Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Romeo's a bleeding idiot

One of the more disorientating experiences an honest man can face on undergoing a malignant divorce is that so much of the literature that purports to empower and encourage the defensive party is written as if she were inevitably the spurned wife, as opposed to the spurned husband. There seems to be an infinite amount of writing out there to help women come to the conclusion they've been treated abominably, nay, that they've been abused and bugger all to help men who are targeted by unpleasant women.

To illustrate, a while back, I compiled a series of book titles in the genre and switched the genders as an experiment in semiotics, noting that only one of the 32 book titles I produced actually exists. It was a notably easy exercise. I've also argued before that men don't report domestic violence because they don't know that's what it is. When the language is all about one gender and not the other, it is that much harder to make a cognitive shift in the opposite direction and abused men are deterred from recognizing their plight by the world's simple assumption that it doesn't happen to them, even as they nurse the bruises.

I spend quite a lot of time browsing the web, trying to understand what I have been and am being put through. Time and again, I read about physical abuse, verbal abuse and emotional abuse from the perspective of the female as victim, and it is always difficult going as these words erode my confidence in my picture of what happened even as I search in them for an explanation. One can almost feel that confidence slip away as one reads about yet another horrible trait, supposedly only found in men.

Once in a while, a short article makes an effort to be gender neutral and occasionally, there will appear a disclaimer at the beginning or the end to the effect that sometimes the woman can be the aggressor, but it's much more likely to be the other way around, so suck it up man. We know, of course, that that isn't true, but we also know where the market is, don't we?

Here's an example I discovered recently: "Romeo's Bleeding" by a shrink from the land of fruits and nuts, Roger Melton (the mugshot gives me the creeps, by the way) a shortened version of a book (that he can't get published) about nasty men and vulnerable women. I couldn't read the whole thing, until I decided to write this post; like so many others, it's just too demoralizing. Allow me to pull out some representative extracts and do the gender-switch thing. Mull these over, and see what they do to your perception of the people described:
Unlike women that can honestly struggle with their own uncertainties and confusions about a relationship, and recognize the part they play in creating problems and conflicts, there are other kinds of women that see love as a game and you as their pawn. In this cruelly covert contest, cunning is their watchword, deception is their fix, and control is their high.
The question is multi-faceted. Although it starts out recognizing normal women, a paragraph like that can easily be taken as misogynistic, in which case, why is the original not misandristic? Imagine a woman reading it, who is not like that, and yet is accused of that in court. Should the paragraph be gender-specific at all? It seems to me that it would lose none of its point or impact if it were gender neutral, although it would appeal less to reflex prejudice.
Just as addicts are unrelenting in pursuit of making the next score, these kind of women are unyielding in their hunt for men that they can deceive and manipulate. Unlike emotionally sound men and women, who respect others as much as they do themselves, controlling-women respect no one. To them, people are things. And things can be used.
Here, we are possibly even given to wonder if such addicts are really to be found among the gentler sex, that first sentence sounds almost unreasonable in a world where we are told that so many women are helpless prey to unscrupulous men. It is interesting that the second sentence contains a partially gender neutral context, but is not gender neutral when it comes to the bad, er, guy.
While the harm most of these women inflict is emotional and psychological, there are those among them with a more dangerous twist, who feed off their victims' souls the way a leech drains the blood of its prey: drop by drop. These are the captivating vampires, whose devious masks conceal every man's worst nightmare-the terrifying face of a future batterer or stalker.
Now it sounds positively unreasonable. The purple prose clearly ridiculous when applied to a man. Women feeding off men's souls? How bizarre does that sound outside of some lurid Hollywood crap? In which case, why does it sound any less bizarre when said of women victims? Men don't usually wander around being terrified of battering or stalking women. (Do they?) But notice also what this paragraph, as I have rewritten it, says about the men it supposedly addresses - the implication, patently weird, is that they ought to be careful to harbor suspicions of every woman they meet as a potential threat. Surely then the original passage demands that of its target, female audience.

The article continues, reinforcing the danger of some nasty, manipulative, narcissistic ghoul out there, just waiting for a suitably naive ingenue to drain of HER life, her blood dripping from HIS fangs, and purports to equip her against his wiles. There is nothing here for a man, for he is the enemy. There is nothing in this article which is able to see women as more than the defenseless prey of unpleasant men. Anyone reading it, male or female, is driven to the conclusion that women must be protected, empowered, educated and men are to be treated with the utmost caution.

And yet I find nothing in the article that could not be applied to women as abusers and men as victims, given a suitable modification of the more lurid prose. There is no reason to reject the idea of a naive, gullible man taken for a ride by a female "Narcissistic Controller" or sociopath. Nevertheless, I challenge anyone to find anything on the internet so constructed as to educate such a man, to put him in fear of those women who would use him and warn him of the signs that could presage a future betrayal. At least, outside a small number of distinctly paranoid sites with deservedly bad reputations. At this point, I can address the reasonable reader's objection that this article is to be found on obgyn.net, so what did I expect? OK, so where's the equivalent, "Juliet's Bleeding" on menshealth.com?
To the Sociopath, love is the thrill she gets when you've finally taken her bait, she's yanked on the line and the hook is buried deep in your heart. Love, to her, is the look of stunned bewilderment and dread your eyes reveal when you realize it's too late to run.
There has been plenty of this type of character in literature, tales of love cruelly used to destroy a man. But not much recently, and certainly not in writings designed to help people in the normal walks of real life, in those stacks of self-help books at Borders, although you might find a small section of "Men's studies" as a punctuating afterthought at the bottom left of a dozen or two shelves of other euphemistically called "Gender studies" or, sometimes more honestly, "Women's studies".

Melton continues his article into examples of the truly pathological, describing hospital "patients who generate intense conflicts between staff members ... One psychiatrist diagnoses him as schizophrenic, another labels him manic-depressive and a third believes he is a hypochondriac." (My emphasis.) They're all men.

The treatise is not without insight and useful information, but it, like so many others, is fundamentally sexist and misandrist in its approach. If we could imagine a library full of self-help books for men to protect themselves against unscrupulous women, accepted as a normal part of life, we would probably be imagining a key part of a fundamentally misogynistic culture. Instead, we have a library of such books for women, so do we not therefore live in a fundamentally misandristic culture? The answer is left as an exercise for the reader.



Anonymous said...

Our cultural perspective regarding the character of men and women is masking the true dynamic. Women are presented as weak and abused (in relationships). Men are presented as strong and abusive. It's getting old. Strong, loving men exist. And treacherous women exist. Plain and simple.

A drunk woman used her 4-week old baby like a baseball bat (URL below) while beating her boyfriend during an argument. Of course, the article asserts the lawyer's claim that the woman must suffer from postpartum depression or be a victim of battered-woman syndrome.

(Sounds to me like the baby and boyfriend were the battered ones in this story.)

Far too few of these stories explore the potential truth that the woman is just an irresponsible drunk.


Women can be treacherous creatures. I wish we'd stop pretending that "women are made of sugar and spice, and men are made of snakes and snails..."

I understand the frustration of men at how the lie plays out in courts, in the media, etc. ::sigh::

Anonymous said...

Yes, we live in a fundamentally misandristic culture.

Anonymous said...

From you post: "whose devious masks conceal every man's worst nightmare-the terrifying face of a future batterer or stalker."

Well, actually women's first fear is to be ignored. Most women enjoy the feeling of being desired and persued. Stalking, while a sometimes pathological example of pursuit, is actually flattering to many and something some women brag about.

Uh oh! Don't tell the feminists, I let the cat out of the bag :)