At 12:20 Knowland claims “Rape is not a unique claim for male oppression of women, because male-on-male rape in jails dwarfs male-on-female rape outside them.”
‘Dwarfs’ is a vague term that could mean anything; saying ‘dwarfs’ rather than setting out clearly the numbers and percentages within the video makes the claim propagandistic.
Let’s look at figures from the US, since this is the source Knowland provides on the Youtube page, and the US locks up more people than any other country in the world.
The paper Knowland links to is not available in full online, and gives no actual figures in the abstract, it is also from 1992.
The US Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that in 2011-12 “an estimated 4.0% of state and federal prison inmates and 3.2% of jail inmates reported experiencing one or more incidents of sexual victimization by another inmate or facility staff in the past 12 months or since admission to the facility, if less than 12 months.” These figures are for male and female inmates, and will include male inmates being victimised by female staff.
Also: “An estimated 1.8% of juveniles ages 16 to 17 held in prisons and jails reported being victimized by another inmate, compared to 2.0% of adults in prisons and 1.6% of adults in jails.”
Looking at the full report (p9), 2.0% of the inmates in prisons, and 1.6% in jails, were victims of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimisation (again, for male and female inmates). The table on p12 reports that 1.7% of inmates in male facilities reported inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization.
The US organisation RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) reports that: “1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed, 2.8% attempted).”
We need to remember, when comparing statistics, that life-time risk is not the same as the percentage experiencing violence in the past year, and also that ‘sexual victimization’ will include sexual assaults as well as completed or attempted rapes.
RAINN also reports that: “On average, there are 433,648 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.” This is male and female victims, but RAINN also reports that “82% of all juvenile victims are female. 90% of adult rape victims are female.”
RAINN also gives statistics on prison sexual violence (again, not broken down by the sex of the victim): “An estimated 80,600 inmates each year experience sexual violence while in prison or jail.”
Even adjusting the figures to make them male-on-male only in prison/jail, and male-on-female only outside of it, there is no way that the number of rapes in prison/jail will ever be made to ‘dwarf’ those outside of it.
But it’s not absolute numbers we need to look at, it’s rates.
The US Centre for Disease Control’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey for 2015 (p15) reports that 4.7% of women experienced ‘contact sexual violence’ in the past 12 months: 1.2% experienced rape, 2.4% experienced sexual coercion, and 2.7% experienced unwanted sexual contact.
Even if we take out the ‘unwanted sexual contact’ we still have a rate of over 3.0% (we can’t simply add the two percentages together as that may mean counting some women twice).
1.7% does not ‘dwarf’ 3.0%.
I can only conclude that Knowland either didn’t research this subject properly, lifting the claim wholesale from an MRA website or book, or else he is deliberately lying. If he is being so obviously dishonest here, why should we trust his accounting anywhere else?
Even if the rates of male-on-male sexual violence in prison/jail were higher than the rates of male-on-female sexual violence generally, it wouldn’t make male-on-female sexual violence irrelevant, or prove that men don’t use sexual violence to oppress women.
Knowland’s argument misunderstands how oppression works. All women fear male violence at some point in their life, it is a working, everyday reality for all women and girls; that fear circumscribes women and girls’ behaviour, and men as a class benefit from that fear (for example, by allowing them to paint themselves as ‘protectors’ and ‘saviours’ when the majority of violence against women and girls is perpetrated by men they know and should be able to trust, not strangers).
Adult heterosexual men who are not in prison or the military are very unlikely to experience male sexual violence (not all men will spend time in prison/jail, and not all men in prison/jail face the same risk of sexual violence), men do not fear it, and men do not change their daily behaviour because of it. Individual men are oppressed by male sexual violence, but men as a class are not. Men as a class cannot be oppressed by men as a class, it is a contradiction in terms.
Marital rape was only criminalised in the UK in 1991 (and is still explicitly legal in ten countries, while many more have no law against it), and in several countries, men can still get away with rape by marrying their victim. In many US states, men have parental rights over children conceived through rape.
Women are faced with a choice, ‘private’ vs ‘public’ violence; traditional patriarchy offers the illusion of safety, the chance of catching a ‘good husband’ who isn’t violent, or at least, whose level of violence is tolerable compared to the threat of violence outside his ‘protection’. This is the ‘protection’ of a mafioso style protection-racket.
At 12:35, Knowland presents eight cherry-picked papers which are, according to him “numerous recent studies” (one is from 1986, and another is from 1994) that ‘prove’ women are ‘protected’ under patriarchy.
The idea that eight papers (presented as brief descriptions and author names only, not even the title, which makes it harder to find the paper in question) is enough to definitively ‘prove’ anything is laughable.
To give a sense of scale, JSTOR is one of the biggest academic digital libraries; I gave up counting the journals beginning with ‘A’ when I reached 50, and that was only a short way through the list; of course, these will be journals for a wide range of disciplines, from the arts to architecture to accounting, from the social sciences to the hard sciences, but my point is, a huge number of papers are published every year.
For a simplistic comparison, science journalist Bas Kast, after experiencing health problems, decided to investigate the science of diet and aging (emphasis mine):
Kast, whose degree was in brain research, investigated further, examining data from thousands of papers, immersing himself in the world of metabolic chemistry, nutritional medicine and the science of ageing – from molecular processes to the properties of people who live long and stay well.
Kast certainly did not limit himself to reading eight papers (and he would not just have read the abstracts, he would have understood the methodology, and had a baseline understanding of the field, and an understanding of the overarching paradigms and conflicts within the field), and there is still, as discussed earlier, the reproduction crises, particularly in psychological studies, to take into account.
While these cherry-picked papers are on screen, Knowland instructs us that: “Kary Mullis, chemistry Nobel Prize laureate, said ‘it doesn’t take a lot of education to check things out, all it takes is access to resources, and the feeling that people might be trying to put something over on you’ so I did some truth sleuthing and managed to uncover the following.”
His delivery is unbearably smug at this point, and he uses the ‘Pink Panther’ theme as background music while he reads out the descriptions of the eight whole papers he cherry-picked to support his argument.
