereotypes at all, especially since all of them invalidate my experiences, but they're all the enemy. I don't understand why that's so difficult for some people to grasp. If someone says "all men are.." or "all women are..", just realise that they've got problems and rise above it.

    *When I mentioned being used to principled people of both genders in a previous comment, I meant in my life since escaping that situation.

  3. Dear Jan,

    Hello! It's so nice to see you again always make the most incisive thought provoking comments.

    Firstly, I just want say, thanks for being so upfront about your history - that you are able to be suggests you've done your work with it (though that work is never fully done), and that's really good to see. I'd also like to say that I hope nothing I've written here suggests that I think women are not capable of being extremely abusive (and not infrequently, it seems, to other women), or in any way invalidates your experience.

    I think the complex of issues you raise about how to respond to abuse, and blame, and dealing with your stuff, and healing, and not projecting, and cultural justification is very very important, and, at least to me, the real nub of the question. In the first instance I'd say - and I think we're on the same page here - that it seems necessary for any individual (both from the perspective of healing, and from the perspective of nor perpetuating abuse spirals) to assume the responsibility of processing the experience, and not deflecting that responsibility by turning their pain outwards into raw, and destructive hatred and blame. This is the very basis of ethical responsibility it seems to me - to deal with your shit so you don't go throwing it about.

    I guess I am concerned, or would want to raise the question of the extent to which you think I am doing that here - there was a slight opacity in your comment which I guess I'd like to press against. Because I guess I think there is a distinction - and we as a cultural are very bad at making it, but I think it is something we really need to work at - between blame and responsibility.

    One of the things that seems clear, is that for people to be able to recover from abuse, the first condition of that recovery, is that they are able to recognize that experience as abuse. Without this, the internalization, the crippling effect on self-esteem etc, simply continues. This is where I get very concerned about the potential consequences of 'patriarchy-denial.' Because one of the things - for me, for many feminists and other women - that is very significant in developing a sense of, for instance, having the right to speak, is coming to understand the way in which not feeling entitled to is produced by a pattern of repeated devaluation. It seems necessary somehow to both assume the responsibility for processing the negative feelings or anger one might feel about that, for the opportunities one might have lost, or the battles one might have been saved from. While, also, at the same time, needing to be able to point to such patterns - and say, something along the lines of 'that happened, not because of anything that is wrong with me, but because that is something that happens to people like me in a culture like this.' If it is the case that the culture displays something like a systematic devaluation of some portion of its population.

    More than that, it also seems necessary, to then make some kind of effort to try and challenge that pattern of systematic devaluation. Not through blame, but by asking those who do the devaluing to think about it, and to try not to. I guess I want to ask if you think that this is a case 'finding cultural justification for hatred,' or whether you think this distinction, between blame and responsibility, between unprocessed projection and trying to change systemic abuse, holds water. There probably quite a lot riding on it (for me at least).

  4. And I suppose the last point, is something along the lines of drawing a distinction between what is motivating these different mechanisms of blame, or projection, or hatred, or asking for responsibility to be taken. On the one hand we have people who have been abused projecting, and we both agree that doesn't go anywhere good (I think). Then we have, I am trying to suggest, asking some people to take responsibility for engaging in a systematic devaluation - which is more or less abusive - of some other people, a gesture which I hope is more than just about blame and my own stuff (although of course that is work, and work one must remain always vigilant about). But I guess also what I'm trying to get at in the piece, is that, if one looks at the structure of patriarchial misogyny - as it is exhibited with almost breathtaking unconcealment by the MRM - it doesn't require abuse to explain it, because when masculinity is defined as invulnerability, simply the very fact of having needs or desires comes to be experienced as an intolerable assault on one's self and one's self-image, which must be violently externalized. Although, that said, it seems evident that the ability to deal with and process abuse is made much more difficult for many men by the dogma of invulnerability, and moreover, I would suspect that many many men's misogyny is fueled by unprocessed abuse in concert with the tension which is created, necessarily, by the pressure to maintain an impossible self-identity.

