Monday, October 23, 2006

Misogyny and fascism

All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman. ... What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an unescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil nature, painted with fair colours. ... Women are by nature instruments of Satan -- they are by nature carnal, a structural defect rooted in the original creation.

-- Malleus maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), published by Catholic inquisition authorities in 1485-86

The Freikorpsmen hate women, specifically women's bodies and sexuality. It would not be going too far to say that their perpetual war was undertaken to escape women; even the motherly battlefront nurse is a threatening intrusion in the unisexual world of war. This hatred -- or dread -- of women cannot be explained with Freud's all-purpose Oedipal triangulation (fear that heterosexual desire will lead to punishment by the father, homosexual yearnings for the father, or some such permutation of the dramatic possibilities). The dread arises in the pre-Oedipal struggle of the fledgling self, before there is even an ego to sort out the objects of desire and the odds of getting them: It is a dread, ultimately, of dissolution -- of being swallowed, engulfed, annihilated. Women's bodies are the holes, swamps, pits of muck that can engulf.

--Barbara Ehrenreich, from the foreword to Klaus Theweleit's Male Fantasies

Where are they coming from, these violent men? The right-wing terrorists like David McMenemy. The onslaught of damaged males inflicting violence on women in dramatic and public ways. It all seems so new, so sudden. And yet so familiar.

What is most striking about this seeming trend is how abstract the women victims are for so many of the perpetrators. Both of the deranged school shooters in Pennsylvania and Colorado simply picked the schools at random, and selected girls as their victims retributively, for supposed harm done to them in the past by other females. All of them indicated a long-sweltering rage at women.

Sara wonders, reasonably, if this is something new. It isn't. In many regards, this kind of angry outpouring by would-be controlling males seems new because we haven't seen it, on a large scale, for many years. But this kind of murderous hate in fact has a long and colorful history -- ranging from the Holy Roman Empire to the Nazis.

What has changed are the conditions and the context in which it is happening. Those in turn can give us some ideas how best to confront it.

Western-style misogyny probably has its roots in a Greek/Roman culture that gave women little power, political or otherwise, despite including women in its pantheon of gods. One could also point to the deep psychological roots in the urge to civilize, particularly in the view of nature as wild, harmful, something to be repressed and tamed; as women became identified with nature, the desire to control them took root as well.

But the particular psychological component that creates the twist of murderous misogyny comes from Dark-Age Christianity: the notion of humankind -- and indeed, all of nature --as innately sinful. Because the chief burden for that sin fell on women who already had no power.

As David Stannard, in his study of the North American Native genocide American Holocaust, describes in examining the genocide's roots:
The idea is hardly a Christian invention, then, that immoderate enjoyment of the pleasures of the flesh belongs to the world of the brute, and that abstinence, modesty, strictness and sobriety are to be treasured above all else. Still, it is understandable why subsequent European thought would regard Greece and Rome as realms of carnal indulgence, since subsequent European thought was dominnated by Christian ideology. And as the world of the Christian fathers became the world of the Church Triumphant, while fluid and contested mythologies hardened into dogmatic theology, certain fundamental characteristics of Christianity, often derived from the teachings of Paul, came to express themselves in fanatical form. Not the least of these was the coming to dominance of an Augustinian notion of sex as sin (and sin as sexual) along with a larger sense, as Elaine Pagels puts it, that all of humanity was hopelessly "sick, suffering, and helpless." As late antiquity in Europe began falling under the moral control of Christians there occurred what historian Jacques le Goff has called la deroute du corporal -- "the rout of the body." Not only was human flesh thenceforward to be regarded as corrupt, but so was the very nature of humankind and, indeed, so was nature itself; so corrupt, in fact, that only a rigid authoritarianism could be trusted to govern men and women who, since the fall of Adam and Eve, had been permanently poisoned with an inability to govern themselves in a fashion acceptable to God.

... The Christian leader ... stood apart from all others by making a public statement that in fact focused enormous attention on sexuality. Indeed, "sexuality became a highly charged symbolic marker" exactly because its dramatic removal as a central activity of life allowed the self-proclaimed saintly individual to present himself as "the ideal of the single-hearted person" -- the person whose heart belonged only to God.

