Editor’s note: Neil Lyndon’s historically significant 1990 article for the Sunday Times Magazine titled “Bad Mouthing” was probably the first ever published to discuss a mainstream culture in the UK in which men were habitually derided; and it was the first to itemise the disadvantages and inequalities to which men and boys are subjected – in a society which ostensibly oppresses women. Bad mouthing was the first article anywhere to point out that men died in greater numbers from prostate cancer than all the fatalities for women that resulted from all cancers of the genito-urinary system put together; and that nobody seemed to care much about prostate cancer.
The publication of Bad Mouthing brought a torrent of abuse on Lyndon’s head (including the observation “can there be something wrong with the size [of his penis]?” from the feminist publisher Carmen Callil, in response to the point about prostate cancer). But that wave of abuse was dwarfed by the astonishing reaction in 1992 when Neil Lyndon published his book “No More Sex War: The Failures of Feminism” – a comprehensive demolition of the ideology of feminism in its own terms.
In that book, Lyndon advanced the view that feminism was a poisonous ideological parasite on the changes that had occurred between men and women in the 20th century. He argued that change had resulted primarily from the introduction of infallible contraception and easily-accessible abortion and also that, contrary to the feminist notion of a repressive patriarchy, men had willingly consented to change for women and had themselves accommodated change with admirable ease.
No book and no author in the last 50 years has been subjected to such vilification as Neil Lyndon and No More Sex War. No writer in our time has suffered so much personal and professional cost for publishing his opinions. Neil Lyndon was mocked for being obviously impotent and incapable of getting a woman. He was sacked as a columnist for The Times, He was bankrupted. His estranged wife abducted their son to Scotland where she obtained an order of custody without Lyndon even knowing the application was being heard. He was physically attacked and threatened with death and his book was threatened with burning.
This article was thought lost, but retrieved from a dusty archive, transcribed into electronic form and re-published with the assistance of Miles Groth and MRA Andy Man.
Men don’t like to complain when women are rude about them. It’s a man’s world and women have to assert themselves, don’t they? Well, no… In this provocative essay, Neil Lyndon argues that the habitual deprecation of men must stop if they are to become what women want them to be.
When they’re not billing and cooing, men and women have always spoken sharply about each other but for the past quarter of a century most of the public traffic in bile has gone one way only. It is supposed to be taboo in this country to make disparaging remarks about groups of people who have nothing in common except their birth; but the British custom and law do nothing to stop one half the population being casually and collectively damned and derided day in and day out — usually by members of the other half.
Here are some of the voices of intolerance; a few specimens, unsystematically collected, of the routine expression of prejudice towards men, all broadcast or published in a current context of the last year. They are only an illustrative selection, gathered from women in a variety of walks of life, which can be expanded into a catalogue.
Germaine Greer: “It always amazes me that women don’t understand how much men hate them.” (From The Female Eunuch, quoted approvingly in The Independent television listing for a programme about feminism).
A lapel badge: “The more men I meet, the more I like my dog.”
Anna Raeburn, counsellor: “I regard men as a pleasant pastime but no more dependable than the British weather.”
Jane Fonda: “I still believe that women are the superior sex.”
Margaret Thatcher: “Of course, women are better…”
Julie Burchill writing in Time Out: “A good part — and definitely the most fun part — of being a feminist is about frightening men. American and Australian feminists have always know this, and absorbed it cheerfully into their act; one thinks of Shere Hite julienning men on phone-in shows, or Dale Spender telling us that a good feminist is rude to a man at least three times a day on principle. Of course, there’s a lot more to feminism… but scaring the shit out of the scumbags is an amusing and necessary part because, sadly, a good many men still respect nothing but strength.”
Jonathan Miller, speaking to The Times: “Men don’t get on well with each other, they don’t have standards of intimacy, so they exchange jokes.”
Janet Daley, a columnist in The Independent: “The standard western adult male is rendered incapable of being comfortable with emotional expression being quite incapable of understanding what it is like to be someone else.”
Caroline Jenkins, a correspondent writing in the letters page of the Radio Times: “Mothers bring children into the world and mothers bring them up. Fathers mostly sit about on their behinds watching television while mothers feed the kids, bathe the kids, play with the kids, tell the kids bedtime stories and generally wear themselves out. Most fathers can’t be bothered to spend more than an hour with their kids until they have grown up or until their exhausted wives see the light and divorce them.”