    I've gone on enough I think. You do seem to have your fingers right on my ramble button.

    Thanks again!

  5. Hi

    Thanks for the lovely reply :). My understanding of the technical terms for these things is rubbish, so I'll do the best I can, and you can ask more if I've got the wrong idea.

    Firstly, I think you're asking if I thought that you were somehow taking out your own problems using a cultural framework. I've never got that impression, and I'm sorry if it seemed like I have. Apart from anything else, I don't think you've got what I suppose I'd call a target. The horrible stereotype about feminism is of course that it is a medium for women who have been hurt by men to, I don't know, seek revenge or something. I always thought that feminism is supposed to represent the idea that sexism is bad for everyone and that that's what you believe? Anyway, you feel like a safe person to me, and I'm very picky, if that's any help!

    In the context of discussions like the one above, the way I've been thinking of things like rape, for example, is by dividing the crime into categoris. So in my mind, rape as a misogynist hate crime is what Women's Rights groups are talking about mainly, and it may well be the most common kind, though it's difficult to know. That's different (I'm not talking about effects, obviously, but about how it comes about) to rape perpetrated against a man or boy and/or perpetrated by a woman. So while it's horrible to be "left out" of some discussion of sexual assault, and it can *feel* like secondary victimisation, I personally feel that that discussion pertains to a specific problem, a problem that is undeniable. The idea that women are there to be used is taking time to fade and meeting a lot of resistance. If your experience, regardless of your gender, doesn't fit the idea of male culturally-sanctioned aggression, it can be easy to feel like discussion of that problem is a personal dig, especially if you've got post-traumatic symptoms like hypervigilance. But I feel it's a different thing. Although I believe that female-perpetrated abuse is under-recognised and under-punished, it seems to me that actual feminism is in favour of admitting that women are powerful enough to cause harm*.

    I think it's very true that some men conceive say a lack of subservience on the part of a woman as victimisation, probably anyone female has some experience of that! I think it hugely devalues the experience of men who are genuinely abused, because how can they frame sexual assault, for example, as abuse if others are saying that a woman getting higher marks than them on an assignment is persecution and must be the result of positive discrimination? It's an abuse of the word abuse I suppose!

    The thing about sexual abuse, is that a lot of victims, myself included at one stage, will find any excuse not to admit that it has happened. The level of hatred and anger towards the perpetrator is terrifying, and while I was living with mine I had to be in denial, or I probably would have killed her. On top of that I felt that it would change my identity fundamentally to admit that I was "someone who had been raped", then you're into all that "am I dirtied forever" crap. If I feel that, without the cultural pressure to be invulnerable that a lot of men feel, it's not surprising if many of them will choose the easier way out and become a culturally validated misogynist. Doesn't excuse it, of course, and I won't repeat how I feel about men who do, because it won't help anything! There may well be similar issues with emotional/physical abuse too; I've heard other survivors say that for them the verbal abuse was worse than the rape, so I expect it's all transferable.

    *When I mentioned feminism in my first comment on here, I was thinking mainly of a kind of lack of coherent definite position on female-perpetrated abuse. I don't believe that people who call themselves feminist who insist that it never happens are representative of the ideology.

    Probably TBC

  6. I think I've got a bit more to say re. my categorisation system. I think that in terms of the role of victim gender, there are three kinds of crime against the person (eg murder/rape/etc). The first is where the perpetrator doesn't care and just wants to attack someone, anyone will do. The second is where someone is abused by a member of one gender and has violent feelings towards the whole of it, but doesn't look for outside input, perhaps because they are too alienated. The third is where someone is abused by a member of one gender, has violent feelings towards the whole of it, and has used the convenient cultural ideas available to help justify their feelings, to the point where they actually believe that they're dealing in objective fact.

