The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. In this post you will be introduced to the idea of gender antagonism and the painful paradoxes of love. This is a central part of Gemeinschaft politics, one of the six new forms of politics proposed in Nordic Ideology.
At the very heart of the gender-sexuality-family-formation complex (see my previous article What Is Post-Feminism?) lies something I like to call “gender antagonism”. This term was initially discussed by the anthropologist (of a feminist structuralist brand) Sherry Ortner in her studies of gender relations of indigenous groups in Papua New Guinea back in the 1970s. I, however, use the term in a slightly different manner:
- “Gender antagonism” denotes a measure of the prevalence and intensity of resentment that people within a certain population feel towards any generalized ideas of gender categories.
Or, simply put, how bitter women are with men and how hateful men are towards women. But of course, people can hate their own gender, or any other gender category: “those lifeless and bland feminist bitches”, “those slimy, toxic macho men”, “those wet noodle excuses for hipster gay men”, “those filthy, power-hungry, deceptive sluts” and so forth. It’s not just bitterness and resentment, but also contempt, frustration and collective or generalized blame.
We need to understand that gender antagonism corresponds more or less to racism and ethnic conflict, except that it is an antagonism between real or imagined categories of genders. Naturally, gender antagonism grows as an emergent pattern of the whole gender-sexuality-family-formation complex.
Here’s an example. So if a girl has a bad dad (who because of his insecurities treats her and her mother poorly), and then gets a lousy boyfriend who just uses her for sex (because he wasn’t really in love with her, just really pressured to get rid of his stigmatized virginity and desperate to gain sexual experience and she was all he could catch), then she’s quite likely to not like men in general very much. And then she’ll reject approaching guys at bars very contemptuously, hence feeding into the bitterness of these trembling souls who had been trying to work up the courage to go and talk to someone like her for over a year…
And so on, and so forth. Gender antagonism breeds gender antagonism. It causes shitloads of harm to people’s softest inner places, and it mutilates our inner developments, stunting us in our growth as human beings. And it mixes with issues of everything from economic and political stability, to ethnic conflicts, class relations, and pretty much any issue you can think of. It sucks.
The level of gender antagonism can be reduced only by changing the games of everyday life, by developing people’s abilities to give themselves and one another what they need. If our anti-heroine above met a really sweet guy, who deeply satisfied her needs, after a few years perhaps her shields might go down and she might feel less bitter about men. And then she will stop feeding into this slugfest of resentment between the sexes.
Or imagine if the first guy she dated would have been much better trained at seducing women, so that he wouldn’t have had to “settle” for her, because he wasn’t in a scarcity mindset about sexual validation, and if he were less pressured to get sexual experience at any cost. If he had a rich smorgasbord of women to choose from, he would have gone for someone else for whom he had more authentic positive emotions. And perhaps he would have had more healthy and secure attachment patterns in the first place, more easily falling in love. And she would have had more satisfying experiences with the other guys she dated, and she would have ended up with a guy who really loved her. And their relation would have been better. Everyone would have saved lots of time and effort, everyone would have been spared a load of misery, and the beasts of resentment would not have been fed with the fresh blood of young hearts.
Gender antagonism not only undermines other relations, such as ethnic or professional ones—it also, quite sneakily, poisons emancipatory movements. Feminism becomes a mindless carrier of gender antagonism. Women who deeply hate men and feel bitter resentment towards them as a group find outlets in feminist groups and ideologies. Men who despise women become “Men’s Rights Activists” and gather around obviously virulent female-bashing gurus. And so forth. Gender antagonism and other forms of group hatred such as racism—while understandable and explicable—tend to dress up as your only friend in this dark world. But of course, they aren’t your friends. Gender antagonism breeds “bad” feminism (or masculism), a fight for gender equality that chronically leaves out relevant dynamics or perspectives, and hence only serves to worsen the situation.
I’m not saying that anger is never good. I’m just saying that gender antagonism sneaks in and ruins whatever emancipatory potential feminism and masculism might have. Being bitter and resentful makes people stupid.[i]
Want real, effective feminism? Then find ways to reduce gender antagonism. Want to reduce sexual violence against women? Reduce gender antagonism. Want to reduce male suicide? Reduce gender antagonism. Want to create freer gender roles in professional life? Reduce gender antagonism. Want to improve the quality and stability of family relations? You get the picture.
A certain degree of gender antagonism is unavoidable in any society since the very territory of love and desire is inherently wrought with paradoxes, meaning that our hearts and minds always put ourselves and the people around us in impossible dilemmas of various nasty sorts. And these are often frustrating, sometimes infuriating—at times even fatal.
