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No. 19: On Role Reversal and the Power of Narrative

  • Kantbot

  • February 17, 2014

Women are not oppressed, and watching this video just drives home that fact for me, it really perfectly demonstrates how tone-deaf and insensitive and downright histrionic Feminist perceptions of social reality tend to be. Like this:

“Listen Nissar, I don’t want to be rude but… Don’t you feel more and more trapped? First you shaved your mustache, then your whiskers… I’m afraid you look like a child. But you’re a man. I mean WE are men. You don’t belong to anyone, do you understand?”

Sorry, so a husband expecting or asking his wife to shave her armpits or legs, that’s “oppression”? That’s unfair and unreasonable and represents a malicious attempt to control her body and sexuality? It would be like a woman expecting or asking her husband to shave his beard or mustache? Surely, no man would ever stand for such a thing, the oppression of it! The thing is though, I have experienced exactly that, I went out with a girl once who wouldn’t kiss me unless I had shaved my whiskers. Hasn’t every guy gone out with a woman who imposed similar constraints on his appearance, who expected him to wear the clothes she picked out for him, or to style his hair in the way she liked, or to wear the deodorant or cologne she bought for him?

My problem watching this video is just how disingenuous and unpersuasive it is, something doesn’t click for me, this army of “oppressive” incidents is marched out like a parade for the viewer, but is this the best that Feminism can muster? Since browsing MensRights I’ve seen numerous other Feminist attempts at this kind role reversal, this is hardly the first video like this I’ve watched, I mean, I remember another one from only a few weeks ago, where men in India were shown how hard it is to be leered at by creepy women while in public. Why are Feminists so desperate to beat men over the head with how hard it is to be a woman?

Women are all skilful in exaggerating their weaknesses, indeed they are inventive in weaknesses, so as to seem quite fragile ornaments to which even a grain of dust does harm ; their existence is meant to bring home to man’s mind his coarseness, and to appeal to his conscience. They thus defend themselves against the strong and the “law of the jungle”.

As a man, watching one of these videos, the guilt no longer works on me, I watch them and I say: “so?”, the reality here is actually not all that different than the one I already experience honestly. It’s almost comical how the women jog topless, as if to say that men go shirtless as a way of asserting dominance and control over women, the suggestion being that women are not allowed similar freedom by men, that they’re made to cover themselves up as a means of subjugating them. If anything though, doesn’t this really show just the opposite, doesn’t it show the utilitarian way in which we view men’s bodies? Couldn’t you say that it’s really women who use their bodies to assert sexual dominance and control over men’s base desires?

And that brings me to my main point here, Feminism structures female experiences into a histrionic narrative of victim-hood, and that narrative, rather than the actual experiences themselves, is the true source of Feminist political and social dominance. As a man, I have a lot of these same experiences, I’ve been “harassed” by women on the street who have made fun of the way I looked or dressed in order to put me down. You know, once I was even attacked by a gang of men, I mean, I was walking down the street late one night and five or six men approached me and beat me. No joke. You don’t think I wasn’t afraid after that? Of being out alone after dark?

The problem is male experiences aren’t structured like female experiences are under Feminism, they aren’t narratized in relation to one another so as to create a story of victim-hood. My experiences, as a man, are just out there, floating, disconnected and unrelated to one another, they don’t form a coherent story or narrative, but in reality, they’re largely the exact same experiences that women have. It’s the narrative that matters.

“In a truly beautiful work of art the content should do nothing, the form everything; for the wholeness of Man is affected by the form alone, and only individual powers by the content. However sublime and comprehensive it may be, the content always has a restrictive action upon the spirit, and only from the form is true aesthetic freedom to be expected. Therefore, the real artistic secret of the master consists in his annihilating the material by means of the form, and the more imposing, arrogant and alluring the martial is in itself, the more autocratically it obtrudes itself in its operation, and the more inclined the beholder is to engage immediately with the material, the more triumphant is the art which forces back material and asserts its mastery over form.”

-Schiller, “On the Aesthetic Education of Man”, Twenty-Second Letter

“In whatever individual man or whole people we find this candid and self-dependent appearance, we may infer the presence of intellect and taste and every kindred excellence — there we shall see the ideal governing everyday life, honor triumphing over property, thought over physical satisfaction, dreams of immortality over existence. There will the voice of the people alone be held in awe, and an olive wreath bestow greater honor than a purple robe. Only impotence and perversity have recourse to false and necessitous appearance, and individual men as well as entire peoples who either ‘help forward reality by means of appearance’ or ‘(aesthetic) appearance by means of reality’ — the tendency is to do both things together — reveal at the same time their moral worthlessness and their aesthetic incapacity.

To the question how far appearance may exist in the moral world, the answer is short and concise: insofar as it is aesthetic appearance, that is, appearance which neither seeks to take the place of reality nor needs to have its place taken by reality.”

