Synopsis (1994) for
Recovering From Whiplash: on ending the gender war
by Tom Graves
Feminist theory has dominated political and social life for the past three decades, with enormous repercussions on the lives of both women and men: but just how much can be considered an improvement is open to doubt. This book argues that some of the fundamental tenets of feminism – especially its emphasis on blame and the concept of the ‘patriarchy’ – are lethally flawed: the direct result has been an unnecessary and escalating ‘gender war’ which, for everyone’s sake, we urgently need to halt.
One possible theme for a truce is outlined in this book. The interests of each gender are usually identical or, where they differ, are always symmetrical: we all share the same human traits. Violence, for example, is not a male problem, but a human one, in which both men and women are equally involved and equally responsible; the concept of blame is neither useful nor, in most cases, honest. Power needs to be understood as ‘the ability to do work’ – in the widest sense of ‘work’ – before it can be shared in a constructive way; domination and manipulation, commonly misunderstood as ‘power’, are shown not to be powerful in a deeper sense, and are assigned a new term, ‘dispower’. The central problem of the culture, the true source of feminist complaints, is shown not to be a male-dominated ‘patriarchy’, but a culturally-condoned ‘paediarchy’ – rule by, for and on behalf of the childish – in which both men and women collude: only when this is acknowledged does constructive action become possible.
As a result of this analysis, it becomes possible to identify those sections of feminist theory which are truly constructive, and to discard others which are, in fact, violent and destructive – a key source of the divisive ‘gender war’. This becomes especially important if we are to ensure that the developing ‘men’s movement’ does not repeat the same mistakes as feminism – a pointless backlash in response to the feminist whiplash. The book argues for the development of a masculism which is a true and valid complement to feminism: one which acknowledges both the differences between the genders and the deeper humanity which we all share.
Audience, model and style
The book is intended to bridge the ‘women’s issues’ and ‘men’s issues’ markets: its expected audience is educated men and women with an interest especially in gender issues, but also in politics, psychology and sociology.
The model used is the conventional ‘academic’ development of an argument, with full cross-reference to external sources; extensive use is also made of first-hand experience, both as examples and as argument. The language style, however, is closer to a polemic, using a direct ‘I/we’ style to encourage reader involvement with the text.
- gender-balanced approach: emphasis is on need for honesty on both sides
- constructive criticism of feminist theory
- detailed discussion on issues of violence, power and war – including violence of both men and women
- new terms to describe problem concepts: ‘dispower’ as destructive use of power; ‘paediarchy’ as culturally-condoned childishness and immaturity; ‘puellism’ and ‘puerism’ as self-centred and immature variants of feminism and masculism respectively
- Acknowledgements and a brief note on working method.
- The ‘gender war’ between men and women, particularly as described by modern feminism, has been immensely destructive, and it is in no-one’s interest to continue it. Without taking either side, this book aims to find common ground and new ways to tackle some of the real issues behind the anger and blame. The aim is to outline a ‘masculism’ which complements the constructive aspects of feminism, in a way which expresses the humanity of all.
- One Way Pendulum
- Feminism started out as a revolution, but is becoming increasingly unbalanced – a ‘one way pendulum’ – as time goes by, to the extent that many women now refuse to regard themselves as feminists. At the same time, many of its tenets are now being upheld as ‘politically correct’, a phrase which has disturbing historical parallels: a new sense of balance is urgently needed.
- Wielding the whiplash
- The problem of violence is shown to be a human one – contrary to much feminist theory, which regards it as primarily, if not exclusively, male. The reason for the latter is that there is a curious amnesia about women’s violence: behaviour which has long since been identified as unacceptable in men goes unnoticed or unchallenged in women, as various examples illustrate. Women’s violence is both physical and non-physical – the whiplash of words, whose invisibility has permitted some feminists to assault both men and other women with impunity in a dishonest claim for ‘justice’.
- Power and prejudice
- Power is ‘the ability to do work’, in all senses, as an expression of personal choice. A distinction is drawn between this concept and the common notion of power as domination – the latter is shown to be based on an illusion, and is referred to as ‘dispower’. This is similar to feminist theorist Starhawk’s model of ‘power-over’ (an exact synonym for violence), ‘power-with’ and ‘power-from-within’, but asserts a gender-symmetrical view of violence. One of the standard feminist tactics – inappropriate blame – is identified as inherently violent, and hence inherently futile.
