Breaking the pendulum: Tradcons vs. Feminists

Editor’s note: This article is also available in Spanish and Portuguese.

The pendulum that is, and the pendulum that isn’t

The Modern Girl with the lipstick and the cocktail is as much a rebel against the Woman’s Rights Woman of the ’80’s, with her stiff stick-up collars and strict teetotalism, as the latter was a rebel against the Early Victorian lady of the languid waltz tunes and the album full of quotations from Byron; or as the last, again, was a rebel against a Puritan mother to whom the waltz was a wild orgy and Byron the Bolshevist of his age. Trace even the Puritan mother back through history and she represents a rebellion against the Cavalier laxity of the English Church, which was at first a rebel against the Catholic civilisation, which had been a rebel against the Pagan civilisation. Nobody but a lunatic could pretend that these things were a progress; for they obviously go first one way and then the other. But whichever is right, one thing is certainly wrong; and that is the modern habit of looking at them only from the modern end.

–GK Chesterton, “St. Thomas Aquinas – The Dumb Ox,” 1933.

In light of the “invention” of Feminism 2.0 by Tammy Bruce, which is clearly a callback to what we at AVfM sometimes call the “tradcon” (Traditionalist Conservative) mentality, I think it may be time to explain why many of us in the MHRM view “traditionalism” as being about as troubling as feminism. It should also help explain why we do not believe the Men’s Human Rights Movement to be a “pendulum swing.” Throughout the decades it’s been popular to say that “feminism has gone a bit too far, now the pendulum is swinging back,” and some are tempted to see the Men’s Human Rights Movement as a part of the “swing back” against the “extremes” of the “women’s movement.” It isn’t, but explaining why it isn’t will take some exploration. In this essay I will attempt to address both misconceptions at the same time.

There is a “tradition” that has come up in the modern, English-speaking world which looks something like this: a man will marry a woman, he will do all of the providing, she will do all of the nurturing (of him as well as the children), and they will function as a “nuclear family”: Dad+Mom+the kids as a singular unit arrayed against the world.

This “tradition” is a relatively modern innovation that came mostly out of the Post-World War II era, and is mostly a product of government planning to help soldiers returning from the war find their way “back” to what government planners defined as a “normal life” – never mind that this had not really been “normal” for most people for most of history. Governments in the developed world spent huge money creating planned communities for returning soldiers so each man could have his own “castle” of a home into which he would put his wife and 2.5 children. Postwar government planning was essential to making all of this happen.

In the abstract, especially from the viewpoint of someone in 1945, this probably sounded like a pretty good plan. Like many such visionary plans, however, it didn’t quite work out that way. We know what happened: Men often felt isolated and under enormous pressure to provide, and they and their family were ruined if there was any major problem with their career. Meanwhile, discontented housewives found themselves bored and constricted, resulting in, among other things, the likes of Betty Friedan. But it wasn’t just feminists; the children of that era rebelled against all that artificial conformity, giving us the Beat generation, the hippies, a ton of really good music, and utter social chaos by the late 1960s.

Fast forward to today, and we have many “conservative traditionalists” who, in looking backwards through history, seem to pretty much restrict their vision of the “traditional family” to that conformist 1950s vision of how things are “supposed to be.”

These “traditionalists” will also occasionally look further back in history to see the families that worked this “nuclear family” way, but fail to notice they’re primarily looking at upper class aristocrats and upper middle class lawyers, doctors, accountants, and other stable high-earning professions, and to assume those families were the norm, instead of what they really were: only a tiny minority. Men who were able to proudly say “my wife doesn’t have to work” were always a minority–and even they usually budgeted for a nanny or even a wetnurse to help mother with her burdens.

But modern eyes often spin that into a vision of how throughout all of history, “the family” has meant Dad+Mom+their children arrayed as a lone unit united against the world, without any other support system than that.

