Why Do They Hate Us?, is a powerful and moving jeremiad by Mona Eltahawy. It accurately describes without dispute the sorry state of female flourishing in the Middle East, broadly understood. And yet I wonder at the quasi-Freudian rationale on offer, that these men “hate” women. A rationale of this sort seems more derived from the worries of Neo-Platonic influenced Church Fathers in the Western tradition, like St. Augustine, whose angst was driven by the fact that women induced males toward lust by their very existence. This can not be the root of Muslim male hostility, because Islam does not valorize total celibacy, as the Christian church did.
What then? It was recently brought to my attention that as in Sweden rape in Finland is disproportionately a crime committed by Middle Eastern males. So, 5 percent of all rape suspects are Iraqi, while 0.1 percent of the population of Finland is Iraqi. Do Iraqi men hate Finnish women in particular?
No. I think not. Hate is not the proper word. Men think about sex, and men crave sex. In the Middle East because of economic deprivation and the segregation of men and women before marriage many men have sex with men. I hope it’s not too frank to admit that I have met homosexual men who don’t think much of women. But when it comes to heterosexual men we think all too much of women. If we are young, single, and sexually deprived, the very sight of women can drive us to extreme distraction and bizarre behavior. It it is sometimes said that women civilized men, but I have long held that men created civilization only to impress women.
But the world does move on, and heterosexual males can focus on other things besides sex. Why? Relationships for one. When one is not deprived of a need, one does not want quite in the same tortured manner. But humans are not one dimensional beings, and though women may be the objects of male lust and love, and all the feelings in between, when you are socialized with females as more than mother and sister, as teacher, as colleague, as boss, even as friend, you begin to develop social skills which can dampen your bestial inclinations, and set aside the lust within your heart. In any case, there is a time and place for all things, and one learns through trial and error, and social wisdom, how and where to draw boundaries and lines.
This bracketing of women into different categories is not so difficult or onerous. All things equal I do think it is difficult for men and women to “just be friends,” but all things are rarely equal! These are the truths you learn, explicitly and implicitly, as you mature into normal and conventional bourgeois manhood. And I do not think that these truths were “invented” by the West. Rather, I think they derive from conventions and norms which have a very deep evolutionary root and basis. Just as sex differences have a deep evolutionary basis, so I believe that complemention and complexity in male and female relationships date back to the days of the hunter-gatherer. Human social intelligence is such that we can develop context specific understandings of other individuals which break out of our initial category or preconception. A potential lover can become a friend, and a potential enemy can eventually become an ally. This is not rocket science.
But starting 10,000 years ago, with the rise 1of agriculture, and larger polities, this de facto social egalitarianism found itself simply unable to cope with the conditions of the agrarian world. This was the age of the super-male lineage, as the agonistic impulse was rewarded by incredible winner-take-all consequences. The age when warlords declared that they were lords of the “Four Corners of the Earth” came upon us. They piled high their material possessions, and transformed lands which had heretofore been held informally on a collective basis into their personal property. Old impulses were channeled, amplified, and sometimes restrained. Male-male competition for females is relatively common among mammals, but the stakes were raised. As each male lineage began to sequester and segregate “their women,” in some societies a positive feedback loop drove the social equilibrium toward a set point which is fundamentally at odds with individual flourishing. What was “rational” for the group over the short term, (or more accurately the male lineage group) may also have resulted in perverse outcomes over the long term for the individual. The reality is that very few men are going to be the lords of all men, able to acquire massive harems by dint of their victory in winner-take-all conflicts. But that is the vision which justifies the reality that men in Arab countries are having anal sex with other men in their 20s because there is no availability of female sexual partners.
What you have in many societies are situations which have developed where women have become de facto property. To a great extent this was the norm in the “civilized” world until recently. Women had no legal autonomy, and were put in the same class as children. Their lives were ends to the glorification of the lineage group. Or, perhaps more crassly, women were turned into domesticated animals. Without pig there would be no pork. The Chinese love pork, and glorify the pig on some level. But the pig has no rights as a human, the glory of the pig is only its utility to the person. The key is that in many “traditional” societies women have become reduced in totality to becoming ends to the people. And by people I mean men of power and status. The dehumanization extends beyond people, to the lower classes, to children, but when it comes to women there is a particular potency because their biological nature is such that dehumanization must confront the reality is that people, men of status, must emerge from women.
