Sympathetic Male Turned Off by Feminism
From The Independent:
Alienated by sisters who simply won’t listenThe book was also reviewed by John Waters in the Irish Times, and he notes that:
That they can lose the active support of Jackie Hayden is a dreadful indictment of feminists, writes Eilis O’Hanlon.
THE injunction to never judge a book by its cover was never truer than when applied to Jackie Hayden’s new book, A Man in a Woman’s World.
Jackie Hayden has certainly lived a full life. He was involved in signing U2 to their first record deal (I suppose we must forgive him for that); he was closely involved with Hot Press magazine; he wrote the book My Son, with Phil Lynott’s mother.
He was also on the management committee of the Wexford Rape Crisis Centre for eight years, four of which were spent as chairperson. He was the first man in Ireland to hold such a position.
So when he says that, by the end of his time with the Rape Crisis Centres, he had “become thoroughly disillusioned with what I saw as a deeply hypocritical strain of anti-male sexism” there, and had come to see their attitudes as “fundamentally disempowering of women” thanks to a “constant tendency to portray the female of the species as helpless lumps of victimhood”, then he surely deserves to be heard.
Jackie Hayden is not some caricature bar room boor, after all, but a child of the Sixties, fully signed up to anti-sexist, anti-racist spirit of the time. When he speaks out now against the disintegration of the feminist ideal into bitter sectionalism, it genuinely is more in sorrow than in anger.
Will Irish feminists listen to the advice of an old friend any more carefully than they do to those they see as their enemies? It’s doubtful.
Feminism long ago retreated into its shell, dismissing all criticism as a misogynistic backlash -- which is why it is more like a cult, a cabalistic inner circle, these days than the intellectual and political force for change it could and should have been. The sisters simply don’t listen anymore to anyone who doesn’t sign up 100 per cent to the catechism. In that respect, Hayden is most likely wasting his breath, but he does it with such vigour and honesty that we should just be glad he did it anyway.
One by one, he tracks his growing distance with the basic tenets of the feminist creed. That the media is responsible for violence against women, for example -- he just doesn’t accept that as an article of faith.
Hayden acknowledges that those who are predisposed to hating women might be influenced by what they see, but equally he doesn’t turn his back on evidence that pornography can be a “defusing mechanism” for others. The picture is complex, and he doesn’t run away from the complexity.
He has seen, too, the way in which problems which afflict men have been sidelined and ignored, and no one seems to find it at all strange that they should be, while those affecting women are automatically assumed to be more important. He even details one shocking incident when, in a piece he had written for Hot Press, he mentioned the need to help victims of domestic abuse “to return to a life of non-violence that is the human right of every woman, man and child”, and was urged by the female director of the Wexford Centre to drop the word “man” from the sentence because it was “inappropriate in the context.”
He has seen how women are allowed to joke about men in a belittling and derogatory way and no offence is allowed to be taken, whereas men are “permanently under scrutiny and threat” for the slightest remark. He knows that relations between the sexes are constantly shifting and under negotiation -- “Human behaviour,” he writes, “is not robotically controlled.” But still feminists speak as if all social and sexual interaction can be subject to cast-iron rules, with the severest punishments for transgression.
He also knows that women sometimes lie about their own sexual behaviour, and even about rape, but that’s not supposed to be talked about openly lest the blame shift from where it really lies: namely, with men en masse.
Not for one moment does Jackie Hayden deny the reality of rape and sexual abuse. The statistics are all here, and they don’t get any more palatable for being so familiar. What he objects to is the way in which feminists have demonised all men, and male sexual desire itself, as predatory and sinister.
One result of this has been to make every lighthearted or flirtatious conversation a potential cauldron for claims of harassment, especially in the workplace, though women frequently use their sexuality to get what they want without any of the same censure.
A Man in a Woman’s World is full of such cool blasts of common sense -- not least his scepticism about the all-healing power of therapy, which is worth a book in itself.
What’s most refreshing about it, though, is that Jackie Hayden doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. He’s simply sharing his own experiences and observations over time, and his conclusions are nothing if not modest: proper funding for rape services, yes, but also an acceptance from women’s aid organisations that women can be violent and predatory sometimes too; that not all women involved in pornography and prostitution are there because men forced them into it; likewise, a desire that women who espouse dysfunctional views of men be challenged about them. Is that really too much to ask?
His chatty, unpretentious, discursive style also neatly sidesteps any accusations that he’s engaged in some kind of polemical rant here.
Hayden emerges from the page as a decent, humane, humorous man who has found himself sadly alienated by the attitudes of many women who, while spouting slogans about equality and respect, are profoundly derogatory deep down about his identity as a man, and, by extension, all the other men he knows to be honourable and caring too.
That they can lose the active support of a man like Jackie Hayden is a dreadful indictment of Irish feminists and should give them pause for thought at least.
That it probably won’t is profoundly depressing. When he contacted former colleagues to ask for their help in writing this book, they didn’t want to know, replying to his letters instead with a “veiled threat of legal action”. Whatever happened to free speech?
Hayden was the first man to hold a senior position in the Irish Rape Crisis Network. For eight years, until last year, he sat on the management committee of Wexford Rape Crisis Centre, serving four years as chairman. In A Man in a Woman’s World, he reiterates his unquestionable commitment to defending women and children against violence, but also describes his growing sense that this is not the whole story.Anybody in a modern American university, and this most assuredly includes Marquette, will recognize this perverse complex of attitudes.
Hayden tells of his disquiet at the level of anti-male sexism and hostility he encountered within the rape crisis and women’s aid networks. Somewhat typical of his and my generation, he describes growing up in the rock ‘n’ roll counter-culture and being easily persuaded that sexism against women was wrong and violence against women utterly unacceptable. But, in the trenches with feminist activists, he found the dream gradually unravelling. Conditioned by feminism to avoid any form of sexism, he found himself “confronted with sexism almost at every turn”. Many women he worked with “revealed themselves as harbouring a cynicism about men in general that was profound and far-reaching”.
A Man in a Woman’s World, published jointly by Killynon House Books and Hot Press Books, is an inspirationally honest, thoughtful and courageous book, written in sorrow. Hayden writes: “It’s as if there is a deep-seated desire to propagate the myth that women are inherently non-violent, and that all of the violence that occurs between men and women is inflicted by men. Clearly this is not true. There are women who are extremely abusive and violent towards their male partners. What is the difficulty acknowledging this? I can’t understand what it might be, but I became increasingly aware that it was there. Within the rape crisis network, it has become acceptable to deal with women or men who have experienced violence - provided the perpetrators of the violence are men. If the perpetrators of the violence are believed to be women, there seems to be a conspiracy to pretend it doesn’t happen and to discredit those who are active in attempting to highlight it. It isn’t a belief that is universally held among the women I worked alongside or spoke to, but it does seem to be the general policy.”