Neil Lyndon describes his 1992 book, No More Sex War: The Failures of Feminism, as “the world’s first radical critique of feminism from an egalitarian, progressive, non-sexist point of view,” exposing the contradictions, myths, and falsehoods of feminism. No book and no author in our time has experienced such vilification in the press and at such a professional and personal cost, not only for this book but also for his breakthrough Sunday Times Magazine piece “Bad Mouthing,” which we reprinted here. After more than 20 years, Lyndon is reissuing a new volume titled Sexual Impolitics, with the full unexpurgated and uncensored text of No More Sex War, to ensure “that my book will finally … be published as I meant it to be read”—and this time it won’t be taken out of print by feminist thugs. We’ve reprinted a few excerpts from the book’s Foreword and two chapters.—Eds.
Sexual Impolitics by Neil Lyndon—including No More Sex War: The Failures of Feminism—is available for purchase here.
Can we get a few things straight?
1) This book is not anti-woman. You will not find one word here that criticises, mocks or demeans women in general. My purposes are entirely, wholeheartedly egalitarian, non-sexist and progressive. The essays in this book do, variously, question and criticise the ideology of feminism but that doesn’t make the book anti-woman—any more than a book that was anti-communist would necessarily have been anti-Russian. In the past, that distinction has proved too subtle for some of my critics to grasp. I am, categorically, anti-feminist—as should be every well-meaning, conscientious person who cares about liberty, equality, justice and fairness. One day, I trust, everybody will see feminism—that secular faith—as a form of totalitarian intolerance; and no decent person (such as a primary school teacher or a minister of the church) will call themselves feminist, as they do today, any more than they would happily describe themselves as Nazi or Stalinist.
2) Like you, like everybody you are likely to meet or hear from, I completely, unreservedly, wholeheartedly approve of the changes that have taken place in the position of women in the West in the last 150 years and especially during my lifetime. I was all in favour of those changes and advances even before I had daughters of my own—who will, I trust, make the most of them and be thankful to the men (and women) who helped to bring them into being. Equality is a given for me, just as much as it is for all of us.
3) I haven’t got a personal problem with women; and women don’t seem to have a problem with me. There has never been a day of my life since I was 15 that I have been without the love of a woman.
4) It isn’t for me to say (and it shouldn’t be anybody’s concern except those who have a direct interest in the matter) but the testimonials of others suggest that—despite my critics’ presumptions on this matter—I probably haven’t got a tiny penis.
5) The bulk of this book is not about me. It’s not personal. It is, largely, an intellectual argument, often abstract, frequently abstruse and sometimes academic. That might make it a little too difficult for feminists.
From Chapter One of No More Sex War
Here follows a short list of facts which I ask you to keep at the back of your mind through all the chapters which follow. I shall be returning to them, frequently, for commentary and amplification; but let me just put them down now, straightforwardly and simply, as foundation stones for the discussion which is to come.
- Until the autumn of 1991, when the Children Act became law, the fathers of at least one in every four children born in Great Britain had no rights with regard to those children. Approximately 175,000 children are born every year to unmarried women. Those women have had all the rights of parenthood for those children. The men have had no legal rights of paternity. They might not even register the birth of their baby. The mother might, with unchallengeable legal authority, refuse the father any right to see or to be with his child. Those men might be denied the right ever to see their children. Those fathers have had no right in law to resist if the mother removed the children to another place, even if she took them to another country. The new Children Act will make a difference to the position of unmarried fathers; but we don’t know, at present, how that vaguely-expressed intention will work in practice.
- A man who makes an application to the divorce court for joint custody of the children of a broken marriage has a one-in-five chance of success. A man who makes an application for sole custody of his children has a one-in-ten chance. About 175,000 divorces are granted in Great Britain every year. In more than 100,000 of those divorces, the couples have children under the age of 16. The routine practice of the divorce courts of Great Britain is to strip men of their property and income and, simultaneously, deny them equal rights of access and care for their children.
