Book projects – Whiplash: 8: Personal and political

According to most feminist theory, women have very little power – a situation which, in puellist versions of ‘feminism’, is usually ascribed to the machinations of men. Reality Department has a rather different view, however: in ‘Western’ cultures at least, women outnumber – and hence can outvote – men by a considerable percentage, and spend on average at least twice as much as men [1] – so by any political or commercial measure, women, as a gender, have access to power that men simply do not. The argument that women – collectively, at least – are ‘powerless’ is just not valid.

But if women are powerful, what are they doing with that power – especially the very real legislative powers assigned to them by feminist action? The short answer would seem to be “making an absolute hash of it”, just like the men… puellists have always claimed to be better than men in everything, and in terms of their ability to make things worse than when we started, they seem to be right…

That probably sounds more than a little unfair. After all, look at all the feminist achievements of the past three decades: equal opportunity at work, the banning of sexual discrimination, new legislation against violence and rape, the acknowledgement of a woman’s right to choose her own reproductive life, and so on. Well, yes, I am looking: and anyone who looks at our world with an eye in any way less blinkered than that of the average puellist would have to say that the results are somewhere between a shambles and a sham. [2]

‘Equal opportunity’ has meant little more than a new way to re-entrap women in the commercial mess from which three whole generations of feminists fought to break free. Far from banning gender-discrimination, legislation for ‘affirmative action’ and the like promotes overt discrimination against men, invites covert discrimination against women – which is far more difficult to deal with – and surrounds schools with a maze of rules about ‘political correctness’ that make education almost impossible. Although new rape laws may perhaps have improved the situation for some women, the statement that violence is exclusively male, and that ‘all men are rapists’, has led to worse miscarriages of justice against both men and women, as well as denying any redress or support in dealing with women’s violence; instead of saying “hey, you two, break it up!”, the law now starts off with the premise “hey, you man, you are to blame!”. And the obsession with ‘a woman’s right to choose’ has not only ignored completely men’s concerns as parents, but has led to a denigration of parenthood on a scale never before seen in history. No-one in their right mind could describe these as unequivocal ‘improvements’: they might perhaps seem so for a few individual puellists – mainly middle-class professionals – but not for anyone else.

“The personal is the political” was the old slogan: and that’s exactly what it’s become for puellists – the political as a means to offload personal issues onto everyone else. We must challenge this, urgently: or else we really will see a backlash by puerists, by comparison with which the current bleatings about ‘the backlash’ will seem pleasantly tame. When even serious feminists such as Naomi Wolf fail to distinguish between power and dispower, and describe ‘revenge’ actions against men as a good idea [3], it’s clear that feminism is in deep trouble; and since women do have very real impact, that means we’re all in trouble. The arrogant demand by the Allies for ‘reparations’ against Germany at the end of the First World War led directly to the rise of Nazism and the renewed slaughter of the Second World War; we cannot afford the same to happen in a ‘gender war’, especially as it was largely manufactured out of thin air in the first place.

Like the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group of the 1970s, which set out to prove that Germany was a police-state – and succeeded in creating one where, by comparison, none had existed before – puellism has managed to convert significant yet minor problems into major ones that threaten to engulf us all. Puellism’s obsessive self-centredness and refusal to acknowledge others’ humanity bear all the classic hallmarks of an unstable paediarchy: so a real yet minor problem, which was primarily an indifference to women’s humanity and women’s needs, has been turned into major problem, a legally-enshrined denial of men’s humanity and men’s needs. No culture can withstand that kind of strain for long: historically, the usual result has been a violent return to the dispower of fundamentalism. For those of us who can see the difference between power and dispower, the prospect is not a happy one…

The only way out is to challenge puellism at every turn – but in the cause of feminism, for women’s rights, for women’s humanity, not against them. Likewise, if men want their own humanity to be acknowledged, we have no choice but to challenge the ‘backlash’ of puerism at every turn – including, or perhaps especially, within ourselves. True feminism and masculism depend on each other, or they both fail: and the time of greatest danger is now.

