This is not the first time that my ultra-feminist sister, let’s call her “Sandy”, has made a guest appearance in my writing (the first time is told in What Women Want, and she was not happy about it. I think this new appearance, we can keep private). For all our differences, Sandy is helping me write my book. Since she loves me and wants the best for me, I can hope that ultimately she would approve of this post.
So Sandy and I got to talking about man/woman (my favorite topic, of course) and I said that she could not assume that all gender traits are culturally conditioned. Immediately she flashed hot anger, said that I could not say that because there was no control group outside of culturally conditioned society, and told me she did not want to talk about it. However, she did go on a little bit anyway. Only briefly, because I interrupted her, gently, to say that I did not believe that she wanted to talk about it. Which she agreed and left the room.
A few minutes later she came back and I asked her what was the anger about? She said that with all the unspeakable evil happening in the world, violence against women and shaming and abuse, the large majority of these acts being done by men, that for me to start an inquiry into whether the causes of this were cultural or genetic seemed to her like a very bad direction to go. And in that moment I actually saw the logic or the reasoning behind that point of view. I can see that from her perspective, that kind of argument takes the attention away from the victims and onto justifying or defending the perpetrators. This actually does make sense, from a certain perspective.
And then she told me she wasn’t interested in my opinion or my response. I said, “I get it“, and was quiet. And she told me again, that she was not interested in my response. I sat there for a bit, wondering if there was anything I could say or contribute to the conversation, that would be helpful. And in the end I just said, “Okay”. And she was happy. It was I, after all, who had asked her about her anger. She had not invited ME to share my thoughts and feelings, and was really quite clear that she did not want that, presumably because it made her too angry, and being angry was uncomfortable and unpleasant to her. So I let it go, and we continued on to a very pleasant evening covering other family issues. She did tell me about the Indian women’s protest, in which 3.5 million women (and their men allies) formed a 385 mile long wall of protest. I found this very moving, actually.
That exchange was complete, at least in the moment, but there was something stuck in my throat, and it took me a while to clear it. Eventually, I understood both the truth (as above) and the fallacy of the dominant Western cultural meme regarding patriarchy and the relations between the sexes, this meme called “feminism”, although I hesitate to use that word because feminism has many dimensions (many dimensions, I mean, other than what I consider to be this fixation on the idea that gender differences are all culturally-based, an idea that is both scientifically bogus and which defies common-sense observation of men and women. This is a common logic fallacy called confirmation bias, by the way). And I also hesitate to use the word because I don’t claim to know much about feminism (note to self: make an effort, do some research?).
The way out of this impasse is actually straightforward (although certainly risky and full of emotional charge — it would require a guy with balls of steel to do this). Its a simple Socratic dialogue inquiry beginning with the question: “Do you believe that you know the solution to ending patriarchy and the oppression of women?“. From there I would mostly listen. And at some point I would say, “Okay. Are you interested in my opinion?“. And since I would have been listening for some time by then, I believe that would be granted. And then I would say: “Okay. I believe that your solution to patriarchy will not work, if that is all you do. Because I don’t believe that a solution that doesn’t involve women showing up to men in curiosity and love and understanding would ever end patriarchy and violence against women. I don’t believe that women can end patriarchy without men’s assistance. And I don’t believe that men will assist, if they are feeling constantly under attack for how certain men behave and if they don’t feel their needs and concerns are being addressed“. And I would stop there and be quiet and see if that lands at all. If there is no listening to that, just more anger, I would say. “Okay. You don’t appear to be interested in my point of view, is that correct“? And if that were confirmed I would say: “Okay. How do you respond to a person who is convinced that they are right, is not interested in hearing anyone else’s opinion, and gets angry when challenged?“. And I would let that land. Because here is the obvious answer to that question: you distance. There is really nothing else to do.
So that’s that. Having, by now, calmly and articulately demolished this imaginary feminist, I would like to get into my own anger here. Ideally, this is where the conversation would end up as well. It might be too much to hope for, because you can’t meet this degree of anger with direct anger back. But ideally, this is what I would like to say.
Very few people — and virtually NO “street feminists”, such as my sister — realize that patriarchy only serves 10% of men, at most. The rest of us are, for the most part, slaves. For sure, we in the 90% of slaves can go out at night without fearing attack, we don’t have to (for the most part) endure inappropriate sexual suggestions or worse, we can get into the “old boys network” with greater ease, and so forth. However, many of the actual metrics indicate that most men have it at least as bad as women under patriarchy. Women live 4 years longer than we do, on average. We commit 73% of the successful suicides, are victims of 93% of workplace deaths, and virtually all military deaths. We are twice as likely to become alcoholic or drug-dependent. We are discriminated against in both the criminal court and child custody systems, receiving on average 63% more prison time for the same sentence as women. The main area where women experience large-scale “physical suffering” (as opposed to say “psychological suffering”, as in unwanted sexual attention) more than men is in domestic violence. However, the claim that women suffer more than men under patriarchy, is probably simply untrue. It just depends on what aspects you look at. Men are actually dying here, in large numbers. And if they aren’t dying physically, they are dying psychologically.
In addition, we men are being displaced by machines, which means that our already-stressed self-esteem is further challenged as we are in danger of being made irrelevant, a thought that fills some radical feminists with glee. We are constantly under attack for being men, stupid entitled white males, and are getting less sex than ever before; and if we complain in any way, we are told to stop being cry-babies, that our suffering is nothing compared to the suffering of women, and to get with the program.
Who can blame the men for being angry? (And note I am not condoning the ideological excesses of the so-called “men’s rights movement” here, just explaining it. I consider most of “men’s rights” as a reactionary movement, and hence really not helpful). But even so: essentially, we, the 90% of men-slaves, are being scapegoated for the 10% of men who are either directly oppressing women or else benefiting from patriarchy through financial or inherited male privilege. To me, this is completely outrageous. It represents a deep lack of empathy on the part of women, and it poses a very great challenge for men like me, who are seriously and actively engaged in ending patriarchy, in the best way that they can. (My path to ending patriarchy is certainly unusual, I will grant that. It consists of men and women learning to love each other, and from there having more and better sex. I would argue that we have nothing to lose by trying, and that there is no cost to the attempt, as we can still engage in demonstrations and mass political action. This is called “Let us see now, what love can do” — William Penn).
I am beginning to understand that it is actually the women who are being culturally conditioned here. They are being culturally conditioned into victim-hood, in the name of higher principles. Some of them are trying to swap-out an oppressive patriarchy, with an oppressive matriarchy, the “tyranny of the single perspective”. It’s not going to work. I am beginning to understand that men need to start showing up to women in their truth, as in “speak truth to power”. Not negating the other’s experience, but suggesting there is another way to look at things, a higher perspective. Women who are truly interested in ending patriarchy and violence against women, ought to take a lesson from Gandhi, in my view (the most successful social and political activist of all time). Gandhi very pointedly refrained from ad-hominem attacks on his “enemies”. He successfully organized large demonstrations, such as the Indian women’s march above, by speaking to the hearts of his audience, appealing to their sense of justice, morality and basic goodness. He was inclusive. He treated with compassion all who crossed his path, friend or foe. He “spoke truth to power”.
I don’t want to make the women wrong here. God knows they have reason to be angry. But there needs to be at least one grown-up in the room here, if we are going to solve this awful problem.