For now, let’s stay with only analyzing some properties of what some of our friends like to call “the heterosexual matrix” (i.e. not gay relations, etc.).[ii] If we look at desire and the search for love between men and women, there are quite a few nasty paradoxes bound to mess people up.
First of all, consider the fact that men get nervous around women they genuinely desire and would like to invest in long-term, and that women are attracted to confident men. This means that men very seldom get the women they have the strongest and most sincere attraction towards. This leads them to often being less happy in their relations, still being haunted by those strange ghosts of desire, which means they are more likely to stray or try to “upgrade” (dump their wife) given the opportunity. Resentment mass produced. Ouch.
Here’s another one. Both men and women will generally want to catch a mate slightly above their own self-perceived status in the mating hierarchy. This will lead them to invest time and effort in folks they cannot get or cannot keep, which sets them up for repeated failures, which sets them up for bitterness and distrust, which sabotages their relationships.
Another one. Women like men who are assertive and have great social prestige, and men dramatically increase their seductiveness if they display these qualities. Consequently, men need to take social risks in order to gain the attention of women. If they are not sufficiently seductive and they are rejected in public, they risk that others (men and women alike) will perceive them with contempt. And if they are too sexually assertive, they risk that their approaches spill over into boundary breaching and sexual harassment. Women feel angry for having been put in a situation where they have to either impolitely turn someone down, or quietly shut up and feel used and manipulated. Men feel that women are insincere about what they want: They don’t give you a chance if you’re a “nice guy” and they accuse you of being predatorial if you make advances, or being fake macho if you try to show your tough side. Resentment grows.
Another one. Species who live in groups are generally divided into “tournament species” where one alpha male gets all the punani after violently dethroning the former leader, and “pair-bonding species”, where males and females pair up in families and males compete by being good providers and caretakers. This pattern has repeatedly been found, from birds to primates. The males are bigger than the females in all tournament species. Among primates, gorillas are tournament and the bonobo chimps are pair-bonding. If you look at the physiology and behavior of humans, we are somewhere in between, perhaps a bit more on the pair-bonding side. Accordingly, both of these deeply ingrained behavioral patterns exist simultaneously in humans, competing with each other. So even if you happen to find happy, stable love, a part of you will often want rough sex with an attractive stranger. And even if you’re Elvis and can get all the ladies you want, you will still feel a bit empty inside for lack of authentic connection and companionship. We’re coded to be slightly dissatisfied. And this breeds—are you ahead of me?—frustration, which in turn breeds gender antagonism.
Or how about this one. Women learn they’re too slutty if they have sex with many men in too fun ways. They always stand to lose their status if they fuck the wrong guy under the wrong circumstances.[iii] But—if they don’t let loose and get really slutty with their men, the men are likely to feel frustrated and not wanting to stay around, which puts women back on the slutty single market where they started. And even if a woman does “everything he wants” and really lets loose, she might find that he loses interest and moves on. Or if the relationship breaks down, his bitterness towards women may cause him to post revenge porn online. And hell ensues for the woman.
Or here’s another one for the ladies. All your life has been about being pretty. Pretty, pretty, pretty, hot, hot, beautiful, beautiful, feminine, feminine. It’s everywhere: clothing, makeup, commercials, how you’re treated by strangers, if guys fall in love with you and “woo” you or not, your standing in the local girls’ group, your career chances—even starting with Barbie dolls when you’re a kid. If you fail to present a beautiful appearance according to increasingly impossible standards, you pay an enormous price. But, dear ladies, if you do manage to be pretty, it suddenly takes all the attention from everything else that you do, and everyone around you insists on responding only to this one part of yourself: your looks. Your new boss says he can’t listen to you because you’re too hot, all your guy friends and colleagues have secret agendas, women are bitchy and competitive, quietly holding you back. If you go on TV and say something important, or even win a gold medal, people talk about your hair and your cleavage. And if you lose your beauty, you stand to lose everything, including the man who pledged to be by your side. If that doesn’t breed resentment, I don’t know what would.