Of course, such fanatically aggressive opposition to sex can only occur among people who are fanatically obsessed with sex, and nowhere was this more ostentatiously evident than in the lives of the early Christian hermits ...

What was noteworthy about this obsession was the ease with which the obsessed blamed the objects of their obsession for the behavior that followed. And though this fanaticism waxed and waned over the subsequent centuries, it remained largely a constant throughout the history of feudal and theocratic European rule.

There was particularly an upsurge of lethal misogyny in the 15th century, embodied in the series of witch hunts that ran rampant for extended periods across the European landscape, claiming thousands of victims. The late Ioan P. Couliano noted that behind the shift in that period to traditional Christian denial of the body and things sexual, there lay the persistent ideology that:
woman is the blind instrument for the seduction of nature, the symbol of temptation, sin, and evil. Beisdes her face, the principal baits of her allure are the signs of her fertility, hips and breasts. The face, alas, must stay exposed, but it is possible for it to wear a rigid and manly expression. The neck can be enveloped in a high lace collar. As to the bosom, the treatment dealt is closely resembles the traditional deformation of the feet of [Chinese] women, being no less painful and unhealthy ... Natural femininity, overflowing, voluptuous, and sinful is categorized as unlawful. Henceforth only witches will dare to have wide hips, prominent breasts, conspicuous buttocks, long hair.

Eventually the witch hunts subsided in Europe, though they continued to enjoy something of an extended half-life in America. And, as with most historical cycles, murderous misogyny largely subsided until the emergence, in the early 20th century, of fascism, particularly in Europe (though America had its own home-bred brand of fascism, it largely was remaindered to the fringes in the aftermath of the Second World War).

Hitler and Mussolini both were ardent in their sexism: "The Nazi Revolution will be an entirely male event" was one of Hitler's most repeated phrases. Hitler's views on women, in fact, were a core component of the Nazis' mass psychological appeal, and were widespread throughout fascist movements. What was remarkable, perhaps, about the Nazis was the open glee with which they murdered women; they retained the ancient Catholic hatred of female putrefication, but freed from whatever constraints might have existed in the context of a church, they became relentlessly violent.

The German scholar Klaus Theweleit a few years ago examined the literature created in the post-World War I Weimar Germany by the paramilitary Nazis called the Freikorpsmen, and published his findings in a two-volume work titled Male Fantasies.

Theweleit found that, essentially, the fascist psychodrama entailed a wholesale unleashing of male desire, including incest, rape and murder. The fascist mindset entailed reveling in control over the bodies of others, embodied perhaps in their embrace of torture. And at the bloody beating heart of it all was a pathological fear of women.

The Nazis, who envisioned themselves as forging a revolutionary future, had no real place for women except in a secondary role -- as mothers and helpful supportmates. To this extent, their ideal Nazi woman was described thus:
Therefore a woman belongs at the side of a man not just as a person who brings children into this world, not just as an adornment to delight the eye, not just as a cook and a cleaner. Instead woman has the holy duty to be a life companion, which means being a comrade who pursues her vocation as woman with clarity of vision and spiritual warmth.

-- Paula Siber, "The New German Woman," 1933, from Fascism [1995, Oxford University Press], edited by Roger Griffin

Theweleit describes the resulting pathology thus:
Men themselves were now split into a (female) interior and a (male) exterior -- the body armor. And as we know, the interior and exterior were mortal enemies. ... What fascism promised men was the reintegration of their hostile components under tolerable conditions, dominance of the hostile "female" element within themselves. ...

As a matter of course, fascism excluded women from the public arena and the realms of male production. But fascism added a further oppression to the oppression of women: When a fascist male went into combat against erotic, "flowing," unsubjugated women, he was also fighting his own unconscious, his own desiring-production. This is clear from the fact that whereas in World War I, the Hohenzollern women had posed as nurses, Hitler concealed his "beloved" from the public. Not only was she useless for the rituals that maintained Hitler's rule, she would have gotten in the way.

