“Most commentators still seem hugely reluctant to link this collapse of men openly to the rise of feminism” – In memoriam, Geoff Dench (1940 – 2018)
In 1996, Professor Geoff Dench – who died two weeks ago – published a book “Transforming Men”. Apparently he did not choose the title himself. Dench used the fairy story “The Frog Prince” as an allegory for the state of gender relations in the West. There is a curious consilience with the present here, and Jordan Peterson comes into it. But first, Dench’s argument – and starting with the story itself…
A young princess, still very much a child, who spends all of her time playing, ventures outside the palace grounds and enters the wild forest beyond. Her golden ball, which she values more than anything else, falls into a pool (or well) and sinks from view, leaving her heartbroken.
To her surprise a frog appears and speaks to her, offering to retrieve her ball for her if she promises to be his friend. In her childish grief for the lost ball, and carelessly disregarding the future, she agrees. So the frog restores her ball to her.
The princess returns to the palace, where she is later embarrassed by the frog who has followed her, and who now insists on her keeping the promise of friendship. She is reluctant, but her father, the King, insists that she honour her commitment.
So the frog is allowed to participate in the civilised activities of the palace, such as eating at the table and sharing the princess’s food. After contact has become more intimate, variously expressed as the princess kissing the frog, or allowing him to sleep on her pillow (with the result, in some versions, that she begins to feel more friendly towards him), the frog turns into a prince.
He declares that this is in fact his original and true form, and that by befriending him the princess has removed him from the spell of an evil witch. They marry – for the princess has now matured – and go off in a gold coach to live at the prince’s own castle.
In what way did Dench interpret this fairy story as an allegory for gender relations? Dench was a social anthropologist and naturally comes at the matter from that perspective. For Dench the key anthropological problem for a society to solve is how to make constructive use of men. Think primates: the males are a law unto themselves. Or, better, a lawlessness. They make little contribution to the troop (see, however, the comment from Joseph, below). There is, of course, no pair bonding amongst primates; no paternal resourcing. Arguably, the anthropological inventions of family and society are key to the evolutionary success of Homo sapiens. Not that Dench would express it in that way.
But he certainly argued strongly for the crucial importance of family. And families include fathers, and fathers mean patriarchy. Aargh! But Dench did not understand patriarchy in the feminist sense – namely a conspiracy by men to oppress and exploit women. For Dench, patriarchy was a piece of theatre, a subterfuge expressly designed to tie men into familial relationships whose purpose was twofold: to extract benefit from men whilst minimising the threat of men reverting to a feral state. From this perspective, patriarchy is closer to an exploitation of men by women rather than the reverse. This aligns with my own view as expressed in The Empathy Gap, though Dench would not have taken my evolutionary approach to it.
So, to the interpretation of the story. A frog is a feral male – or a free male, if you will: a male who is not a patriarch, a family man. A Prince is a male bound into society – and society (or the ‘moral economy’) is predominantly female. As a boy, and a member of a family, a male starts as a Prince. As he becomes mature, however, he becomes independent and loses his initial status as a Prince. He is no longer accepted by female society and has become a frog. Most adolescent males know what it is to be a frog. It is specifically female society which rejects the young man, so, in the myth, it is a witch – the analogue of female society – which casts the spell which turns him into a frog.
To re-enter society – to become once again a Prince – the frog must avail himself a second time of female magic. To this end he must perform some service of great value to a Princess. That done, the Princess becomes locked into an obligation which – it is notable – the King, the existing Patriarch, enforces. The externally enforced obligation is essential, because the Princess is initially repulsed by the frog.
