The Dangers of Reading

Posted: May 19, 2012 in Blogging, Book Reviews, Feminism, Male Impersonators, Masculinities, metrosexuality, Writing

I read [redacted]  rather late. Too late in some ways. The havoc it might have caused had I read it during my undergraduate or postgraduate studies, and my following career in gender departments in British universities did not come to pass. But it still caused some havoc. And for that I shall remain forever grateful.

To cut a long story very short, [redacted] changed the way I think, and the way I look at the world. It enabled me, along with some other factors, to finally let go of the feminist dogma that I’d been attached to for my whole life (40 years of it). From a ‘Freudian’ perspective then, it is no wonder that I have become so [redacted].

I conveyed my enthusiasm for [redacted]

And, finally [redacted]

‘Okay, so this is what I want: I want, when someone changes their mind about something, for them not to go ideologically swinging to the far other side. I was reading some reviews of [redacted] and there are some of former feminists writing about it. And when I say “former” I mean “anti.” We’re talking PhDs in women’s studies who have suddenly realized men are people, too, and they are also oppressed by our patriarchal structure, and so that means we have to wipe out decades of feminist thought, because obviously the two cannot coexist.

Someone can explain to me why this is later, I have tickets to the opera tonight and I have a feeling it’s going to take a while.’

Well I’d hate to interrupt anyone’s relationship with the opera, darling, but I can answer that question in one sentence. In an email to this poor confused opera-goer I replied:

‘That is easy. It is because feminism is fuelled by misandry and a need to present men as the oppressors of women.’

But this isn’t about me (NO REALLY) this is about [redacted] The review that appeared recently at The Smart Set blog was a joint review of a few books on masculinity. It reads:

‘I’ve been reading books about masculinity, the authors trying to challenge what we think of as normal. Boyhoods, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform, and [redacted]. All three writers are queer. When I tried to find a book that challenged society’s ideas of masculinity that was written by a straight man, all I could find was a book defending men’s needs to cheat on their wives.I did find a used copy of a book called Under Saturn’s Shadow: The Wounding and Healing of Men, which did not meet my expectation, didn’t so much challenge traditional forms of masculinity as psychoanalyze some problems men might have with women. But I kept reading it anyway, because the person who had it before me did some heartbreaking underlining. Next to the underlined passage “Out of their rage they wound others, and out of their sorrow and shame they grow more and more distant from each other,” there are two exclamation marks. Next to “A man’s experience of the primal relationship may have been so painful that he expects all relationships can only be painful. Thus his life is a dreary cycle of fearing domination by others and seeking to exploit them instead,” there is a star. “Many men are full of rage against women, and often they act it out” is underlined twice.I wonder about the man who read this book before me. I wonder what he got out of being told, “Men’s lives are as much governed by restrictive role expectations as are the lives of women.” I wonder what he then did with that information. Because it seems like the kind of book that would be read by one of the men in the 1994 essay collection [redacted]. In it, [redacted] sits down at one point with Alan, a man who appears in a documentary from the ’90s called Sex Hunters. He’s one of a group of young men profiled in the film who decided to spend their summers living together in a sort of boy commune. They live in a caravan, drinking and carrying on, and they have a contest for who can sleep with the most women. Each sex act is one point. 

Under Saturn’s Shadow is saying something true about the expectations put on men. But the previous owner did a lot of underlining about the betrayals of mothers and the absences of fathers, and not a whole lot in the sections where the author advises men to commune with their inner femininity and give it expression. Alan, in the documentary, complains about the duties of masculinity — the providing, the sacrifice, the achieving, the marriage and fathering of children. He has decided life should be more fun, that men should have other options. If you start spending some time on the websites of men’s advocacy groups, things can quickly turn anti-women, with men calling their ex-wives bitches, railing against women’s cold hearted natures, ranting about how “the system” is stacked against them and in favor of women. Simpson says to Alan, “Many all-male communities that get together and talk about common interests, activities — whether that’s fucking or surfing — is based on a kind of exaltation, a kind of worship, of the masculine and a denigration of the feminine, whether that’s the feminine embodied in women, or whether that’s the feminine embodied in so-called ‘effeminate’ men, men who, either in terms of where they put their dicks or how they dress or cut their hair, don’t conform to that masculine ideal.”’

