Back in December last year, Eton College, one of the UK’s most prestigious public (ie fee-charging) schools, was in the news over the suspension and sacking of English teacher Will Knowland, over his video ‘The Patriarchy Paradox’.
Journalist Kate Maltby reported that she had seen the arguments and imagery used by Knowland on ‘Men’s Rights Activist’ (MRA) websites, and female commentators on the left and right variously described Knowland and his video as: ‘foolish’, ‘lacking in analysis’, ‘factually dubious’; ‘weird’, ‘twisted’, ‘near-unendurable’, ‘crude’; ‘gratingly confident and condescending’ ‘rambling’, and ‘the purest, filthiest stream of untreated misogyny I’ve heard since Donald Trump’.
Predictably, the right-wing press reported majority ‘silent support’ for Knowland, while the left-wing press reported majority ‘silent support’ for his sacking.
Some ‘Old Etonians’ threatened to withhold their donations to the school if Knowland was not reinstated, while others wrote an open letter to the Times in support of his sacking, describing the video as “intellectually feeble and misogynistic, not a critically balanced argument. It is riddled with fallacies, myths and gender mischaracterisations […] Mr Knowland’s unsubstantiated arguments do not amount to a brave exercise in free speech, they represent his failure as an educator.”
Amusingly, professor Steven Pinker withdrew his full support for Knowland, after actually watching the video, describing it as going “well beyond citing science and instead was a polemical and tendentious defence of masculine virtues.”
It is impossible to understate the warping effect the public-school system, and Eton in particular, has had, and is still having, on British political and public life (the situation in the US is similar). It is also impossible to understate the warping effect these schools have had on the boys who passed through them (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).
If you think this is all ‘historical’, a different Eton teacher was found guilty, in November last year, of sexually assaulting boys, and recently, there have been revelations about rape culture among pupils in numerous UK public schools (see here, here, and here).
Rachel Knowland, Knowland’s wife, started dating Knowland at 14, and had the first of five children with him at 19, during her second year at university (it is not clear, in her interview with the Daily Mail, whether or not she finished university).
Rachel Knowland claims that ‘woke’ people should be supporting Knowland, because she is black (Knowland is white), and because one of their children has autism.
If that seems arrogant and entitled, it is nothing compared to Knowland himself, who was reported in December to be seeking to secure a Personal Act of Parliament to reinstate him to his post – that’s right, in the final month of Brexit negotiations, and during the ongoing Covid crisis, Knowland wanted politicians to directly intervein to get him his job back.
With exquisitely bad timing, a day after the January Capitol Hill violence in the US, the Times reported Knowland’s own Trumpian claim that there had been a conspiracy to oust him, and that his disciplinary panel had been fixed.
In another interview in the Times in February, Knowland did a reverse ferret, and claimed that the video did not reflect his personal views.
Knowland also doubled-down on the conspiracy theories, claiming that rumours about the reason for his dismissal were not denied by Eton quickly enough, a claim Eton denies (the first time I heard of these particular rumours was in that interview, so the person spreading them to the wider world appears to be Knowland himself).
(The Times a few days later, managed to scrape yet another article out of the fact that Eton fulfilled its statutory obligations by reporting Knowland’s dismissal to the Teaching Regulation Agency.)
The claim that Knowland doesn’t even believe the arguments he made in the video rings entirely false, just from having watched the video; unless Knowland comes out and admits that the whole thing is a Borat style hoax, I am not going to believe that claim.
No one forfeits their job over ‘free speech’ in the abstract, only over ideas they are passionate about. The video is Knowland’s own personal polemic, if Knowland’s aim was merely to communicate a set of ‘alternative’ ideas on the subject, along the lines of ‘these are some controversial opinions some people have’ it would be an entirely different video.
The claim also does not make sense when Knowland is still saying, in the same interview, that he wanted to challenge the idea that masculinity is ‘toxic’ (but the version of masculinity he serves up in the video is still a ‘toxic’ one).
Knowland, like Laurence Fox, is a right-wing snowflake, a mediocre thinker (at best) who has been elevated to the limelight by a right-wing grievance culture that needs its ‘heroes’ and has such a dearth of applicants.
There is plenty of reasonable, pluralistic, middle ground between ‘woke’ and ‘anti woke’; careers have been made exposing the ‘grievance culture’ of the ‘woke’ left, this is a right-wing ‘grievance culture’, this is the right’s ‘alternative way of knowing’.
I am not an employment lawyer, whether this is a free speech issue, or an insubordination at work issue, is beyond the scope of this blog post, but ‘free speech’ does not give teachers the right to indoctrinate their students, otherwise teachers would be allowed to teach as fact flat earth theory, Holocaust denial, scientific racism, anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, anything they wanted.
The UK government has already said that schools should not be teaching the extremes of gender ideology (ie ‘born in the wrong body’ rhetoric), or anti-capitalist ideology, so why should male supremacist ideology be allowed either?
Knowland, in the video, sets himself up as the holder of special, esoteric truth. His Youtube channel is called ‘Knowland Knows’, not ‘Knowland Investigates’, or ‘Knowland Enquires’, but ‘Knowland Knows’. He isn’t blatant enough to use the Matrix ‘Red Pill’ meme in the video, but he may as well have, the implication of his rhetorical style is clear: he knows the truth, and anyone who disagrees with him is a complacent sheep who can’t think for themselves.
Knowland sets up a model of ‘benevolent patriarchy’, with men as women’s ‘protectors’; the only problem then is that he cannot articulate what men are actually ‘protecting’ us from (ie, other men). Men’s physical and sexual violence is handwaved away, ignored, or blamed on women. Knowland seems to believe that men are mostly protecting women from lions.
Knowland shows a real contempt for women throughout the video, not just dismissing the violence done to women by men, but dismissing all the achievements women have made for themselves, against the odds.
Knowland’s claims that women are protected by, and benefit from, patriarchy across time and across cultures, results in some wild cherry-picking, and even wilder omissions; women were, according to Knowland, better off than men, even under slavery in ancient Egypt, but there is no mention of present-day violence against women in the Middle East. Knowland claims that male violence is inevitable, but also that, somehow, this violence is hardly ever directed towards women and children, resulting in the bizarre premise that men are constantly on the cusp of violence but somehow there is little or no violence against women and children.
