Woman asks psychotherapist about misogyny: interesting chat ensues…

Many of us reacted in horror at the proposed day of ‘tribal action’ by pick up artist Roosh V this weekend, from reading the absurd suggestion that rape should be legalised on private property, and from the intimidating language used to warn of the ‘violent retribution’ against anyone who complained.

Yet as I examined the writings of Roosh V , in a more theoretical and less emotional way, my interest was sparked. At the moment I am up to my neck in grisly reading for another project on masochism, the desire to dominate, and perversion. Life is a thinking womans fifty shades of grey, with library books instead of handcuffs. I wondered where Roosh V and his attitude to sex and women fitted in with Lacan’s view of perversion and relationship to the Other: certainly there seems to be resonance with the idea of the woman as totally dehumanised.

But the strength of my reaction to a man whom many might think was better ignored raised questions for me about the nature of my resistance.  Is my desire to stand up to the likes of Roosh V in itself dome fruitless power battle? Is there a self-punitive quality to activism of any kind? I have been reading about how every radical from Tolstoy to Che Guevera were masochists, and while I am far too inherently boring to be a masochist in the whips and chains sense, I do have a happy knack of finding unyielding brick walls to bang my head against, and I worry that politically and ideologically this might be holding me back.

I realised I didn’t know enough about this, but knew someone who might. Nick Duffell is a psychotherapist and author who I worked with on a project about Boarding School Survivors. When I first met him I couldn’t understand why he worked on boarding school issues but also on gender psycology, why as well as writing two books about boarders he had also written one about sex. But the best light is shone on most subjects around the edges, and the stark, real-men-don’t-cry version of masculinity historically pounded into our elites at public schools can lead to outlooks not dissimilar to Roosh V’s, not treating women as human, seeing everything as a game. Moreover, I knew that Nick was part of Men’s Movements back when men’s movements were first a thing, and so I felt he might have something to say to all those men who feel that this weekend’s events have inspired a more open discussion about masculinity. So I decided to ask him…

Nick, I am sure you will be horrified by a lot of what Roosh V has to say. What do you think happens to make men stop seeing women as human? Is he perverse in the sense of his relation to the Other? (he is all for colonialism too, if that helps).

Well, Sally, you have certainly picked the three most complicated subjects in psychology you could find: masochism, sexuality and gender. Thanks for asking!!

Psychotherapeutically, masochism is thought to be a perverse way of getting round an early experience of overwhelming will by those in charge; in the masochist’s ability to seize defeat from the gates of victory they can never be ‘got’. It is full of ritual, and those who act it out sexually say it is never about anyone getting hurt: the so-called victim has all the power. But it is really complicated and therapists struggle to treat it. 

Then there is sexuality – humans will always struggle to comprehend it: we are the only animals who have the capacity to reflect on our sexuality. We are born as sexual beings by means of sex but our main cultural icon has a virgin birth at the centre. Just like Freud did, we struggle to separate out sex from desire and the past 50 years has seen a move away from thinking of sex as procreation towards sex as recreation. Adults are capable of projecting sexual states onto children and then abuse them, while young people today have zero guidance growing up to protect themselves from the imagery and mind-sets about sex that are every where. Schools, religious leaders and politicians have utterly failed in guiding the sexual development of our young. No wonder we’re in a mess sexually and even bother giving airtime to a Roosh V!

As for gender, I am deeply interested in it, but it’s always worth recalling the words of the Mythopeotic Men’s Movement storyteller Michael Meade: “Whenever you talk about gender you get trouble”. And he is right. This is a subject where you always tread on someone’s hallowed ground. One of the chief problems is that in the last 25 years there’s been a prohibition on thinking psychologically about gender, because it got kidnapped by sociology. Gender studies programmes in most universities are dire, I am afraid; therapists are usually afraid of the subject.

And yes, it sounds like Roosh V also deserves a technical term. I think the right one might be ‘a totally immature and unconscious creep’.

