by Robert Lewis (February 2021)
Pair of Lovers, Green and Yellow, Max Beckmann, 1940-48
Why did this keep happening? Why her?
Perhaps there was some pheromone certain people emitted,
perceivable only on a wavelength
unique to those individuals who preyed on them.—Nenia Campbell
With territory and wealth cometh the flesh.
It’s been that way since the dawn of Homo sapiens, who, for the past 300,000 years and still counting has been nature’s favourite predator. But in less than a century, the presumed DNA-deep trading of territory for flesh has suddenly fallen into the major disfavour of women, who not so long ago were only too happy to submit to the dominant male.
In a mere evolutionary blink of the eye, women have made remarkable advances in delinking the ‘your abode for my body’ one-sided deal, which suggests that men who have been slow to react to the virility-breaking new order perhaps deserve to be granted some slack—not to be confused with impunity — in respect to their reluctance to radically change behaviour that dates back to the Middle Paleolithic. Lest we forget, we are all manifestly creatures of habit and categorically prefer pleasure to pain, so it is surely predictable that men will not voluntarily change their behaviour unless the rewards (being spared from public shafting and shaming) are at a minimum equal to the rewards of not changing.
In the present century, women are empowered as never before and are no longer beholding to the authority and protection of men. However even prior to this recent sea change, women have always understood, or intuited that the harsh conditions of life—and not biological imperative—obliged them to seek out, flatter and give themselves away to the king of the beasts in fair exchange for the security he offered. In other words, men who conveniently confuse the habit/expectation of ‘with territory comes the flesh’ for a natural right are in fact exploiting a vulnerability that isn’t fixed but variable or reversible. When there is choice, women are inclined to take responsibility for decisions that bear directly on the unfolding of their destinies.
The facts on the ground speak for themselves: women are no less capable than men in providing the invention and expertise upon which all nations depend for their advancement. Where women are granted equal rights, opportunity and protection under the law, they are leaders in every field of endeavour: they direct films, head multi-national corporations, are elected to run countries, and many count among Forbes’s 40 richest billionaires: (Liliane Bettencourt, Alice Walton, Jacqueline Mars, Maria Fissolo, Susanne Klatten, Laurene Jobs).
For most of human history—and with the blessings of nature—women competed among themselves and used their sexuality to win the breeding rights and protection of the dominant male. We note parenthetically that the much-derided groupie who gives herself away to the rich and famous is simply the modern face of that time-tested ethos. It wasn’t so long ago that being selected for the harem or concubine was tantamount to winning the lottery. Allowing for cultural variations, this is how men and women arranged their lives for hundreds of thousands of years. But with the invention of the printing press (Gutenberg) circa 1440, and the ensuing democratization of knowledge, women rather suddenly began to refuse the traditional roles that had been assigned to them and to began to fight for a say in decisions that concerned their bodies and the shaping of their societal values and cultural institutions.
The most significant chapter to date in this historic movement is being written on our watch. In the wide and limb-strewn wake of the many powerful men in politics and the entertainment industry who have had their heads chopped off for preying on the vulnerable, the 21st-century woman is now sufficiently positioned in her working relationships with men to refuse the exchange of sexual favours for career opportunity or advancement. Of course there will always be men, coarse creatures of habit for whom pleasure and power are the be all and end all, who will refuse to acknowledge the new order that obliges them to share power and respect women once under their command. But they will now have to do battle with other men, former allies, who understand where their best interests lie.
If men, dating from the Middle Paleolithic era to the near present, were traditionally feted and envied for their conquest of territory and flesh, today, for that very same behaviour, they now risk being outed and publically shamed. That women have dared to speak out and completely rewrite the playbook redounds to their courage, tenacity and wherewithal to exploit the various communication platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) which obviates having to wage their identity struggles and rights wars in isolation. Men caught abusing their power and position in order to extract compliance from women now risk being exposed and severely punished, and the whole world is watching, including men who will have observed how precipitously the mighty have fallen, and will be the wiser for it regarding the emergence of a new power dynamic that obliges them to radically change their ways or pay—proof that a 300,000 year old habit can be broken, that broken women can repair themselves as more and more men are broken down into their nasty bits and pieces, the first necessary step in reconstituting themselves as men for whom women are equal partners in the unfolding human drama.