    Probably not very scientific, but it works in my mind! The point being that out of the victims who take out their problems on other people, the male ones are more likely than the female ones to end up as the third kind of perpetrator, and the third kind are less likely to correctly identify the source of their anger and less likely to be rehabilitated. Cultural misogyny is the mortar that forms the er... gender hatred bricks (bear with me) into a solid and impenetrable wall.

    Obviously a confused victim-perpetrator is no less lethal for their victim than a determined one, but I'm talking purely in terms of motivation here, again, not trying to excuse anything.

    I don't know what's to be done about male perpetrators who take a lack of subservience (or anything else on their long list of supposed crimes) as a deliberate slight punishable by violence. All I can think is that it needs to be identified as the narcissism that it is, which feminism and humanism help accomplish by pointing out that everyone has similar needs and no-one more right than anyone else to expect them to be met at other people's expense.

    In summary, in reference to the whole men's rights thing mentioned above, I think a good way forward would be for people in positions like mine to say that when people raise objections like the ones to the t-shirts (which are horrific), they're *just not talking about us right now*. I don't like feeling ignored any more than anyone else, but when people are discussing culturally sanctioned misogynist abuse, it's just not my time. And if I wanted to campaign against, I don't know, men being portrayed as useless in adverts (out of the long list of horrible ideas pushed in adverts), I could do that, but I wouldn't have to deny wider societal misogyny to do it.

    Hopefully some of that made sense.

  7. When I say just not my time, I mean time for validation of my most painful personal experiences, obviously it doesn't preclude my participation in the discussion. Not that I haven't experienced misogyny of the stereotypical kind, of course, it's just that I was too traumatised at that stage to be taking much in! Gets me out of remembering much about it, which is something, because being told that you're "less than" due to an accident of birth is truly a unique kind of pain.

  8. Oh, and in my first comment, second to last paragraph, the first sentence is not related to the rest of it really. That's just my bad writing. First sentence directed at you, J, rest of it directed at the misandry people.

  9. Good Morning Jan...oh, its afternoon already...that keeps happening...grrrr...

    So, I'm gonna start, and then I suspect I'll have to stop before I'm finished - I'm going away this afternoon, and as yesterday was a bit of a post-writing slumpity slump, I didn't do half the things I was supposed to, and the next thing I know there will be unpaired socks half way round the house....But I'll be back on Sunday, and will come back to this if I don't get all the way there...

    So, yes, I was asking you that...or more generally, I was asking if you think it is possible to make a distinction between unprocessed blame throwing, and pointing out systemic injustice/abuse. First off, thank you for not getting that impression, and I'm sorry also if I misunderstood you. We could probably get into a bit of apology ping-pong here, so I'll leave it at that. ...except to say, thanks for the comment about being safe. That's a big compliment...I've tried to work had at that, I think it's incredibly important, so yes, thank you.

    I guess the issue is not only that this is a stereotype about feminism (not entirely without reason of fact, this is also one of the reasons why it was so hard for me to muster political activism and engagement earlier in my life...because a lot of it looked like a whole lot of people cashing a whole lot of stamps (as they say in Transactional Analysis)), but that this can be said of any form of political engagement, which relies to greater or lesser degrees on mobilizing anger against injustice. So, I guess what I was saying is that there is definitely a tendency for these things to get conflated within political movements - and this is highly problematic - but that there there is also the possibility of distinguishing them (and that there must be, otherwise political resistance becomes impossible), and more so if the people involved are pretty self-aware.

    For me then, making political interventions of any type (whether in writing or activism), actually requires the self-awareness to be sure that one's not just throwing one's shit around...and so, again to return to the compliment and its meaningfulness. Moreover, my commitment to feminism is, as you suggest, underpinned by being fairly certain that I am not just trying to punish men for any wrongs I have experienced, largely because I am convinced that even though many men may resist it more or less violently, and may experience it as us hating on them, or trying to exterminate them etc...that patriarchy is actually just really really bad for men, and also restricts their possibilities and development, not in the same way as it does for women, but in not insignificant ways nonetheless (and also, as we mentioned, makes it very difficult - much more difficult than for women I think - for them to deal with abuse.) This also seems pretty amply demonstrated by the fact that a very significant number of the problems the MRAs attribute to feminism are actually caused by patriarchy. Amanda Marcotte is very good on this here...

