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About gynocentrism

Gynocentrism n. (Greek, γυνή, “female” – Latin centrum, “centred” ) refers to a dominant or exclusive focus on women in theory or practice; or to the advocacy of this.1 Anything can be considered gynocentric (Adj.) when it is concerned exclusively with a female (or specifically a feminist) point of view.2

Katherine K. Young and Paul Nathanson state that the overriding focus of gynocentric ideology is to prioritize females hierarchically, and as a result may be interpreted as misandry (the hatred and prejudice towards men). Feminist calls for equality or even equity are often, according to them, a subterfuge for gynocentrism.3

Young and Nathanson define gynocentrism as a worldview based on the implicit or explicit belief that the world revolves around women, a cultural theme that they claim has become ‘de rigueur’ behind the scenes in law courts and government bureaucracies, which has resulted in systemic discrimination against men.4 They further state that gynocentrism is a form of essentialism – as distinct from scholarship or political activity on behalf of women- to the extent that it focuses on the innate virtues of women and the innate vices of men.5

Other authors make discriminations between types of gynocentrism, such as individual gynocentric acts or events (e.g. Mother’s Day), and the broader concept of a gynocentric culture which refers to a larger collection of culture traits that have major significance in the way people’s lives were lived.6

History

Elements of gynocentric culture existing today are derived from practices originating in medieval society such as feudalism, chivalry and courtly love that continue to inform contemporary society in subtle ways. Peter Wright refers to such gynocentric patters as constituting a “sexual feudalism,” as attested by female writers like Lucrezia Marinella who in 1600 AD recounted that women of lower socioeconomic classes were treated as superiors by men who acted as servants or beasts born to serve them, or by Modesta Pozzo who in 1590 wrote;

“don’t we see that men’s rightful task is to go out to work and wear themselves out trying to accumulate wealth, as though they were our factors or stewards, so that we can remain at home like the lady of the house directing their work and enjoying the profit of their labors? That, if you like, is the reason why men are naturally stronger and more robust than us — they need to be, so they can put up with the hard labor they must endure in our service.”7

The golden casket above depicting scenes of servile behaviour toward women were typical of courtly love culture of the Middle Ages. Such objects were given to women as gifts by men seeking to impress. Note the woman standing with hands on hips in a position of authority, and the man being led around by a neck halter, his hands clasped in a position of subservience.

It’s clear that much of what we today call gynocentrism was invented in the Middle Ages with the cultural practices of romantic chivalry and courtly love. In 12th century Europe, feudalism served as the basis for a new kind of love in which men were to play the role of vassal to women who played the role of an idealized Lord. C.S. Lewis, back in the middle of the 20th Century, referred to this historical revolution as “the feudalisation of love,” and stated that it has left no corner of our ethics, our imagination, or our daily life untouched. “Compared with this revolution,” states Lewis, “the Renaissance is a mere ripple on the surface of literature.”8 Lewis states;

“Everyone has heard of courtly love, and everyone knows it appeared quite suddenly at the end of the eleventh century at Languedoc. The sentiment, of course, is love, but love of a highly specialized sort, whose characteristics may be enumerated as Humility, Courtesy, and the Religion of Love. The lover is always abject. Obedience to his lady’s lightest wish, however whimsical, and silent acquiescence in her rebukes, however unjust, are the only virtues he dares to claim. Here is a service of love closely modelled on the service which a feudal vassal owes to his lord. The lover is the lady’s ‘man’. He addresses her as midons, which etymologically represents not ‘my lady’ but ‘my lord’. The whole attitude has been rightly described as ‘a feudalisation of love’. This solemn amatory ritual is felt to be part and parcel of the courtly life.” 9

With the advent of (initially courtly) women being elevated to the position of ‘Lord’ in intimate relationships, and with this general sentiment diffusing to the masses and across much of the world today, we are justified in talking of a gynocentric cultural complex that affects, among other things, relationships between men and women. Further, unless evidence of widespread gynocentric culture can be found prior to the Middle Ages, then gynocentrism is precisely 800 years old. In order to determine if this thesis is valid we need to look further at what we mean by “gynocentrism”.

Gynocentrism as a cultural phenomenon

The term gynocentrism has been in circulation since the 1800’s, with the general definition being “focused on women; concerned with only women.” 10 From this definition we see that gynocentrism could refer to any female-centered practice, or to a single gynocentric act carried out by one individual. There is nothing inherently wrong with a gynocentric act (eg. celebrating Mother’s Day) , or for that matter an androcentric act (celebrating Father’s Day). However when a given act becomes instituted in the culture to the exclusion of other acts we are then dealing with a hegemonic custom — i.e. such is the relationship custom of elevating women to the role of Lord in relation to male vassals.

Author of Gynocentrism Theory Adam Kostakis has attempted to expand the definition of gynocentrism to refer to “male sacrifice for the benefit of women” and “the deference of men to women,” and he concludes; “Gynocentrism, whether it went by the name honor, nobility, chivalry, or feminism, its essence has gone unchanged. It remains a peculiarly male duty to help the women onto the lifeboats, while the men themselves face a certain and icy death.” 11 I agree with Kostakis’ descriptions of assumed male duty, however the phrase ‘gynocentric culture’ more accurately carries his intention than gynocentrism alone. Thus when used alone in the context of this website ‘gynocentrism’ refers to part or all of gynocentric culture, which phrase I define here as any culture instituting rules for gender relationships that benefit females at the expense of males across a broad range of measures.