That perhaps sounds melodramatic. It isn’t: but perhaps the only way to see this is to look at the world from a male perspective. I’ll admit that I now read with bleak amusement the much-repeated puellist claim that “only women empathise with others”: puellists may empathise with each other, perhaps, but seem startlingly unable to empathise with men’s experience – or even to acknowledge it as experience at all. Compared to the many masculist writers – such as Sam Keen or David Cohen, or even the much-maligned Robert Bly – who go to great pains to try to understand women’s perspectives, very few feminist writers even bother to look at what it means to be male in a world that, in reality, has always been just as abusive of men as it is of women. Of all the feminist authors whose books I’ve read, I can think of just three who understand the need for this – those three being Carol Lee, Gloria Steinem and the novelist Ursula Le Guin [4]; and even then Steinem’s efforts to include men’s issues in her “Revolution From Within” are distinctly half-hearted at times. It’s a pathetically small number…

So by way of comparison – and with the assumption that the feminist perspective is sufficiently well-understood for a true comparison to be made – it’s useful to wear male eyes for a change, and to wander through this Brave New World that puellism has brought us: and ask ourselves whether its ‘political correctness’ is a true reflection of everyone’s humanity, or simply a new way to offload the personal onto the political. Is what we see truly empowering for all – or merely dispower in a different guise? If what we see was said about, or done to, a woman, would it be so acceptable, so ‘normal’, as it may seem when said about, or done to, a man?

For a start, take a long look at any newspaper or magazine. According to puellist theory, these are still bastions of ‘male-dominated patriarchy’: a slightly less blinkered view would illustrate that this is exactly what they’re not. Feminist academics perform ‘deconstruction’ on newspaper articles, analysing the sub-text of every word, phrase, sentence in the search for ‘bias’ against women; but to find a far greater bias against men, we don’t need anything like such sophisticated apparatus – all we need do is look.

Take one example: a few days ago there was a breathless article in the main tabloid newspaper here, with the headline of “It’s official! Women work more than men”; the lead-in waxed long about men watching television while women work; the accompanying cartoon showed a man with a manic grin sitting watching television while a sad-faced woman cleaned all round him. Fine: except that the statistics printed with the article showed an average difference of just eight minutes a day in television-watching time, with a matching difference in housework-time – whilst for most other work-activities the figures showed that men work longer than women, the exact opposite of the statement made by the headline. [5] The statistics themselves don’t matter: it’s the distortion – in fact negation – of the meaning of those statistics by the bias in the headline and cartoon that are so infuriating.

A few weeks earlier, the same newspaper ran another article quoting a ‘church academic’, Moira Eastman, as stating that “the idea that two-parent families are the best is the ‘ultimate in arrogance, ignorance and middle-class chauvinism'”, and again accompanied by a cartoon, this time showing first a smiling woman and two smiling children – “The unacceptable position”, was the caption – and then the man with the manic grin, the woman lying bruised on the floor, and the two children with sad faces, and the caption “The preferred position”. [6] Elsewhere in the article it became obvious that Dr Eastman was talking mostly about the need to understand ‘non-materialistic factors’ in successful families – statements which were reflected neither in the lead-in nor in the cartoon, which instead, as usual, promoted the notion that men are violent and should be excluded from the family. (The cartoonist, incidentally, is male.)

Articles like these are not unusual: they are, if anything, the norm. When did you last read an article in a mainstream newspaper which described women in such a negative light? Not for a very long time, I’d wager: it’s deemed unacceptable in the extreme. But somehow it’s deemed not merely acceptable, but praiseworthy, to describe men in this way…

Occasionally, just occasionally, someone in a newspaper office does notice the imbalance:

This newspaper ran a story and a pocket cartoon on its front page yesterday about a court case in the Washington suburb of Manassas in which a woman cut off her husband’s penis because, she claimed, he had come home one night drunk and had raped her. The story [title: “Revenge on a night to dismember”] and the cartoon [caption: “Why did your cut off your husband’s penis?” “I was aiming for his brain”] were funny and the joke in a sense was on men. But not a single man complained. Had the story and the cartoon been about the woman in the case, would women have greeted it with silence? Certainly not. We live in strange times as far as gender politics are concerned. [7]

Ridiculing men seems like a joke, seems funny – for a while. And then, as women know only too well, these ‘jokes’ tend to wear just that bit too thin… But newspapers now also seem incapable of ever portraying men as a gender in a positive light without needing to add some kind of anti-male comment: a magazine piece on ‘Father’s Day’, for example, included the ‘father’ of the Australian wool industry, Elizabeth Macarthur, “the forebear of all those Australian women who endure hardship and deprivation and never receive due credit”. [8] (Well, yes, point taken, but does it have to be said every time? Do we see, in Mother’s Day articles, acknowledgements for the fathers who likewise “never receive due credit” for the work they do to support their families? If not, why not?) It would be hard to find any newspaper of the past thirty years which denigrated women as a gender in anything remotely resembling this manner: so why should it be acceptable to do so to men, incessantly, in every newspaper, every day?

