This is the second part of a review of Feminism Against Progress by Mary Harrington. Part 1 is here and that constitutes a more conventional review. This second part is a more discursive ramble around issues that arose in my mind in reading the book.
- The Law in History
- Work & Pay in History
- Patriarchy is Theatre
- Male Dissident Opinion
- Are Men Human?
- The Destruction of Marriage
- The TERF Tendency
- Trans and Feminism
The Law in History
Harrington notes, correctly, that the law of coverture and its precursors in medieval law were not all to women’s disadvantage, as ill-informed feminists might believe, illustrating this via its shielding of women from “legal and economic exigencies”. It worked both ways. Property ownership under coverture was not quite the patriarchal monopoly that is sometimes claimed, and legal non-existence could prove very useful to women who decided to exploit it (not least the avoidance of imprisonment), see my essay Coverture.
One could make the case that the advantages of coverture to women outweighed the disadvantages. I would cite here the Victorian debtors’ prisons. Some 10,000 people, 95% to 98% of them men, were imprisoned yearly for debt in the Victorian era. Yet such debts were most often household debts to tradesmen, grocers, etc., and such a debt might be as likely due to the wife’s profligacy or carelessness as the husband’s, but it was the husband who went to prison. This was the reality of so-called patriarchy under coverture.
In the context of not wanting to reverse feminism, Harrington declares she has “no wish to be banned from voting”. I cannot but be irritated. It is frankly ignorant. See Centuries of Oppression for the true story of The Vote. This is one of the many feminist myths that must be corrected before there can be a healing of what feminism has wrought over the last 60 years.
Work and Pay in History
Harrington’s vision for a desirable future is essentially a return to the era of domestic trade. In as far as it would be possible, I concur. There is, however, a massive problem. Harrington’s ignoring of it would seem to emanate from the feminists’ marked tendency, not only to ignore the male perspective, but also to be completely blind to what men do.
You cannot do work at home when it is fundamentally work that takes place elsewhere!
It is still the case, and always will be the case, that men do almost all the work that involves interaction with inanimate matter. Being a tradesman means working in other people’s houses. (And I refuse to be browbeaten into writing a sex-neutral version of “tradesman”). I often hear women farmers referenced in books or in interviews. Indeed, women outnumber men massively in agricultural sciences at college. However, living in the country, I also see farmers working in the fields, on a daily basis. They are always men. Always.
Harrington is right to point to the industrial revolution as a process which alienated both men and women from their domestic environment – simply by removing them from it for most of their waking hours. For men, this would not be easy to reverse because it is not only factories which remove men from their homes but almost all work done by working class men.
“When conservatives call for a return to ‘traditional’ family life, but mean by this a return to some variant of ‘separate spheres’…this misses the fact that such forms of family life are not ‘traditional’ at all, but distinctively modern.”
I suppose Harrington would class me as conservative, though I regard myself as a radical. However, this is not news to me. It is feminists who, condescendingly, refer to men as unable to adjust to the loss of their “traditional jobs in factories and heavy industry”. Excuse me, Mary, why do you burden me with this silliness? I refer you to my 26 part series Centuries of Oppression which depicts both the medieval agrarian and domestic trade eras. I know very well that the era of working in factories has been but an historical blip.
In critiquing Friedan and Greer, Harrington notes that they both envisage “a world where some unspecified other does all the dull, sticky drudgery that keeps the world of freedom and selfhood turning”. Unfortunately, under “dull, sticky drudgery” Harrington refers only to the mothering of children. It is staggering the extent to which work which is not merely dull and sticky, but laborious, dirty and dangerous, is invisible to her because it is done almost exclusively by men. Moreover, such work is crucial to sustaining both the world of “freedom and selfhood” and the world of caring mothers. No one gives men any choice, nor, it seems, any recognition. Worse, our contribution is rebranded as economic oppression.
Quoting an historian, she writes that some jobs “became ‘women’s work’ precisely because they were compatible with keeping an eye on small children. Textile production, for example, was a largely female occupation for some 20,000 years, until the Industrial revolution”. Well, that may be true for most of those 20,000 years (do we know?), but it was certainly untrue in the era of the handloom to which Harrington goes on to allude.
