Book-projects – Whiplash: Introduction

“If you know what a feminist is, what would a masculist be?” I first asked myself, and others, that question many years ago. The answer I was generally given was that a feminist was a woman fighting for the rights of women, a woman seeking to express herself as a woman:

[Feminism] is all about how we can ever make the most of life being a woman, just what scope there is to develop one’s potential. [1]

A masculist, I was told, was a man concerned only with preventing this from happening. The definition of ‘feminist’ made sense, because that was what I’d seen in so many women’s lives; but that definition of ‘masculist’ made no sense at all. Linguistically, if nothing else, masculism should be the exact equivalent for men of feminism… would it really be true that men express themselves only in the ways in which they suppress women?

That was certainly not the intention with which I, or any of the men I knew, had intended to act – quite the opposite, in fact. So was something seriously wrong with our perception of ourselves and our actions? Or with what feminism told us about ourselves as men? Or both, perhaps?

The answer I’d like to suggest is this: that feminism and masculism are necessary expressions of our humanity, as seen by each of us from the perspective of our gender. Contrary to what is implied by that definition of ‘masculist’, they are not mutually exclusive, but complementary – ultimately, neither can exist without the other, or without being, first and foremost, a means to express the power of all.

To say that this does not square with standard ‘politically correct’ feminist theory is perhaps an understatement: there, the basic principle is that men have power, and women do not. Yet women have always had power of their own: no-one has ever been powerless, though it will often have felt that way… Throughout history, women have always had available to them power over men: the wiser, and generally the older, have chosen not to use it, and instead to rely, for themselves and for others, on the far greater power attainable from within. But we have had an entire generation – more than three decades – in which few women have understood this, and have reached instead for the weapon which they have always had to hand: the so-easily deniable whiplash of words, aimed at the heart and the soul. After decades of unrelenting assault, it’s hardly surprising that many men have resorted to what seems to be a ‘backlash’. But this too serves no-one: all it does is increase the hurt and escalate an entirely unnecessary war. It’s time to call a halt: “no more sex war”, for everyone’s sake. [2]

It won’t be easy: as with any overt war, many people have a vested interest in keeping the hatred going, usually to conceal their – our – own self-dishonesty, or to justify their – our – anger. I know I’m as guilty (if that is ever a useful term) of that as any: yet I wish to reach inside, reach deeper, beyond blame or revenge, to a place where worthwhile change can happen, and where a real, lasting, useful power and freedom may be achieved – for all of us, for men and women rather than men or women. For all of us: we all of us deserve the right to be respected simply as human beings. It’s this last point which one wing of feminism, dependent for its own self-justification on maintaining a myth of men as ‘the enemy’, most seeks to deny: the result is that women‘s humanity ends up being denied too. In this kind of chaos, no-one wins…

Before we go any further, I’d like to make one point clear: I understand and accept the many complaints made by women of men, on which so much of current feminism is based. These are not in question: as will become clear, I’ve been on the receiving end of many of those myself, so I do know what it’s like… What is in question here is just how useful current feminist theory may be in dealing with those issues. The realistic answer, as we will see, is “not much” – in practice, far more often a hindrance than a help.

On the issue of power, in particular, most feminist writing is worse than useless: one crucial exception is the work of American writer/thealogian Starhawk [3], and even that is often marred by an ignorance of the reality of the opposite gender’s issues rarely echoed by any equivalent male writer. The symptoms of what is generally described as ‘patriarchy’ are not in doubt: what is in doubt is the accuracy or the usefulness of the term. The reality of rape and its horrific nature are not in doubt: what is in doubt is the accuracy or the usefulness of labelling all heterosexual activity – even, according to one writer, ‘chatting up’ – as rape. And so on: the issue is not that the complaints are invalid – because, at the very least, they are certainly felt as real – but that the ways in which most current forms of feminism would tackle these issues are so inadequately observed and so poorly thought-through that they are at best unhelpful, and more often destructively useless, especially in the longer term.

For many, and for women in particular, modern feminism may seem, on the surface, to have brought about real gains. Some of those gains are real: in particular, women have regained a respect of themselves that has been lost for a long time – perhaps for millennia. Yet the moment we look a little deeper, we discover the painful reality that for most people, in most circumstances – men and women – the side-effects of much self-styled ‘feminism’ have been an unmitigated disaster: just how seriously so is only now beginning to come to light. [4] It’s one reason why so many women, whilst striving for the same goals as the ‘women’s movement’, would refuse to describe themselves as feminists: the cost of feminism – or something that calls itself ‘feminism’ – is simply too high. As one woman commented, “I hadn’t read a ‘feminist’ book for many long years, because the movement stopped talking to me.” [5]

But the danger is that, as we begin to realise the scale of the error, we may throw it all out: which would be an even worse disaster. Throughout decades of neglect, in which the primary human focus was on greed and self-interest, writers who would now be labelled ‘feminist’ were the principal, if not at times the only, real researchers into what it is to be human – and that we cannot afford to lose. With very few exceptions – and even rape is not truly one of them – all valid ‘feminist’ issues are human ones: such as a right to live with dignity and respect, and with a sense of meaning and purpose. Where historical ‘patriarchy’ seeks to deny that to women, or where the whiplash of feminism likewise seeks to deny that to men, it ultimately denies the humanity of all. And that we dare not lose: or we lose everything we have.

As human beings we share far more similarities than we have differences: it’s true that the differences in the necessary specialisations of our physiologies are of importance, but they seem almost trivial beside our deeper needs for hope, for life, for love. As socialist feminist Lynne Segal, amongst many others, has commented:

Empirical studies suggest that traits which supposedly differentiate women from men vary more within the sexes than between them. [6]

Yet feminism’s obsession with gendered experience blinds us to the deeper humanity we share; its obsession with blame denies us either understanding or alliance; and its obsession with itself cripples any moves we may make towards a greater freedom for all. But we dare not discard it in its entirety: for buried deep within its inchoate mass of fear, suspicion and anger lies some of the greatest wisdom humanity may know.

So it’s time to look deeper: discard the dross and the dishonesties, throw out the hatred, treachery, deceit – and name it as such; then reach deeper again, to the truer core of feminism, to honour it for what it is, its power, its strength, its gentleness, and for the deep humanity it represents – and work towards reclaiming a masculism that would truly be its complement, its partner. Will you join me in this journey?

[1] Germaine Greer, in a filmed interview somewhen in the 1970s, shown on ‘4 Corners’, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 25 July 1994.

[2] “No More Sex War: the failures of feminism” is the title of a recent book by British journalist Neil Lyndon. Well-researched, bleakly humorous, and a great deal more carefully reasoned than almost any of its feminist equivalents, it’s marred only by occasional thoughtlessness and, in the Mandarin paperback, an extremely ill-chosen cover…

[3] See Starhawk’s books “The Spiral Dance”“Dreaming The Dark” and, especially, “Truth or Dare”.

[4] See Naomi Wolf, “Fire With Fire” – especially Chapter 13, ‘Victim feminism’s recent impasses’ – for some examples of the damage wrought by ‘victim feminism’; see also chapter 6, ‘The failures of feminism: personal and political’, in.Neil Lyndon, “No More Sex War”.

[5] Quoted in Naomi Wolf, “Fire With Fire”, p.63; see especially chapter 5, ‘Out Of Touch?’, for many similar comments.

[6] Lynne Segal, “Is The Future Female?”, p.197.

Related pages