    Right, well I've got the bottom of the first paragraph of the first installment of your second reply...hmmmm...this may take a while. I'm gonna do the packing and come back if I have time before I go...


  10. Dear Jan,

    Good morning! So, firstly, apologies for this taking me so long. I've been competing in what I like to refer to as 'The Hippie Apprentice,' from which I have withdrawn, on account of it becoming clear that my passion for gardening, making chutney and women's issues were all going to be something of a problem...It's been fun - in a weird, randomy kind of way - but rather distracting, and, in addition to some personal cupboard cleaning (that's an ongoing project hey?), has somewhat taken my head away from the land of internets...

    So, with regard to your interesting categories...I guess there are several things to say. Firstly, it seems, as you point out, imperative that feminism accepts that women are perpetrate abuse...although, that said, I’m not sure the issue is powerfulness, as I guess there is a question of the extent to which abuse is an expression of a feeling of power, as opposed to occupying a position of power. It's clearly the case that it is *about* power, and requires a position of power…and using that position to demonstrate power over the other (to the extent that it is that conscious)...but it seems that this desire is predominately derived from a feeling of powerlessness rather than one of power…from this perspective, the most dangerous thing it seems is people who feel powerless who are in positions of power...(this ranges it would seem, from the petty tyranny of school dinnerladies, to the real tyranny of the worst dictator)

    To the extent sexual violence is centrally implicated in the oppression of women, then it is, in a significant sense, the systematic expression of men's occupation of positions of power while experiencing themselves as powerlessness with respect to women (insofar as this follows from a model of masculinity as a type of invulnerability/narcissism which experiences dependency as intolerable powerlessness).

    I guess the question is then about the extent to which the other types of abuse you refer to - male on male, women on women, and also, women on male - are distinct, or implicated in these dynamics. Firstly it seems we have to say that we simply don't know enough about it, or have failed to consider it sufficiently. And with respect to that, I understand your feeling of not being represented. As you say, the non-visibleness of this experience, both due to the repression which individuals undertake themselves (often first adaptively, and then maladaptively), and due to social silencing of all types, is, in many respects unhelpful in the extreme...and there needs to be moves to make this process of materialization of experience more possible for *all* people, irrespective of whether their patterns fit into those narratives that we tell about structures of oppression. (Addendum: this is not unrelated to the activism I mention at the end of this ramble)

  11. I think there are two things I feel I don’t know about well enough to formulate a response – and realizing this is useful, so thankyou (in addition also to the fact that I haven’t experienced these types of abuse, or rather, the traumas I have internalized, have not been of these types…this itself is an interesting question, what makes the difference (between those that become traumatic, and that we can’t recognize, and cloud our self-image, and those that we can call from the off) in these cases, is it the seriousness of the abuse, the way it intersects with cultural narratives, the narratives of our personal environments…some combination of all of the above?). So – ahhh, digress, digress – back to this question of the two things I don’t understand, and in a certain sense, this really comes down to (as in the digression) the question of the relation between individual history and cultural narrative…

    i) To what extent is abuse the consequence of abuse…and to what extent does it require reinforcing narratives? I think we can’t produce a universal formula here, as there is a whole range of things going on…On the one hand there is evidence that many abused people do not becomes abusive, at least not on anything like the scale that they were subject to…while, at the same time, it seems clear that many abusive people are themselves the victims of abuse…On the other hand, in the case of systematic oppression, and an oppression which derives from a certain concept of masculinity, one which, as you say, perceives non-supplication as a threatening resistance which requires disciplining…it seems that abuse is not a necessary condition of further abuse…So I think, yes you are right, often the cultural narratives are the mortar which glue together the bricks of gender hatred derived from an abusive history…but at the same time, I think that sometimes that mortar actually produces the bricks…That is, I do think, that within patriarchy, sexual violence can be explained in some instances simply by a certain construction of masculinity, without requiring a previous narrative of abuse…which is not to say that all men are abusive to women…or that experiencing abuse does not also, in great likelihood increase the likelihood of being abusive…

    Oh damn this is complicated and makes my brain feel squiggly!

