Chauvo-Feminism: On Sex, Power and #MeToo by author and publisher, Sam Mills. It is an erudite, pithy assessment of the chauvo-feminist man based on personal lived experience and testimonies from women and men.
Journalist, writer and indie co-publisher at Dodo Ink, Sam Mills builds up a disturbing portrait of the charming, self-obsessed covert misogynist who espouses the feminist cause in public, yet undermines women emotionally and psychologically behind the scenes; and indulges in gaslighting.
Throughout history, women have fought to assert themselves as individuals, whereas most men have had the luxury of taking their independence and authority for granted. Today, those men who feel challenged or inadequate because of the feminisation of society have simply found a new way to objectify women and play a new game based on an age-old sadistic theme.
“For those men who are private abusers and public champions of women’s rights, feminism has become a convenient mask.”
Not all misogynist abusers indulge in crude and overt aggression like Donald Trump who has a history of groping women, making sexual innuendos, mocking their bodily functions, demeaning their looks or comparing them to dogs and swine.
“Aware that his misogyny would not be tolerated in the current climate, conscious that it could end in the destruction of his reputation and career, he constructs a persona, a screen of smoke and mirrors. His misogyny is careful; it is compartmentalised.”
Sam Mills studied English Language and Literature at Oxford University. Her narrative begins with a scene at a tutorial: competitive male undergraduates dominate female undergraduates and create an atmosphere of intense discomfort by referring to the “clitoris problem”.
It is, of course, profoundly paradoxical and unhelpful that “desirable rakes and innocent women” are the stuff of young adult romances, contributing to the social conditioning of girls. (For more on gender conditioning and stereotyping, and our hypersexualised culture, read Natasha Walter’s excellent book, Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism.)
Mills meet a charming academic at a party in Manchester. She is wary of his flirtatiousness as she is “still raw from a romance of three and a half years that had recently ended.” But they exchange emails and R. draws her in . . . only to end up teasing her by playing her off against another woman he is seeing – a blonde with an hourglass figure, of course – before they sleep together. And so begins the push-me-pull-you headfuck game of will-we-won’t-we-sleep-together again (“I’m not a victim,” says she) as they bump into each other at literary readings and events where he is invariably the entertaining centre of attraction. “I wanted to establish myself in a new compartment in R.’s mind, one in which I might move from ‘prey’ to ‘equal’ to ‘liked’.” But Mills eventually realises that this is masochistic as their game “would always end up with me losing.”
“Whenever I saw him that summer he swerved from being cool and critical to effusively warm and pleasant. Sometimes we still flirted; he still had a certain hold over me. But I grew tired of his game-playing, and I kept encountering women who’d had a hard time with him.”
Mills also illuminates the darker corners of the incestuous world of books and its narcissistic predators, intellectual eccentrics, ambitious hopefuls and catty gossips. All too often professional women support gaslighters and chauvo-feminists and fail to speak up. They may not know the identity of a potential abuser in the workplace because of how he compartmentalises. Or else it’s a case of “compassion for a perpetrator equals compliance” – so silence (and shame) reign. An audience of young publishing women is advised by the speaker (a female publisher) at a conference to hold their heads high and move on if an individual is “mean or unpleasant” to them. Women daring to find their own voices and articulating protest and justice is not a given.
This section of the book makes for painful reading, however insightful, well-researched and well-written it is. Much as publishers have a role to play in challenging convention and the wrongs of the world around us, I ask myself, “In the same way that insider whistleblowers do not fare well in the NHS or Social Care services, what would the response be in the publishing industry if . . . ?”
The battle for equality has not ended, despite the right to vote and equal access to education having been achieved to a certain extent. Women are still impacted by all manner of sexism, harassment, bullying and discrimination in daily life.
Chauvo-feminism turns out to be an unfortunate and unintended consequence of the feminist movements of the latter half of the twentieth century, from Beauvoir, Greer and Bell Hooks through to Paglia, Ensler and Faludi.
Sam Mills’ spirited and elegant narrative culminates with an astute dissection of the new wave of feminism exemplified by the #MeToo movement and the “hysterical backlash”. Online activism and the use of social media to protest openly against harassment and rape culture was started in 2006 by Tarana Burke.
From sexual assault leading to career destruction indulged in by Weinstein and other powerful men at one end of the spectrum . . . to inappropriate albeit less damaging behaviour at the other end of the spectrum exemplified by “bad date” Ansari . . . women from all backgrounds and cultures united in the #MeToo outcry against abuse, compliance and consent.
How the women violated by Weinstein reacted is handled with psychological acuity and integrity by Mills. And she questions her own reactions, not only in personal terms of what happened with R. but earlier aggressions also, let alone in light of #MeToo. She asks some discomfiting questions.
Complicated, nuanced and subtle, the issue is anything but straightforward, but there is hope on the horizon. Movements like A Call to Men which “seeks to create a world where all men and boys are loving and respectful and all women and girls are valued and safe” are encouraging collaborations borne from crisis.
Mills’ passion is stirring. Chauvo-Feminism: On Sex, Power and #MeToo is a terrific read – richly human and intellectually lucid, even-handed and unexpectedly entertaining. It is to be celebrated that this generation of twenty-first-century young women is more savvy and vocal, and less naïvely trusting,* than those of the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers or Generation X-ers of my generation. More often than not we have put up with abuse, unacceptable intimidation and mockery, burying our shame and pain for fear of reprisals.
*According to The Washington Post, Millennials, young adults between 18 and 33, are low on social trust: Just 19 per cent believe that “most people can be trusted,” compared to 40 per cent of Baby Boomers and 31 per cent of Generation X. Trust and inequality are strongly linked.
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