At the base of gynocentric culture lies the practice of enforced male sacrifice for the benefit of women. If we accept this definition we can look back and ask whether male sacrifices throughout history were always made for the sake women, or alternatively for the sake of some other primary goal? For instance, when men went to die in vast numbers in wars, was it for women, or was it rather for Man, King, God and Country? If the latter we cannot then claim that this was a result of some intentional gynocentric culture, at least not in the way I have defined it here. If the sacrifice isn’t intended directly for the benefit women, even if women were occasional beneficiaries of male sacrifice, then we are not dealing with gynocentric culture.

Male utility and disposability strictly “for the benefit of women” comes in strongly only after the advent of the 12th century gender revolution in Europe – a revolution that delivered us terms like gallantry, chivalry, chivalric love, courtesy, damsels, romance and so on. From that period onward gynocentric practices grew exponentially, culminating in the demands of today’s feminism. In sum, gynocentrism (ie. gynocentric culture) was a patchy phenomenon at best before the middle ages, after which it became ubiquitous.

With this in mind it makes little sense to talk of gynocentric culture starting with the industrial revolution a mere 200 years ago (or 100 or even 30 yrs ago), or of it being two million years old as some would argue. We are not simply fighting two million years of genetic programming; our culturally constructed problem of gender inequity is much simpler to pinpoint and to potentially reverse. All we need do is look at the circumstances under which gynocentrism first began to flourish and attempt to reverse those circumstances. Specifically, that means rejecting the illusions of romantic love (feudalised love), along with the practices of misandry, male shaming and servitude that ultimately support it.

La Querelle des Femmes, and advocacy for women

The Querelle des Femmes translates as the “quarrel about women” and amounts to what we might today call a gender-war. The querelle had its beginning in twelfth century Europe and finds its culmination in the feminist-driven ideology of today (though some authors claim, unconvincingly, that the querelle came to an end in the 1700s). The basic theme of the centuries-long quarrel revolved, and continues to revolve, around advocacy for the rights, power and status of women, and thus Querelle des Femmes serves as the originating title for gynocentric discourse.

If we consider the longevity of this revolution we might be inclined to agree with Barbarossaaa’s claim “that feminism is a perpetual advocacy machine for women”.

To place the above events into a coherent timeline, chivalric servitude toward women was elaborated and given patronage first under the reign of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1137-1152) and instituted culturally throughout Europe over the subsequent 200 year period. After becoming thus entrenched on European soil there arose the Querelle des Femmes which refers to the advocacy culture that arose for protecting, perpetuating and increasing female power in relation to men that continues, in an unbroken tradition, in the efforts of contemporary feminism.12

Writings from the Middle Ages forward are full of testaments about men attempting to adapt to the feudalisation of love and the serving of women, along with the emotional agony, shame and sometimes physical violence they suffered in the process. Gynocentric chivalry and the associated querelle have not received much elaboration in men’s studies courses to-date, but with the emergence of new manuscripts and quality English translations it may be profitable to begin blazing this trail.13 For instance a text I was re-reading today, Ulrich von Liechtenstein’s ‘In The Service of Ladies’ (1250) provides a treasure trove of emotions faced by a man trying to adapt to the vassal role; texts like this could be included in syllabus and explored for a deeper understanding of male experience and the cultural expectations that are placed on men.

References

1. Oxford English Dictionary – Vers.4.0 (2009), Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199563838
2. Oxford English Dictionary 2010
3. Katherine K. Young and Paul Nathanson, Legalizing Misandry, 2006 p.116
4. Katherine K. Young and Paul Nathanson, Legalizing Misandry, 2006 p.309
5. Katherine K. Young and Paul Nathanson, Sanctifying Misandry, 2010 p.58
6. Wright, Peter, Gynocentrism: From Feudalism to Modern Disney Princesses, 2014 p.8
7. Wright, Peter, ‘The sexual-relations contract,’ Chapter 7 in Gynocentrism: From Feudalism to Modern Disney Princesses, 2014 p.28
8. C.S. Lewis, Friendship, chapter in The Four Loves, HarperCollins, 1960
9. C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love, Oxford University Press, 1936
10. Dictionary.com – Gynocentric
11. Adam Kostakis, Gynocentrism Theory – (Published online, 2011). Although Kostakis assumes gynocentrism has been around throughout recorded history, he singles out the Middle Ages for comment: “There is an enormous amount of continuity between the chivalric class code which arose in the Middle Ages and modern feminism… One could say that they are the same entity, which now exists in a more mature form – certainly, we are not dealing with two separate creatures.”
12. Joan Kelly, Early Feminist Theory and the Querelle des Femmes (1982), reprinted in Women, History and Theory, UCP (1984)
13. The New Male Studies Journal has published thoughtful articles touching on the history and influence of chivalry in the lives of males.