  12. ii) The second thing is the question of the extent to which that violence which doesn’t appear to fit immediately into the pattern of misogynist violence isn’t also, to some extent sometimes implicated in it. Again, I don’t think it is possible to generalize here…and I guess at this point I feel uncomfortable because this is not where my personal experience or trauma is…and I therefore feel unqualified to read or interpret. However, it does seem to me that there are instances in which men commit misogynist violence against men, and women commit misogynist violence against women. For example, I do think that homophobia is structurally very similar to misogyny – that it essentially derives from hatred of the feminine, and the related denigration of being penetrated – and that men can project that onto other men just as they can protect it onto women. Also, I think it is possible for women to be misogynists (for example, I think Palin, and Bachman, and Dorries, are misogynists)…and I think it is possible for women to internalize (possibly also as the result of their own abuse), the imperatives about the shamefulness of female sexuality and the need to control and discipline and render it powerless. This is, of course, not explanatory of all abuse against women by women…

    I guess what I am trying to get at really in all this rambling…is the extent to which you feel there are things we can do about your experience of being excluded from the conversation about this…because it seems that above all we want to get to a place where the discussion of abuse does not repeat people’s experience of silencing. Perhaps what I am asking is whether you think that any attempt to explain abuse as a cultural phenomenon will necessarily lead to a sense of exclusion to the extent that you don’t feel that your experiences fits inside a cultural pattern at all…or whether it fits inside a pattern, but one which hasn’t, possibly for political reasons, been explored in anything like enough detail...or recognized correctly. Perhaps I’m a bit odd I this regard, as I do have a tendency to see things which are not always recognized as part of patriarchy as related…for example…as I think I pointed out in the Doctor Who piece (and was amply demonstrated by the whole ‘useless daddy Cordon’ business the other week)…I think that portraying men as bumbling fools is totally implicated…either they are invulnerable, and if, as it turns out, they are not…then they are failures…(Moffat is super-guilty of this one…the fact that men need women for him is, in itself, evidence of their uselessness)…

    That said, I recognize that this is a question of your experience, about which I don’t know…and that also, there is a need to recognize that there is also other types of abuse…and that patriarchy cannot explain everything. Which is all to say…in the end….would it be helpful for us to both recognize that patriarchal violence includes instances of violence which extend beyond the male/perpetrator-female/victim model…and at the same time devote more attention to the types of violence which perhaps cannot be explained with respect to any kind of master narrative…or that need another kind of explanation?

    I’m actually considering doing some activism around this…so these are very live questions for me….and this is a conversation I would really like to continue over time…perhaps you can send me an email jayseajay at gmail dot com so I can contact you…as I think there are several things I might want to check out/run by you over the coming months…your input would be extremely valuable, particularly with respect to this issue of feeling excluded from the conversation, and that not being something I would ant to repeat…I can tell you more about it in a less public forum….

    Once again, thanks for thought provocations, and sorry again about the tardy

  13. Hi again :)

    Sorry I'm late replying myself; so much for my feedly subscription alerting me to new comments!

    I don't think this will be in any kind of order.

    When people talk about abuse of any kind, there is usually a vague awareness on their part that there are 2 kinds of abuser (yeah, I know, more categories). There is the victim-perpetrator and the original perpetrator. The victim-perpetrator is the one who has either been persuaded that abuse is the normal mode of interaction with others or has been so brutalised that they have a real drive to abuse because it gives them some kind of comfort or a buzz. The original perpetrator is more likely to be a psychopath, who has no motive other than sadistic enjoyment of others' pain. Because we have been so long to understand the dynamics and causes of abuse, as a society, we're in a position where one psychopathic parent 4 generations back could have produced 20 victim-perpetrators today due to the abuse being passed down. When you look at it that way, the statistic that 1 in 5 people of secondary school age have experienced serious abuse or neglect, as found in a recent study by Kidscape I believe, starts to look almost surprisingly low.