Indeed, this is about how Hitler himself spoke regarding women:
Man's universe is vast compared to that of a woman. Man is taken up with his ideas, his preoccupations. It's only incidental if he devotes his thoughts to a woman. Woman's universe, on the other hand, is man. She sees nothing else, so to speak, and that is why she's capable of loving so deeply.

-- Adolf Hitler, Hitler's Secret Conversations, pp. 344-345.

In his 1989 book Our Contempt for Weakness: Nazi Norms and Values -- and Our Own, Norwegian scholar Harald Ofstad sums it up:
The Nazi view of sex roles is based on conventional notions taken to extremes. Sexuality has no intrinsic value; it is only a means of unleashing the power of men and the strength of the nation. Women are instruments.

A real man can never have any deep emotional contact with a woman. Her world is totally at odds with his. Real men can only have meaningful contact with other men, e.g., in such organizations as the SS. There they share the bonds of companionship and loyalty to their leader.

As Ehrenreich, in the foreword to Male Fantasies, explained, the Nazi compartmentalized the women of his world. To fall outside the "acceptable" role for women in Nazi society meant that one was an Enemy. And they reserved some of their most venomous hatred for such women:
In the Freikorpsman's life, there are three kinds of women: those who are absent, such as the wives and fiancees left behind, and generally unnamed and unnoted in the Freikorpsmen's most intimate diaries; the women who appear in the imagination and on the literal battlefront as "white nurses," chaste, upper-class German women; and finally, those who are his class enemies -- the "Red women" whom he faces in angry mobs and sometimes even in single combat.

Theweleit later describes this latter class in more detail:
The description of the proletarian woman as monster, as a beast that unfortunately cannot be dealt with merely by "planting a fist" in its "ugly puss," hardly derives from the actual behavior of women in situations such as those described above ... Rather, it can be traced to an attempt to construct a fantastic being who swears, shrieks, spits, scratches, farts, bites, pounces, tears to shreds; who is slovenly, wind-whipped, hissing-red, indecent; who whores around, slaps its naked thighs, and can't get enough of laughing at these men. ... [p. 67]

Women who don't conform to any of the "good woman" images are automatically seen as prostitutes, as the vehicles of "urges." They are evil and out to castrate, and they are treated accordingly. The men are soldiers. Fighting is their life, and they aren't about to wait until that monstrous thing happens to them. They take the offensive before these women can put their horrible plans into practice. [p. 171]

Hitler made an explicit link between "liberal" feminist and suffrage movements -- which even then were working to undermine the traditional disempowerment of women -- and Jews shortly after obtaining the chancellorhood in 1933. The next year he denounced the so-called New Woman as the "invention of Jewish intellectuals." He also urged German women to reject as unnatural the "overlapping of the spheres of activity of the sexes" as embodied in "Jewish intellectualism."

Hitler was fond of complaining about "feminized" Christianity and consistently prescribed a vision of Christ as "a fighter" and of the faith as "manly" and "hard." The Nazis' Christian wing, the Deutsche Christen, likewise railed against how "feminized" the church had become, and argued for a "virile" vision of the faith.

After Hitler's defeat, this pathology again slithered to the fringes. Mostly you could find complaints about "feminized" Christianity from folks like Identity pastor Pete Peters and Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler. The former, in fact, was fond of describing the source of the "feminization" thus:
The Jewish leaders believe they already control America. Recently, one of them stated publicly: "We have castrated Gentile society, through fear and intimidation. It's manhood exists only in combination with a feminine outward appearance. Being so neutered, the populace has become docile and easy to rule. As all geldings are by nature, their thoughts are not concerned with the future, or their posterity, BUT ONLY WITH THE PRESENT and the next meal." What a perfect "word picture of modern American society. It is the attitude of Christians, who don't want to be involved, and allow Jews, to control the school and often the church. We MUST break these fatal bonds, if we are to remain free.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, however, a lot of this talk -- as well as the vision of the "warrior Jesus" -- has returned with some intensity to the mainstream, though there had already been some seepage from the far right in the previous decade. Much of it, in fact, is closely associated with the increasing prevalence of pseudo-fascist thought as part of our political discourse. As we've well established by now, any American fascism is going to be wrapped in a flag and thumping on a Bible, extolling the virtues of "tradition" that includes sex and gender roles. And that's what we're getting.

