The Agonist Journal

In “The Divine Frenzy of Feminism,” a penetrating article published on April 4, 2018 at American Thinker, David Solway reflects on what classical Greek tragedy has to teach us about the difficult condition of the sexes in our moment:

Euripides treats the perennial confli ct between the Olympian gods and the maternal Furies, between man and woman, between social order and individual enthusiasm, between Apollo, the god of reason and light, and Dionysus representing the darker forces of emotion and rapture—or as we would say today, of libido.

This theme was famously addressed by Euripides’ great predecessor Aeschylus in the Oresteian Trilogy, where the female goddesses the Eumenides (or Furies) are pitted against the male Olympians. Both forces, Aeschylus felt, the visceral and the rational, were necessary to the proper conduct of the state and in the life of the individual, but must be contained in a condition of approximate balance to avoid a descent into anarchy….

The Greek tragedians seemed to understand that the battle between male structure and female sentiment was an eternal fact of human life. For Aeschylus, to privilege one over the other ends in disaster—“Either way, ruin,” as Agamemnon laments in the first play of the Trilogy…

[T]he balance between the sexes, both biological and cultural, is now communally distorted beyond recognition as Dionysus celebrates his triumph over Apollo and the Furies swarm Mount Olympus….

“It is precisely Dionysus’ identification with the feminine,” writes classical scholar Froma Zeitlin in Sexuality and Gender in the Classical World, that allows the god to introduce “confusions, conflicts, tensions and ambiguities” into the hierarchical masculine world, thus disrupting “the normal social categories” and impairing male confidence and authority to the detriment of the whole. This is where we have arrived in our era of Dionysian madness.

[I]n demanding obeisance to temperamental fury at the expense of the principle of order, feminists and their allies have unleashed a storm of discontent, resentment, misrule, and social turmoil whose consequences will be catastrophic. Without the reassertion of proud and inherent masculinity to restore the equilibrium between the sexes, the road to political suicide and cultural decay is wide open and we will all, women as well as men, suffer for it.

Like his wife, the excellent Janice Fiamengo, Solway is one of the best contemporary writers on gender relations. But, wise though it is, his thinking is at odds with the views of many Americans, and certainly with most of the intellectual class. For, conditioned by the simplistic feminist attitude—woman, the good victim; man, her bad oppressor—not enough people recognize the need for a “reassertion of proud and inherent masculinity to restore the equilibrium between the sexes.” Accordingly, men are losing what I have called the battle of wills between the sexes; there is much “temperamental fury at the expense of the principle of order”: and the longer all this continues, the worse life will be for both men and women.

“Uniquely generative and authoritative, men must reassert themselves, fair-minded but strong and unapologetic.”

In this essay I shall argue that masculine reassertion is necessary for authority’s sake and for keeping the US competitive at the international level and the culture stable (“the principle of order”). For in time, there is little social order without sufficient male authority, and excellence, too, declines insofar as resentful manipulation and hysteria—the latter historically a distinctly female phenomenon—triumph over sober judgment and rationality. Needless to say, in an inherently competitive world, such a situation is not desirable. What could be better for the Chinese, our chief and quite ruthless competitor, than our corporations and universities forever enabling meritocracy to give way to gender-based hiring quotas, that unjust feminist imperative?

Like the ancient Greeks, the ancient Chinese associated order with men and chaos with women. Certainly no informed person, knowledgeable about the history of human institutions, could believe that safe spaces, microaggressions, bias response teams and the like ever would have arisen in any male-only or male-dominated context. As feminists rightly give us to understand, the characteristic vices of men—violence, harshness, insensitivity—are on the other side of the psychological spectrum. Lee Jussim and other social psychologists have shown that “gender stereotypes are mostly accurate,” and that “Stereotype accuracy is one of the largest and most replicable effects in all of social psychology.” It must be understood, though many people will dismiss it as sheer prejudice, that more than men, women in their moral behavior tend to act on sheer affect. For it is the vital instinct of the mothers of our species to be deeply partial to their children. Meanwhile, arriving at the objective good requires exacting impartiality, something that, in many instances, is contrary to the interests of one’s in-group relations. If, as Rudyard Kipling said, “The female of the species is more deadly than the male,” then so much the better for the family, the terrible bias serving its interests. Yet ours is a mixed life, so what is a virtue in one domain can be a vice in another.