The allegory makes explicit female power over men: to turn them into frogs or frogs into Princes. The presumption of the story is that any frog must prefer to become a Prince. But the twist for our times is that a frog may prefer to remain a frog, despite the dangers of the forest. Being a Prince sounds grand, but actually means duty and obligation, in contrast to the freedom of the forest. And as for the modern Princess, she is no longer so keen on transforming frogs, and her Patriarch, the King, has been usurped by his wife, the Queen, who does not enforce the old rules. As Dench writes,
“Girls no longer want to be dependent, even nominally; and boys are losing hope of being turned into princes. It is time to re-write the story as a fin-de-millenium lament, or even a horror story. In it the princess refuses to accept the loathsome frog as a partner after all. Her power to perform good magic is thereby wasted; and the original spell of the witch, far from being broken, remains unchecked and grows in strength. Soon the princess’s father, the king, abdicates and turns back into a monstrous and malevolent frog himself, and starts abusing the inhabitants of the palace. Bereft of leadership, the kingdom slips into feuding and chaos, its citizens selfish and unruly; and the forest of individual desire starts to encroach upon the formerly meticulous and orderly palace gardens.”
Patriarchy was only ever a piece of theatre, a con, and the status of Prince in part illusion and in part reward. Surely the Witch and the Princess were playing for the same team, working the prince-frog-prince scam. In which case, was the “Prince”, who was never truly a prince, never really a frog either? Or is my cynicism merely my froggy tendencies triumphing over my princely tendencies?
In a curious recent resonance of frogs, enter Pepe. And enter Kek – in ancient Egyptian mythology the deification of the concept of primordial darkness. Enter Jordan Peterson and Jonathan Pageau, on whom the relevance of The Frog Prince is not lost, as made explicit in their discussion of the metaphysics of Pepe. In The Frog Prince the choice of frog as the creature into which the Prince is turned is appropriate because, herpetophiles aside, frogs are generally perceived as physically repulsive, especially to beautiful, self-regarding Princesses. But there is something deeper here. The frog is a mythological archetype. Being amphibian, the frog mediates between two states of being. Water represents chaos, and frogs being at home in water, are the emissaries of chaos. The explosion of popularity of the Pepe meme saw the ubiquitous frog deployed to represent absolutely anything. Being the emissary of the primordial, Pepe naturally inclines to the glorification of misrule. As Jonathan Pageau has explained, the universal applicability of the Pepe meme is because, as a manifestation of chaos, it can instantiate anything. Chaos is at the same time nothing and everything. A frog is empowered to pull a specific instantiation out of the infinite potential of chaos, such as a golden ball from water.
So much for metaphysics and mythology. What follows are extracts from “Transforming Men” (in italics), with my commentary in blue text.
“Patriarchy is a system that may well have been largely devised and promoted by primordial matriarchs in order to even out the burden on their children.”
“Patriarchal exaggeration of men’s importance obscures the deeper power of women, and behind the theatre of male dominion the palace holds many secrets.”
“The whole plot existed first in the mind of the Witch. It was, I suspect, the mothers who conjured up the prince in their efforts to turn men into more reliable helpers; and it is the arrangements they invented which feminism now seeks to blame on men.”
“It seems very likely that feminist promulgation of ideas that family life mainly serves men, and that women are “doing it al for men”, is in part , at least, a reworking of traditional devices for exerting more leverage over men. The appearance of male control and benefit is a cover which permits women considerable moral power in practice. Hera, goddess of marriage and a jealous wife, is also the power behind the throne.”
One sees here the origins of the instinct towards victimhood. The patriarchal play-acting was itself a form of laying claim to victimhood. It has long been the case that such victimhood, or seeming subservience, worked as the source of women’s moral leverage.
“What ‘The Frog Prince’ and its ilk have done in the past is to sell the path of matrimony and responsible fatherhood. Patriarchal cultures teach boys that their nature is evil and they must rebuild themselves around a sense of duty.”
“By rejecting men and allowing them back on terms acceptable to themselves as major guardians of the general interest, women in concert act as filters for a natural resource which would otherwise at best be lost to society, and at worst pose dangers.”
These extracts express Dench’s view of patriarchy: that it provides a semblance of authority to men in return for the reality of men’s service to benefit women and society generally. But feminism is dismantling patriarchy without knowing what it was…
“The frog, or knight, is free to wander following his fancy, and needs to recognise no frontiers. But a prince belongs to the land and his subjects.”