- About 200,000 abortions are legally effected in Great Britain every year. We do not know how many of the fathers of those foetuses might have wished to see their children born: nobody has ever tried to count them. They are not accorded a glimmer of public attention nor an atom of legal right. Subject only to the consent of doctors, the pregnant woman is given the absolute right to choose to abort the foetus, regardless of the state of her relationship with the father when she conceived. The inseminating man has no right, in law or in convention, to express or to record an opinion on the abortion, even if the woman has, in the past, openly and unambiguously expressed the desire to bear their child.
- About 700,000 babies are born in the UK every year. The 700,000 men who are their fathers have no right in law to time off work when those babies are born.
- A man may not be classed as a dependent for social security benefits in Great Britain.
- Widowers who are left with the care of children are not entitled to the state benefits which a widow would receive.
- Though it will soon be changed, the law in Great Britain still allows women to retire and receive a state pension at the age of 60 while requiring men to work until they are 65. The coming change in the law has been imposed upon Britain to bring the country into line with its European partners. The protests of men on this incontestable point of inequality have been ignored in Britain for 25 years.
Two connected consequences flow from this list. First, it gives an unusual perspective upon our times and the societies in which we live: it shifts the focus of the light in which we see ourselves. Second—and more importantly in my mind—it must mean, in each of its particular parts and in sum, that the cardinal tenets of feminism add up to a totem of bunkum. First, let’s adjust our eyes to the different angle of light.
Throughout the whole of this century and especially in the last 25 years, Western societies have been extensively preoccupied with the changing position of women. The movement to adjust society to accommodate those changes, to alter the civic and political standing of women and to afford them legal and economic independence has been, incomparably, the most important single force for social reform in this century.
We can now see—it follows from that list—that with the focus of reforming light and zeal being directed upon the position of women, a shadow or penumbra of neglect has fallen upon the realities of life for men and upon the social terms and conditions by which men’s personal and family lives are extensively defined and limited. Their common difficulties and their universal and institutionalised disadvantages have been overlooked. Or, where those disadvantages have been acknowledged, the prevailing tendency has been to act as if they must count for nothing—as if any difficulties shared by men must necessarily be trivial blights on the lives of weak individuals compared with the imposing grievances shared by all women.
Men, it has been broadly agreed, would be exhibiting an unseemly ingratitude, unmanly and unsoldierly, if they were to moan and whine about their troubles. But those troubles are not so trivial. Take a look back at that list. Each point touches upon the marrow of an individual’s life—the main issues of life and death, of love and sex, of marriage and work, of the very rights of man as a citizen and as a creature of family. After the abolition of slavery, can any human right, any civic issue, be more essential than the right of a parent to live with her or his child, as best they can hack out their own domestic arrangements? No society which abrogates, abridges, compromises or neglects that right for hundreds of thousands of individuals who have nothing in common but their gender may advance a secure claim to be working towards the expunction of sexual prejudices and inequalities.
Even so, the main issue on this page is not the seriousness of the particular grievances on that list; nor is it the overall picture which it relays of routine, systemic and institutionalised disadvantage for men. Each of those disadvantages is an element of fissive material which can be bound together to make a grenade. If the assembled device is lobbed over the ramparts so that it drops deep into the foundations of modern feminism, it may blow up that towering edifice of bullshit, that babel of intolerance and casuistry which has cast a murrain on the life of the West in the last quarter of this century.
During the last 25 years, we have all grown accustomed to the propositions of the feminism which took its origins in the New Left of America and Europe in the later Sixties. The corner-stone of that mosaic of belief, assertion and argument has been the claim that all post-nomadic societies have been “patriarchal”.
This ought to mean that all modern societies have been organised to endorse the powers of the father-figure; but it means more than that in the terminology of modern feminism. It means that those societies have been organised by men for the benefit of men and to the disadvantage of women.
We have all, in some measure, paid lip-service to the pseudo-Marxist tenets of modern feminism. We have all gone along with the general presumption that women belong by birth to a social and economic class which is oppressed by the patriarchal system as it is operated by a social and economic class composed, by birth, of men.