For example, research confirms what people have long observed: that women (on average) are more egalitarian and more sympathetic than men. They are also higher (on average) in conformity, less open to ideas, and value consensus more than men do. Within the family, these traits allow women to serve essential moral functions, for which we should of course be grateful. But outside the family, these same traits can allow for much harm, however unintended. And though it is a sensitive one, we need to be able to discuss this subject objectively and dispassionately. I am not, it should be clear, trying to “vilify” women or some such thing. As I have indicated, the value of a trait depends on its function in a particular context. I refer to differences in degree, not in kind, between the sexes, nor is it my purpose to criticize the moral behavior of women per se.

More than women, men in their moral behavior tend to be abstract and rule-oriented, just as they are more meritocratic. The word virtue itself means manhood, manliness: the quality of being a real VIR, as opposed to being a child, or a woman. Virtue’s secondary meaning in both French and Middle English (and medieval Latin) was power; compare to English in virtue of = by the force of X or from the power of X. Little wonder that major moral thought systems—be they religious or philosophical—have always been created by men. History furnishes not a single exception. Likewise, all vast systems of rational social organization have been created by men: religion, government, law, science, academe. Again, there is no exception. 

As for why this is, I am persuaded by Steven Goldberg’s argument that patriarchy—that is, civilization itself—derives from biological sex differences. Generally speaking, it is men who are willing and able to do whatever it takes to rise to the top of dominance hierarchies, as well as to defend them. Today, though, we are in uncharted waters. And while many people want women to have as much say in government and other important affairs as men do, sex differences and recent events suggest this goal is rather problematic, though few of us perceive this, and fewer still dare say so.

Dan Balz, in a July 7, 2018 article in The Washington Post, reported:

The president’s approval rating among men is 54 percent positive and 45 percent negative. Among women, it’s 32 percent positive and 65 percent negative... While 68 percent of male Republicans say they strongly approve of the way Trump is handling his job, just 31 percent of female Republicans say the same—a whopping 37-point difference….He has turned women who voted but had little other political involvement into activists and has turned some activists and non-activists into candidates for office at all levels—federal, state and local. Record numbers of women are running for office this year, and women have organized and led anti-Trump marches in cities across the country since his election.

Reading Trump’s female critics, one notices that, more than men, many simply dislike the man himself, as if distaste for someone’s personal life constituted a position on his policies. That the economy is doing much better is passed over in silence. So are America’s improved foreign relations. It is as if Trump’s character were more important than what he has done as president.

Women, as we should only expect from their maternal endowment, are more given to pity (on average) than men and more sensitive to other’s feelings (again on average). The problem with these sex differences, in politics, is that they lead women to support things which, by not accounting for long-term consequences, undermine the national good. Thus women are greater advocates for open borders and more supportive of the welfare state than men, even though both are unsustainable. (To be clear, I myself am not against some sort of welfare state—I just want it to be a responsible one.) In “The Battle of Wills Between the Sexes,” my October 12, 2018 column in Taki’s Magazine, I wrote:

In The Subjection of Women (1869), John Stuart Mill, the hero to feminists himself, laments women’s greater inclination to charity and shortsightedness in regard to it. There was wisdom in that, because what is a virtue in the family or local community can be a vice in politics. Good liberal that he was, Mill thought that these liabilities could be overcome by “education.” A child prodigy and himself the product of an extraordinary education, Mill was unduly optimistic concerning education in general, and so it was in this case. Yet his worry was not unfounded. Indeed, it has been vindicated.

Needless to say, no leading male liberal intellectual would be so bold as to express such Millian concern now, and this fear says much about the current intellectual climate. Indeed, gender equality, like other lofty moral notions, is frequently a means by which one group pursues, obtains, or preserves power at another’s expense. In this case, free thought is stifled lest women be offended, an evil that is now the norm in the academy.