Yoko Ono: “I wonder why men can get serious at all. They have this delicate long thing hanging outside their bodies which goes up and down by its own will … Humour is probably something the male of the species discovered through his own anatomy.”
A character in Erica Jong’s novel, Any Woman’s Blues: “Maleness is wonderful, really, isn’t it, honey? Perfect denial of reality.”
This list could be expanded infinitely; but the work is so dreary and the attitudes expressed are so depressing that I hope we can say that these examples are sufficient.
The language of intolerance, passively or actively colour with every shade of dislike, ridicule and contempt, has been so thoroughly absorbed into the cells of our national diction that, as a way of talking about men, it has become a semi-automatic function of our national character.
Even more striking, in a way, is the universal sanction given to this language of prejudice. Nobody complains. Perhaps men have become so used to being put down that they have grown to think they deserve it.
And yet… if you alter the specific vocabulary of those specimen lines you get the full strength of their intolerance. If you switch the terms you see that those declarations emerge from a general prejudice which — like all racist or nationalist prejudices — depends upon the presumption that everybody who shares a common origin shares a common classification of type and moral character. If, to take Julie Burchill’s lines, you substitute the word “Nazi” for the word “feminists” and the word “Jew” for the word “man”, you get (without much dickering) language that might have brought a stammer to the lips of Julius Streicher.
“A good part — and definitely the most fun part — of being a Nazi is about frightening Jews. German and Austrian Nazis have always know this, and absorbed it cheerfully into their act; one thinks of Ernst Rohm julienning Jews in the ghettos, or Goebbels telling us that a good Nazi is rude to a Jew at least three times a day on principle. Of course, there’s a lot more to Nazism… but scaring the shit out of the scumbags is an amusing and necessary part because, sadly, a good many Jews still respect nothing but strength.”
I am not saying that feminism is Nazism. I am saying that the language of vulgar intolerance is readily transportable.
Margaret Thatcher’s line about the natural superiority of women may not be as grotesque as the thoughts of Camp Master Burchill; but, with a flick of the terms, you can see that her attitude is also rooted in prejudice. If she had said, “Of course, white-skinned people are better than black-skinned people…” she would have not lasted another day in office.
A producer of popular novelties might expect to be fatwah’d if he distributed a badge which said, “The more women I meet, the more I like my dog.” Robert Redford would certainly be finished if he said that men were the superior sex. If an Agony Uncle said, “I regard women as a pleasant pastime but no more dependable than the British weather,” the furies would descend upon him.
It is very unusual, these days, to hear a man under 50 say anything mildly derogatory about women in a general way. The old stanchions of prejudice have gone to rust. I have not heard younger men moan, as our fathers did, about women’s driving, or their lack of punctuality. I can hardly imagine that any man under 50 would say what men commonly said 50 years ago — that women were “born liars.” Men’s habits of speech and thought about women have very largely changed in the last 20 years. I don’t know any man who would deplore the change.
Meanwhile, everybody knows and understands that it’s socially OK to be contemptuous about men in general. Nobody is going to kick Jonathan Miller’s shins under the table when he elegantly opines that men “don’t have standards of intimacy” with each other — though self-respecting men might seize him by his casual platitudes and bellow in his face, “Speak for yourself, brother.”
How did it happen that the language of gormless intolerance became so routine a feature of our national diction? What, for instance, would cause or allow a world-famous writer to speak so idiotically as to say that men hate women (as if all men hate all women; as if all men belonged by birth to a kind of natural Ku Klux Klan of woman-burners; as if — in opposition to the evidence of what they say and do, write, sing and dream — men only hate women and do not love them, do not want to love them)?
Why would a highly-educated woman I know choose to say that “All men are Idi Amin” (are all women Myra Hindley?) when you could just as well say — with equal logic — “All men are Jesus Christ”?
Where, you might say, do these people get off with such claptrap? How have they got away with it? Where did it start and when will it end?
* * *
Something ruinous and evil has happened between men and women in the last 25 years, something so wounding and sore that it’s hard to see how the damage can be repaired while we live, hard to see how the last generations of this century can come of age unafflicted by the ills of the past.