It cannot be a mere coincidence, in fact, that while this is occurring, we're seeing more psychotic murders by controlling males whose chief mission seems to be to bring women under control and to avenge the damage done to their own twisted souls.

Stan Goff at Truthdig has been paying attention to the fascist undertow, and he notes:
The rise of fascistic masculinity prefigures systemic fascism, often in the form of vigilantism. Gun culture is steeped in vigilantism, which is steeped in military lore. Guns in this milieu transcend their practical uses and take on a powerful symbolic significance.

In the last decade, the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has always had close ties with the military, has been taken over from what are considered within the organization as "moderates," that is, those whose message emphasizes peaceful, law-abiding gun use, like hunting (which is not peaceful for the game animals, but that's another issue).

During my service with 3rd Special Forces Group in Haiti in 1994, members of the SFU initiated back-channel communications in support of the right-wing death squad network, FRAPH.

Two of the favored preoccupations of [Steve] Barry, the SFU, Soldier of Fortune, and the NRA were Ruby Ridge, where Vicki Harris, the wife of an ex-Special Forces white supremacist (Randy Weaver), was killed by an FBI sniper with her baby in her arms, and the outrage at Waco against the Branch Davidians.

... My critique of gun culture is a critique of those sectors for which guns have been combined with imaginary enemies and taken on a deeply symbolic value as tokens of a violent, reactionary masculinity that fantasizes about armed conflict as a means to actualize its paranoid male sexual identity.

The problem is that this reaction is far from ab-normal.

There is a kind of interlocking directorate between white nationalists, gun culture, right-wing politicians, mercenary culture (like Soldier of Fortune), vigilante and militia movements, and elements within both Special Forces and—now—the privatized mercenary forces. It is hyper-masculine, racialist, militaristic and networked.

If one simply pays attention to cultural production in the United States, especially film and video games, it is fairly easy to see that the very memes that are the cells within the body of white nationalist militarism are ubiquitous within our general cultural norms. The film genre that most closely corresponds to a fascist mind-set is the male revenge fantasy, wherein after some offense is given that signifies the breakdown of order (usually resulting in the death or mortal imperilment of idealized wives or children) in which Enlightenment social conventions prove inadequate, and the release of irrational male violence is required to set the world straight again. Any reader can list these fantasies without a cue. It is one of the most common film genres in American society.

Arthur Silber (via Avedon at Eschaton) explores this point even further:
One of the most fascinating parts of Goff's discussion is his focus on the sexual and gender part of this equation: how surpassingly and bloodily violent "masculinity" is glorified and romanticized, in stark and negative contrast to a "weak," "vacillating," and ultimately useless "femininity." To see the popularized version of the "general cultural norms" that Goff mentions, you need only watch the hugely popular television series 24. Courtesy of a friend, I recently watched all of season four. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a more repellent embodiment of vicious, revenge-driven, murderous male fantasies, replete with innumerable bloody deaths and even the noxious idea that torture "works." That last idea is indisputably false, but even Hillary Clinton now repeats the lies that inflict monstrous pain, and that ultimately kill. So much for "opposition" to the rising tide of barbarism. And series like 24 are the manure out of which grows our fascist future.

Much of the outrage directed at 24 (such that can be found) focuses on the regular use of torture, and on the savage notion that torture is "effective" (and that "they deserve it," too, of course). But keeping Goff's broader analysis in mind, it is crucial to appreciate the more complex system that 24 and similar propaganda glorifies, including most especially the system of myths upon which such "entertainment" relies. Tens of millions of Americans are being conditioned every day to view an incomprehensibly violent, utterly arbitrary militarized domestic state as representing "virtue," and indeed a necessary virtue: supposedly necessary to protect us from the enemy, who is now to be found everywhere. Perhaps it's your next-door neighbor. That day, too, may not be all that far away.