“Pity would be no more, /If we did not make somebody poor,” said William Blake. And again, “Mercy no more could be, / If all were happy as we.” Good and evil, we see here, are impossible, unintelligible without one another. Further, we must recognize tragic limitations if we are to realize and preserve the state. Yet Nature has not made women, they who care for the young and the vulnerable, especially good at this. Outside of Emily Dickinson, where indeed are the tragic minds even among the most brilliant women? Where are the severely realistic ones? Most such persons seem to be men. It is unthinkable that a woman ever would write works such as King Lear and The World as Will and Representation, The Prince and The Genealogy of Morals. Neither has there ever been a woman political thinker of any significance. (Martha Nussbaum’s globalist utopianism, though celebrated in the professionally delusional academy, falls far short, I am afraid.) I do not say all this in order to disparage women; the plain truth is that politics works best when it is primarily the domain of men; leadership and authority are best performed by men: and there are good, understandable reasons for why that is so.

It is in academe that the influence of women’s moral-maternal character is the most excessive. There, women’s greater pity and greater envy are profoundly contrary to meritocracy. It is in the nature of women to insist on “equal” outcomes more than men do. Yet the same valuable moral sentiments by which women (more than men) want to distribute goods evenly in the family, so that the weak do not suffer by receiving less than the strong, are often liabilities outside that special domain. As Heather Mac Donald has documented, women in universities have only to gripe about a lack of “gender parity” in order to promptly receive hiring quotas in their favor. Women are likewise promoted to lucrative administrative positions because they are women. It is the same throughout media and the arts, Hollywood and the corporate world: Women demand equality, regardless of merit and workload, and time and time again men comply. And yet, as I wrote in the column from which I have already quoted,

in all this “progress” women, as a whole, have shown neither the ability nor the desire to perform equal to men; and it is a sign of the times, and of just how perverse is their social conditioning, that even most men would probably consider that last sentence to be “sexist,” although it is meant only as an empirical description.

Nor need women bother to actually achieve equality, because their psychological power over men is so strong that the latter are quite willing to accept (in practice if not in belief) the premise, however false, that unequal outcomes signify discrimination by definition.

Because of the greater male variability in intelligence, the vast majority of geniuses, like the vast majority of dunces, continue to be men. Men are also higher (on average) in motivation than women, in no small part because they must be in order to have competitive sexual market value. Hence it is that women, on the whole, simply cannot keep up with the ablest men. I mean that point in a statistical sense. It is not that there are not highly talented and deservedly successful women who are among the best at what they do, but rather that, at the highest level of human accomplishment, there is no such thing as meritocratic gender parity—not even close. And for the most part, owing to human nature’s difficult need for esteem, women refuse to accept this. Indeed, today it is a good question whether large numbers of women in this or that subject or art are compatible with the preservation of intellectual and aesthetic standards. Of course, the question may fairly be asked of large numbers of men as well. More than men, though, women tend to level things down for pity’s sake or resentment’s sake, so there is a case to be made that a greater proportion of men than women is necessary to preserve intellectual and aesthetic standards. Wherever we look today, we find rampant female leveling, to which ignorant and spineless men (that is to say, most men) are more than willing to yield.

In his March 23, 2018 article for National Review, “Why Are Female College Students Against Free Speech?,” Michael Barone described a worrying sex difference regarding free speech. “Among men, 61 percent favored free speech,” Barone wrote of a poll, “but only 35 percent of women did so.” What’s more:

That percentage is of particular concern because women now make up the majority of college and university students. They appear to be a preponderance of the campus administrators who administer and enforce schools’ speech and sexual assault codes, at a time when administrators outnumber teachers in higher education.

Psychological studies over many years conclude that women tend to prize agreeableness and consensus, whereas men tend to seek out conflict and competition. One can easily imagine evolutionary explanations for this group difference, which, of course, is not apparent in every individual.

[F]emale students’ willingness to subordinate free speech to political values is disturbing in a time when habits of mind and behavior developed on campus tend to leach out to the larger society.

That has been apparent in the behavior of Silicon Valley firms such as Google and Facebook, which have imposed campus-like standards in censoring material on YouTube and Facebook feeds. Their corps of recent graduates have often labeled anodyne conservative themes as “hate speech” while granting full access to such bigots as Louis Farrakhan.

