This is the first part of a review of Feminism Against Progress by Mary Harrington. This first part addresses the overall import of the book. The second part will make more detailed observations on specific topics.
Read all about it! Feminist discovers the sexes are not the same!
Are we supposed to be grateful for this revelation?
But wait – there’s more…
Feminist discovers that the Patriarchy was not all bad for women!
Progress (as in “Progressive”) is not actually a good thing for women!
Crucify her! Off with the heretic’s head!
OK, I apologise. I should not descend to such sarcasm. But really, it’s hard to take.
It’s as if a lunatic who has insisted for decades that he’s Napoleon suddenly writes a book chastising us all for believing it.
Err…we didn’t, Mary.
The thrust of Feminism Against Progress is that feminism took a wrong turn in promoting “progress”. However, Harrington interprets “progress” as having an extremely restricted scope. Her “progress” is identified with “women’s liberation” and that is equated with a particular type of “freedom”. That “freedom” became defined as following men into the path of wage-slavery. I cannot fault the exposure of that semantic trick…except that it’s hardly news to some of us, Mary. You just wouldn’t listen.
Don’t blame us, if, having stolen men’s clothes, you discover they are just labourers’ donkey jackets. And, no, Mary, this is not mere schadenfreude. My reaction has deeper foundations. Nor is it based merely on conservative dogma.
Shockingly, Harrington has discovered by personal experience that she has a deep emotional connection with her child, that caring for said child is a rewarding experience, and that being a stay-at-home mother is (wait for it) actually quite pleasant.
How many more of these bombshells can there be?
I’ll be serious now. The book is important enough to have provoked my undivided attention.
There is much to commend this book, but equally as much to condemn it. Harrington’s analysis of how feminism has harmed women is correct, as are her ideas for reversing these harms. This is no small thing; let us recognise that.
My condemnation of the book is that the harms to men and boys go unrecognised. I must immediately expand upon that because people will point out that the book contains a whole chapter on the desirability of allowing men their own single-sex spaces. They will also draw attention to passages here and there exposing how boys and young men are falling behind in education, how childless women working full time are now out-earning men, and even the relationship between divorce and the high rate of male suicide. But do not be fooled. Harrington’s concern over issues impacting men arises solely from the position that it affects men’s subsequent ability to function efficiently to the benefit of women. It is not based on a perspective that men might, simply by virtue of their humanity, be deserving of some concern (let alone equal concern). The humanity of men has no presence in this book.
Gynocentrism is the loam out of which all feminisms grow.
Mary Harrington’s gynocentrism remains firmly in place.
The red flag is, of course, that Harrington still considers herself a feminist. She has had to invent yet another variant of feminism, Reactionary Feminism, to do so. In truth, Harrington is simply a gynocentrist, as are all feminists, of every stripe.
Anyone who remains happy to call themselves a feminist, irrespective of any adjectival rider, has failed to accept responsibility for the destruction they have wrought upon our world. It is not possible to internalise that responsibility and still to find the title “feminist” tolerable.
In the first instance it was the destruction of men, but you cannot poison half a well. The destruction of men has now matured into the inevitable destruction of our society as a whole, other than a few elites. Harrington rightly emphasises this, though from a relentlessly female perspective. Nevertheless, this is a crucially important theme as it correctly identifies feminism as a central driver of the authoritarianism which is now emerging globally.
Harrington acknowledges that there is a great deal of explicit reference in feminist literature to the obliteration of the heterosexual two-parent family as a specific policy objective. That there was an historical counterpoint between that “liberation” wing of feminism and a “caring” feminism is something I will have to take on trust. What Harrington identifies, rightly, is that the “freedom” feminism which triumphed has led, inexorably, to the elite feminism which she dubs the Meat Lego Gnostic tendency. The mechanism by which this has happened is social atomisation.
Harrington admits that “we’ll need to reckon with some of feminism’s unpaid debts, and to take more of a realistic stance on where the limits to individual freedom really are”. Agreed, but, as yet, she has fallen woefully short of acknowledging all those debts, or the grave extent of their destructiveness.
The ejection of men from the family severs the main bond that holds men into society more widely. But what we, along with Harrington, have discovered is that the hyper-liberal “freedom” tendency leads ultimately also to the dissolving of the mother-child bond: the apogee of social atomisation. Feminists complacently imagined they could weaponise the establishment to make fathers optional and remain safe themselves. They supped with the Devil using a short spoon. Schadenfreude would indeed be tempting, but inappropriate given that we are all in the same boat.