Joan Burbick's new book, Gun Show Nation: Gun Culture and American Democracy describes in close-up detail how fear and suspicion of women -- and an unstated desire to inflict violence on them -- is embedded in the gun-toting culture of the American far right. It begins when she's forced to leave a gun show because she's carrying a camera:
Before I left, I asked the organizer why they enforced rules against cameras. What was the problem? Was it a distrust of government? Did they think I worked for the ATF, the IRS, or the FBI? Was it anger against gun-control groups? Did they think I worked for Sarah Brady's handgun organization, or for Cease Fire, a Seattle-based gun violence prevention group? Maybe it was about hunting and animal rights? Or worse, I could be a PETA worker.

There was a long list of possible reasons for the no-camera policy.

The organizer looked at me hard when I asked the question. Why no cameras? He responded with one word: "Alimony." "What?" I asked. Had I heard right?


"Yes, alimony." He then explained that the men inside the gun show didn't want their pictures showing up in newspapers where their ex-wives might see them.

I asked him more questions, but he wasn't in a talking mood. It was about alimony, period. I'd have to leave it at that.

Maybe the organizer thought some ex-wife had hired me to track down her husband and prove that he was handing over for a new hunting rifle what should be her cash. Maybe the organizer actually thought that ex-wives scanned the local papers looking for photos of their former husbands to see if they could catch them spending what was legally theirs.

As someone who's attended a number of gun shows over the years, I'm pretty sure that the main reason no cameras are allowed in gun shows is because illegal transactions -- including the sale of guns to felons -- go on all the time there, often under the table or surreptitiously. And random photos taken can place people there who aren't supposed to be there. Neither sellers nor buyers want to have their pictures taken. And I'm sure no gun-show organizer worth his salt would ever actually admit that, especially not to someone who might be writing about it.

Yet it's telling that the first excuse that the organizer could offer was in an area of common animus: it's all about those ex-wives. Burbick drills down further into the meaning of this animus:
At later gun shows, I started to pay more attention. Were ex-wives and their demands a threat to some guys at the gun shows? I frequently saw books for sale at the shows such as The Predatory Female by Rev. Lawrence Shannon, whose field guide to dating includes a set of tactics to undermine the supposed Gestapo power of women who rule the divorce and child-custody judicial system. In a radio interview, Shannon said that "victims of the predatory female are strewn all over the nation, writing alimony checks, recovering from gunshot wounds, treating cat scratches, trying to see their children, paying attorney's fees, picking through the detritus of their lives, and struggling to recover from ruined years." The Predatory Female is a collection of warnings about women who prey on the feelings and bank accounts of unsuspecting men. Female predators have their eyes on one thing alone -- money. They marry and divorce to get alimony. They use emotions of love, trust, and care to undermine the sacred contract of marriage. They are the new scourges of secular life, hunting down unsuspecting men to get bucks and tear out their hearts.

Wives were threats. Girlfriends were threats. Women who talked too much were threats. And women who held public office and wouldn't shut up were the scourge of the land. I have also picked up bumper stickers at gun shows that said: I JUST GOT A GUN FOR MY WIFE. IT'S THE BEST TRADE I EVER MADE. Or, handouts detailing the "Top 10 Reasons Handguns Are Better than Women," ending with the number-one reason, "You can buy a silencer for a handgun." I had also seen some pretty vicious materials on Hillary Clinton and Janet Reno at local shows in the '90s. A new fear floated above some of the gun exhibits: judges, lawyers, and voters were giving women too much power, and the women were using that power to take guns away from their husbands, their boyfriends, and their constituents. A gun-grabber lurked in the heart of the liberated woman.

Maybe the no-camera rule was about alimony. In this latest male fantasy about the war between the sexes, I could have been hired by a female predator to shoot pictures at a gun show for a ruthless ex- or estranged wife. I was just part of a new generation of bottom-feeders out to get men, one of the vast army of women intent on misandry, a new word invented to capture this hatred of men by women.

No new words are really needed here, because what we're facing is something very old and familiar, dressed in the well-wrapped flag common to Limbaughesque jingoes, but underneath sporting the spiffy black leather of the fascist set. And because of that, there can be no compromising with it.

Ultimately, this kind of burgeoning pathology comes down to individuals. This is the deeply personal aspect of fascism, which can only exist by tapping into individual psychopathologies that are shared collectively. You can harbor a hatred of women in modern society and find all kinds of support for it, but the germ itself begins much earlier, and springs from ideas and impulses that are buried deep in our psychological hard wiring. Effectively confronting it means overcoming that wiring.