Men are human too: words do hurt us, just as much as they hurt women. Vast swathes of supposedly ‘feminist’ or ‘pro-feminist’ writings are intended to be hurtful, and cannot be described as anything other than dispowerful acts of violence – especially when in most cases they are, at best, poorly observed nonsense, and in many cases outright lies. [9] If written by a woman, or supposedly on behalf of women, blithe generalisations about men – such as those abusing the word ‘potential’, as in “all men are potential rapists” – are defended as ‘politically correct’; but if the equivalent was written about women – “all women are potential child-abusers” – it would be denounced as ‘criminal sexism’, even though it has exactly the same factual truth. So either something is seriously wrong with the definition of ‘political correctness’, or with the definition of ‘criminal’ behaviour – or both.

The answer does seem to be ‘both’. ‘Political correctness’ started out as an attempt to enforce respect for minorities – an attempt that was generally viewed, by those same minorities, as patronising, but a valid one nonetheless. But it rapidly became lost in the usual confusion between power and dispower; and it failed to recognise that, at the individual level, everyone is a minority of one – which left it wide open to abuse in the ever-popular games of ‘faces of the enemy’ mythology, and the careful muddling of personal and political that is the foundation-stone of puellism. Now far removed from its original purpose, and best described as a form of intellectual fascism, ‘political correctness’ has become a tool to legitimise disrespect of other minorities – as long as those minorities can be labelled as ‘the enemy’. In thrall to its own manufactured myths, ‘political correctness’ defines a complete hierarchy of blame, with white heterosexual men at its peak. But as is always the case with ‘faces of the enemy’ mythology, this is never enough: the definitions of ‘the enemy’ become so all-inclusive – in essence, ‘everyone other than me’ – that they eventually self-destruct. One casualty was the British feminist magazine “Spare Rib”, which folded because, as ex-employee Eileen Fairweather commented:

Spare Rib espoused a rigid hierarchy of oppression, blaming the suffering of women worldwide [not only on men but] on the smug, over-privileged racist white women who mainly bought the magazine. [10]

The only practical way out of the ‘political correctness’ maze is to reject the whole lot, and go back to the first principles from which it started: respect for the humanity of all, regardless of race, creed, colour, gender, size, age, anything. Which happen, incidentally, to be the same base-principles as for true feminism and true masculism…

And we have much the same problem with the notion of ‘criminal’ behaviour. Standard puellist theory maintains that, like violence, crime is exclusively a male problem: referring to crime-statistics for young men, Beatrix Campbell states, with more than a hint of smugness, “Crime is something that their sisters don’t do”. [11] But the reality is that whilst, from an ethical or moral viewpoint, there are actions which we would always regard as criminal, in practice the definition of ‘criminal behaviour’ is a for the most part a social construct, not an absolute: in other words behaviour is ‘criminal’ only if we choose to label it as such. And much as we saw with the issue of violence, behaviour that would be regarded as criminal in men is simply not acknowledged as criminal in women, if it’s acknowledged to exist at all: in that sense, the plea by the Seneca Falls feminists well over a century ago, to be treated as responsible for their actions, has still not been heard.

In essence, ‘criminal’ behaviour is violence that is deemed punishable: murder in peacetime is considered criminal, whilst murder of ‘the enemy’ in wartime is not – even though the violence is exactly the same. [12] Violence is any means by which the illusion of empowering the self is created by disempowering some ‘other’: hence in principle all violence should be considered ‘criminal’. In reality, that’s a little impractical: if nothing else, everyone would be in jail at some point or other! But in comparing gendered statistics of ‘criminal’ behaviour, two points stand out: stereotypical male violence is simultaneously rewarded and punished (as in the example of murder above); and that stereotypical female violence – non-physical violence, such as denigration, manipulation and the like, such as we’ve seen so often already – is deemed not to exist, hence cannot be defined as ‘criminal’. Women are punished – often with extraordinary severity – for breaching the cultural stereotypes of ‘femininity’ [13]; but men are often punished both for breaching and for conforming to the required stereotype of ‘masculinity’ – a classic ‘no-win’. (To give just one example, a while ago I was mocked by a police sergeant for ‘being a bit short of testosterone’, because I hadn’t hit back at a man who’d attacked me; but if I had hit back, they would have charged me with assault…) [14]