The resulting social atomisation inevitably leads to authoritarianism. In short, feminism has functioned as the gateway to globalist technocratic totalism, exactly as I argue in The Destructivists. We are all alone, now – and at exactly the time we need to be united against the common technocratic-globalist threat. In this I concur with Harrington. And this is extremely important.
The Proposed Policy Objectives
Perhaps the most intellectually impressive aspect of the book is Harrington’s identification that the toxic effects of “freedom” (or liberalism) result from the lack of constraints upon it. I must point out that the much-vilified Melanie Phillips explained this very cogently in the 1990s with All Must Have Prizes and The Sex-Change Society. Liberalism is a powerful drug which, whilst desirable in moderation, becomes worse than the disease if taken without restraint. The conservative moral dimensions of loyalty, authority and sanctity are central to the constraints upon individual freedom which are essential to ensure that liberalism remains within its beneficial boundaries. Otherwise moral usurpation will morph liberalism into libertinism and licentiousness. (See The Destructivists for amplification of these matters).
In this context, Harrington suggests three constraints to which we should freely subject ourselves…
Firstly, the reinstatement of single-sex spaces.
Secondly, that sex (in the sense of sexual activity) should be made “properly consequential again”. This means refusing to accept the current jaded perspective of sex “as a low consequence activity”. In my words: acknowledging that there is no such thing as casual sex.
Thirdly, the “post-romantic case for marriage” should be made, thus opposing the vision of that institution merely “as a vector for self-fulfilment”.
She adds to these that women should challenge “the centrality of abortion and birth control to our sexual culture”.
I agree with all that.
Harrington is careful to throw some criticisms at conservatives, lest she become identified with them. In view of the above, clearly enunciated, programme, that precaution will be entirely inadequate. As she well knows, the treatment meted out to apostates is inescapable. Being willing to brave it is something for which Harrington deserves applauding.
Power and the Critical Poison
Referring to feminism under the term “obsolete mindset”, Harrington writes,
“Our biggest obstacle is an obsolete mindset that deprecates all duties beyond personal fulfilment, and views intimate relationships in instrumental terms, as means for self-development or ego gratification, rather than enabling conditions for solidarity. This radical reordering of women’s politics, women’s priorities and even our bodies to the interests of the market, in the name of ‘freedom’, has racked up a growing mountain of uncounted costs and unpaid debts. As the mother of a young daughter, I look at that growing mountain of deferred repayment, and the growing chorus of resentment from groups that gather outside feminist filter bubbles, and I worry about her future should we face the ideological equivalent of a subprime crisis.”
This is right but horribly inadequate. She has identified, correctly, that feminism (albeit codified as “freedom”) has harmed women, and stands to harm her daughter. The problem, and it is no small problem, is that she is relentlessly gynocentric. She would have profited much from having a son. She would, I think, be even more concerned for him. What feminism has done to boys requires explicit recognition and clear contrition. There can be no Truth and Reconciliation without the truth, the full truth. But she writes,
“The postmodern worldview I’d learnt at university encodes a deep pessimism about how inescapable power is from human relations at both small and large scale. My experiences seemed to underline this hypothesis. I found myself wondering: if this really is inescapable, whether as our cultural legacy or a fact of the human condition, does it really make sense to treat power relations as bad? Why not just accept that they’re a fact of life?”
It’s not a matter of accepting that human relations are inescapably about power, Mary – it’s a matter of appreciating that it is not so. Cynicism is not obligatory. She writes,
“I am still a feminist, in the sense that I care about women’s interests and think these are often sidelined.”
I am not a feminist because I care about the interests of men, women and children and because I think that the interests of men and of children have been sidelined a great deal more than those of women, and that this has been done knowingly for the ostensible, but misguided, benefit of women. Harrington continues,
“…crucially, though I have some questions about the direction critical theory has taken since my university days, I’m deeply shaped by some of its insights. It’s clear enough to me that language does shape meaning, and more broadly, that memes really do help to structure reality.”