It is worth making a lengthy digression here because it illustrates the broader issues about the historical sex-segregation of paid work.
Handloom weavers were of both sexes, but men predominated – not women, as Harrington implies. From the medieval period to the first decades of the nineteenth century, skilled handloom weaving was the province of men due to the Craft and Trade Guilds creating a de facto closed shop requiring would-be handloom weavers to serve an apprenticeship. These proto-unions helped secure a living wage from the trade, sufficient for a man to keep a family – which was the functional definition of “men’s work”. The “putting-out” system, to which Harrington refers, predominantly involved male handloom weavers.
Once the steam-driven mills opened, with their power looms, the business of weaving ceased to be so skilled, and fewer weavers were required due to the vastly greater productivity of the power looms. Hence – responding to the iron law of labour supply and demand – wages in the mills fell. Men follow the money. They have to if they have a family to support. The mills became full of women on low wages. Do note: the wages were not low because the workers were women; the workers were women because the wages were low. (Either way, it was, of course, exploitation by the new mill owners and the resulting relationship with the Chartist movement and with Marx and Engels I will pass over).
The prices available to the remaining handloom weavers therefore fell also, and handloom weaving became a byword for poverty – whereas previously it had been a profitable trade. (Silas Marner, in George Elliott’s novel, was a handloom weaver – deliberately to be redolent of poverty to a Victorian readership). Consequently, the proportion of women in the (now dying) handloom trade increased. Yet even by 1838 the majority were still men, just. Actual numbers of hand loom weavers, disaggregated by sex, in 1838 Norwich can be found here. Contrary to Harrington’s implication, women did not cease to be the majority of weavers when the industrial revolution introduced the mills. Quite the reverse: it was men who ceased to be the majority of weavers then, whilst women became the majority then, but in the mills.
As a Lancastrian, this has resonance with my own family history. My wife’s grandmother – the last of 12 children (all with rickets) – was born in the Victorian era. She started in the mill in Atherton, Lancashire, at age 12, receiving no pay for the first year. These matters are not ancient history but were the actual lives of people I knew as a young man.
There is such a thing as progress, Mary. Having children free of rickets (vitamin D deficiency) is one. Denying this is both cynical and demonstrably false. It’s just that your perspective on “progress” is hopelessly restricted.
The displaced men, the former handloom weavers, followed the money and moved into mining and digging tens of thousands of miles of canal and railroad by hand; tougher work but better pay.
One of the many jibes directed at men in the feminist era has been the claim that men find it hard to adjust to new employment environments – generally justifying the claim by reference to the loss of their “traditional” jobs in factories. Utter nonsense, of course. Because men have always been obliged to follow the money, due to family commitments, it follows that men must always be ready to move into new work areas as old ones become less economically attractive.
To call factory work “traditional” is staggeringly myopic. The era of domestic trades (of which weaving was just one of many trades, all dominated by men) was longer by far, growing rapidly as serfdom died out around the time of the Black Death. And the periods of industry and domestic trades together constitute a mere blip in history compared with the 10,000 years in which economic activity was massively dominated by agriculture and its ancillary functions of food production. And that, I suppose I must add, was but a recent innovation compared to the evolutionary period of hundreds of thousands of years of Homo sapiens’ hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
However…Harrington is perfectly correct to point the finger at the industrial revolution as a catastrophe for family life. It was every bit as catastrophic for men as for women – and ultimately more so. The advantage of the era of domestic trades was that there was no distinction between home and workplace. And this was just as true for the men involved as the women. The Master Craftsman was the head of a small business, which not only brought the wife and children into active participation, but would also include apprentices, journeymen and female domestic help. The Master’s wife was, typically, the undisputed Second-in-Command. In fact, so fearsome were many such that, in practice, they ruled entirely. Running the household budget, and hence rations, was a powerful position. Many apprentices’ Articles explicitly required obedience to the Master’s wife, by name, not just the Master himself. Consequently, in this period, there was a mingling of the economic and domestic activities. Much the same goes for agriculture, at least for those married, where the place of work was usually on their doorstep. The exceptions were the itinerant, seasonal, male labourers, usually unmarried.
Are Men Human?