In the distant past, and even in the present in some supposedly ‘anti-female’ cultures such as Islam, women’s violence was acknowledged: the destructiveness of incessant nagging, for example, was regarded as criminal, and punishable with the use of a ‘scold’s bridle’ (a combined head-brace and gag) or the ‘ducking stool’ (a contrivance in which the offending woman was plunged under water for brief periods). And in some Aboriginal cultures, for a mother-in-law to meddle in her children’s marriage was considered so destructive to the community that it was, in effect, a capital offence: it was punishable by a spear-thrust (a common Aboriginal punishment, even today) from a barbed and serrated spear (which was not common at all). But all forms of non-physical violence are extremely hard to prove, and accusations of such are wide open to abuse – one infamous result being the ‘Burning Times’, in which untold thousands [15] of women in Europe were burned, hung or otherwise ‘disposed of’ on trumped-up charges of witchcraft.

The predictable response was a myth of ‘the purity of women’ – that all women were perfect, incapable of any violence, and represented, by the fact of being women, ‘the gentleness of God to calm the brutal minds of men’ – the ‘Angel in the house’, to use Naomi Wolf’s term. As the Seneca Falls Convention complained, that myth was as stifling to women as much as it was factually untrue: but it meant that it became almost impossible for any action by a woman to be declared criminal. (This had some interesting side-effects: one of the most bizarre being that, when homosexuality was made illegal in Britain in the mid-19th century, the prohibition applied only to men – Queen Victoria would not believe that lesbian sex was possible, and Prime Minister Gladstone was too embarrassed to explain…) Women who failed to conform to the ‘feminine’ stereotype were not declared criminal, but declared insane – which may well have been worse, of course.

But we come to the present, where men’s violence is visible, actively legislated against; and women’s violence is not, and, where recognised at all, is generally blamed on men. Puellists scream loudly about ‘biassed judges’ in almost every rape case, but are noticeably silent where judges’ bias towards women is screamingly obvious – as is indicated, if nothing else, by the very different treatment of women in Fairlea prison compared to that of men in Jika. And although at last non-physical violence is acknowledged as a factor in domestic violence, it’s defined in the current legal campaign (mentioned earlier) as something that only men do: women are still deemed incapable of violence, physical or non-physical – other than in ‘self-defence’, a situation which seems to apply to everything for a woman, and to nothing for a man.

Much the same happens with sex-discrimination cases: a woman who claims to have been harassed at work is required to be believed, whereas it is still rare for a man’s case to be heard at all. And in the courts that cover these cases, the normal rules of proof are, increasingly, being reversed: the ‘defendant’ is considered guilty until proven innocent. For example, the revised Sex Discrimination Act in Australia includes provisions to enforce this:

The onus of proof in sex discrimination cases [is to be moved] from the women having to prove an act was unreasonable to the accused having to prove it was reasonable. [16]

The same law includes provisions to outlaw ‘wolf-whistling’ – which would certainly disappoint the three cleaners at my office, who ran giggling down the corridor this morning after one of their colleagues wolf-whistled after them. To them their colleague’s behaviour was perfectly reasonable – in fact was strongly invited, in blatant flirtation a few moments earlier – but to another woman walking past at the same time it might not be so; yet it is invariably the man who would be blamed and punished for the difference between the women’s viewpoints.