Much fuss has been made in Knowland’s defence of the fact that the video was to be shown as part of a ‘perspectives’ course for sixth formers (16-18-year-olds) at Eton, and would be followed by a debate. The problem here is that debates are not about finding the truth (that would be a dialogue/dialectic), they are about ‘winning’.
Debaters use all kinds of rhetorical tricks, including ‘Gish Galloping’ (bombarding their opponent with so many claims that it is impossible to reply to them all within the time given) in order to ‘win’. You can compare any debate in the House of Commons, with a parliamentary enquiry, which can take years, to see the difference between a debate and a genuine exercise in truth-seeking.
Would those students have been asked to systematically fact-check all the claims Knowland made and report back, or would they have been asked to decide which argument they liked the best and then defend it? Is the point of the ‘perspectives’ class to hone their critical thinking skills, or to hone their debating skills?
It took me many hours, on and off, to write these blog posts, plus time in between thinking about it; how much time would the Eton students have been expected to put in?
Conspiracy theories flatter the ego, they allow people to feel as if they are on the ‘inside’, as if they broke free from conventional thinking, as if they are intellectual ‘rebels’ – there is a link between narcissism and a belief in conspiracy theories.
The vast majority of boys at Eton will be white and/or upper class and/or from a rich family, they can now paint themselves as part of a persecuted minority, because Knowland wasn’t allowed to show them his crappy video.
An online petition claiming to be written by current pupils at Eton states: “Mr Knowland presented the ideas in his video with as much academic nuance and sensitivity as could ever be reasonably expected. He makes at least 41 academic citations. His video is arguably a model for how to convey a contentious argument impeccably.”
If that really was written by current Eton pupils, the £42,500 a year fees paid by their parents have been waisted! Teenagers, even the smartest or most well-educated ones, do not have enough life experience to know when they are being taken for a ride; any future ‘Old Etonians’ willing to admit that they supported Knowland deserve to be laughed out of whatever room they happen to be in at the time.
Supporting Knowland gives these incredibly privileged, sheltered boys the chance to feel like ‘rebels’ without taking any real risks, intellectual or otherwise; they can stick it to ‘the man’ (their head teacher) while still being completely conformist (conservative, right-wing, reactionary).
The number of academic citations in the video is irrelevant if they are all cherry-picked, their meaning distorted, or have more recently been superseded or debunked. The video is full of wild conjecture presented as absolute fact, presented in the most partisan way imaginable. Knowland is sermonising, not discussing or debating, his thumb is firmly on the scales throughout.
There are two broad strands of MRA ‘thought’, which I shall call ‘benevolent patriarchy’ and ‘victim masculinism’ (I will include the ‘incel’ – involuntary celibate – movement within the ‘victim’ strand), both overlap in their obsession with the near-mythical ‘alpha male’, and in their hatred and resentment of women (which is more overt on the ‘victim masculinist’ side). This ideology has real-world consequences, with 44 deaths related to incels recorded since 2014.
Patriarchy is a hierarchy, men over women and men over each other. It is also a gamble, and not all men can win at it. What all these men want, instead of meaningful change, is to receive all the rewards of traditional patriarchy, without any of the hard work or risk (‘benevolent patriarchs’ may talk about risks, but they rarely take any themselves).
Under most normal circumstances, men are cowards, they never pick a fair fight, they hunt in packs, they only pick on people who are smaller than they are, and the ‘no hitting girls’ rule has never been true in real life.
MRA’s cherry-pick, distort, and lie to ‘prove’ that men are oppressed as men. MRA’s rely on flawed methodology and misinterpretation to ‘prove’ that women commit more intimate partner violence against men than men commit against women; there is a whole tumblr blog dedicated to distorting academic resources, and another post circulating on tumblr where the author had to go back to 1908 to compile a list ‘proving’ women commit as much violence against men as men commit against women.
It is difficult to communicate just how bizarre Knowland’s video is, not just the arguments and the rhetoric, but Knowland’s presentation style as well. It is also difficult to believe, having watched the video, that Knowland is a charismatic or popular teacher, his presentation style veers between monotonous and on the verge of shouting; when he gets worked up, you can hear the bile in his voice, he is almost spitting and snarling at some points.
The video is so biased, so arrogant, so pompous, so badly conceived and shoddily executed, that it is an embarrassment. It has no educational value, except in pulling it apart to examine all the rhetorical techniques and sophistry it employs.
It is incoherent from the very beginning, when Knowland states that: “Patriarchy is a theory that says the differences between the sexes, and their social roles, are not the result of biology, instead, they are socially constructed and they have resulted in the pervasiveness of male domination in women’s lives.”
‘Patriarchy’ simply means ‘rule of the father’, and its existence is not theoretical. It is incoherent for Knowland to describe ‘patriarchy’ as ‘a theory’, when he spends the rest of the video defending patriarchy as beneficial for women, and says that patriarchy is ‘worldwide and history-wide’. Feminist theory identifies women’s oppression as rooted in patriarchal control, and questions whether sex-role stereotypes are biologically innate, or socially constructed. Knowland can’t even communicate his own ideas clearly.
At 01:20, Knowland claims that “greater gender equality in a society leads to greater gravitation towards traditional gender norms.”
Researchers found that in countries with more women in parliament and the workforce, and more sex equality in levels of education, women score higher on all factors (neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness) of the most used personality measure, the ‘five factor model’. This, they speculate, means that ‘as gender equality increases both men and women gravitate towards their traditional gender roles’.
First up, the study authors’ assumption that native English speakers will interpret questions in the same way as those who speak English as a second language. When neuroscientist Sophie Scott was conducting a separate study on attitudes to laughter, she encountered serious difficulties translating a question about someone laughing ‘nastily’ from English into Chinese. ‘Some definitions of it might sound like it’s a more sexual connotation, which wasn’t what we meant at all,’ she said.
Another question that caused cross-cultural complications was agreeing/disagreeing with the statement, ‘I often laughed uncontrollably’. For English participants this just cohered with people who thought they did/didn’t laugh a lot. But for Chinese participants it stood out on its own.
It turned out that in China it’s not a good thing to laugh uncontrollably. ‘So what had seemed to us like, ‘well here’s yet another question asking whether or not people laugh a lot’, actually meant something different in that culture,’ Scott said.
When I asked Erik Mac Giolla, the lead author of the new, University of Gothenburg study, how they had accounted for cultural differences in the interpretation of personality traits, he replied, ‘We didn’t’.