This passage illustrates to me exactly why feminism cannot coexist with a love for men. And it illustrates why Male Impersonators, in my grubby hands, was such a dangerous book. Because it taught me that to actually be interested in men, in how culture has produced them, and how they resist or embrace or transform their ‘masculinity’, to actually want to hear men speak with their own voices, is to ‘offend’ feminism. To threaten it so much that it has to assert its own reason for existing, in an article that is ostensibly about men and books about masculinity. These lines from the review are chilling to me:

I wonder about the man who read this book before me. I wonder what he got out of being told, “Men’s lives are as much governed by restrictive role expectations as are the lives of women.” I wonder what he then did with that information.

The author seems to be saying that men can’t be trusted to read!

In feminism the notion of consciousness raising has been prominent for decades. Based on a Marxist model of ‘false consciousness’, feminists since the 70s (probably earlier) have been encouraging women to get together and to read feminist tracts, to open their eyes and to free them from the grip of patriarchy’s lies.

But men are not supposed to raise their consciousness. Unless it involves swallowing hook line and sinker the ‘consciousness’ of feminist women. They are supposed to shut up and listen.

[redacted] ‘raised my consciousness’ to the point that I abandoned feminism altogether.So I am not surprised that a feminist reviewer reading my take on Simpson’s work, nearly missed her date with the opera to huff and puff about my audacious cheek.

And look what I have done with [redacted]! Well, my dear feminist/gayist middle class liberal establishment, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Comments
  1. typhonblue says:

    This:

    “If you start spending some time on the websites of men’s advocacy groups, things can quickly turn anti-women, with men calling their ex-wives bitches, railing against women’s cold hearted natures, ranting about how “the system” is stacked against them and in favor of women.”

    Is the horrible spectre of misogyny she’s on about?

    I’m sorry, what?

    Then the average get together for women must be boiling misandrous hellholes because calling their exes bastards, railing against men’s ‘cold hearts’ and talking about how the system is stacked against them is standard fare for women to go on about with their hairdressers. In public. Much less in settings that are intended to advocate for their issues.

    In those settings feminists take human problems and try to force them into ‘man aggressor/woman victim’ dichotomies that end up informing policy and leaving ~50% of the victims of these problems out in the cold with only feminist shaming to keep them warm.

    Also, applied equally, wouldn’t this discredit 99% of feminism as misandry?

    • well quite. The logic is women are allowed to hate on men because men represent ‘the patriarchy’. This is how I paraphrased the woman, in her comment about my review of MI:

      ‘so here’s what I want. when someone changes their mind about feminism, I want them to NOT CHANGE THEIR MIND and then to come to the opera with me and slag off men in the interval over white wine spritzer like a good little feminist, but maybe with more nuance than before’

  2. Jonathan says:

    This is about feminist polemics. Just because there’s always a load of crap in polemical writing doesn’t mean you can’t extract the truth and discard the rest.

    Case in point: I’m currently reading Sheila Jeffreys’ Beauty and Misogyny and she’s got a lot to say about agency, the nature/absence of choice, culturally mandated heterosexuality and so forth which is really spot on. At the same time she posits it within a “man aggressor/woman victim” framework, which has only partial truth at best – especially as regards “beauty” being solely imposed on women (Mark Simpson’s work is of course very relevant here) – and is now, I think, more to do with a capitalist desire to perpetuate a passive consumer population than the oppression of women per se. (And that’s not even mentioning Jeffreys’ hateful writing on transgender issues, about which she’s completely blinded by prejudice.)

