Neil Lyndon is a brave man. Some might say he’s ‘foolish'; others might think he’s ‘wrong’. But whatever your views, it would be difficult to deny his courage. For over twenty years he’s been publicly questioning, challenging, and countering feminist dogma at some personal cost, and with very little support. No matter how much we are told the media is ‘sexist’ and dominated by ‘boys clubs’ or ‘laddism’, it is very difficult to find a single mainstream journalist who directly and consistently criticises ‘the sisterhood’. As an often lone voice in the wilderness, Lyndon is to be admired. In 2014 he self-published a collection of his writings since 1990: Sexual Impolitics: Heresies On Sex, Gender and Feminism. This kindle book is said to contain ‘the full unexpurgated, uncensored text’ of his 1992 publication: No More Sex War: The Failures Of Feminism. I can well imagine the extent to which editors in the early 90s might have altered and sanitised Lyndon’s original work in order to make it ‘safe’ for general consumption. But, having bought a hardback copy of No More Sex War in a second hand bookshop a couple of years ago, I thought I’d read it how it was first unleashed on the unsuspecting, unsympathetic world back in 1992.
My first observation is about how readable and clearly expressed the book is. As someone who has more recently attempted to write critically about feminism and to point out its flaws and failings, I know it is not easy to sum up exactly what it is that’s wrong with such an influential and seemingly ‘common sense’ way of looking at the world. I also know from my own experiences, that the ‘feminist critic’ has to be capable, rigorous and eloquent, because any weakness in argument will be pounced on and used to dismiss and belittle their positions. So it is a major strength of No More Sex War that it is accessible, always backed up by evidence and examples, and maintains clarity and reason throughout. If feminists and feminist allies have still ignored, dismissed or treated Lyndon’s book with contempt (which I believe they have) this is through no fault of the author. It is most likely that they just didn’t want to hear the valid and important points he makes.
Lyndon begins by setting out his stall, and explaining why he cannot subscribe to a dogma which claims women and only women suffer disadvantage and discrimination in our society (the book mainly refers to western capitalist society). He cites examples some of you will be familiar with, such as the fact men do not have equal custody rights over their children as women, men have no say in whether or not a woman they’ve conceived with has an abortion, and men have little or, as was the case at the time the book was written, no paternity leave when their children are born. Therefore, Lyndon argues:
‘If any disadvantages apply to all men, if any individual man is denied a right by reason of his gender which is afforded to every individual woman, then it must follow that ours is not a society which is exclusively devised to advance and protect advantages for men over women. It is not a patriarchy’ (Lyndon 1992:9).
This simple statement, that seems so obvious and true, could put an end to the tiresome ‘oppression olympics’ currently being played out across the globe (including or predominantly online). If anyone would take heed, that is. For there’s a sadness that runs through No More Sex War, for me as a reader, and for the author, which stems from the fact that no amount of reasoned argument and critical thinking can quell the tide of feminism’s ‘righteous’ anger, prejudice and sometimes bile. It couldn’t in 1992 and it can’t now. But that doesn’t make this treatise any less valuable. One of the strengths of the work is how fearlessly Lyndon looks feminism directly in the eye, asks it questions and analyses feminist viewpoints, in prominent feminists’ own words. Critics of the dogma constantly get accused of misunderstanding or misinterpreting feminist beliefs and stances. But Lyndon does no such thing. Rather he painstakingly, patiently dissects feminist texts, from serious tomes such as Greer’s The Female Eunuch and Firestones’ The Dialectic of Sex to throwaway remarks and interview responses in the mainstream media. It makes for grim reading at times. Some choice examples of ‘casual misandry’ Lyndon cites include:
Anna Raeburn, agony aunt: ‘I regard men as a pleasant pastime but no more dependable than the British weather’
Germaine Greer, author: ‘It always amazes me that women don’t understand how much men hate them’
Jane Mcloughlin, author: ‘We’ll wear you [men] like alligator handbags’.
Lapel badge: ‘the more men I meet the more I like my dog’
And of course, I hardly need to tell many of you that a reason No More Sex War is still relevant in the 21st century social media age, is that social media campaigns such as ‘Everydaysexism’ dedicated to noting and exposing sexist remarks and actions, never includes examples of sexism against men.
Neil Lyndon writes from the point of view, not of a ‘retro’, ‘chauvinist’ ‘neanderthal’ man who dislikes feminism because it challenges his power and dominance over women. Rather he tells a moving and interesting story of being a young, left/liberal hopeful man in the 1970s, ready for and keen on ‘liberation’ of men and women. But twenty years on when he wrote the book, he concluded disappointedly that he and the ‘radicals’ of his post-war ‘baby boomer’ generation had not quite delivered the new world they were hoping to create. In places I think he can be a bit heavy handed in his damning critique of the politics he encountered in the 70s and 80s, as it was influenced by Marx and Freud in particular. But it is fascinating for me, a small child of Marxist/Freudian/Feminist parents in the 70s, to hear one person’s perspective on that period. In particular Lyndon astutely examines key socio-economic changes of the post-war era. He shows that feminists not only often take credit for developments they had no role in bringing about (such as women entering the workforce and the invention of the contraceptive pill) but that in many cases feminism reacted against social change and harked back to previous times when men and women had more ‘traditional’ roles. Because if there’s no Great Dark Patriarch anymore then there’s no target for most of feminism’s wrath.
I’m posting this review later than promised, and meant it to coincide with a review of the same book (or rather the new Kindle edition) by Sarah Brown at Harry’s Place. In it she writes:
‘As I began to read No More Sex War, I was reminded of the arguments used by some counter-jihadists. Their implacable hostility to Islam arises (in part) because they only accept the most austere interpretations as truly Islamic. The book opens with an assurance that he fully supports the advances women have made over the last hundred years or so, but goes on to describe feminism as a form of ‘totalitarian intolerance’ comparable to Nazism or Stalinism. This suggests a ‘no true feminist’ fallacy is at work here – liberal feminists aren’t really on his radar.’
I don’t think this is true. I think Lyndon was open to a ‘liberal feminism’, when he was a young, politicised man in the 1970s. For me No More Sex War reads as a disappointed realisation that feminism is not what he and many others hoped it was and would be. Maybe I see it that way because I share his disappointment. In any case, he anticipates Sarah’s criticism in the original text:
‘feminism, they would probably say, has developed so far and has taken so many different but connected forms that it cannot be discussed as if it was a single body of belief and attitude which can be reduced to three cardinal propositions’.
And I share Lyndon’s response to that common refrain amongst liberal feminists, who don’t want to be associated with the actions and words of their more ‘radical’ and ‘extremist’ sisters. He writes:
‘Despite the evasions of the contemporary sisters, there must be a connecting characteristic between all the various forms and styles of feminism, otherwise they would not be grouped together under that umbrella term and the word ‘feminism’ could have no meaning.’
He goes on to identify that connecting characteristic as ‘ the belief that women share interests which are distinct from men’s’, that ‘those interests can best be advanced by women acting collectively’ and that ‘women’s particular interests are and always have been at odds with the interests of men’.
If, like Lyndon, and, better late than never, like me, you think that men and women’s interests (and the interests of people who eschew the binary altogether) are not at odds, then I fail to see how feminism has anything to offer you. No More Sex War is not exactly an optimistic book, but twenty years after it was first published, thanks in no small part to pioneers such as Lyndon, I think we can allow ourselves a little bit of hope.