Now we can see and assert that those propositions are false at root. It cannot be true that men oppress women in a system which they devise for their benefit if, in a number of vital and central elements of the lives of men, they find themselves in positions of disadvantage compared with women. The proposition cannot be squared with the evidence. You must make what you will of that evidence. You may feel free to say that men, evidently, don’t care about their children. You may share the opinion of a woman visiting my ‘ family house and admiring it who said, “houses are for women and children, not for those with dangly bits”. You may take the view that men, being barely sub-human, uncivilised, barbaric, slobbish, undependable, unfamilial, need to be kept in their place by a system of law and regulation which confers them with rights of paternity on strictly limited terms.
You can say what you like but you cannot say that we live in a patriarchal system which is designed to protect and to promote the advantages of men over women. Can you see why that line is insupportable? Are you with me?
If the point is not self-evident, let me bash it into shape.
We all understand that the system of apartheid in South Africa was devised to sustain and to ensure the political and social supremacy of the white minority. The denial of political rights to blacks and the other circumscribinq conditions in which they lived all added up to a simple division of races in which whites had all power and blacks had none. The system could not have been described as a white supremacy, apartheid would have had no meaning, if blacks had been able to exercise rights and powers which were denied to whites. If, for instance, blacks had been allowed to vote while whites were denied that right, the very idea of a white supremacist society would have been preposterous.
Similarly, a king who may not leave his estates without the permission of parliament cannot be called an absolute monarch. The nomenklatura of the Soviet system could not have been called a privileged elite if everybody else but them had been allowed to shop at the special foreign currency stores.
Do you see what I am driving at?
The same logic, applied to the facts I have advanced, explodes the feminist myth of male supremacist patriarchy in Western societies. If any disadvantages apply to all men, if any individual man is denied a right by reason of his gender which is afforded to every individual woman, then it must follow that ours is not a society which is exclusively devised to advance and protect advantages for men over women.
It is not a patriarchy. I want to argue that, since it is demonstrably unreasonable, the false feminist picture can only be sustained through the exercise of intolerance, vulgar prejudice and totalitarianism in thought and speech. I want to try to show that the feminist picture of men which is broadly shared and agreed throughout our society can be contested in every detail, in all its parts and as a whole. I want to advance the opinion that the feminist world-picture came into being, in the first place, not as a tool of progress and a weapon of liberation but as a restrictive force which refused and inhibited change. I want to say that we have all, women and men, been harmed in our personal lives and in our political potentialities, as citizens, by that reactionary world-view. A great number of the correctable wrongs and deficiencies in our societies, I argue, have been deepened by feminism; and the power of its ideology has, in my view, inhibited and diminished the political powers of my generation, now thirty, forty and fifty something, now at the pinnacle of what ought to be their political powers but, in effect, neutralised.
That feminist world-view was always, in my book, a force of troubled and troubling reaction. If you, the reader, take that world-view as given, if it is the essential foundation of your self-esteem, if you take it for granted that women have had to struggle to advance their liberation against an oppressive system and that the changes which have occurred in the position of women in the last 20 years are the crowning jewel of achievement for the libertarian and liberationist generation of the 1960s, then the argument and discussion between us is likely to be a hot and heavy tussle.
Let me say that, from my side, no holds are barred. Shall we get at it?
From Chapter Four: Blind Panic
Here are a few facts. They need to be chewed slowly and digested fully before we move on to the richer banquet of argument. They are drawn from the records of British ministries and official statistics for England and Wales. The pattern they describe was duplicated throughout north-western Europe, North America and Australasia.
1) Between 1965-1975, the number of women received into institutions of higher learning in Great Britain rose from 4884 to 22784.
2) Between 1961-1977, the number of married women in Great Britain’s labour force rose by 77%, bringing an extra two million workers into employment
3) The number of abortions rose from 22256 in 1968—the first year in which abortion was made legal—to 139,702 in 1975
4) The number of divorces rose from 27000 in 1961 to 80000 in 1971
In the following decade, the figures altered much less. The decisive change had taken place. The number of women in the workforce actually fell slightly, by one or two percent, between the mid-Seventies and the early Eighties. The number of women in higher education in 1970 was 178200. In 1980, the number was 202800. Abortions rose from 139702 in 1975 to 171873 in 1985. Compared with the trebling in the number of divorces in the Sixties, they merely doubled between 1971-1981, from 80000 to 157000.
