Dec 01

Book Review: A Brief History of Misogyny

A Brief History of Misogyny: The World's Oldest PrejudiceA Brief History of Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice by Jack Holland

This book was really hard to listen to. As a feminist (feminist=person who believes that women are human beings entitled to full human rights) it was hard to listen to the litany of horrific abuses levied against women over the centuries, across all cultures and continents, to punish them for not being men.

The stories aren’t just horrific, they’re repetitious. Women are too close to nature, therefore they are evil, lock them up. Women are too pretty, punish them for wearing cosmetics or bright clothing. Women are weak-minded, therefore don’t educate them. Women are the source of all evil, because they have insatiable sexual desire. Women are inhuman, because they lack all sexual desire. There was a brief blip in the Victorian times, when it was “women are better than men, more pure, more virtuous, the repository of all good” followed by “therefore don’t educate them, let them have any power or freedom, and stringently refuse to protect their rights as if they were full humans.”

Women have consistently been blamed for not just their own actions, but the actions of men. It’s as if men collectively over human history decided “I want to have sex with women, and this sexual desire is bad, therefore women are bad for making me feel this way.” And the worst of it is that some of the main proponents of this backward way of thinking are considered very respectable sources of knowledge, such as Aristotle, Plato, the Bible and the Koran. As the author says, misogyny is so deeply entrenched in the human psyche that it’s not even considered a distasteful prejudice but as commonly held knowledge. Not only are people not ashamed of it, they don’t even recognize they have it..

Listening to this book was almost like listening to a James Patterson novel, where the detail and loving attention paid to the horrific (and socially sanctioned) crimes against women were outlined so extensively that it was almost as if the author expected the reader (or in my case, listener) to happily jerk off to the torture descriptions. It gave me despair over the human race. It’s not just men being terrified of sex and independent women, which is horrible enough, it’s that misogyny runs so broadly and so deeply that even women (especially those unfortunate enough to have brains steeped in the sewage of religious teachings) accept this as the natural order.

You can take a despicable famous leader, known for outspoken racism against a religious minority, who doesn’t just openly hate women (though he will tolerate a few who are sweet and stupid and under complete male control) but whose chosen allies also think that women should be placid breeders and nothing more, a leader who not only openly supports anti-choice, but claims that women have a patriotic duty to give up any job except wife and mother–and yet women will still vote for him. Apparently, these German women even wrote love letters to Hitler. That doesn’t make it right, it just makes it sad. And don’t tell me that makes it okay. Women supporting misogynists doesn’t make misogyny acceptable any more that men committing suicide makes it acceptable to kill men.

The reasons given for hurting, imprisoning, mistreating, torturing or killing women fall into two categories. The first is the same type of nonsense that’s also been instituted against races. “It’s okay to kill/punish/torture/steal from/persecute X group because they’re inferior. Here’s the religious doctrine/custom/”science” to prove it. The second reason is almost always sex related. Lose the war? It’s because immoral makeup-wearing women brought about the fall of society. Earthquake? God punished the nation because women left the house without their head covered. It’s all about women, and it’s all about this supposed SEX SEX SEX women supposedly imbue into everything. From Plato to Hanna-Barbara cartoons, it’s always the same old same old. Women=sex. When men talk about morality, it’s about truth and integrity and not murdering people who trust you. When they talk about women’s morality, it’s centered on the uterus and vagina, and how well a woman guards what the men see as property belonging to society. At its heart, that’s what feminism is: promoting the idea that a woman’s body belongs to herself, and is not public property. There are still thousands of people, some of whom my countrymen even foolishly elected, who firmly believe that while it’s justified and in fact noble to kill a man trying to come into your living room at night to steal your TV, for a woman to kill a few cells in her own body who are literally sucking blood and energy out of her and endangering her life is the worst sort of murder. A man owns his house more than a woman owns her body, according to these thugs. We can put a man on the moon, but we still live in a world where people will be ten times as upset about a man beating his dog as they will about a man beating his wife. (Funny, no one ever asks why the dog doesn’t just leave him, or insinuates that the dog probably deserved it.)

I was hoping that the author would have some kind of feel-good takeaway, or explanation of this sad state of affairs, but alas no. He briefly touches on feminist theory, but doesn’t spend as much time on it as he did describing how witches were thrown down a well and stoned, or how women in North Korean prisons are forced to smother their own babies, or how the famous brilliant scholar Hypatia was skinned alive with oyster shells and then thrown still-twitching on a fire for the crime of being female and educated. That was the worst thing about this book. I wanted knowledge, not sadistic titillation. I wanted to understand. I still want to understand. I want to understand and I want hope for the future that this will not always be so.

