Blowback

Women After All cover hi res reducedMy new book—Women After All: Sex, Evolution, and the End of Male Supremacy, published by Norton on March 9th—has produced some highly predictable, in fact predicted, reactions.

I’d written on p. 17, “this book will have something to offend almost everyone.” Three of the four groups I mentioned specifically were those (not all) feminists who deny that any important things about men’s and women’s behavior are influenced by biology; discouraged women who think I exaggerate the pace of change; and of course, the flat-earthers who think evolution didn’t happen and won’t read past the subtitle.

But the nastiest blowback by far has been from men. The first wave followed the publication of a short adaptation from the book in The Wall Street Journal. It was called—bear in mind that authors don’t write titles in newspapers or magazines—“A Better World, Run by Women,” and it generated hundreds of comments from angry men within a couple of days. I was skiing in Montana with one of my daughters and not checking in much, so I heard about them from my wife, who was alone at home. After reading them she double-locked the doors and double-checked the alarm.

I looked them over and wrote my editor at the Journal, more curious than alarmed. He apologized for forgetting to tell me not to look at them. My wife, a googler par excellence, soon discovered a “men’s rights” movement, which mobilizes instantly to swamp the comments sections of web pages suggesting that women are in any way superior.

The ones in my university email box were if anything worse. One, a few lines long, began and ended with “Fuck you,” a penetrating remark that came up often. Several asked how anyone as stupid as I could be teaching in a college. One wanted to know which parts of my body Hillary was sucking. My teensy genitalia were another common theme. On and on—you get the idea.

My editor at Norton pointed out that this avalanche of vivid aggression—we might call it male bitchiness, except it’s so much less subtle and inventive—supported one of my main claims: men are naturally more violent than women.

Then there was a favorable review in the Journal (“Matriarchy on the March”), an interview (“How the battle of the sexes is turning into a walkover for women”) as well as a review in The Times of London, an interview in U.S. News (“The End of Gender Roles”), excerpts in The Chronicle of Higher Education (“The End of Male Supremacy”) and Salon.com (“The big ‘f**k buddy’ lie”), and other reviews in The Washington Post, The Mail on Sunday (in Britain and Ireland), The Times Literary Supplement, Library Journal, and elsewhere.

The accompanying graphics were provocative to say the least. My favorites were a sword bent to make a circle over a cross (the female symbol), a woman drill sergeant yelling at male recruits (“Distaff Sergeant” was the caption), a business-suited woman glaring down over a table at male subordinates, and a varied gang of women pulling at ropes, toppling a huge statue—an idol really—of a man.

Wherever comments were possible, it was the same: a seemingly orchestrated campaign by men organized for the purpose of swamping real discussion. Is this, you ask, the readership of The Wall Street Journal and The Chronicle of Higher Ed? Probably not. In this day of re-tweets and re-postings, these trolls could have followed a trail from any wormhole in the Web.

Clearly I’ve touched a nerve, and I’m happy about that—not because there’s no such thing as bad publicity (there is), but because we are known in part by our enemies. In this case their stature is no tribute to me, but their number and character—or lack thereof—certainly are. I love being hated by these guys.

Yet I also feel for them. I’m apparently mining a deep vein of insecurity in this new, increasingly gender-fair world. Many men simply can’t handle women’s success, even at an equal, much less a superior level. And oh dear, the poor boys are destined for so much more distress as the years roll by.

5 comments

  1. Well, I’m sorry, as a female anthropologist and admirer of your nuanced writing, including this most recent book, that you and your family have been subject to this kind of verbal abuse. I agree that your treatment of this topic, as a male, in many ways adds credibility to the view that women have been underrated throughout the history of predominantly patriarchal societies since the birth of food production and permanent villages, and particularly since institutional inequalities in access to resources and power connected to property in land and flocks. Keep up the good work.
    Elizabeth Crouch Zelman, author of Our Beleaguered Species: Beyond Tribalism, 2015.

  2. Linda says:

    Mel–

    I find your latest book “Women After All”. essential and liberating.

    I have reason to believe that you will be nominated next year for the Nobel Peace Prize for your whole body of work, but most importantly for “Women After All”, for explaining how a more peaceful world is most likely to be achieved. (The cutoff for submissions for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for 2015 was I think February 1, 2015).

    I am not sure I can thank you enough for writing “Women After All”,

    Linda

    PS– I recently saw the Robert Sapoksky quote on the cover of the latest edition of “The Tangled Wing” calling you “.. the nearest thing we have to a poet laureate of behavioral biology”. What more appreciative and celebratory thing can be said? What a tribute to your parents, grandparents, Ann and Marjorie.

  3. Roger Kuhlman says:

    When you pointedly label men as inferior and suggest that it might be a good thing if they were eliminated, you can certainly expect a lot of angry feedback from men and you know what I think you deserve it.

  4. Thank you for such a refreshing, insightful, and nuanced body of work – a true pleasure to read.

    Your comments on male aggression strike a deep chord – research into early histories of “civilization” (even in obscure regions) reveals wave after wave of violence and destruction that continues to this day, with entire regions challenged by genocides that cumulatively are comparable to World War II.

    Living in a rural area for the first time (a while back), a friend commented on the difficult of working with male animals whose testosterone levels were still intact – for example, breeding bulls compared with cows, stallions vs. mares, rams vs. ewes, etc. I experienced first-hand how daunting it was to try to “manage” an upset stallion for example. After reading your book, the similarities in testosterone-drive aggression came to mind. The key difference is that those creatures do not have access to nuclear weapons or other forms of mechanized warfare that can destroy thousands of life-forms in a single day.

    • Mel says:

      Nancy, thank you for your kind words and please forgive the long delay. You are spot on with your observations, and this is of course why steers, dogs, and many other male domestic animals are castrated. It doesn’t abolish male behavior because their brains have been exposed to T in utero but it makes a huge difference. Some countries offer (reversible) chemical castration to sex offenders. It’s about the only thing proven effective. Perhaps we could get Kim Jong Un to volunteer? Or Donald J. Trump? Mel

Leave a Reply