As far as I can see, general intolerance towards men got started as a respectable attitude in some of the earliest and most influential feminist writings of the late Sixties and early Seventies.
Seeing that women were oppressed — legally, materially, biologically, by custom and habit — the ideologists of what was called the “new feminism” portrayed men as a group and man as an individual in the role of oppressor. It follows that women should feel licensed, even obliged, to speak and think of men with whatever immoderation and spite they fancied.
The claim that women were oppressed as a class by men as a class emerged early in the Women’s Liberation movement. The idea was vital to the status of the movement as an authentic and respectable element in the left wing of the time and in ideological canons of what was then called the New Left.
A characteristic expression of that point of view is this, from Policing Domestic Violence by Susan Edwards (1989): “…it is the precise juncture of bourgeois and male interest which constitutes the corner-stone of women’s experience and corresponding oppression.”
Within that New Left, it was not enough to say that women in the west were suffering under the weight of a mass of serious disadvantages, as they were. Nobody listened; nobody cared. The women who made the complaint were told to hold their pretty little tongues, roll another joint and let the men get on with their work liberating the universities, the working classes, the blacks and the Vietnamese. The women grew exasperated and restless.
It was not enough for them to point out that, by the terms of the social order which existed before the invention of the Pill, women were restricted educationally and economically and confined to a domestic ghetto; that they were expected to look appealing according to a wearisome ideal of femininity and that they were expected to be sexually obliging to men and to keep their mouths shut.
It was not enough to say that the introduction of infallible contraception had fundamentally altered the conditions of women, requiring them to enter the world and the jobs market outside the family home. All of this was true; none of it was taken seriously.
The women of the New Left who ventured these complaints felt compelled to go further. They had to cement their grievances into an ideological edifice — without which their complaints would carry no weight in the same New Left.
They, especially the new feminists of the USA, came up with the proposition that women were subjugated by men as a function not only of the capitalist state but, even, of imperialism.
That did it. That got everybody’s attention. If imperialism was to blame, who could argue? Who could deny that the man who tied the woman down with apron strings and suspender belts was the same man who tied down the Viet Cong with napalm and carpet bombing? It was the perfect cat’s cradle of logic. Man — the oppressor — could neither reply to the accusation nor argue against it since it was a sine qua non that his arguments would be self-exculpatory and would tend to reinforce the power of his subjugation.
The man who snored beside you in bed at night was as much your oppressor, in a class sense, as Richard Nixon. Your man’s sexual demands or failing and his dirty socks dropped upon the bathroom floor were as much a function of male oppression, in a class sense (can you get your head round this?) as the smoking carbines of My Lai.
In a class sense, every man was Lieut Calley. That didn’t mean that he, personally, was to blame (he was no more than a class operative, historically speaking): it did mean, however, that couldn’t be blamed if you were nasty to him. Get it?
For want of a better framework of analysis and despite its shaky basis in reason and fact, this pseudo-Marxist approach passed thoroughly into the roots of modern feminism. It became axiomatic that women, as a class, were oppressed by men, as a class, and that a state of war existed between them.
“Men are the enemy,” Germaine Greer wrote in February 1970. “They know it — at least they know that there is a sex war on, an unusually cold one.” And “The only genetic superiority men have is their capacity for violence…”
The pseudo-Marxist axioms of the new feminists quickly spread in debased forms into common speech. It became permissible for women to say anything nasty they liked about men and — since each individual man had to acknowledge that he was a foot soldier in the army of an oppressive class — men were entitled to say nothing in reply. By the mid-Seventies a woman could say, “All men are bastards,” and, lo! the eternal moan of the unhappy and intolerant woman had become a quasi-revolutionary declaration, which nobody could deny. By extension of this totalitarian logic, it even became permissible for a woman to declare that all men were, by nature, rapists.
In 1973, for example, Germaine Greer wrote an essay about rape in which she said: “Nevertheless, men do go to jail for rape, mostly black men, nearly all of them poor, and neither the judges nor the prosecuting attorneys are hampered in their dealings by the awareness that they are rapists too, only they have more sophisticated methods of compulsion.”
