love or spirituality or the development of viable romantic relationships”.
Female consent was, in ancient Greece, as irrelevant a concept as free will.
In the 21st century, pornography serves the same didactic purpose: to promote the understanding of sex as an exercise in dominance, and to eroticise the exploitation, degradation and abuse of women.
Brutality in sexual relations, as Leeming points out, is one of the primary means men have always had of devaluing women. Psychologically primitive men take “pleasure in humiliating women, in using the penis to ‘bang’, ‘pound’, ‘punish’, ‘nail’ and ‘gag’ them … For the patriarchal male, the body of a woman has been a metaphor for or symbol of sex … and the presence of women in religious, ritualistic roles usually filled by men is often seen as a confusion of sex and religion.”
Christian mythology, too, features a misogyny so hateful it beggars belief. As the apostle Paul wrote, only men may leave their heads uncovered during worship “because a man is the image of God, whereas a woman reflects the glory of man”.
Similarly, 1 Corinthians commands women to remain silent in churches, “And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in church.” A minister I know described women as men’s “vice-captains”.
There is no place in patriarchal mythology for romance because romance is an homage to union and patriarchal philosophies pivot on separation, conquest and subjugation. On the rare occasion that romantic love is depicted in such myths, it is subdued by civic duty, as illustrated by the Trojan hero Hector and his wife Andromache.
Which is where Indian mythology comes in, triumphing not only in hallucinogenic brio but in terms of sexual grace. Even when the only goal is physical pleasure, sex is presented as a sacrament. The Kama Sutra emphasises the slow, deep sexual pleasuring of women, rather than depicting them as masturbatory — or tension-relieving — objects for men.
In these myths, sex is presented as magnificent: a form of enlightenment, the axis of creation. Leeming writes, “Sex in Hindu mythology is a celebration of one of the central goals of life that exists comfortably and in deep communion with others.” Hindu mythmakers appreciated that without sex, there is nothing.
Sex in the World of Myth is destined to become a classic in its field, as searching and humane as the work of Joseph Campbell and so beautiful in its scholarship. Leeming is not merely learned but emotionally profound. Critically, he understands that lack of respect for the female is the great wound at the heart of human sexuality, and this book serves as a starting point to heal it. latest book is Mama: Love, Motherhood and Revolution. Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age By Donna Zuckerberg Harvard University Press, 238pp, $54.99 (HB) In a pivotal scene in the 1999 movie The Matrix, the computer-hacker hero, a messiah for the internet age, is offered the choice between comfortable ignorance and pitiless truth: “You take the blue pill: the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill: you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
Online, a mobilised community of American men — predominantly young (18-35) and white — talks of “swallowing the red pill”. Only they see the world clear-eyed: a ‘‘gynocentric’’ conspiracy in which the myth of white male privilege is being used by women and minority groups to oppress them. Only they understand the catastrophe of feminism: “Unless we take action soon to reconsider the freedoms that women now have, the very survival of Western civilisation is at stake.”
Red Pill forums operate in the dark heart of a Venn diagram that overlays vitriolic misogyny and homophobia, white nationalism, pick-up artist culture and the pugnacious conservatism of the alt-right. “Anyone today who does not intend to become a digital hermit is guaranteed to encounter these men online,” writes classics scholar Donna Zuckerberg, who has spent years fending-off a campaign of anti-Semitic slurs and death threats.
In Not All Dead White Men, Zuckerberg, the editor of award-winning digital journal Eidolon (and younger sister of Facebook founder Mark), exposes the pseudo-intellectual mechanics of the Red Pill worldview: how these men are weaponising the classics — Ovid, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca — to position themselves as the natural inheritors and heroic guardians of Western culture.
For millennia, reactionary political groups have laid claim to ancient Greece and Rome to imbue their agenda with the heft of antiquity. But when we look to history for validation, we find mirrors. Whether it’s The Federalist Papers, 1930s Germany or the Ramsay Centre, how (and why) classical voices are marshalled (or mangled) is profoundly revealing.
The men of Red Pill forums are adding ancient ballast to a biologically essentialist vision of hyper-masculinity, and validating “one of their most cherished, deeply held beliefs: that all women throughout history share distinct, immutable qualities that make them promiscuous, deceitful, and manipulative”. certing poem Ars Amatoria is read as a protoseduction manual, filled with ‘‘tips’’ on how to manipulate and abuse women, including how to circumvent consent.
“No scholar argues that the overall state of women’s rights in the ancient world was worthy of emulation or that our society would benefit from similar laws and customs,” Zuckerberg writes. It seems an absurd point to need to make, yet it is the refrain of her book. Red Pill forums are looking backwards to look forwards. Their interpretations of the ancient world are “aspirational representations of the world they wish we inhabited”.
In that world, women would — for their own happiness — be deprived of all decision-making, including suffrage. “She must seek approval by a guardian for decisions concerning diet, education, boyfriends, travel, friends, entertainment, exercise regime, marriage, and appearance, including choice of clothing,” explains one high-profile proponent. Others write of forced teen marriage and disciplinary rape.
These are the views of the Taliban: the views of the men who put a bullet in Malala Yousafzai’s skull. And now, of a growing group of men