Sunday, 22 December 2013

Nigella, acid attacks and the emotional abuse men experience in relationships

Like most of the celebrity gossip that passes for public affairs, I have ignored the Saatchi-Nigella stuff. So I apologise up front for dragging myself willingly into it, and for adding to the endless drivel that is being talked about it. There are serious news issues out there, and none of them have anything to do with North London narcissists salvaging their careers.

However, a conflation of personal and political is sort of what is nagging me about the hackery surrounding any discussion on this topic. Jacqueline Rose writing for the Guardian on Friday is one such case.

She paints the Nigella scandal as some kind of paradigmatic example of the struggles of all women. She interprets it all as if it was it has all the Platonic features of the so terribly familiar case of men treating their women like possessions. Typical patriarchy just playing itself out as usual.

Rose writes: 'Masculinity in thrall to itself is ruthless. As feminism has also argued, it is a colossal act of self-deceit. When a husband assaults a wife, it is often his own weakness – the fact that men, thank goodness, cannot in fact control all women all of the time – which he is trying to repudiate. This kind of power has to trash suffering in order to hold on to itself, which is why, threatened by a woman with its loss, he will push her face into the dirt.'

This is not a lone example of such a tendency.

Recently in Ludhiana in Punjab, India, a bride to be was the victim of an acid attack while preparing for her big day in a hairdressors. Within twenty four hours India's Mail Today had carried an editorial piece, where the perpetrator was assumed to be an ex-boyfriend, and the crime was given the status of national example of a sociological problem of gender violence.

Now it is true that, like rape, acid attacks are examples of ingrained misogyny. The numbers are to vast, and every day in India there is one such report. But to reduce the debate to men versus women, to crude and inarticulate cookie-cutter patriarchy theory is not only false, is mischaracterises the nature of misogyny itself.

As with racism, the problem is not all white people against other races. The problem is the idea of power that imbues our society.

In Ludhiana acid attack, the whole attack was perptrated by a man, but the crime was orchestrated by a woman, the ex-wife of the bride's bother.

Part of the problem of discussing male experience, is that much of the abuse men experience is emotional abuse. And we live in a society in which we all pay lip service to recognising emotional abuse, but in fact we are less willing to face up to it when directly confronted with an example of it.

Men, for instance, cannot be raped by a woman in the same way as a man. But we really need to get over this idea that a woman cannot do the same level of damage to a man, as a man can do to a woman. This is one of the most insidious myths of post-feminism. It is a myth generated by maintream media outlets like Mail Online, which conjure such prejudices simply through the choices they make about what stories to give a platform and what stories to leave out, or let simply pass unnoticed through the news cycle.

The crudest interpretation of feminism is that men are the oppressor class, all of them, and women, all of them, are the political victim class. This creates a paradigm in all areas of social experience that allows sick manipulative people to persuade female audiences that they are lacking something through disenfranchisment, that they can find in a given product, at a given price.

When it comes to sexuality, it has a particularly odious resonance. It persuades generations of women that they are impicity the victim in any emotional encounter with their partners, and therefore any attack, any form of abuse that they perpetrate is somehow justified. It's not abuse at all, it's defence against the evil presumptions of so-called Patriarchy.

The truth is, however, that even if we accept an interpretation of the historical dialectic in Patriarchal terms, this is a political paradigm, an issue for public affairs.

Feminism has been de-politicised, and aggressively sexualised, just like everything else in this society. The result is that it is no longer a viable political force, it's simply a template by which gender hatred and sexual resentment are spread. Yes, sexuality has deep-rooted political associations. Especially in poorer parts of the world, reproductive rights, rape and gender inequality become political tools, by which the superstructure of power is maintained. As the late Christopher Hitchens said, you can judge the progressiveness of a nation by the emancipation of women in that state.

This is a different point however, than the way the politics of feminism is presented in developed nations, particularly the USA and UK. The sociology of female enslavement has been repackaged and marketed to a generation of women who believe that the ills of an imperial ideal of power justify an anything goes approch to maintream gender politics.

We are not talking here about social roles as they pertain to the wider cultural ideal of male dominance. We are talking about the sexual power games between men and women, and this is a domain that has to be peeled apart from the wider socio-political struggles of women in the third world.

Sexual politics between two people often has its own unique battleground fully dependent on the circumstances of the relationship. Often this ground of mutual aggression is to do with two individuals wrestling with their fear of being disempowered by the other. It has nothing, not a God damned thing, to do with feminism. It has to do with the struggles of human relationships, and the existential terror that necessarily comes with sexual intimacy.

A whole marketplace of false ideas around how these fears among women relate to feminism, has created a narcissistic generation of women. It has created a generation of women who are as entitled, as aggressive, as committed to the ideas of dominance and power, as their Patriarchal oppressors.

One of the things that is often neglected in Patriarchy theory, is how limited its ideals about masculinity are. However, it is one of the most lasting contributions of true feminism that it has dissected and dismantled gender norms. You would think, as a result, that we could now see that Patriarchal power was a little more complex than just, the male class oppressing the female class of slaves. However, it seems that even thinking such a thing is an act of the most heinous sedition.

Why? Because there is a lot of money in victimhood. It sells. But one of the things it produces is a blindness of to moral responsibility. Through the paradigm of victimhood, we can do anything to others and characterise it as a form of defence.

Thus emotional abuse, as it is perpetrated by women to men, is something easily reframed as an act of political defence. So many women of the post-feminism generation think it is acceptable to dismantle the character of their male partners, to 'keep his male ego in check'; to clip the wings of his self-esteem, lest they become the victims of some Patriarchal onslaught.

Now, this kind of relationship agreesion is as old as rape. It is part of the politics of sexuality, and it is a product of human nature. But it has little or nothing to do with Patriarchy, or feminism, or any political movement. It is the war of the sexes. It is part of the one-on-one aggression, and similar forms of aggession can be found in business relationships, friendships and in families. Sexuality merely makes such things more potent and more damaging.

The self-arrogating tendencies of the post-feminist generation have allowed emotional abuse in relationships to become shrouded in the myth of political victimhood. The popular, mainstream interpretation of any sexual conflict is to assume that men are the perpetrators and women are the victims. However, if we were to look at instances of emotional abuse as much as we do those of physical abuse, and we were to start giving such forms of abuse their moral dues, we would perhaps find ouselves shocked and in an awkward state of self-confrontation.

One thing is for sure, the women-as-victim paradigm would have to be disgarded.



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