|Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture|
By Paul Nathanson, Katherine K. Young Review by Chris Gage
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Meanwhile, the wife calmly makes a phone call to the appropriate people (i.e., whoever the commercial is for) and takes care of it in no time, leaving the husband confused and glad that his woman is smarter than he. Besides, at least now he will have his toy.
Spreading Misandry is based on this premise, but by starting off with an in-depth look at Hallmark cards, popular movies (e.g., "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge"), and sitcoms (e.g., "The Golden Girls"), the authors go on to use this discussion of misandry (the hating of men; the sexist counterpart of misogyny) to comment on industrialization, shifts in religious understanding/readings, differences between moral values, emotions, and worldviews, and the place of men in current culture. This book, the first to come in a trilogy, is quite close in nature to a strict academic text, but it's surprisingly infused with passion, humor, and a wonderful appendix called "The Misandric Week in Television," detailing seven days of man-bashing TV. In these misandric occurrences, men are aligned with technology, advancement, fraud, and death, while women are aligned with "higher" things, such as heroism, nature, emotions, and spirituality, according to the authors. Quite simply, men are often portrayed as failures or downright evil.
Portrayals of this type are deleterious, to say nothing of the fact of how simple this worldview is. The misandric instances the authors discuss presuppose that men are inherently this way, offering little or no explanation of how they became failures to women or evil. That is a huge defect, the authors argue, and is not how women's faults are treated in popular culture. Women, on the other hand, are given motives, while man are lost causes.
The authors' believe that today's politically correct culture allows for only one prejudice: misandry. They cite numerous instances to show how androcentricism is being replace by gynocentricism in both popular and elite culture. In this gynocentric world, signs of misogyny are watched for closely, and acts of misogyny are now morally and legally unallowable. However, misandry is allowable, excusable, and not seen as a problem. To put it one way, the authors want us all to get along, and any prejudice of any sex, race, creed, etc. is unacceptable. In point, political correctness and the culture are attempting to change the way people think through monitored language. But in reality, the use of PC argot merely forces people to behave and to respect one another, a far simpler agenda that still, however, has not come to fruition.
Nathanson and Young are very careful to clarify tricky concepts that sometimes elude even the most educated. After pointing out that anger is an emotion but hated is a worldview, they write: "That is why political correctness can never solve the problem of hatred. Those who hate can be taught that their targets are inappropriate and even that hatred itself is inappropriate, but they cannot be taught to ignore the fear that generated their hatred in the first place." (231)
An often-sung refrain from the Iron John crowd is, "Where do men belong in today's culture?" Spreading Misandry does nothing to place them anywhere, and I was left thinking that this valid question should be addressed. But in fact, Spreading Misandry has little to say on any good forms of culture. The first third of the book centers on using movies such as made-for-TV movies, "Fried Green Tomatoes," and "Sleeping with the Enemy" (during which they discuss how sexual hierarchy has been reversed, even when there are unsubtle religious overtones: "Women once depended on men; now men depend on women. Women were once considered evil by association with nature, the fall from primeval grace. Men are now considered evil by association with culture, the 'fall' into historical patriarchy." 176) but the instances of non-misandric shows are relegated to an appendix, and only then, an appendix called "Quasi-Misandric Movies, " despite how the absence of something can illuminate just as well as its presence.
The middle section of the book (the final third being appendices and an index) opens the discussion up and provides a wrapper to contextualize the spreading of misandry, and to link ideological feminism to misandry. After nearly 200 pages of examples (example that while firmly backed and painstakingly illustrative eventually run the risk of dissolving into just a list), a context is welcomed. The authors examine the mainstream prevalence of feminist ideology and self-destructing deconstruction. For the authors, ideology "refers to any [original italics] systematic re-presentation of reality in order to achieve specific social, economic, or political goals" and is made up of nine characteristics: dualism, essentialism, hierarchy, collectivism, utopianism, selective cynicism, revolutionism, consequentialism, and quasi-religiosity." (200) Each of these "-isms" contributes to the decline in androcentricism and spreading of gynocentricism, thus weakening the cultural perception of men. Deconstruction "taken to its logical conclusion … would deconstruct itself. If no 'text' can be said to mean anything definitively, all being informed by the prejudices of their authors and distorted by the interpretations of their readers, that would surely be true of their [i.e., practicers of deconstruction] own theories and works." (225) Couched in this rhetoric, politically motivated feminists have created a means to produce a pre-defined end, and are not looking to be fair and even, which would reduce all prejudice, not simply anti-women prejudices.
Perhaps one of the more interesting things about the book is watching the authors dissect such second-rate movies as "Sleeping with the Enemy" and such made-for-TV throwaways as "She Says She's Innocent." It's debatable whether the directors of these movies intended all the symbolism Spreading Misandry finds to back its argument. I, for one, find it difficult to believe these movies were so well thought out. And in academic circles, water always means baptism, a narrow metaphor not allowing much wiggle room.
In one illuminating passage, the authors write, "Resistance to men's studies, for instance, is often based on the belief that only victims are worthy of study. The response among female academics is often as follows: 'Oh, please. Something like 90 per cent of the world's resources are owned and operated by 3 per cent of the population. All of whom are white males.' Never mind that 3 per cent is a tiny fraction of the male [original italics] population, even of the white male population." (243) Academic books must be careful to always be correct, and Spreading Misandry, at least to a lay person, does a nice service of pointing out things we don't stop to think about before saying. The authors want the reader to understand the words we use. They do a enviable job of defining words such as "hatred" and "innate" and "inherent." These are very particular words that are often misused, to their user's detriment. And in that sense, this book is about words and language, and the need to say what we mean and mean what we say.
-- Chris Gage