Me Tar Sand, You Pain
On the general culpability of misogyny and self-hatred
With the confluence of International Women’s Day whose major theme was domestic violence and misogyny, and the appearance of a misogynistic cartoon of Greta Thunberg emanating from Alberta’s resource heartland, it would be sage to note that these kinds of events are not at all unrelated, as Hillary Clinton publicly did some days ago. Yet there is more to such a dynamic than vested interests and the conflict of gender iniquities. Men tend to keep their emotional resources locked deep inside a sediment metamorphosed by machismo, the shallow equivalent of honour, bravado in lieu of bravery, and paternalism instead of chivalry. Such patriarchy may indeed be ‘viral’, as the French protesters aptly suggested, but it is more than that. We men are the human equivalent of the tar sands. Costly to parse from our violent socialization, with dubious merit once so distilled. But if we carry the strata of another epoch within our spirits, women must appear to us as the painful perspective upon our own internal undoing.
Because men have great difficulty in excavating their own human feelings and communicating their experiences in a richer language than that of the joint fascist aesthetic of desire and control, we have projected our still present curiosity and ingenuity into the world. An objectified nature can be subjected much more easily than can be the subject himself, and our subjection of nature is in fact a thinly veiled objection to ourselves. This projection of the will to life in carnal form using only carnival norms threatens to destroy the species. But more intimately, and with a greater resentment, we have also projected our inability to practice an examined self-understanding onto women. It is this that actually provides the clue to the more general problem at hand.
My wife astutely remarked, upon hearing of the Thunberg cartoon decal and the reaction to it, ‘forget about child pornography, this is a hate crime’. Quite so. Instead of listening with compassion and risk to the other who challenges us, who has another perspective, who is sincere but who also does not know us, simply assault them, rape them, beat them down. In doing so, men are once again projecting the violence they feel toward themselves into the world, this time not of nature, but of others. This in turn divides the question of who is human and who should be the steward of the world at hand. For humans, in general, a world in hand is less threatening than a world merely at hand. Women and children as chattel – in many countries yet today they are still defined in this manner; witness the elites of Dubai or the peasants of Afghanistan, the lack of legal deterrents against domestic violence in a Russia hell-bent on increasing its birthrate, the lack of protection against physical violence for children in the United States, the list goes on – are to be taken in hand. The similarity of phrases is not a coincidence.
Violence against women and children, as well as against other men, is the same thing as violence against the world. But women are not nature. The popular mythology of ‘mother earth’ is a distraction that pushes both men and women and all other genders away from truth of things: the world in fact is an anonymous set of forces which is not at all dependent on human life in any manner. It worlds itself without us, and we have, of late, made ourselves a danger to it mostly in relation to our own tenure upon it. Perhaps not only to this, but as well much of life as we have known it. The ‘male gaze’ which objectifies the world of forms and indeed helps to create that world as form and not as an unformed mass of unrelated sense and image, is one of appropriation. It seeks to possess but it also seeks to maintain possession. In this, it is in conflict with itself. For how can one attain the mastery over something and thence forth keep still in one’s mastery? What does it mean to be the master of all things when the attainment of which can afford no further means to satisfy one’s desire for mastery?
The fear of an anonymous and even uncanny nature led in part to the advent of civilization. It is Glacken’s (1967) uncommonly fine historical analysis that allows us such insights in our own time. Today, we hold not so much an antique fear within ourselves but rather resentment. With all our accomplishments, yet we must perish as unique individuals. This is an unquiet thought and men specifically are socialized to feel responsibility for it. We reach out from this disquiet towards an ungodly future; from the desperate quest to evolve the species artificially to the perennially popular fantasies concerning contact with other civilizations to the sense that stem cells etc. can prolong the lives we do have, we struggle with the new role we have assumed; we are now our own gods. Yet we also strain backward towards the all-too-godly past; from the recent resuscitation of the authoritarian family made manifest in ‘intensive’ parenting and strict control over children, to the idea that the family – an institution constructed during a time when women were chattel, hence the prevalence of contemporary violence now reported because in fact women are not chattel, and neither are our children – should even exist as a viable social institution, the return of young people to popular ‘religious-based’ organizations as if these could have any profoundly relevant meaning to the world-as-it-is, we as a species are challenged by the mortality of our condition as never before.
Yet we can ask ourselves, what is the loss of an individual future as against the loss of the future itself? Humans die, but humanity lives on. A man dies after all not as a man but as a human being, his reason suppressed, his soul unexamined and his heart enslaved to a vain desire. A woman dies before her time if she is forced to be less than her own future makes openly possible. A child dies before she even becomes fully human, sentenced to the unutterable violence of the chattel definition and the dictates of moribund institutional ‘life’. Can any of this be called a ‘future’?
The human condition summons us in ways both threatening and non-threatening, says Heidegger. But however we respond, we do not avoid these summons. The climate crisis is a mere symptom, as is that geopolitical. Let us not be decoyed into becoming entangled by a symptomatology in the same way as we would not, disingenuously and with a transparent duplicity, allow ourselves to be seen to too publicly eviscerate courageous women or too harshly discipline equally courageous youth, though both conditions remain the desire of most men and indeed, perhaps most ‘adults’ as well. Instead, confrontation with compassion, heroism without hedonism, chivalry without paternity, honor within authenticity; these are the characteristics that make the noble character from which humanity has gained its only marque of self-respect. In our own time, when respect for others and for the world is at a premium, we must begin by staring not at the mirror, but staring it down, staring through it, until we reach some more insightful sensibility that does not rely upon the force of will alone.
Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of almost forty books in ethics, education, religion, aesthetics and social theory, and more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades.