The Privileged Sex
In my days as an undergraduate, I submitted myself to medical experiments for money. It was a low point in a life dominated by low points, but there were no substantial risks. Being part of a treatment group, I occasionally stayed overnight with other members in accommodation close to a laboratory. One thing I observed in this group was that there were no females. There was not one in the group of about 20 people I stayed with. I never saw any around the facilities, apart from staff. When I put this to a researcher, I was informed that the use of women in clinical trials is discouraged, and has been for decades. The impetus for this was the Thalidomide scandal in the late 1950’s, when pregnant women in a clinical drug trial ended up giving birth to children with fin-like arms or legs. Non-approved drugs and treatments can harm males as well, but that doesn’t seem to matter as much.
Visiting Dublin’s woefully-named Mountjoy Prison as a law student, I could not help get taken aback by the radically different conditions male and female prisoners have to endure. The men of Mountjoy are confined to an actual prison. Its a bad prison at that, one of the last in Europe where they still practice slopping out. The women, on the other hand, live in self-contained apartments superior to what many people live in at university.
Thus, women get the benefit of medicine once its safety has been verified using male guinea pigs. Much like how they benefit from the safety that requires the sacrifice of men and boys in combat. Much like how they benefit from welfare programs penned by mostly male legislators, or the easier justice of mostly male jurists. Examples of female privilege are abundant, now and throughout history. Why the notion that women have a tougher time of it than men has so thrived in face of these facts is quite the mystery.
Its a problem that’s recently been tackled by my one of my favorite historians, and my favorite military theorist, Israel’s Martin Van Creveld. Van Creveld’s The Privileged Sex has just been published in English, being previously only available in German. His is a thesis well worth reading.
Van Creveld contends that for every disadvantage women have endured, whether man-made or as a result of biology, they enjoy a privilege that that is equally or more important to their lives. These range from being spared the obligation to fight in wartime, to the hardest of labors in general. Too many female writers, inclined to see oppression in all places and times, ever mention these privileges (guilty males, even less so). Our perceptions of gender relations have also been skewed by popular stories concerning the alleged historical exploitation and oppression of women. Many of these are without foundation, and if seriously scrutinized turn out to be invented for political-ideological reasons. Feminists have, for instance, portrayed societies that permitted a man to have more than one wife as sexist, with a view of women as being like cattle. Yet in many places this arrangement was simply a way of looking after widows. It was the best possible way of looking out for their welfare at a time when unattached women would have had a difficult time even surviving. They claim women were persecuted in Nazi Germany, yet German women were more likely than men to vote for Hitler. Another example is the portrayal of witch-hunts as part of the general oppression of women. Yet how could these have been anti-woman, when in some countries just as many or more men were executed for witchcraft? In nearly all places men accused of witchcraft were more likely to be executed or face stiffer penalties than their female peers. Not to mention that it was overwhelmingly women accusing other women of being witches, and prosecutions for witchcraft often reached their height under female rulers like Catherina De Medici, Mary Queen of Scots, and ‘Good Queen Bess’ herself. Indeed, some authorities, like James VI of Scotland, had to abolish the general commission against witchcraft because it had become a mere vehicle to settle scores among mostly female rivals.
Similarly, we are told that women do not thrive in the fields of science and engineering because males have kept them out of these vocations. But not even Stalin was able to force females to study technical subjects. Today, officialdom is most satisfied that girls vastly outnumber boys in our medical schools. Yet very few have addressed the disastrous consequences of this. After their expensive training, in most places covered or heavily subsidized by the taxpayer, only a tiny percentage of female graduates remain full-time doctors. They largely avoid the most stressful work in hospitals. A huge proportion quickly leave the profession entirely. In Ireland, only 10% of female GPs pursue full-time practice in the long-term. Some, like the journalist Kevin Myers, have estimated the figure at even less than that, remarking that this is “not a health system; it is a first day on the Somme”. Thus, we in the developed world have to make up the difference by importing doctors from poor countries that need them most.
Discourse on domestic violence is similarly dominated by a presumption that men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators. For a long time, studies have been casting doubt on this perception. Erin Pizzey, the founder of the UK charity today known as Refuge, has been subjected to death threats and boycotts because of her claims that most domestic violence is reciprocal, and that women are equally as capable of violence as men. Reciprocal violence is indeed the most common pattern, and a study of 55,000 US military personnel found that women are just as likely to physically assault their partners. We also know from the US Dept. of Justice’s Survey of State Prison Inmates that women are 24% more likely to kill their children than men, and 32% more likely to kill relatives, children included.
