With the intent of fighting misandry, the academics who put together this book review the last two thousand years—without very many intermissions—of human history. From the point of view of man, and the social utility of his body, they try to carve out a place for men in the complicated world of gender equality.
The mass arrival of women in the labor market, the university system, and culture more generally appears to be the phenomena of our era. In Canada and the United States they are already 50 percent of the labor force, 60 percent of university graduates, and are the top earners in 40 percent of households in the United States. This is great news for a society that seeks greater gender equality and inclusion, but it has set-off a wave of concern in certain circles over the harm it may be causing men and their identities.
That’s where Katherine Young and Paul Nathanson, two Canadian academics, are coming from in their book, Replacing Misandry: A Revolutionary History of Men, where they accuse feminist ideology of having brought about misandry, defined by them as “the teaching of rejection and hatred of men” (“men” throughout this article refers only to the male gender). Of course, these authors have been confronted by protests in their presentations at university campuses. They can be seen on Youtube giving a lecture in an auditorium that every now and then goes dark and where they are periodically interrupted by shouts. The protestors are generally young women who, by their own admission, have not read the authors’ books. If they had, they would let them talk, since in my view the story that Nathanson and Young tell doesn’t differ much from that of Simone de Beauvoir or Mary Beard.
For starters, their story confirms that the majority of our differences have been culturally imposed, but that’s not all. The text, which is presented as an answer to ideological feminism, and aims to replace misandry with real gender equality —which is what feminists seek— has a rather disdainful vision of men, as it somewhat implies that our progress as a species entails the obsolescence of the masculine.
Let me explain.
The authors of this history, which they dub revolutionary (As if a historical revision from the masculine point of view could be called revolutionary, isn’t that what we’ve always read?) start from the assumption that every gender needs a distinctive, necessary, and publicly appreciated collective identity for the mental wellbeing of our society. Women, according to Young and Nathanson, have this guaranteed merely by the possibility of motherhood. Difficulties, abuses, and mistreatments aside, there is something distinctive and appreciated by everyone: being able to give birth. Men, on the other hand, have been losing their various sources of gender identity —providers, protectors, progenitors— with each technological revolution.
“The authors… start from the assumption that every gender needs a distinctive, necessary, and publicly appreciated collective identity for the mental wellbeing of our society. Women, according to Young and Nathanson, have this guaranteed merely by the possibility of motherhood. Difficulties, abuses, and mistreatments aside, there is something distinctive and appreciated by everyone: being able to give birth. Men, on the other hand, have been losing their various sources of gender identity—providers, protectors, progenitors—with each technological revolution”.
From this viewpoint, the authors review twelve thousand years of history, observing how the perception of the male body, its functions and its collective gender identity, has changed from the neolithic to the reproductive revolution.
Stone Age Capitalism
In Paleolithic society, thanks to the superior strength of their upper body, men were the principal providers of proteins: “It was a demanding task, not only physical, but also mental: it required learning abilities, organizing expeditions, and cooperating with others for the good of the community. This gave men a healthy collective identity”, says the academic. In those apparently peaceful times —with enough space and resources for everyone— the male and female genders were rather brutally balanced out: “Predators frequently killed men and childbirth frequently killed women. This symmetry made possible the equality that probably characterized Paleolithic societies”.
The need to protect our first cache of goods is, according to the authors, the origin of gender segregation and polarization more than ten thousand years ago. During the Neolithic age, as a species we managed to domesticate a few animals and plants, and therefore, we were able to accumulate resources. It was then that what today would be called crime appeared, in other words, those who had nothing, less, or didn’t want to work the land, began to steal. As a consequence, it became necessary to defend one’s own property. We could call this era: the stone age beginnings of capitalism. The necessity for warriors arose and, since it is not easy to find volunteers willing to lay down their lives for things or for others, society created cultural incentives that would make men want to die for their communities. This cultural mechanism benefited everyone, so women themselves promoted, celebrated and rewarded it. Women encouraged men to be resistant to pain, aggressive, and the capable of killing beasts and other men for their own and the common good. Moreover, to die painfully and cruelly for others became the utmost measure of manhood. “Just as Paleolithic boys developed and had to ritualistically demonstrate their courage to kill animals and thus become men, Neolithic boys had to develop and ritualistically demonstrate their courage to kill other humans and thus become men”.
