The perils of ivory tower indecisiveness when studying misogyny, pt. 1
First, an apology for starting two separate posting threads here, and then getting distracted with midterm schoolwork. Now the paper is handed in, I’ll be getting those done soon, I promise. Second, fair warning: this blog entry is going to be a rant — a very ranty rant! — that will get it out of my system so I can write with calm dispassion in my comps essay about the ignorant, self-justifying, privilege-blind musings of a self-righteous idiot that can’t make up his mind. Hmm… this is going to feel good, I think. ;-j
So the book in question is David D. Gilmore’s Misogyny: the Male Malady. The “male malady” — what a delightful choice of words! It makes misogyny sound so… so mild, so tame… a booboo that soon shall pass: there, there, dear. As if the vicious, concerted, institutionalized brutalization, manipulation, and abuse of women over time and culture is no more than a “curious and insidious disease” (227), a mildly disturbing “malaise” (224) — like a case of the sniffles. A reason to be coddled so you feel better soon. Misogyny, because: Oopsie!
Fuck that shite.
OMG, there is just SO EFFING MUCH wrong with this book — I hardly know where to start! Okay, okay; deep breaths. So, let’s start by saying something good about the book.
This book does in fact collect together in one place a simply breathtaking, personally stomach-churning amount of seriously vicious and violently abusive ritual and cultural standards which denigrate and oppressively exploit women. Collecting them all together means increased awareness, and with luck perhaps a lessening of their impact.
Okay, that’s one good thing. What else… trying for something a bit more, um, “distanced” now:
I’m beginning to think the reason my professor practically insisted upon my adding this book to my list is because in the subsection of my comps essay where I’m hypothesizing about patriarchy, I have books on how it might have come about, and books about men who refuse it, and lots of books on how women have struggled to survive and thrive despite it… but this, I think, is the only book that actually goes into extensive (and repulsive) detail regarding the horrors institutionally and culturally forced upon women and men by misogynistic men. I can’t help but wonder if the prof was a bit concerned (perhaps with reason, now I’m considering) that I was being… a bit too academic, too distanced from the very real issue of the ghastly, bloody, devastating impact of standardized, routinely expected, cultural misogyny across time.
Unfortunately after almost half the book being dedicated to this nauseating amount of detail the author chooses to metaphorically dive off into the weeds in the ditch — at least as far as I’m concerned. For a book printed in 2001, it is clear he has not done his research. He repeatedly emphasizes that male dominance is a “near-universal phenomenon” (8), which it is not — as long ago as 1981 Peggy Reeves Sanday’s Female Power and Male Dominance: On the Origins of Sexual Inequality explored the many cultures, both historical and modern, where male dominance was either not present or not ubiquitous. More exasperatingly is his peculiar faith — which apparently “common sense tells us” (166) — in that old chestnut about men being more sexual than women! Wasn’t that absurd canard disproven and tossed out by good research in the 80’s and 90’s?!
For a supposed scientist, this man is also incredibly patronizing! His supercilious sneering at the research done by “feminists” is just embarrassingly unscientific — he even lumps them all together into some sort of homogenous and undefined group. For example he notes with a childishly naïve misinterpretation of Andrea Dworkin’s oeuvre that, as opposed to “many more sensible women,” the lack of institutionalized female hatred of men as an equivalent of misogyny “excludes the modern-day feminists like the redoubtable Dworkin who believe that all men are rapists and ipso facto evil” (12). At a later point his sexism is again painfully clear: his critique of the work of a female researcher is that her beliefs are “slightly repulsive and a little bit stupid” (227), whereas the closely matching work of two male researchers is merely “banal and sterile” (228). At another point his denigration of a male researcher is based purely on his perception of the man’s emotionality, which is a classic male means of denigrating women — right down to the word Gilmore chooses: the researcher’s arguments are “hysterical denunciations” (173).
Further, I was astonished to realize he seems to actually believe that only men create and maintain civilization: “For if all men gave in to this infantile desire to regress, civilization would indeed disappear, because there would be no men to do the work to support civilization” (166). WTF?! So is he saying civilization collapsed in the US during the World Wars, when the men headed off to fight and the women came flooding out of their homes to keep the appurtenances of civilization running and producing and strong?
Later he blathers on about the supposed turn-around of the French fairy tale “The Beauty and the Beast” where he remarks approvingly: “No longer the ‘cruel beast’ who brings out the animal in men … woman has become the embodiment of the positively transformative forces of civilization, raising men up from animality rather than casting them down into it” (207). Um, hello: Gilgamesh, anyone? It is an ancient literary classic, after all, and he does claim universality in his research — see a few paragraphs down from here. Did Gilmore miss the fact that the half-man, half-beast Enkidu is civilized by Shamhat, a sacred priestess?
Actually, I’m widely off in my definition of Shekhina. It’s a grammatically feminine form of a Hebrew name for God, and usually referred to the tabernacle in the Temple. It had other meanings, as well, depending on the sect or religion.
Shekhinia is the divine feminine as embodied by El Shaddai’s/Adonai’s people — technically, Is’rael — at least in some forms of mystic Judaism. The goal is to unite the divine feminine with the divine masculine, as I recall. And I was referring to Dumuzi/Tammuz being retrieved from the Underworld, yes, which may not be relevant!
Oh, interesting, Jonathan! I know Isis is supposed to have brought Osiris back to life, but did Shekinah “civilize” El Shaddai? Re Inanna and Dumuzi (which are the names I know them by, sorry!), I don’t recall her civilizing him, but I believe she did send him to the Underworld in her place when she realized he’d been partying at her palace while she suffered through death and resurrection. Is that the story you were referring to?
I was going to say, that he apparently also forgot about Isis and Osiris… Ishtar and Tammuz… El Shaddai and Shekhinia….
You are a very silly person, Lou. :)
So… you didn’t like the book?