In the damning light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, it is no longer acceptable to compromise or exploit women who are looking to better themselves in male-dominated hierarchies. Weinstein’s conceit and arrogance combined with his unexamined sense of entitlement make him the ideal poster child for the fraternity of powerful men and their enablers for whom women are merely conveniences or objects to plunder. But it would be a mistake to regard him as a monster unless we regard all men as monsters since they have been guilty of the same kind of behaviour since the dawn of man. Weinstein and his kind cannot be accused of violating a sacred trust between the sexes, but of simply doing what comes naturally in environments that favour powerful men. But in environments best served by equal opportunity, women everywhere are beginning to agitate against the old order. In Africa women are speaking out against FGM (female genital mutilation), a practice that allows men to control women’s sexuality; and in Muslim countries, more and more women are emigrating to the West and/or forsaking the burqa and the mind-set in stone view that regards the feminine form as a manifestation of the devil in a red dress. While these developments are encouraging and enjoy the support of some men, there are still far too many, dissimulators par excellence, who for appearances and due advantage, make sure they are publically noticed sidling up to the new woman and her cause when in fact they harbour a deep mistrust and resentment of the new order.
It would also be a mistake to turn a blind eye to the fact that the Weinsteins of the world, precisely because of the rewards, are the secret envy of many males. “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac,” writes Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State.
Responding to recent allegations of sexual propriety, the 5’4″actor Richard Dreyfuss writes:
At the height of my fame in the late 1970s I became an asshole–the kind of performative masculine man my father had modeled for me to be. I lived by the motto, “If you don’t flirt, you die.” And flirt I did. I flirted with all women, be they actresses, producers, or 80-year-old grandmothers. I even flirted with those who were out of bounds, like the wives of some of my best friends, which especially revolts me. I disrespected myself, and I disrespected them, and ignored my own ethics, which I regret more deeply than I can express. During those years I was swept up in a world of celebrity and drugs—which are not excuses, just truths. Since then I have had to redefine what it means to be a man, and an ethical man. I think every man on Earth has or will have to grapple with this question.
As more and more men are being pilloried in the public arena, is it fair to ask if the pendulum (euphemism for axe) has swung too far? Extreme radical feminists, with their own agendas and sharp axes to grind (on the necks of men) have co-opted the founding spirit of women’s liberation, turning it away from rights issues into a platform that demonizes all men. Many affronted women report feeling diminished and even threatened under the masculine gaze, which they now regard as a form of sexual harassment. In response, many men confess to feeling uncomfortable and/or guilty for daring to even glance at a woman, which leaves them caught between their natural inclinations and a back-log of civilizational discontents. So in order to placate their DNA-driven compunction to gaze and gawk at attractive women they have cleverly legitimized activities and vocations where they can, with impunity, visually devour attractive, sexy women. From beauty contests, to beach volleyball (the ultimate skin game), to morning exercise/fitness programs, to the bikini babes who announce the rounds in boxing or latest line of sports cars, to combining serious content with voyeurism (Playboy), all cater to men’s irrepressible desire to visually objectify women.
It’s hardly a statistical oddity that in the 1970s, 70% of gynecologists were men. Does there exist a male gynecologist alive (who was once a pimply faced, hormone-topped teenager) who hasn’t actively entertained fantasies about women’s private parts? As for the proctologist, this is not the proper venue to get into the nitty gritty of colon care, only to say that men and women bent over with their backsides protruding presents opportunities simply not available to the endocrinologist (during office hours).
It takes a lot of civilizing to change the primitive promptings that inform our cultural defaults. “Civilization is like a thin layer of ice upon a deep ocean of chaos and darkness,” writes the director, Werner Herzog, of Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre, the Wrath of God.
Harvey Weinstein and kind have been enabled by the fraternity of men greedy for the immunity and institutional privilege that assures female compliance. Whether it is right or wrong is almost beside the point since that is how it has always been until women decided to rewrite the rules, and now the formerly unrevolted female masses are speaking in one voice—and men are listening.
If women are now in a position to hold up “half the sky” a quarter of the time, it decidedly hasn’t been with the consent of men, but by daring to wage the equivalent of the Hundred Years’ War where the casualty count is a number that will never be known. Mercifully, the enormous sacrifice—physical and psychological—has not been for naught; many men once hostile to the ascent of women are now allied with them in the more pressing challenge of saving the planet from man’s worst instincts.
Robert Lewis was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He has been publislhed in The Spectator. He is also a guitarist who composes in the Alt-Classical style. You can listen here.
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