Then there’s the major assumption that the number of female MPs in parliament has anything to do with the level of gender stereotyping that exists in a country. The study’s central contention is that it is somehow inexplicable that men and women might espouse more stereotypically gendered behaviours. But is it?
For a start, the study makes no accommodation of how gender stereotypes differ from country to country. But more than this, the central finding is in actual fact not that surprising at all.
When in 2014 the UN’s special rapporteur on sexual violence visited the UK, she said that there was ‘a more visible presence of sexist portrayals of women and girls’, and a ‘marketisation of women’s and girls’ bodies’ that was more ‘in-your-face’ than in other countries she’d visited. And yet our parliament is 33% female!
There have also been studies showing that the more women in an institution (for example, the US Democratic Party), the more aggressive the men in that institution become against women, rather suggesting that as women gain in formal power, informal gender stereotyping rises to put them back in their place.
But even if the test didn’t have these issues, it couldn’t show what it claims, namely that women being more neurotic, extroverted, open, agreeable and conscientious is somehow linked to a predisposition for ‘caretaking of offspring and the elderly’, or conversely that men scoring lower on all these traits is ‘associated with protecting family and building homesteads’. What has increased neuroticism to do with an innate desire to wipe bums? And how would being less extroverted or agreeable be helpful to men who want to go out to work to provide for the family?
I put it to you, dear reader, that it wouldn’t. In fact, I suspect that no matter what sex differences the study found, it would have claimed they proved gender stereotypes were innate. As Scott says, ‘you almost could not be more trite.’
The truth is, this study that has been widely reported as ‘proving’ gender stereotypes are merely objective reflections of innate sex differences, does nothing of the sort. It is riddled with unproven assumptions, and feminism, I’m afraid, gets to live another day. So perhaps, in order to prevent a ‘final discrediting’ of science reporting, journalists could stop being so credulous and start engaging critically with university press releases – rather than simply regurgitating them?
No one study definitively ‘proves’ anything, and no legitimate academic would claim otherwise.
The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness. As one participant put it, “poor methods get results”. The Academy of Medical Sciences, Medical Research Council, and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council have now put their reputational weight behind an investigation into these questionable research practices. The apparent endemicity of bad research behaviour is alarming. In their quest for telling a compelling story, scientists too often sculpt data to fit their preferred theory of the world. Or they retrofit hypotheses to fit their data. Journal editors deserve their fair share of criticism too. We aid and abet the worst behaviours. Our acquiescence to the impact factor fuels an unhealthy competition to win a place in a select few journals. Our love of “significance” pollutes the literature with many a statistical fairy-tale. We reject important confirmations. Journals are not the only miscreants. Universities are in a perpetual struggle for money and talent, endpoints that foster reductive metrics, such as high-impact publication. National assessment procedures, such as the Research Excellence Framework, incentivise bad practices. And individual scientists, including their most senior leaders, do little to alter a research culture that occasionally veers close to misconduct.
The crisis is still ongoing; this needs to be taken into account whenever psychological studies are used to support claims about fundamental human nature.
At 02:20 Knowland says “Much of what follows might bruise the feelings of some people, so here from the philosopher Steven Hicks, is a reminder of the elements of the traditional arguments for freedom of speech.”
Knowland isn’t just setting out an argument for the right to free speech here; he is setting himself up as being on the side of reason and truth. The implication is, he has exercised reason and free thought, and he has come to the truth, and if you are clever and free thinking, like him, you will come to the same truth (and, therefore, anyone who disagrees with him is not clever, and not capable of reason and free thought).
If Knowland were merely aiming to present a set of ‘alternative opinions’ with this video, why pepper it with statements like this? Surely Eton’s sixth formers would already know what free speech/thought/enquiry was about, before watching this video? It can only be for rhetorical purposes, to set Knowland up as a ‘speaker of truth’, to actually discourage any questioning of his ‘authority’. If Knowland’s arguments stood on their own merit, he would not need to employ such tricks; the video is propaganda.
At 02:40 Knowland sets out his definition of patriarchy, from David Gilmore: Provide, Protect, Procreate.
Here we have the first problem, what are men protecting us from? The obvious answer is other men, but Knowland can’t admit that, and there is a distinct avoidance of talking about male violence against women and children throughout the video.
At 03:20 he brings up lion prides, saying “although lionesses do 90% of the providing, the males are responsible for protecting the pride, they only help kill the largest most dangerous prey that would otherwise cost the lives of too many lionesses.”
There is no source given for where this claim comes from. Lions are not protecting the lionesses from other species of animal, they are protecting them from other lions:
The whole scene looked like a “takeover,” a brief, devastating clash in which a coalition of males tries to seize control of a pride. Resident males may be mortally wounded in the fighting. If the invaders are victorious, they kill all the young cubs to bring the pride’s females into heat again. Females sometimes die fighting to defend their cubs.
Males killing babies, and their mothers trying to protect them, doesn’t exactly fit in with Knowland’s model of ‘benign patriarchy’.
Then there is a long section on warfare, where Knowland references the Norse god Thor protecting Asgard – Knowland is referencing mythology in order to avoid talking about what warfare is actually about.
The earliest warfare was over resources: land, cattle, grain, women, slaves (see Against the Grain, James C. Scott, Yale University Press, 2017), and warfare has never stopped being about capturing resources. Ideology was added with the crusades in the middle ages, but it was still, ultimately, about controlling territory and resources, and that has been the case from then until the present day. Women were only ‘protected’ the way land was ‘protected’, as property, a resource.
Knowland also claims that women have played very little part in warfare (04:00), and, later, that Amazons are a myth (07:30).
Male historians/classicists/archaeologists in the 19th and 20th centuries decided that female warriors ‘must’ be mythical, and dismissed any evidence to the contrary. Before modern forensic science the sex of a skeleton was determined by the grave goods, and any skeleton found with weapons was assumed to be male, and therefore no women’s remains were found buried with weapons.
Modern analysis and reanalysis has found plenty of evidence for the existence of Amazons (see, The Amazons, Adrienne Mayor, Princeton University Press, 2016; also: A Brief History of the Amazons, Lyn Webster Wilde, 2016; Amazons: The Real Warrior Women, John Man, 2018). DNA analysis of skeletal remains has also proven the existence of female Viking warriors.
Later in the video (27:45), Knowland states that there has never been a ‘true matriarchy’, which is correct, there has never been a society where women treat men as badly as men treat women under patriarchy, where men are chattel to be bought and sold. There are, however, matrilineal and matricentric societies (I wrote about one here).
During World War II women fought in the resistance in occupied countries, and women flew combat missions in the Russian Air Force and were snipers in the Russian army; later in the 20th century, women were also guerrilla fighters in Asia and Latin America.
At 04:35 Knowland offers a cherry-picked example of one individual man’s heroic behaviour during the Vietnam War, which is fine, as long as one concentrates on the individual ‘heroism’, in isolation, and doesn’t ask why he was there in the first place, fighting a proxy war with the Soviet Union, in a country that posed no direct threat to the USA. As well, don’t think about that famous photo, of the Vietnamese girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, running naked down the road after napalm was dropped on her village, and don’t think about the Mỹ Lai massacre either – it must have been lions doing all that.
Women are just as capable as men of extraordinary acts of bravery, or cruelty, in extremis. Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya was a WWII Russian resistance fighter, captured by the Nazis, who refused to give up any information under torture, and was executed. Lynndie England is a former US Army Reserve and convicted war criminal who participated in the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib during the Iraq War (a war where female US soldiers carried knives on base, not to protect themselves from Iraqi’s, but to protect themselves from rape by male US soldiers).
At 05:00 Knowland sets up his first straw man argument, when he cites Judith Butler as if she represented all feminism.
There is no acknowledgement from Knowland that there are different waves and strands of feminism. First wave feminism (19th and early 20th century) won women political and economic rights, the second wave (1960’s onwards) won more legal rights, and broke the taboo of silence around physical and sexual violence against women and girls, and the third wave (1980’s onwards) is when feminism split into conflicting strands (liberal feminism and radical feminism, but there are others), most notably around the sex industry and, later, gender ideology.
Knowland calls Judith Butler a feminist theorist (he’s starting to get worked up already at this point, he almost spits out her name), and brings up ‘sex is a social construct’ arguments, with no acknowledgement that it is radical feminists who have been fighting such ideology, and its real-world consequences, for the past twenty years, at least.
He then has the nerve to quote scientist and feminist campaigner Emma Hilton’s refutation of gender ideology, without mentioning that she is a feminist herself! At 08:25, Knowland quotes Hilton again, using a ReSisters illustration, without bothering to mention that these are radical feminist sources he is using.
Butler is a post-modernist Gender Studies professor, and while her ideology has influenced liberal, third wave feminism, I would not call her any kind of feminist. Her writing has been debunked, multiple times, by radical and more mainstream feminists (see here, here, and here).
The running battle between liberal and radical feminism over gender ideology became unequivocally mainstream when JK Rowling published her ‘speaking out’ essay in June 2020. I refuse to believe that Knowland had no awareness of this, he chose instead to offer a distorted, dishonest account of feminism that served his own ideological ends.
That’s not even the worst of it, at the end of the video (30:30) Knowland takes a quote, from Andrea Dworkin’s first published book Woman Hating (1974), which is not representative of her work as a whole, let alone radical feminism as a whole, and uses it to ‘prove’ that feminists are pro the sexual abuse of children (he even calls it ‘Andrea Dworkin’s vision’ in the notes on Youtube)!
Knowland states: “This was her vision: Men and women are fictions, caricatures, cultural constructs. Unambiguous heterosexual behaviour is the worst betrayal of our common humanity. The destruction of the incest taboo is essential to the development of co-operative human community, based on the free-flow of natural androgynous eroticism. The incest taboo can be destroyed only by destroying the nuclear family as the primary institution of culture; as people develop fluid, androgynous identity, they will also develop the forms of community appropriate to it. Children are fully capable of participating in community, and have every right to live out their own erotic impulses. The distinctions between children and adults, and the social institutions which enforce those distinctions, would disappear as androgynous community develops.”
Knowland has actually taken individual sentences from across chapter nine of Woman Hating to assemble the above paragraph; I am not arguing that Dworkin didn’t say any of these things, but Knowland’s emphasis makes it all about paedophilia, when Dworkin was trying to explicate (even though she got it wrong in lots of ways) something larger about the stifling nature of mainstream society and the nuclear family.
The ideas in Woman Hating about paedophilia were a prevailing attitude on the left in the 1970’s, that the problem was ‘sexual repression’ and without ‘sexual repression’ all sex would be good. Dworkin was not alone in this; as Knowland also mentions in the video Simone de Beauvoir signed a petition in the 1970s calling for paedophilia to be decriminalised in France, and one can find similar ideas in other early radical feminist texts like Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex (1970).
Radical feminism is not a monolith, a religion, or a hive mind, it is a political movement, the culmination of decades of scholarship and activism by thousands of women, and no one woman defines or controls it. Dworkin, Firestone, and de Beauvoir got it wrong on that aspect of sexuality, Mary Daily got it wrong on race, and Germain Greer got it wrong on female genital mutilation; that doesn’t mean we have to throw out the rest of their work or excommunicate them.
In the 1970’s this was not only an issue within feminism (if it was an issue within feminism at all), it was an issue infecting the whole of the left, with ‘PIE’ (the ‘Paedophile Information Exchange’) gaining an extraordinary hold on the left in the UK, and known paedophiles fostering boys in Germany.
And it is hardly an issue on the left only; in the US, today, it is conservative religious communities that are ‘tidying up’ the rape of girl children by marrying them off to their adult male abusers.
This child sex abuse was/is perpetrated by men, and mostly facilitated by other men; the other signatories of the French petition included: “intellectuals Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida; a leading child psychologist, Françoise Dolto; and writers Philippe Sollers, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Louis Aragon.” To frame it as a ‘feminist thing’ is dishonest.
There was plenty of criticism of the ‘sexual revolution’ of the 1960’s and 70’s, and the misogyny of left-wing men, by radical feminists at the time, including Marge Piercy’s ‘Grand Coolie Damn’ (1969), and Robin Morgan’s ‘Goodbye to All That’ (1970); Dworkin, in Woman Hating, criticises the left-wing ‘sex newspaper’ Suck for its misogyny and sado-masochism.
There have also been later criticisms, including Sheila Jeffreys’ Anticlimax (2011), and by Dworkin again, for example, in Right Wing Women (1983), and her memoir Heartbreak (2002) in the chapter ‘My Last Leftist Meeting’.