“The frog, knowing no dependents, is largely self-sufficient in his pool, and can find little reason to abandon freedom and precious playing time just to become a domestic help. To be tempted from the pleasures of the forest, men need to be flattered by an important sounding title, and by the hint – which becomes absurd as soon as it is examined closely – that all of this business of child rearing and reproducing society is in some way being done for them and takes place under their indispensable management. Want to be my helper? Well, maybe; I’ll let you know. How about head of household, domestic monarch? Now that’s more like it!”
“Western society is sliding away from patriarchy and from the control over men which it gave.”
Feminism / the Left
“The merger of public and private, which perhaps is reaching its fullest expression to date in the phenomenon of political correctness, is I believe rooted in sixties popular Marxism, which created perfect conditions for the germination of statist feminism.”
“In a few years time, when it has all come down to earth with a bump, statist feminism may be remembered chiefly as an ideology which simply failed to understand how to manage men. The real fairy story will tun out to be its idea that women’s lot can be improved through movement towards explicit gender equality.”
Unfortunately, this optimistic prediction has not come to pass. The shit is still on its way back from the fan, and “explicit”, substantive, equality of outcome is a stronger political drive than ever.
“Women have succeeded in mobilising state institutions to carry out or even take over some of the management of men which was previously pursued, discreetly, within the home; and the feminised state, as it blossoms, is revealing itself as a continuation of the moral economy by other means.”
I think this is spot on. Feminism insists that women should exercise the same control over public spaces as they have always traditional done in the domestic arena.
“A crucial analytic mistake on the Left, which has misled feminist thought for the last generation, is to overlook that collectivism cannot just operate in a soup of romanticised consensuality, but does actually need to be grounded in a firm recognition and acceptance of individual obligations.”
“State providing as a matter of routine soon creates a victim culture in which all but the richest people feel that far from owing the community anything, they deserve more from it. This deprives the mass of citizens of the elementary self-respect which they need to have in order for a moral economy to operate.”
“Immersion in a group helps to avoid existential angst and brings men within the magic circle of creation and communal renewal. But it is essential to remember that entry to this promised land requires highly personalised, long-term obligations. This is something which the libertarian Left, still getting it wrong after all these years, signally fails to take on board. The idea that the state can “help” families by relieving people of their personal responsibilities is just incredibly inept.”
“The feminisation of the state launches a new offensive in the gender war. It is now an orthodoxy that one of the primary duties of the state is to protect women’s interests against men. Anna Coote and her colleagues (1990) write that fathers are no longer essential to the economic survival of family units. And Polly Toynbee (1989) can calmly incite women to forget about fatherhood and just look to the state for all the provisions needed to enable them to have careers and operate effectively without men. Quoting Toynbee: ‘What it (the state) can do is shape a society that makes a place for women and children as family units, self-sufficient and independent’”.
“It would not be overstating the case too much to suggest that it is the need of feminists for socialism which has kept the Left going for the last decade or longer. For as a theory of how society works it is surely discredited now. Economic systems which give so little prominence to individual incentives and responsibilities are not competitive. They are now surviving in the world……by dint of political correctness, which treats attempts to unravel the social accounting of welfare as tantamount to the rape of defenceless women. But looking the other way will not prevent the current welfare state system from collapsing as a result of its own contradictions. Feminists have built their new palace on sand.”
The welfare state hasn’t collapsed yet, but it still seems likely.
“What the expanding concept of state provision effectively does is to end up serving and sanctifying a lower interest, that of the individual, who is now the unit of entitlement and consumption, unhampered by any tedious obligations or sense of mutuality which could set a boundary for both aspiration and disappointment. Feminism is thus heavily implicated in the creation of….”egotistical socialism” , the practice whereby citizens grab benefits for themselves with no regard for the common good…… This betrays survival on the Left of an astonishing naivete concerning what the outcomes and implications of welfarism are generally likely to be……The lower we go economically, welfarism sooner or later bids to become regarded as the call of first resort, and proves destructive of interpersonal relation and commitments which seem less worth maintaining, and is liable to lead claimants into traps of dependency where the state is the only possible source of support. Family networks of reciprocity, the base of the moral economy, have atrophied as the welfare state has bloomed.”