Hmm. Paddling in the epistemological shallows will not do. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
I suggest that “having some questions” is not quite an adequate response to an ideology which is now poised to drive Western civilisation into extinction (and Critical Theory is an ideology). That topic is too huge to be addressed here. For now, please note that the postmodern / Critical Theory position on language and power is epistemological dilettantism. It is superficial to the point of naivety, not a great insight. It is cynicism and resentment repackaged as something of intellectual depth. It is a fraud.
I doubt that I was much older than eight or so when I first spotted that a dictionary was the embodiment of circular logic. But even then I was not so foolish as think that that invalidated the meaning of words. On the contrary it implies that meaning ultimately lies beyond words, the opposite of the postmodernist position. A true study of epistemology takes one into deep waters where we shall not venture. However, I could reasonably observe that postmodernism is the rubbishing of the greatest minds of Western philosophy by very much smaller minds.
But there is a simpler, more pragmatic, reason to reject the cynical postmodernist position that all is power. Observe that postmodernism requires one to embrace an inescapable nihilism, and to throw away everything of true value in the process. But one simply does not need to adopt such a position. Instead, observe that there are things of true value – accessible through everyday experience (immanence). It is easy to discern what they are: they are all those things which Critical Theory is destroying (truth, beauty, love, religion, an ethical orientation based upon pursuit of the genuine virtues, and an education which promotes all these things via enculturation and humility in the face of past achievements – see The Destructivists).
In the context of the power of the sexes, and on a more observational and less theoretical level, Harrington writes of a medieval wife “more than holding her own” in a dialogue with her husband and notes that women have always had their own resources of social power, e.g.,
“The ethnologist Susan Carol Rogers supports this view in her study of power dynamics between men and women in agrarian communities…Rogers shows that in practice women in such communities wield considerable informal power, via channels such as control of information or the ability to inflict public loss of face.”
Quite. The reality of gender relations is that women often possess decisive social and moral power. Yet feminism has denied this as a cool strategy to have yet more power devolve to them – as recompense for their claimed powerlessness. The reality of the last 60 years is that a balance of power has been replaced by a crushing of men, wrought deliberately by feminism. I say again: this has to be acknowledged before reconciliation is possible.
Serving the Interests of the Elites
Harrington is right to see the cyborg, transhumanist, technocratic movement as deeply inimical to human wellbeing. She rightly identifies the “technologically enabled liberation” as a threat that has “formed the centrepiece of a war on relationships of all kinds that has accelerated radically since the digital revolution”. She is also right to align this with the “advancing process of social atomisation under liberalism” and to identify its “far-reaching consequences” and its likely “howlingly dystopian” vista (though I baulk at the inevitable “particularly for women”).
We did warn you. Feminism has encouraged women to abandon the individual “patriarch”, which, in the great majority of cases is a loving relationship, for the State super-patriarch. The latter is notably parsimonious, not at all loving, and totally crap at fatherhood.
Harrington is also right to note that the progressive’s progress “though conceived of as an idealistic project, in practice this largely serves the corporate interests”. But again I baulk at the “three centuries of struggle”. This is gynocentric focus. In truth, it took the whole of human history until about one hundred years ago to achieve democracy, and that was achieved for men and women at almost the same time on an historical timeframe. The main difference is that men had been engaged in that struggle for many centuries before Harrington’s three. Those were the true Centuries of Oppression which involved massive loss of male lives.
Social atomisation is the necessary, and probably sufficient, precursor to authoritarianism (see The Psychology of Totalitarianism). Harrington aligns feminism with the emergence of atomisation thus. “In both China and the West, then, feminist viewpoints emerge in tandem with technological advancement and social atomisation…But if the causal relationship between feminism and atomisation is complex, what’s indisputable is its deep implication in what it seeks to remedy”.
Harrington observes that the effects of pursuing individualist “freedom” has not been beneficial. Instead “it dissolves social codes developed over millennia to manage such patterns, and reorders the still-existing patterns to the logic of the market. And while the result may sometimes benefit a subset of wealthy, high-status women in the West, the class interests of this group are increasingly at odds with those of, not just many men, but also the young, women with fewer resources, and women who are mothers”. Harrington may seek to distanced herself from conservatives but this is as clear a statement of the conservative (and most MRA’s) position as one could wish for.
The Unacceptably Ignored
Harrington is right that the destruction of the family was the gateway for the rest of the faux-progressive breakdown of our society.
But it will not do.
It will not do, Mary Harrington, to ignore the devastation that feminism has wrought upon men, boys and children generally – and thence to everyone.