And one last favorite. Men and women have different patterns of sexual lust. When a man and a woman enter a serious monogamous relationship, at first both want to have a lot of sex, but after a short while—on average, according to research—the woman’s sexual desire drops to a much lower level, and the man’s stays elevated for a much longer period.[iv] As such, many a man is in for lots of rejection and disappointment at the very point in his life when he has just committed to not going after other women, which in itself is a high price to pay. There is even a growing sexual deficit in males that can be observed at a global scale: guys simply don’t get as much as they’d like.[v] This of course leads to resentment and spurs infidelity. Likewise, men seem to have a much lower “cuddle-bonding” impulse after sexual intercourse than women, which means that sex can often leave women feeling emotionally vulnerable and abandoned, which then of course undermines the sense of trust in the relationship. And then there’s always the whole thing about women wanting reliable men but still having a secret garden of more ferocious fantasies (searching for online porn such as “extreme brutal gangbang” and “rape” more frequently than guys, as compared to their overall porn searches, and about 62% having at least some sexy thoughts about forced sex, according to one study[vi]). Mix this with the fact that men really want to be seen as tough but still need someone to take care of their scared inner little boy and that this boy just isn’t part of the female sexual fantasies—all of which results in confusion and disappointment for all parties involved. All of it breeds gender antagonism.
I could name many more. But let’s get back on track.
Ah, the paradoxes of sex, love and gender! What a relentless production plant of human angst and desolation! How elusive that inner peace, that simple sense of aliveness and safety, that sensual and embodied fullness of being alive! If you’re not very clear-sighted and well-informed on this one, you will tend towards a simple explanation for all the suffering you’ve been through: “it’s patriarchy” or “it’s those rabid bitches”.
But it’s not those rabid bitches. It’s a complex host of emergent properties of the games of everyday life. We are mutilated not by an evil patriarchal structure, but by a blind and meaningless chaos engine, which is incidentally also the source of all goodness and beauty of life.
And we can hardly do ourselves a greater disservice than denying the existence of these games (crime 1: game denial) or accepting them in their current, cruel forms (crime 2: game acceptance). These paradoxes of love indeed constitute a vast killing ground of the human spirit. But it is also on these fields of battle and suffering that we grow the most as human beings—it is here we find the most fertile ground for inner transformations. Could society be geared towards making us much better equipped for managing these paradoxes and relating to them more productively? The answer is yes.
These paradoxes and problems cannot really be “solved”. They will be around whether we like it or not, at least until we change the very behavioral biology of humans. What we can do, however, is to change how well they are understood and productively related to, and thus how pathologically they play out in society at large.
Erich Fromm once wrote that for society to prosper, we need not more distant intellect, but “men and women who are in love with life”. But to be in love with life, we must also successfully fall in love with one another.
How many of us will get to have genuinely happy love in our lives? I mean really? There are few greater tragedies in life than our inability to awaken deep positive emotions in others, our inability to have our trembling hearts and aching bodies met with genuine love and desire. And how cruel is not the opposite, to be loved and included but that our hearts respond only with coldness and inertia—when we are unable to genuinely love and respond to others’ emotions?
How important are not these issues to society, how central to human misery and happiness? How fundamental to any qualitatively rich notion of freedom and equality? How many souls are we unnecessarily condemning to lonely lifetimes of cold and darkness? How many broken hearts are we generating? How many failed attempts at BDSM?
Can we really afford to keep this issue outside of politics, outside the ongoing discussing about the conscious self-organization of society?
We must, as a society, cultivate higher likelihoods for better relationships, developing people’s sexual faculties and reducing gender antagonism. That’s what a metamodern post-feminist Gemeinschaft Politics would aim to do.
Let us evolve the game of love. Let us shift the landscapes of desire.
Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.
[i]. In terms of MHC (the Model of Hierarchical Complexity, by Commons, as discussed in Book One), people tend to go down two stages when they are very upset about something, very invested in a belief, or something is a very touchy spot. Two stages are the difference between a ten-year-old and an average adult.
[ii]. Butler, J. 1990/2006. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge.
[iii]. Armstrong, E. A., Hamilton, L. T., Armstrong, E. M., 2014. “Good Girls”: Gender, Social Class, and Slut Discourse on Campus. Social Psychology Quarterly. Vol: 77(2).
[iv]. Baumeister, R. F., Reynolds T., Winegard, B., Vohs, K. D. 2017. Competing for love: Applying sexual economics theory to mating contests. Journal of Economic Psychology, vol. 63, pp. 230-41.
[v]. Hakim, C. 2015. The male sex deficit: A social fact of the 21st century. International Sociology, vol. 30, pp. 314-35.
[vi]. Bivona, J. M., Critelli, J. W., Clark, M. J., 2012. Women’s Rape Fantasies: An Empirical Evaluation of the Major Explanations. Archive of Sexual Behavior, vol. 41(5) pp. 1107–1119.