In other words, people we call “tradcons” are frequently hewing to a “tradition” that is mostly a recent invention. Throughout virtually all of history, up to and including much of the world still today, “the family” or even “the nuclear family” meant something very different: what it usually was was father+mother+the kids as part of an extended family, with grandmothers and grandfathers and aunts and uncles and/or cousins frequently living under one roof, or in very close proximity to each other, in a mutually supportive environment. “The family” was all these people, usually dedicated to helping each other, often forming alliances with other families to their mutual benefit. Even in societies where it was the norm for the youngsters to move away, they usually moved in mutually supportive groups together only a day or two away from the rest of the extended family, whom they would often get back together with in times of trouble. Even in societies when young men struck out on their own, they usually did so in mutually supportive groups, not alone against the world.

The ancient idea of “the family” was not “we get together and have dinner at holidays and provide each other some emotional support.” It was much more a matter of, “we work together during the day, we make our meals together, we live in one house or adjacent houses, we fight off enemies together, when one of us is sick we all get together to help. Two of our young’uns are getting hitched? We may need to build them a house because we can’t fit them in here right now so let’s give ’em a new place over on that hill up yonder.”

Survey other cultures and you will find that this view of “family” is still the norm in much of the non-English-speaking world. Adult children living with, or near, extended family members is not considered in the least bit unusual. This was also true in most of the English-speaking world, for most people outside the upper classes, for centuries. Indeed, in many eras, for a man to be still living with his parents at age 30 would not be considered “failure to launch,” it would be considered a normal, everyday thing. If he had a wife she’d likely move in there with him, or he might move in with her and her parents. Or, with support from family or friends, the young couple might strike out “on their own,” but it would be in an environment where they were establishing communities with other like-minded souls to help each other, and often with help of other family members too.

We often consider such arrangements to be strange and sick somehow today, when through most of history and most of the world it was just normal.

Arguably, much of the change began around the time of the Industrial Revolution, as Paul Elam wrote in The Dynamics of Male Fear. This was the historic era of the 19th Century where men first ripped away for most of the day from family and children. Prior to that, in virtually all cultures, “father” was as much of a part of children’s life as “mother,” most of the time anyway, and as a child “your family” usually meant more than those two adults. The extended family was the real “nuclear family.” Or even if you were settlers in a new area, family and close friends were there to provide support.

The view of the “nuclear family” began to change when we began sending men into coal mines and oil rigs and factories for 12 hour days. It only accelerated in the post-World-War II milieu as governments, trying to make sure returning soldiers had something to do, cemented this with the notion that “a man’s home is his castle” and every man should have his own castle, plus the required wife and kids within it, separate and arrayed against the world (QED), possibly hundreds or even thousands of miles from the rest of their families or anything they understood to be the community they grew up with.

Man as sole breadwinner, woman as sole childrearer: it’s an innovative and arguably bizarre arrangement that has not described reality for most of human history.

And by the way, if you’re a religious traditionalist, you won’t find this “one man shall be 100% responsible for providing for one woman who will be 100% responsible for nurturing the children” arrangement described as the norm anywhere in the Bible either. Except for maybe Adam and Eve, look through all the stories of family throughout the entire Bible, New Testament or Old, and what you almost invariably see is what I’ve just described: extended families. Even the rich, wealthy patriarch invariably had not just his wife but his sons and daughters, and often their wives and husbands, living with him.

And the notion that women don’t own property, or work on anything other than childrearing? Here’s a great passage from the Book of Proverbs, Chapter 31:

10 Who can find a virtuous wife?
For her worth is far above rubies.
11 The heart of her husband safely trusts her;
So he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
And willingly works with her hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
She brings her food from afar.
15 She also rises while it is yet night,
And provides food for her household,
And a portion for her maidservants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
From her profits she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength,
And strengthens her arms.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is good,
And her lamp does not go out by night.
19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hand holds the spindle.

24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies sashes for the merchants.
25 Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
And on her tongue is the law of kindness.
27 She watches over the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.