In discussing Dorothy Sayer’s essay “Are Women Human”, Harrington writes that women sought to “become human on the same terms as men”. This was being asserted, I believe, in the very limited context of employment – as if one’s job defines one’s humanity. More broadly, women would not be pleased if their humanity was as circumscribed as men’s. I have already noted in Part 1 that, in this very book, men’s humanity is notable by its absence. I recall, many years ago, a poster campaign in Canada in which the posters asserted “men’s rights are human rights”. All the posters were defaced and the word “wrong” scrawled across them. To complete the syllogism, then, we conclude that men are not human.
Harrington identifies the feminist rejection of the caring role as being their attempt to assert their “humanity”, or personhood. Predictably, criticism is then levelled at men for being unwilling to pick up their share of the caring. My own experience of attempting to do so was not a happy one. My wife made it very clear that, whilst I was indeed expected to contribute to nappy changing, baby minding and getting up in the middle of the night, on no account should I entertain any independent notions of what needed doing or when. I was to be only the under-nursery maid…with an unacknowledged side-line in providing all the family’s income.
This fierce policing of the childcare role by mothers, to ensure it remains their monopolistic domain, is noted by Harrington in another context: “In one 1985 essay, Ruth Wallsgrove describes her experience as a childless feminist woman doing her best to support mothers with childcare, but frustrated that such women ‘want support, on their terms’ but at no cost to the bond they have with their children: ‘they don’t want to share’”. I suspect it is common for fathers to meet with this resistance – though that will not stop the mothers later turning around to complain that their men do not do enough to help them. Fathers have to work out for themselves how to fit their fathering into the interstices left by the mother. This may, I suspect, be ultimately for the good as it forces upon fathers a truly complementary role which is actually crucial.
Patriarchy as Theatre
The term “patriarchy” is used by feminists in two distinct ways: to indicate a man being the head of the household, and to indicate that men are dominant in the world of business, politics and other external affairs. Here I am concerned with the first usage: the individual patriarch in the family setting.
The feminist conception of marriage as being an arrangement to facilitate a man’s desire to dominate (oppress) his female partner arises, I think, from a profound failure to understand male psychology – coupled with a remarkable blindness to the real nature of family dynamics. Men have an innate drive to protect and provide resources for women. Hence, marriage is an altruistic action for men. But respect is also very important for men, and being in a position of servitude does not fit well with that requirement. This conflict is resolved by patriarchy – when properly understood. For patriarchy is essentially a piece of theatre. It is a means of providing status to the role of protector and resource provider. By assigning status to the role, men are encouraged to fulfil it. But that formal status does not negate the underlying reality that, in truth, a woman is the power in her own home. The human pair bond crucially involves the man ceding moral authority to his female partner. By this means her requirements become his duty to fulfil; this is part of the mechanism of resource provision. The late sociologist Geoff Dench expressed it thus,
“The frog (Dench’s metaphor for the unattached man), 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!”
“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 patriarchy that feminism has been so busy smashing was created as a device to encourage men into commitment to a role which is essentially altruistic. In other words, patriarchy is to the benefit of women. Here’s Dench again,
“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.”
In that context we can interpret Harrington’s suggestion that we should return to a traditional type of marriage arrangement as a rediscovery of what feminist women had forgotten, but what their ancient forebears had previously brought about – for their benefit.
Harrington writes, “It’s some time now in the West since we abandoned actual ‘patriarchy’…efforts to ‘smash’ this nebulous thing appear only to have moved the goalposts in terms of where and how it manifests. And this is because most of what flies under the ‘patriarchy’ banner in the 21st century is simply those ineradicable sex differences that return, like zombie caricatures of themselves, in a hyper-liquid market society”. She hits the target, but nowhere near the bullseye. She has not yet grasped, or will not concede, that the theatre of patriarchy was always for women’s benefit, and also of women’s construction. Moreover, the “patriarchy banner” was only ever a label applied by feminists, not the rest of us.
