Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture. (Book Review).
Misandry, the "sexist counterpart of misogyny", is a "culturally propagated hatred of men." Misogyny is no longer a dark secret. For decades, feminists have been exposing it.
Misandry in popular culture, on the other hand, remains "a dark secret" (p.6). Paul Nathanson is a freelance editor and Katherine Young a professor of the History of Religions in the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill University. They mount a persuasive argument both for the prevalence of the derision and devaluation of men in our North American culture, and for the prevalence of gynocentrism (a world view centred on women). Ideological feminism (also referred to as "superiority feminism") has promoted and intensified misandry.
An analysis of film and television "artifacts" (e.g., Chocolat, Thelma and Louise, The Colour Purple, Switch, Silence of the Lambs, Cape Fear, Home Improvements, Golden Girls) shows that our culture is laughing at, looking down on, bypassing, blaming, dehumanizing, and demonizing men. These six core chapters (2-7) provide evidence of the cultural vilification of men.
Chapter 8, "Making the World Safe for Ideology: the Roots of Misandry" is a fascinating philosophical analysis of feminism, considering its variety and its relationship to earlier, equality-based movements (suffragist), and Marxism. It examines "ideological feminism" in light of the defining features of ideology: "dualism, essentialism, hierarchy, collectivism, utopianism, selective cynicism, revolutionism, consequentialism, and quasi-religiosity" (p. 200). "The problem addressed here is not feminism as an expression of concern for women, but feminism as an ideology" (p.213).
The implications of misandry for Christians are profound. A reflective believer might begin taking account of misandry in our culture and the active promotion of misandry by ideological feminism. Keenly aware of the precursors of misandry, Nathanson and Young point out that it was on the basis of Jules Isaac's book, "The Teaching of Contempt", that Pope John XXIII invited him to the Second Vatican Council to advise on Judeo-Christian relations. (1) "The same problem that long prevented mutual respect between Jews and Christians, the teaching of contempt, now prevents mutual respect between men and women" (p.6).
That misandry is antagonistic to our deepest Christian convictions must be addressed. The cultural misandry Nathanson and Young identify is reflected in the rapid erosion of the institution of marriage as Catholics understand it. Stephen Baskerville, in Catholic World Report (2001), repeats the increasingly known facts of the marginalization, or elimination of men, from the post-divorce family, their disposability as parents, and their reduction to sources of wealth transferred to custodial parents (typically women). He urges the clergy and especially fathers to speak out in defence of marriage. "The destruction of marriages and families by the state directly concerns the churches, not simply because all matters of morality and justice concern the churches, but also because this particular controversy touches on the integrity of their pastoral ministry" (p.58). (2)
Misandry and "superiority feminism" are hostile to Christian scripture and Catholic doctrine. "Man and woman have been created, which is to say willed by God: on the one hand, in perfect equality as human persons; on the other hand, in their respective beings as man and woman."
'Being man' or 'being woman' is a reality which is good and willed by God: man and woman possess an inalienable dignity which comes to them immediately from God their Creator." (3)
Other stock "superiority feminist" assertions are equally objectionable to Christianity in general: the tenacious endorsement of abortion, opposition to Catholicism as the ultimate oppressive patriarchal institution, and the attribution of violence and social disorder to (only) men. Many already look forward to the next two volumes of "Spreading Misandry" promised by Nathanson and Young. I am reluctant to criticise this important work because of its overall soundness and sweeping insight.
The rather exhaustive and excessive extraction of cultural axioms from a handful of movies and T.V. shows, while persuasive, seems rather esoteric to a layman who is literally bombarded by media saturated with misandric content on a daily basis. I trust the next two volumes will broaden the array of "artifacts" studied. No doubt their focus will move to "elite" culture (academia, science, literature, and art).
This book has now been reviewed frequently enough to indicate that it is drawing early attention as a seminal work in gender relations. Thoughtful Catholics are invited to read it and deepen their insight into our culture, how we, as Catholics, live in it, and have opportunities to change it.
1) See "Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to non-Christian Religions" (Nostra Aetate), inThe Documents of Vatican II, ed. Walter Abbot, 1966, The America Press, pp.660-668.
2) S. Baskerville, "What God Hath Joined Together...", Catholic World Report, August/September 2001, pp.54-58.
3) Catechism of the Catholic Church, Image/Doubleday, New York, 1997, p. 105.
Robert Grantier, B.A.(Hon.) (University of Toronto), M.P.St., M.A.P.St., (St. Paul University), has worked with the developmentally handicapped as a counsellor and administrator for 29 years. He lives in Ottawa, and can be reached at: email@example.com.