Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Men, feminism and the patriarchal con.

A version of this article will appear in next month's Chartist magazine.

*

As feminists, the liberation of the y-chromosomed half of the human race has never been high on our list of priorities - historically speaking, we've had enough to worry about. However, it’s high time that we started a serious recruitment drive. Although the feminist movement has faced many obstacles and lost many battles, women have now won themselves enough social and economic capital that we can finally start to address the other half of the equation: the emancipation of men from capitalist patriarchy.

There are many urgent reasons why socialist feminists of all genders need to concern themselves with popular misandry and the subjugation of men, especially when we’re facing down the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. A recession is never a good time for women’s rights. Economic crisis moves economic equality from the agenda, and a great deal of women’s struggle in and out of the workplace revolves around the battle for equal economic status. Cuts to welfare benefits and part-time employment hit women with children hardest. But most importantly of all, any recession creates a large body of justly angry, disenfranchised working men, men who are encouraged implicitly and sometimes explicitly to take that anger out where it will do least damage to capitalist hegemony: to whit, on women. It is a well-known and oft-repeated fact that domestic violence against women increases in times of economic crisis, usually, as is the case now, contiguously with a cut in state spending on women’s refuges. But another backlash against feminism itself is also to be expected – and as feminists, the fallacy that the problems that men face in a recession are the fault of feminism is something that we need to turn and face.

There is a very real crisis in masculinity occurring under late industrial capitalism, and the current economic downturn is exacerbating its symptoms: a residual lack of socialised identity for men outside the workplace is conspiring with rising unemployment and a lack of meaningful work in the middle tiers of the service and information economies to create a timebomb of mental ill health amongst working-age men, whose suicide rate is quadruple that of women and rising. Before women’s liberation, the status of head of the household and breadwinner was one of the few arenas in which disenfranchised men could wield influence. However, the necessary erosion of men’s domination of the family and the movement of many women into the workplace has not been balanced by a commensurate sharing of the responsibilities of childcare and a liberation of men from mandatory drudgery, drudgery which is still too often phrased as payment for the disappearing right to patriarchal power within the confines of the home. As traditional masculinity continues to collapse, the once-valued ‘masculine’ attributes of craft, loyalty, strength, emotional resilience and capacity to physically defend people and property are no longer honoured and rarely rewarded. Feminism has worked hard to challenge the capitalist narrative of mandatory female domesticity – it must now work to challenge the capitalist cultural narrative in which the ideal male is an emotionless, efficient worker drone. The ‘working stiff’ is as damaging a stereotype as the angel, in the house and feminists must be the first to challenge it.

Men, too, are victims of a patriarchal con, a con which is intimately entangled with the machinations of capitalism. Working class men, young men, disabled men and men from racial and ethnic minorities are cheated most cruelly by this con. Raised, like all boys, to believe that they will inherit the earth if they behave in specific power-seeking, violent and rigidly heteronormative ways, as these men grow up they realise that they have been tricked into a set of behaviours that serve ends other than their own. Those whose ends are served are the same patriarchs - literally, those who exercise the rule of the father, elder and wealthier cohorts of the bourgeoisie, business and political classes - whose ends are served by women behaving in gender-codified ways under capitalism. A great deal of men of all classes become justly angry at this treatment, and this anger escalates in times of recession, where the inbuilt inequalities in this economic equation are emphasised by inflation and rising unemployment.

This has been the problem with no name, for generations of men. Unfortunately, as prices and tempers rise, the anger of men is already being misdirected at women, and specifically at feminists, rather than at the more numinous industrial-capitalist socialisation model. In her seminal work Stiffed: the Betrayal of the Modern Man, Pulitzer-prize winning feminist journalist Susan Faludi explains that:


‘What women are challenging is something everyone can see. Men's grievances, by contrast seem hyperbolic, almost hysterical; so many men seem to be doing battle with phantoms and witches that exist only in their own overheated imaginations. Women see men as guarding the fort, so they don't see how the culture shapes men. Men don't see how they are influenced by the culture either; in fact, they prefer not to. If they did, they would have to let go of the illusion of control.'