The historical role of gynocentrism in societal collapse

By August Løvenskiolds and Peter Wright

Creative Commons - Flickr

MGTOW YouTube producer Turd Flinging Monkey (TFM) recently talked about his theory of how historical patriarchies (real ones, not the faux versions feminists are forever whining about) interact with gynocentrism to produce cycles of societal growth and collapse. The theory, referred to as the traditionalism cycle, has appeared in major civilizations. The traditionalism cycle goes something like this:

  1. Patriarchal traditionalism →
  2. Gynocentric traditionalism →
  3. Progressive gynocentrism →
  4. Societal collapse →
  5. Return to step 1 above.

Here’s the video that describes this in more detail.

The “traditionalism theory” is both descriptive of observed historical patterns and makes falsifiable predictions about how wealthy societies will break down over time if they fail to control gynocentric resource demands.

The theory is a reasonable one; societies start with patriarchs (father-elders) as the controlling class, then move through traditional and progressive forms of gynocentrism before collapsing under their own weight – the inability of resource production to keep up with the unchecked demands of an increasingly indolent yet powerful populace. The theory says that gynocentrism escalates with the advent of abundance if abundance exists in a given culture.

What we appreciate about TFM’s exposition of his theory is that he did some detailed historical research to back it up – something sorely lacking in the discussion of the roots of gynocentrism. Instead of real research we often see pull-it-out-of-your-ass histories or dismissive appeals to biology – “it’s all in the genes.”

The irony that “Turd Flinging Monkey” did NOT pull it out of his ass is not lost on us.

The pull-it-out-of-your-ass kind of history is based on half-guesses, ideology and assumptions with little to no evidence – except perhaps references to items like Lysistrata, a play; Helen of Troy, a myth; The “Rule of Thumb” law authorizing standards of domestic violence (which even feminists admit is a complete fabrication), religious tales, fairy tales, and other fantasy sources – i.e. to assume myths and fables mirror real life has marginal utility at best and is often times just crap: have you ever seen a centaur?

Surely the classical depictions of centaurs must have mirrored real creatures and behaviors or they wouldn’t have mentioned it?! Any thinking person will recognize the problem; relying on ancient mythologies is akin to having future zoologists base the history of equine evolution on episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

Mythology’s chief value is in metaphor: when the goddess Ishtar’s love interest Gilgamesh spurns her, she threatens to unleash zombies unless her father punishes Gilgamesh for his impudence. The metaphors seem to boil out of this, the oldest of human stories:

  • Women exercise covert, rather than overt, power.
  • Spurned women will unleash their fury on the men who spurned them, as well as others.
  • Fathers will side with angry, abusive daughters over innocent men.
  • Women in power will give power to the dangerous and unproductive.
  • Zombies are real!

Some of those metaphors are useful; some not so much.

The same goes for reductive biological explanations. Aside from the laziness of such approaches, the error in over-emphasizing biology is that biology is a product of environmental pressures that can, and do, change over time. Where you see biology you will always see a facilitating environment shaping it. Changes in environmental conditions (like over-population and resource depletion) could eliminate the biological “need” for gynocentrism entirely – wombs lose value when reducing the population is the only viable survival option for a species.

Fortunately, TFM breaks with the catalogue of errors and is trying to keep his analysis fact-based and real.

With that said there are some major, unspoken nuances that should be added to the conversation. The first is that there are degrees of gynocentric culture in both its traditional and progressive forms. Gynocentric societies are not cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all. Like hurricane categories with wind strengths of one to five, gynocentric culture can be imagined in a similar way – as differing in reach and packing winds anywhere from dangerous to destructive to catastrophic.

Like hurricanes, which become more intense depending on a confluence of atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity, and wind direction, likewise the intensity of a given gynocentric culture rests on multiple factors. TFM has named one of them in his video: abundance.

Abundance is a good start, one that, in isolation from other factors, can definitely lead to a (lets call it) ‘category one’ gynocentric culture. But as we add more contributing factors the gynocentrism gets more pervasive and more destructive – factors like

  • male to female population ratio,
  • aristocratic conventions influencing the masses,
  • communication technologies,
  • reproductive technologies,
  • military campaigns,
  • foreign threats,
  • the strength and structure of cultural narratives perpetuating the sentiment,
  • and so on.

As these and many other factors converge the strength of gynocentric culture grows potentially up to a ‘category five’ such as was born in the Middle Ages with the mother of all gynocentric cultures that has spanned over 800 yrs and been exported from Europe to the rest of the world.

Ours.

We don’t intend to give an exhaustive reply here but will end with a general comment about our present culture. At this point the gynocentric culture birthed in medieval Europe is unprecedented in the long path of history – it was only there, and then, that the combination of romantic chivalry and courtly love was born, along with a bunch of other contributing factors that made this gynocentric revolution the mother of them all. But there’s no doubt there have occurred smaller, less intense manifestations of gynocentric culture throughout history along the lines TFM suggests.

Recognizing gynocentrism and how it hurts men, families and society is critical to the process of limiting and perhaps undoing the toll that it takes on everyone.


A version of this essay first appeared on gynocentrism.com.

Dragon cropped

A comment on TFM’s ‘traditionalism cycle theory’

The following is a brief comment on Turd Flinging Monkey’s theory referred to as the ‘traditionalism cycle’ appearing in major civilizations. The cycle goes something like this:

Patriarchal traditionalism → gynocentric traditionalism → progressive gynocentrism → collapse.

