Bee­jay Sil­cox

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - An­tonella Gam­botto-Burke’s

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

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