The misdirection of the valid anger of working-class men against the women who should be their allies has been one of the greatest coups of late-20th century capitalism. And unfortunately, the evidence of a new backlash against feminism, founded on the idea that women are depriving men of jobs, opportunities, dignity and status, is mounting both online (where the feminist resurgence of the 21st century began) and in the meatspace. The irony, of course, is that for a great many disenfranchised men feminism could be the solution, not the problem. This is because rather than pining for exploitative and emotionally degrading models of personal power, feminism aims to build empowerment beyond the confines of gender binaries, all of which limit the capacity of the individual to be fully human.

The great joke of the industrial capitalist model of masculinity is that in any given society millions of men fall automatically outside its boundaries: effeminate men, homosexual, bisexual and transsexual men, men with mental, physical and learning disabilities, men whose skill is in academia and learning, sensitive men, short men, very elderly men, young boys. However, all men, like all women, are worked over by outdated models of masculinity and femininity – and we must not allow men’s anger at the erosion of traditional masculinity to prevent them becoming allies in the struggle for personal fulfilment for all.

In a world they supposedly own and run, men are at the mercy of cultural forces that disfigure their lives and destroy their chance at happiness. Cultural movements of previous recessions – the New Romanticism of the 1970s, for example, or the revival of dandyism in the 1930s – have unsubtly challenged the limitations of traditional masculinity, and it is this sense of betrayal that feminists of all genders must seize upon. If we are to face down the coming crisis as a society, we will need to stand together against the adversarial gender models handed down to us – and realise that the real cause of social disenfranchisement is bigger than gender. Under industrial capitalism, men and women share a common enemy: we must not let that enemy divide and conquer us any longer.

37 comments:

  1. Superb article.

    There is a very real crisis in masculinity occurring under late industrial capitalism, and the current economic downturn is exacerbating its symptom...As if on cue..."Every credit crunch cloud has a silver lining...best of all things - better than Christmas every day, better than a pay rise, better than me - men who look as if they might actually be men are back...It should come as no surprise. Economic depressions have always walked hand in hand with the worship of raw machismo."

    Most depressing quote...

    "[Before the credit crunch] Everyone seemed to want to be gay and middle class, even the men who were straight and working class."Because, naturally, all working class men are stolid, gruff and fiercely heterosexual. Fetid balls.

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  2. "As traditional masculinity continues to collapse, the once-valued ‘masculine’ attributes of craft, loyalty, strength, emotional resilience and capacity to physically defend people and property are no longer honoured and rarely rewarded."

    Well, I'm not sure that's entirely true in terms of general human relationships.

    But certainly what used to happen was that these ideas related to masculinity - which are all, to a lesser or greater extent, reasonably positive - we're fundamentally inter-twined with the economic role that most men were expected to play.

    Now they aren't. Economically, at least, that's a bad thing for some men and a potentially good thing for other men.

    It's definitely bad economically for men who were doing skilled industrial work in unionised work places on wages that enabled them to significantly improve life for themselves and their families.

    But aside from the people you list as falling outside the boundaries of masculinity, it's also potentially a good thing for men whose jobs fell within the boundaries of the industrial capitalist model of masculinity but whose work was monotonous, poorly paid, dangerous and highly likely to cause their early death.

    The problem - even for people who's general experience under industrial capitalism was pretty rubbish - is that if the attributes you list, coupled with particular roles in the economy, aren't what it means to be a man anymore then either there's some new idea of masculinity to replace the old one or the world just becomes a big scary place full of questions without answers.

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  3. Urgh, sorry for the formatting. I hate html.

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  4. The misdirection of the valid anger of women against the working-class men who should be their allies has been one of the greatest coups of late-20th century capitalism.

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  5. ooh, I've not seen you writing like this before. I like it.

    I don't think the problems are just under late capitalism - but that's a sideline.

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  6. The Scales Have Fallen From Mine Eyes15 April 2009 at 21:17

    So you don't hate men, Penny Red.

    You only look down on them!

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  7. Very well-written article. You seem to have two sides to you, one that writes great stuff like this (although I don't agree with a lot of it), and other stuff that comes across as studenty rant. Stick with this stuff, but try to be a bit less old-left. I think the world has moved on from some of the stereotypes you use.

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  8. Bravo! A dozen bravos, then more.

    A fantastic piece. I've expressed some reservations about the possibility of feminism ever being capable of the form of recruitment drive you advocate (especially with all the cock hating radicals that noisily infest the outer reaches of the movement) but if you could convince a few more people to start writing stuff like this then I take it all back.