The purpose of the Kary Mullis quote is the same as the references to Mill and Galileo earlier: Knowland knows how to think, and therefore anyone who disagrees with him doesn’t know how to think, it is more propaganda.
The whole thing is laughable given that Knowland has just demonstrated, with his claims about rape, that he either doesn’t actually know how to ‘uncover’ the truth, or that when he does, he covers it back up again!
The 2015 paper ‘Women have substantial advantage in STEM faculty hiring, except when competing against more-accomplished men’ is not actually that exciting when one reads the abstract:
Audits of tenure-track hiring reveal faculty prefer to hire female applicants over males. However, audit data do not control for applicant quality, allowing some to argue women are hired at higher rates because they are more qualified. To test this, Williams and Ceci (2015) conducted an experiment demonstrating a preference for hiring women over identically-qualified men. While their findings are consistent with audits, they raise the specter that faculty may prefer women over even more-qualified men, a claim made recently. We evaluated this claim in the present study: 158 faculty ranked two men and one woman for a tenure-track-assistant professorship, and 94 faculty ranked two women and one man. In the former condition, the female applicant was slightly weaker than her two male competitors, although still strong; in the other condition the male applicant was slightly weaker than his two female competitors, although still strong. Faculty of both genders and in all fields preferred the more-qualified men over the slightly-less-qualified women, and they also preferred the stronger women over the slightly-less-qualified man. This suggests that preference for women among identically-qualified applicants found in experimental studies and in audits does not extend to women whose credentials are even slightly weaker than male counterparts. Thus these data give no support to the twin claims that weaker males are chosen over stronger females or weaker females are hired over stronger males.
It took me less time to find this article: ‘Gender Bias in Academe: An Annotated Bibliography of Important Recent Studies’, than it did to find the above paper Knowland didn’t cite properly in the video; it includes more than eight papers too.
The 1994 paper described as “women are punished less than men for the same crime” is also not so exciting when one finds the actual paper: ‘The Effects of Physical Attractiveness, Race, Socioeconomic Status, and Gender of Defendants and Victims on Judgments of Mock Jurors: A Meta‐Analysis’:
A meta‐analysis of experimental research on mock juror judgments was conducted to assess the effects of physical attractiveness, race, socioeconomic status (SES), and gender of both defendants and victims to test the theory that jurors use characteristics that are correlated with criminal behavior as cues to infer guilt and to recommend punishment. In general, it was advantageous for defendants to be physically attractive, female, and of high SES, although these advantages were nil for some crimes. There were no overall effects of race on mock jurors’ judgments, but the effect of defendant race on punishment was strongly moderated by type of crime. Effects of victim characteristics on jurors’ judgments were generally inconsequential, although defendants were at a disadvantage when the victim was female.
If women are perceived to be less criminal than men, that’s probably because men are actually committing more crime, certainly more violent crime, than women, although teasing out the actions of individuals, and society’s interpretations of these actions, particularly in relation to criminal behaviour and criminal trials, is complex.
All that I can say, with certainty, is that things are more complicated that can be explained by one cherry-picked paper.
(It was only after I searched for these papers on Google Scholar that I noticed the link Knowland gives in the Youtube notes; they all come from one Quillette article – so much for ‘truth sleuthing’ Knowland can’t even do his own cherry-picking, and I do have to wonder if Knowland even looked at any of those papers before screen-capping the table!)
There are though, some important areas to look at when it comes to crimes and convictions. One is the different way women and men are treated when they murder their partner; men still routinely get away with murdering their female partners, often on a variation of the ‘nagging and shagging’ defence.
There was a stark example of this recently, when Anthony Williams received a five-year manslaughter sentence after strangling his wife, Ruth Williams, to death (Williams’ sentence has been referred it to the Attorney General’s office for review). His defence was that he was suffering from depression due to the stress of lockdown, and ‘snapped’ when she told him to ‘get over it’. The killing occurred five days into the first lockdown.
At the same time, women who murder their male partners, in self-defence, after suffering years or even decades of abuse, often receive much harsher murder sentences.
There is also the rape conviction rate in the UK (other countries are unlikely to be significantly better), which is at an all-time low, leading Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, and solicitor Harriet Wistrich, founder of the Centre for Women’s Justice, to state that rape is effectively decriminalised.
If middle-class white women get preferential treatment within the legal system, so do middle-class white men, we can look at the cases of Brock Turner or Robert H. Richards IV as examples, and there are many others.
All this does not fit in with Knowland’s claims about ‘protection’. There is not a single institution globally, religious or secular, that has not had a sex abuse scandal in the past decades; men build their entire lives and careers around accessing women and children to sexually abuse. Far from ‘protecting’ women and children, men stick up for each other, and facilitate and cover up abuse, privileging powerful men, and the reputations of male-dominated institutions, over the lives of abused women and children. Patriarchy is better understood as a system for facilitating male abuse.
Who are all the men committing this abuse, are they somehow outside of patriarchy? All the physical and sexual abuse of women and children for all of recorded human history has happened within patriarchy. The Taliban shooting Malala Yousafzai in the head for going to school happened within patriarchy; the École Polytechnique massacre happened within patriarchy.
There is a link between men committing intimate partner violence against women, and terrorist activity; but the connection, and the chance to intervene early, is often missed because violence against women isn’t taken seriously.
The fact that the men whose job is supposedly to ‘protect’ us (police, military) have higher rates of intimate partner violence than the general population, shows what this ‘protection’ is worth. US police officers use the slang term ‘No Humans Involved’ to describe the rape, battery, or murder of prostitutes and strippers, where is the ‘protection’ for these women?
At 14:00 there is more sloppy thinking from Knowland, he uses a 2018 survey showing that the majority of women in western Europe do not call themselves feminists, as ‘proof’ that women have never been oppressed under patriarchy.
It isn’t surprising that few women want to call themselves feminists, in the relative comfort of the modern global north, when within the male-dominated mainstream culture, feminism is still portrayed as synonymous with ‘prude’ or ‘man hater’, but that doesn’t mean those women want to give up the rights and freedoms first and second wave feminism won for them.
