On the fight against misogyny

August 22, 2019

 

As a leftist, "I wish we could all just get along." Wouldn't that be nice? Maybe it would get boring pretty quickly. But a little less conflict between people, a little more peace and quiet, would be great. People have such trouble dealing with each other! So much cruelty and hostility, so little empathy and understanding. Relations between the sexes, for example, are so fraught with conflict and despair -- there's so frequently disrespect on both sides, and not only in romantic relationships but every other kind as well. All relationships can be difficult, of course, just because we're all different people with different perspectives, values, and interests, but intersexual relationships are particularly fraught because men and women are frequently quite different, even as they deeply desire each other's affection and respect. So the world ends up being full of misogyny and misandry.

 

Misogyny, in particular, is terrible and terribly common. Why is it so common? Now and then I've jotted down thoughts on that score in my journal, as here, from many years ago:

 

Why are so many men in the U.S. filled with rage against women? Why so much hatred? It’s all over the internet! What explains it? The misogynistic video game culture has something to do with it, but as someone who has no interest in video games, I’ll ignore that. It’s boring. The more general reason, surely, is rooted in sexual frustration and loneliness. To speak bluntly, it angers men that these “silly little creatures” (as they’re seen), giggly and childish, have the temerity to reject them, and are constantly getting their way. It’s an insult to their manhood! What a farce, when women have so much more power than men! That’s the thinking. Men watch porn, watch movies, watch TV shows, see women on the streets giggling with their girlfriends, are inundated with the message that women are little more than pretty objects with consciousness, passive children who exist but for sex and to please men, and the gigantic contradiction is just too much to take. “How can these people have more power than me?!” some men probably think. “How can they be the ones who say Yes or No?! And then they have the audacity to complain about how men treat them! While we men are forced to gaze longingly from afar as they taunt us and tempt us and have to satisfy our needs by jerking off every night! What about how women treat us?! Does our pain count for nothing?” Etc. Those, I suspect, are the feelings that motivate a lot of internet misogyny.

 

Incidentally, one of the reasons for the popularity of the right-wing fool Jordan Peterson is that he addresses these millions of lost, lonely young men, takes them seriously and "feels their pain," gives them a voice. He may be a hopeless intellectual fraud, but in an intellectually fraudulent age, that's a virtue. If the political left wanted to reclaim these men from the clutches of Petersonian "fascist mysticism," it would start by ending its mockery of them and explaining how their woes are rooted in the social diseases of decadent capitalism.

 

But while the atomization and inhumanity of late capitalism may bear much of the blame in this case, the unfortunate fact is that tendencies of male hostility towards women (as of female hostility towards men) will never be done away with. They've always existed and always will, if only because men's desires (like women's) are, necessarily, often frustrated. That's part of being a person in the world. You're rejected and feel disrespected, again and again. And when members of the opposite sex are the targets of your frustration, after a while you'll start to think in generalities: "women [or men] are inconsiderate, cruel, unintelligent, childish," and whatever other insults enter your head. The human mind abstracts: its nature is to abstract from immediate objects and circumstances, subsume them under concepts or categories, and make general judgments about the world. Objects that are thought to be similar are grouped together. If you've had negative experiences with enough objects in a particular category, then you might well start to make negative value-judgments about all the things in that category.

 

Given that there will never be a world in which everyone's desires regarding the opposite sex are always satisfied, I don't see how some people can believe it's possible to someday eradicate, e.g., "misogyny," which is to say resentment, bitterness, anger, contempt, etc. towards women. Or "misandry" either. In their private thoughts, people will never be perfectly angelic. Nor will they ever be so in all their self-expressions. The human condition is a messy affair.

 

But it isn't really private thoughts of bitterness toward the opposite sex -- thoughts resulting from bitter experiences -- that are truly morally objectionable. At least they need not be. They might just be expressions of deep suffering that can be treated in therapy. Misogyny becomes more morally wrong when it's collective and/or public, most of all when it's violent. Can feminist activism ever change society enough so that collective, public, violent misogyny is eradicated?

 

Sadly, I don't see how. Activism can certainly force societies to adopt more liberal and enlightened attitudes, which can do much to reduce the incidence of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, even domestic violence. Enacting strict gun-control legislation would help prevent future Eliot Rodgers from carrying out murderous rampages. Educational systems could be reformed to inculcate empathic, non-sexist attitudes. A lot can be changed, and has been. But the world is a big, complex place, and the human psyche is a big, complex thing. Neither the world nor the psyche will ever be purged of aggression or aggressive impulses. Men will always be an "other" to women -- a sometimes puzzling, annoying, infuriating other -- and women will always be an "other" to men. Relations with such an "other," especially on the collective scale, will always be fraught, never perfectly smooth. The maximal goals of feminism (that men and women be treated completely equally, that sexism and misogyny be abolished) are unattainable.

 

Life is tough. It's an endless struggle, because different people with different personalities and values are constantly coming into contact. Feminist demands to "treat us better!" are similar to such demands by every disrespected group, whether it be the disabled, the elderly, children, homosexuals, shy people, physically unattractive people, obese people, nonconformists, etc. These demands should always be made, but they'll never be fully satisfied, because humans will never be a wholly enlightened, angelic species.

 

There are many reasons I prefer to focus on political issues around class (and the natural environment, being destroyed because of capitalist structures) rather than gender or other axes, but one of them is that only class issues are revolutionary. We'll never solve the difficulties or injustices that arise in the course of ordinary human relationships. We might mitigate them, but they'll always be with us. Class structures, on the other hand, can be radically transformed and have been in the past. Unlike "sexism" or "misogyny" (which have countless psychological dimensions, valences, and nuances, both conscious and unconscious), institutions can be torn down and rebuilt. They're clearly and unambiguously defined. Class institutions have definite spatial locations that can be occupied or picketed: factories, banks, stock exchanges, places of business. People of different genders, races, ethnicities, religions, ages, can all unite and press for concrete changes in objective institutional structures. And there can be immediate tangible gains: higher wages, better living conditions, better working conditions, revitalized communities, improved education, better healthcare, a cleaner and safer environment, forgiveness of debt, prison reform, police reform, less imperialistic foreign policies, and so on. All these goals are directly or indirectly related to class.

 

Still, the fight against misogyny will always be important, as will every fight to ensure that a particular group is treated with respect. We must continue to fight these battles for as long as the species exists.

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NOTES OF AN UNDERGROUND HUMANIST

© 2014-2019 by Chris Wright