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  9. A very good article, but where you write "The ‘working stiff’ is as damaging a stereotype as the angel, in the house and feminists must be the first to challenge it." you've missed the boat.

    I think the MRAs have "first to challenge" quite firmly in the bag with respect to the working stiff.

    Even if it seems like many of them want a return to the "good old days" (blegh), most are after the sort of freedom you're talking about.

    Out of curiosity, have you read any of Warren Farrell books? Particularly the ones he wrote after he stopped identifying as a feminist (in so far as he ever did, basically I mean when he started writing books with a goal to help men). Not that there's anything wrong with his other books, but the latter ones are more relevent to the topic :) They're very good. I don't think they'll open your eyes (in this regard your eyes are quite wide allready), but they're very clever and contain a wealth of information.

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  10. Given that older men are likely to have spent their lives investing in their skills and environment, isn`t it to be expected that they`ll have a management role?
    Old people know more than young people - there is good reason why we give parents authority over children and there are good reasons why the "father figure" might have a position of power within society beyond cultural norms. Namely because they know more stuff.
    And, a question.

    Now that you`ve identified your problem, what do you intend to do about it?

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  11. "Working class men, young men and men from racial and ethnic minorities are particularly vulnerable to this con: raised to believe that they will inherit the earth if they behave in specific power-seeking, violent and rigidly heteronormative ways, as these men grow up they realise that they have been tricked into a set of behaviours that serve ends other than their own."

    You are a good writer Penny, but the above has got my goat. A little. It does comes across like the usual top-down working class man as brute, needs to be civilised by the educated middle class theme. We just aren't smart like the nice middle class people you see. We just don't get it. Please, take away my girlfriend before I break her face! "Aye, alright luv." That, in my eyes isn't about emancipation, or about freeing working class energies and putting them to something positive, it isn't even opening up a dialogue with working class men like me. It seems you've already decided for me what I am. I think there is some unquestioned middle class prejudice going on here.

    It could be argued there are working class feminists, or socialists who don't describe themselves as feminists, through tactical reasons, or to get away from the definition as alluding in many people's minds to the liberal middle class. But all the same, they do not view women's struggle as being secondary, but integral to any decent worthwhile change. It is the political agendas of certain middle class feminists, which do not share the same goals as those who are working class that are criticised when there is robust talk of 'feminism,' not any emancipatory views on women in the general sense, but things that can specifically divide working class people further. It is more fruitful for working class people to develop solidarity with one another along sexual lines, for working class men to be aware and to take seriously women's oppression. It is far better for working class women to forge stronger links with their working class men along these social and political lines, than to do so with some middle class feminists who seek no wider social reforms except for the benefits of political and social change to their own statuses, but no major threat to their own class position, and then to just allow scraps to be thrown down later.

    Since the 19th century, and into the 20th century there has been a strong bourgeois women's movement in antagonism with, and sometimes open conflict with a smaller and weaker working class women's movement attached to labour struggles. Working class women, that have also had to put up with attacks from men within working class labour struggles. The universiality of women's experience is a myth as you know. But what now? In the 21st century. We might not be like our richer, elite counterparts, using richer elite women as baby-making machines for the passing of privilege, property and assets, preferably from the father to the son. Why bother looking up at glass ceilings? Look down onto the stone floor every once in a while. You might see us waving back. The fabrics we wear might be man-made, our hands might be a little rougher, but out minds aren't blunt.

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  12. "But most importantly of all, recession creates a large body of justly angry, disenfranchised working men, men who are encouraged implicitly and sometimes explicitly to take that anger out where it will do least damage to capitalist hegemony: to whit, on women."So according to the gospel of Penny Red, working class men tend to beat their wives more after losing their jobs. Reading between the lines you seem to be implying that working class men being less well educated, less aesthetically refined, more brutish and driven more by instinct than intellect than we are naturally more abusive and violent than we are. This is awful parochial stuff for a self-proclaimed socialist. If there is a problem it's one related to poverty not to a surfeit or deficit of self esteem because you happen to be in or out of work. Surely you know by now that the idea of work, any work, as a grand panacea - a magic bullet - that can alleviate and eventually cure all of society's ills is chimeric?

    You sound like James Purnell.

    A position as a cub reporter for the Daily Mail or Daily Telegraph surely now beckons you, stage right, from the wings...