Responsibility / Irresponsibility ‘the forest’ / Failure-to-launch
“As feminist discourse erodes the family man role model, there is not much else for a lad to aspire to.”
“What men need is demands upon them to make them grow up.”
This is Jordan Peterson’s message. The radical element in the MHRM should be considering whether there is an alternative to the traditional interpretation of ‘demand’.
“A man who does not become a provider in one way or another fails to become a proper adult, and faces reduced life chances in almost every dimension. The community cares little about such men, because they make little input to it; and in turn this renders them prone to self-neglect.”
This is an expression of “men are human doings, not human beings”. Some may baulk at being told that a failure to perform the provider role will prevent them being ‘a proper adult’. Better to say, as I think was intended, that a life of irresponsibility will prevent you being a proper adult. The question then is whether a meaningful, responsible life is possible independent of the traditional provider model.
“The fundamental public duty of any able-bodied citizen is to minimise calls on community resources both by being self-reliant where he or she can, and through helping out family members too, in order to limit the use made of state help. Communities would soon get overdrawn without families.”
How shockingly conservative!
“A man’s pride and independence may be greater than his need for domestication. This underlines men’s original power, very different from and far older than patriarchy, of being freer than women to walk away from relationships and situations that don’t suit them….it is this raw power of men to care less than women which brings about patriarchy, rather than vice-versa. While one aspect of this cultural response to male offhandedness is to denigrate irresponsibility as childish, or a place of banishment and eventual failure – the forest – this probably will not be enough to convince all men. Some carrot is needed as well, some pull factors as well as push.”
This is the MGTOW tendency, which, in Dench’s view, patriarchy was invented by women to discourage by offering a carrot: the formal appearance of greater power and authority than was, in fact, the case.
“The language of belonging is responsibility; the sign of grace is responsiveness to the needs of others; and the first commandment is not to be independent or allow it in others.”
This is Dench’s take on the female perspective. “The first commandment is not to be independent” may be seen as the origin of women’s in-group preference.
“It is children who ultimately are the main ingredient in the transformation of men.”
“Looked at this way, dependants are a lifeline, the ultimate antidote to anomie.”
“Surely dependants, for men and women equally, represent the primary means of attaching to society, and of realising a sense of fulfilment and moral worth. We are always being told by feminists that this is why many single mothers decide to have children. Why should this apply only to women? Accepting responsibility for others gives one a right to be there oneself. Women qualify very easily for this and they should not dismiss too haughtily as a drive for power the efforts of men to abandon excessive individualism and to experience, hopefully, some release from the endlessness of desire.”
The feminist interpretation of the role of the father in the family as one of power and control, and the resulting determination to oust men from the family, is synonymous with disenfranchising men from society generally and so is particularly cruel. A reconnection of men with society independent of women is essentially the MGTOW project, though whether it is possible on a large scale is another matter.
The plight of men
“The simple fact that women have children while men don’t has more than enough immediate social consequences to render sexual equality a chimera and a delusion.”
“Princes are passé and the frog is now inheriting the world. Male adolescents are as heavily burdened with feelings of guilt and isolation as ever; but they are no longer being shown a way out.”
“It is significant that men’s competitiveness is highly generalised, even pervasive. This is perhaps partly an adaptation for survival in chaos…To be certain of winning approval, and thereby getting out of the forest, it is important to be the best at whatever it is which is being valued and judged….The boys or men in the forest are not the ones who set the rules, or who decide what society will reward….the prizes are partly sexual and the operative community values which govern approval and define what life is for are widely felt by men to be female.”
Note Dench’s description of the forest as “chaos”. This paragraph expresses a key concept: that the much-derided male competitiveness and hierarchies arise, not from toxic masculinity, but as the only means males have of acceptance into society. This is why the following is so accurate…
“When I see Susie Orbach arguing that men should take emotional responsibility for themselves and find a masculinity that is more fulfilling and less precarious it looks like Royalty telling the masses to eat cake. It’s just not relevant to men’s objective situation, which is more insecure than women’s.”