So why does the myth of the oppressed female continue?
Fans of Richard Dawkins might say it is the result of a mental gene, or meme, that predisposes people to believe in certain things. It does seem that we have a natural distaste for seeing women harmed or treated harshly. You are 200 times more likely to see a man die on screen than a woman. It is telling that Hector says to his wife in The Iliad that men would rather die than watch women dying. Its one of the reasons that even in Israel, where women are conscripted, very few serve in combat units and they are exempt from reserve duty. Van Creveld says that in his decades of teaching at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, not one female student has ever had to miss one of his classes for this obligation that affects many of the young men. Its hard to quantify all the ways women are treated more gently and paternalistically in the sphere of law and order. When police respond to an incident, women are much more likely to get off with a warning than men. This applies to every single category of offence, and is even true when factors like prior arrest records are controlled for. In Britain, women are six times as likely to be acquitted of manslaughter, and have an easier time convincing juries that they acted under provocation in cases of murder. Their charms work on male cops, jurors, and judges as much as female ones. This happened even to female Nazis on trial for their roles in the euthanasia program.
The love does not appear to be reciprocal, if only from the amount of fictional works by female authors imagining a future utopia without men, from Mary Bradley’s 1890 novel Mizora to more recent works like Joanna Russ’s The Female Man (1975) or Dorris Lessing’s The Cleft (2008). Are there any males fantasizing of a world without women? Nonsense. We like them too much.
The Complaining Sex
This brings us to something in the nature of women. Of course, feminism as an ideology should never be synonymous with being female. But there are forms of feminism that give political expression to something almost inherent in the gender. Women are the complaining sex; they seek attention and often seethe with a mysterious resentment. Freud might have put this resentment down to penis envy. Coupled with male deference, we have a prescription for disaster. Now, not all women possess the traits just described. History is replete with examples of women with nothing but contempt for those living on the privileges of their gender. The first known female commander, Queen Artemisia of Caria, Van Creveld tells us, told Xerxes that Greeks were as superior to Persians as men are to women. Queen Elizabeth I was fond of cracking what would be called today misogynist jokes.
Yet the grievances of woman appear to be as endless as they often are baseless. In the medical sphere, Florence Nightingale was perceptive enough to admit in Cassandra that many female patients are merely seeking attention. Patterns of suicide (a supreme form of complaint) in the sexes are a good indicator. Men are significantly more likely to kill themselves than women. But worldwide, women are four times as likely to attempt suicide. Perhaps they are remarkably incompetent. Perhaps they are practising the fine art of appearing vulnerable.
Is feminism related to this dynamic? Just as female patients, such as Freud’s Dora, have based their lives around imagined illnesses and relished the attention, so others find a purpose in grievances, real or imagined.
Some insight may come from the anorgasmic woman, or female frigidity. This has caused no end of anguish in men, who are expected to bear the blame. Yet frigidity is quite a often a ruse; a way to lash out at a male partner. Simone de Beauvoir was quite candid about the subject, finding the courage to address it after being ‘cured’ of her frigidity by the American writer Nelson Algreen. What de Beauvoir writes in The Second Sex on the subject of frigidity could well describe the mindset of the extreme feminist. Replace the word ‘frigidity’ with ‘feminism’ and you get the point:
Resentment is the most common cause of feminine frigidity; in bed the woman punishes the man for all the wrongs she feels she has endured, by offering him an insulting coldness. There is often an aggressive inferiority complex apparent in her attitudes… She is thus revenged at once upon him and upon herself if he has humiliated her by neglect, if he has made her jealous, if he was slow in declaring her intentions, if he took her as a mistress while she wanted marriage. The grievance can flare up suddenly and set off this reaction even in a liaison that began happily… Frigidity… would appear to be a punishment that woman imposes as much upon herself as upon her partner; wounded in her vanity, she feels resentment against him and against herself, and she denies herself the pleasure.
I will end with another quote, from Van Creveld himself, in the final chapter of The Privileged Sex: “It would be nice… if from time to time, amid the torrents of invective feminists spew at us, we occasionally heard a pleasant female voice saying “thank you, Mate”.”
With that, I and most men would be quite content to be guinea pigs and beasts of burden for the privileged sex.
See Also: Women in Combat