Some of his comments you might agree with. He says women want to be controlled.

Hmm…. Those with a very low sense of self might want to be ‘controlled’ because they don’t them selves feel in control of their own lives. Feminism has been right to show how the female sense of self has not been associated with social power and in some societies thought of as the property of men. But this analysis only scratches the surface. 

Freud struggled all his life with question “What do women want.” The research that Helena Løvendal and I did at the Centre for Gender Psychology and the experience of talking to hundreds of women in couple sessions supports much more with what Jung proposed, which is borne out in myth and fairy tales. This that what women really want is sovereignty. Sovereignty means that their desire, their power and their agency deserve to command the deepest respect – by the woman herself and by those with whom she wants to relate.  

Mmm, I think I like the sound of this…

Next, if and when this occurs, a woman may then be ready to ‘surrender’ – hold on to your seat (!) – surrender into the relationship between herself and man who is worthy of her, and share her sexual ‘pearl of great price’. Such a wish sits very deep in the psyche and is universal, so the desire fantasies like 50 Shades or Roosh’s idea that women want to be controlled are but the distorted and clouded tip of an iceberg that has not been proper understood in our society. And yet it chimes an unconscious bell somewhere deep down. Hence the popularity of Shades, I think.

However, the idea of ‘surrender’ is subtle and complex; feminists especially freak out at hearing such a word because they imagine it means being dominated or giving up, whereas it means something else entirely. This surrender is only available where there is utmost safety and respect for the woman’s sovereignty and she desires to meet the other with her full self. Then the man who meets her becomes ‘reborn’, which is one of the reasons men are so drawn to the sex act.

Hildegard of Bingen knew this, Chaucer knew, the ancient Hindu temples show it, and Shakespeare knew it; D.H. Lawrence, Emily Dickenson and Fiona Wolf knew it. But all the Abrahamic religious cultures, which only have a Father God, are very afraid of it, because it means really letting woman’s sexuality out of the bag to exist for itself.

I know you talk to the men you work with about caves and so on. Is there something in this?

I am not quite sure where you are going with this cave thing, Sally, but I can say this: the basic default defence mechanism of men is that faced with difficult engagement they will often need to retreat first, to gather their strength, as it were. Some call this ‘going to their cave.’ 

This male withdrawal tendency is included in what in our work we call ‘the GITS’ – Gender Imaginative Tendencies. These are the starting points for men and women and which shape and limit traditional gender roles and stereotypes. The GITS arise from early identity formation and are like gendered starting blocks. So while we expect such an initial reaction, the male who wants to mature knows he has to accept and master these tendencies, rather than take them for the last word. 

The GITS lead us towards Gender Evolutionary Tasks, or ‘GETs’, in which we learn how to occupy the gender we are with skill and flourish – above all with profound respect for the Other. Men in particular have to learn how to base their sexuality in their hearts rather than their heads. Now both genders learn to master not suppress their basic instincts and learn celebrate the difference. This is what our facilitated men’s groups like Searching for the Father I find My Self are practising. The GETs require men to relate wholeheartedly without fear and women to live their sovereignty. There are many tasks to undertake on this road and little space to describe it here. 

I must add that sociological approaches cannot handle these ideas, because they mistakenly tend to equate equality with sameness. Look, men and women are socially equally – that’s a given, despite our backward social systems – but men and women are different, and the skill is to learn to surf the wave of this difference, including sexually. From the GET position you are no longer interested in exploiting an Object but getting to know – or not – another Subject. It sounds to me like Roosh V has turned his GITishness into a malevolent fetish, and in fetishism someone is always objectified.

I know you are not keen on the word feminism, can you say more about this?

Well, that’s not quite my position. Feminism was essential; it kicked of a level of awareness that needed badly to come in, and every thinker owes a debt to this. Viva feminism! 