    Anyway, when feminists talk about men it’s often in polemical (aka sexist) terms, yes – but I can reject all the stuff I think is crap. It doesn’t mean that everything else is crap too. So I’m with Crispin here: “I want, when someone changes their mind about something, for them not to go ideologically swinging to the far other side” – i.e. an extreme, “conversion” reaction, which strikes me as being just as silly.

    • I am happy to be considered silly.

      But I have read more feminism, and extracted more ‘sense’ from it than most other people I know. I havent rejected social constructionist views of gender (which I got from feminism). I haven’t rejected the ‘performative’ aspect of gender (which I got from feminism). I have rejected feminism the dogma. I can use ideas without subscribing to a ‘polemic’ to what I perceive to be like a religion.

      and I wouldn’t read a book by Sheila Jeffreys if it was the last book on earth.

      • Jonathan says:

        Extracting sense – well, okay, then :) . As for dogma and religion, these don’t really interest me; but certainly ideology can become both, yes.

  3. Danny says:

    Okay, so this is what I want: I want, when someone changes their mind about something, for them not to go ideologically swinging to the far other side.
    I wonder if they believe that in all mind changes and ideological swings or just certain mind changes and ideological swings.

    • I suspect that may be the case. what if I were a republican and then became a democrat? Or if I was previously anti-feminist and then ‘saw the light’ and embraced feminism?

  4. marc2020 says:

    I believe that what is needed is a more unified movement or for us to start listning to each other more.

    I care about women and I care about men I don’t want my love and respect for one genderto be canceled out by my love and respect for the other the very idea is ridiculous to me.

  5. redpesto says:

    Two quick points:

    “I wonder about the man who read this book before me. “ – well, if you want to assume it actually was a man, and not a woman…or possibly a feminist who’s probably thinking ”Told you so!’ as they underline selected passages from the book.

    “When I tried to find a book that challenged society’s ideas of masculinity that was written by a straight man, all I could find was a book defending men’s needs to cheat on their wives.” A very bad-tempered part of me thinks this is because they know what kind of kicking they’d get if they tried (see the reaction to David Benatar’s The Second Sexism in the Guardian for starters). Plus, we did the ‘mythopoetic’/Iron John bollox decades ago.

  6. elissa says:

    I’ve seen many feminists accept the troublesome reality and faults of their feminist politic yet still remain incapable of letting go of their feminist identity. Tradition imprints profoundly on the human psyche – belonging is not something that can be easily cast away by followers, which is what most people are, within certain aspects of their life.

    Couple identity with an in/out group dynamic and voila – oppressor/oppressed dominates political discourse. Political dogma, by definition and practice, is about maximizing my grief and minimizing all else that is not my grief. It’s a human frailty that infects every good intention that hits the market place of ideas and organizes. Sure tell signs of corruption are the artifacts it leaves in plenty: “You’re a feminist if you believe women are human beings too”.

    The placing of the “too” at the end of that thought is critical!

    But I tentatively disagree with your epiphany Quiet Girl – you were dying to jump ship and it was just a cock that nudged you over the side. And I don’t know how I know that.

    • I expect I had some subconscious resistance to my feminist upbringing for a long time.

      But to my own conscious knowledge I was a devout feminist until I started writing about sex and sex work and porn, when I came up against the most hateful bile from my ‘sisters’ mainly online. Simpson’s work gave me the confidence to tell them where to go.

    • oh and that was in 2010.

      On Mon, May 21, 2012 at 3:35 PM, Elly wrote:

      > I expect I had some subconscious resistance to my feminist upbringing for > a long time. > > But to my own conscious knowledge I was a devout feminist until I started > writing about sex and sex work and porn, when I came up against the most > hateful bile from my ‘sisters’ mainly online. Simpson’s work gave me the > confidence to tell them where to go. > >

  7. elissa says:

    Sex ideas and writings is also what turned my distaste into mild contempt.