Admittedly you do not ignore it entirely; you are explicit about several issues for which feminism is culpable – but relentlessly motivated only by the consequent harms to women. I would not expect a complete exposition of all the male disadvantages, which, after all, took me 676 pages to address. However, there are two topics which I would consider the minimum necessary acknowledgement of what feminism has done. These are the cruel and wholesale severing of fathers from their children, and the weaponising of “violence against women and girls” by denial of comparable female culpability. Those two things are inextricably linked.
Ignoring these issues would be unacceptable if they were historical. But they are not historical. They are not only still prevalent, but increasingly so. They are not only increasingly prevalent, but the feminist establishment is pushing ever more to undermine any residual elements of justice, with no end in sight. But it is not only justice but any semblance of humanity at all that has been lost.
Every year in England and Wales some 60,000 fathers are obliged to go to court to attempt to obtain “contact” with their own children (and the usage “contact” is an obscenity in itself). In most cases these fathers’ only crime is to no longer be their female ex-partner’s favourite person. Half of them will be subject to allegations of domestic abuse, often rape or child sexual abuse. Most of these allegations are false, and everyone involved in the process knows it. Yet these fathers are obliged to submit to the distinctly untender mercies of a system which is institutionally sexist. The level of trauma these men undergo is extreme (I have data), this occurs in bulk, and our culture cares only about Violence Against Women and Girls. The humanity of men, because they are men, counts for nothing. This is why I am so sensitive to the absence of any recognition of men’s humanity in your book, Mary.
Yes, there are some men who really are villains. But I can assure you that there are many mothers who are just as dangerous to their children, but far less likely to have their “contact” challenged by the courts. More than one-quarter of these fathers will, at some time during the process, experience suicidal ideation. Five percent will attempt suicide. We know that the death rate of payees into the Child Maintenance System is abnormally high for people of the same age and sex – and these are overwhelmingly men.
I acknowledge that Harrington does note the correlation of men’s suicide with divorce, and the lack of such association for women. But the process by which this happens is still in place, and getting worse. It will not do.
The outcome for the men who survive the family court gauntlet and obtain “contact” is, if they are amongst the lucky ones, every other weekend and maybe one day in between – and perhaps one or two overnight stays. This is what fathering is often reduced to now. And having survived several years of trauma – and perhaps been denied any contact – our media and our politicians delight in referring to such men as “deadbeat dads”. Generally they are not deadbeat, but often they are dead or beat.
So, why would young men wish to continue with the enterprise of fathering children? This is a massive hole in Harrington’s policy plan which I’ll address further in Part 2.
And I have not even mentioned the worst of it: the destructive effects of fatherlessness on children which is well known and supported by a vast academic literature.
While the catastrophic effects of the destruction of the two-parent family is a central theme in the book, Harrington fails to be fully forthcoming about the extent of feminism’s responsibility for it. After admitting there is no shortage of quotes from second wave feminism’s writings relating to the objective to destroy the nuclear family, Harrington asks “do the conservatives who blame feminism for a thinning social fabric, hollowed-out families and collapsing birth rate have a point?” She answers “yes and no”. She flatly claims, “there’s nothing monolithic about the association between the women’s movement and a rejection of familial ties or social norms”.
This is evasion and a re-writing of history. It will not do. The sins squarely attributable to feminism must be recognised and acknowledged before Harrington’s own project can come about. There are many examples of feminist lobby groups being the dominant force behind primary legislation which undermined, and has now completely annihilated, meaningful marriage. Feminist lobbying – and the embedding of ardent feminist ideologues in positions of power – are the mechanisms directly responsible for giving women the ability to wipe fathers out of their children’s lives. This is not even history. The feminist slaughter of fathers actively continues – and not just against fathers. The feminist animus is aimed at all males. A couple of examples from the UK will suffice.
In 2014, feminist-controlled charities together with well-placed feminists in parliament successfully neutralised the threat (as it was to them) of a rebuttable presumption of equal shared parenting after parental separation appearing in primary legislation. This was accomplished by ensuring that the “experts” who were consulted were of suitable ideological persuasion. They proceeded to grossly misrepresent the research literature to the Ministry of Justice, and all thereafter. The associated weaponising of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) has turned the family courts in England and Wales into an arena in which a perfectly decent father, who has done nothing wrong, has to prove he is not a danger to his own children. True, this asymmetry in the treatment of men and women in the family courts is partly an innate bias. But feminism has traded upon this bias mercilessly. See The Woozling of Shared Parenting for the full story.
