Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Why some men hate women

WHEN I started this post, I thought I wanted to write about why neofascists so often hate women. It's impossible, after all, to read the deranged manifesto left by the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik without being chilled by its vitriol not just against Muslims but against women - or at least, the sort of women he considers to have fatally weakened men with their addiction to political correctness, Sex and the City, and turning men into 'a never-criticising soulmate to the new age feminist woman goddess.'
And so it's difficult not to nod along with those commentators arguing that his rage against women must have had something to do with the otherwise senseless massacre on Utoya, that his fear of being 'femninised' perhaps led him to express a warped idea of uber-masculinity through violence. And it's easy to draw an older parallel between the far right and misogyny, from Hitler claiming that the emancipation of women was dreamt up by the Jews to modern BNP candidates' distasteful views on rape, domestic violence and 'feminazis'. The far right prospers in times of high unemployment, so the idea of forcing women back to the kitchen sink - and therefore reducing competition for jobs - is undoubtedly comforting to some men anxious about their economic futures. Hitler, after all, campaigned for election on a promise to get nearly a million working women back into the home.
But then I began to wonder if I'm simply seeing what I choose to see here. Human brains like to pluck order from chaos, to see a tidy pattern where there isn't really one, which is perhaps why so much of what I've read so far on Norway's tragedy seems to involve the author conveniently seeing their own pet ideas reflected in this massacre.
So for the former teacher Katherine Barbalsingh, it's somehow about the killer's parents divorcing 31 years ago (nevermind the countless Norwegian children who experienced their parents' separation without becoming mass murderers). For the over-40s, it's about that newfangled internet, enabling one crazed loner to find others who share his warped ideas. For the left, it's about inflammatory language by rightwingers legitimising hatred of immigrants: for the right, it's about liberals failing to crack down on terrorism. But it would be more honest, if duller, to admit that nothing yet explains precisely what brought death to Utoya: and that the answer - if there is one - will more likely come through long, painstaking psychiatric interviews of the killer than from wild journalistic speculation.
The main reason, however, I'm uncomfortable with misogyny as a catch-all explanation for Breivik's actions is that there is nothing particularly extraordinary in his views on women. He says nothing I didn't see regularly in my postbag as a journalist, nothing you won't see in the comments on pretty much any high-traffic blogpost by pretty much any woman mentioning the word 'feminist', and no doubt most are written by men who will never resort to mass violence.
It's a shock for women to realise that even a small minority of men do genuinely hate women, fear women, blame women for the economic and social blows they've suffered. It's not pleasant either to think that the current combination of a recession, plus a longer-term shift away from men as main breadwinners (and therefore domestic powerbrokers), may only deepen that hatred. That may turn out to have nothing to do with what happened on Utoya. But I doubt it's without long-term consequences, all the same.

1 comment:

  1. Europe has a serious problem with rising fascism - it expresses itself in a hatred of women, immigrants, gay people etc. Europeans need to face up to it and stop playing devil's advocate.