(These “more sophisticated methods” did not seem to be exclusively masculine in nature. Germaine Greer explained that “Probably the commonest form of non-criminal rape is rape by fraud — by phony tenderness or false promises of an enduring relationship, for example.” By those criteria, there can’t be many sexually active adults of either sex alive who have not been the victims of “non-criminal rape”.)
If it was legitimate to say that all men are oppressors, then why should it be disreputable to say that they are all rapists? Or all child molesters? Idi Amin? You could say men lacked standards of intimacy with each other; or you could say men were emotionally retarded, unable to imagine themselves as somebody else. You could say fathers sit on their arses watching television and neglecting their children. Any old generalised claptrap became — and remains — acceptable.
The ideological connections between modern feminism and the New Left have been widely identified and recorded in feminist histories of the last quarter century. However, the idea that the imposition by feminists of a pseudo-Marxist analysis on the character of masculinity had led to and legitimised a universal intolerance is, I reckon, less familiar.
Because it has become an axiom of our time that all men are the same by nature, it must follow that all men will always remain the same: none of them can ever change. This point of view, transparently nonsensical as it is, has given respectability to the intolerant ways of thought and habits of speech we meet all the time. See the sample which begin this article.
It is a piquant paradox to find Jane Fonda, Margaret Thatcher and Julie Burchill all sharing conservative attitudes which emerge from the contortions of a mutant Marxism, but there it is — and there they are.
* * *
As long as women are seen collectively as the victims of oppression, it will be assumed that women, uniquely, suffer serious disadvantages; and it will be thought that men, the oppressors, are somehow the beneficiaries of the oppressive system. As long as this attitude hows sway, no attention will be given to putting things right between men and women; and to correcting the disadvantages men suffer.
Apart from the monstrously insulting discrimination they suffer in the established churches and the fact that they cannot receive hereditary peerages in their own names, it is hard to think of one example of systemic and institutionalised discrimination against women in Britain today. When I telephoned the press bureau of the Equal Opportunities Commission, an official there agreed that it was hard to think of any glaring examples. After a long moment’s thought she said that part-time workers, many of them women, fall outside the protection of the Equal Pay legislation. She said that she would call me back when she had thought of some more examples. She never called.
The disadvantages women actually suffer today seem to be informal, proceeding not from institutionalised principle but from general practice and custom. They are hard to pin down and almost impossible to legislate out of existence.
It is true that many women do get paid less than men for the same work; but the practice actually illegal and cannot be called systemic. In many professions (the law, politics, the police, perhaps the armed services) it is obvious that women face deep prejudice. On the other hand, it begins to appear that in some occupations (most obviously in the media and, perhaps, in education) women are at an advantage over men in getting jobs and securing advancement.
The fears and embarrassments of young women who have to walk in the streets or travel alone on public transport are readily imagined; and it is easy to sympathise with young women who constantly have to fight off uninvited passes from sexually aggressive men. But it is impossible to frame any form of legislation which could effectively outlaw this kind of behaviour.
Meanwhile, men are suffering from systemic disadvantages which are readily identifiable but which tend to get overlooked in isolation and have never, so far as I know, been placed together to represent a body of grievous, institutionalised discrimination.
To list some of these points:
- The inequitable state pension arrangements that allow women to retire at 60 or 65 but which prevent men from retiring before 65 without financial penalty.
- The routine preponderance of divorce court orders made in favour of women for the custody of children in divorce approximately five times as often as the court makes an award of joint custody, about 10 times as often as custody is awarded to men.
- The consistently inequitable granting of maintenance orders against men, in favour of women.
- The neglect of men’s physiology as a subject for medical research and the consistently primitive barbarities of treatment.
- The routine assumption in our legislature and in our courts that men are naturally violent towards women and children and that women are not violent towards men and children.
- The inequitable division of state benefits and rights of leave from work following a baby’s birth. Fathers who want to take an active role in a baby’s life are actively discouraged.
- The refusal of the social services to allow a man the status of a dependent for the sake of benefit payment.