On this basis it’s hardly surprising that the Equal Opportunities Tribunal handles so many ‘sexual harassment’ cases. Given that the onus of proof is on the accused, and that the Tribunal accepts as ‘factual evidence’ personal opinions and hearsay statements which would not be accepted in any normal court of law, it is easy to abuse, either for imagined ‘wrongs’ which would have to be laughed-off by a man in identical circumstances [17], or, in all too many instances, for ulterior motives such as revenge. Not surprisingly, there are no puellist complaints about ‘judges’ bias’ here…

Much the same applies to the Family Court, which oversees all matters concerning children in divorce cases. To many Australian men, it is notorious: partly because it operates in secret, uses the same ‘opinion is fact’ rules as the Equal Opportunities Tribunal, and its decisions are final, with no right of appeal; and because its decisions almost invariably side with the woman – whatever she wants, she gets. Since what she often wants is revenge, the court does the best it can to supply that too… at least that’s how the men experience it. In the past the court has always preferred the simplistic but immensely destructive concept of ‘win/lose’, in which both parties lose; only now is it beginning to face the difficulties of encouraging a concept of mediation, in which both parties are deemed to be equally responsible for the past, the present and the future.

But in common with most of its attendant social-workers, and still treating as ‘fact’ the increasingly dubious statistics on male domestic violence, the court still takes the position that the only valid rôle for a father is as financial provider: in almost all other respects – or so it seems to many of the men who’ve passed through its mill in the past few decades – the court aims to minimise the relationship between the divorced father and his children. [18] In Australia, the Family Court assigns ‘custody’ to the mother in somewhere between 90 and 95 percent of all cases: all that the father is left with is occasional ‘access’ – perhaps as little as an hour or two or week – and, of course, the bills. As with the Children Act in Britain, divorced or separated fathers are likely to be jailed if they attempt to skip on court-ordered payments; but the courts do nothing whatsoever if the mother defaults on her side of the ‘access’ ruling, and prevents the father seeing his children. [19] For those many men who fought for women’s rights, for the recognition of women’s ‘equality before the law’, the reality of the law’s lack of equality is experienced as a sense of betrayal – so it’s no wonder that these men are angry.

Yet the standard puellist response to this insanely one-sided situation is one of “So what?” There’s a complete inability, or in some cases a complete refusal, to consider just how devastating this is to most divorced fathers – to acknowledge that men are human, just like women – and that this hurts, just as much as it would hurt women. David Thomas, for example, draws a direct comparison between this and the emotional effects of rape:

If the numbers involved in rape and familial separation are roughly comparable [as Thomas demonstrates], the consequences to the perpetrator are not. Any man who assaults a woman runs the risk of severe punishment under the law. Any woman who denies a man access to his own children runs … no risk whatsoever. Somehow, the all-powerful patriarchy appears to have had a bit of an oversight when it comes to the protection of patriarchy itself. As the law currently stands, a woman can leave her husband, sue him for divorce, kick him out of his house, take his children and, best of all, make him foot the bill for everything. Now where, I wonder, had the patriarchy popped off to when that little lot got passed? [20]

If the comparison between rape and familial exclusion seems a little extreme, one friend of mine is in the unfortunate position of being able to make the comparison first-hand: she’s suffered both. Unusually, her husband kept custody of the children when their marriage broke down – as a senior civil servant his status allowed him to override the normal court bias against fathers – and since he’s based in another country, she’s seen her children only once or twice a year since they divorced some years ago. To anyone who knows her, there’s no doubt whatsoever as to which – rape, or the loss of contact with her children – has had the greater impact: the emotional scars of rape do still sour her relationships with men, but are almost trivial by comparison with the loss of her children – which, to put it bluntly, dominates her life. Every day, she says, something else reminds her of the loss, and re-opens the old emotional wounds: for her, it’s a scar that never heals.

Yet she’s fortunate in that she does not have to pay anything towards her children’s upkeep – unlike so many men in the same situation, who have no option but to work day after day, year after year, often in jobs that they hate, to pay for ‘maintenance’ for children they will never see, for an ex-wife who does her utmost to instil a hatred of the father in the children, and for the mortgage on their former home which they are now forbidden to enter. Men are no different from women: this hurts. All violence hurts – regardless of the gender on the receiving end. As David Thomas put it:

If you hit us, we feel it. If you kick us out of our houses, we feel that too. And if you take away our kids, we are destroyed. Those things are wrong. They are as wrong as the terrible things that men do to women. So we should treat them in the same way. [21]

As feminists and as masculists, we cannot support a politics in which ‘some are more equal than others’, and where the violence of one group against another is enshrined in law – regardless of group or gender. And we cannot support a politics which promotes paediarchy, or which tries to force arbitrary groups of people to be responsible for the fears of others. Ultimately, no-one can be responsible for anyone’s fears but their own; and only we can be responsible for those. And it’s an unfortunate fact of human psychology that fears only shrink if we turn round to face them: the more we refuse to face them, the more they grow…

