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Misogyny Re-loaded, by Abigail Bray.

April 8, 2014

Misogyny Re-loaded, by Abigail Bray.  Melbourne, Australia: Spinifex Press, 2014.

AUSTRALIAN WOMEN WRITERS

An angry manifesto about the increasing threats to women around the globe in the twenty-first century.

Feminism has always needed an angry edge, and Bray’s book is very much in this tradition. In the past, I have found such books clarifying. Even when I had disagreements with them, they pushed me to think in new directions. I came away from Misogyny Re-loaded, however, feeling depressed and ambivalent.

I share Abigail Bray’s horror and fear about the rising hatred and violence against women in many countries today. She vividly describes how the mutilation and rape of women is trivialized and enjoyed in today’s world. Her account of the “fascist patriarchy” of businesses and governments who are seeking a new world order is even more chilling. The “remasculization of the state” means that money that might be spent on women and children is going into dangerous militarization. Our time certainly is one in which misogyny has reloaded. Anyone who believes that we live in a post-feminist world needs to read this book.

While Bray’s book is accurate, I believe she draws her picture with too broad a brush, making those she considers enemies appear invincible. What can any of us do against such forces?  In reality, there are people out there fighting these forces.  Anger is important, socially as well as personally, but it needs to be balanced with hope and the empowerment to fight back. For me, it was from the second wave of feminists that I learned I was not powerless to affect social change for myself and for other women.  Other than her few vague statements about more resources for poor, single mothers, Bray’s book left me feeling powerless.

Additionally, several particular sections of Bray’s book bothered me. She has a long chapter on the ways in which psychology and psychiatry manipulate women by forcing them to be childlike and submissive to male power. I agree that those with such aims are dangerous, but this is hardly a new problem. Such manipulation began as doctors took over the medical profession, and it peaked in the 1950s and 1960s. Since then feminists and others have had a major impact. Among mental health practitioners today are many who are willing and able to help women more toward more fulfilling lives. The bad guys are still there, but so are alternatives. Even pop culture includes a less monolithic image of what it means to be a woman. I consider that an achievement we should not forget.

Bray’s discussion of single mothers in poverty as the “canary in the coalmine” was one of her most provocative and, for me, one of her most troubling. Her depiction of the vulnerability of such women is all too accurate. I disagree with her, however, that second wave feminists are to blame for their plight because we focused on reproductive control and employment outside the home. Some of the women who fought hardest for birth control were poor mothers unwilling to have more children than they could afford. Dependence on a “family wage” for men was not some golden age for working-class women that feminists disrupted. Outside the middle-class, few men ever earned such a wage. Men have always died and deserted families, leaving women to raise children alone. While Bray says that she and those she quotes would not want to go back to universal dependence of women on the earning of individual men, any other alternatives are vague. Frankly, I fear attempts to “solve the problem” of single mothers by pressuring them to marry. Again the problem Bray presents is real, and ensuring that single mothers have adequate resources is an obvious need, but the question of how to achieve it remains. Dependence on the government can be as harmful to women as dependence on husbands.

In discussing the problems of single mothers, Bray explicitly blames feminists by stating that in pushing for birth control and public options for power outside the home they have been co-opted by the powerful male establishment. I make no apology for the fact that we failed to make everything right, and I am proud that many women, if not all, have better lives because of the work we did. Second wave feminists did not often make motherhood a priority, as they should have, but I will not engage in the “mother blaming” that Bray seems to promote. For me, feminism must include tolerance for the differences among women and the priorities they set for themselves, a tolerance that Bray seems to lack.

Yes, Misogyny Re-loaded made me defensive, but it has also forced me to rethink my own feminism. I consider motherhood as a critical issue for feminists, and one which we have not yet resolved. Mothering leaves women vulnerable. Not all mothers, married or single, can buy their way out of that vulnerability. Our dominant cultures have created a false dichotomy between public and private worlds, one that mothers are expected to be able to bridge effortlessly. Yet, mothers cannot be expected to resolve these problems merely by juggling employment and childcare. Perhaps we need to think about reshaping nuclear family structures so that women could share mothering responsibilities as they have often done in non-dominate cultures.

I recommend this book to those who believe that we live in a post-feminist world and need to see reality. And for those who can face the worst realities of our world without getting depressed.

I am grateful to Spinifex for sending me a review copy of this book.

Modern Motherhood, by Jodi Vandenberg-Daves, which I just read, influenced my thinking about Misogyny Re-loaded.  Others may want to check it out.  I will also be posting a review of it.

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