    A big, massive, huuuuuuge problem, from my perspective is the normalisation of a psychopathic worldview by our culture. Bearing in mind that psychopaths not only lack empathy, but also usually have a hugely inflated sense of entitlement. You can tie all kinds of things like consumerism and the pursuit of meaningless fame into that if you so wish. The point is, being cold and unemotional appears to confer social status (a nod here to what you were saying about English culture on the Dr Who thread). Unfortunately the often insincere unconfined expressions of emotion seen on reality TV reinforce people's prejudices; emotions are for the stupid and self-indulgent. You can often see this at work in the comments section of the Guardian website, where many posters just engage in a competition to see who can be the most sneering and passive-aggressive. It doesn't do the reputation of the Guardian any favours, sadly.

    A society lacking in compassion encourages abuse in two ways. As we've mentioned it increases the likelihood of victims becoming perpetrators as it keeps their pain suppressed and frustrated, but it also encourages a mindset that is more prone to abuse anyway.


  14. Upon reading it back, the following just looks garbled; it's a bit of a stream of consciousness, just make what you can of it!

    There's an interesting intersection with the issue of misogyny here. It's possible to say, and this is the route I would take personally, that things like this t-shirt story above, are indicative of a culture where it's considered amusing to treat human beings like crap. It's extremely difficult to quantify how much gendered violence-as-entertainment is visited upon women as opposed to on men. It's a very very complicated subject. As a fairly left-wing healthily sceptical kind of person I tend to think that most of this stuff has an evil money-grabbing bastard behind it somewhere, and that's the fundamental cause. But I have to wonder why people think that regressive attitudes like this sell. Domestic violence affects men too, but shirts like this aren't made for women. I suppose that's the women as objects, men as actors (subjects? My knowledge of grammer is substandard) problem. But women are not always the done-to, they are very often the do-er. So why does the cultural narrative not reflect reality? Why is it so divorced from so many people's lived experience? Misogyny or a desperation for certainty at the expense of truth?

    Despite this, there are obviously people who take these cultural messages to heart. The man who expects women to act as they do in porn videos and gets annoyed when they don't, the woman who thinks all women should really just be chased by men and spend a fortune trying to get men to want to, etc. I would even suggest that cultural messages worsen female-perpetrated abuse, since while a battered husband might think "this isn't really abuse, domestic violence is violence against women, not men", his wife might also use the same reasoning to diminish her own behaviour. "I can't be an abuser, because that's something men do to women, not the other way round."

    (Re. technical terms for the above: I have trouble defining what "the feminine" is in relation to the patriarchy, since most ideas about gender are all in people's heads anyway (eg. cultures where the men put on what is effectively make up and dance for the women; such things are clearly purely cultural). Then I start thinking that that's probably kind of the point that feminists are trying to make, that it's dislike of whatever is *perceived* as feminine that's the problem, then I get a headache.)


  15. My belief at the moment is that creating proscriptive and nonsensical categories for people to try and jam themselves into creates insecurity and often a sense of inadequacy, which encourages people to spend money on trying to be how they are expected to be. The obvious example is the idealised looks for women and increasingly men too, are ones that the vast majority of people need to spend a lot of money on surgery, beauty treatments, gym membership and possibly steroids to achieve. But it's possible that if someone chooses not to do so, they will be aware of a sense of lack of femininity/masculinity and so look to compensate in other ways. I'm just wondering if that (and any other expected but unattainable expression of masulinity/femininity) would explain the attraction of gender roles to some people. It may seem a bit far out ("I haven't got a six-pack, so I'd better make a joke about raping someone so everyone will know I'm a real man"/"I've got small breasts so I'd better make a joke about how useless men are so everyone will know I'm a real woman"), but I wonder...