The theory is a reasonable one; societies start out as patriarchally controlled, then move through traditional and progressive forms of gynocentrism before collapsing under their own weight. The theory says that gynocentrism escalates with the advent of abundance (if and when abundance exists in a given culture).

What I appreciate about TFM’s theory is that he did some actual historical research to back it up – something sorely lacking in the discussion of the roots of gynocentrism. Instead of actual research we frequently see a pull-it-out-of-your-ass histories, or alternatively dismissive appeals to biology – “it’s all in the genes.”

The pull-it-out-of-your-ass kind of history is based on half-guesses and assumptions with little to no evidence – except perhaps references to items like Lysistrata, a play; Helen of Troy, a myth, religious tales, fairy tales, and other fantasy sources – ie. it’s a huge error to assume myths and fables mirror real life. Have you ever seen a centaur… surely the classical depictions of centaurs must have mirrored real creatures and behaviors or they wouldn’t have mentioned it?! Any thinking person will recognize the problem; relying on ancient mythologies is akin to having having future zoologists base the history of equine evolution on episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

Same goes for reductive biological explanations. Aside from the laziness of such approaches, the error in over-emphasizing biology is that biology does not exist, or rather doesn’t exist as a thing-in-itself. Where you see biology you will always see a facilitating environment shaping it.

Fortunately, TFM breaks with the catalogue of errors and is trying to keep it fact based and real.

With that said there are some major, unspoken nuances that I’d like to add to the conversation. The first is that there are degrees of gynocentric culture in both its traditional and progressive forms. Gynocentric societies are not cookie-cutter one size for all. Like hurricane categories with wind strengths of one to five, gynocentric culture can be imagined in a similar way – as differing in reach and packing winds anywhere from destructive to catastrophic.

Like hurricanes, which become more intense depending on a confluence of atmospheric pressure, humidity, and wind direction, likewise the intensity of a given gynocentric culture rests on multiple factors. TFM has named one of them in the video below: abundance. This is a good start, one that, in isolation from other factors, can definitely lead to a (lets call it) ‘category one’ gynocentric culture. But as we add more contributing factors the gynocentrism gets more pervasive and more destructive – factors like male to female population ratio; aristocratic conventions influencing the masses; the presence of military campaigns; and the strength and structure of cultural narratives perpetuating the sentiment (etc.). As these and many other factors converge the strength of gynocentric culture grows potentially up to a ‘category five’ such as was born in the Middle Ages with the mother of all gynocentric cultures that has spanned over 800 yrs and been imported from Europe to the rest of the world.

I don’t intend to give an exhaustive reply here but will end with a general comment about our present culture. At this point I’m still assuming the gynocentric culture birthed in medieval Europe is unprecedented in the long path of history – it was only there, and then that the combination of romantic chivalry and courtly love were born, along with a bunch of other contributing factors that made this gynocentric revolution the mother of them all. But there’s no doubt there have occurred smaller, less intense manifestations of gynocentric culture throughout history along the lines TFM suggests.

caucasian man work at typewriter at home selective focus image

Authoring your own life

Harnessing men’s utility can be witnessed from the erection of Stonehenge to the Roman Empire to the moon landings. Cures for diseases and vaccines to prevent them happened from the intensely intelligent actions of the human male. Exploring new territories and engineering the transport to send people to new places has changed the world, almost all of it through risk and hardship borne by men. Men have driven civilization forward since we first walked away from the African savannah. Men’s blood, sweat, tears and sacrifices are the fuel rods that have always driven the big machine of our society.

Conditioning men, training them to do that, was necessary.

If the world wanted to continue its forward march it needed to entice little boys with fictions of glory that would forge their identities as the architects and the engineers of the world around them. It was an easy sell given the perhaps innate tendency in males to risk and to accomplish more than the man next to him.

We have thus, from generation to generation, raised our men on a steady diet of stories about saviors, knights and world-building heroes. We train them see themselves in accordance with those fables, sometimes brutally. We teach them that their worth is actually their worth to the wants and needs of others. We instruct them to see themselves as worthless for doing or being anything other than what we expect them to be.

This kind of thinking probably had its appropriate place in a world that was driven by constant and immediate survival needs. There is no doubt that without humankind benefitting from male sacrifice, you would not be sitting there reading this over an internet connection in a safe and comfortable environment, perhaps half a world away.

So do we need to continue this kind of dependence on men to sacrifice unthinkingly for the needs of others? Seven billion examples of a species now dominating the planet and traveling the solar system suggest not.

Yet we continue on in the same mode, blinded by habituation and the thoughtlessness that comes with it.

The problem that we glean from this is clear. The labels of hero, savior and other forms of “real” manhood are now just euphemisms for the disposable servants we have become as an entire class of human beings. We proudly retell tales of sacrifice to our sons, even as the story of their own lives emerges – singing paeans to the yoke.

Such are the stories all little boys are raised on:

Book for 2-5 yr old boys, complete with battery-operated button that produces the sound of a damsel screaming

Book for 2-5 yr old boys, complete with battery-operated button that produces the sound of a damsel screaming

The stories seem harmless and even cute in isolation from their real-world implications. As fantasies we delight in them. But it pays to remember our identities consist, as Shakespeare said, of such stuff as dreams are made. The stories we absorb are the stories we enact, and in this case we enact them to the neglect of ourselves and our larger human potential.