-Schiller, “On The Aesthetic Education Of Man”, Twenty-Sixth Letter

A story is a work of art, always, history is a kind of novel, and the system of experiences structured by Feminism into a narrative of victim-hood is no different. In art, there is content or material on the one hand, and form or shape on the other.

“In the novel as in the drama we see human nature and human action. The difference in the two types of literature is not merely in external form, not in the fact that in the one genre the characters talk while in the other genre they are usually talked about. Unfortunately, many plays are novels in dialogue form, and it would not be impossible to write a play consisting of letters.

In the novel it is primarily ways of thinking and events that are to be presented; in drama, characters and deeds. The novel must move slowly, and the sentiments of the leading character must hold back, in whatever way this may be done, the forward movement of the whole towards its fulfillment. Drama is to move rapidly, and the main character must press on towards the end, and only be delayed. The hero of the novel must be passive, or at least not in a high degree active; effect and action are expected from the dramatic hero. Grandison, Clarissa, Pamela, the Vicar of Wakefield, even Tom Jones himself are, if not passive in their effect, nonetheless characters of a retarding kind, and all the events so to speak modeled according to their dispositions. In drama the hero does not model anything according to his own personality, everything resists him, and he either moves the obstacles out of his way or else is overcome by them.”

-Goethe’s definition of the novel

This definition, given by Goethe in “Wilhelm Meister” was one of the first things he wrote after returning to the novel in 1794, and remains one of the most obscure and frequently misinterpreted passages in his whole oeuvre. Eric Blackall, in “Goethe and the Novel”, for example, struggles as most people do with Goethe’s use here of “passive” to describe the hero of the novel, Tom Jones is hardly passive afterall, but Goethe does not mean “passive” and “active” here in the everyday sense, but rather, in an entirely transcendental or Kantian sense. A novel is a story, a narrative constructed from the material of experience, and transcendentally, passivity is a form of activity, in the sense that the protagonist of the novel acts within the complex of the novel, as the novel’s sensuous faculty. “Transcendentally”, to be clear, is a technical term in Kantian philosophy, it refers specifically to a thing’s relation to the mind’s cognitive faculties, so, to consider a novel like “Wilhelm Meister” transcendentally then, is to view it as a kind of objectification or microcosm of consciousness. If the novel were a mind then, the protagonist would be the mind’s sensuous or passive faculty of representation.

The point is, the hero of the novel lives his life, makes decisions, has experiences, and these incidents of his life which he provides or “represents” to the “mind”, constitute the matter or material, and are not structured or “shaped” inherently in any one particular way (ie according to destiny). Desperate and disconnected experiences are shaped by subjectively by the mind, they’re put into a particular order so as to form a coherent story or narrative complex.

“Wilhelm Meister” is a Kantian, or “Critical” novel, in that it’s really about the limits of narrative, it’s about the moral law governing the process of self-narratization. You see, we all live in the same world, we all share a single, objective social reality, my experiences make up part of your story and yours in turn get sucked into mine. There’s a subplot in Meister, for example, where Wilhelm dresses up like another character, “The Count”, in order to deceive and seduce his wife, “The Countess”. Wilhelm is told by the Countess’ friend and confidant, “The Baroness”, to put on the Count’s clothes and wait in his chambers for the Countess to arrive. They believe that the Count is out hunting, but while waiting for the Countess Wilhelm is caught redhanded when he suddenly returns unexpectedly. The Count sees Wilhelm sitting there, in his chair, wearing his clothes, but fortunately he doesn’t quite put the pieces together, he grows pale, and then without saying a word, simply turns around and walks out of the room. The Count narratizes this experience, not as another man impersonating him in order to seduce his wife, but as an omen, that is, he believes Wilhelm is actually some kind of ghost or spirit come to haunt him, a supernatural warning that he will die or suffer some terrible fate if he doesn’t change his ways.

You see, we’re all telling stories to ourselves about ourselves, we’re all shaping or forming our experiences into a coherent whole in order to give them meaning relative to one another. At the end of the novel there’s this comic moment where the Count “heals” a sick child by touching him, but the reader knows that it’s just delusion, that the Count never actually had any sort of mystical experience, that it was only Wilhelm. We can tell ourselves these stories, but they do not replace or substitute objective reality, that is, they possess only subjective validity, never objective validity. We all, as human beings, have this power to self-narratize and structure experience according to our will, and being moral consists in the recognition that my story is not actually universal, that it doesn’t ultimately take precedence over or supersede the narratives others construct for themselves.

My problem with Feminist narratives of oppression and victim-hood continues to be simply this: such narratives are always of subjective value only, and do not necessarily depict or portray anything about reality whatsoever. They depict something only about the person telling the narrative, not about the material itself. What this means is that the corresponding narrative of male victim-hood and oppression at the hands of women, actually possesses an equal theoretical validity to the female/Feminist narrative. They are both subjectively valid, and neither has the moral right to supersede or replace the other, they can only ever exist subjectively, alongside one another. Neither one possess an objective superiority.

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