    Case in point from current Kimmel

    http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2012/04/09/is-fellatio-finished

    And the ass made me need to look up the word: detumescent

    • redpesto says:

      Kimmel really doesn’t want to acknowledge that some men enjoy fellatio because it feels good, while Schwyzer seems to think men have ‘performance anxiety’ when giving head to a woman – and presumably are phallocentric patriarchal bastards whenever they experience fellatio. And as for ‘can heterosexual men embrace the liberatory promise of queer sex–the freeing of sexual pleasure from gender inequality?’ – are we still using gay men as benchmark for alternatives to heterosexual masculinity, despite the fact that ‘gay sex’ is all about sex between men?

      File under: ‘Telling your audience what you think they most want to hear’ (and getting it wrong anyway)

  8. QRG–

    Did you see this article about a Men’s Center being built in a collge campus in Canada?

    “Unsurprisingly, however, not everyone at SFU is thrilled with the decision. The Women’s Centre, for one, coolly brushed off the idea of a stand-alone Men’s Centre on its website, simply stating that, “the men’s centre is everywhere else.” They did say they would welcome a men’s centre that focused on “challenging popular conceptions about masculinity, confronting homophobia, sexism, racism, classism, and ability issues.” In contrast, they would oppose a men’s centre that “focussed on maintaining the old boys club … that promotes the status quo, encourages sexual assault, or fosters an atmosphere of competition and violence.” Oh. OK, then. Good to know. ”

    http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/05/20/robyn-urback-on-shocking-anti-male-hatred-on-the-sfu-campus/

    they can’t even acknowledge men as full human beings that have their own needs. It always goes back to men’s utility towards women, just like that awful Hilary Clinton quote about women being the primary victims of war while erasing the deaths of men and boys.

  9. redpesto says:

    They did say they would welcome a men’s centre that focused on “challenging popular conceptions about masculinity, confronting homophobia, sexism, racism, classism, and ability issues.” I – well, they could set up a rival one of their own to do just that…

  10. redpesto says:

    “the men’s centre is everywhere else.” – variations of this response keep cropping up, especially in defence of women-only (whether literal, metaphorical or virtual). I’m still wondering whether this is a lazy way of not engaging with the issue, a rhetorical trick to reinforce a ‘siege mentality’ in pursuit of political goals (the library is clearly a ‘Patriarchal Knowledge Hub’ in this formulation), or evidence of the crudity of certain lines of feminist thought. That said, it could even be all three.

  11. Paul B says:

    I’m getting really sick of this idea that men need feminism’s (or even feminists’) permission to do… well, anything. I’m highly insulted by the idea that any group of men that isn’t directly overseen by women and/or feminists is destined to degenerate into a group of hunchbacked neanderthals crouched in a pit poking each other with pointed sticks and shoving berries up their noses

  12. [...] The Dangers of Reading Mark Simpson (with apologies to regular QRG readers) [...]

  13. Matthew says:

    Part of the issue in Western culture is the exact opposite of what many feminists believe. Men who love women, who desire women often elevate them, surrender power to them, then submit to restrictive gender roles to maintain a relationship. (I certainly have especially in my twenties) It is rather Gothic, elevating the Virgin Mary and burning witches. But feminists often insist on this elevated status recreating the paradigm. I believe Bly try to address this problematic dichotomy but I think with only limited success because the men’s movement simply repackages old masculinities and makes them look new.

    Oddly my bisexual Queerness has been one of the greatest antidotes for these problems. Because if women do not have a monopoly on sex and emotional bonding I can actually relate to women on much more equal terms, I can play with and renegotiate gender roles, both in and out of bed. I can act out genders and not have to be a specific gender.

    I am beginning to see how genderqueer, trans folk, and bisexual people completely throw a wrench in both the traditional feminist machine and the men’s movement. Trans, bi, genderqueer people have complex sexual and gender identities which are continually self constructed we play with gender like clay morphing it’s possibilities and transgressing it’s boundaries.

  14. Ever read “The Sceptical Feminist” ~ by Janet Radcliffe Richards. There’s a book that radically altered my responses to feminist… and a lot else. I can recommend it.

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