Added to men’s difficult social position is their weakness over sex…
“The more powerful men’s sexual impulses are, the stronger the bargaining position of women, and the smaller men’s chances of coming together in a mutually regulatory system at the expense of women.”
This is an oblique acknowledgement that men have little or no in-group preference. (Of course not, they have competition instead).
In a nod to father’s rights, and the efforts of groups like FNF and F4J, Dench writes,
“These fathers know that they need their families. But they are not making much impact, and at the level of general principles, in the public arena, the overwhelming mood, blending feminism and traditional sentiments, is that if women want to exclude men they should be allowed to.”
“If you want to wind up a feminist, talk about children’s rights.”
It’s not necessarily about God, silly…
“A male priesthood is no less important…The most important areas of church regulation are precisely those dealing with the place of men in the moral community…The theatrical officiation of a male priest in policing rules of the family is symbolically very significant….This is what makes the tomfoolery of Bishops in western churches who have been supporting the full ordination of women so extraordinary and hard to understand. Do they really not see or care that a church without a male senior priesthood loses its social relevance and is doomed to a speedy decline?…..What these debates have ignored above all is that male priesthood is a crucial symbolic prop to fatherhood in society generally; and the most obvious effect of more and more senior female officiants will be to give colossal endorsement to the idea that men are not really needed anymore.”
In one of my favourite passages, Dench tells of a young man, probably Asperger’s, who has been prosecuted for hacking into dozens of computer systems. The press have a field day mocking the lad for his alleged inability to express his emotions. Dench writes,
“But why should he have to talk about his emotions? They’re his after all; if he did come out with them other people might well find them unacceptable, or use them against him in some way. Men’s silence may well have something to do with the fact that male feelings are much more likely to prove unacceptable than those of women, which is why men say ‘ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies’. So let him button up. Emotional espionage has to be resisted. He knows what he feels and he can talk about it if and when he wants to. Keep right on, son. Don’t let them grind you down.”
Elsewhere Dench observes,
“That is perhaps why so many otherwise resolute men seem so weak-kneed and tongue-tied in female company. They are suppressing their emotions in the hope of staying in charge of themselves.”
Female Moral Force
“Men are primed in all cultures to be responsive to women’s needs and wishes, and to the values espoused by women. Feminism has confused this impulse considerably by introducing the notion that women would prefer to do for themselves many of the things which men were traditionally expected to do for them; and a half hearted New Chivalry has consequently tried to articulate around the paradoxical project of helping women to be more independent of men.”
This is another key observation. When men ceded moral authority to women, back in the mists of evolutionary time, no limits were placed on what direction women’s demands might take. This evolved proclivity – call it chivalry or gynocentrism or the empathy gap or simply female moral force, as you prefer – was initially related to optimising reproductive success, as all evolved adaptations are. But it can be deployed for whatever purposes women desire; men are programmed to assist. It is a psychosocial pathology which has always been inherent in Homo sapiens, but lay dormant while social, economic and technological conditions kept women predominantly within the domestic sphere.
“Female power seems magical to men because it is not vested in individuals but arises out of collective support and moral cohesion.”
This is another nod to the power of female in-group preference which men underestimate. Conversely, feminism over-estimates male power due to failing to appreciate that men lack in-group preference. Patriarchy, in the feminist sense, is not only false but impossible.
“Women’s voices, organised through a multitude of voluntary associations and committees, living fragments of the female church, have tremendous moral force to endorse or condemn public policies…..political correctness in the public arena (is) currently exerting even greater secular influence. It is wielding the traditional moral power of the female church but in a new and particularly overt manner. I would expect this to be self-defeating quite quickly as it tries to monopolise influence by combining both formal and informal power, which men will not see as equitable and be happy to play along with for long.”