So a political structure which tries to blame others for our own fears, our own issues – such as religious fundamentalism, classic Marxism, or any other self-styled ‘political correctness’ – is inherently counter-productive: it always makes things worse. And here we come back to a subtle trap created by the notion that women have an inherent right to special protection: to promote that notion does not protect women at all, but increases fear, increases the sense of powerlessness – because it promotes the notion that a woman’s fear is always ‘somebody else’s problem’, not her own.

We reclaim our power by facing our fears: that’s one of the few solid facts that is known about human psychology. So the politics of puellism have been completely counter-productive: they make women’s situation worse – and then blame men for the deterioration, escalating the problem at each turn of the cycle. For an example, it’s useful to look again at one of the slogans of the ‘Reclaim The Night’ rally:

We demand the right / to walk the streets at night / without the fear of rape.

No-one would disagree with the sentiment of the slogan. Yet the slogan itself indicates a complete confusion of the relationship between the personal and the political: fear is personal, whereas a demand for a ‘right’ is a political statement, a demand for action by others. But no matter how much we might want it to be otherwise, “the right to [be] without the fear of rape” is not a right that anyone can give to another: it’s not something that can be demanded of anyone but ourselves. Fear is our own responsibility; the slogan is, in essence, an attempt to offload that responsibility to others – but one that is, ultimately, self-disempowering.

Men sometimes seem powerful, seem fearless: but that’s often only because they usually receive extreme abuse, from both men and women, if they fail to simulate fearlessness. [22] Behind the façade, most men are just as fearful as women – indeed, ‘pre-emptive strikes’ against situations which are feared are perhaps the primary source of male violence. But whilst men do receive encouragement, of a sort, to face their fears, most women – surrounded from birth onwards with the notion of ‘woman as protected person’ – do not: instead, they learn that ‘power’ comes from blame and the simulation of helplessness. A truly feminist politics would encourage women to break free of this trap: not, as in puellist politics, to promote the enshrinement of blame as a primary principle of law.

In the long run, laws that attempt to punish ‘incorrect’ behaviour – especially those which try to legislate for attitudes rather than actions – are invariably counterproductive: they either result in overcompensation or denial (as in many ‘pro-feminist’ men: the common stance of “all men are rapists – except me”), or in a poisonous atmosphere in which no-one dare make any move for fear of retribution. When a single false move or misunderstanding – which can easily be, and often is, artificially manufactured – can lead to imprisonment and the loss of income for life, no-one can feel safe: the fear of ‘harassment’, for example, has not been exported to others, but has simply been magnified for everyone. As we saw earlier, Starhawk may say that she dreams of men becoming “sensitive nurturers, proud without being egotistical, fierce without being violent” and the like [23]; but in this kind of environment, where no man may ever dare to make any mistake, how on earth are they to learn? In its obsession with promoting ‘women’s rights’ against those of men, puellism has succeeded only in creating a politics in which no-one wins…

A true feminist politics, and a true masculist one for that matter, promotes rights and responsibilities – in the same breath, and in the same person. We each have every right; and we each have every responsibility. We’re responsible to others; but most of all, whether we like it or not, we’re responsible for ourselves. And that state of anarchy – a state without laws, without rulers, and in which all rights and all responsibilities are both personal and political – is not easy: as Ursula Le Guin illustrates in her novel “The Dispossessed”, it is the most difficult of all political forms – not the simplest, as so many college students like to think. Whilst a true anarchy is impossible in an environment in which rampant paediarchy is the norm, we can at least make some solid moves towards it by acknowledging that although laws may help a little in the short term, the only way we can change the all-pervading sense of fear is through education and the encouragement of mutual respect.

