On women’s natural insight: A misogynist trope

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In a prior Genderratic post– Male privilege:Why do women assume they know about men or men’s lives?–we discussed the cultural trope that women understand men better than men understand women, that women know men’s lives, sometimes better than men do, and can comment knowledgeably on them in a way that men cannot comment on women’s lives.

First, a common assumption in a lot of feminist argumentation was identified: that men favor other men over women in the patriarchy, in parallel with the way women favor other women over men.

Theodmann
Submitted on 2014/09/05 at 4:30 pm:

Seems like the feminist idea of what men are like is partly based on traditional gender stereotypes and partly on an unnoticed assumption that all men will act toward other men the way feminists tend to act toward women. Since they will put women first always, and work to make things better for women at the expense of men (they may not always seek to tear men down, but they don’t hesitate to do it if they think women might gain from it), they assume men work to benefit men at every turn, paying no attention to whether women are harmed. The frustrating thing is that this assumption is both false and impervious to any attempt at disproof.

This is simple projection. The observable facts of the “patriarchy” are male disposability, expressed erasure of male victims, obligations to protection and provision at the cost of personal safety to which women are not equivalently held, and the hyperagency/hypoagency dyad underlying male disposability, in which men are held to standards of exertion and responsibility women are not held to, and women are excused from responsibility for their actions. An inverse equivalent to this dynamic is seen in churches, where older women exercise power through a facade of male frontmen to direct slut-shaming and other kinds of misogynistic policing at younger women. That model does not operate across society, however, where in the main, older men instrumentalize younger men as described above.

Theodmann goes on to the meat of this post:

I was told as I was growing up that girls were the more empathetic of the sexes, that they had a special intuition inaccessible to boys like me, and that they had a rich inner life to which my wildest imaginings could only pale in comparison. I bet these feminists heard that message too, and have assumed it to mean that they have a natural insight into everyone that men lack. I notice a lot of feminists say that anyone who disagrees with them just lacks knowledge or understanding of feminism. One is reminded of the teenager’s complaint that nobody “gets” them.

I never thought that I’d been born in the wrong body or anything, but sometimes I wished I was a girl, because it seemed so much better and more interesting. I wonder what it’s like for women who have been told all their lives both that they’re better than men in all these deep ways and that “society” still likes men better. I wonder if it makes them angry…

There is a persistent meme in Western culture that credits women with insight, intuition, and psychic access to deeper things, and men with reason, clarity—and conversely denies that either is endowed with the other set of attributes.

So it goes against the gender norms for men to have much of an emotional life, and if they do, any subtlety or complexity in that emotional life is played down and policed. That kind of thing is for sissies. Likewise, if a girl shows an interest in any of the physical sciences or math, that’s dry and boring, not really feminine, and unless she has someone encouraging her, she will quickly get the message and back off.

The misogyny and misandry of this scheme is masked by the approval for one or the other, and this approval has shifted back and forth over the centuries. The ancient Greeks valued reason and self-control very highly, and those were properties of men, while women and barbarians (Middle Easterners mostly) and animals could never really reach that level of function. Their art focused on the ideals of male beauty. By the way, the Romans adopted this attitude and it was a major impediment to the spread of Christianity: it was something for women and the lower orders, but not for real men.

Meanwhile, farther north, the Celts, working off the same basic schema, flipped the approval nozzle to women. In Irish literature, the social penalties for offenses against druids and noblewomen were pretty much the same, and they were severe. Both groups had the same social and legal status. Warriors would be described in glorious, beautiful detail, but real ethereal beauty was always feminine. And this attitude has persisted into modern times, with all the conventions for the genre of songs known as aislinge reflecting this.

Moving forward a few centuries, we started to flip back and forth on this faster and faster. Coming out of the blood-soaked enthusiasm and murderous high-mindedness of the Reformation, Europeans touted reason as the panacea for every ailment that assailed mankind. Classical models of everything were preferred. Everything emotional, spontaneous, sentimental—”feminine”—was held in disdain. Voltaire said he had never “made ha ha.” The backlash against that came in the form of Romanticism, when everything natural, spontaneous, authentic—”feminine”—was celebrated. The music was stormy, literature reveled in Byronic heroes and desperate damsels, and everything was all drama all the time.