Even if only 8% of women in Germany call themselves feminists, that doesn’t mean German women want to go back to a time when they couldn’t vote, couldn’t open a bank account, and their husbands could rape and beat them with impunity.
The resurgence of activism around the #MeToo movement, the revelations around historic child sex abuse among the French liberal elite, the recent victory for abortion rights in Argentina, the women fighting back against restrictive abortion laws in Poland, and the growing movements against male violence in India, Mexico, and South Korea, all suggest that feminism on the global scale is far from dead, or redundant.
At 14:30 Knowland states: “To use Karl Popper’s term, patriarchy is non-falsifiable.” which is strange, given that in the rest of the video, he is claiming that patriarchy ‘protects’ women (how can it do that if it doesn’t exist?). Obviously, what he was trying to say (and this is more sloppiness on his part here) is that ‘claims of female oppression under patriarchy are non-falsifiable’, which is absurd, we can just look at all the physical and sexual violence against women, and women’s reduced autonomy, as already discussed.
At 14:34 Knowland gets over-excited by his own self-assumed cleverness while quoting GK Chesterton: “You have a theory that all ginger people are trying to kill you, when you ask them whether they are, they say they’re not! But you’re too clever for them, that’s exactly what they would say.”
This is the level of sniggering, juvenile contempt Knowland has for women and girls who have been victimised by men.
The women in Mexico, where nine women are murdered a day, or Russia, where over 1000 women are murdered a year, and the authorities in both countries routinely do nothing, must just be crazy and paranoid for thinking they are oppressed by men. The girls in rural India, afraid to go out to the fields at night (because their homes have no indoor plumbing), in case they are gang raped and murdered, must just be crazy and paranoid. The women in the UK speaking out, after the disappearance and murder of Sarah Everard, about their experiences of being stalked and harassed, must just be crazy and paranoid too.
It isn’t just that Knowland thinks violence against women and girls is trivial, it’s that he doesn’t think about it at all, violence against women and girls is irrelevant to his worldview.
At 15:00 he quotes philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe: “corrupt minds cannot be reasoned with.” These smarmy quotes apparently ‘prove’ that feminists are trying to manipulate women into believing they are oppressed when really, they’re not.
The aim with this propagandistic Gish Gallop of quotes (which weren’t written about feminism in the first place) is to overwhelm; just quarter of an hour of listening to Knowland’s voice is quite enough to bludgeon most viewers into submission (I could only stomach it in five to ten-minute bursts).
From 15:05 Knowland is back to extolling the virtues of patriarchal masculinity; at 15:30 he reports that women are more fearful than men, without bothering to ask why that might be the case.
At 16:45 Knowland recites a poem, ‘Rhyme of the Dead Self’ by ARD Fairburn, over images of shell-shocked soldiers.
There is something I can only describe as relish in Knowland’s voice here; later (18:05) he describes men on the battlefield shitting themselves with fear.
Knowland is sado-masochistically revelling in the suffering of other men, suffering he has never volunteered for himself, and, given his age and the nature of modern warfare, will never have to experience himself. He is a chicken-hawk.
Knowland wants to have it both ways here; he needs men to be ‘disposable’, in order to ‘prove’ that men are oppressed more than women under patriarchy, but he also wants them to be ‘heroic’, and the two concepts do not mesh well – there is nothing ‘heroic’ about being used up and thrown away.
Knowland also wants to have it both ways over violence, claiming both that it is innate/‘hardwired’ (so nothing can be done about it), but also that it is forced onto men (which I guess in Knowland’s mind makes it more ‘heroic’ somehow?).
Human beings have a natural inhibition against killing other human beings, which has to be overcome by brutal conditioning and desensitisation during military training. Soldiers also suffer high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder after conflicts; neither of these things suggest that aggression and violence in men are ‘innate’ or ‘natural’.
I have used one of the same images of a shell-shocked soldier Knowland does, to illustrate a point about the abuse of women in the porn industry:
The women and girls (and men and boys) used up by the sex industry really are disposable, they experience PTSD at a similar rate to combat soldiers, and otherwise ‘progressive’ countries still believe they need a sacrificial underclass of prostituted women for men to channel their sexual violence onto – again, where is the ‘protection’ for these women?
At 17:20 Knowland states “In procreating, providing, and protecting, however, men can fail in a way that women can’t.” continuing later (18:10) with the claim: “Childbirth, it is true, demands great courage of women, but you can’t lose childbirth by running away.”
This bizarre statement is, technically, true, women can’t ‘run away’ from childbirth, but then one can’t ‘run away’ from cancer either. The claim is meaningless.
Knowland shows real contempt for women here: Sure, pregnancy and childbirth are dangerous and can kill you, but it’s just a basic animal process, and women don’t have any choice about doing it anyway; men however, make a noble, courageous choice to be violent (even though they are apparently ‘hardwired’ for it anyway). So, men are hardwired to make noble, courageous choices, while women are hardwired to be mindless baby-making machines.
Men in the West have been debating for millennia whether women had souls, could reason, were fully human, and often came to the conclusion that they were not:
Where women were considered to have no souls, no capacity for rational thought, they were not considered to have Selves and their lives were, consequently, often difficult. As women were considered to be incapable of reason, they were not allowed to be self-determining; they could not be permitted to make decisions for themselves, to be citizens, or own property. The traditional project of the Self is shown quite clearly in the map. The Self as an Object in Western philosophy is quite clearly a Male Self – women barely had identities, let alone a claim on an independent and egoistic existence.
At 17:30 Knowland says: “In procreation, they [men] can fail in a very visual and humiliating way, by being impotent.”
Knowland slips into ‘victim masculinism’ here, women can laugh at and reject men sexually, which means women oppress men – never mind that men frequently batter, rape, or murder women who reject them, a man is being laughed at!
This seems like an odd thing for Knowland, personally, to be concerned about, given he has been in the same relationship his entire adult life, and has already proven his ‘virility’ by fathering five children over fifteen years, but men do stick up for each other.
Incels, who worship spree killers Elliot Roger and Alek Minassian, want the government to assign them a girlfriend; Jordan Peterson wants ‘socially enforced monogamy’. However it’s worded, the underlying ideology is the same, women exist to service men’s lives, not as fully human ends in themselves – or, women control the pussy supply and that oppresses men.