From here on, where ideological feminists (a rather arbitrary difference that the authors make between ideological and egalitarian) see a genetic and hormonal mandate for men to hold power and be aggressive. Nathanson and Young, meanwhile, see creatures afraid of the power of their mothers and significant others, pushed by them to kill, and that feel threatened by the life-giving power of females: “Men try to compensate their vulnerability in different ways. They tell themselves that semen is necessary for the growing fetus. They insist on their symbols of superiority over women. They make women walk behind them, eat after them, look down in their presence and let them go out only if they are accompanied by a man”.
The Neolithic and agricultural revolutions —and above all the rise of cities—generate enormous social stress: they marginalize the male body as a source of identity. Men, therefore, turn to culture to ensure distinctive spaces of their own, or “healthy sources of gender identity” as the authors call them. In the elites, women are excluded from education, so men can ensure their exclusive access to the emerging trades of the first cities. Men seek new virtues to organize and identify themselves socially: physical strength is replaced by civic virtues. A man worthy of the name had to be tolerant, prudent, benevolent, just and compassionate. The repression of emotions (stoicism) begin to form part of the male identity.
The cult of power doesn’t disappear, it mutates into a new territory: sports, sport heroes and all that surrounds these conducts: baths, massages, the retreat of the competitor.
During the agricultural revolution, most of the population still lived in rural areas so these changes affected only the urban elite until the advent of the Industrial Revolution, which made muscle mass obsolete as the base for male collective identity. Those that used the strength of their bodies were now last in line in this nascent capitalism. This puts an end to the direct relationship between the male body and the masculinity appreciated by society. Men are aware of this and, maybe because of it, they create laws in the 20th century that exclude women and children from the hard labor imposed by the emerging industrial economy. In so doing, they ensure a new exclusive role, the possibility of a new collective identity: that of provider. Women who ten thousand years ago had been admired and feared for being the only ones capable of giving birth and carrying out a successful harvest, were now admired as symbols of producing good citizens: teachers, mothers, missionaries, but were not given the right to vote, to access the professions of power, nor accumulate wealth.
Thus far, Nathanson’s and Young’s book views with special compassion —in contrast to many feminists texts— how man has controlled social structure just to defend a source of collective gender identity. In fact, they recognize that for at least five thousand years, men have assured for themselves all positions of power and influence by cultural impositions. “Gender distinctions are now based on the arbitrary exclusion of women and not on the inherent inabilities of the female body,” say the authors of this purportedly anti-feminist book.
The Industrial Revolution has had, according to the book, devastating consequences for men, among them, one that I find very compelling: it separates them from their homes and families, and therefore from the upbringing of their children. The workplace is no longer in a backyard or on the farm: it is in the factory or a mine that is far away. Children no longer grow up at their fathers’ side, accompanying them in their daily tasks. And now machines have surpassed the strength of their bodies.
For Young, the Great Depression at the beginning of the 20th century is one of the hardest blows against manhood. Males come back defeated, stripped of what, according to her, was the only thing left for them: being providers. “Men were left jobless and without symbolic claims of masculinity,” Young says in an interview. Why? Why didn’t they fight for less hours of work to share in parenting?
The Simpson family
As the book approaches what the authors have called “the reproductive revolution”, at the end of the 20th century (in the chapter blatantly titled “From Father to Sperm Donor”), it loses academic rigor and relies on certain caricatures. Scenes from The Simpsons, Modern Family, and Married with Children are used to exemplify the current downgrading of the paternal role. They are referring to the depiction of men as clumsy and useless in the upbringing of children (overlooking the female characters in those TV shows that are depicted in the same way). This attack on the only source of male identity left, paternity, is reflected not only in Homer Simpson, but also by: the exclusion of men from the discussions on abortion, the prohibition of searching for the donors in the case of children conceived in sperm banks, the media’s promotion of parenting by two mothers, the discourse of ideological feminism on the irrelevance of fathers and even the increasing government support to single mothers.
“The only contribution left for men is paternity. If boys and young men feel incapable of this—if they don’t believe paternity remains something distinctive, necessary and publicly appreciated—then they will not be able to develop a healthy collective identity. In that case, we can expect them to, one way or another, simply give up: surrendering to hedonism with the hope of obtaining at least short lived pleasure, and blocking that internal pain; surrendering to despair by dropping out of school or committing suicide; or abandoning society by taking up antisocial behaviors”, the researchers say.
Along these lines, Camille Paglia in one of the Munk Debates on gender, called “Are Men Obsolete?”, said: “When an educated culture continually belittles masculinity and manhood, then us women are left forever with only boys, boys with no incentive to mature and to honor their commitments.”
