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Conjugal duels.
October 11, 2011 8:47 PM   Subscribe

"The 1894 book Revolted Woman: Past, Present, and to Come by Charles George Harper is hideously, horrendously sexist," and is reviewed by David Malki! of the inestimable Wondermark. (Wondermark previously, and more fun true stuff as tagged there).
posted by curious nu (21 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Revolted woman, stop a while
Revolted woman, talk a while
Revolted woman, give your chemise with a sling full of rocks attached... to meeeee

posted by vorfeed at 8:55 PM on October 11, 2011


woman “has ever been the immoral sex”; “has ever been the active cause of sin”

That's because we're doing it right.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:03 PM on October 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


• “Woman does not date her correspondence. She has no ‘views’ on the subject; she simply forgets. Sometimes, indeed, she will head her letters with the day of the week; but, as the weeks slip by, a letter written on any ‘Wednesday’ becomes rather vague in date. Also, it is notorious that the gist of a woman’s letter, the real reason of its being written, appears in a postscript.”


I love how both completely petty and period specific this is.
posted by The Whelk at 9:08 PM on October 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


"To the pit wherein I'm buried up to the girdle, Alice!" -Medieval German Honeymooners
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:42 PM on October 11, 2011


I think this might have been one of my Dad's textbooks when he was at school.
posted by dowcrag at 11:30 PM on October 11, 2011


At present she carries her purse in her hand along the most crowded streets, at the imminent risk of its being snatched away. Ask her why she does this, and she will tell you that she has no pockets

He might have a tiny little point there. The rest of it is nonsense of course.
posted by fshgrl at 12:03 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Did you know that you can just buy pockets? They attach to your hip! Though if you prefer to be unobtrusive, I bet you could fit one of these in your secret compartment... ladies.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:02 AM on October 12, 2011


secret compartment
posted by LogicalDash at 3:04 AM on October 12, 2011


Revolted Woman

She's shocked, shocked!
posted by Malor at 3:31 AM on October 12, 2011


Is it to my shame, Dear Friends, that I enjoy the word "latitudinarian" to an immoderate degree? Because I do, I do.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:31 AM on October 12, 2011


I was worried for a minute and then I saw that you had indeed added the piranhamoose tag and now I'm happy.
posted by tommasz at 5:45 AM on October 12, 2011


That's not much of a "review". In fact, there's not much there at all, just a few examples of Harper's misogyny and a brief, even minimal, excursion to the medieval "conjugal duels".

Of more concern to me is this comment of Malki's:
I’m actually quite glad that this reads as hilarious — because it means that society has come a long way from this sort of argument being commonplace.David Malki
Harper's book isn't the least "hilarious" to me. Rather, I find it disgusting, infuriating, and horrifying. Rather than implying that things have greatly changed, that Malki and others may find the book more funny than disturbing seems to me to demonstrate that its anachronism catches a modern reader's attention more than does its explicitly extreme contempt and hatred of women.

Imagine this book discussing—with the same anachronistic language and vehemence, the same detailed and brutal claims of intellectual and moral inferiority, the same intense and repeated contempt and animosity—the people it would likely refer to as "Negros". Would the modern reader find this "hilarious"?

I don't think that many of us would—because we would be acutely aware of what these beliefs and emotions meant, what they represented, the historical facts of this worldview when dominant and institutionalized. The people who lived and died in bondage, treated like cattle, valued only for their utility to the those responsible for them; when the apparatus of state and religion enforced their servitude and demanded their submission. When they were murdered for rebellion and maimed for misbehavior.

This history is horrifying, the injustice is vast. That people once believed these things is not amusing—not the least because some people still believe these things today and we're still dealing with the harvest this hateful history sowed.

But all of these things are true about sexism and misogyny. All of them. And the history is more recent, not less. There are no nations in the world today in which racial slavery is institutionalized and maintained by the government. But there are many nations in which women are explicitly or implicitly the property of their fathers or husbands. Where, like slaves, they are not allowed to own property, move about freely, associate with whomever they like, pursue education or employment, or vote.

Closer to home, as recently as thirty years ago, at least half the US states had no laws against rape in the context of a marriage. In many of them, the rape laws were written to explicitly exclude marriage.

Harper's book isn't funny. It's nauseating.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:00 AM on October 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Ivan, your points are valid, however, one method of confronting injustice is to point out how ludicrous it is. I don't think the author is trivializing the subject, and uncovering these not-so-ancient documents is also a way of connecting them to equally ridiculous sexist screeds we see today.

In other words, if this looks ridiculous to us now, aren't modern articles about how women are hurting men by taking all the college degrees, or having too much sexxy fun (or whatever) just as ridiculous?

It's depressing that we're even still having these discussions, of course, but then, we're fighting a couple thousand years' worth of sexist ideas.
posted by emjaybee at 8:22 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Women are still unfairly deprived of pockets in their trousers and skirts. None of my dress trousers or skirts have pockets; my casual pants have tiny pathetic pockets. Indeed, a female friend of mine has dropped more than one phone/ipod into the toilet because she put it in her backpocket and forgot it was there. This would never have happened but for the sexist pocket discrimination of clothing manufacture.