    Went off on quite a tangent there. But I think that's what occurs to me when you mention patterns not being recognised, perhaps for political reasons. I think the political reason could well just be greed. People need to be kept scared, insecure and as self-hating as possible because that enables their exploitation as both consumers and workers. Getting really quite political now! I believe that recognising the complicated nature of life and of human behaviour would slow us all down, open our minds and ultimately make us a lot happier, and thus deprive certain wealthy people of some of their income.

    TBC again!

  16. "Firstly, it seems, as you point out, imperative that feminism accepts that women are perpetrate abuse...although, that said, I’m not sure the issue is powerfulness"

    I want to clarify that I was thinking purely in terms of personal, individual power, rather than social power. Like the power a parent has over a child rather than the power a CEO has over a company, for example. The lack of social power of women in the past, due to things like not being allowed to work once they got married, looks like a recipe for disaster really, as a woman feeling trapped by circumstance could still have power over her children and sometimes her spouse, and potentially friends as well, and so has the opportunity to become what is essentially a victim-perpetrator. Of course this extends to poorer men as well, in that they could be rendered relatively powerless due to lack of education or of "breeding". I think this would be another example of society creating abusers, and ties into the "Spirit Level" idea of inequality being the main source of unhappiness.

    "I guess the question is then about the extent to which the other types of abuse you refer to - male on male, women on women, and also, women on male - are distinct, or implicated in these dynamics"

    Personally, I tend to think of them as quite distince, although, male on male may have a connection through the homophobia you mention. This is mainly drawn from my experience. When I was raped I was 3 years old, and too young to have much of a mental map of the world, so to speak. My hatred of women as I grew up is interesting to me, because it's so insidious and powerful, and I think that it's come from two places. The first is my age. I would still have been learning about what constitutes a man and what constitutes a woman. I believe that the perception of womanhood as inherently abusive got almost hard-wired at that stage, so that womanhood became "shorter than men, higher voices, curvy, rapist". Oh dear. But I wonder to what extent that would have happened if it wasn't for the other contributing factor, about which I am very angry; the belief in our culture in the homogenity of members of each biological sex. We are taught from an early age that it it possible to generalise *anything* throughout one sex, from all girls liking fairy princesses at pre-school age, to all men being promiscuous in adulthood. I am livid that people have spent my lifetime denying the wondrous complexity of humanity. In my mind (and I fully admit that I have a lot of psychological problems) you can either generalise, or not generalise at all, and if you can generalise, then what's to stop me sticking with the definition of womanhood that I learned as a small child? If all women are in some almost indefinable way like my abusers, I don't want any of it.

    (This is why I mentioned, in a comment to someone else on the other thread, having queer ideas about gender, because I've got a lot riding on not going along with the traditional view.)

    Anyway, I think my feelings may be useful here, as dividing by gender seems to affect a lot of abuse victims. Someone did a study of victims of female-perpetrated abuse and found that 100% of them reported a "fear or distrust of women in general". I believe that this would partly be due to the desperation of the victim to make sense of what has happened in any way possible, no matter how screwed up (and writing off 50% of the population as "unsafe" does of course appear to help in the short term), but I would also like to lay the blame at the door of people who think that people's genitals define them and dictate their character.

    Bit more to come...

  17. So finally (I hope!)...

    "I guess what I am trying to get at really in all this rambling…is the extent to which you feel there are things we can do about your experience of being excluded from the conversation about this…because it seems that above all we want to get to a place where the discussion of abuse does not repeat people’s experience of silencing. Perhaps what I am asking is whether you think that any attempt to explain abuse as a cultural phenomenon will necessarily lead to a sense of exclusion"

    I'm not sure. I think a first step is in choice of words, in making sure that people know what specific form of abuse one is talking about so that readers/listeners know that one is not saying "this is what all abuse looks like". This enables others to recognise that one is talking about experiences like theirs or not like theirs. It takes a bitter person to deny other people's pain just because it doesn't look the same as their own, although unfortunately a lot of people have become that bitter. Careful choice of words should prevent all but the most hardened from feeling like starting a fight, as it at least shows that intentions are good.