Dworkin’s life’s work was chronicling and analysing male violence against women and girls, and her work is easily available online, so there is no excuse for not knowing what her work was actually about. Dworkin wrote about the violence done to women and girls by their fathers, their husbands, society, the state, and the sex industry.
Woman Hating also has chapters on the representation of women in pornography, and on foot binding and the witch hunts, it is not a book about how great paedophilia is (I am certain Knowland has not read the rest of Woman Hating; anyone who could read the section on foot binding, then go on to smugly declare that women have never been oppressed under patriarchy, would be not just a misogynist, but is a psychopath).
In Heartbreak Dworkin also wrote about wanting to kill the poet Allen Ginsberg because of his paedophilia. In Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1979), in the chapter ‘Force’ Dworkin criticised Alfred Kinsey for minimising the violence and force involved in men’s sexual offending against women and girls.
If Knowland did any research at all on Dworkin, he must have known that he was misrepresenting her. To pretend that the quote he assembled is all that Dworkin’s work, or feminism itself, adds up to, is preposterous. Whether Knowland actually read any of Dworkin’s work, or lifted the claim whole from an MRA source, he should be most ashamed of his shoddy excuse for ‘scholarship’ here.
Knowland uses radical feminist gender critical arguments against biological males competing in women’s sport, but ignores that the most important argument is one of safeguarding, including the risks to women and girls by allowing biological males who self-identify as women to access women’s protected single-sex spaces.
Knowland cherry-picks and obfuscates in order to give a distorted view of feminism; after a certain point, distortions turn into lies, Knowland is lying about feminism.
At 07:35 there is another section on male violence and warfare, claiming that men evolved for violence. It is difficult to work out what Knowland is actually trying to prove here, he claims that violence is innate, but also has examples later of boys being initiated/socialised into violence.
Knowland’s overarching thesis is that patriarchy ‘protects’ women and even benefits women more than men, and that male-on-male violence proves this, as if there can only be one kind of suffering at a time, as if suffering is a zero-sum game. But by claiming that patriarchy is ‘benevolent’ to women, he can’t actually explain what it is that men are protecting us from, hence all the stuff about lions.
The human brain is plastic, humans are complex social animals and most of our abilities are learnt, not ‘hardwired’ (see Beyond Evolutionary Psychology, George Ellis and Mark Solms, Cambridge University Press, 2017). This plasticity has allowed us to adapt to every environment on the planet, and allowed us to adapt to both the industrial and IT revolutions in just a few generations, too short a period of time for any genetic changes to occur.
The only fields in which men unequivocally out-perform women are physical and sexual violence, but levels of violence vary so much between different cultures and different times that it is impossible to say what level of violence is ‘normal’. If human beings were not capable of changing their behaviour, we would still be in the stone age.
If masculinity were innate, little boys wouldn’t need to be brutalised into it. If masculinity and femininity were ‘just the way things are’ they wouldn’t need to be policed and enforced so stringently.
Knowland claims that men can afford to “treat their lives more cheaply” (08:30), but few men in the modern western world actually hold their own lives to be ‘cheap’; no man thinks of himself as nothing more than a biological machine for fighting and reproducing. The men paying £42,500 a year to send their sons to Eton certainly don’t consider their own sons to be ‘cheap’ or ‘disposable’; other men’s sons, maybe – warfare is best understood as old powerful men sending young powerless men off to die for causes that do not directly benefit them (regardless of the patriotic propaganda of the time).
The idea of ‘women and children first’ is an historical myth, in reality men had double the survival rate of women during shipwrecks (and the crew had a better survival rate than the passengers). It’s a myth that may even have been spread as an argument against women’s suffrage.
At 09:10 there is more of Knowland’s odd fixation with lions, he claims that men are actually ‘protecting’ us from the “destructive forces of nature”, by which he seems to mean ‘the outside world’. This claim is condescendingly illustrated with a painting of a woman in a sedan chair:
This illustration actually reveals a lot; being forced to dress in restrictive clothing, being denied exercise and fresh air, these are oppressions; Knowland doesn’t seem to understand that being locked up in a gilded cage is still being locked up in a cage. He also misses that it was only upper-class ‘ladies’ who got to live in gilded cages.
From the earliest hunter-gatherer societies to the present day, globally, women have always worked, even when there is no paid work outside the home, domestic work is still work. Women ‘not working’ is a post-WWII, white, middle-class, American myth (and it was a life-style that drove women crazy). Before and during the industrial revolution, in the west, upper-class women ran their husband’s households, middle-class women helped run their husband’s businesses, and working-class women worked on farms and in factories and in rich people’s houses (see here for a summary of women’s labour in the Victorian era).
Agricultural work and domestic work, before modern technology, was physically arduous (Knowland acknowledges this tangentially elsewhere, but doesn’t join the dots); Neolithic and iron age women had stronger arms, from grinding grain, than modern day elite female rowers.
The transportation of water is ‘women’s work’, and in the global south, that can mean carrying 18kg of water on half hour journeys over uneven terrain. No men are carrying these women around in sedan chairs, or escorting them to protect them from ‘wild beasts’ on the way (see next paragraph).
Knowland then references Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s 1915 utopian fiction Herland, criticising it for “conveniently” omitting “wild beasts” from the story, as if no woman has ever picked up a rock, wielded a fire brand, shot an arrow, or fired a gun! Knowland conveniently omits that Herland is a utopia precisely because the women in it are free from male violence and control – but he can’t admit that because he can’t admit what it is that men are ‘protecting’ us from.
Knowland illustrates his point here with Peter Paul Rubens’ painting ‘Hercules’ fight with the Nemean lion’:
That’s right, Knowland uses a classical painting of a scene from Greek/Roman myth, involving a demi-god, as ‘proof’ that men protect women from lions, with their bare hands!
The reality of men wrestling lions is more banal; ignore the misleading headline of this article, the man didn’t actually fight the lion off with a sleeping bag, he held it at bay long enough for someone else to rescue him, by ramming the lion several times with a van – it was an old and emaciated lion at that.
In reality, when men hunted lions in antiquity, they did it in co-operative groups, with horses, dogs, shields, and very long spears.
Even traditional Maasai warriors hunt in co-operative groups, with spears and shields, with ‘solo’ hunting (also with shield and spear) being something that only happens opportunistically, to protect the warrior’s cattle.