Recognize, first, where it originates: In the twisted, sad view of humanity as innately evil and sick. In the strange mentality that perceives nature -- God's creation itself -- as sinful. In the demented, pathological view of women as lesser humans. These are all ideas we often associate now with our barbaric past, but the truth is that they live on in innumerable ways, especially embedded as they are in popular culture. Why do you think, after all, that a two-hour display of sadism such as The Passion of the Christ could be such an immense crowd-pleaser? Why would a show like 24 draw such immense ratings? Why would slasher films constitute their own moneymaking genre?

The old Catholic misogyny has devolved in our times to the proto-fascist's murderous style of misogyny. Only in the 21st century, instead of being organized, it's just routinely celebrated, as it has been lately in so many American thrillers and horror films. Sure, the psychopaths in them are all scary. But they all have a psychosexual hatred of women. The concept of women as the cause of their psychopathism is embedded in all these entertainments. But when these entertainments are played as mainstream, then the fascist pathology they are about slips into the cultural bloodstream, where it joins, echoes, and nurtures the latent fascism already there, as well as that coming from other sources. Eventually, it announces itself in a thousand atrocities, large and small.

In the end, we talking about confronting a "traditionalism" that is no different from other fine "traditions" long since ended: slavery, torture, cannibalism. Its associated tradition, after all, is white supremacy, which always was about white male supremacy anyway. These are traditions that we have overthrown for good reason.

I don't think we can talk to people who have bought into this mindset in anything like a compromising fashion. That's not to say we can't talk to them. But if we want to deal effectively with this trend, we're going to have to make our own values crystal clear and unremorseful. Whether we do it in a masculine or feminine manner is immaterial. What matters is that we do it unmistakably.

The irrationalism that misogyny embodies, buried deep in our systems, simply can't be dealt with gently. The kind of men -- and women -- who will fall for the new misogyny aren't going to be impressed with compromises and halfway measures. The only thing they understand is "my way or the highway." So those are the options they should be given.

After all, standing up to woman-haters, in the end, means standing up for human values. Fascists don't just hate women.

Burbick notes this herself in a later interview:
I have been to only one gun show so far that did not display and sell hate materials, either newspapers, books or pamphlets and that was a gun show at the Coeur d'Alene Casino on the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation in Worley, Idaho. But otherwise, every gun show I've attended sold and distributed hate and racist material. Most gun shows I've gone to have book exhibits and some of them are quite extensive.

In addition you can buy and various posters, political bumper stickers, signs you can put up in your yard and in your windows. And you will find the most racist, anti-Semitic, and sexist material. I cringe at some of these. I've walked around and thought, my God, this is over the top.

Gun organizers have told me they'd stop these book exhibits. If they'd stop these book exhibits, then why are these materials still there? I think there is a hate language that a lot of people express with guns.

I've met a number of the kind of men Burbick writes about at gun shows. They're often friendly enough, to a guy anyway, but inevitably they all have a ... thing ... about women. Someone cut their heart out and fed it to the cat, and they've spent the rest of their lives blaming every woman on the planet for it. They love that Led Zep line: "Soul of a woman was created below." Women frighten them because they threaten them. But the threat is largely a figment of their imaginations. And it becomes an excuse, a predicate, for a whole panoply of other hatreds.

I don't have any idea how to deal with this on an organizational scale. All I know about is dealing with it on the personal scale, which is where I think any effective change is going to occur.

So, if it comes up -- and often it doesn't -- I tell people like this that I just don't see my fellow humans as innately bad or sinful or evil or what have you. I think people are innately good and have to learn how not to be, though there is no shortage of people out there teaching them just that. I don't believe we need authoritarian rule to keep us in line. I believe nature is God's creation itself, not something sinful or dirty or wild and in need of taming.

And most of all, I don't think people's intrinsic value as human beings is up to us to judge. I certainly don't think that value is a product of their skin color or religion or sexual preference -- or their sex.

And yes, it's true: I like women. Always have. Always will. Something wrong with that?

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