If patriarchy really did ‘protect’ women, and if men really were disposable, Jordan Peterson would be calling for incels to be culled, rather than demanding social conditions that forced women to marry them.
At 19:00 there is a clip from Zack Snyder’s 2006 film 300 a fantasy version of the Battle of Thermopylae, followed by quotes on masculinity from Jorden Peterson and Norman Mailer, over which Knowland claims “only male honour is inseparable from strength and courage, calling a woman a wimp isn’t really an insult […] women’s honour is tied to ancient standards of sexual propriety.”
Knowland cites the title of an episode of Sex and the City here, so it must be true!
At 22:25, Knowland states: “Biologically speaking, the idea that men exert power over women is nonsense. Across species, females can exploit their power of sexual choice to get males to compete in ways that do things for them.”
I really am not exaggerating when I say that Knowland doesn’t believe violence against women exists – what is rape and intimate partner violence if it isn’t men exerting power over women?
This is further illustrated at 22:40 with a clip from an American Football game, with Knowland’s annotation “male athletes don’t want to dominate women.”
That may well be true on the sports field, but it is not true off it, there have been numerous cases of high-profile male athletes committing violence against women.
At 23:10, Knowland states: “In most species, females could refuse the dominant male if they chose, but they don’t. An elephant seal cow will cry out in protest if a low-ranking male tries to mate with her, summoning all the males within earshot to come and fight over her, and human women [sic] prefer the smell of dominant males, more masculine male faces, and men behaving more dominantly when at peak fertility than at other times in their menstrual cycle.”
Knowland’s claim that “in most species, females could refuse the dominant male if they chose, but they don’t” is just daft – is Knowland Dr Dolittle now? Can he talk to the animals? Has he been interviewing the local wildlife on their sexual proclivities? He may as well claim that migratory birds could choose to go against their instincts and stay put if they wanted.
Or is Knowland insinuating here that women are like animals, acting on instinct instead of behaving rationally (a common theme in incel rhetoric)?
One can find an animal model to support almost any lifestyle one chooses; look at a species that practices polygyny, and one will find a small number of males monopolising all the females, look at a species that practices monogamy, and one will find the majority of males pairing up. Look at any human society that practices polygyny and one will find women and girls being traded as chattel.
Knowland shares the incel obsession with ‘Chads’, successful men who supposedly monopolise the supply of women, but anyone who looks around them at the real world (in our comfortable global north at least) will see that most people are average – averagely attractive, averagely intelligent, averagely successful (that’s what ‘average’ means) – and that most people end up with someone in roughly the same ‘league’ as them. If only attractive, clever people got to reproduce, there wouldn’t be any ugly, stupid people left by now. Knowland himself is living proof that a man who is well below average when it comes to physical attractiveness can still get a girl!
Knowland’s account of elephant seal mating behaviour is a little too rosy; dominant males do monopolise females within hareems, and do fight off low-ranking males, but outside the hareem, females are subject to the ‘attentions’ of low-ranking males:
Females arrive on the rookery pregnant, join a harem and after six days, give birth to a single pup that is nursed daily for four weeks. Females do not feed, drink, leave the harem or enter the water during this time. During the last few days of nursing, a female copulates with the alpha male or the highest ranking male in the vicinity one or several times before she weans her pup and returns to sea. When a female leaves the harem, she is pursued and intercepted by several peripheral males, and perhaps one or more high ranking harem males, who compete aggressively among themselves to copulate with her. Several males may bite her on the neck and copulate with her on the beach or in the water before she gets away. Once a female reaches the water, it is easier for her to elude her suitors, but on occasion, males will pursue a female for 500 m or more, or until the animals can no longer be seen swimming at the surface.
In other words, a dominant male’s ‘protection’ ends after he has mated and secured his reproductive advantage; the number of females a group of dominant males controls in a hareem means they don’t need to ‘care’ about individual females, because their reproductive success is guaranteed anyway.
As with the baby- and female-killing lions, Knowland really hasn’t chosen his animal model well here. Male elephant seals are 5-11 times heavier than females, and employ biting, headbutting and body slamming to keep females in place during mating, occasionally resulting in the death of a female; fighting males will also trample pups to death.
The claim about women preferring ‘dominant’ males is another case where the reproducibility crisis in psychology needs to be taken into account. Journals only want to publish ‘exciting’ papers; for every paper published there could be several similar studies which didn’t show the same results, which weren’t published because they weren’t considered ‘exciting’ enough.
At 23:50 Knowland quotes Geroge Orwell: “Those who abjure violence, can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.”
At 24:00, Knowland states: “You might think that a real man prizes showing vulnerability, and talking about his feelings, or wearing rainbow laces, but he can’t do that if he’s dead!”
Knowland claims to want to offer an alternative to the idea that masculinity is ‘toxic’, and Rachel Knowland, in her Daily Mail interview, brings up the very real issue of male suicide rates, but here Knowland is telling teenage boys that if they spend any time on emotional introspection, it will get them killed.
There is a distinct nihilism to Knowland’s arguments, his love of violent movies and violent sport, his indifference to the suffering of others (not just women and girls, but all the boys who will never be able to meet his punishing standards of masculinity). Violence creates more violence, negotiating peace is far more difficult, and far braver, than sending other men off to die in wars that could have been avoided. Knowland is celebrating violence for its own sake.
With his focus on competition and violence, Knowland misses that co-operation is vital to human survival; he may reference soldiers and hunters, but he only understands them as isolated, competing, individuals, not as part of co-operative units (soldiers are subject to rank hierarchy, but without co-operation and respect between soldiers, a military force couldn’t function). Humans are social animals, no one, not even the biggest, strongest, most violent man, can survive completely on their own.
Genuine leadership – as opposed to dominance, which is the person who shouts the loudest and hits the hardest always getting their own way – actually requires co-operation and emotional intelligence. There were two interviews recently on BBC Radio 4 that illustrate this point; Desert Island Disks interviewed Colonel Lucy Giles, the first woman in the British Army to take the role of President of the Army Officer Selection Board, and Women’s Hour interviewed Holly Ridings, Nasa’s chief flight director.