But feminism is only part of a much bigger story. Besides, intellectually it tends to be dominated by post-modern deconstructionism, which has no time for the body, the psyche or the Spirit. So it has become what philosopher Ken Wilber calls a ‘flatland’ approach – in other words only sees one level, the societal. And, unfortunately, it has sociological side-effects. 

One that has happened is that some young men, who were raised after feminism arrived, saw no good image of masculinity around that they could identify with, and their mothers raised them to hate and fear masculinity. So they grew up feeling very bad about being men and thereby about being themselves. This has kicked off a new wave of misogyny in reaction. Perhaps Roosh V, born in 1979, might be one of these boys. I have met some of these guys: they haven’t bothered to take the trouble to do the inner work it requires to mature into deep heartful masculinity and instead rage against the feminine and feel entitled to instant gratification. It’s a kind of big baby culture.

It may be no coincidence the porn industry really went into overdrive at the same time. Feminism teaches that porn objectifies women. This is right, of course, and self-evident; but again it’s only one side. Neurologically, men are wired for visual stimulation that activates excitement in the genitals and the left brain-hemisphere in a way women, who tend more to go for story than picture, are not wired for. In effect, this make men actually ‘vulnerable’ to images of women, and vulnerability is something men have to do the maturity work to embrace. So men are also ‘victims’ of porn, of Page Three. 

I know that is a challenging idea, but think about it …. how are we men supposed to ground all that excitement that keeps getting generated? It’s not possible. And over time, if he uses porn regularly, a man’s levels of stimulation become more and more peripheral, so that in the end the only sexual feeling he has left is on the very tip of his glans. What he ought to be doing is developing his biggest sexual organ – his heart. This is ‘GET’ work. 

What I tell men is that porn is bad for you because it makes you into a f…ing robot and makes you feel less and less. Try to watch some porn and look at the faces of the men: they usually look like passive zombies. A man can easily find out from women how it makes them feel: just ask.

Do you think how we relate to each other sexually affects our political and social outlooks?

I think it is one of the main issues and too often ignored. Look how much better societies seem to do when they don’t find it weird to have a woman as leader. And then take a look at the States! They can have all the religion they like, right alongside the biggest porn industry, and they just seem to keep getting more and more stupid!

Recently one of our students tried to get us to bring some of our gender work into corporations in the UK. We had some meetings and we were saying, look you are now trying to get more women onto boards etc., and it is a slow process. Now so far the women in business have to betray themselves by playing the boys’ game and the men keep staying afraid of leadership that embraces vulnerability, like saying sorry, for example. But if you ever achieve equality in the workplace you have to learn how to get the best out of them working together. We call this Co-creativity and there is a science to it based on understanding the differences. But it was way too far for them to get interested in.

The most important thing I would like a sexually sane world to achieve is that men could still like to look at women, but learn to do it from a heart perspective. For example, if a man looks at a woman and imagines she could be his daughter or his sister (not mother, that cause regression!) then he wants quite naturally from deep inside to protect her. If men truly take on in their imagination that they could be fathers of the girls they see on the street, then rape is near impossible; what happened in Cologne could not happen. Actually, although that outrage was due to the arrivals of men from a modern or sometimes pre-modern culture such guys can get this better sometimes than those from a post-modern one like ours.

It seems the underdogs, those who have most to resist, will always be those who have been subject to the will of others and hence be susceptible to masochistic tendencies. Can we get past being masochistic in our resistance to things, step aside from the narrative of powerlessness against our oppressors?

Oh god, what a question! 

Yes, I think we have to keep standing up and being counted even if it sometimes feels a masochistic endeavour. However, sometimes we may have to question which are the battles worth fighting and which not, which are better done through protest and which through direct political action. Political apathy is what I am most against, and that in the end is masochistic because the bullies thrive on our abstinence from the debate and the world gets worse.

Well thanks for this Nick. It’s fascinating. I look forward to seeing how me and my friends get on exploring our sovereignty and letting our sexual cats out of the bag in the name of political resistance. Our menfolks should beware!