What? Obligations for women, and admiration for women who work and provide? What kind of craziness is that?

This is a book which a conservative estimate puts as at least 2,200 years old, possibly as much as 3,000 years old. A woman buying fields and planting them? Bringing food from afar? Making things and selling them for her family? Strengthening her arms and working willingly with her hands to help her family? You don’t have to be religious at all to recognize the historical significance of this. The notion that women only make babies and keep the house clean is a fairy tale, and a pretty modern one at that. Women have always owned property, women have always had jobs outside the home. What form it took varied from culture to culture and era to era and individual to individual, but this is nothing feminists, or modern-day “liberals,” invented.

Today’s feminists often refer to the modern innovation of “Man as sole breadwinner,” obscenely, as “oppression of women” when by any sane standard the person with the greatest burden and responsibility in any such arrangement is the one thrust into the sole-breadwinner mold. That is part of what drives so many men to drinking problems, marital discord, and suicide. But modern-day “tradcons” tend to view this as “the way things ought to be,” because that’s what they perceive to somehow be in the interests of women–never mind how body-and-soul crushing it might be on a man. They sell that self-sacrifice as “being a real man” rather than what it really is: dehumanizing reduction of a man to nothing but a utility to be cast aside if he fails.

And nobody ever seems to think “wait a minute, when did all this become the norm in the first place?”

It’s certainly not the way most people have ever lived. It’s certainly not in the Bible or almost any major religious tradition. So why do we think that’s a “tradition” now, something we should “get back to?” How do you “get back to” something that was never really the norm in the first place? Moreover, why would you want to?

This is not to say no man should ever accept the role of breadwinner. But in an environment where all he’s worked for may be ripped away from him on a whim, why on Earth would he?

Furthermore, we tend to think of “the women’s movement” as something that popped up 50 years ago. It isn’t. It first started out in middle and upper class families back in the 1800s, in a time where “middle class” simply meant “somewhere between the aristocracy and the vast pool of the poor.” The Middle Class, in the 19th Century, would be broadly understood to still be only perhaps 5-10% of the population; the vast majority of people were still poor, usually living together in huts or manors in extended families.

Did modern feminism arise from “the left,” the “liberals,” the “progressives?” Yes, it did. Did gynocentric traditionalism arise from there? No it did not. It comes mostly from “conservatives” who are hewing to an artificial tradition that was never reality for most people to begin with, and has little historic, biblical, or even evolutionary biological basis.

Back to the “Women’s Movement”

The “women’s movement” (if it can properly be called that, for it has hardly ever spoken for all women) has always been a product of mostly privileged middle and upper class women who feel constricted by the norms imposed on them by society, with hardly any thought, except in maybe glancing or offhand ways, about the discontents of roles assigned to men. The 19th Century woman whinging that she couldn’t be a lawyer was making a laughable complaint to the 99% of men, let alone women, who had no hope at all of ever becoming a doctor or a lawyer or a banker. Most people were parents and busy rearing children well before their 20th birthday, and doing so under conditions that we would today call abject, wretched poverty. Women, like men, had hardscrabble lives, and the complaints of privileged upper middle class white ladies would have been as laughable and annoying to them as they are to any open-minded skeptic today–possibly even more so.

The notion of feminism and anti-feminism as a “pendulum swing” of men’s rights versus women’s is false. There has indeed been a pendulum swing for the last century or two, but it has been an entirely gynocentric pendulum: Which discontents of privileged ladies will rule the day?