The Cold War risked turning into World War III during the Cuban missile crisis of the 1960’s; the actions of one man, Russian submarine officer Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, averted this when he refused to sanction the deployment of a nuclear torpedo. By any normal measure Arkhipov is a hero, under Knowland’s worldview, he is a ‘wimp’.
At 24:10 there is a clip from Martin Scorsese’s 1990 film Goodfella’s, showing a man enacting revenge for sexual assault against his girlfriend (this is only the second time Kowland explicitly mentions sexual violence against women, and it is framed as a property crime against a man). This film, written and directed by men, is used as ‘proof’ that women like male violence.
Knowland follows that clip with the sarcastic refrain “wasn’t that violent, wouldn’t it be lovely if we could get rid of violence.”
Over a clip from Christopher Nolan’s 2012 The Dark Night Rises Knowland states: “male aggression is a biological fact that will be with us whether we like it or not […] without violence, laws ultimately are just words.”
Are we to believe that this is how Knowland lives day to day, constantly on the cusp of violence himself, only held in check by the fear of being shot by a police officer? Or is Knowland fantasising about swooping in like Batman to save the day? It must be frustrating for him, in the real world, with so few opportunities to prove what a hero he really is!
Knowland’s choice of clip from The Dark Night Rises is a poor one, because it is too complicated (and too divorced from the real world) – a hired mercenary who turns out to not be in it for the money, but because he secretly has his own, world-destroying, agenda – childishly parsed by Knowland as ‘Bane is the biggest and the strongest and the meanest and no one can tell him what to do!’
In the real, grown-up, world, people restrain themselves because they have goals that can’t be achieved solely through individual brute force or by threatening others into compliance, and any free-lance worker who wants to get paid and wants to be employable in the future, isn’t going to beat up their employer just because they can.
The idea that rampaging male violence can only be countered with another rampaging male, like King Kong versus Godzilla, bears little resemblance to the real world; law enforcement requires more than the ability to crack skulls. The idea that we need some kind of secret reserve of extreme male violence to keep us ‘safe’ from extreme male violence is ridiculous; when a lion escapes from the zoo, we don’t release another lion to fight it, we shoot it from a distance with a tranquiliser dart.
Human beings are social, co-operative animals; our prehistoric ancestors survived in the African savanna not through individual ‘big men’ wrestling lions with their bare hands, but through co-operation and team work. It is our ability to co-operate so well that sets us apart from other primates, it is the thing that makes us human.
A real-life Lord of the Flies scenario turned out to be a story not of violence and conflict, but of co-operation; without the threat of violence hanging over them, the stranded boys worked together in order to survive, even taking care of a ‘burdensome’ injured member of the group. Even if those boys are outliers (and I don’t believe they are), they still show that conflict is not inevitable, and that co-operation is vital for human survival.
The Covid crisis has also shown that many, many people are willing to make personal sacrifices for the common good, we couldn’t survive as a species if we all behaved selfishly all the time.
The Khoisan people of southern Africa have existed for 150,000 years, their culture is described as ‘fiercely egalitarian’:
They could not abide inequality or showing off, and had no formalised leadership institutions. Men and women enjoyed equal decision making powers, children played largely non-competitive games in mixed age groups, and the elderly, while treated with great affection, were not afforded any special privileges. This in turn meant that no-one bothered to accumulate wealth or influence, and never over-exploited their marginal environment.
Compare the Ju/’hoan custom of ‘disparaging the meat’ with Knowland’s idea of ‘chivalry’ below:
“When a young man kills much meat, he comes to think of himself as a chief or a big man – and thinks of the rest of us as his servants or inferiors. We can’t accept this … so we always speak of his meat as worthless. This way, we cool his heart and make him gentle.”
At 26:40, Knowland talks about ‘chivalry’: “The traditional ideal of chivalry is the attempt to deal with the fact of biological aggression among men. The virtue of chivalry is the virtue of one who has internalised the ethos of the protector; courage, prowess in battle, mercy to the vanquished, courtesy towards women, gentleness towards children, and piety towards elders. Machismo, by contrast, is a defamation of chivalry, for men who forget that their strength is to be put into the service of the weak.”
So here, finally, is Knowland’s ‘non-toxic’ masculinity – as long as we ignore all the times that this ‘protection’ and ‘service’ has tipped over into domination and control, and all the times this ‘protection’ hasn’t existed at all, and all the women and children (the enslaved, the conquered, the colonised), for whom ‘chivalry’ never applied at all. It becomes a ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy, ‘real men’ are chivalrous, so any time violence is committed against a woman or child, it wasn’t a ‘real man’ doing it.
Knowland just can’t get his story straight on this; male violence is innate, but boys need to be brutalised into it, or, it’s innate, and constantly on the verge of boiling over, but can be contained by fairy tales of ‘chivalry’. It’s all so meagre, teenage boys deserve better than this, they deserve better than the idea that if they are brutalised into manhood in just the right way, everything will be fine.
Knowland has previously claimed that it is only the threat of violence that keeps people behaving correctly, so how does all this ‘courtesy’, ‘gentleness’, and ‘piety’ work in the face of misbehaviour by women, children, and the elderly? Do only young adult men break the rules, or do we in fact manage to live civilly day to day without the direct threat of violence hanging over us?
How does ‘gentleness towards children’ square with the history of beating them bloody in schools (outlawed in British state schools in 1986, but not in public schools until 1999)? In public schools, the purpose was to brutalise little boys so they would grow up to be agents of Empire who could go out and brutalise the natives in turn – one could view this as an initiation ceremony of sorts, but from seven years old? The corporal punishment was also a staging post to sexual abuse, training little boys to allow adult men to hurt them.
Where is the ‘chivalry’ in a country where more than four million children live in poverty? Where is the ‘chivalry’ in a system that limits child benefits to a woman’s first two children, unless she’s prepared to report that subsequent children were conceived through rape?