At 09:30, Knowland really heads off the map, claiming: “A world without men would be awful for women. Mining, oil extraction, heavy and chemical industry, long distance transportation, most forms of construction, many kinds of agriculture such as forestry, and the herding of large domestic animals, would all but cease; so would deep sea fishing. Under such conditions over 90% of the world’s present-day population would die of starvation. The women that survived such a calamity would likely revert to a primitive life based on horticulture, dwelling in huts, and suffering from a permanent shortage of animal protein. Judging by historical and pre-historical precedent, their life expectancy would be reduced to less than forty years.”
Knowland’s claims here seem to come entirely from a self-published book called The Privileged Sex, by Martin van Creveld, a man whose area of expertise is military history, and which, from looking at the book on Amazon, is as full of cherry-picking and distortions as Knowland’s video.
(Another book Knowland cites, The Woman Racket: The new science explaining how the sexes relate, is by Steve Moxon, a former UK civil servant, now an ‘independent researcher’ (ie someone with no university affiliation) and professional MRA. This book is published by ‘Imprint Academic’, which does publish academic books, but does not appear to be attached to any university.)
The argument is ridiculous from the offset, how can 90% of the Earth’s present-day population die, if half of them (the men) have already disappeared? Why would we start living in huts, are all the buildings going to suddenly fall down without men around?
Average age of death in previous eras is distorted by high infant/child and maternal mortality rates, the human life span hasn’t actually changed all that much in the modern era. We are not going to unlearn germ theory, or any other aspect of modern medicine, if all the men suddenly disappeared. Girls age 10 to 14 have the highest risk of death from pregnancy/childbirth, without any men around, who is going to be impregnating ten-year-old girls? The loss of murderous male violence towards women and girls might even edge up the average age of death by some fraction of a percent.
Knowland lives in a world with no automation, where no woman ever rode a horse, or drove a tractor, or a heavy good’s vehicle; where women are so delicate and helpless, we couldn’t even farm chickens or rabbits or koi carp for protein; a world where no woman has ever earned a degree in the hard sciences, and no women has ever trained as a plumber. Knowland’s contempt for women is showing through here.
The Covid crises has shown us what work is ‘essential’ to a functioning society, and it is ‘women’s work’, the care of the young, the sick, the elderly, making sure everyone eats, keeping things clean. This is still considered women’s work, even when there are men doing it.
If all the men in the world were to suddenly disappear, women would get through the transitionary adaptation period, and then we would be just fine; there are plenty of sperm banks, and the technology for creating sperm and ova from somatic cells is already being researched. The loss of half the world’s population would also ease the environmental burden humans have on the planet. Things may be slower, afterwards, with the shift from a consumer society to a bigger percentage of the population doing practical work, but fewer factories pumping out pointless consumer crap would be no bad thing.
I am confident that, if all the men were to suddenly disappear, nearly all the world’s conflicts would simply cease to exist. There would probably be a few hot-spots, like Palestine/Israel, where resentment runs too deep, but without the male leaders and the male cannon fodder, who would be fighting, and what would they be fighting for?
I feel equally confident saying that, if all the world’s women were to suddenly disappear, men would wipe themselves out in twenty years through nihilistic violence, and fighting over the most rape-able boys.
At 10:10 Knowland talks about how enslaved men were given the most back-breaking labour in ancient Egypt, the Middle East, China, and Rome, but he misses the point that that was because they were slaves, not because they were men. Enslaved women were exploited for their reproductive as well as their physical labour, used to breed more slaves, and raped daily in brothels; is Knowland really trying to claim that men are oppressed as men under patriarchy because they can’t be used as broodmares?
The claim of male disposability doesn’t tie in with son preference, sex selective abortion, and female infanticide in many parts of the world. The UN reports that up to 140 million women are ‘missing’ due to sex-selective abortion, and unwanted girl infants under China’s ‘one child’ policy were left to die in orphanages. The UN also reports that “137 women across the world are killed by a member of their own family every day.”
Where was the patriarchal ‘protection’ for all those women and girls? These things happened and are still happening under patriarchy, Knowland can’t claim he is only talking about modern, Western, Judeo-Christian patriarchy, when he goes back to Ancient Egypt and Greece, and elsewhere to 16th century Europe, for his claims of female ‘protection’ and male ‘oppression’ under patriarchy.
At 10:40 Knowland says: “Men invented well over 90% of the inventions that have improved women’s life expectancy and quality of life.”
Knowland is demonstrating his lack of joined-up thinking here, he previously claimed that women (even enslaved women) had a cushy existence compared to men, now he is saying that it was all back-breaking labour for women until men came to the rescue in the 19th century with their labour-saving inventions!
Men hold over 80% of the world’s patents (the modern patent system only goes back to the 15th century). Married women in the 18th and 19th centuries were unable to own property in their own name and had no right to the products of their own labour (more on this later), they could not hold patents for their own inventions either.
All the disparity in patent ownership demonstrates is that, up until very recently, women were barred from education and employment in STEM fields and didn’t have the opportunities men had to invent things, or to get them patented when they did.
Women were first admitted to only a small number of universities in England in the 1870’s; women only gained full membership of the University of Oxford in 1920, and the University of Cambridge did not grant degrees to women until 1948 (scroll down to see a photo from 1897 of protesting Cambridge students hanging an effigy of a female student).
It is a patriarchal myth that men created society, while women followed passively behind. We know very little about how Palaeolithic humans lived, but since tool use is seen more in female primates than males, there is no reason to believe that women were not making and using stone tools in that era. As well as tool making, there is no reason to believe that women weren’t equally (or more) involved in the development of other technologies like pottery, weaving, curing hides, brewing, bread making, and early agricultural techniques; women played a significant role in the domestication of dogs.
Male archaeologists all assumed that Palaeolithic cave paintings ‘must’ have been done by men, until researchers actually bothered to measure the length of the fingers, and discovered that they were mostly created by women.
In many hunter-gatherer societies, women engage in hunting, and in many hunter-gatherer societies, women are able to meet their own and their children’s nutritional needs without men’s ‘big game’ hunting.
Women, despite being denied the same access to education and employment as men for most of recorded human history, still managed to contribute to science and technology. Hypatia was a scholar and a teacher of mathematics and philosophy in 4th century Alexandria; Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer; Marie Curie was almost left out by the Nobel Prize committee, until Pierre, her husband and co-worker, intervened; and Watson and Crick literally stole Rosalind Franklin’s work for ‘their’ discovery of the structure of DNA. There is even evidence to suggest that Einstein’s work was actually done in collaboration with his first wife, Mileva.