Perhaps most of all, we need a politics which encourages not only respect for others, but self-respect – in the same breath, and in the same person. The ‘feminist revolution’ long ago ground to a halt – in fact slumped into puellism – because it failed to balance the personal with the political: an inherent problem for any ideology based on Marxism, which has never had any real concept of the personal at all. But some feminists, most notably Gloria Steinem, have at last recognised that no revolution ‘out there’ can succeed without a simultaneous ‘revolution from within’, taking full responsibility for self. Steinem’s work on this issue [24] was greeted with predictable howls of derision from puellists – predictable because of puellism’s dependency, like all forms of paediarchy, on avoidance of responsibility – but there’s no doubt that she’s right. The political arises from the personal: only by finding power-from-within, and sharing that with others as the expression of our own humanity, do we find a power that lasts.

And as Steinem commented, this is a human issue, not a gendered one – although it certainly does have gendered overtones:

This book [“Revolution From Within”] had a mind of its own. It decided it had to be for men too. After all, it’s men with low self-esteem who give women (and other men) the most problems, from subtle condescension to grandiosity and outright violence; yet they are neglected as readers when they do look for help. … There were books about low expectations for women in the public sphere, but almost none about low expectations for men in the private one; many books to comfort women trying to play a double rôle at home and on the job, but few for men whose work was killing them because they had no lives outside of it. [25]

Yet it’s not just “men with low self-esteem” who give others problems: exactly the same is true of women with low self-esteem. [26] Anyone with low self-esteem, male or female, is likely to create problems both for others and for themselves: which means, in practice, just about everyone… partly because the paediarchal mindset, fearful of any power that might arises from other’s self-esteem, enforces a ‘taboo against knowing who you are’ [27] – aiming to prevent anyone from finding their ‘power from within’. As a result, we have not just individuals but entire nations that have trapped themselves in a classic addictive cycle, desperately trying to offload their issues onto others via any available means, “from subtle condescension to grandiosity and outright violence”. And we then wonder why we have problems…

But we can’t change this with legislation: that’s what ‘political correctness’ of every flavour has tried to do since time immemorial, and it never works – in fact, it’s always made things worse. The only approach that does work is a quiet process of education – literally ‘out-leading’ each individual to acknowledge and develop their own ‘response-ability’ – in a environment without blame, without rancour: so the politics of present-day puellism and latter-day puerism, obsessed with finding some ‘other’ to blame, are absolutely no help at all. As Gloria Steinem commented, “It’s time to turn the feminist adage around. The political is personal” [28] – a true politics needs to encourage the expression of each person’s power and beauty, whoever they might be.

Hence one essential change that’s needed in feminist-derived politics is an abandonment of the past emphasis on blame and retribution. This has helped no-one: it’s forced men to be defensive rather than constructive, reinforcing a self-image as ‘the bad guy’ although most certainly feel themselves to be victims; and the incessant reiteration of the ‘woman as victim’ image has crippled women’s self-esteem in a self-confirming cycle of artificial powerlessness. We each reclaim our power by breaking free of the ‘victim’ self-image: and for most people, the single most important change occurs by shifting the self-image from that of ‘victim’ to that of ‘survivor’ – and thence to ‘chooser‘, in charge of the direction of one’s own life.

And central to this is a process of reclaiming a sense of meaning, of purpose to life – without which the ‘victim’ stance is almost inevitable, as a kind of ‘victim’ to life itself. The political arises out of the personal: hence, paradoxical as it may seem, politics always has its roots in that most personal of realms, the individual quest for meaning – which is where we next need to turn our attention.

[1] As referred to earlier, Naomi Wolf states that women spend “70 percent of the consumer pound, and 85 percent of the consumer dollar” – though unfortunately gives no further source.

[2] Neil Lyndon argues this point rather more forcefully in “No More Sex War”: see especially his chapter 6, ‘The failures of feminism: personal and political’.

[3] See Naomi Wolf, “Fire With Fire”, especially the sections ‘Retaliation: the Diana principle’ (pp.42-44) and ‘What women have and how we can use it’ (pp.320-332).

[4] See Carol Lee, “Talking Tough”; Gloria Steinem, “Revolution From Within”; and the novels of Ursula Le Guin, especially “The Dispossessed” and “The Left Hand Of Darkness”, or her quizzical piece ‘Limberlost’, perhaps the best – and certainly the best-observed – of the articles in Hagan (ed.), “Women Respond To The Men’s Movement”.

[5] ‘It’s official! Women work more than men’, “Herald-Sun” [Melbourne], 16 December 93.

[6] ‘No limits on ideal family’, “Herald-Sun” [Melbourne], 16 November 93.