The problem with this idea of ‘chivalry’ is that it’s a fantasy. Who is Knowland ‘battling’ and ‘vanquishing’ in the real world? The headmaster of Eton? If men ‘need’ conflict in order to prove their manliness, they are going to create conflict; if every man needs to be a ‘big man’ who does he take it out on when a bigger, stronger man comes along? (There is nothing in Knowland’s description about being a good loser, and how could there be?) If men ‘need’ women to ‘protect’ in order to feel like ‘real men’, what happens when the women in their lives refuse to play along?
If such ‘chivalrous’ men have ever existed, they were a minority, outliers, which doesn’t fit in with Knowland’s claims (which he can only ‘prove’ by ignoring vast swathes of contrary evidence) that patriarchy (real-world patriarchy, not fantasy patriarchy), has always ‘protected’ women and children.
Knowland’s ‘chivalry’ has certainly never existed at the societal level, one can look at the history of the British (or any other) Empire, the Atlantic slave trade, or how the Ancient Spartans treated the Helot population they subjugated.
At 27:10, Knowland claims: “The feminists horrified reactions to domestic violence acknowledges men’s special duties towards women. It is far far worse for a man to beat up a woman than it is for him to beat up a weaker man.”
This is just bizarre (but at least Knowland has finally acknowledged that domestic violence does actually exist), the use of ‘horrified’ is bizarre, implying an over-reaction; the use of ‘the feminists’, as if apolitical people are just fine with violence against women, is bizarre (and surely ‘chivalrous’ men would be ‘horrified’ by violence against women too?).
I don’t know of any feminist who is ok with men beating up smaller, weaker men, or who doesn’t recognise that a man who is capable of one kind of violence is going to be more likely to commit other types of violence as well.
The feminist project has always been about ending violence, not merely channelling it away from women. Feminism isn’t about putting women on a pedestal and holding them up as deserving of special treatment (ie, saying women should be protected from violence, but men should not) – it’s ‘benevolent patriarchy’ that, only superficially, does that. Ending violence against women means ending violence against everyone, because the ‘chivalrous’ man, who would happily beat up a man half his size but would never hit a lady is a myth.
Perhaps Knowland is giving away too much about his own personal value system here? Where is the ‘courage’ or ‘prowess’ in beating up a man half your size? This is the hollow centre of Knowland’s ideology, if men need to ‘vanquish’ other men in order to feel manly, they are going to target men who are smaller and weaker than they are, to make sure they always win, which is cowardly and bullying.
Knowland lives in a juvenile fantasy world full of superheroes and gangsters and barbarians, where the good guys always win, but the bad guys are really, really, cool; a juvenile fantasy world full of men showing ‘prowess in battle’, but somehow no civilian massacres, no war crimes, no human rights abuses, where men can be brutalised into killing machines but somehow only ever commit the ‘right’ kind of violence.
The real world is far more complicated than Knowland’s fantasies, and there are very few problems in real life that can be solved with a fist-fight. A man can’t ‘prove’ his ideas are correct by beating up anyone who disagrees with him; even if he can get his own way through violence, he can’t bend reality to his will with it.
At 27:45 Knowland quotes Richard Wrangham: “Patriarchy is worldwide and history-wide, and its origins are detectable in the social lives of chimpanzees. It has its ultimate origins in male violence, but it doesn’t come from man alone, and it has its sources in the evolutionary interests of both sexes.”
Knowland then offers us another cherry-picked study, and an opinion piece from Marie Claire magazine about a woman who wants to be ‘overwhelmed’ by her husband’s ‘masculinity’ (Knowland gets over-excited and shouty again reading a section from it) to ‘prove’ that women prefer violent men.
Humans did not evolve from chimpanzees, we share a common ancestor, with the two lineages splitting approximately six million years ago. We are as closely related to matricentric, less violent bonobos (Pan paniscus) as we are to patriarchal, violent chimps (Pan troglodytes), one can choose either animal model to make whatever point one wishes to make.
Other anthropologists have criticised Wrangham and Peterson’s ‘demonic males’ arguments, particularly their overlooking of bonobos, and also the ‘Just So Story’ nature of claims about men being ‘evolved’ for violence. (Yes, I am aware that the first link is to an article criticising Steven Pinker, when I referenced him earlier – the point is, Pinker’s worldview overlaps with Knowland’s, but even he thinks Knowland goes too far. There are criticisms of Pinker from other anthropologists as well.)
At 28:55 Knowland gets really worked up quoting from Brian De Palma’s 1983 film Scarface, a film about a violent drug dealer: “In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.” So much for the ‘chivalry’!
At 29:05 Knowland states: “Patriarchy will remain worldwide, and history-wide, until women start getting men to compete over being weak, cowardly, impotent, and poor providers.”
Remember, Knowland has just held up a violent drug-dealer as an example of masculine ‘success’. This is so regressive and so limiting, as if violence is the only way a man can provide for his family, as if violence is the only way a man can show strength and courage; and where did ‘impotent’ come from, does Knowland consider sex a form of violence?
There is no room in Knowland’s masculinity for men to show any weakness or vulnerability, not in the face of illness, or bereavement, or any of the lesser misfortunes almost everyone suffers at some point in their life; if a man isn’t constantly ‘winning’ he’s a loser and he’s nothing. There is no room either, for men who have been victimised, as adults or children, by other men or by women. Knowland’s masculinity is entirely toxic.
Knowland continues “So rather than oppressing them, the fact that women get men to compete over them gives them tremendous power.” And we’re back to ‘victim masculinism’ again (and ignoring men’s physical and sexual violence against women) with women ‘oppressing’ men by controlling the pussy supply.
At 30:10, Knowland ‘proves’ women expect ‘chivalry’ by taking a screencap from (I’m assuming) a reality TV program, apparently showing a woman’s face after she’s been asked to pay half the bill on a date. This is, obviously, more cherry-picking; if one goes into a materialistic sub-culture, where women are expected to put time and money into their appearance (making themselves a commodity), and therefore expect to be compensated for this in return, with their meal being paid for on a date, then one will get the result one wants.
At 30:30 is Knowland’s defamation of Andrea Dworkin, which I covered in part one.
At 32:00 Knowland states: “By contrast, the core of masculinity, the protector role, makes it the antithesis of paedophilia.”