    *sigh*

    exeunt omnes

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  13. The great joke of the industrial capitalist model of masculinity is that in any given society millions of men fall automatically outside its boundaries: effeminate men, homosexual, bisexual and transsexual men, men with mental, physical and learning disabilities, men whose skill is in academia and learning, sensitive men, short men, very elderly men, young boys. However, all men, like all women, are worked over by outdated models of masculinity and femininity – and we must not allow men’s anger at the erosion of traditional masculinity to prevent them becoming allies in the struggle for personal fulfilment for all.Hmmm. I think this reveals more about your perception of what a real man is, rather than the reality of being male. I'd fall outside of what you very narrowly define as masculine (in quite a few ways), and I don't feel left out of society or emasculated in any way. To be a man doesn't mean you have to be some sort of cliched version of the boorish alpha male, and I don't perceive that many people actually think like that any more.

    If we are to face down the coming crisis as a society, we will need to stand together against the adversarial gender models handed down to us – and realise that the real cause of social disenfranchisement is bigger than gender. Under industrial capitalism, men and women share a common enemy: we must not let that enemy divide and conquer us any longer.Industrial capitalism isn't the problem. In fact, the money focussed nature of industrial capitalism actually makes it easier to be different from the norms you identify; as long as you can make some money, you can get ahead even if you don't conform.

    In fact, the treatment of those who did and do not conform to social sterotypes under non-captialist systems is far harsher than under capitalism. I'd hate to be a homosexual under Castro, for example. And anyone who did not conform under Stalin (and his values) had a very short life span.

    TNL

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  14. This article is well-written and useful. Pineapple also provides an excellent critique which will strengthen your argument if integrated.

    One very minor quibble from one whose fascination with cultural history is otherwise useless: New Romantic was more 80s than 70s, though its focus on androgyny and caricatured sexuality did hark beck to early-70s glam.

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  15. Penny -- As usual I disagree with you on a lot. And agree with TNL.

    But this is a much better post -- most enjoyable. Please keep it up.

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  16. 'It does comes across like the usual top-down working class man as brute, needs to be civilised by the educated middle class theme. We just aren't smart like the nice middle class people you see. We just don't get it. Please, take away my girlfriend before I break her face! "Aye, alright luv." That, in my eyes isn't about emancipation, or about freeing working class energies and putting them to something positive, it isn't even opening up a dialogue with working class men like me. It seems you've already decided for me what I am. I think there is some unquestioned middle class prejudice going on here.'

    Hi Pineapple,

    This absolutely wasn't the implication at all, but if it reads like that then clearly I need to tweak it a bit.

    This has nothing to do with education. Male-pattern violence occurs in all classes and in all age groups, and I definitely did not mean to say that working class men, young men and men from ethnic minorities *are inherently more violent*. What I meant to say was that these men have less to gain from behaving in the prescribed, heteronormative ways I'm talking about.

    I'll fix that so it's clearer, thanks.

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  17. Okay, thanks for the clarification. I think on my part it was a bit of touchiness on the subject, it turning into boy-rage.

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  18. Excellent post, Penny. It does amaze me how MRA's tend to automatically attack feminists and feminism, rather than the actual problem - and that is patriarchy and how that fails everyone.

    At the same time, though, I don't think it's up to feminism and feminists to do all the emancipatation of men - by implying that you are ignoring the very basic building block of patriarchy, and that is that patriarchal and capitalist societies are defined and upheld my men. In some ways, this again is trying to 'pass the buck' to women when the patriarchy is frankly the fucking men's fault.

    The only way for patriarchy to be truly dismantled in order for it to free men too is for it to be pulled apart by men also - which is my fundamental criticism of MRA's and those men that criticise feminism - because, frankly, instead of attacking women that are still (and they'd do well to accept it!), are not in anyway equal to them even still, it's about time men started to act if they don't like the way that patriarchy and binary gender sometimes fails them too.

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  19. *defined and upheld by men

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  20. @ Steph

    You managed to use the words patriarchy/patriarchal five times in five short sentences. Not bad. Although I once heard the real master of cliche and the sound bite, Tony Blair, use his favourite phrase "hard working families" no less than seven times in a relatively short speech.

    But do keep trying!

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  21. If you're got a better response and deconstruction, Aslan, why not air it here, rather than being a fucking prick?