None of this should be surprising. Women, as I have said, are more sympathetic and more sensitive to other’s feelings than men. They are also higher in neuroticism, or negative affect. So they will tend to be more upset by “insensitive speech” than men, and being more egalitarian, more conformist and less open to ideas than men, more likely to censor it. Of course, I am speaking here in terms of averages, of statistical group differences, and clearly there are many tolerant, open-minded and non-conforming women among us. “One can easily imagine evolutionary explanations,” says Barone, for these sex differences. All of them would have to correspond, I think, to women being generally more oriented toward other people in their perceptions, evaluations, and judgments than men. This sex difference is most evident when women are together, their in-group relations evincing more intuitiveness and empathy than is usually found among groups of men.

Research on women’s in-group relations confirms what many people can see with their own eyes: namely, that when it comes to dealing with conflicts, women, being the physically weaker sex, are rather more covert than men. Where a man is direct and assertive, a woman is often indirect and manipulative. Doubtless it is for this reason, among others, that so many women prefer male bosses. As in academe under Title IX, so in the Brett Kavanaugh controversy. We saw Christine Blasey Ford, Sen. Feinstein, Debra Katz, and other women cunningly endeavor to thwart due process. Whatever may have been their motivation—probably not a good one, in my view—their conduct was neither fair nor rational. Nevertheless, the national hysteria that was stirred up was highly influential on men. And no wonder, for in the presence of women, men are generally more emotional, and as philosophers have always said, unless they are guided by sober reason, emotions can be uniquely destructive. It is especially difficult for people to control their emotions when they believe the safety of women is involved, because, women being physically weaker and having a greater biological value than men, there is a deep (albeit usually unconscious) paternalism in their favor. Morality, moreover, is generally irrational, people acting on certain intuitions that shape their perceptions, evaluations and judgments, and for which reason is but the vehicle.

The excessive influence of women is a widespread cultural problem. Consider the literary world, for instance. It is dominated by women. At The Boston Review, The New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, The Nation, and other highbrow publications, groups of women are increasingly powerful, and by no means in entirely good ways. Thus, in response to female indignation—to which men, who are naturally inclined to do almost anything to please women, are highly susceptible—male writers have become unpublishable, and male editors have been made to step down, even though, in most cases, it is not at all clear that the personal conduct which the women and the feminized men found so objectionable had anything to do with aesthetic or intellectual merit. The public-private distinction does not seem to be a value to the feminist mind. And all this is to say nothing of the many cases in which men had only been accused of sexual misconduct, the allegations being unsubstantiated.

Amid our parlous situation, I want to offer some thoughts which, though hardly politically correct, should not be dismissed for that reason. For “the Greek tragedians,” Solway reminds us, “battle between male structure and female sentiment was an eternal fact of human life.” People have long believed, and rightly, that the sexes at their best complement each other. Yet we should be careful not to over-idealize this conception, valuable though it is. “There is naturally strife and wrangling between them and us,” wrote the acute Montaigne about the war of the sexes. A just sentence that is, because men and women are partners in a fundamental antagonism. Man’s dominance in the cultural and political domains is symbiotic with woman’s greater biological value and primacy in the family. Nature’s balance this is, which we alter at our peril.

It is likely that the amount of influence women exercise in our country today is possible only when a people is already far along a path of decline. In “Hysteria and the Need for Male Leadership,” my wise friend Tony Esolen writes:

The justification for the beer hall, other than sheer delight, is that it conduces to the common good. Likewise, they who govern do so on behalf of those they govern. If women wish to lead men, they must lead men, for the sake of men, in men’s interests. The governor who governs in his own interest is a despot. The governor who governs in the interests of his coterie is an oligarch. But, with rare exceptions, academic and political women show no interest in the good of boys and men. Men once built and funded women’s colleges. Women now pick male pockets to fund women’s studies programs, where they teach girls how to hate their brothers. They use the building to slander the builders. Not one public woman has said that women must be scrupulously fair to members of the other sex and rather hard upon their own. A father commandeered to be an umpire at his son’s baseball game will call the close plays against his paternal feelings. We are being governed by stage sisters, many of whom have slaughtered their own offspring, gone mad with the delight of put-on terror, resentment, and destruction.