At this point, if you haven’t though it already, you really do have to wonder what planet Knowland is living on.
One could try arguing here that Knowland isn’t talking about patriarchy anymore, but his fantasy ‘chivalric’ version of masculinity, but his overarching thesis is that real-world patriarchy ‘worldwide and history-wide’ doesn’t oppress women and children, it ‘protects’ them.
The vast majority of child sex abuse is committed by men, mostly men who are known to the victim and are a friend, relative, or in a position of trust.
Child marriage, which overwhelmingly affects girls, is still prevalent in the global south, and in some US states, child marriage is still legal; the age of consent for girls in Britain was ten or twelve years old until law reforms in the 19th century, which came about partly in response to newspaper reports of young girls being exploited in prostitution.
The word ‘family’ has its roots in the Latin familias, a property concept encompassing slaves as well as biological relatives. In Ancient Rome, a paterfamilias had absolute power over his family, including the right to kill unwanted children. While freeborn Roman children were protected from sexual interference (although girls were married off young), slaves had no rights, and Roman men considered twelve to be the perfect age to start raping slave boys.
In Ancient Sparta, pederasty – sexual relations between adult men and boys (citizens, not slaves) – from the age of twelve was institutionalised (Persian Fire, Tom Holland, 2005)
Sigmund Freud knew that the mental illness of his female patients stemmed from childhood sexual abuse by their fathers; but since he relied on the patronage of those upper-class men, he covered it up, inventing the ‘Oedipus Complex’ (the idea that children fantasise about sex with their opposite sex parents), and setting back understanding of child abuse “by a hundred years”.
The Josef Fritzls of the world are all ‘patriarchs’ all operating within the patriarchal status quo, all using the privacy of the family to avoid scrutiny and detection.
As I have said already, patriarchy doesn’t protect women and children from abuse, it facilitates it.
Knowland even tries to use the ‘hierarchies’ among criminals in prison to ‘prove’ something (again, so much for ‘chivalry’!). A nineteen-year-old drug dealer who stabbed to death a fourteen-year-old boy from a rival gang, feeling morally superior to a man who raped a fourteen-year-old girl, doesn’t prove much of anything. The hierarchies among prison inmates probably have as much to do with who is or isn’t part of a gang, and the need to have an underclass to look down on, as it is about genuinely caring about violence against women and children, and sex offenders are as likely to be ‘civilians’ as they are to be gang members.
How does this argument sit with Knowland’s earlier claim that male-on-male sexual violence is rife in prisons? A gang leader in prison who rapes a vulnerable young inmate with a learning disability isn’t going to be excommunicated because violent criminals have such a pure inner code – this is another of Knowland’s hollow ‘big man’ fantasies.
There is more sloppiness from Knowland here; in the Youtube notes, the two papers Knowland links to (see here and here), are described by him as “Child abusers are the most despised offenders in jail”, but both are about the stigma experienced by convicted sex offenders outside of prison due to offender registers.
I don’t doubt that child sex offenders are despised by other inmates, but I don’t know why Knowland chose those two links as evidence – the Wikipedia page on ‘prison social hierarchy’ has better references!
Society has a veneer of condemnation when it comes to the sexual exploitation of children, but over and over again comes up with ways to blame the victim and excuse the perpetrators. The cover-up of the abuse of girls in Rotherham wasn’t only due to the fear of stirring up racial tensions, it was also due to the fact that the working-class white girls being abused were seen as unworthy of protection, with one girl being described as a ‘child prostitute’, blaming her for her abuse.
This is not just teenaged girls, in 1993 a judge described the eight-year-old victim of attempted rape as “not entirely an angel herself” and gave her attacker two years’ probation; in 2007, a man received a two-year sentence for raping a ten-year-old girl, because her clothes were ‘provocative’.
At 32:15 Knowland says: “Dworkin wants to destroy patriarchal power at its source, the family, and destroy the structure of culture as we know it. But the family offers numerous benefits, not only to men, but to women and children. Children who live with their own two married parents enjoy better physical and mental health, on average, than do children in other family forms. Married women live longer, and enjoy better health and lower rates of injury and illness than unmarried women, they are substantially less likely to commit suicide, and they have lower rates of depression, they are also at lower risk of experiencing domestic violence, and being the victims of crime.”
Knowland’s hypocrisy here is obvious, he barely acknowledges that violence against women exists, until now, when he uses it to strong-arm women into marriage! How do Knowland’s claims about patriarchy ‘protecting’ women and children fit in with the fact that this minimal ‘protection’ only covers the women and children who are seen as the property of individual men (and not even then, given that the source Knowland cites compares domestic violence rates between married women and cohabiting women)?
Knowland’s source for his claims about marriage/the nuclear family is a document from the think tank Civitas; the Civitas document cites a 1989 study ‘The Marriage License as a Hitting License: A Comparison of Assaults in Dating, Cohabiting, and Married Couples’ for its claims about domestic violence, a study that reports more female intimate partner violence than male.
The study used the ‘Conflict Tactics Scale’ a flawed measure that results in the under-reporting of male violence (a murdered woman can’t answer a telephone survey) and the over-reporting of female violence (women tend to be more willing to self-report their own violence), it also doesn’t take into account patterns of violence or the affect the violence has on its victim.
Civitas doesn’t actually differentiate between men and women in its claims about the benefits of marriage over cohabitation – maybe Knowland should have taken a ‘victim masculinist’ approach here, but how would ‘battered husbands’ fit into his world view?
The academic literature does tend to show that married women are happier than unmarried women (a category which includes widows and divorcees) in Western countries, but happiness is also influenced by age, race, and socioeconomic status.
The high marriage rates among social elites, compared to the less advantaged, suggests marriage as the product of high socioeconomic status, rather than marriage in itself creating social advantage leading to greater success and happiness.
