Male Masochism and Culture (1936)

Do males in the Western world display clinical levels of masochism? Is chivalry a thinly veiled expression of masochism?

According to the following excerpt from his 1936 essay Male Masochism and Culture, psychoanalyst Arnold Herman Kamiat fingers masochism as a very real problem among men. With modern academic researchers unable to get past the traditionalist mythology of women as masochistic and men as sadistic, and reluctant to look at the concept of male masochism, we will take Kamiat’s essay as a first examination of the topic and a prefiguration of contemporary gynocentrism theory. – PW

SOCIAL MASOCHISM

The masochism that has hitherto occupied the attention of psychologists is individual masochism. This is the masochism of particular individuals in their subordinate relation, fancied or real, to particular members of the opposite sex.

But there appears to be a social masochism. This involves the subordinate relation, fancied or real, of a number of individuals of the same sex (taken collectively) to a number of individuals of the opposite sex (taken collectively). Social masochism has, strangely enough, received little or no attention.

This essay is, in part, an attempt to establish the reality of this kind of masochism. The masochistic aspiration often takes the form of a vision of an ideal society — ideal from a masochistic viewpoint of course. This is significant for the interpretation of such myths and religious cults as have already been referred to, and the structure of certain primitive and contemporary societies.

It is an interesting speculation whether any of the gynarchies and goddess-cults were conceived, brought into being, and sustained by masochistic men — or sadistic women. The Egyptian gynocracy is said to have been established by a man — King Sesostris. Was he a masochist?

Frazer attributes the primitive gynarchies to the perception of the importance of woman for the continuance of life. But did not androcratic societies have this same perception? Then why were they not gynarchic? At any rate, whatever may have been the origin of gynocracy, the latter must have operated as a breeder of masochism. If male masochism was not the cause of gynarchy, it may very well have been a consequence thereof.

A gynarchy is probably a large-scale producer of male masochism. Once generated, the latter will in its turn serve to sustain the gynarchy (as female masochism probably bred by androcracy serves to maintain the latter). Certain it is that gynarchies have in fact exhibited phenomena calculated to enter into full accord with the aspirations of male masochists. Some of these phenomena have been recorded by the Vaertings in their book, The Dominant Sex.

This book, like practically all writings on sex conflicts and sex dominance, takes no account whatsoever of the fact and the psychology of sado-masochism — an index of that strange inability so many writers on social topics reveal to give due attention to psychological factors. But the book does contain a store of valuable information, and some of the phenomena it describes certainly lend themselves to interpretation via the masochistic hypothesis.

The marital relation lends itself to masochistic uses under any scheme of social organization, including an androcratic one. No one knows how often a dominant wife is really the creation and the instrument of a masochistic husband — it is not at all unlikely that such is often the case. On the other hand, the wish being ‘father to the thought,’ a masochistic man will often ascribe a dominant position to his or someone else’s wife, lover or mistress, when the true position is really one of equipollence or subordination. Rumor, gossip and report are often species of phantasy.

MASOCHISTIC MYTHS OF TODAY

It has been seen that in the ancient world individual masochistic phantasies became generalized into socially shared ideas. They entered into, and became part of the mythos of a race or nation. The mythologies of the ancient world have in large part gone, but masochism has persisted, and masochism must have its mythos, social as well as individual.

Krafft-Ebing and other writers on the subject stress the individual mythos. It is contended here that masochists also have their socially shared mythology. The world today is not without its stock of socially shared masochistic myths — phantasies held by male masochists everywhere, and by those who come under their influence. Indeed, the mythology in question has become a source of revenue, and with all educational agencies utilized by the myth-peddlers, the myths are becoming the property of both masochists and non-masochists, men and women.

The myths masquerade as philosophy, psychology, sociology, biology, educational theory, and schemes of social reform. Their most common characteristics are an imaginary magnification of feminine power, a correlative imaginary depreciation of masculine power, an imaginative depiction of woman as the savior of mankind (Goethe’s “The Woman-Soul leadeth us upward and on;” see also E. A. Robinson’s Merlin and Auguste Comte’s System of Positive Polity), and an aspiration toward some kind of gynarchic social order or way of life.

At times the phantasies take on a distinctly paranoid character, with women being envisaged as designing, conspiring, invincible Vivians, Circes and Delilahs. All this mythopoesis issues in certain familiar pictures of “reality,” “life,” and “love.” In these pictures an omnipotent womanhood carries on all kinds of transactions with a powerless manhood.

