Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Woman Hating

Misogyny: The Male Malady by David D. Gilmore was a difficult read. The difficulty came not from this scholarly book being too academic or intellectual or "hard." The difficulty came from the subject matter. As a woman and a life long feminist (okay, when I was a kid I didn't know what feminism was but always believed that girls could do anything boys could do and then some so I think I can count "attitude"), reading a book about misogyny knowing that what is being discussed is what the majority of the world's male population thinks about me, well it was difficult. I read the book as part of my ongoing research for a novel I hope to write some day. I've read quite a few takes on misogyny written by women and reading something by a man seemed like a worthwhile endeavor. And it was. Gilmore is an anthropologist and approached the topic from that point of view. He examines the worldwide phenomenon of misogyny from a cross-cultural perspective through time. He looks at religion, literature, philosophy, politics and psychology. What men fear about women is multiple, but according to Gilmore what it boils down to is that men fear

that women, circumventing man's domination through deceit and seduction, would make short shrift of civilization and reduce men to servitude, obliterating their chance at salvation; that is, left to their own devices, dangerous female creatures would change the nature of the world as we know it.
When I read that I thought, well they're probably right. This world could use a few changes, a good house cleaning so to speak. I don't know that we'd reduce men to servitude, though it would be tempting. I'd like to think that women would make the world better, civilization more civilized. Without all the macho BS, wouldn't things be automatically better? But, I digress. I found Gilmore to be very thorough and methodical in laying out his argument and his supporting proof. He tells you in the introduction what his thesis is and how he plans on proving it. What might that thesis be? Gilmore concludes
Misogyny stems from man's basic discomfort about his passionate desire for woman in all her guises: not just as sexual object, but also as the fantasized generous, loving mother, the brimming breast, the selfless comforter, the indispensable omnipotent goddess who nurtures boy and man. The result of men's irreconcilable inner conflict is the proliferation of misogynistic institutions, beliefs, and practices..."
Or to put it another way, men have unresolved pyschological issues, among them castration anxiety and Oedipal anxieties, that conflict with their sexual desire and their awe of the procreative powers of women's bodies. There is more depth to it than my pithy summary, but that is it in a nutshell. I found myself having daydreams of walking up to men on the street and giving them a good slap in the face and telling them to get over it. Of course, nothing is that simple or easy. Gilmore is nice enough to say that it is possible that misogyny could lessen to the point of insignificance. It is not likely to disappear completely, however. Gilmore postulates that perhaps with men taking more responsibility for childrearing Oedipal and differentiation issues will be more likely to be resolved. This will take a long time. And while Gilmore doesn't say it, it will be up to women to make sure men help in raising children. It will also be up to us to continue pushing for a society that is more just and supportive of such a family structure. As always, a woman's work is never done.