Any of these points can be amplified; but let’s just take the question of medical research into men’s illnesses. Nobody ever says that men get a terrible deal from the medical establishment yet…
Statistics can be made to support more than one interpretation, but it is a shock to most people to discover that deaths in England and Wales from cancers of the genito-urinary organs of men exceed the number of deaths from cancers of the genito-urinary organs of women (12,742 men in 1989; 10,200 women). Cancer of the prostate kills many more men (7861) than there are deaths among women from cancer of the cervix (1820) and cancer of the uterus (1444). Some leading British authorities seriously doubt that a screening programme for prostate cancer would be useful, but the United States a major effort has just begun.
“Relatives and doctors in this country haven’t made much fuss about these figures,” said Ewan Milroy, consultant urologist at the Middlesex Hospital, “because in my 30 to 40 years’ experience there simply hasn’t been any public demand for attention to be given to men’s problems. Part of the reason is that the vast majority of these male patients are elderly.
“The medical profession in the States would not agree with this attitude. They would say that, with such enormously increased life expectancies, there’s a lot you can do by screening and health education campaigns.”
The general presumption and prejudices of our time about the health of men are the exact opposite of the truth. Again, to find the truth turned most precisely on its head, it is most convenient to turn to Germaine Greer.
In her 1970 essay on The Politics of Female Sexuality, Germaine Greer said, “Whereas the penis is taken seriously, especially when it is clear that the origin of a patient’s complaint is essentially inorganic, cunt is treated as a crude mechanism, apt to function badly for long periods without any significant consequence … If women are to reconquer their sexual pride they must find a way to make cunt as important in medicine as cock is.”
Greer gave a voice to an assumption which was and remains axiomatic in the modern feminist movement and has widely penetrated the lingua franca of our time: that the sexual physiology of women was subject to institutionalised neglect.
The truth is exactly the opposite to Germaine Greer’s prejudice. The penis is not taken seriously. It is treated as a crude mechanism. It is not remotely as important in medicine as a women’s sexual organs. It is, in fact, the subject of institutionalised neglect. It is despised. (See the thoughts of Yoko Ono, above.)
“Most urologists would agree [that men’s problems are ignored],” said Mr. Milroy, “and I think we all resent it. It is very difficult to get money for research into prostate cancer whereas it is relatively easy for research into carcinomas of breast or cervix, simply because they are much more fashionable.”
Less is known about the exact causes and cures of male infertility than is known about the remotest quasar. “It remains a subject surrounded by the profoundest ignorance,” said another specialist, who did not want to be named. “It’s perfectly fair to say that it’s the Cinderella subject of medical science.”
The image of the brutal and rude gynaecological examination of women by male doctors became one the most graphically horrible and persuasive pictures drawn by the modern feminist movement. The routine humiliation of women, their legs slung apart in stirrups, their faces hidden, their sensitivities ignored and their modesty outraged, became an analogue of the treatment of all women by all men and seemed to be a perfect example women’s peculiar misery, the perfect justification for their rage.
As Germaine Greer wrote: “Any woman can recount her own horror story of a doctor’s failure to examine her properly, of his brutal use of the crude and cold speculum, screwing the tender membranes of the perineum, shocking her cervix with the smear swab.”
Men, it seemed to follow, couldn’t answer that: they had no experience to match the degradations women suffered.
Not true: ask any man who has undergone investigations into his own fertility. Ask one who has knelt with his trousers and underpants round his ankles and his bum in the air while a doctor and a student discussed his case without including him; one of whom, casually and without warning stuck a thermometer into the patient’s rectum. Ask any man who has submitted to a prostate examination and felt a plastic gloved hand enter and seize him as if he was a shot bird about to be drawn of its entrails.
Ask any man who has been confronted with the evidence of his own sterility — being shown a microscope slide of feeble sperm and hearing a doctor say: “It’s as barren as the face of the moon, isn’t it?” Or “I’m not saying you won’t have children but it’s about as likely as that you could run non-stop from London to Oxford.”
Try telling those men that it’s their world.
Why does it matter if women speak nastily about men? After centuries of oppression, aren’t the ladies entitled to be a bit crabby? Aren’t these points simply the reactionary moans and twitches of bitter men who resent feeling that the inborn supremacy of their sex has been reduced?
It wouldn’t matter very much if the intolerance voiced about men and the disadvantages they suffer were simply an undignified blot on our conduct sheet. Discourtesy is not a major offence; vulgar prejudices are held among the ineradicable habits of a public mind. The reason it matters is because sympathy, understanding and co-operation between men and women are essential if humane and reasonable arrangements are going to be made for the care of children.
