The perils of ivory tower indecisiveness when studying misogyny, pt. 2
Weirdly, Gilmore also seems to be completely blind to any understanding of the concept of “patriarchy,” to the point that he repeatedly enthuses about how there’s no unifying external element in misogyny. But good modern research has shown us that every patriarchal culture we’re aware of mandates the creation of, first: strongly separated gender roles, and second: a socially dominant form of manliness for the particular cultural time and setting — which will require near-constant social buttressing by the men (see for example the fascinating 2010 article “An Organizational Approach to Undoing Gender: The Unlikely Case of Offshore Oil Platforms” by R. J. Ely & D. E. Meyerson in the journal Research in Organizational Behavior 30). It is men’s performance of conventional masculinity which preserves male dominance — regardless of whether they agree with the accompanying and required misogyny — because you cannot be “on top” unless you make sure those “below” you stay there.
Further, social worldviews are by their nature usually reasonably workable; they consequently become commonly held beliefs within the culture. Thus, even if there is compelling factual evidence that these cultural symbol systems are in reality deeply destructive — such as we can see today in much of Western culture — still, for many people it will take too much effort and energy to fight for another, better way; it’s easier to just go with the flow and gripe occasionally. For other members of the culture, these social conventions may even be cherished, believed to be religiously sanctioned — why would anyone in their right mind deny them? This says to me that the concept of patriarchal male superiority came first, insinuating itself into cultures little by little over time. The associated misogyny due to the enforced gender roles followed, often as initially harmless-seeming rituals that devolved into vicious or cruel abuses… and today the patriarchal mindset is so thoroughly, completely, and deeply woven into the Western mindset that it’s just too much of an effort for most but not all men to bother trying to change.
Admittedly, Ely & Meyerson’s breakthrough study occurred about nine years after this book was published, so I’m willing to cut Gilmore some slack on that. However, it is not the only such study — there have been confused or horrified Euro-American comments in books and articles regarding matrifocal societies, non-androcentric spiritualities, or gift economies regarding the New World, for example, as early as the 1600’s. Consequently the author does himself no favors regarding his research skills when he almost smugly notes, “By bringing together data from every time and place,” — and isn’t that an astonishingly arrogant assertion to make in a book that has only about 120 pages dedicated to the actual examples of misogyny — “including the contemporary West, and by including virtually all political systems, economies, and religions in our purview,” — um, no; you’ve only included the patriarchal ones, dude — “a boundless comparison will show that no factor in the external environment can account for the ubiquity of the phenomenon and that the answer must lie in the shared psychic course of the male of the species” (10).
Wow. Where do I start. Well, first: I do not think the word “boundless” means what you think it means, Mr. Gilmore. There’s no mention, for example, of the many known egalitarian societies such as the Iroquoian Nation or most gatherer/hunter societies, or of the well-known nature of the gift economy common to a great many of those same gatherer/hunter societies, or of matrifocal religions… maybe because any of them would easily disprove his thesis?
Second, apparently for him there’s no explaining misogyny except that it’s some psychic whatsis that only all men have? What a fabulous excuse! Let’s imagine how this goes the next time a man abuses a woman: “Whoa, looks like I raped you, beat the crap outta you again, and then killed you, babe — bummer of a psycho-genetic imperative!”
Yeah, let’s stop there, and move on to something else. It’s not like this book isn’t a devastatingly target-rich environment, after all.
So yes, I understand that good science asks for a certain amount of distance between the researcher and the subject of research, but this guy seems to take it to astonishing ends — he’s gone careening past distancing and crashed right into solipsist detachment! He really feels to me like a man with a hammer who consequently can’t see anything but nails all around him. A friend of mind refers to this as “historical parallax,” where the further away in either time or geography you are from something, the more it flattens out and all looks the same. I get this feeling from Gilmore’s reportage on the various studies he’s collected. Isn’t it amazing how all of them — or at least those he doesn’t refer to as stupid or sterile — absolutely support his theory! More tellingly, there are at least two of these studies with which I am familiar — and quite frankly, I think he doesn’t understand the one, and misrepresents the other.
He is consequently also ostensibly incapable of realizing that rampant female adulation by men is merely the flip side of misogyny and the basis of the ignorantly cruel Madonna/whore complex. Putting someone on a pedestal is not loving, but rather isolating and dehumanizing — it treats women like they’re all homogenously perfect and charmingly personality-free, then virulently punishes the individual woman who cannot possibly live up to that artificial perfection.
Thus, due to this particular blind spot, he has an entire chapter titled “Gynophilia” — his own modestly smug neologism for what he claims is the opposite of misogyny… rather than simply another aspect of it. In this chapter he bemusedly observes, apparently without a shred of irony, how odd it is that the most misogynistic societies are also often the ones which most force women up onto that unwanted, segregating pedestal: “as a general rule, the greater the depreciation of women the greater the unconscious idolization; the stronger the revulsion, the greater the desire and identification.” (189). This is due, he claims, to male psychic ambivalence: the misogyny is due to envy and fear of women’s apparent power over the poor terrified men who know they desperately need the women and hate the women for it, and as a consequence the men visit a breathtaking plethora of painful, bloody rituals upon both the women and themselves in (sometimes unconscious) imitation of the women’s menstrual cycles… in order to protect themselves against the eee-vile women!
Oh well, sure: that makes sense!