A few days ago, I discussed the concept of “hegemony” as the means by which the dominant class perpetuates its rule by making the current order seem natural and “simple common sense.” Accordant to political philosopher Nancy Fraser, we are seeing the breakdown of the old hegemonic order — the “progressive neoliberalism" of Clinton, Obama, and Biden.
Progressive neoliberalism combines stated commitment to diversity, multiculturalism, anti-racism, anti-sexism — to identity politics in its various forms — while it perpetuates an economic system of “financialized” Capitalism that increases wealth inequality, minimizes social services, keeps the minimum wage low, and does nothing to protect manufacturing jobs. Because progressive neoliberalism has failed the working classes, its support base continues to shrink. There is a lot of animosity against it from those who feel betrayed by the Democrats. This anger fuels bizarre, paranoid projections like QANON and increasingly virulent white ethno-nationalism.
The excesses documented by Laura Kipnis — the cultural shift from the sex-positive Feminism of the 1980s - 90s that attributed adult agency to women to a new neo-Victorian Feminism that sees sex as often and almost inherently dangerous, predatory, and harmful — can be linked to progressive neoliberalism’s efforts to maintain political power by focusing on female grievances. As Kipnis writes in Unwanted Advances, our cultural narratives provide the context for our sense-making:
“Whether or not college students are actually having sex any differently from generations past, clearly the emphasis has changed. Shifting the stress from pleasure to danger and vulnerability not only changes the prevailing narrative, it changes the way sex is experienced. We’re social creatures, after all, and narrative is how we make sense of the world. If the prevailing story is that sex is dangerous, sex is going to feel threatening more of the time, and anything associated with sex, no matter how innocuous (a risqué remark, a dumb joke) will feel threatening. Teaching under these conditions can feel like a tightrope walk.”
There is no doubt that many men in positions of power acted poorly and, in some cases, terribly. The #metoo movement was, in part, a necessary corrective, but it led to a climate of Puritanical zeal that continues today and is unhealthy. In France, the actress Catherine DeNeuve and 100 prominent women in entertainment and the arts wrote a 2018 editorial for Le Monde (translation here), where they make many of the same points as Kipnis:
Just like in the good old witch-hunt days, what we are once again witnessing here is puritanism in the name of a so-called greater good, claiming to promote the liberation and protection of women, only to enslave them to a status of eternal victim and reduce them to defenseless preys of male chauvinist demons. In fact, #MeToo has led to a campaign, in the press and on social media, of public accusations and indictments against individuals who, without being given a chance to respond or defend themselves, are put in the exact same category as sex offenders. This summary justice has already had its victims: men who've been disciplined in the workplace, forced to resign, and so on, when their only crime was to touch a woman's knee, try to steal a kiss, talk about "intimate" things during a work meal, or send sexually-charged messages to women who did not return their interest.
This frenzy for sending the “pigs” to the slaughterhouse, far from helping women empower themselves, actually serves the interests of the enemies of sexual freedom, the religious extremists, the reactionaries and those who believe — in their righteousness and the Victorian moral outlook that goes with it — that women are a species "apart," children with adult faces who demand to be protected. Men, for their part, are called on to embrace their guilt and rack their brains for "inappropriate behavior" that they engaged in 10, 20 or 30 years earlier, and for which they must now repent. These public confessions, and the foray into the private sphere or self-proclaimed prosecutors, have led to a climate of totalitarian society. The purging wave seems to know no bounds. … Philosopher Ruwen Ogien defended the freedom to offend as essential to artistic creation. In the same way, we defend a freedom to bother as indispensable to sexual freedom.
The excesses of the liberal establishment, which has built an institutional bulwark around harassment claims, mirror the reactionary Right’s efforts to take away rights to abortion and contraception — to control women’s bodies and restrict human freedom. I feel that both of these enterprises need to be analyzed sociologically. They are the product of deeper socioeconomic forces, just as the 1960s movements toward sexual liberation (however imperfect) and civil rights reflected underlying economic shifts. We can’t explore other paths forward without understanding why things have reached this state.
The Myth of Male Power
Let’s delve into Warren Farrell’s The Myth of Male Power: Why Men Are the Disposable Sex (1993). As I mentioned last time, Farrell was a political scientist and the only male spokesperson for the National Organization of Women in the late 60s. He began to investigate the ways that men were also oppressed in our society. Many of his examples and lingo seem a bit dated and somewhat simplistic. Yet he is one of the only thinkers to expose many core truths that we still don’t generally understand or speak about.