You think I’m joking? Let me repeat the quote from G.K. Chesterton that I opened this essay with, and remind you that Chesterton was writing in the 1930s, some 80 years ago:

The Modern Girl with the lipstick and the cocktail is as much a rebel against the Woman’s Rights Woman of the ’80’s, with her stiff stick-up collars and strict teetotalism, as the latter was a rebel against the Early Victorian lady of the languid waltz tunes and the album full of quotations from Byron; or as the last, again, was a rebel against a Puritan mother to whom the waltz was a wild orgy and Byron the Bolshevist of his age. Trace even the Puritan mother back through history and she represents a rebellion against the Cavalier laxity of the English Church, which was at first a rebel against the Catholic civilisation, which had been a rebel against the Pagan civilisation. Nobody but a lunatic could pretend that these things were a progress; for they obviously go first one way and then the other. But whichever is right, one thing is certainly wrong; and that is the modern habit of looking at them only from the modern end.

–GK Chesterton, “St. Thomas Aquinas – The Dumb Ox,” 1933.

Stop and read that again, and contemplate his reference to “the Woman’s Rights Woman of the ’80s” and realize he meant the 1880s. With a few updates to the musical and literary references, he could have written those words today in 2014 and hardly anyone would blink.

That is a pendulum swing all right, but it’s not a pendulum between “women’s rights” and “men’s rights.” It’s a pendulum swing between one way women view themselves and another way women view themselves, with men on the sidelines mostly just watching this inter-generational tennis match.

So-called “conservative” and “traditionalist” women are often against feminism, but what they seem almost invariably to be talking about is women retaining special privilege and special status and special power, for women exclusively. Feminists claim to be rebelling against this, but in their talk of “oppression” they are never looking at women’s role in creating and maintaining the status quo, never acknowledging the special privileges women have always enjoyed, and never acknowledging that when they ask for “rights” they almost never want the responsibilities that go with them, laying the responsibility for whatever goes wrong on men (or “The Patriarchy,” which is as real and as threatening as Overlord Xenu and the Flying Spaghetti Monster).

So yes, there is a pendulum swing, and a pretty old one. That pendulum swings back and forth, back and forth, decade after decade: which way will we put the interests of women in the center of our concerns? The “traditional” way or the “new” way?

What’s not even on this pendulum is any concern for the welfare of men and boys, except in how it affects women.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is gynocentrism. It is putting concern for the happiness, welfare, safety, needs, and discontents of women at the center of our focus, the center of our concerns. And men are important to those caught in that pendulum-swing–but only in how men will serve the interests of women.

A diversion on the issue of “progressive” or “conservative”

Because the issues we talk about are so often falsely portrayed as “left” vs. “right” (another form of pendulum swing most of us are uninterested in being part of, by the way), it is probably best to talk about what “progressive” or “liberal” actually mean, and likewise what “conservative” means.

Properly understood, “liberal” or “progressive” means open-minded, willing to change, and pragmatic. Properly understood, “conservative” means resistant to change, prudent, moderate. If you doubt me, check a dictionary. While the dictionary does not necessarily reflect popular usage, it does point us to what the root ideas of a word usually mean.

Thus, understood by the dictionary definition, both progressivism and conservatism are arguably good things. But in reality, throughout much of history, so-called “progressives” frequently push willy-nilly in ways that often sound good but make things worse, and we also have so-called “conservatives” trying to conserve things that make no sense, or hewing to traditions that they think are ancient but are no older than a generation or two.

Don’t believe me? Here’s GK Chesterton again, this time writing 90 years ago:

“The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types — the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine. Each new blunder of the progressive or prig becomes instantly a legend of immemorial antiquity for the snob. This is called the balance, or mutual check, in our Constitution.”

—G.K. Chesterton, “The Blunders of Our Parties,” 1924 (as reprinted in The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, Volume 33.)