But, as this highly technical working paper shows, getting the statistics right is not easy (we’re back to the replication crisis again):
We replicate nine key results from the happiness literature: the Easterlin Paradox, the ‘U-shaped’ relation between happiness and age, the happiness trade-off between inflation and unemployment, cross-country comparisons of happiness, the impact of the Moving to Opportunity program on happiness, the impact of marriage and children on happiness, the ‘paradox’ of declining female happiness, and the effect of disability on happiness. We show that none of the findings can be obtained relying only on nonparametric identification. The findings in the literature are highly dependent on one’s beliefs about the underlying distribution of happiness in society, or the social welfare function one chooses to adopt. Furthermore, any conclusions reached from these parametric approaches rely on the assumption that all individuals report their happiness in the same way. When the data permit, we test for equal reporting functions, conditional on the existence of a common cardinalization from the normal family. We reject this assumption in all cases in which we test it.
We demonstrate clearly the empirical problems of the happiness literature. In not a single case could we draw any conclusions from the data without a parametric assumption. In no case did following the literature and assuming a normal distribution lead to a robust conclusion. Even if we were to restrict ourselves to distributions in the log-normal family that are no more skewed than the U.S. wealth distribution, we would find alternative cardinalizations that reverse or eliminate nearly all the major results in the happiness literature. The sole exceptions are that the disabled are less happy than those who are not disabled and that married women are happier than unmarried women, but even here, we remind the reader that we have not ruled out the possibility of transformations outside the lognormal that would be less skewed. In every case where we could test for reporting-function equality across groups, we rejected this assumption.
I’m not going to pretend that I understand the statistics in this paper (I would suggest reading the section on ‘marriage and children’ anyway), but it does serve to illustrate exactly how complicated academic research is, and how perilous it can be to wade in as a lay-person.
The idea that a modern, egalitarian, marriage with a double income, regardless of the exact cause and effect between marriage and socioeconomic status, makes women happier than poverty is hardly all that surprising, but it doesn’t prove that patriarchy ‘worldwide and history-wide’ was always great for women and children – the survey data from the US measuring happiness only goes back to 1972, and the nuclear family unit (father, mother, 2.5 children) was not the norm throughout most of human history (see, for example, The Anthropology of Childhood, David F. Lancy, Cambridge University Press, 2015). Society has changed in the past fifty years, marriage has changed from being the only route to economic security for women (because they had limited choices), to a way for already socioeconomically advantaged women to increase their advantage.
The real question is, why is life outside of the nuclear family unit dangerous and impoverished for women and children? This isn’t ‘nature’ it’s social and economic decisions made by the people in power (who are mostly men). Why are certain children seen as burdens on society, rather than future workers worth investing in (asking powerful men to see powerless children as fully human seems like too much of an ask)?
The nuclear family, a by-product of capitalism’s need for mobile labour during the industrial revolution, was not the norm throughout most of human history, and there is no guarantee of it remaining the norm. Conservative US commentator David Brooks describes the nuclear family as ‘brittle’ and ‘fragile’ (while also acknowledging that traditional extended families can be “exhausting and stifling”, especially for women, “Family bonds are thicker, but individual choice is diminished.”).
For a time, it all seemed to work. From 1950 to 1965, divorce rates dropped, fertility rates rose, and the American nuclear family seemed to be in wonderful shape. And most people seemed prosperous and happy. In these years, a kind of cult formed around this type of family – what McCall’s, the leading women’s magazine of the day, called “togetherness.” Healthy people lived in two-parent families. In a 1957 survey, more than half of the respondents said that unmarried people were “sick,” “immoral,” or “neurotic.”
During this period, a certain family ideal became engraved in our minds: a married couple with 2.5 kids. When we think of the American family, many of us still revert to this ideal. When we have debates about how to strengthen the family, we are thinking of the two-parent nuclear family, with one or two kids, probably living in some detached family home on some suburban street. We take it as the norm, even though this wasn’t the way most humans lived during the tens of thousands of years before 1950, and it isn’t the way most humans have lived during the 55 years since 1965.
Brooks advocates moving forward from the irreparably broken nuclear family to a new kind of extended, chosen, family:
Anthropologists have been arguing for decades about what exactly kinship is. Studying traditional societies, they have found wide varieties of created kinship among different cultures. […] In other words, for vast stretches of human history people lived in extended families consisting of not just people they were related to but people they chose to cooperate with. […] Extended families in traditional societies may or may not have been genetically close, but they were probably emotionally closer than most of us can imagine. In a beautiful essay on kinship, Marshall Sahlins, an anthropologist at the University of Chicago, says that kin in many such societies share a “mutuality of being.” The late religion scholar J. Prytz-Johansen wrote that kinship is experienced as an “inner solidarity” of souls. The late South African anthropologist Monica Wilson described kinsmen as “mystically dependent” on one another. Kinsmen belong to one another, Sahlins writes, because they see themselves as “members of one another.” […] The most interesting extended families are those that stretch across kinship lines. The past several years have seen the rise of new living arrangements that bring nonbiological kin into family or familylike relationships. On the website CoAbode, single mothers can find other single mothers interested in sharing a home. All across the country, you can find co-housing projects, in which groups of adults live as members of an extended family, with separate sleeping quarters and shared communal areas. […] These experiments, and others like them, suggest that while people still want flexibility and some privacy, they are casting about for more communal ways of living, guided by a still-developing set of values.
The utopian ideals of the 60’s and 70’s have mostly been abandoned; the second wave feminist aim to abolish the family always meant replacing it with something better and stronger, a larger family, rather than no family at all. It is currently ‘woke’ liberal feminism, happy to embrace the hyper-capitalist commodification of women in pornography and prostitution, that wants to turn motherhood itself into alienated labour; ‘abolish the family’ now means ‘hand over the most vulnerable children to a ‘glitter family’ made up of predatory men.’
At 33.15, Knowland finishes with: “when you look at this picture, what do you see?” (the image becomes better focused at this point in the video.)
“A woman imprisoned, or a woman provided for and protected?”
This is, frankly, embarrassing. Knowland has found a painting that illustrates his arguments, the painting itself doesn’t ‘prove’ anything; it’s like a small child using an illustration in their picture-book as ‘proof’ that Santa Claus really exists!
So there we have it, a hot mess full of cherry-picking, distortions, omissions, lies, and some very dodgy sources, all wrapped up in Knowland’s own bizarre, toxic worldview.