Nor will it do, Mary Harrington and Louise Perry, to continue to blame men alone for child abuse, even when that focuses on the danger of a step-father, or casual boyfriend who is not the biological father (what Harrington terms the “Cinderella effect”). You are perfectly correct to identify the families of unmarried mothers as being at particular risk, but it is not only from men. It is the mothers themselves who are the greater risk to their children. It is about time this was acknowledged by feminists. The lack of that acknowledgement is yet further evidence of gynocentric focus, to the detriment of children. It will not do.
The bigger picture in regard to the weaponization of VAWG is the serious undermining of several fundamental principles of justice. Moreover, the feminist drive in this direction is far from over. They will not rest until juries are removed from rape trials – the last defence of an innocent man – and there are feminist MPs in parliament who support just that. That there are, at least, hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of innocent men in prison is beyond doubt. But feminism recognises no such thing as an “innocent man”. There is no shortage of documentary evidence to that effect too. And please do not plead you are not “that kind of feminist”, Mary. The only kind of feminist that counts are those who have been successful in bringing these things about.
A more recent example is the final step in the destruction of marriage. This coup de grâce was enacted by the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 which came into force in April 2022. It was billed as a no-fault divorce Act, but, in truth, we have had that in all but name for decades. The new Act establishes divorce as a unilateral action which cannot be contested and which is automatic upon application – one only has to wait for 26 weeks to pass. So, when Harrington refers to our current marriage arrangements as a “contract” this is incorrect. It is not even a contract. The essence of a contract is that it ties two parties into a binding agreement which neither party can legally withdraw from unilaterally. Marriage can now be annulled as easily as cancelling a magazine subscription, and it can be done by one of the spouses without the agreement of the other. Be in no doubt that the easy passage of this Bill through both houses of parliament was because very few MPs or Peers will say boo to the feminist hegemony.
Real marriage, which Harrington appears to support as the way forward (as do I), is a solemn covenant which is mutually binding and lifelong. What is now called “marriage” is merely a mockery of real marriage. There is no real marriage now. Nor is it within the gift of individuals to create real marriage in isolation, because it is the key feature of the institution that the solemn vow is made publicly, and that both the legislature, and preferably also a religious authority, recognise and endorse it as a joining together “until death us do part”.
Reaction to the book provokes one to clarify what the men’s movement is trying to achieve.
My position is, and always has been, that we do not want to return to a traditionalist world. The men’s movement is not merely conservative (though many of its adherents happen to be). The men’s movement is actually radical. This is not appreciated by any feminists, nor by the public at large. The radical element lies in the movement’s opposition to gynocentrism. This immediately rules out the traditional world, which was as gynocentric as our present world.
However, there is much common ground with Harrington: sufficient common ground upon which to build an alliance. But a deal breaker must be the priority given to re-establishing fathers’ security of meaningful paternity. Without that it all collapses into hot air.
The second, and closely related, condition must be the acknowledgement of the reality of gynocentric bias (by whatever name) which skews concern to women and girls and responsibility to men and boys. Unless this is replaced by empirically sound balance, men will – and should – continue to walk away.
The third condition must be the recognition that women, even women in traditional domestic caring roles, are not, and never have been, powerless. The influence of female moral, and hence social, power must be explicitly recognised. The importance of this lies in this moral power, allied to gynocentrism, being the true foundation of feminism. If it continues unrecognised, the excesses of feminism and all that it brings with it will re-emerge.
To say that success in implementing these changes will not be easy is a massive understatement. Harrington notes that it will not be straightforward politically for it’s likely to come at some cost to those women who benefit from the “progressive” agenda, that is the elite women: quote “This class may need to lose some measure of the benefits that such ‘equality’ and ‘progress’ has afforded them. Suggesting they do so is likely to provoke, to put it mildly, a defensive reaction. And this class of women currently has the mic.”
Harrington’s fighting talk about wresting the (feminist) movement from the “sterilised steel claws of the Fourth Industrial Revolution” is a joy to read, but we have yet to forge a force capable of defeating the transnational Woke Industrial Complex (for more of which see The Destructivists).
Part 2 will follow shortly.