The psychotherapeutic world has long understood the equation ‘narrative becomes identity’ – and the field is populated with therapies whose sole aim is to construct new narratives for our lives. Beginning with Freud’s ‘talking cure’ and later archetypal psychology, cognitive psychology (scripts), narrative psychology, cognitive narratology (etc.), narrative therapy leads the way to healing and self-respect.

Men, in particular, are story creatures. Our psyches literally rely on them for existence as much as our bodies rely on food. We create stories about “who” we are; about the world we live in and our place in it; and about how we are meant to relate to others – men, women and children. Without them we lack orientation and are left with an existential vertigo.

Whatever you want to call them–scripts, myths, narrations, schema or stories–we can’t live without them. However, like a bad dose of salmonella some narratives will give you a case of mental dysentery leading even unto death by overwork or suicide – such is their power to direct your behavior. Psychologists, good ones anyway, refer to these as pathologizing narratives and try to weed them out of your mental garden.

But who is to decide what a pathological narrative is? Surely it is not the feminist psychologists who now dominate nearly every part of the therapeutic landscape with pathological narratives.

The problem with all mainstream therapy, which is now nearly synonymous with feminist therapy, is that it doesn’t recognize gynocentrism as a problem or perhaps doesn’t see it at all. So they have no model for guiding men out of pathological (gynocentric) narratives and into new ones that might release them from the old script. In fact what they usually do, despite superfical overtures about therapy that focuses on the needs of the client, is actively encourage men to stay lodged in the depth of the gynocentric mythos.

How many men feel (and actually are) waylaid, ambushed and taken hostage by female-centric ideas when they enter couples counseling? How often do you hear that men are resistant to therapy because they don’t want to express feelings, only to see the same purveyors of that idea rush in to shame men the moment they open up?

How many men would benefit from understanding that they cannot begin to identify who and what they are without first ending the unhealthy reliance on women, and others with a conflict of interest, as sources of approval in their lives?

There is a reason that men don’t trust therapists. It is because there are so many therapists who don’t trust men. Those practitioners are more likely to use men than to help them.

We don’t just make narratives up – in many ways they make us up. So it’s important to not let the culture write the script for us, the script that inevitably leads to the belief that we are rapists and emotional failures, that women are damsels, that we are knights in the Order of Chivalry, and that we must suffer our lives for the principles of gynocentrism. Like the tattered novel you just can’t seem to finish reading, throw it in the trash and hunt for a new book, a better book, one that will bring value to your life.

If you are searching for a therapist make sure and ask one question: “Have you heard of gynocentrism?” If they haven’t walk away and don’t hire them. In fact be prepared to do so much walking away that your steps will number enough to walk around the entire planet three times. Doing therapy with men without a fundamental understanding of gynocentism is like trying to teach algebra without a fundamental understanding of mathematics.

The task of the gynocentrism-savvy therapist is to facilitate the male client’s rewriting of his own story. The (completely imaginary) book will have a beginning, a middle and an end with a compelling plot throughout. It doesn’t matter what the new fiction is, as long as it works for the client. It can be anything the therapist helps the client envision for himself during the course of therapy. They leave the therapy sessions with a new novel in which they are the protagonist, leading a gynocentrism-free life of self-determination.

The above underscores the importance of having a healthy narrative to live by. A good therapist can help you achieve that – if you need assistance at all. Some of us, many actually, can write our novels without help. Just make sure that the narrative you adopt is one that allows you to be a fully functioning human being. If your current story doesn’t achieve that, burn it and dream up something new.

Dream big, but most importantly, dream what you choose.

Laozi_002

Don’t just do something, SIT THERE

“To be or not to be- that is the question.”
Shakespeare

Being is vital to the health of everyman but is rarely given the consideration it deserves: Being at a cafe, being in nature, being with a friend, being at home, being at peace. Smelling the roses. If allowed, these things have potential to replace some of the incessant doing that drives men’s existence too early into the coffin.

We’ve all heard the phrase Women are human beings and men are human doings.1 It’s one of those catchy, hummable lines that everyone agrees with before it slips again from conscious awareness – even as it remains in front of our eyes and in our daily behavior. Even as it slips from awareness the fact remains that doing without being, and being without doing, bespeak unbalanced lives, ones that can and do lead to pathology.

The question we need to ask is what are we doing about it? I don’t mean what are we doing about it as a movement, but what are we, each of us, doing about it in our own personal lives. While some men are already addressing the balance of being and doing in their personal lives, others may still be searching for the right balance, and for a better understanding of what’s at stake.

Pediatric psychiatrist Donald Winnicott contends that not only is being more important than doing in regards to psychological health, but that being must precede doing in order for doing to have significance:

Being is at the centre of any subsequent experience in life. In fact if the individual has not had the opportunity to simply be, his future does not augur well in terms of the emotional quality of his life. The likelihood is that this individual will feel empty.”

“Now I want to say: ‘After being–doing and being done to. But first, being.”

“The ability to do, therefore, is based on the capacity to be. The search and discovery of the sense of self, in the context of therapy, is all to do with finding an identity.”

“It cannot be overemphasized that being is the beginning of everything, without which doing and being done to have no significance.”2

Being, according to Winnicott, is more important to mental health, and is ironically the thing males are most encouraged to forego in favor of doing. You’d better not relax and simply be – there is work to be done!