Every backlash spawns a backlash. Industrialization and the progress in science and technology it funded made the emotionalism of the Romantic era seem silly and outdated, not suited to modern society. Frilly ornamentation was shouldered out by the hard, clean lines of the Deco movement. Even women’s fashion was not exempt. Coco Chanel stripped women’s clothing down to hard, clean—masculine—lines. Modernism steamrolled Romanticism into absurdity, but not before Romanticism got in a few last lethal licks in the form of toxic nationalism—romantic woo about “national genius” and master races and national destiny. With the total defeat of that ideology, Modernism was the only thing left standing. The hideous, world-destroying absurdities of ethnic mythology and idealistic zeal were derided and denounced. The way forward was decency and reason. WWII had driven gigantic advances in technology, and that process sped up under the demands of the Cold War. The Space Age became a marketing gimmick—does anyone else remember that disgusting industrial waste called Tang, fake orange juice that had one thing to recommend it, that the NASA astronauts drank it in space? Women retreated into the kitchen, wore those weird Doris Day skirts that made them look like spinning tops ,and were expected to look like arm candy when they were out in public. Once again, logic and hard edges were what was hot and poppin’…

… until the inevitable backlash came in the counter-culture of the 1960s. Suddenly, every kind of woo was cool (no matter how reasonable it might actually be; if it was sufficiently exotic, then it was wooful). Modernist anything was out. Grocery store factory food was suddenly uncool. Modernist furniture was rejected in favor of antiques. Getting back to the land, to roots, to a more authentic way of living was all the rage. (And it has to be said, one of the sad things about Modernist furniture is how easy it is to make absolutely cheesy knockoff crap. It just had to die.) A corollary of this was a swell of interest in anything medieval or even pre-modern. An example of this was a surge of popularity for Tolkien’s novels. The modern environmental movement caught fire in this period, and science had been the instrument of the rape of the planet. This turn away from Modernism affected every corner of the culture, and if you were living in that period, this was very obvious.

Now, this is where this “intersects” with feminism. (“My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit!”)

Second-wave feminism came of age in this setting. If we look carefully, I bet we will find that most of the failures and flaws of feminism—its tribalist female chauvinism, its misandry, its faux-intellectual anti-intellectualism, its dogmatic zealotry—would all lead back one way or another, or perhaps just directly, to the anti-rational tropes of romantic thinking. Tribalism, xenophobia, anti-rationalism, zealotry have dogged every other romantic movement. Why should 2WF be exempt?

And when we inventory all the core doctrines of third-wave feminism—rape culture, rampant ambient cultural and institutional misogyny, “benevolent” sexism, and the whole Social Justice Warrior frenzy when contradicted on any point of doctrine—we see all the same misandry, female chauvinism, anti-intellectualism, and dogmatism. They have learned nothing.

In all the recent angst about women’s participation in STEM courses and occupations and their exclusion from it, it seems to me that the elephant in the room is a gender role that privileges intuition and emotionalism over logic and that polices logic as unfeminine. And it also seems to me that if socialization is what drives and perpetuates gender roles, then we should be hanging at least some of the responsibility on the socializers and the police—mothers and peers. The hand that rocks this particular cradle needs to kick the bucket—or maybe get her ass over to the coalface where it belongs.

Well, every backlash spawns a backlash, with the period of each backlash getting shorter and shorter and shorter. I have just sketched out how that has been happening with this meme in the culture, this misogynist and misandrist meme. The pendulum loses momentum until it finally reaches equilibrium. It cannot happen a decade too soon.

The “women’s intuition” trope is misogynistic, foot-binding bullshit. The robotic man of logic meme is misandrist bullshit. If feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings, then it should be insisting on respect for women’s full humanity.

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