The authors say nothing in their view on media discourse about the low presence and diversity of female figures in the news or films. In Hollywood’s 900 most seen films, only three out of every ten characters that talk are women; one fourth of the actresses appear with suggestive clothes or semi-naked in comparison to only five percent of actors. Nor is there discussion of the stereotypes about women’s role in society so predominant in publicity, movies, television, and music: beautiful, serviceable, sexy, and submissive.
I think it is too soon to cry for men. Least of all for the alpha males that pass unscathed through this process, hold 99% of the world’s wealth, head armies and countries, and occupy the majority of seats in parliament. This is an identity crisis that mainly affects working class men and, according to Camille Paglia, it is their sense of masculinity that is being disregarded by progressive feminists and the techno-global economy that puts them out of jobs.
I grant Nathanson and Young one important point: the inability of current society to offer a healthy masculine collective identity for boys. But that is not feminism’s fault, on the contrary, it is the fault of machismo or of our patriarchal order that continues to uphold —despite all the technological revolutions described in this book— patterns of education similar to the Neolithic age: promotion of physical strength as a value, evasion of emotions, fear of demonstrating vulnerability, rejection of the domestic space, the necessity of dominating women, and manhood based on the accumulation and defense of resources.
I also agree with the necessity expressed by the authors of advancing towards equality in all areas of society —that is why I call myself a feminist. Those areas include the custody of children after divorce, the economic support of children, post-natal leave for both parents, the struggle to make society accept and promote men who want to take up full-time parenting, and voluntary or compulsory military recruitment for both sexes. I think that this is a cultural change that feminist movements pursue, since for the most part they seek gender equality. Each label removed from “being a woman” is one less label attached to “being male”. But that final struggle, the search for a healthy and valuable masculine collective identity, must be carried out by men, by confronting their crisis and reinventing themselves.
This vision of man as a sort of constant victim of all his circumstances, a highly vulnerable being if he isn’t in positions of exclusive power, is what most bothered me about this book. I know this is a simplistic summary, but throughout this tome there is a kind of veiled threat: or you allow us our own exclusive turf or we will abandon our children, create gangs, and destroy everything, because that is better than being invisible. I refuse to believe that those are the possibilities of a new masculinity.
“This vision of man as a sort of constant victim of all his circumstances, a highly vulnerable being if he isn’t in positions of exclusive power, is what most bothered me about this book. I know this is a simplistic summary, but throughout this tome there is a kind of veiled threat: or you allow us our own exclusive turf or we will abandon our children, create gangs, and destroy everything, because that is better than being invisible. I refuse to believe that those are the possibilities of a new masculinity”.
I expect much more from men than that, and I see in them sources of collective identity that they haven’t tapped into yet. Just as they invented and imposed cultural mechanisms to ensure spaces of exclusivity and power during thousands of years, they will adapt to these new revolutions.
Like Caitlin Moran, I am inclined to believe that we are moving towards more fluid and cooperative gender identities, and that with the collapse of female and male stereotypes, we will all gain the freedom of having more possibilities for individual identities.
Lastly, I have to mention something that Nathanson and Young overlook in several debates on alleged male irrelevance: sex. Capable of bringing about wars and powerful alliances, the physical, carnal and instinctive necessity for the existence of men and women in order to have sex, and through it, pleasure and connection. Does anyone really believe that this force has disappeared? Or that none of this is part of our gender identity?
The progress of women in all areas is a fact, and with limited positions and jobs, this will necessarily happen to the detriment of men who had had all the available spaces to themselves. But we are not only talking about managers here, the working classes will be the most affected by the technological-digital-robotic revolution that is already underway. The time is coming when legs and arms will no longer be necessary, only brains. If each such advance has curtailed masculinity or our idea of masculinity, it is time for men to look beyond work and war to find their gender identity. The domestic space is a great opportunity, not for replacing women but for complementing the upbringing of children and living as a couple. If we appreciate that presence and liberty we will have more creators, more artists, and surely better fathers and lovers.
Men are not obsolete; we all need them, especially us women and our bodies. This is only the beginning of the end of the patriarchy: clear the way.
 Nathanson, P., & Young, K. K. (2015). Replacing misandry: A revolutionary history of men. McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP. Kindle Locations 294-296.
 Nathanson, P., & Young, K. K. (2015). Replacing misandry: A revolutionary history of men. McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP. (Kindle Locations 402-404)
 New York Film Academy (https://www.nyfa.edu/film-school-blog/gender-inequality-in-film-infographic-updated-in-2018/).