    My personal choice is of course to talk in gender-free terms as much as possible; even obviously misogynist abuse I would challenge by asking why it's acceptable to treat another human being that way, as opposed to treating a woman (or gay/bi/trans/gender-nonconforming man) that way.

    But for someone to whom the patriarchy model is very meaningful, I guess my suggestion would be to separate modes of abuse that can be traced back to it from those that can't and just be clear about which are under discussion. As you say, this is very complicated and uncertain. I would be pleased to talk more with you, so I'll send you a quick email, probably not with much in it. You'll know it's mine as it's a yahoo address that starts with s and should show up as "A S" in your inbox/spam. If it isn't, it's someone pretending to be me!

    Also, I'm with you on the Corden Who episode. "Dads are bumbling but we love them anyway", like that hasn't been done to death. But at least it didn't make me cringe as much as the last one... dear God that writer boy makes me want to stab things.

    The end.

  18. Thanks for your article on the Guardian today. Comments are now closed, but you said something that needed to be said and you are now a heroine of Tumblr, Twitter and all those other pesky media sites that have been saying the same thing for the past two years. Thank you.

  19. Hey Audrey, Thanks! I have been lurking for the last couple of hours again, but decided not to go back btl as it was all a bit crazy. It's good to know that people feel it was a thing worth saying...I know of lot of my fellow Whovians have been grumbling about it for a while, and being asked to say it, I feel very lucky today..that's what so funny about all the 'you must have been looking with a microscope for it', we've all been bitching about Moffat and his utterly blatant misogyny for ages now...and then he gave us a special new year's gift to hang it on...There is a Who piece along these line from earlier this year on this blog if you'd be interested...and, cheers again!

  20. "What do you say to a woman who has got two black eyes ? Nothing, you've told her twice already."

    Finding that funny is about laughing at the juxtaposition of the comic and tragic. It does mean one is endorsing physical violence.

    Anymore than reading Sherlock Holmes is endorsing pipe smoking.

  21. Unlike other comments here I found your Sherlock piece in the Guardian just a little too manufactured toward you own needs.
    A silly piece altogether.

  22. @Anonymous 9:08pm

    So why isn't it phrased as

    "What do you say to someone who has got two black eyes? Nothing, you've told them twice already."?

    It's a bit too close to my experience of beating people up (out of what I would term necessity) for comfort, so I'd be disinclined to find it funny as it's more a statement of fact than a joke, but it works a lot better for your interpretation.

  23. tldr, only got up to where you discuss domestic violence. MRA assertions of female perpetrated DV equaling and in some cases surpassing male perpetrated DV are in fact based on US government DOJ statistics. They aren't made up. Just so you know.

  24. This might be of interest to you..... Anders Breivik’s prison correspondence to an EcoFeminist, are available at:

    Excerpt from EcoFeminist response to Mr. Breivik:

    Moral Support for Rule of Law Free and Fair Trial does NOT Equate to Ideological Support:

    I must emphasize the following so that you are not under any false illusions. My support is not for your ideology. I am not a nationalist, nor a militant nationalist, nor have I ever claimed to be one. Nor do I discriminate against anyone who considers themselves a nationalist, however they may define ‘nationalist’ or ‘militant nationalist’. See attached: (Annex A: My ideology is Radical Honoursty: Honour and Personal Responsibility) and (Annex B: A Proposal for Defining the Feminist vs. Anti-Feminist Problem).

    Simplistically, if I interpret your ideology correctly (here is brief summary of my current working hypothesis, correct if inaccurate) there are large differences in our existential ideologies.