- The man you love to hate
- Much of the justification for feminist violence comes from the claim that men are ‘the oppressors’, the source of all evil in the world. This is shown to be a delusion derived from a well-understood psychological error, in which an arbitrarily-chosen ‘enemy’ is blamed for one’s own personal issues, as a way of avoiding responsibility for them. A number of new terms are used to circumvent this problem: in particular, true feminism which concerns itself with human issues is distinguished from ‘puellism’ which promotes a childish fantasy of blame – ‘the man you love to hate’.
- Patriarchy and paediarchy
- One common feminist tenet is that the culture in which we live is a ‘patriarchy’ – rule by, for and on behalf of the fathers – which intentionally suppresses and disempowers women. Once again, this is shown to be a complex fantasy of blame: the supposed male-centred ‘patriarchy’ is equally disempowering to men. Feminist grievances are usually valid ones, but their source is something that might more accurately be called ‘paediarchy’ – a rewarding of selfish and childish behaviour that is condoned by both men and women. More seriously, some feminists have actively promoted such behaviour in women as ‘powerful’ – exacerbating the very problems about which women complain.
- War and peace
- Another ubiquitous argument is that war is a direct result of male aggression. More accurately, it’s an expression of the habit of ‘power-over’ – dispower – to which, as we have seen, both genders are prone. Although men are more overtly involved in militarism – a fact which may have more to do with male gullibility than anything else – women are no less active in promoting it, as various examples illustrate. The problem of war will not be resolved by blaming men, but by a better understanding of the ways in which dispower is mistaken for functional power – a power that actually works.
- Some are more equal than others
- ‘Equal opportunity’ is only useful if it really is equal. Many demands have been made, and much done, to increase opportunities for women in the ‘workplace’; but little has been done to redress inequalities against men, or to provide real options for men to take a more active rôle in the home. The latter issue divides feminists: whilst many would encourage men to do a more equal share of parenting, a vocal but influential minority – blaming men, as usual, for all problems – work to prevent this. Until this is resolved, and some of the more bizarre abuses of ‘equal opportunity’ redressed, progress will not be easy: what is needed is a more realistic understanding of ‘equality’, and the power and responsibility which go with it.
- Personal and political
- ‘The personal is the political’ has long been one of the slogans of feminism: it is unfortunate that many have taken the slogan literally, as an invitation to project responsibility for their personal issues onto the wider world – the source of much feminist dispower. For men the slogan might more appropriately be ‘the political is the personal’; but in both genders – as is argued by feminist writers such as Gloria Steinem and masculist writers such as Sam Keen – what is really needed is a more balanced awareness of personal and public power.
- The quest for meaning
- The ultimate source of each person’s power is within ourselves – for which a sense of self-esteem or self-worth is essential. A sense of meaning and purpose is crucial to this, in both the social and spiritual realms – and in the latter each gender’s needs necessarily diverge, creating very different forms of spirituality for men and women. Yet even here there are ample opportunities for the illusions of dispower to cause problems – especially when paediarchy is allowed to run rampant in the guise of religion.
- From victim to survivor to chooser
- Power is closely linked with responsibility, which is why feminism’s obsessive portrayal of ‘woman as victim’ is counterproductive. The ‘victim’ rôle is self-disempowering: power is reclaimed by facing fear and acknowledging responsibility for action. This expression of choice is ‘response-ability’, which is very different from blame: examples from both women and men are used to illustrate this crucial difference. Changing the perspective from victim to survivor to chooser creates a deeper understanding of personal power – and the choices and responsibilities which come from sharing that power with others.
- Where then was the gentle man?
- With a better understanding of power, both men and women may find a strength founded in gentleness – and a gentleness founded in strength rather than disempowerment. The only way to avoid the delusions of dispower is for both masculism and feminism to promote a rigorous honesty with each other and with ourselves – and to acknowledge each other as complementary partners in a gentler world.
- End-matter: Further reading
- List of books referred to in the text.