I shouldn't have to buy extra pockets for what should just come with my clothes - just like my husband gets with his trousers. And skirts have EVEN more room for pockets than trousers - you can put great big pockets on a full-bodied skirt without changing the line of it.

Early modern women had big pockets under their skirts. But you need skirts with slits in them to access them. They went out of fashion when skirts became slender in the c1800s - so women started carrying purses.
posted by jb at 9:00 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Women are still unfairly deprived of pockets in their trousers and skirts.

When I was about seven months pregnant with my son, I flew into an incoherent, spittle-flinging rage because while I couldn't find any maternity clothes with pockets, all the newborn-sized clothing for my son had them. I mean, what's he putting in his pockets? He doesn't even know he has hands for cripes sake!
posted by KathrynT at 9:12 AM on October 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


Harper's book isn't the least "hilarious" to me. Rather, I find it disgusting, infuriating, and horrifying. Rather than implying that things have greatly changed, that Malki and others may find the book more funny than disturbing seems to me to demonstrate that its anachronism catches a modern reader's attention more than does its explicitly extreme contempt and hatred of women.

The humorous responses are borne by the fact that the complaints levied are, while rife with misogyny, still absolutely ludicrous and small-minded. "She may demand to wear pants! She will use poor formatting on her formal correspondences! She will carry trinkets in a purse for lack of pockets! (Well, not if she's wearing pants, I suppose)"

The tone of the thing is what makes it so on-its-face ridiculous. We still reserve ample fury and disgust for demonstrations of misogyny that are themselves more vile than farcical - like Dave Sim's epic demonstration of pathological women-hatred.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:18 AM on October 12, 2011


Wow, I was completely unaware that pocketless pants were de rigueur in women's wear.

Another reason to round up the designers and hold a mortal review of their work...
posted by IAmBroom at 10:21 AM on October 12, 2011


"The humorous responses are borne by the fact that the complaints levied are, while rife with misogyny, still absolutely ludicrous and small-minded."FatherDagon
Yeah, it's true that Malki chose to feature that kind of stuff. I'm influenced by the fact that at Google Books I read some other parts of the books, including the preface. It's truly hateful, just filled to the brim with incessant contempt for women and their failure to learn proper humility and shame from their Original Sin.
I don't think the author is trivializing the subject, and uncovering these not-so-ancient documents is also a way of connecting them to equally ridiculous sexist screeds we see today.emjaybee
I see your point, but I have a very strong intuition that were this a racial screed it would strike most people as more upsetting and offensive than ludicrous. I'm very much of the opinion that while most people reflexively condemn sexism and misogyny, in truth they just don't take it very seriously.

That's why I made, and have long made, the point that a very large portion of the world's women live in slavery-by-another-name and it is, for the most part, accepted as regrettable but normal. With examples of sexism and misogyny, there is very little of the visceral sense of wrongness that inspires outrage as there is for explicit racism. I mean, intentionally and explicitly misogynist jokes are still a widely-accepted subgenre of comedy.

It's misleading to focus on sexist complaints about women wearing pants and smoking and such—it makes it seem as if the issues involved are less vital than they really are. In cultures where marriage functions almost exactly like slavery, we still call it "marriage" and we're willing to think of it as a legitimate cultural value, just a different way of doing things. ("Most of the women aren't complaining, are they?") So much of sexism in all contexts—third world and first—is like this in that it's either more acceptable to us than racism because of familiarity, or because it's been made to be less superficially disturbing.

Lastly, there's the problem that pretty much all of Harper's arguments can be updated to contemporary versions without altering their essential nature. For example, concerns about the long-run social cost of feminism don't posit a Lamarckian evolution resulting in freakish males, instead they talk about the socialization of young boys resulting in freakish males and rue the blight of these feminized men. (Listen to a random Limbaugh show.) Harper's complaints about the contents of women's purses could have come right out of a stand-up comedian's mouth. Certain evolutionary psychologists and conservative pundits argue that women are less rational than men. The same culprits argue that the female moral faculty is, er, "different" because women reason from personal experience and the feelings of individual people rather than categorically from first principles to abstracted notions of Right and Wrong. A National Review writer recently argued that the US would be a healthier polis had women never gotten the vote.

It's not as if things have changed very much. Most of the things that Harper believed about women, many people still believe, just in a slightly altered form. Someday we will all laugh about these things—but first most of us will need to get angry and actually do something to change them.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:20 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Really though, who would use pockets for anything if they didn't have to use them for something?
posted by wobh at 7:05 PM on October 12, 2011


no one uses the OTHER pockets in cargo pants.
posted by The Whelk at 7:51 PM on October 12, 2011


I use all the pockets in my cargo pants. ALL of them.
posted by jb at 7:58 PM on October 12, 2011


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