At 10:50 Knowland sets up another straw-man argument:
“Some common objections to this protector idea are the witch hunts, the coverture laws, the vote, and rape.”
Knowland treats these four things as if they are the only proof of women’s oppression under patriarchy.
At 10:55 Knowland claims that the persecution of women as witches had nothing to do with men and therefore does not contradict his claim that patriarchy ‘protects’ women; his ‘proof’ is that most accusers were other women, and that “the fewer women involved in the trials the fairer the treatment witches were likely to receive.”
One has to laugh at the sloppiness here – witches aren’t real! Even in the context of a society that believes that witchcraft is real, someone accused of being a witch is only proven to be so at the end of the trial, so what is Knowland actually referring to here? I assume he means that if fewer women were ‘involved’ in a trial, a woman was less likely to be convicted of witchcraft, but what does ‘involved’ mean? Women certainly weren’t judges in that era, neither were they sheriffs or torturers or jurors or executioners, the statement is effectively meaningless.
Even if most of the accusations of witchcraft did come from other women, it was still within a system of male power; the only ‘power’ women had was to attack each other, and since all women were vulnerable to an accusation of witchcraft, the only way to protect themselves was to scapegoat other women.
Knowland states that: “Mary enacted the Scottish witchcraft laws and persecution reached its apex under Elizabeth, who reinstated all the penalties against witchcraft that Edward VI, sixteen years earlier, had repealed, acting on the advice of his all-male entourage.”
This is what is known as a factoid, a snippet of information which, while technically true, is meaningless without a wider context. (Let’s ignore the fact that, the way that sentence is worded, it implies that Mary I of Scotland was succeeded by Elizabeth I of England and Ireland.)
Knowland ignores the fact that the church, the courts, and every other political and economic institution of power in that era, was entirely male controlled (he doesn’t even mention the rest of Europe, or the Americas). His emphasis on ‘all-male entourage’ implies that Mary I of Scotland and Elizabeth I would have had female advisors of similar social status, which was not the case. The first Witchcraft Act was introduced during the reign of Henry VIII, which was more severe than the law introduced under Elizabeth I.
This information in isolation tells us nothing of the complex politics of the time, or what pressures Mary I of Scotland and Elizabeth I were under to enact said laws. English monarchs have not had absolute power since the Magna Carta of 1215, the idea that the persecution of women as witches happened in England because of Elizabeth I’s personal whim is nonsense; a female monarch does not stop a country being male dominated (Knowland tacitly acknowledges that with his claim earlier that there has never been a ‘true matriarchy’).
Knowland cites Christina Larner’s Witchcraft and Religion as his source on the witch hunts; only a little bit of internet hunting reveals that Knowland has cherry-picked the information he chose to include, in order to give a distorted picture. This review of Witchcraft and Religion says:
Thus in the first part, which centres on the witch hunt in Scotland, it is by rigid application to chronology, the historian’s tool if anything is, that she [Larner] demonstrates how much of the persecution was the personal doing of King James VI [the successor to both Mary I of Scotland and Elizabeth I].
The first major witch trials in Scotland were the North Berwick witch trials in 1590, which was during the reign of James VI, and James VI personally supervised the torture of women accused of being witches.
Did Knowland actually read Witchcraft and Religion, or did he lift his claims from an MRA website or book?
The witch hunts varied from place to place and across time, there were even some European countries (Iceland, Finland, Estonia, and Russia) where more men than women were accused of witchcraft. There has been much debate among historians and within feminism over how much of a role misogyny played (although it is undeniable that misogyny did play a role).
The complexity of this history is not the Gotcha! Knowland thinks it is, and it is hardly the only example of misogyny, discrimination, and violence against women that feminists have to draw on, from history or the present day.
There is rape, child rape, battery, femicide, ‘family annihilation’, forced marriage, child marriage, incest, ‘honour killings’, scold’s bridals, foot-binding, suttee, purdah, female genital mutilation, female infanticide, Magdalene Laundries and their variants, girls being denied an education, women being denied contraceptives and abortions, medical research using males as the human standard, women’s under-representation in politics, business, the arts and sciences, the feminisation of poverty, the undervaluing of traditional ‘women’s work’, the trafficking of women and girls in the global sex trade, and revenge porn.
In a way, Knowland shoots himself in the foot by concentrating on the witch hunts, if he had stuck to the global north in the 20th and 21st century, he would have had a much more persuasive argument to make about how women have it great under patriarchy.
At 11:25, we come to the ‘coverture’ laws, which Knowland claims ‘protected’ women rather than oppressed them.
“The coverture laws are claimed to show patriarchal oppression of women, because they prevented women from owning property, but the married couple was regarded as one legal entity. The husband assumed responsibility for his wife’s debts, including her pre-marital ones; he could even be imprisoned on her behalf while she was immune to prosecution.”
This is cherry-picking again, focusing on one narrow aspect of the law, and ignoring all the other implications of it, like a woman losing the right to her own property, and autonomy over her own body, when she married. Knowland talks as if men where queueing up to chivalrously offer to marry indebted women!
Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Law of England are available to read online, and the section that Knowland only partially quotes is worth reading in full (emphasis mine):
By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs everything; and is therefore called in our law-french a feme-covert [married woman]; is said to be covert-baron, or under the protection and influence of her husband, her baron, or lord; and her condition during her marriage is called her coverture.
There is another section of the text worth reading:
The husband also (by the old law) might give his wife moderate correction. For, as he is to answer for her misbehavior, the law thought it reasonable to entrust him with this power of restraining her, by domestic chastisement, in the same moderation that a man is allowed to correct his servants or children; for whom the master or parent is also liable in some cases to answer. But this power of correction was confined within reasonable bounds; and the husband was prohibited to use any violence to his wife, aliter quam ad virum, ex causa regiminis et castigationis uxoris suae, licite et rationabiliter pertinet [other than lawfully and reasonably pertains to the husband for the rule and correction of his wife]. The civil law gave the husband the same, or a larger, authority over his wife; allowing him, for some misdemeanors, flagellis et fustibus acriter verberare uxorem [To beat his wife severely with whips and sticks], for others, only modicam castigationem adhibere [with moderate punishment]. But, with us, in the politer reign of Charles the second, this power of correction began to be doubted: and a wife may now have security of the peace against her husband; or, in return, a husband against his wife. Yet the lower rank of people, who were always fond of the old common law, still claim and exert their ancient privilege: and the courts of law will still permit a husband to restrain a wife of her liberty, in case of any gross misbehavior.