Tell me that doesn’t sound spookily like today’s politics in most of the English-speaking world. And while Chesterton’s speaking here of the British Constitution, it applies pretty well to the US and other countries as well. Even “Constitutional” traditionalists in the United States are frequently speaking of a “tradition” of Constitutional interpretation that is nowhere near as deep or ancient as they think it is; they are for example quite fond of quoting James Madison’s writings in the Federalist Papers, but they almost never quote from The Anti-Federalist Papers, which were run concurrently with the Federalist papers in opposition to Madison and the other Federalist writers, pointing out things in the new Constitution that they didn’t like, and predicting things that Madison and the Federalists denied would ever happen–but soon did. Modern Constitutional traditionalists fond of quoting Madison also, usually, do not examine the fact that when he became President, Madison governed in ways that were often in direct opposition to what he’d written in the Federalist Papers, and when Madison was challenged on that, he said of those debates that led up to the Constitution’s ratification that they had no proper place in Constitutional interpretation. Thus even these American “Constitutionalists” are frequently hewing to an invented tradition that never described reality in the first place. Madison was an 18th Century pundit and a politician, and nothing more.

Look at Chesterton’s words again: the progressives frequently run us into ruin, and the conservatives meanwhile do whatever they can to prevent us from fixing the ruin, admiring the ruins as if they are an ancient proven tradition.

And the Traditionalist ladies, like Tammy Bruce, or her progenitor Phyllis Schlafly, want to get us “back to” a tradition of female power and sexuality that was never real, and those seeking women’s “liberation” haven’t got any specific ideas anymore of what they want to be liberated from except, apparently, responsibility for their own choices.

For an example of how this gynocentric pendulum keeps swinging back and forth, just watch this amazing segment from a show aired on April 15, 1973: a debate between feminist Ann Scott and “traditionalist” Phyllis Schlafly on whether or not to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, on the late William F. Buckley Jr’s Firing Line:

Watch both women carefully, but especially watch and listen to Schlafly: she isn’t arguing that women should have less rights than men, or that women should be subordinate to men. She is very clearly and unambiguously arguing that “equal rights” would harm women, giving them no rights they didn’t already have but placing responsibilities on them they did not want.

Concern for men? None. Right in that one debate you have the feminist-traditionalist pendulum, swinging back and forth. Schlafly won the day on the Equal Rights Amendment, which was not ratified in the United States in part due to her efforts–which were efforts to convince women that equal rights would be a step down for them.

It worked. Although, for the record, A Voice for Men endorses and supports reviving and ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. And we do so because we want to break the gynocentric pendulum. We actually do want equal rights and responsibility under the law, and for men and women to be free to choose their own path in life, and to face the consequences of same. In many ways, as Tom Golden says, equality will be a step down for women, who have become accustomed to either “traditional” privilege or to the newfangled “feminist” privilege of “empowering women.”

Whether it’s the “liberal feminists” or the “conservative traditionalists,” the result is the same: “ladies first”–in all things except that which is dirty, nasty, dangerous, or soul-crushing.

The roots of the gynocentric paradigm

Where did the gynocentric worldview come from? Some argue that it’s inherently genetic and is entirely part of immutable female nature or immutable male nature. Meanwhile, most of us in the MHRM tend to think biology always plays a role in human behavior, and so does culture; we tend to think human behavior is neither “socially constructed” nor “biological.” Nor is it even really 50/50; instead, it’s 100% both! Biology plays into culture, culture plays into biology. And in any case, thinking, sapient beings can recognize their biological urges and make conscious choices to accept, reject, or modify them. That adaptability is what being human is about.

The debate about where exactly gynocentrism became the defining tradition of our culture is probably a long one. What I believe is that while “protect the women and children” has biological and even God-given roots, even Christian thinker C.S. Lewis wrote in the 1930s that the idea of “courtly love,” in which a man essentially became the vassal of a woman whose interests he lived to serve, was something everyone understood to be something rich nobles invented. To quote him directly:

Everyone has heard of courtly love, and everyone knows it appeared quite suddenly at the end of the eleventh century at Languedoc. The sentiment, of course, is love, but love of a highly specialized sort, whose characteristics may be enumerated as Humility, Courtesy, and the Religion of Love. The lover is always abject. Obedience to his lady’s lightest wish, however whimsical, and silent acquiescence in her rebukes, however unjust, are the only virtues he dares to claim. Here is a service of love closely modelled on the service which a feudal vassal owes to his lord. The lover is the lady’s ‘man’. He addresses her as midons, which etymologically represents not ‘my lady’ but ‘my lord’. The whole attitude has been rightly described as ‘a feudalisation of love’. This solemn amatory ritual is felt to be part and parcel of the courtly life.