Be-yourself-barbieThe trend of separating boys and girls along these lines starts early. The boy gets a dump truck and a Bob the Builder toolkit, and the girl receives a Be Yourself Barbie™. Through the person of Barbie girls learn the experience of ‘being’ in a doll’s house, and being relaxed, being pretty, being ugly, being among friends, being at a cafe, being married, or being happy, sad, jealous or vain. That’s the psychological cloth little girls are cut from.

The first question we ask a boy is “What sport do you play,” or “What kind of work do you want to do when you grow up?” Men are taught to be action figures who work, do the wage earning, do the repairs, or do their girlfriend. As long as they are doing something, we assume they are in their rightful place.

But doing can only return value if the person first exists. If he doesn’t exist, all efforts in doing have no meaning because there is no ‘me’ doing the doings. In that instance all doing becomes futile because it never leads to a sense of me-ness. Or, if doing does provide a momentary illusion of me-ness, it all vanishes the moment activity stops. When all is still, with no future plans, he is swallowed by an existential void.

With the modern mandate that men do and women be, there’s a dearth of male models for how to be. So for the purpose of this article lets revive a classical source illustrating what men have lost and why we would do well to rediscover it. For our purpose let’s consult the 2,600 yr old sage Lao Tzu, who cultivated a philosophy of non-doing (Wu wei), defined as follows:

Wu wei (Chinese: 無爲) is an important concept in Taoism that literally means non-action or non-doing. In the Tao te Ching, Lao Tzu explains that beings (or phenomena) that are wholly in harmony with the Tao behave in a completely natural, uncontrived way. The goal is, according to Lao Tzu, the attainment of this purely natural way of behaving, as when the planets revolve around the sun. The planets effortlessly do this revolving without any sort of control, force, or attempt to revolve themselves, instead engaging in effortless and spontaneous movement.3

Being long aware of the doing/being dichotomy, one of the first books I gave my son, at the tender age of 10, was a children’s version of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. We read it together and enjoyed some interesting discussion about the wise old sage, especially about his contention that the wise man “Acts without doing” — What did it mean? I’m not entirely sure if we got the meaning right, but we decided it meant to ‘act’ in the way you want to act, without ‘doing’ what others demand or expect from you.

Lao Tzu book 3

In another translation the old sage says, Act without doing; work without effort. In each of these phrases he seems to be saying let it come naturally, and not from pressures from the outside world.

None of this is to suggest that boys and men shouldn’t be active in the world. Not at all. The good news for men seeking that greater balance is that you don’t have to sacrifice doing in the process. Most men really MUST do in order to be healthy. But there is a distinction to be made here between healthy and unhealthy doing.

It’s one thing to act from a spontaneous sense of self, and yet another to operate from compliance with the wishes of others because you were raised on a narrative of utility. Those living the narrative of utility must first become conscious of that before giving themselves over to an exploration of being, and if that consciousness is not first achieved then it’s guaranteed that your attempts at being will be interrupted by internal guilt or by shaming from those who have most to lose from you walking off the plantation.

As per Lao Tzu we don’t stop doing but rather become more conscious of our motives so that doing can emerge from a different center – not gynocentric duty, but conscious choice grounded in the ability to be.

One of Lao Tzu’s main disciples Chuang Tzu elaborates the topic:

Heaven does nothing: its non-doing is its serenity.
Earth does nothing: its non-doing is its rest.
From the union of these two non-doings
All actions proceed,
All things are made.
How vast, how invisible
This coming-to-be!
All things come from nowhere!
How vast, how invisible-
No way to explain it!
All beings in their perfection
Are born of non-doing.
Hence it is said:
“Heaven and earth do nothing
Yet there is nothing they do not do.”

Where is the man who can attain
To this non-doing?4

Remaining with our fictional character Lao Tzu a little longer, let’s consider the traditional tea-making ceremony he helped to found. Just as Barbie is famed for her tea parties where she teaches girls the arts of being among friends, Lao Tzu is credited with the first Chinese tea ceremony, a ritual centered in the experience of stillness and presence. We may be reluctant to talk about a ‘Tao of Barbie,’ with her narcissistic overtones, but the tea drinking ceremonies of the Chinese and Japanese cultures deserve a nod to the Tao of Lao Tzu.

Taoism, like most ancient religions, talks about the balance between work and repose. By way of contrast, while Barbie also teaches girls that a work/life balance is possible, it’s not certain that Barbie takes the work part of that equation very seriously.

Barbie bob

To summarize, a common element running through all narratives about men is doing. We hear it in phrases like “All work, no play,” “Don’t just sit there, do something!,” and “No rest for the wicked.” Men slave for gynocentric culture as its saviors, fix-it men, martyrs, protectors, laborers, office-workers, and heroes – all narratives based on doing. But there’s good reason for men to break from the cycle of servitude to enjoy some moments of being – being for themselves. It’s time we stopped for a cup of tea: ritually made, mindfully sipped, with or without friends, and without a need to watch the clock for the next round of work.