Male Dissident Opinion
Feminists seeking to critique the “manosphere” (whatever that is) are generally keen to hang around on forums for Incels or PUAs or MGTOW. They seem less keen to engage with the serious – and often highly academic – milieu of the main men’s movement itself. The latter includes people who are content to be regarded as men’s rights activists, or advocates, plus many people who are less happy with that label but broadly sympathetic to the calls for the male disadvantages to receive greater acknowledgement. Harrington’s book joins the list of feminist writings which implicitly dismiss the morally and intellectually valid men’s movement by critiquing only Incels, PUA and MGTOW – the latter being peripheral to the larger movement and the former two being no part of it at all. The only mention of “men’s rights activism” in the book is this,
“The siren call of atomisation comes from everywhere, and legitimises itself in many ways: girl-power self-actualisation and embittered men’s rights activism, for example, are mirroring ideologies driving the same decline into loneliness and mutual hostility. For both these perspectives, marriage is tantamount to prostitution: a fake contract that enables exploitation of one sex by the other.”
I am an MRA. Who are you, Mary Harrington, to harangue me in this way, with your new-found evangelism? I am an MRA who is in the same – and only – relationship which has now lasted 48 years, married for nearly 40 of them. I am the living embodiment of the lifestyle your recent conversion now lauds as society’s salvation (rightly). You, on the other hand, Mary, with your self-confessed degenerate history and neophyte “reaction” should be a little more humble. You also need to be more cautious about your tendency to project, another perennial failing of the feminist.
The best interpretation I can put on this is ignorance: you failed to do your homework, Mary. You either know nothing of the men’s movement – in which case you should not speak of it – or you have deliberately misrepresented it.
But as for the attitude towards marriage of many who call themselves MRAs, that requires a separate discussion which exposes exactly what that institution is, was and needs to be.
The Destruction of Marriage
The great weakness in Harrington’s proposed resurgence of “real marriage” (my term) is how it can be brought into existence.
Harrington has nothing to say about the systematic dismantling of real marriage by feminist activism over many decades, and its embedding in primary and secondary legislation by an overwhelmingly feminist establishment.
It is easy to smash – be it the patriarchy or anything else. It is not so easy to rebuild. Harrington needs to understand that the depowering of men through their being rendered unnecessary to the family was very easily accomplished precisely because such changes worked with the grain of the establishment’s natural tendency to aggregate power to itself. We will not find it so easy to work against the authoritarian establishment’s resistance to reinstate meaningful marriage.
There is an unacknowledged assumption in Harringtons’ strategy which originates in her failure to appreciate the male perspective. She assumes that men will continue to want to marry. Frankly, under existing conditions, they would be mad – or very badly informed – to want to do so. Harrington should note that this opinion comes from a man who has been in the same relationship for 48 years and married for nearly 40 of them. But my relationship started in different times, among people with a different perspective on life, and when marriage was a different institution. If I were a young man in our society as it now is, with our legislation as it now is, and knowing what I do, I would not marry or cohabit or father children. What you are up against, Mary, is not mere emotionally based reluctance. You are espousing the benefits of an arrangement which has been systematically legislated out of existence.
No one has a map of the road back. But it will clearly be long.
Men’s increasing reluctance in respect of family life is because it is now far too precarious to be a sensible choice. That is simply a correct evaluation as things stand.
Add to this the great difficulty that men (or boys) now have in achieving any relationship with a female and the disastrous scenario is complete. When a man (or a boy) can be vilified even for the most polite attempt to introduce himself to a female, and when a man (or a boy) can be placed on the sex offenders register for touching a female on the shoulder, any chance of relationship is dead in the water for most men. Why should one even take the risk? What’s in it for us?
And then there’s the economic ascendancy of women and their natural hypergamy and choosiness which ensures that 20% of men on dating apps get all the attention – to the point of creating a sexual glut for that minority of men. Women thereby create commitment-phobic men whilst simultaneously creating the lack of “good men” by the simple expediency of ignoring them – and then pouring opprobrium upon their heads if they have the temerity to speak up in the “manosphere” (a term which is itself derogatory).
The TERF Tendency
One concern I have with Harrington’s “conversion” is that too large a part of it is motivated by the second-wave, so-called trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF), reaction to trans. The TERFs (or “gender critical feminists” as Harrington prefers) have found themselves suddenly with out-group status, not something to which they are accustomed. (I will admit to a spot of schadenfreude here). Harrington does, at least, acknowledge that the trans monster is a creation of feminism (about which TERFs are in denial), although even Harrington attempts to quarantine the blame by confining it to the “freedom feminism” from which she now finds it convenient to distance herself. Her lingering allegiance with this axis may be evident in, for example, this advice in respect of activism,
“The approach taken by gender-critical feminists should serve as a template for reactionary feminist politics across the board.”
I doubt that she means being beaten up like Posie Parker – or perhaps she does?
A puissant mechanism for bringing about a change in the nature of marriage alone the lines we both desire might be a resurgence in men’s power in the matter. One means by which this might come about is via a cheap, readily available, reliable, convenient and easily reversible male contraceptive – and one whose side effects were sufficiently minor not to detract from its widespread use. Such a power of men over women’s fertility could be a game-changer. Under these conditions, men could make viable sperm available only upon their terms – and those terms should include security of involvement in a child’s life.
Trans and Feminism
Harrington is rather good at describing the likely origins of the sudden, and huge, increase in trans. Her anecdotes, whilst not constituting a scientific study, confirm what I suspected but had never researched. Male-to-female trans, Steven, “found puberty distressing”. He testified that, “As a white man, I was directly responsible for all of the oppression experienced by women and people of colour. I was fourteen years old and had never been in a fight in my life or said a racist or misogynistic word to anyone, but I believed that the circumstances of my birth made me a monster”. Are the TERF-types listening? You created the trans debacle, not MRAs as you preposterously claim. That’s as clear a statement of “third wave intersectional feminism drove me trans” as you could wish for.
The same conclusion applies to female-to-male trans, Helena. Being raised in the “hyper-sexualised and pornified” world of sex-positive “freedom feminism” terrified her. She concluded “I must not have really been meant to be a girl, because if I was, this wouldn’t all be so scary and confusing”. Tragic, isn’t it?
Both Steven and Helena were made unable to handle what was happening to them in puberty, as a direct result of the appalling postmodern-Critical narrative in which they had been marinated by school and media and politics. Both ended up hating their bodies as the apparent source of their monstrousness. Steven was terrified of what testosterone was doing to him, and also terrified that he was turning into an example of the toxic masculinity he had always been taught to despise.
The trans monster was created by feminism. Feminism created the theoretical possibility of trans by severing sex from gender – and, in fact, creating the word “gender” in its modern usage. But worse, feminism also provided the impetus behind individual boys and girls wanting to transition.
Girls, under feminism, have been raised to believe they live in a rape culture in which every male is a predator, just waiting to pounce on them given the ghost of a chance. On the other hand, girls have also been raised to believe boys have it easy, drifting through life without a care in the world. No wonder so many girls want to ditch a life of constant danger for one it which (as they believe) they will be powerful and privileged and without fear. Helena thought that “transition would transform her into ‘this outgoing male jock archetype’ who would be ‘handsome, have lots of friends, and love life’”. Such a misconstruing of life as a male under feminism would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
Boys, in contrast to what girls imagine, have actually been raised to believe that, when puberty strikes, they will turn into the monsters that they have persistently been told all men truly are. Not surprisingly, then, given the cataclysmic power of pubescent hormones, some boys think that is exactly what is happening to them. Male puberty, Harrington tells us, is now viewed as hostile and poisonous to enough boys that there is a tee-shirt slogan “I survived testosterone poisoning”.
And yet, despite the extent of the devastation that feminism has wrought across the whole of society, still it is held to be reprehensible to declare oneself against feminism – and virtually obligatory for politicians to declare their allegiance to an ideology long since proved to be terminally corrosive. Humans, eh?
“The principal advocates for this movement, wittingly or not, are those progressive knowledge-class women who are still net beneficiaries of the war on embodiment. But while feminism has provided much of the moral cover for this dystopian possible future, I am not saying this is all women’s fault. The technological and cultural shifts that got us here happened slowly, and every step made sense on its own terms.”
Hmm. I’m not impressed by that evasion. The moral smokescreen provided by feminism was (in true moral usurpation style) the key driver which gave advances in technology the direction of travel as regards its social implications.
I repeat my conclusions from Part 1.
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 common ground with Harrington: sufficient 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 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: “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.