The film The Help illustrated a similar dynamic. Black women who served as domestics in the households of upper class whites were notionally treasured and respected, and even the objects of affection, but at the end of the day they were not truly people in the eyes of the children whom they raised when those children matured and entered the fullness of their own powers. In fact, some would argue that these children were socialized to contempt and disdain for the women who were their foster mothers. Otherwise, the system in which they were embedded would have collapsed.
Going back to animals, the system of factory farming, and meat consumption more generally, has a fundamental basis in dehumanization. The dog is our pet. The pig is our meal. And yet in many ways the two organisms exhibit equivalency in cognitive capacities. But our own enjoyment of the system which we are willing participants in must abolish this equivalence for our own mental health.
Mona Eltahawy alludes to the fact that women’s bodies are transformed into objects of contagion among many orthodox Muslims (e.g., her example of a girl baby’s urine being polluting, and a male baby’s urine being non-polluting). This is not particular or peculiar to Muslims. Many sophisticated philosophical systems have attempted to make the case that the female body is peculiarly repulsive in its corporeal coarseness. This strand of thinking is extremely evident in a particular segment of classical philosophers, culminating in the Neo-Platonists. Why?
I hold that arguments for the repulsiveness of women are a testament to the fact that men of power must always justify the sexual segregation of the women whom men without power so crave. For the reality is that the body of a woman is magnetically attractive to heterosexual man. There needs to be no great commentary on the repulsiveness of feces, that is plain as day. On the other hand adolescent boys who crave sex but can not sate their hunger, and clerics and court philosophers who are the political catamites of the men of power, must spin tales about how disgusting the vagina truly is. Take a step back, and consider the internet bandwidth devoted to close up images of the vagina, versus the internet bandwidth devoted to feces. Rationalizations of how repulsive women truly are is the homage that many a Weltanschauungpay to the truth of what men think of the female form.
The savage behavior of packs of feral young men across the Arab world in the presence of unguarded women is a consequence of the oppressive and constraining lies which are the root of the old systems of thought. Raised without proper manners, socialization, and lacking a sense of decorum, they yearn to feast like gluttons upon the sexuality of women whom they crave so deeply in their souls, but who have been transformed into aliens by the ascendant ideologies and the cultural environment from which they emerge. Unleashed upon the Western world these creatures normally straight-jacketed into constraint through terrorism behave in a manner unbecoming of their notional humanity. But the problem is that they were never raised in the first place to view women as humans just like them. The term “objectification” is tossed about liberally in feminist discourse, but this conceptualization clearly applies forcefully in the case of rape of Scandinavian women by men from traditional societies. It is fashionable to say that rape is about power, but these are men who have no conflict in their mind as to the nature of male-female relations. Rather, they are sating their desires upon creatures who are simply means to their ends. To push the analogy further, the men of Scandinavia have released their flocks into the open, and now the wolves descend. They believe it is their nature, and without terrorism prodding them into better behavior they give their bestial inner self absolute license.
This problem is not insoluble. Many of the retrograde attitudes toward women which are normative in the Arab world were, and to some lesser extent still are, normative in the West. But to solve a problem we must properly characterize it. Reducing the subjugation of women by men as a function of hatred is simplistic, but I also believe it is false on the face of it. The Nazi hated the Jew. The Nazi never wished to devour the Jew. The great lie sold to the lesser men by those of power is that male lust is uncontrollable and wild. True, it is a real thing indeed which can test your sanity, but it is amenable to training, taming, and even unleashing at appropriate times within the bounds of a consensual relationship. This is a truth that I suspect was understood implicitly by the first humans. A truth hidden and obscured during the Neolithic so as to secure the power of the few who ruled over the many.