Absolutely bang-on. This again alludes to the attempt by feminism to extend the informal female power of the domestic realm into the formal world of affairs and work, thus leaving men subservient in both. Unfortunately, most men still fail to perceive what is happening, being perpetually bamboozled by the narrative of female disadvantage. It remains to be seen whether the majority of men will “play along with it” indefinitely.
Doubling-down on feminist failure
In respect of equal division of domestic labour, especially in the context of child care, Dench noted,
“I have heard or know of extremely few (cases) where the mother did not, sometimes in spite of conscious efforts to restrain herself, continue to see herself as the better judge of her children’s needs, so that the father sooner or later realises that he could not be an equal parent, merely a helper, who had to follow instructions carefully.”
“All except the most devoted and idealistic of New Men must be aware by now that the deal is spurious and that their actual position in any non-patriarchal household will be as mother’s little helper. The idea of equal parenting is a dodo. It is no use women saying that men have to show that they can be trusted. That is all humbug.”
“Merging the private and public realms is arguably leading towards the collapse of much more than the boundary between them, and perhaps is about to show us just how reliant the whole social fabric still may be on gendered social divisions. Feminist canards may soon be coming home to roost.”
“If feminists do face up to this situation at all it is usually in the scornful language of emasculation. Men deprived of breadwinner status, they will say with mock sympathy, feel emasculated. (Poor things; but really that is not our problem, their smiles will add). This is not however a situation which deserves such easy displays of hauteur. It is something which arises out of the relative positions of men and women in dependency chains, and is a matter of dehumanisation rather than emasculation.”
That’s how the H got in MHRM.
“Many middle class workaholics fending off female competition are too busy to be actively caring fathers, while working class benefit-drones on the other hand are too demoralised and dehumanised to be much use even though they have time on their hands. Equal opportunities has helped to let both categories off the hook and both are learning to survive outside patriarchy. Radical feminists then come along and use them as manifest justifications for writing men even further out of their script for the future. A self-perpetuating vilification of men is in progress.”
“From this perspective, the new art of publicly bad-mouthing men seems in very dubious taste. Many men are now caught in a classic vicious circle of degradation and exclusion. They neither receive any respect from anyone but their closest buddies, nor do they have any real chance to win it.”
“Most men still do not feel under too much attack. But at the bottom of society there is a growing lump…..who are unemployed and probably unemployable, unfulfilled, have no self-respect because they know they are despised, and who have little incentive to be nice to anyone, even or especially women.”
Yes, it is the lower socioeconomic groups which are being trashed most. That’s why the association of feminism with “the left” is such an egregious fraud.
“A fast growing library of studies….have all identified a core of irresponsible and purposeless men at the centre of our current social malaise……a rising tide of male early mortality and suicide, high long term unemployment, the deterioration in academic performance of boys even in science subjects…and arguably the formation of right-wing nationalist movements across Europe giving a sense of belonging to otherwise unattached and unlovable young men, have all been linked in some way to the erosion of the male breadwinner role.”
“Predictably, most commentators still seem hugely reluctant to link this collapse of men openly to the rise of feminism.”
“The more men crumble and fade into the scenery, the easier it is for women to succeed. They are the ones piling up a monopoly of virtue.”
In the context of the British Afro-Caribbean community, Dench wrote,
“There is a history waiting to be written here of the disservice done by white middle-class women, in helping to promote absent fatherhood, to an economically hard-pressed group which collectively desired and certainly needed stronger families if it was going to establish itself properly in this country. Instead it is now the scene of massive demoralisation. The fate of the black prince is a serious warning to the rest of us.”
Finally, another key passage which presages, perhaps, sex and relationship education, hate crimes, false allegations, #MeToo, etc., and laments their destructive effect,
“The sixties alliance of feminism with the state is finally beginning to bear unholy fruit in a big way. For what seems to be happening now that women are moving strongly into the public realm is that traditional interpersonal networks for organising the moral economy, like the family, are being supplanted by depersonalised, abstract processes in the public domain. The phenomenon of political correctness is an aspect of this, as it involves traditional female evaluation of men, but channels its judgments through public institutions, especially the media, backed up by the police, rather than using them to inform and control particular personal ties.”