Irish Times

April 29, 2002

A tribute to women who seek the truth

John Waters
Irish Times

Such is the climate of McCarthyism around gender issues in this society that men who speak their truths will be dismissed, denounced and demonised so that by continuing to speak they risk damaging not just themselves but also the truths they seek to articulate. For this reason, John Waters would like to pay tribute today to some of the women who have had the courage to break ranks with the sisterhood and seek balance and truth in gender matters.

Such women are not closet misogynists or dupes of men. Most know about the battle women have had to fight in certain areas of public and private life, and do not seek to excuse the wrongs of men any more than to conceal or deny the wrongs of women.

Some of the best books about the difficulties facing men have been written by women. One such is Fatherhood Reclaimed, by Adrienne Burgess, in which, inter alia, she challenged the feminist notion that patriarchy is a male closed shop. "The literal meaning of patriarch is 'father and ruler' ," she wrote, "and for us the two ideas are so completely identified that it takes a leap of imagination to grasp that there are societies in which father does not mean ruler. Furthermore, because patriarchy is usually seen as a kind of masculine frenzy, a male protection racket exclusively advantageous to the male sex, we seem to have been blinded to the price that men (and, specifically, fathers) have paid for an unquestioned range of benefits."

One of the better journalists writing on gender issues in these islands is Melanie Phillips who, until recently, wrote a column for the Sunday Times and now does so for the Daily Mail. She has been especially good on domestic violence, which she argues is a social rather than a gender issue. To trump up the figures touted by the feminist-driven domestic violence industry, it has been necessary to redefine to the point of meaninglessness the concept of violence and ignore all instances of women behaving badly.

BUT Melanie Phillips has consistently restated that, according to all independent studies, men and women are equally capable of perpetrating violence against their partners and children. She has pointed out, too, that in academia and the media generally, such data is suppressed, censored or subjected to author-vilification. "Of course, violence against women is a real horror," she wrote in the Sunday Times on November 15th, 1998. "But pretending that men aren't also victims diminishes all suffering and makes it more likely. Moreover, it is men who we should now be worried about - under-achieving boys, laddish yobs, depressed or suicidal fathers. Is it any wonder? They're got the message that they are to be regarded as enemies of humanity. Their pain and rage at being thus belittled are turning dangerous."

One of the untestables of feminist propaganda has been the assertion that the world would be a better place if it were run by women. The notion that war is the creation of men is repeated ad nauseam even though it is contradicted by much of the available evidence. Joanna Bourke, in her book An Intimate History of Killing, has gone some way towards deconstructing this myth. "Early 20th-century feminism had infused a new uncertainty into assumptions about the gentleness and nurturing behaviour of women," she wrote. "During the major conflicts, most commentators noticed that women constructed elaborate and pleasurable fantasies around the murderous antics of their menfolk."

Rather than dissuading men from fighting, women tended to "join in the fray", either directly as combatants, when they were far more ruthless and ferocious than men, or vicariously, as concubines of men whose bloodthirstiness they accentuated by use of their sexuality. "Rather than being (as some historians suggest) the 'other' in war, women were an integral part of the slaughter of war and myths surrounding it . . . While men found their corporeal and emotional manliness threatened in combat, women were able to refashion their gender role more creatively in wartime precisely by asserting their bellicosity. The pleasures of violence were shared by women, but they responded by offering up the bodies of their sons, male lovers and husbands to the killing fields. Through this violence, they earned their right to grief."

To suggest that the activities of feminists are often inimical to the interests of women is not original. In an April 2000 article in the Observer on the subject of rape, Carol Sarler, once raped herself, pointed out that, as a result of the efforts of "the battier end of the sisterhood", less convictions are nowadays being obtained for this crime in Britain than ever before. This is because juries are reluctant to treat all forms of unwanted sex in the same way, and especially to treat unwanted sex in the context of a relationship in the same way as rape at knife-point, and send an over-amorous boyfriend the worse for drink to jail for the same minimum of five years as someone who has dragged a woman into the bushes, raped her and left her for dead. For sense to prevail, Carol Sarler argued, "we must first neutralise both the venom and the influence of the sisterhood, who cannot bear to see a man in jail without also seeing the key thrown away".

I cannot think of a single female journalist, politician or significant public figure in this country who has consistently exhibited openness and fairness with regard to the position of men in society. The next stage of the struggle to return gender relations to some state of peaceful co-existence must be the more determined intervention in the discussion of good women.

© 2002