The phraseology is familiar — woman is the seat of power; the source of life; the conserver of life; the keeper of all ideals, all wisdom, all morality, all practicality, all culture; she is the fount and origin of all that is good; she is the one great constructive force; her practically infallible instincts and intuitions facilitate an instant grasp of the greatest truths of life, truths that men laboriously strive to attain, truths some of which are utterly beyond masculine ken; woman’s function is to govern, man’s but to obey; she is anyhow the ruler, androcracy being but a delusion; she is the center of the home and its ruler; outside of the home her power is equally great, men of importance being merely the instruments of their wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, mistresses, private secretaries, office assistants, or wise and inspiring feminine friends; the greatest revolution of all time is at hand: women will soon take matters in hand and transform life in all its departments; and so on, and so on, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

It is not asserted that all this is manufactured solely by male masochists. Plenty of it flows out of feminine minds, and a good deal out of male minds that are either neurotic, or ignorant, or adolescent, or afflicted with a particularly morbid form of gyneolatry. There is a tendency, present in its most virulent form in neurotics of both sexes, toward the imaginative magnification of the power of the opposite sex. The idea of feminine, or masculine power, becomes emotionally charged. It thereupon looms larger and larger in consciousness until all perspective is lost and a rational comparative evaluation of the relative power and influence of the sexes becomes well-nigh impossible.

A reporter who must have been something of a psychoanalyst, while interviewing a male prophet of the “coming” feminine revolution, inquired of him concerning his childhood relation to his mother. In answer, the prophet, who has turned his gynophilia into a source of income, described his mother as exercising an unusual dominance over him as a child.

Masochism may enter into the makeup of a certain type of male, often of mystic temperament, with an adolescent notion of women as in some sense divine, exuding love and possessed of infallible intuitions, revealing “truths” greater and more profound than any mediated by mere science and philosophy, and who can solve all his problems for man, if he will only submit to her rule. This kind of male, for all his babble about the gynarchic future, in reality lives in the past, the gynarchic past. It is the gynarchy he wants to restore, albeit in a refined form.

Gynocracy of one sort or another has had and still has its pseudo – philosophical and pseudo-scientific defenders. Perhaps the best known of these is Auguste Comte, whose brief in the fourth chapter of his System of Positive Polity is one of the most curious and adolescent pieces of writing in the history of philosophy. The names of some living men would be in place here. The reader, if he will keep a sharp lookout on books, newspapers, magazines, and lecture announcements, can supply these names himself.

See also: Male Masochism and Gynocentrism in Victorian women’s literature

 

Gynocentrism in Victorian women’s literature

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The following mentions of gynocentric themes in Victorian literature are excerpted from the book Male Masochism by Carol Siegal 1. Notice the thematic continuity of this literature with the earlier sexual-relations contract first invented in Medieval Europe:

“A great deal of what [Victorian] women’s literary works had to say about gender relations may have been as disquieting as feminist political manifestos, and ironically so, in that the novels seem most anti-male in the very places where they most affirm a traditionally male vision of love. While women’s lyric poetry tended to reverse the conventional gender roles in love by representing the female speaker as the lover instead of the object of love, women’s fiction most frequently reproduced the images, so common in prior texts by men, of the self-abasing male lover and his exacting mistress. For example, in Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff declares himself Cathy’s slave; in Jane Eyre, Rochester’s desire for Jane is first inspired and then intensified by his physically dependent position; in Middlemarch, Will Ladislaw silently vows that Dorothea will always have him as her slave, his only claim to her love lies in how much he has suffered for her. In several Victorian novels by women, men must undego quasi-ritualized humiliation or punishment before being judged deserving of their lady’s attention. For instance, in Olive Schreiner’s Story of an African Farm, the fair Lyndall condescends to treat her admirers tenderly after one has been horsewhipped and the other has dressed himself in women’s clothes to wait on her. Although Victorian women’s novels do explore the emotional insecurities of the heroines, their apparent self-possession is also stressed, in marked contrast to their lovers’ displays of agony, desperation, and wounds.”

The author goes on to say that male masochism and the dominatrix-like behavior of women in much literature is continuous with courtly love literature from the Middle Ages. And whilst some libertines self-consciously chose their lowly position in relation to women, the men described in Victorian women’s novels lacked such volition and were helplessly controlled by the power of love and beauty:

“These texts also insist that the true measure of male love is lack of volition. While the heroines make choices that define them morally, the heroes are helplessly compelled by love, and not judged to love unless they are helpless. In this respect Victorian women’s fiction recovers the ethos so often expressed in medieval courtly romance that love must be “suffered as a destiny to be submitted to and not denied.” It also departs from the conventions of medieval romance in describing the helpless submission to love as an attribute of true manliness, and thus Victorian women’s fiction directly attacks the degeneration of chivalry into the self-conscious and controlled “gallantry” of eighteenth century libertines.”

Source:

[1] Carol Siegal, Male Masochism, Indiana University Press, 1995 (pp. 12-13)