I have my own theory as to why misogyny is so prevalent. I call it the Westworld theory, based on the recent show in which rich people pay a lot of money to rape and murder cowboy robots. A lot of people, myself not included, deeply desire to control and hurt other people. It might even be a basic human trait. Owning people is as old as time, hurting people is as old as time. But sometimes you feel bad when you hurt someone. So in Westworld you create a robot who looks like a person and acts like a person, but you convince yourself the robot not a person so that you can do whatever you want and not feel bad. If you can’t do that, you just convince yourself that women (or Jews, or Slavs, or Irish, or imported Africans) aren’t real people and you can do what you want to them without feeling bad. It helps if your people invented an evil god who condones this and then pretend he’s the only god in town so you can threaten people with eternal torture if they don’t play along..

Also there’s the slavery aspect. Men talking about how women are “more fulfilled” when they are merely domestic servants without any rights remind me of Scarlett O’Hara complaining that the would would not be right again until black hands picked the cotton instead of white, that black people are really happier as slaves, conveniently eliding how much better her own life is when she profits from the labor of others. It’s as if mankind said to itself “let’s torture and imprison half the world so that we don’t have to do our own chores.” Once these lazy sadists wrote a few well-regarded pieces of crap and based virulently contagious religions based around them, the disease set in. And it’s such a fast-spreading disease too. Societies in which women are nothing more than breeders and beasts of burden outbreed societies in which women are actually people. Sure, they’re backwards and barbaric, but there’s a reason why the world has more rats and roaches than pandas and tigers.

Personally, I think it’s no accident that the poorest, least progressive, unhappiest of countries are the ones in which women have no rights. I think there’s a good reason why the countries under the yoke of centuries-old religious traditions also have a standard of living closer to the iron age than the modern one. There’s a reason you don’t have as many great thinkers, artists, musicians, scientist, poets or geniuses of any type when you eliminate 50%+ of the population from even playing the game.

And there’s the personal happiness too, not just for women (who DO ACTUALLY MATTER) but for men who are missing out on fulfilling intimate relationships with women as equals. Most deep misogyny seems to come from fear. I see this in the sordid depths of the alt-right trolls online. They are so terribly lonely, so terribly desperate for affection and yet so afraid of trusting the gender they see as the keeper of this treasure that they lash out with hatred and blame her for all the pain their cowardice has brought them. Women are different from men. Women are for these trolls, as with the trolls of ancient Greece, THE OTHER. And small-minded trolls have always feared women they could not control. Historically whenever the old ways got challenged, the trolls in power dusted off that hoary god-sanctioned bullshit about it being the women’s fault. U.S. propping up the Shah? Must be because women weren’t following this narrow interpretation of the Koran. Let’s lock them up and take their rights away. Church under threat from Protestants? Must be dem witches. Let’s go hang or burn a few thousand innocent women. That will clear things up. Because of course a powerful man is a god or a wizard to be worshipped and appeased, but a powerful woman is always an evil witch who must be destroyed. And seriously, why were the witches always women? The author points out that of all the subsets demonized by western culture, only Jews were blamed as often as witches for blighting cows, curdling milk, cursing villages, or making men’s penises fall off. I guess making babies and inspiring lust was as awesome and fearful a power as being literate in Hebrew. Imagine if you had someone both Jewish and female. According to the histrionic Renaissance and Medieval stereotypes, a Jewish woman could probably blow up Alderaan just by touching it with a menstrual rag.

So I found this book very depressing. I think it focused too much on the horror, and not enough on hope. Is there hope? Every time I see some kool-aid drinking woman at an anti-choice rally who un-ironically petitions the state to take her rights away, I think maybe not. Every time I read some story about a man who murders a woman’s family because she broke up with him, I think not. Every time I read about a so-called reputable news organization who honestly posits that it’s acceptable for a man to do whatever he wants with another human’s vagina as long as his swim times are fast enough, I think not. And when our president elect brags about treating women as disposable sub-humans and the country just shrugs as if it’s not even distasteful, I think that the history of misogyny will not be brief, but will be with us as long as cancer and leprosy and rabies and all the other diseases which have plagued humankind forever.

I can’t say I recommend this book. Alt-right trolls might find the litany of abuse fun to jerk-off to, but anyone who gives a rat’s ass about human rights will find it depressing. I had to take it in chunks to not sink into a mire of despair. Fortunately, I have a Brene Brown audiobook already queued, and I’m willing to do a Marianne Williamson marathon if that’s what it takes to get back the hope that with enough brave, decent men by our side, we can someday overthrow the tyranny of the world’s oldest prejudice and somehow leave this filth behind us.

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