References

[1] On Dr. Warren Farrell’s website the phrase “Women are human beings, men are human doings” is credited to his book Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say. Elsewhere he explains: “I think the source here is yours truly. In the late 1960s, when I began speaking in this area, I used to say this. Although I’ve checked a dozen books of quotations and believe I created this, I wouldn’t bet my life on it.” (p.275).
[2] Jan Abrams, The Language of Winnicott; A Dictionary and Guide to Understanding His Work (1996)
[3] Wikipedia: Wu wei (June 5, 2015)
[4] Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu (1965)

A man’s protest transformed into discourse about women

Matheolus adoring woman on pedestal

Matheolus adoring woman on pedestal

In a medieval masterpiece of men’s sexed protest, Matheolus poured out his anguish and anger about injuries he suffered from the church and his wife. Matheolus’s protest generated quarrels about women, apologies to women, and defenses of women. That’s a characteristic deliberative effect. Gynocentric society tends to transform men’s sexed protest into discourse about women.

The reception of Matheolus’s text illustrates the effects of gynocentrism. Matheolus wrote his work of men’s sexed protest in Latin in 1290. About a century later, Jehan Le Fèvre loosely translated Matheolus’s work into French. Perhaps fearing the dominant social power, Le Fèvre added apologies and excuses to his version:

I wish to excuse myself in my writing, since I do not slander the good women nor do I desire to slander. I would rather retract it than be hated for foolish language. God knows it {my book}, and I keep my payment for it, for I have no ill will toward women. Nor do I say anything in anger, except to color my statements. Good and virtuous women can never be honored too much. [1]

Le Fèvre depreciated men’s anger, as continues to be done even for men’s anger arising from outrageous injustice. Le Fèvre instead hinted at his dispassionate financial interest in translating Matheolus’s book. While poetry has long been condemned as lying, Le Fèvre’s Matheolus masochistically welcomed being beaten for his poetry. He declared, “If I lie, I want to be beaten.” Then he disavowed everything he had written as merely translating other men’s words:

It is fitting, since I translate, for me to speak or shut up. For this I beg that it be not displeasing if in this moral treatise I record some words which may be biting. For nothing proceeds from me, not the smallest bit, which is not found in histories and in ancient memories.

Le Fèvre recognized the social hostility to men’s sexed protest. With reasonable self-interest, he distanced himself from Matheolus’s work.

In addition to adding excuses and disclaimers to Matheolus’s text, Le Fèvre wrote an additional text that he positioned as a defense of women. He began his additional book with an appeal to women:

My ladies, I entreat your mercy. I would like to apologize to you here for what I said without your permission about the great strife and the torments of marriage. [2]

Men protesting their suffering in marriage isn’t permitted without women’s permission. Le Fèvre again excused his earlier work as only a translation. He urgently sought to avoid women’s hate and gain their grace:

no woman and anyone alive should hate me for that {translation of Matheolus’s book}. Therefore, if I was so occupied, I beg that it be pardoned and forgiven me by your grace. For I am all ready to write a book to redeem myself: please don’t deny this to me. … Without your grace, I don’t want to live.

Le Fèvre as writer represents the servile, self-obliterating woman-server of bleeding-man medieval chivalry. He explained that he wrote his new book:

to defend you ladies faithfully, and especially to show that no man ought to blame women; we ought to praise and love them, cherish, honor, and serve them, if would would deserve their grace.

The value of men’s lives, in Le Fèvre’s view, is contingent on women’s grace. Men blaming women is categorically illicit, while men serving women is categorically required. In attacking men who reject such subordination, Le Fèvre and like-minded men claim to be defending women.

Le Fèvre used subordination to women as a strategy to advance his pecuniary and sexual interests. Le Fèvre urged women to buy and promote his book:

My ladies, I ask you humbly, if I have pleaded your case weakly through my ignorance, use here your strength to make up for my defects and publish your honor, that all may know of it. … Please advocate for me, or I can truly say and promise that I will never have a day of gladness, but will remain in sadness, which will prey on my weary body, if I have to pay the expenses. [3]

With ignorance of the art of love, Le Fèvre sought women’s sexual favor through subservience and flattery:

Have mercy, mercy on poor Smith {Le Fèvre, in a pun on his name}, who suffers a greater thirst on his lip than did the rich man in hell; for he doesn’t know how to work on iron, but his effort is all on parchment. He has made this book for you, for he well knows that to all males who carry both purses and sacks, you are comfort, joy, and rest.

Sacks are a figure for scrotums, or more generally, male genitals. Carrying a purse associates men with paying money for enjoying women’s company. Seeking “mercy” is associated with men begging women for love.[4] That’s not a propitious seduction strategy. Embracing subordination to women does, however, help men to sell their books to women.

Le Fèvre’s dispassionate, narrowly self-interested translation and refutation of Matheolus’s sexed protest prompted additional gynocentric literature. Christine de Pizan indicated that “Matheolus,” which probably meant both Le Fèvre’s translation of Matheolus’s work and his refutation of it, inspired her to write Livre de la cité des dames (Book of the City of Ladies).[5] De Pizan also contrived to create a “querelle des femmes” (quarrel about women). Debate about women played out at the heights of French society, including the queen and leading clergy. Men’s concerns, as they had been throughout the long prior history of men’s sexed protest, were largely belittled and ignored.