Feminists of all varieties presume (and often boast) that the changes which occurred in the position of women in the second half of this century resulted from the claims of the women’s movement and the militancy with which those claims were advanced.
Very many of them (see The Guardian Woman’s Page any week, hear Woman’s Hour any day) really do think that there are more women doctors, lawyers, teachers, broadcasters, businesswomen and truck drivers today because the Sixties sisterhood demanded such change.
The figures tell another story.
Those figures plainly and unmistakably tell us that it was institutional change which transformed the position of women—new laws, regulations and practices which passed with breathtaking speed through the political establishment of the day. The doubling in the numbers of women received into universities resulted directly from government’s implementation of the Robbins Report of 1963. Abortions rose sevenfold in a single decade following the Abortion Act of 1967, which itself resulted from David Steele’s Private Member’s Bill for which the government of the day sympathetically provided parliamentary time. Figures for divorce rocketed as a direct result of the 1969 Divorce Reform Act. How much did the introduction of those reforming laws and practices owe to feminism and the women’s liberation movement?
Absolutely nothing. Zilch. Sweet FA. No connection.
The acts, in most cases, were passed into law before the writings of Kate Millett, Ti-Grace Atkinson and Germaine Greer had been printed or even , in some cases, written.
Those reforms grew out of the political consideration of social needs—considerations which themselves long preceded the acts of the legislators. For example, the need to broaden admissions to British universities, to build new universities to meet the needs for an expanded managerial class in the post-war economy, had been generally recognised and agreed from the mid-1950s. If it had not been so, the reforms recommended by the Robbins Report could not have been implemented, as they were, before the 1960s were out.
In retrospect, two features are most striking about these changes.
The first point of amazement is to say that they were introduced and passed into law against negligible opposition. The transformations which occurred in official attitudes towards women’s education, their place in divorce and their right to have an abortion were all introduced into the mainstream of the official life of Britain without crisis.
It is customary to see these changes resulting from vigorous campaigning by interest groups against the entrenched opposition of a back-woods establishment. It doesn’t look that way if you read the records now, nearly 30 years later. What appears much more noteworthy is the scale of agreement and consensus in British society on the need for these changes. If a patriarchal order of establishment had existed, would it not have acted more forcefully and militantly to defend and to conserve its interests? Compare the Corn Laws repeals and reforms.
The second dazzling point of interest is in the overwhelming magnitude of those changes. In retrospect, it is clear that an unprecedented and largely unrecognised revolution occurred in the central nervous system of our society and in all the cells of our lives.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, our society took the full impact of a fissiparous shock for which it was entirely unprepared and to which it failed, pitifully, to adjust with patience, understanding, tolerance and restraint. The shock was administered, with shattering abruptness, directly upon the war babies and the post-War generation. They, both men and women, were largely left to their own devices to come to terms with the fall-out from changes which none of our ancestors had ever encountered and which nobody fully understood.
The direct predecessors, our own parents, could not draw from their own experience to comprehend the scale and the impact of the changes which had arrived in the lives of their children. Having, in their own youth, fought a world war which caused the deaths of tens of millions and which included, in its final stages, a vision of the end of all life on earth, they were entitled to feel that the lives of their children were a cakewalk by comparison with their own. Those children had been born and had passed their infancy in a world of domestic stability, high employment and material luxury. What could they (we) possibly have to complain about?
The parents would say, with towering complacency, that the teenagers of the 1960s and the young adults of the 1970s acted as if they had invented sex. In point of fact, there was some truth in this line. A new world of sexual relations had been invented, not by the young themselves but by the chemists and technicians in the laboratories of California where the contraceptive pill was refined. That device exploded over the West with fissive and devastating effect. At the epicentre of its explosion stood the young men and women of the post-war generation. They would be marked for life by its blast and its fall-out. It blew them apart. The contraceptive pill having been invented for women, it naturally appeared that they were, exclusively, the recipients and bearers of change. All their expectations and conventions having been exploded by the device which took its place in their handbags and on their bathroom shelves, it was understandable that the focus of public attention should be directed upon their condition, as they demanded that it should be. Men, it was assumed, were essentially the same as they had ever been. Men, I believe, assumed this too.
Ed. Note: Read Neil’s description of what happened after he originally published his book here.