[7] ‘Ridiculing men’ (editorial), “The Age” [Melbourne], 11 November 93. The husband in the case was acquitted of rape when it became clear that the woman’s underpants, supposedly ripped by the husband in the ‘rape’, had in fact been cut with scissors, indicating that her story had been a deliberate cover-up for a premeditated assault; despite this, the woman was subsequent acquitted of a charge of malicious wounding, on the grounds.of ‘temporary insanity’.

[8] ‘Daddy dearest’, “The Age” [Melbourne] ‘Good Weekend’ section, 28 August 93; the same issue of the magazine includes the start of a series, “Australian men: beyond the stereotype” – which turns out to be little more than a series of quotes carefully selected to reiterate the usual stream of puellist stereotypes…

[9] For example, Rosalind Miles’ ‘factual’ statement, referred to earlier, that the most common ailment for which men consult a doctor is sexual impotence – it’s a moot point as to whether this is poorly observed nonsense or an outright lie, but it is manifestly not a fact…

[10] Eileen Fairweather, in an ‘obituary’ for “Spare Rib” in “The Guardian” [Manchester], 18 April 92.

[11] Beatrix Campbell, ‘Life without father: it’s easy’, in “The Independent” [London], 17 November 93.

[12] The concept of ‘criminal behaviour’ clashes horribly with the complex dishonesties necessary to support the myth of ‘the enemy’ in wartime – for example, consider the ‘criminality’ or otherwise of the comment “I like shooting these Italians, don’t you?”, attributed to Major David Stirling – founder of the Britishélite SAS unit – during a desert raid in 1942 (quoted in his biography, “The Phantom Major” by Paul Brickhill [date and publisher not known]).

[13] See, for example, the comparison of the very different treatment meted out to murderers Jean Harris (conforming to the ‘victim’ stereotype) and Amy Fisher (who refused to do so), discussed in Naomi Wolf, “Fire With Fire”, pp.211-215.

[14] For more examples of this double-bind, see Carol Lee, “Talking Tough”, especially chapter 8, ‘Give a dog a bad name – and shoot him’.

[15] Or, according to some writers such as Monica Sjöö, several millions – a figure which is definitely open to doubt.

[16] ‘Bid to outlaw sexist taunts’, in “The Herald-Sun” [Melbourne], 16 November 93 – note that the article effectively defines ‘sex discrimination’ as something affecting only women. The article was accompanied by the usual anti-male cartoon – in this case a woman saying, to a disappointed-looking ‘flasher’, “I disapprove of your little whistle” – which is, of course, a sexist taunt…

[17] In one recent case in New South Wales a woman manager was awarded $20,000 compensation for a senior colleague’s rebuke of “if you dress like an over-sexed tart, don’t be surprised if you get treated like one; if you want respect as a manager, dress like one!”; it’s easy to imagine the same woman saying much the same thing to a male colleague (substitute the phrase ‘jerk’ for ‘tart’), but it would be most unlikely that the man would receive any compensation for it.

[18] Since the operations of the court are secret, this has had to be derived from private comments made by various social workers and others involved in repairing the damage…

[19] See, for example, the comments on the British groups Families Need Fathers and Dads After Divorce, in the section ‘Desperate dads’ in David Thomas, “Not Guilty”, pp.236-242.

[20] David Thomas, “Not Guilty”, p.235 (‘…’ in the original).

[21] David Thomas, “Not Guilty”, p.270.

[22] See Carol Lee, “Talking Tough”, especially chapter 10, ‘The male curse’.

[23] Starhawk, ‘A men’s movement I can trust’, in Hagan (ed.), “Women Respond To The Men’s Movement”, p.27-28.

[24] Especially her book “Revolution From Within”, but also articles in “Ms.” magazine and elsewhere.

[25] Gloria Steinem, “Revolution From Within”, pp.4-5.

[26] A point which, unfortunately, Steinem avoids: with the result that, despite her statement on the same page that “making male readers welcome, this book decided, was the least it could do”, she often reverts to the standard male-blaming in order to gloss over women’s complicity and, especially, women’s violence – which ruins the book’s usefulness for men.

[27] Alan Watts’ term for the cultural suppression of self-esteem – see his “The Book On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are”.

[28] Gloria Steinem, “Revolution From Within”, p.17 – italics in the original.

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