An exemplary development was Martin Le Franc’s Le Champion des Dames (The Champion of Ladies). Finished in 1442, The Champion of Ladies goes on for an interminable five books containing 24,336 verses. Le Franc positioned his work as a response to what were originally Matheolus’s heartfelt lamentations. Le Franc charged Matheolus with defaming women. The Champion of Ladies tendentiously pits the titular champion against allegorical bogeymen Malebouche (Badmouth), Brief Conseil (Hasty Judgment), Vilain Penser (Evil Thinking), Trop Cuidier (Much Presuming), Lourt Entendement (Slow Wit), and Faulx Semblant (False Seeming):

Against foul Badmouth and his host —
That proud and overweening captain —
The Champion his lance lowers, most
Hardily however he is smitten,
He fears no more than a mitten
The balance of the battle’s woes,
For his victory is certain:
He’ll win no matter how it goes. [6]

A modern-day translator of The Champion of Ladies described Matheolus’s work as providing “misogynistic depictions of marriage, using humor to impugn women.”[7] The champion shames and blames all men for Matheolus’s sexed protest. To the modern champion of women, The Champion of the Ladies shows “understanding of the multifaceted nature of gender relations.”[8] That apparently isn’t meant to be funny.

The voluminous, tedious scholarly literature moralizing against medieval “anti-feminism” and “misogyny” serves dominant structures of gynocentrism. That literature refuses to recognize the possibility of medieval men’s sexed protest.[9] Many persons today also refuse to recognize violence against men, forced financial fatherhood, institutionalized inequalities in biological parental knowledge, vastly disproportionate imprisonment of men, and many other pressing injustices against men. The connection between medieval men’s sexed protest and men’s sexed protest today is obvious in structures of repression.

Notes:

[1] Les lamentations de Mathéolus, II.1541-51, in Van Hamel (1892) p. 85, from French trans. Obermeier (1999) p. 131. The subsequent quote is from II.1559-68, trans. id. I’ve made some minor changes to these translations for accuracy and clarity.

[2] Jehan Le Fèvre, Le livre de Leesce (The Book of Gladness), l. 1-5, from French trans. Burke (2013) p. 74. The subsequent two quotes are l. 12-19, 27 and l. 35-40, trans. id.

[3] Le livre de Leesce, l. 3948-54, 3968-73, trans. id. p. 107. The subsequent quote is l. 3974-82, trans. id.

[4] One meaning of mercy in Old French is reward in the form of a woman’s favor. In Alain Chartier’s La belle dame sans mercy (written about 1424), a beautiful lady refuses to grant a man the “favor” of allowing him serve her non-sexually.

[5] Burke (2013) p. 133.

[6] Martin Le Franc, Le Champion des Dames (The Champion of Ladies) l. 9-16 (s. 2), from French trans. Taylor (2005) p. 18.

[7] Taylor (2005), Translator’s Introduction, p. 4.

[8] Id. p. 13.

[9] Mann (1991) shows no awareness that men could justifiably engage in sexed protest. Blumenfeld-Kosinski (1994) deploys one of medieval scholars’ dominant criteria for literary judgment: “praise or blame for women?” and concludes with misandristic imagination of “new type of discourse that could stand up to the riot, disordered language, fables, and lies of male speech.” Id. p. 725. Burke (2013) approaches Le Livre de Leesce as a player on Team Christine de Pizan and promises further work “in the tradition of my author.” Id. p. 137. While Burke (2013) regarded Le Fèvre as putting forward a defense of women, Pratt (2002) perceived Le Fèvre to have committed an unpardonable literary crime and lamented:

Le Fèvre’s defense of women was a literary game in which ambiguity and irony allowed antifeminist attitudes to be perpetrated with impunity.

Id. p. 114. Fortunately, punishment for “antifeminist attitudes” continues to be strengthened.

[image] Matheolus adoring woman on pedestal. Engraving, from image 18 in edition of Jehan le Fèvre, Matheolus qui nous monstre sans varier les biens & aussi les vertus: qui viennent pour soy marier (Lyon: Olivier Arnouillet, 1550), in Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon, Rés. B 487656. Thanks to Gallica.

References:

Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Renate. 1994. “Jean Le Fèvre’s Livre de Leesce: Praise or Blame of Women?” Speculum. 69 (3): 705-725.

Burke, Linda, ed. and trans. 2013. Jehan Le Fèvre. The book of gladness / le livre de Leesce: a 14th century defense of women, in English and French. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Mann, Jill. 1991. Apologies to women: inaugural lecture delivered 20th November 1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Obermeier, Anita. 1999. The history and anatomy of auctorial self-criticism in the European Middle Ages. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Pratt, Karen. 2002, “The Strains of Defense: the Many Voices of Jean Le Fèvre’s Livre de Leesce.” Pp. 113-133 (Ch. 6) in Thelma Fenster, ed. Gender in debate from the early middle ages to the Renaissance. Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke.

Taylor, Steven Millen. 2005. Martin Le Franc. The trial of womankind: a rhyming translation of Book IV of the fifteenth-century Le champion des dames. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland.

Van Hamel, Anton Gerard, ed. 1892. Mathéolus, Jean Le Fèvre. Les lamentations de Mathéolus et le livre de leesce de Jehan Le Fèvre, de Ressons: poèmes français du XIVe siècle. Paris: Bouillon.

The above article written by Douglas Galbi of Purple Motes.