—C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition, 1936

How is it that almost 80 years ago a hugely popular writer could blithely observe that everybody knew this “courtly” tradition of a man putting all of his interests subordinate to a woman was a somewhat odd innovation, but today almost no one seems to know it? The courtly tradition of man-as-vassal, putting all his needs and interests subordinate to that of a woman, was not even something most people accepted 100 years ago. Yet today, we accept some genetic reductionist arguments that this is all just the destiny of biology? How is it that this Christian writer could see so clearly that this was an invention of man not God, and that this was nowhere to be found in the Bible, yet today we have religious “traditionalists” who think that’s exactly how God intended things?

A full look at the historical and anthropological record is beyond the scope of this essay, but suffice it to say that if you look carefully at both the anthropological record and ancient history going all the back to the first civilizations with writings, the ancient Chinese, Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, and so on, you will not find the idea that men’s interests are to be subordinate to women’s as having common currency among them. Indeed, you will find that, while you had individual things that could be considered gynocentric–the ancient City of Athens was named for a Goddess, after all, and adoration of the Virgin Mary goes back to at least the 4th Century if not earlier–and you might find individual attitudes in history that might be considered gynocentric, you rarely found entire cultures founded entirely on the principle that women’s needs must be at the center of everything. That, my friends, is a fairly modern innovation, at best a thousand or two years old, and not one we are required to embrace. Nor is it something God or Darwin tells us we’re required to embrace.

For a fuller look at the history of where gynocentrism became an overriding cultural force, rather than one of many balancing forces in human life, I still recommend exploring Peter Wright’s excellent Gynocentrism web site. I also recommend Peter’s essay “‘Traditionalism’ – WTF is it?”.


The Men’s Human Rights Movement is most definitely not a part of a “swing back” to “earlier times” that were better. It is a rejection of the old paradigms altogether. We aren’t interested in swinging the pendulum one way or the other; we want to smash it and throw it away completely. It isn’t a choice between women’s rights and men’s rights. It isn’t a choice between feminism or traditionalism, the way things are versus the way things were. And it is not left versus right.

It is the radical notion that men are human beings, and should see themselves as human beings first, and should be afforded the same rights and considerations as anyone else. It is the radical notion that men, collectively and as individuals, owe women nothing whatsoever. We do not owe women our protection. We do not owe women provision. When it comes to protecting anyone else, our first question is, “Why should we?” And when it comes to things like intimate relationships, marriage, children, we ask, boldly and without apology, “what’s in it for us?”

And if the answer, dear ladies, is nothing but “my company and access to my vagina,” most of us will simply say “no thank you.” We need more than that, and we need proof you’ll keep your promises. And that proof looks pretty thin on the ground in the popular and legal culture right now.

Does this make you uncomfortable? Too bad. Because men have every right to ask those questions, and be given answers that, as to them, shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

And to quote Tammy Bruce, who claims women’s ancient power is the power of “no?” We say this:

Civilization was built in part by men saying “no” to women. No to their sexual advances, no to relationships they did not find desirable, no to unreasonable demands. Many of the most productive men in history were men who refused to marry or have children. You may not like hearing that, but it’s the truth. Collectively, men owe women nothing. And more of us are going to continue saying “no” to women until we are given a good reason to say otherwise.

You’re going to get equality ladies, whether you like it or not.  That’s what the Men Going Their Own Way and the Men’s Human Rights Movement are really all about.


Editor’s note: article image courtesy of Europa Phoenix. –DE

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