The most serious and taxing social problem for us is the question: who brings up the baby and who brings home the bacon? On this question our society has come up miserably short; and the answers we give ourselves are cruelly hard on both men and women.
The position of working parents is deplorable, sad and shocking. The strains upon them are intolerable. As a mark of our failure to achieve sympathetic and loving arrangement for ourselves and our children it is painful beyond measure that working parents should rarely see their children and that a mass of infants should be consigned to the care of more or less trained, more or less professionals (usually punishingly underpaid young women).
Early writers among the new feminists were fond of quoting Engels’ remark, “The modern individual family is founded on the open or concealed slavery of the wife … Within the family, he is the bourgeois and she represents the proletariat.” If we wanted to revise that remark today, we would have to say that the modern middle-class family is founded not on the slavery of the wife but on the slavery of a mass of poorly paid, unskilled, most un-unionised, mostly propertyless supporters and auxiliaries — from baby-minders to play-school leaders, from domestic cleaning women to school teachers, from grandparents to kindly neighbours. Most of them are women and they constitute a lumpen group within the underclass. But the exploitation they suffer is not the exploitation of women as a class, except to the extent that young men don’t usually do this work, neither being invited nor considering it preferable to unemployment.
They are exploited not by reason of their gender but because of their economic powerlessness. Within today’s modern family the parents (earning mothers and fathers) are the bourgeoisie and the nanny is the proletariat. In those millions of households where a single woman is caring for children, the state is father. Within this system of arrangements nobody is likely to be happy — not the men, not the women, not the children, not the slaves, not the state.
Men are, in increasing numbers and at vast cost to the tax-payer, leaving the responsibilities of fatherhood to the state. Between 1981 and 1988 the number of one-parent families claiming benefit from the DSS rose by 86 per cent. During the same period the proportion of one-parent families on benefit who were also receiving maintenance fell from 50 per cent to 23 per cent. The income support bill for single parents in 1988-89 was £1.85 billion and £3.6 billion was spent on social security benefits for single-parent families.
Contempt and discrimination towards men are not the only reasons why millions of children are being brought up by auxiliaries and millions more are being fathered by the state; but the prevailing attitude towards men is a powerful factor in the crisis in child care in our country.
If men are regarded with contempt they will, of course, not be given an honoured place in our legislation or in our courts, in our homes or in our families. We will not feel obliged to adjust our laws and our practices to take account of men’s needs or of the benefits they can bring to home and family. If men are seen as being useless, inferior, “as dependable as the British weather,” worse than a dog, it will be natural to see them as drones. It will be natural for them to leave their children to the care of single women and the state.
If ever there was a case for the government to use its massive powers to effect some “social engineering” it is here and now. The general position of men and the attitudes commonly held towards them can be significantly altered by legislation.
For instance, the government is eager to extend tax benefits to single working mothers who employ child-minders; but it has done nothing to encourage men and women to share the work of caring for their own children. Cash allowances, tax breaks for employers and incentives for employees would make an inestimable difference if they were offered to men who wanted months off work to be with their new-born babies; or who wanted flexible hours of working to bear their share of child care; or who wanted to share a job with the mother of their children.
We are happy, in this country, to spend millions on pursuing fathers who default on maintenance payments; but we give no encouragement or honour to men who want to stay at home and look after their children. Such men are treated as freaks and wimps by employers and peers.
Modern feminists are right to say that most men still suppose that they are entitled to a working life unencumbered by domestic responsibilities, especially those of childcare. But of course this will continue to be the predominant attitude so long as it is reinforced in every department of our social life: so long as the courts, far from imposing domestic responsibilities on divorcing fathers, actually deny them to fathers who seek them, so long as employers expect employees to choose between their families and their jobs.
If relations between men, women and children are to improve, attitudes to men and manhood must change. It wouldn’t be a bad start if men caused to be the butt of casual prejudice expressed in half-witted habits of speech. But the most important job our legislators face must be to remove some of the systemic disadvantages of life for men to improve their position within the family and within society at large. There is one sense in which men, as a group and a whole, can be described as a class in Britain: in a host of vital ways they second class citizens.