Replacing Misandry: A Revolutionary History of Men. By Paul Nathanson and Katherine K. Young. Chicago: McGill-Queens University Publishing, 2015. 223 pages. No price on book but Amazon.com gives price as $34.95. Review by J. Steven Svoboda.
Canadian academics Paul Nathanson and Katherine K. Young have released their fourth book out of a projected total of five in a series of books all to date bearing the word “misandry” in the title. The authors form an excellent, incisive writing team. Being Canadian sometimes seems to offer them a different perspective than American observers might have. Their books have filled a needed niche in men’s rights literature. Nathanson and Young have a calm, measured tone to their writing, carefully assembling facts, giving feminism its due on those (rare) occasions when it may arguably deserve it. But at the same time the authors are quite fed up with the highly differential (to say the least) treatment that men and women have been receiving lately. They are and for many years now have been hopping mad, in a buttoned-down, academic sort of sense, and their books represent the happy outcome of their passion. (I had the pleasure of meeting them both in a conference in Washington, DC at which they and I presenter in 2007 and they both left an indelible impression on me!)
This particular book examines “the increasing inability of boys and men to create or sustain a healthy collective identity… that is distinctive, necessary, and therefore publicly valued.” Without such an identity, all too often males end of dropping out of one of more of school, society, and even life itself, or attacking society in the mistaken (but understandable) belief that a negative identity is better than no identity.
The authors sketch for us an overview of life thousands of years ago. Men were the big game hunters, a role best suited to them because of their greater upper body strength and endurance as well as their lack of limitations imposed by gestation and lactation. Women gathered crops As states (countries) came into existence, men were more appropriate for such tasks as irrigation projects, trading in foreign lands, and so on, while women also had their valued roles.
The authors provide an authoritative overview of how different historical cultures—in somewhat different ways–created unique roles for men and women, implicitly validating the importance of both sexes. Nathanson and Young do not shy away from the politically inconvenient fact, for example, that the highest status women were released from the necessity of working by the money their husbands were able to earn for them. Similarly, but not identically, the highest status men tended to be men whose work involved “their minds or at least their hands instead of their muscles.”
During earlier historical periods, armies tended to comprise paid soldiers, whereas in the nineteenth century the idea evolved of subjecting all men to military conscription and “legitimat[ing] that institution in philosophical, theological, or even scientific terms.”
The authors are to be congratulated for exploring some now almost forgotten (but remembered by me from my childhood) phenomena such as the television show Father Knows Best and the mockery it has earned for its “supposedly ludicrous or even mendacious proposition that fathers might actually have a distinctive and important function in family life.” In the sad words of Nathanson and Young, “Nothing much changed over the next five or six decades except for the lack of any replacement for Jim Anderson.”
Nathanson and Young include a crisp analysis of the startling, in retrospect, changes society underwent in its view of abortion aka choice. Focusing on “a woman’s right to choose” led pretty quickly to a situation where, “He had no legal say whatsoever… even though the birth of a child would affect him both legally and financially for many years or even for decades—a problem that sperm donors, too, have encountered.” Lest we move on from this point too quickly, the authors underscore it: “From this point of view, the conception, birth, and rearing of children were strictly women’s business. And that was more than an opinion; it had become the law. Fathers no longer had any say at all concerning the ultimate fate of their children. “They had hardly any say even about the custody of their living children.) In some jurisdictions, women no longer had to inform them of pregnancies. Once women decided on their own to give birth, of course, they still expected fathers to take financial responsibility for the resulting children. And the law supported this expectation….” The authors draw a striking parallel between the power of American mothers in the post-Roe v. Wade world and ancient Roman patriarchs: “The main difference was that ancient Roman society allowed fathers to kill infants and modern American society allowed mothers to kill fetuses” [emphasis in original]. In the end, Nathanson and Young somewhat inevitably and very lamentably conclude, “The message to men, beginning in the 1970s, was clear: fatherhood was now not only irrelevant but also a potential liability” [emphasis in original]. The authors go on to analyze more extreme groups such as FINRRAGE, which explicitly exclude men from any control whatsoever of their own human reproduction.
Paul Nathanson and Katherine K. Young, two now senior academics, one a gay man and the other obviously a woman, have really done a service for all of us but perhaps especially for all straight men. They have told a simple story, honestly, directly, with footnotes to back it up. And yet it is a story that all too often does not get heard. And the best of both worlds in that it has the reliability of academics and the accessibility of a novel. Three cheers! Don’t miss this fine book. And while you are at it, you might also consider going back and reading the three outstanding books that preceded it, Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture, Legalizing Misandry: From Public Shame to Systematic Discrimination Against Men, and Sanctifying Misandry: Goddess Ideology and the Fall of Man.
NCFM PR Director Steven Svoboda book review, Replacing Misandry: A Revolutionary History of Men.