This is an admission that before, and still during, the reign of Charles II, the law as practiced did allow a man to severely beat and whip his wife. As I said before, Knowland can’t claim he is only talking about patriarchy in England from the 18th century, when he goes back to the 16th century to talk about witch hunts.
Blackstone clearly believed that these laws constitute ‘protection’ (“These are the chief legal effects of marriage during the coverture; upon which we may observe, that even the disabilities, which the wife lies under, are for the most part intended for her protection and benefit. So great a favorite is the female sex of the laws of England.”), but they are really control, they reduce married women to chattel.
Those interpretations of the common law meant that married women lost control of their own property to their husbands when they married, could be divorced by their husbands, but could not initiate a divorce themselves, and had no right to custody of their children. A husband had ‘conjugal rights’ over his wife (ie he could legally rape her).
This situation was in place in England until the Custody of Infants Act 1839, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 and the Married Women’s Property Act 1870, all brought about through the efforts of the social reformer Caroline Norton.
Before then, the law meant that, far from ‘protecting’ their wives, powerful men could impoverish them, and deny them all contact with their children:
Until 1857, divorce was such a convoluted and expensive process that only very powerful men could manage it. Married women simply had no legal rights; even if they were separated from their husbands they did not have the right to make contracts, to sue, or even to keep their own earnings. Throughout the more than 20 years Caroline had been living separated from her husband: “I exist and I suffer, but the law denies my existence.” She ends her pamphlet on the subject, A Letter to the Queen, with a wit that makes you smile grimly even today. “My husband has a legal copyright of my works. Let him claim this!”
In the 18th and 19th centuries women could be committed to ‘lunatic asylums’ for not obeying their fathers or husbands, or for any ‘unfeminine’ behaviour.
In Saudi Arabia, the ban on women driving was only lifted in 2018, but women’s autonomy is still restricted, with adult women needing permission from a male ‘guardian’ to “apply for a passport, travel outside the country, study abroad on a government scholarship, get married, leave prison, or even exit a shelter for abuse victims.”
In Qatar, women are “dependent on men for permission to marry, travel, pursue higher education or make decisions about their own children […] They cannot be primary carers of their children, even if they are divorced or the children’s father has died. If the child has no male relative to act as guardian, the government takes on this role.” Women are also “asked for proof of marriage to access some sexual and reproductive healthcare, antenatal care, vaginal ultrasounds and smear tests.”
This year, the coach of the Iranian women’s Alpine skiing team was barred by her husband from travelling to Italy for the world championships, because in Iran, women need their husband’s permission to leave the country.
These restrictions on women’s autonomy under Islamic law are framed as ‘protection’ too. Knowland cannot plausibly claim that patriarchy ‘worldwide and history-wide’ ‘protects’ women, while completely ignoring the modern-day Middle East.
In Afghanistan, professional women are being systematically murdered by Isis, are these men and their ideas about women somehow outside of patriarchy?
If women have always had it so great, why did the first wave of feminism happen at all? Suffragettes were physically attacked by men at meetings and rallies, and tortured in prison, why go through all that if the status quo benefitted them? Later in the video (14:30) Knowland implies that feminists are crazy and paranoid for thinking that women are oppressed.
France granted unmarried women the right to open their own back account in 1881; married women were not granted the right to open a bank account without their husband’s permission in the US until the 1960’s, in the UK, not until 1975.
Why would women need ‘protecting’ from controlling their own legal and financial affairs? To argue that ‘men are bigger and stronger and more violent than women, therefore a woman needs her husband’s permission to open a bank account’ is obviously ridiculous. The real argument, the one hidden underneath the ‘protection’ rhetoric, is ‘women are intellectually and morally inferior to men, therefore they cannot be allowed to control their own lives’, or, more crudely, ‘women are inferior to men, therefore they cannot be allowed to control their own lives.’
How do men ‘prove’ this argument? By being bigger and stronger and more violent; ‘do as I say or I’ll hurt you’ has never been a convincing moral or intellectual argument, but it works on a practical level. No man believes ‘might equals right’ when he is on the losing end of that equation – no white man beaten up by a black man believes black men are superior; no ‘nerd’ beaten up by a ‘jock’ believes ‘jocks’ are superior – but all men believe it when it comes to oppressing women.
This is not my argument, it is Knowland’s, if he were honest enough to admit it.
At 11:50 Knowland says: “Regarding the vote, women have always had it [Knowland starts getting shouty here] at the local level, in both parish and manor, and only 4% of the male population had the vote in ancient Athens, which remained an historical high until mid 19th century England. Even as the year 1918 began it was still the case that well under 50% of adult men had a usable national vote. Unlike women, all these men shouldered some form of taxation without representation and they could also be conscripted to bear arms.”
This section illustrates Knowland’s shoddy thinking, making vague claims that can’t actually be true (“always”), false equivalences, and jumping around in time and space between wildly different cultures (is a ‘vote’ in ancient Athens qualitatively the same as in 19th century England? Does Knowland know the difference between a plebiscite and a representative democracy?). Knowland misses out the fact that no woman had the vote in ancient Athens, and the money married men were taxed on in 19th century England would have been partly earned through the labour of their wives, who had no right to the product of their own labour.
(If my arguments here are jumping around in time and space between wildly different cultures too, it is only because I am following the structure of Knowland’s argument in the video. Knowland is the one proposing a single ‘benevolent’ patriarchy, globally, from prehistoric times to the present day, and cherry-picking his examples while ignoring the vast bulk of violence against women.)
Women did have limited voting rights in Britain at the local level during the 19th century, and a patchwork of local participation from the 17th century (these positions were “quasi-public charitable work” seen as suitable for middle-class women), but ‘always’ is too strong an assertion.
Women in Saudi Arabia only gained the vote, and the right to stand as candidates, at the municipal level, in 2015. Woman in Oman gained the right to vote in 1994, in Qatar in 1999, Bahrain in 2001, and Kuwait in 2005.
What Knowland’s claims here imply, as with the coverture laws, is that Knowland believes women not having the same legal rights and responsibilities as men doesn’t matter, which only makes sense if you believe that women are lesser human beings than men.
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.