Still more, through programs in universities around the country, young men are effectively made into women. Masculinity is toxic, according to the experts, so men must become other than they are. Indeed, the American Psychological Association has pathologized masculinity. Now feminists are right that throughout history men have, alas, massively exploited women, an evil that continues around the world to this day. But men have also massively exploited their fellow men, nor is human exploitation so different in kind from what goes on in the animal kingdom in general. And men are Nature’s worker bees; her builders and designers, in no small part for the sake of women and children. By contrast, women in power have shown themselves to be positively disdainful of the needs and interests of men. As a group, women seek to care for their children; to that end they want men (and the state) to provide: Therefore, as Esolen notes, “with rare exceptions, academic and political women show no interest in the good of boys and men.” For the most part, that good is not even noticed by them. Hence, then, the need for male leadership and authority, for these vital things to be the province of men, in the main. One might object to this on “egalitarian” grounds, yet in response I would submit that the gender equality experiment is not working. Of course, I hardly expect most people in our time to agree with my rather reactionary position on gender relations. Still, I believe it is correct, and that events will continue to confirm it.

For instance, at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School, a group of students recently protested the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to teach a course for students studying abroad in England next summer. Says a young male student named Elijah Nichols, “As a survivor, as a student who comes to this university, and expects to have a good education, to experience a happy, safe place, I am insulted.” It wasn’t long ago that such ridiculous talk would have been a source of humiliation for a man. Today it is common. For one of the evils of “gender equality” is that it destroys formative male associations and bonds—witness the Boy Scouts. In time, men become more and more hysterical and sentimental, like women. If a fellow man were to shame this young fellow—something that, though difficult, would be for his own good—the womanly university would have a fit. The emasculation of men changes how men perceive and judge and feel. The effects on the culture and politics are massive and cannot be overemphasized. Men lose, or never develop, the ability to think with cold, detached rationality. They cannot make clear-eyed decisions in a tragic world. The family, too, gets debased. Proof: mass transgenderism. Undoubtedly, it is related to the decline of male influence in the family, in a time when women file for 70 percent of divorces.

In his greatest novels, such as The Rainbow, D.H. Lawrence depicted the miseries that befell men who were too weak to deal with the new strong-willed women who were emerging in his time. Although accordingly reviled by feminists, Lawrence now seems a prophet. The problem with women’s “temperamental furies” is not so much the furies themselves as men’s incessant submission. Consider the literary world once more. Jian Ghomeshi and John Hockenberry are two among the many men who have recently had their careers ruined by accusations of sexual misconduct. Unlike like most such men, however, they were given chances to explain themselves, Ghomeshi in The New York Review of Books and Hockenberry in Harper’s. As one might have expected, the feminized literati were outraged, and Ian Buruma, editor of The New York Review of Books, was pressured to step down. But, as Lionel Shriver wrote with her usual pungency,

both essays are so wussy. Choosing to take a stand, these guys might have come out fighting and truly defended themselves—perhaps parsing encounters their accusers recall as violating and the men recall in a more innocent light. Or laying out: I did do this; I didn’t do that. But no. Both pieces maunder nauseously on about how the authors have soul-searched, reappraising their disturbed relations with the opposite sex from the year dot. It’s not only women who don’t have penises.

All that feigned humility must disguise flaming indignation. Wouldn’t it make you angry to have never been convicted of a criminal or even civil offence, and still have your life ruined and your whole future cancelled like a second-rate TV series? Why, in 2016 Ghomeshi was acquitted in court. Legal exoneration hasn’t mattered a jot.

This #MeToo wussiness is of a piece with men’s general submission to women. It is now time to push back. The notion that a culture dominated by women, and by men who are perpetually willing to submit to their whims and demands, could produce enough people who are fit to lead the state would have struck men (and women) of the past as absurd beyond belief. If we wish to advance human knowledge and the national good, as well as preserve what is of value to us and remain internationally competitive, men must stop submitting to women and feminized men. Uniquely generative and authoritative, men must reassert themselves, fair-minded but strong and unapologetic.