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  22. @ Steph

    I suggested that you kept trying and I see that you are trying... or, at the very least, I find you trying. Now, go and make yourself a cup of herbal tea... try to calm down and collect yourself. All that heat and so very little light... let alone enlightenment...

    *gives the sign of benediction*

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  23. I take it you have nothing of worth to offer Penny's post then - I thought as much.

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  24. Try to do less thinking Steph, it's clearly not your forte.

    Is that a kitchen sink I see before me?

    Get thee to a scullery!

    *makes the sign of the horned one*

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  25. Penny-
    If patriachy is a problem because of hierachy in general rather than gender based discrimination specifically, then what exactly do you propose to replace it with?

    Steph-
    It`s the responsibility of women to raise children and I therefore find them entirely responsible for our current social system. If women decided to only have sex with poor men, then the capitalist system would crumble pretty quickly. Those nasty women, make society so nasty. Sigh.

    Or is it that delineating attitudes towards society along gender lines makes alot less sense than doing so on a family-by-family or even *gasp* an individual basis?

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  27. 这是最有意义我听说过很长一段时间

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  28. 竹篙红十字会和斯蒂芬都需要一个良好的硬他妈的

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  30. No speaky Japanese!

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  31. effeminate men, homosexual, bisexual and transsexual men, men with mental, physical and learning disabilities, men whose skill is in academia and learning, sensitive men, short men, very elderly men, young boys.I'm not here to defend 'industrial capitalism' but I think you'll find that historically it is has been liberal capitalist societies that have been probably the most accommodating to the categories of men you mention. The notion that 'patriarchy' is a function of capitalism is ahistorical and, to be candid, rather infantile.

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  32. Absolutely fantastic article. Manages to articulate precisely the divisions in society (in a very diplomatic manner). Great job.

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  33. Interesting article. I've not read Stiffed, but the Guardian did publish extracts when it originally came out. The good thing is that Faludi did try and analyse the complexities around masculinity (or, if you'd rather masculinities). Problem is, she'd already set the model for feminist analysis in Backlash which has survived right through to the present: i.e. the 'war against women' framework (as if no-one else got it in the neck during the Reagan/Thatcher years). Her latest, The Terror Dream, runs the same risk in apparently implying that 9/11 was all about the patriarchy. That's why her concluding call in Stiffed for an 'alliance politics' between men and women is admirable, but no more than what was tried (and perhaps failed) in the 1980s (especially via men's studies). For every feminist saying 'come on in, guys, the water's lovely', there were plenty of others humming the theme from Jaws, because the adversarial model made it much easier to mobilise, point the finger, agree a common platform and define who 'We' were against 'Them'. It also meant that any contradictions or contrary evidence could be glossed over: for example, there is clearly a case for equal pay and gender equality for female hedge fund managers, but only if you ignore how much they earn, the issue of fairer taxation, and that having the equal right to asset-strip entire companies is a paradoxical kind of progress.

    Moreover, it's hard to see what 'alternative' mode of masculinity men could achieve if it's simply based on securing feminist approval - it hard to see how this would work in relation to a movement which is ambivalent about having men involved in the first place. Lynne Segal (see Slow Motion: Changing Masculinities, Changing Men) covers this well: change does occur. It may not be consistent, it may not always be 'progressive', but the repeated invocation that men want to return women to the 1950s (or whenever) seems to be more an attempt to get women to rally round the flag than any attempt to address what men are going through now, and how they may be different from their fathers or grandfathers.

    [redpesto]

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  34. The problem with all this is that women are typically racist, sexist and fascist. In addition, as sociobiologists like Moxon have shown, societies have an inbuilt misandrist bias against men of low status. Consider how suicide rates among young, poor males are widely ignored in the media (and ridiculed by feminists like Greer). Given this reality, hatred of women by such men is quite legitimate, since women are intrinsically allied with the oppressor classes. Consider how they went round handing out white feathers to men in World War One, for instance (considering women are such utter cowards, this is utterly abject - but I digress).

    What men need to do is withdraw their consent from western societies until their grievances are addressed - don't vote, don't breed and don't pay taxes. When a female teacher gets a prison sentence comparable to a male teacher's for having sex with a pupil, that's the day I will vote - and not before. And let's see them drafted and killed in wartime - that would do it for me.

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  35. Well, war is fought by working-class men. Not by upper-class males. Why should you (they) be angry at women and not at upper-class males?

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